Bryce Canyon National Park is a small park nestled in between some of bigger attractions like Zion, which is less than a 45-minute drive away. One of the most vivid things about my drive to Bryce (from Zion) was the changing landscape from lush green to the orange earth that is unique to Utah.
This was not a great year to visit National Parks in the West Coast because there was an abundance of fires. Although they didn’t prevent me from visiting any National Parks, my access was limited in some cases. Bryce National Park was one of those places. Despite the limited access, I got to see the hoodoos, hike and ride a horse among them!
I’d definitely put Bryce on the list of places to visit on any Utah trip.
Although I intended to hike the Figure 8 Loop, which combines the Navajo, Queens Garden and Peek-a-boo Loops, I only hiked the Navajo and Queens Garden trail. I started at the Sunrise Point and went downhill on the Queens Garden Trail and hiked to the top of the rim (Sunset Point) on the Navajo Loop. The total distance is 2.9 miles. If you tack on the Peek-a-boo trail, the distance will be 6.4 miles.
Queens garden gives you pretty dramatic views of the hoodoos. You can get fairly close to them and take as many pics as your heart desires. Remember to practice the Leave No Trace rules and don’t touch the hoodoos! One of my favorite parts of the hike was walking through the many tunnels. Each time I walked through one, it felt like I was stepping into a magical place. Once you get to the hoodoo floor, you’ll be looking up at some unbelievably amazing sites. Did you know snow and rain alone carve the hoodoos?
On the climb up through the Navajo loop, you’ll see some dramatic things including the Wall Street, narrow passage in between giant slabs of stone that’ll make you feel very small and some famous hoodoos including Thor’s hammer.
Although the hike is short, make sure to bring plenty of water! The hike back up, especially when the sun is out in force can be tough and requires plenty of water. The only water filling stations are at the rim, so make sure to take an adequate amount before you descend.
Although I didn’t hike this trail as part of the figure 8, I did get to ride a horse for the first time in my life!
The horse ride begins at the horse corral a short walk behind Bryce Canyon Lodge and picks up the Peek-A-Boo at Sunrise Point. The two-hour ride follows the loop, while the three-hour ride will give a complete tour of Bryce Canyon and wind through the Wall of Windows, The Chessmen, Silent City, and the Bristle Cone Pine Trees. It’s quite the experience to see the hoodoos on horseback. While there are about thirty horses that leave at each assigned time, every five to six riders are assigned to a cowboy lead. The cowboys not only ensure the rider gets comfortable with his/her horse but also help identify the individual hoodoos as well as provide a history of the hoodoos and Bryce Canyon. Beware, they also have plenty of dad jokes to tell!
The horses are well-behaved and are used to the routine. I barely had to guide my horse. She knew where she was going and followed the horse in front of her well. It’s important to keep pace with the horses and follow the order prescribed by the cowboys both of which ensures the horse stays on the trail. I did the two-hour ride and it was plenty of time for me because my thighs started to get sore about two-thirds of the way.
Reservations to ride the horses can be made online at canyonrides.com starting on January 1 of each year. Horseback rides are available from April through October, weather permitting. You can also make a walk-up reservation at the Bryce Canyon Lodge, which is what I did. However, if you’re planning a visit during peak season, I’d recommend making a reservation online. The two-hour ride is $65/person and the three-hour ride is $90/person. Riders have to be seven or older to join the two-hour ride and nine or older for the three-hour ride.
There are several lodging options. The Bryce Canyon Lodge is located inside the park only a short drive from the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center. For your stay at the Lodge, you can choose from private cabins ($230/night), motel rooms ($223/night), suite ($271/night) or studios ($176/night). Each of the room options have a quaint and rustic feel with outdoor seating space but the Lodge does not offer Wi-Fi or TV in the rooms. The lobby area of the Main Lodge does provide free Wi-Fi, however during my visit the signal was weak to non-existent.
The town of Bryce, Utah has several hotels and motels. Be careful – the names are deceiving. I made reservations at the Bryce Canyon Resort when I had spotty internet reception and wasn’t able to quite research my options. The Resort was just below a motel experience and was not anything close to a resort. 🙂 Because options are limited, prices are extremely high even at the end of the peak season. Our two-night stay at Bryce Canyon totaled to nearly $275.
If you’d prefer sleeping in the great outdoors, there are several options. Bryce Canyon has two campgrounds – North and Sunset – and close to the visitor center. Reservations open six months in advance and usually are gone fairly soon after they become available. A number of limited first come, first serve walk-up spaces are available but usually fill up by afternoon. Each regular campsite costs $20. There is one group site at the Sunset Campground and price varies based on the group size. Hook-ups are not available in either campground but a fee-for-use dump station is available during the summer months.
Just outside the park is the Dixie National Forest, which has both dispersed camping (not in a developed campground) and campground tent spaces. There are over a dozen campgrounds in the Dixie National Forest and the fees range from $15-20/night.
While it wasn’t the park that I most anticipated on my road trip, Zion was breathtakingly beautiful. I spent the majority of the time in the Zion Canyon area and only drove through other parts of the park. The canyons, rocks and tunnels were all unique and I couldn’t find a place that didn’t leave me feeling awed. I also came close several groups of mountain goats and it was equally fascinating to watch them climb mountains without much effort!
An unexpected and strong flash flood in July closed several of the famous hikes in Zion – Angel’s Landing and Upper Emerald Pool, so I didn’t get to enjoy the thrill and wonder of these hikes. However, I did get to hike the iconic Narrows and discovered a hidden gem, the hike to Observation Point.
The only in-park hotel is the Zion Lodge. As with most hotels inside National Parks, reservations for the Zion Lodge opens nearly a year in advance (13 months for the Zion Lodge) and will require a deposit equal the first night. Reservations can be cancelled up to 48 hours prior to your stay. The town of Springdale immediately outside the entrance to Zion National Park and offers several lodging options ranging from expensive to moderately priced. St. George, UT located an hour outside Zion is also an alternate option for lodging.
If you’re like me and prefer camping options, Zion offers three campgrounds. The South and Watchman Campgrounds are closest to the canyon entrance and the Lava Point Campground is an hour from Zion Canyon. Reservations open six months in advance and usually are gone scooped up within the first week reservations become available. A number of limited first come, first serve walk-up spaces are available but usually fill up by mid-morning. Each regular campsite is drive-up and costs $20. The costs of group sites and sites with hook-ups services are higher.
I stayed in the Watchman Campground and it was one of the most breathtaking campgrounds I’ve stayed at! The canyon walls surrounded us in every direction and we had an unfettered view of the night sky!
This roughly 2-mile round trip hike has three parts, lower, middle and upper emerald pools. The trail starts across the Zion Lodge (Shuttle Stop #5) and the first part, to the lower pools is a quick half-mile hike on a paved trail. This part of the hike is accessible! If you get there early enough in the morning, you’ll likely avoid the large crowds, but also get to see the sun reflecting off the small falls. In the early fall, when I visited Zion, the pool didn’t look as majestic as pictures usually indicate, but the waterfall was still magical.
As a result of flood damage, the trail to the middle pool has been closed since 2010. The final part of the trail, the upper falls, is quarter mile further. It will take you to the base of a 300-foot cliff and offers shaded area to sit on a boulder, enjoy lunch and take in the expansive views of the falls!
Unfortunately, a storm in the summer closed much of this trail, so I only had the chance to hike to the Lower Pool (check out the video of the hike)!
The Narrows is one of the most iconic hikes both in Zion and in the United States. The hike can be done in two directions from the top, starting at the North Fork and requires equipment for rappelling, and the bottom, starting at Temple Sinawava (Shuttle Stop #9). The top down approach is 18-miles and is often completed as a backpacking trip or a long (12-13 hour) day hike. However, this route is currently closed as park officials negotiate land access with private land owners.
The hike from the bottom is the popular route. The first mile from the Temple Sinawava Shuttle Stop follows the Virgin River through a paved trail. The end of the River Walk dumps you into the shore of the river. At this point, you’ll wade into the water because the trail is the river! While many people hike to Big Springs, 4.5 miles from the Temple Sinawava, others hike to the split inside the canyon, which was also my turnaround point.
When I planned the road trip, I didn’t anticipate hiking in the Narrows. I’m not a strong swimmer and small river crossings make me nervous. Needless to say, hiking in the river was completely out of the question for me. After hiking the mile along the Riverwalk and seeing small children wading in and tackling the hike, I made an impromptu decision to tackle the Narrows check out the video of the hike!) myself. It was a beautiful day with comfortable temperature, so the water was warm and it was also calm. I’m a really short person (4’9″) and the water never reached above my hips and even then only in short areas. The entire hike was a breathtaking experience, from the hanging gardens at the top of the canyons to the excitement of hiking in the river, but the best part for me was actually walking into the canyons. The pictures don’t do this experience justice. If you’re considering visiting Zion, I would highlight recommend putting this hike at the top of your list!
As I mentioned, since this was an impromptu hike, I didn’t have any special equipment, although you can rent a rod and water proof shoes from nearby outdoor companies! I used my REI Flash 22 day pack, which kept all my belongings dry and Brooks trail runners (check out my reviews of each!) provided enough grip and worked well even inside the river! My Black Diamond trekking poles also were a huge help, more than anything else, helped me keep my balance as I waded through the water.
While I was looking forward to tackling the harrowing Angel’s Landing hike, damage caused by a flash flood in July closed the trail. As an alternative, I decided to tackle the 8-mile, 2,000-feet elevation gain hidden gem hike to Observation Point (check out the video!).
The trail starts a short walk from the Weeping Rock trail head (Shuttle Stop #7) and begins to climb from the beginning and continues to do so almost to the top. The last mile to the summit is flat but also fairly sandy, while providing a reprieve from the elevation gain is not an easy stroll. The trail also offers plenty of switchbacks that provide several vantage points of the park, including the White Cliffs, Angel’s Landing and Weeping Rock.
A couple of miles into the hike, the trail evens out a bit as it approaches Echo Canyon. The canyon walls provide a brief reprieve from the exposure and and high desert temperature! This is a great place to stop for a snack break and photo opportunity. As I stood staring at the canyon walls above me, it felt like I was sucked into a magical place.
Slightly beyond the Echo Canyon, the trail emerges out of the canyon walls, the terrain changes to white cliffs and begins to climb again! There are also several trails that intersect at this point but bear to the right to head towards Observation Point! After another strenuous climb the terrain changes again to red earth. At this point, the trail levels out and Observation Point becomes visible on the other side of the rim. Shortly after this point, the trail connects with the East Mesa Trail, which is a less popular trail to Observation Point.
The way back down was a brutal downhill but I was fortunate to meet an experienced hiker. We chatted about hikes in the west coast, particularly Utah hikes, which distracted me from the knee pain but also helped me learn some of the secrets of Utah!
Hiking Half Dome was one of the scariest and exciting things I’ve done in my life. I was also lucky to have two friends join me on this adventure!
CHECK OUT THE VIDEO OF MY TREK TO HALF DOME!
I split this nearly 17-mile hike into a two-day backpacking adventure, although there are plenty of people that finish this hike in one day (it will take you about 12 hours if you attempt it in one day). The first day of the hike is just over 4 miles (and nearly 2,000 feet of elevation gain) on the Mist Trail to Little Yosemite Valley, an idyllic but well-established campground that’s only yards away from the Merced River (your last point for water before heading to Half Dome). I haven’t hiked with a full pack in a couple of years and this part of the hike felt like a long, never-ending climb. Although the last mile to camp is on flat terrain, it’s also sandy and makes the hike feel longer than it should take. Last year, I visited Yosemite in May (at the height of a snowmelt after record-breaking snow over the winter) and the hike to Vernal Falls was nothing short of spectacular. The falls were raging and every inch of the Mist Trail was covered by the water spray. There were rainbows galore. On this trip, the fall was impressive but not as mighty and I managed to spot one rainbow at the base of Vernal Falls.
After taking a long break at the top of Vernal Falls, we made our way to Nevada Falls. Although you get a brief reprieve from the stairs, they start again in less than half a mile. Unlike the climb to Vernal Falls, the stairs on the Mist Trail is on switchbacks which can make it a little easier psychologically to keep climbing. After setting up camp and eating our dinner of Ramen noodles, we settled in for the night.
The next morning, we started our hike to Half Dome at 5:30 in the morning. I made many rookie mistakes on this road trip, among them was forgetting to pack my headlamp on this hike. Note to anyone hiking in the dark, cellphone flashlight is not a great substitute for a good headlamp, but I was able to make due for the first 30 minutes of hiking in the pitch dark. As many hikers do, we left our camping equipment and took our fairly empty packs with snacks and water.
The first part of the hike to the sub dome is not nearly as arduous as the rest of the hike. It was by far the easiest part of the two-day trip. However, once I reached the base of the sub dome, the most difficult part of the hike began. The narrow stairs that take you to the sub dome, twist and wind but never seem to end. After the long and arduous trek, I found myself at the base of Half Dome, both awed and nervous for the remaining 400 feet to the top. I could see the cables and planks and small figures, almost like ants, making their way up the nearly 90-degree slab of stone.
We figured the order in which we’d travel – I would be last. Just a few feet into the climb, misadventure struck! My padded garden gloves were too slick and my hands were slipping on the cable. Although I didn’t want to get behind my friends (I am a slow hiker!), I wanted to at least try to find some sturdy gloves. I climbed back down and luckily the first pair of gloves at the base of Half Dome fit my tiny hands really well (hikers leave their used gloves behind although the park service highly discourages people from doing this).
The hike from the base to the top of Half Dome is only 400 feet but it made up with the feeling of sheer terror and panic I felt as I was slowly moving along from plank to plank. There were several points where I just held on to one side of the cable with both hands looking down and then up wondering if making it to the top was worth it. The advice I’d gotten before the hike was not to look down. However, as I would look down I realized I’d climbed further up than I would think I did, which gave me the confidence to keep pushing. The scariest part of this hike comes at the halfway point – where the rock is slippery and the poles holding the cable are wobbly. Thankfully, at this point, a gentleman making his way back down from the summit shared with several hikers nearly having a panic attack, including myself, that he felt that way too at this exact point but it would get easier after a few more planks and all would be worth it when we made it to the top. He didn’t lie!
Once I was past the slick part of the rock, the rock seemed to be less than a 90-degree angle and I felt less exposed. The climb itself also felt easier physically. Before long, I joined my friends at the top of Half Dome. It was an unbelievable experience to be standing at the top of this famous rock that I had admired for so long! Half Dome is one of my bucket list items and it definitely felt like I’d crossed it off.
After the exhilaration of standing at the summit, I made my way down slowly. I walked backward, as many hikers do, which made the climb down less terrifying and more physically manageable. We were all prepared for the hike to our cabin to be easy and quick – so we took the shorter John Muir Trail rather than tackle the stairs of the Mist Trail and put more strain on our screaming knees! The second misadventure of my hike came at this point. The climb down was unrelenting and long. I had to will my feet to move because they were tired from carrying the weight of the pack. There were more than many fleeting moments when I was tempted to just chuck my pack down the cliff. It really felt like a psychological war with the trail. I haven’t had this feeling of such misery and hardship since my Appalachian Trail hike. Just as then, I had to take breaks and deep breaths and will myself to focus on taking the next step. In the midst of this psychological battle, I stumbled upon a mother bear and a cub. Although they were very close to the trail, there was enough traffic and noise to keep them away from us. I have not had a sense of relief so complete and sense of accomplishment so great as the one I felt when I reached Happy Isles many hours later!
Despite the pain and misery, this was one of the most rewarding hikes I’ve completed. I’m not the fastest or strongest hiker, so I get plagued my self-doubt in the middle of tough hikes, but they also remind me to trust my body to do what it needs to do and that it will carry me to the heights and distance that I want to travel. It also reveals the psychological and physical force within me.
Yellowstone National Park is so many things – a national treasure, an active volcano, the first National Park, home to geysers, hot springs and boiling mud spots. There’s not a more iconic representation of the National Parks than Yellowstone. When I was planning the cross-country trip, a stop at Yellowstone was a no-brainer!
CHECK OUT THE VIDEO OF MY YELLOWSTONE VISIT ON YOUTUBE!
While I wanted to see everything in every single Park we visited, I only had a limited amount of time (usually a day or two), so I had to choose hikes that gave me the best and most expansive view of the Park. In Yellowstone, I settled on Mt. Washburn because the entire length of the hike offers breathtaking view after view of the Yellowstone wilderness, including the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. My visit to Yellowstone turned out to be the place where all of my plans went awry for reasons out of my control.
We made the short drive from Grand Teton National Park and got to Yellowstone mid-day. Although Yellowstone is known for its heavy traffic, we were lucky to get there towards the end of the season and escaped much of the crowds. We had a beautiful drive through the park to our campground, including a stop at the Dragon’s Mouth Spring (truly impressing and scalding spring that pushes out water, steam and the foulest odor imaginable) and plenty of bison sightings. Although I wanted to experience the thrill of walking on the precarious steel platforms and making my way down to the base of the 308 foot high Lower Falls. Unfortunately, the trail was closed for construction, so we had to settle for taking the view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone from the Artist Point, an accessible trail that’s less than a quarter mile long but provides the most expansive views of the Canyon area. Because we visited late in the season and towards the end of the day, we again escaped the large crowds.
When we checked into our campground, the friendly staff person informed us of the weather that evening and the next day. It turned out the beautiful, pleasant summer day would give way to falling temperatures (below freezing!) and snow overnight. I also learned the Mt. Washburn trail was closed for construction. While we were able to identify an alternate hike, I was not prepared for winter hiking. I went to bed and hoped for the best in the morning. Because the temperatures dipped into the 20s, I didn’t have a restful night. The morning didn’t alleviate the cold temperature and it brought with it a cold and steady rain. I reassessed and decided I was not mentally or physically prepared for a winter hike.
After a warm breakfast at a restaurant near the campground, I opted to explore the Park by car. This gave me the opportunity to see a lot more of Yellowstone than I would’ve been able to in a short time. Winter arrived early to Yellowstone but it was also a beautiful and unique way to see this iconic place. The dark skies and steady beat of the rain gave some of the most famous places in the Park a sense of mystery and magic. I was so enamored with much of the Park that I lost track of time and made my way to Old Faithful and the Midway Geiser fairly late in the day as the sun was setting. I was excited to see these things at night under the moonlight. On our way to the Midway Geiser, we narrowly missed a rock fall where huge boulders came loose onto the road. Just as we navigated the car around the boulders, the rain started again. At this point, it was getting fairly dark as well. We decided the safest thing to do was to turn around and go back to our campsite, which was still another 45 minutes away. Nearly 15 minutes into our drive, the rain turned to snow that was blowing sideways. Visibility was low and there was barely a car on the road. It was a white-knuckle drive the rest of the way, but it was an exciting adventure nonetheless and I was thankful we avoided any misadventures that day.
Sometimes the best-laid plans go awry. My type-A, planning personality goes into overdrive in these moments trying to come up with a new plan. I was lucky to have a travel partner who is the complete opposite. My time at Yellowstone was a good reminder that having a plan is good but veering from it can equally fun and adventurous. I will return to Yellowstone in the near future with a plan but also the knowledge that I can experience the unique beauty of this amazing place even if my plan is waylaid!
If you’ve known me for a while or follow the blog regularly, you know that I hiked the Appalachian Trail. That was a pretty tough hike! These days, I mostly day hike and while I might be slow on my way up to a mountain, I don’t often doubt my ability to get to my destination. The hike to Camp Muir, an 8 mile round trip with an elevation gain of over 4,000 feet on the other hand was a test of both my physical and mental stamina.
Check out the video of the hike to Camp Muir
The day started on a rainy, gray and cold note with fog all around. The Skyline trail immediately behind the visitor center is paved but begins to gradually climb almost immediately. The trail soon becomes a rocky path with hairpin switchbacks and leads you to a subalpine meadow. I briefly saw a glimpse of the Mt. Rainier Summit at this point. But my long close-up view of this majestic mountain came nearly two miles into the hike, just below Pebble Creek. At this point, I also saw ominous warnings signs of continuing on the trail. As with any tall mountain, the weather on Mt. Rainier can change suddenly and if a storm sets in there could be white out conditions. Luckily for me, the temperature started to warm and the fog cleared and brought with it the promise of a beautiful day.
Reaching Pebble Creek is another slog uphill with a mix of make-shift stairs and rocky trail. My next challenge after getting to the Creek was figuring out a way to cross it. The water ran pretty strong for a creek and I wanted to find a way to cross it without loosing my footing and getting my trail runners wet. With the help of my trekking poles, I managed this feat fairly easily.
On the side side of the Creek was the Muir Snowfield. When I got to this part, I was mostly excited and ready to trek the remaining 1.5 miles to the top. I’d made great time up to that point and I didn’t have a single doubt in my mind. As I was making way up through the quite steep snow mound, I realized just how difficult this hike was going to be. It was a clear day and I had perfect views of Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Hood. Unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy the view because I made some serious rooky mistakes! First (and very importantly), I forgot my sunglasses. One a bright sunny day, the sun reflected off the snow and quite literally hurt and burned my eyes. I also left my sun block in the car (and yes, even with dark skin the sun was burning me!). I also wasn’t mentally prepared for the steepness of the climb nor the difficulty of making this hike in the snow.
Nearly half way to Camp Muir, I found myself sitting on some rock outcroppings debating with myself whether to push ahead or turn back. While I wasn’t physically exhausted, mentally I felt like giving up. I don’t usually have many of these moments when I’m hiking, so I almost didn’t know how to pull myself out of the self doubt. Luckily, a fellow hiker, on his way down from Camp Muir, stopped to chat with me. He was so kind and reassuring that it felt like he spoke confidence into me. Soon after, I decided to make my way up. And I had to make little bargains with myself – hike to the next rock outcropping and take a five minute break. This was my mantra until I reached around 8,000 feet where the trail seemed to flatten a bit.
Shortly thereafter I gained another 1,000 feet of elevation and finally Camp Muir was within sight. At first glimpse I felt a tremendous sense of relief and adrenaline kicked in because I was almost there. I thought it would take me just a few more minutes. An hour later, as I was still trudging my way up, the wooden structure seemed to be no closer than an hour before. I was so close that I couldn’t turn around, so I really had to dredge some inner will to keep pushing myself. At this point, I was physically exhausted and uncomfortable. With every step, I also had to fight the mental exhaustion of taking tiny steps and not feeling like I was getting anywhere. The toughest part of the hike was the last 250 feet, which was almost a straight incline. At this point, I wanted to scream at the mountain for making this last bit so hard.
Two months later, sitting in my comfortable bedroom, I can say the hike to Camp Muir was one of the most rewarding hikes! I literally felt like I was sitting above the clouds and could understand why this place was originally called Cloud Camp. For the first time in my life, I saw a crevasses, seracs, hanging glaciers and each thing had an immense and unique beauty of its own. I’m not an emotional person but I was overwhelmed with emotion that day.
After such a high note, I thought the climb down would be easy and quick. Boy was I wrong! My third rookie mistake was not bringing any micro spikes with me, especially since I was hiking in trail runners. The snow was soft and slushy. While there were some places to glissade, I found the trek to be quite treacherous. I fell more times than I’d like to count and definitely hit my head on a rock or two as I lost my balance in the snowfield. Climbing down was a physical and mental exhaustion of its own!
Thirteen hours later, I was soaking wet from the snow, and I had never been so happy to see a car. I changed into some dry clothes and rewarded myself with a nice, expensive meal at Paradise Inn!
While this hike is worth every ounce of pain and discomfort, be physically and mentally prepared to take this on! It is not for the faint of heart but the hard work is absolutely rewarding when you enjoy the most perfect view from Camp Muir.
If you’re following my YouTube channel, you know that I’ve been posting videos regularly but unfortunately I’ve been neglecting the blog! It turned out that I couldn’t manage to maintain the blog, create videos and hike in the five weeks that I was on the road!
Now I’m back from the trip. Settled into the groove of life. And I’m ready to start blogging regularly again! I’m keeping this one to a short recap of the entire trip and I’ll catch up to the videos with detailed hiking blogs in the coming two weeks.
The fives weeks on the road were phenomenal! I couldn’t have asked for better weather (although West Coast residents would’ve preferred some rain to alleviate the wildfires that were burning all around). I got to visit some of the most iconic National Parks in the West Coast and each one had something amazing to offer! I managed to hike in the snow (Mt. Rainier), sand (Sand Dunes National Park) and even water (Zion National Park).
While some of the wildfires were still raging at the start of our trip, it didn’t impact me much. I did cut short my visit to Glacier National Park. It was too smokey, much of the park was closed and bears migrated away from the fires to many of the trails that remained open. Perhaps I’ll come back here in a couple of years to celebrate a big birthday!
Our next stop was Mt. Rainier. There was a dense fog the day we arrived in the park and I only briefly caught a glimpse of this majesty. The next day I hiked to Camp Muir, the last place you can hike to before using climbing gear. It was foggy, drizzly and cold. However, as I approached the snow field, the fog cleared and the temperature was comfortably warm. Although nine miles seems like a cake walk, hiking in the snow field is mentally and physically exhausting. The last three miles took me about 5 hours to complete and the entire hike took me almost 12 hours! Despite the challenge of the hike and the self doubt I had given its intensity, I was glad that I persevered to Camp Muir. There’s nothing more exciting than sitting above the clouds and I certainly experienced that on Mt. Rainier. My only bear sighting on the trip was in Mt. Rainier National Park!
Next to Glacier, I was most looking forward to my time in Zion National Park and it didn’t disappoint. The deep canyons, the unique landscape and the bright night skies all make Zion a simply unimaginably beautiful place. Of course, hiking in the Narrows in the Virgin River made the trip doubly worth it. Unfortunately, Angel’s Landing was still under reconstruction after a flash flood in July destroyed a part of the trail. Because I’ll be making another trip to Zion some time in the future, I’m not worried about not getting to hike this jewel!
This trip wouldn’t have been a Hiking Misadventure voyage without at least one epic fail. I was excited to visit the Sand Dunes mostly so that I could slide down on the sand board. I rented one (fairly cheap!) started making my way up the giant dunes. A quarter of the way up, I wanted to get an exciting action video of my slide! I put the slide down on a very narrow ledge on a Sand Dune. I sat down and immediately started sliding backwards. After a few seconds the board flew away and I rolled down the Dune. Other than a few sprains and bruises, I was fine. After a long break, I made my way up but could only get about a third of the way before my body started screaming. It was sad to turn around but it felt safer to end the hike without any major or permanent injuries. It’s not the way I’d have chosen to end this epic trip, but it was certainly adventurous and true to the spirit of hiking misadventures!
Of course there are things I’d do differently (bring way less food!) but I was pretty pleased with the planning I did for the trip and they mostly worked in my favor. Look for a future blog with the pros and cons of the trip as well as a review of the gear I used!
It’s good to be back to the land of blogging! Until the next post, please enjoy the picture highlights from the trip!
My drive to Grand Teton was an experience in itself. On highway 287, you get unobstructed views of mountains and vast open land. I didn’t really know what an open sky was until this drive. During the 7 hour trip, we made several stops — 1) a wildlife sighting area where we saw prairie dogs and cows (lots of them!) and 2) split rock, a landmark for Oregon Trail travelers (see my blog post video on it).
The many stops I made stretched our 7 hour drive to nearly 10 hours. As we were approaching the entrance to Grand Teton, we were starting to lose daylight. We opted to camp in the Teton National Forest for the night. The campsite was at an elevation of nearly 8,000 feet and as the sun went down I got very cold! Instead of staying in the tent, I slept in the car, which turned out to be a warm decision.
The next day, I made it into the Tetons. My first glimpse was hazy. Smoke from nearby wildfires were filtering into the park and obstructing the view. Regardless, I headed to the trailhead hoping for improved visibility.
The hike to Hermitage Point is the most accessible hike in the park that will also provide expansive views of the Tetons. Even through the smoky haze, I could see how grand and impressive the Tetons are!
The ten mile loop is fairly flat and goes along the shore of Jackson Lake, an impressive sight by itself! The beginning and end of the loop are a flat walk through pine forest. The two miles approaching Hermitage Point is an open area with little shade or protection from the elements.
Hermitage Point offers unencumbered views of the full Teton range. After you reach this point, the trail loops away from the views. If you’re looking for a great lunch spot, a half mile from Hermitage Point, there is a campsite (Lakeshore 9) that’s right by the water and with a view of the Grand Teton.
The trail gains a little bit of elevation after this point (1,000 feet). First is a big hill then the trail alternates between slight uphills and flat areas. The views and relative ease of this trail makes Hermitage Point a must do in the Grand Tetons.
My first hike on this West Coast trip was Mt. Ida in Rocky Mountain National Park. This hike is mostly above tree line. While it’s a short hike (and probably considered one of the easier peaks to tackle in RMNP), this 9.6 Miles is not for the faint of heart.
Before any major hike, I usually get nervous about both my skills and potential misadventures that can come my way. Fortunately, the 27 hour drive from DC left me so exhausted that I crashed immediately after getting to the hotel. In the morning, the adrenaline got me through the nerves.
Although I’m not in peak physical condition, I was able to tackle this hike (albeit with a lot of huffing and puffing). It was a sunny day with absolutely clear views all around. However, the gusty, cold winds were quite formidable and felt like it threatened to push me off the narrow trail. Although I didn’t bring my winter gear with me, I had enough layers including my windbreaker to keep me warm all the way to the summit!
Compounding the cold winds was the altitude. The first mile and half of this hike is a steep incline through forest areas. The next three miles are above tree line with gradual intermittent climbs but it is all above 10,000 feet. I’ve rarely been impacted by altitude but on this hike I was definitely hit by it’s full force. Moving slow and steady and drinking plenty of water helped me from having to turn around.
The trail is not marked after the first mile and a half but it’s easy to follow until you get to the rick outcroppings. While there are carins to mark your way, it’s hard to know it’s there if you’re not looking for them. Although the guide I used warned me of this mistake, I followed the harder boulder hopping to the left instead of following the smoother path to the right. The good news – it’s easy to find your way back to the trail and/or get to the summit!
A quick caution – this trail has uphills on your way up to and back from the summit! It took me nearly eight hours to complete this hike. Despite the wind and altitude, the amazing views are so breathtaking that they alone are motivation enough to make your way up.
From the summit, I had expansive views of the Rocky Mountain National Park wilderness including several glacial lakes that looked an aqua green.
After our long hike, we set up camp in the — campground, the only one on the Grand Lake side of the park. We were lucky to see elk and a moose gingerly wandered through our camp in the morning! Next, we took a drive through the park on the — road. The drive alone is an experience as you climb to well over 14,000 feet and are treated to breathtaking alpine views.
This was a great park to start my five week adventure!
We’re nearing the end of the first week on the road to the West Coast! We’ve already seen so many beautiful places, met great people and are having a great time. We’re moving through places at lightening speed, so it’s been a little hard to update the blog in the order that we’re experiencing them. Rest assured, I’ll be posting about all the places we’re visiting as soon as I can!
On my way to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, I took a quick detour to Split Rock. It’s a gorgeous outcropping of rocks. It’s easy to miss it unless you’re paying attention to signs on Highway 287.
The area has an amazing view all around, which I learned is not really a hard thing to achieve in Wyoming. It is truly the land of the open sky and road. Split Rock is full of history. As an 80’s kid that grew up playing the Oregon Trail, this was particularly exciting stop because the trail actually went right through this area. In fact, Split Rock was a famous landmark for travelers. It was a place to rest, feed the animals and replenish for the next leg of the trip. The Pony Express also used this route.
Today, it seems to be a popular spot for people to have a picnic. We saw several cars, mostly all from out of Wyoming, make a stop here. We ate lunch and explored the rock outcroppings for about an hour. Although the sun was out in full force and it was extremely bright (make sure to bring your sunglasses, sunblock and hat!), there was a nice strong breeze.
Whether you’re a history buff, just appreciated the Oregon Trail game or need a break on the long drive to Yellowstone, this is a good stop!
The REI Flash 22 is a perfect day pack for a short or long hike. The ultra light design of ensures comfort but doesn’t sacrifice any essential features. The pack also can double as a great travel pack, especially for light travelers. The small frame gives the pack the added bonus of fitting under an airplane seat! At a low price point, the REI Flash is a great choice for the trail, short travel or both.
This versatile pack has the capacity to hold all you’d need for a short or even a long day hike, including copious amounts of water in the summer and layers of clothing in the winter. The zippered lid pocket can hold small items that you’d want to access quickly. I usually stick my snacks in here when I’m hiking and my lunch inside the main compartment. The pocket also has a key hook, which helps me keep track of my keys during hikes, which is something I normally misplace quite often. The two mesh pockets on the outside can fit two water bottles. I usually use average 24 oz. water bottles but I’ve also easily stored 32 oz. Nalgen bottles. The back also has an internal hydration sleeve, which can fit up to a 3 liter hydration reservoir. The pack also has a port to route the sip tube over either shoulder.
For a low-priced ultra light pack, the REI Flash 22 is quite comfortable on day hikes. Although the lightly padded stretch-mesh shoulder straps move freely during hikes, if you are carrying a lot of weight, it can be uncomfortable. I feel this most when I’m traveling with the pack when I pack to capacity at which point the straps can dig into my shoulders. The waist belt and sternum strap can help distribute the weight and reduce the discomfort (both are also detachable, if you prefer not to use them). The mesh back is soft and lightly padded for comfort and breathability, but I find it reduces the packs ability to wick moisture. I sweat profusely on hikes and usually the back of the pack is soaked in the summer (but I’m usually soaked elsewhere as well!).
In addition to the versatility, the REI Flash 22 is also durable. I’ve used this pack for the past four years on a variety of hikes and travel. Despite being well-used, the pack doesn’t show a lot of wear and tear. The bottom fabric is especially strong. I do a lot of butt scooting during rock scrambles, especially when I was slack packing several tough areas of the Appalachian Trail including the Mahoosuc Notch, and reinforced bottom has helped the pack stay in tact. The bottom reinforcement has also been really helpful when I use the pack for travel. When fully packed it often is able to sit on the bottom and I double as a footrest in airports! Although day packs don’t typically sit up like bigger packs, the lighter side and top materials of the this pack hasn’t hindered it’s durability.
One of the most handy features of the pack is the daisy chain for outside gear attachment, which can come in handy for storing hiking poles. I often use this when I have to put my poles away during scrambles and keeping hiking equipment organized. The sternum buckle also has a built-in safety whistle. I’ve never used it but if you are likely to carry one with you on hikes, this could be an added feature to consider.
Although REI discontinued the version of the pack I have but the replacement pack is identical to the older version. The improvements they’ve made to the new pack include: single tool loops at the bottom of the pack, extra padding on the shoulder straps and an extra zip pocket for easy access to storage.
Despite the comfort the slight comfort issues, the REI Flash 22 is one of my most reliable pieces of hiking equipment! In fact this will be the most used hiking equipment on the upcoming road trip. I highly recommend the pack, especially the new version which sounds like addresses the comfort issues with the older pack.
During our road trip this summer, we’re visiting and camping at some of the most popular National Parks in the country. While it’s an amazing experience, camping in National Parks, particularly established campgrounds in popular ones, require advance planning. Given the ground we’re covering in five weeks, we mostly opted to stay in these places both for convenience and quick access to trails. I’m sure at some point in the future, I’ll return to each of these places again and spend more time exploring the off-the-beaten path beauty, including backcountry camping.
In third post of the “Getting Ready for the Road Trip Series,” I’m sharing our experience of making reservations at three popular National Parks (Arches, Glacier and Yellowstone)and the lessons we learned about the process.
The famous geysers, abundant opportunities for animal sightings and beautiful hikes makes Yellowstone National Park an extremely popular spot in the summer. In 2017, Yellowstone received over four million visitors making it the sixth most visited park. It also means there is a lot of competition to get a camping spot, much less a perfect spot in a campground.
The Yellowstone reservation process starts early – almost a year early! On May 1st of every year, all lodging reservations (camping and hotels) open for reservations for the following year. While the most sought after spots will be taken up early, you can still make reservations the winter before your visit. Our plan is to hike the 6.4 miles to and back from Mt. Washburn early in the day and explore some of the popular spots in the park the rest of the day. While we managed to get lucky with a reservation in February when we began our planning, we had to settle for a campground further away (nearly 45 minutes) from the trailhead than we had hoped.
What do you need to know about reserving a camp spot in Yellowstone?
What is the process for and cost of reservations?
What tips and tricks can you use to secure a campsite?
With over 3 million visitors, Glacier National Park was the 10th most visited National Park in 2017. The remaining 26 glaciers and abundant lakes (732 named and unnamed lakes!) makes this an absolutely picturesque and popular place in the summer. As a result, there’s a lot of competition for spots in the several campgrounds inside the park.
Right behind Yellowstone, we prioritized making campground reservations at Glacier which paid off. We secured a campsite our three night stay without much trouble albeit a little further from the Grinnell Glacier trailhead.
What do you need to know about reserving a camp spot in Glacier?
What is the process for and cost of reservations?
What tips and tricks can you use to secure a campsite?
Although this wonderland of natural stone arches made of red rocks didn’t make into the top ten most visited National Parks in 2017, finding a camp site within Arches National Park can be extremely challenging.
Reservations open six months in advance of your stay. We missed the six month window by a few days and as a result we were not able to secure a campsite at the Devil’s Garden Campground, the only one within the park grounds. Not to worry if you don’t secure a spot, Moab (the nearest town to Arches) has many campgrounds near the park. Most of these are first-come/first-serve. If you were like us, on a short timeline, and traveling in between places, not able to arrive early or would prefer the peace of mind of a reservation, check out the Dead Horse Point State Park. The reservations cost are comparable and the campground is less than a 30-minute drive from Arches.
What do you need to know about reserving a camp spot in Arches?
What is the process for and cost of reservations?
What tips and tricks can you use to secure a campsite?
National Parks are a popular summer destination, so planning a trip to one much less several requires meticulous and early planning. Ricardo and I started planning our trip in mid-February, which is a little later than advised. It gave us enough time to apply for hiking permits but we were behind on making camp reservations, particularly at extremely popular parks such as Yellowstone. Over the past few months, as we navigated permit and reservation processes, we learned some valuable lessons and picked up some tips and tricks.
In the second post of this series focused on preparing for the big road trip, I’m sharing things we learned about securing permits and making reservations. I hope our successes (and mistakes) help you plan your next adventure to a National Park or undertake a popular hike.
Our itinerary include many amazing hikes along the west coast! While many of these are open, we need permits for three extremely popular hikes (Mt. Whitney, Half Dome and the Wave Trail). The keys to securing these permits are early planning and flexibility, so I’ve already had to update my meticulously planned schedule several times already!
Mt. Whitney is one of the most popular hikes in the summer and requires a permit to hike between May 1st and November 15th. Permits are awarded by an extremely competitive lottery. Let me put this in perspective – in 2017, there were more than 15,000 applications but the Forest Service only awarded 2,250 (15%) overnight and 2,000 (20%) day permits. Predictably, the peak time to tackle this beast is between mid July and early September, when there’s little snow on the ground.
What do you need to know about getting a Mt. Whitney permit?
What are some tips and tricks we learned about the Mt. Whitney permit process?
Request all 15 dates! This one seems obvious but I was so committed to our schedule that I only requested one set of dates for an overnight permit! I thought we had a good chance since were applying for a mid-September slot, which was after the peak season. In hindsight, if I’d requested alternate dates, I could’ve always declined them rather than having to settle for what was available.
Be flexible and persistent! I was extremely disappointed when I didn’t get a permit during the mini-sale. In fact, I felt so frustrated that I almost forgot about the sale on May 1st. This is the biggest lesson I learned about planning this entire trip – being flexible and persistent usually meant everything worked out in the end. For Whitney, we managed to get day use permits (rather than an overnight) ten days later than we had hoped for but if we hadn’t been flexible, we wouldn’t have had a permit at all!.
Hiking Half Dome is also extremely popular and it’s another permit that’s hard to get. As with other popular hikes, there is a preseason lottery for permits. Last year, the success rate for obtaining a permit for a weekday hike was 7% and 2% for weekend hikes.
What do you need to know about getting a Half Dome Permit?
What tips and tricks did we learn?
We applied as a fairly big group (four permits) for the wilderness permit but we looked at the statistics from last year and picked a weekday that was outside the peak dates. I’m not sure if the wilderness permit lottery gave us a small advantage since the lottery is held among a smaller group of applications. I think mostly luck was on our side for this one!
Of the three popular hiking permits we competed for, permits for The Wave Trail was the hardest by far. First, there are only 20 permits available for each day and only 10 can be reserved in advance through a lottery. Despite the small number of permits available, the Bureau of Land Management, which processes permits, receives hundreds of applications for those 10 spots, so the chance getting this permit is only 4%!
What do you need to know about permits for The Wave Trail?
What tips and tricks did we learn through this process?
We’ll know the results of our application on June 1st but we did learn that this is one of the permits that’s better to submit on the last day. At the bottom of the online application, there’s a running tally of how many permits have been requested for each day and they’re ranked by the most to least popular request dates. We made the mistake of submitting our application on the 1st of the month and the dates we requested have gone from least popular to among the most requested. As with other permits and reservations, being flexible and persistent is the key to getting a permit for this great hike!
Ricardo and I are heading out on five-week long trip to the West Coast this summer. We’ll leave DC in late August and travel throughout September. Along the way, we’ll be stopping at several national parks to hike some iconic places. We’ll also stop in Portland and San Francisco to treat ourselves to nice hotels, short rest and relaxation and hopefully catching up with some friends!
This is the first in a series of posts that I’ll do before we head out on the road. This series will focus on what I’m doing to get ready for the trip, things I’ve learned about planning such a huge trip and of course, gear that I’m taking with me.
This post is fairly short and will just focus on where we are heading and what we’ll be seeing. Unfortunately, the plan is already in flux for exciting reasons. We finally secured a permit to hike Mt. Whitney! Unfortunately, it is ten days later than we originally planned. Instead of completely throwing out our schedule, we are taking a wait and see approach. We applied for a permit to hike The Wave Trail. It’s extremely popular and only two people are allowed a day, so the likelihood we’ll secure this permit is pretty low (only 4% in fact). Nonetheless, we have our fingers crossed and once the lottery decision is announced on June 1st, we’ll go back to the drawing board to figure out our plan for the second half of the trip.
While the order and schedule may change, we are still committed to visiting every single place on our list. Usually, you’re able to get the same information between the blog and video, this time I do encourage you to watch the video if you’d like to get a good sense of the schedule! If you’d really rather not, you can find a less exciting version of the map near the end of this post.
And of course, I’ll be blogging/vlogging throughout my trip, so make sure you’re signed for the blog and subscribed to my YouTube channel!
I went to San Diego last weekend for a bachelorette party. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do any hiking in or near San Diego, although there are many beautiful hiking trails many of which are close to the beach, but I did have plenty of non-hiking adventures that are nearly as interesting!
We kicked off the party with a hot air balloon ride. Compass Balloons, the company that handled our ride, were professional, courteous, accommodating and even offered us snacks! While they were hard at work blowing up the balloon and testing the wind directions, we had champagne and cheese.
If you’ve never taken a ride on a hot air balloon, I highly recommend it. It’s fun to look down from over 3,000 feet. If you do this in San Diego, it’s particularly exciting because you get to see the mountains in the area from above and the sun starting to set over the Pacific Ocean. It’s a different experience from hiking up a mountain and looking down at the valley below and mountain ranges around but a thrilling view nonetheless. Unfortunately, because the balloons have to land before it gets dark, I didn’t get to see the sun set over the ocean.
The last time I felt like I sat among the clouds was during my Appalachian Trail thru hike when I was sitting at 6,289 feet on the summit of Mount Washington. I had a similar feeling on top of the balloon. I was slightly below the clouds but felt like I could almost reach out and touch them.
Our next adventure was a whale watching cruise. It was a 3.5 hrs of sailing around the San Diego Bay and Pacific Ocean. We learned very quickly that even if the water appears calm, the Pacific Ocean can induce motion sickness. By the time we saw our fifth gray whale, most of us were feeling pretty nauseous and ready to sit down. In addition to the gray whales, we also saw dolphins and sea lions as well. Unfortunately, all of these animals were a little too far away and too quick for us to capture them on camera.
Our last adventure was the closest I got to a hike. We went to Sunset Cliffs, a natural park by the beach. The sand cliffs are carved out by the ocean and continues to evolve. Therefore, the cliffs are extremely unstable and there are many warnings to remind you to stay away from the edges. There is a mile long flat trail that takes you to the end of the cliffs but if you want to get closer to the beach and the bottom of the cliffs, you can go to the opposite end and walk along the beach. Regardless of where you are at Sunset Cliffs, you get an incredible view of the ocean.
Since this is a hiking blog, I would feel remiss if I didn’t mention at least a few incredible hikes in and around San Diego! If you are looking for a casual stroll through a well-developed trail, check out Torey Pines State Park. This three mile hike will take you about a 1.5 hours and 350 feet of elevation. You’ll get beautiful vistas of both the water and other landscapes. It’s a short drive outside of San Diego in the Del Mar region.
If you’re looking for something more strenuous but still beautiful and memorable, consider hiking to the summit of Mt. Woodson, also known by its nickname, “the potato chip rock.” This 6.6 mile hike is a medium level hike through a field of boulders and you’ll not only be rewarded by incredible views of San Diego County but also a picture at the iconic potato chip overhang!
Hikers looking for a true challenge can tackle the 11 mile hike to the top of El Cajon Mountain. This steep and roller coaster like trail will have you going up and down to eventually gain 4,000 feet of elevation and your reward will be an incredible panoramic view. Be prepared the return trip will not be an easy stroll downhill. It’ll be another roller coaster of up and down again, so take plenty of water and snacks for this hike!
These are just three hikes that peaked my interest. There’s a range of great trail and mountains to tackle, if you make a hiking trip to San Diego! Next time, I’m here, I’ll definitely explore these hikes and provide better trail reviews but in the meantime hope you enjoy the hot air balloon ride adventure!
This blog is called hiking misadventures for a reason! On our hike up McAfee Knob, the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail, I accidentally missed the turn for the AT and hiked up the fire road until the last 1.3 miles to the overlook but this worked in our favor because the climb was gradual and very gentle.
McAfee Knob in Catawaba, VA is nearly four hours away from the DC area. Although the views from the overlook are amazing and well worth the drive, if you are looking to grind out some miles worthy of this long drive, consider combining McAfee Knob with Dragon’s Tooth (south) or Tinker Cliffs (north). We left the DC area shortly after 7:00 AM, a little later than we had planned, so we didn’t get to the McAfee Knob trailhead until about 11 AM, which is in the later range of the prime starting time to hike this very popular trail. So our first challenge was to find parking near the trail head on a holiday weekend. The AT Parking lot on VA 311 fills up pretty quickly (it was full when we arrived!) and sometimes it can be difficult to find parking even in the overflow parking on Old Catawaba Road (there was plenty of spots here).
While the trail is not too challenging, the first quarter mile out of the parking area is steep. You can see yourself well above the road after the first couple of switchbacks. Once you finish the ascent out of the parking lot, the trail will split. Pay attention, if you don’t want to make the same mistake that we did! The AT splits off to the right and goes down and the fire road goes straight and stays pretty level. If you need another clue, it is the opposite direction of the large crowds. If you miss the turn, you’ll still make it to the knob just through a less challenging path. As we were making our way up, I convinced myself the hike felt easier because I didn’t have a 30lb pack as I did when I hiked this trail on my 2014 Appalachian Trail thru hike. Alas, it was just my famous lack of direction instead!
If you want a slightly more picturesque or an easy climb to the knob, make sure to take the fire road. In fact, the majority of hikers we saw were taking the fire road, so you’ll be in good company. While the AT is a little more challenging, it doesn’t offer even the modest views you’ll see on your way up the fire road. The fire road also has several large boulder outcroppings that you can climb as a side adventure.
The fire road took us up the first two miles of the climb. At this point, it met the Appalachian Trail again for the remaining 1.3 miles to the top. This part of the climb is fairly easy. The trail, at this point, does get fairly rocky so pay attention to your footing! Also, if you get a later start as we did, be prepared for the throng of people coming down the trail. Had we taken the Appalachian Trail to the top, we would’ve added an extra .6 miles to our climb.
The McAfee Knob trail is extremely dog-friendly but they do have to be on leash. We saw no shortage of dogs on our hike. Keep in mind some parts of the trail can be muddy, so if you bring a dog, make sure to bring a towel to wipe them down before getting in the car! Our little Sophie, most likely would’ve preferred a ride on one of our backpacks but she made it on her own four legs to the overlook without any problems. She was even an inspiration to some hikers making their way to the top. We often heard, “if that little dog can make it up the trail, so can I.”
The overlook stretches quite far. The largest crowds are near the iconic overhang, a few yards from reaching the overlook. If you want to take a picture here, particularly on a nice day, be prepared to wait in line both to sit on the overhang and for your photographer to take the picture from the other side! A good camera with a great zooming function works best to capture the iconic shot. Although my boyfriend brought his DSLR camera, he decided not to fight the throngs on the other side and decided to try for a wide angle shot but as you can see, it’s not as iconic as one would like it to be. 🙂
Despite the crowds, we were able to find a small part of the overlook to ourselves. We ate lunch, took some additional pictures and just relaxed at the top soaking in the warm spring weather and the pristine views of Catawaba Valley, North Mountain Mountain, Tinker Cliffs and the Roanoke Valley. In all, we spent close to an hour and half at the top. Keeping our long drive back to DC in mind, we reluctantly left the top and made our way down. To make up for our mistake and to try to gain some mileage back, we took the Appalachian Trail back to the parking lot. If you think you can’t go uphill twice to a mountain, think again! There were definitely continuous but short spurts of uphills throughout the way back. It felt cruel to have to do some uphills on the way back down a mountain! I think the short uphills were less challenging and more a reflection of the fact that we were tried and ready to head home after a long day. If you are taking the AT, to or from McAfee Knob, about a mile in (or near the end) you’ll pass some rock outcroppings on the trail. The blazes aren’t marked well in this area, and you may feel like you’re going the wrong way. Rest assured, you’re still on the trail and the drilled in logs can serve as a good guide.
Sophie did well on the return trip and navigated the AT just as skillfully as she’d done on the way up to McAfee Knob. In all, including the hour and a half break at the top, this hike took us 5.5 hours.
If you are looking to incorporate McAfee Knob into a longer hike, you can always add Dragon’s tooth (~ 2 miles south) to the beginning of this hike or Tinker Cliffs (~ 4 miles north) to the end or some such combination. You can also make all there parts a part of a great packing trip (the triple crown of Virginia) and return on the North Mountain Trail, which will be about 37 miles.
Despite our rocky beginning to this hike, the view from McAfee Knob, made our eight hour drive to Catawaba and back well worth it. Even Sophie enjoyed her time sunbathing and people watching at the top! Although she was completely worn out to the point of not even wanting her bacon treats on the ride home!
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The GoPro Hero 5 Black action camera is small, lightweight camera packed with a lot of sophistication. At just over 4 ounces, this is a luxury item that won’t bog down your pack weight. The short square shape of the camera makes it easy to store in any small easily accessible pocket. Because it’s so small and light weight, it’s also easy to mount it on a trekking pole and capture videos and photos effortlessly using voice commands.
I bought the GoPro about seven months ago before I headed out on the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim Hike. I thought it would have a longer battery life (it does not!) and take better pictures and videos than my iPhone (it does!). Having owned for seven months, I’m not sold on the utility of the GoPro. I hardly use it when I’m on the trail. It’s part because you have to buy several mounting contraptions and carry it with you. I don’t like carrying a lot of stuff on the trail, so I just use it as a hand-held camera, so I find it easier to record with my iPhone.
Despite my reluctance to embrace the GoPro, the Hero 5 Black is extremely user-friendly and easy to use. The menus are intuitive and selections are made through a touchscreen. I am pretty technologically inept and I’m usually able to figure most things out within minutes. For additional flexibility, there is a side button to shift camera modes and the top button can start and stop recordings. Voice commands are also a great new feature of the Hero 5, especially if you are doing activities that would not easily lend itself to touching the camera (e.g. rock climbing, bicycling, etc.).
As you would expect from GoPro, the Hero 5 Black comes with a lot of bells and whistles. Some of the upgrades, GoPro made to this camera includes being able to in 4K, GPS capabilities for geotagging photos and video and the Hero 5 is waterproof up to 33 feet without a case. Although the 4K pictures are supposed to be of unparalleled quality, my computers aren’t powerful enough to handle it, so I usually downgrade the quality.
For all the positive features of this camera, there are some big drawbacks. During the upgrade to the Hero 5, the GoPro switched to a USB-C cable. This helps the camera charge and transfer data faster, so now the camera doesn’t support an external microphone without an adapter. The adapter needs to be purchased separately and is probably about half the size of the camera. The built-in sound quality of the Hero 5 is not great, especially if there’s extraneous noise, so you having an external microphone is important for good sound quality. With this version, GoPro extended the rechargeable battery life but the battery is still pretty short-lived. The Hero 5 Black can continuously record up to an hour at 1080p with Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth all turned off. If you use any of these features, the battery will drain quite fast. This is particularly problematic when you’re trying to do time lapse photos. The workaround is to keep the camera attached to the power source, which requires the frame to be off. The Hero 5 Black while waterproof is not scratch resistant. If you’re continuously taking the camera out, be prepared for scratches on the camera. My boyfriend uses the camera extensively and he routinely has to remove the camera from the frame and we’ve scuffed most parts of the GoPro in less than a year.
Out of the box, the Hero 5 Black comes with a rechargeable battery, a USB-C cable, frame and three stick-on mounts. The camera requires a microSD, which has to be purchased separately. As mentioned earlier, the camera requires a microphone adapter, which also needs to be purchased separately.
GoPros warranty on the cameras are fairly limited. If you purchase the camera directly from GoPro, you can return the camera, as long it is without any damage, within 30 days if you’re not 100% satisfied with the camera. After that, GoPro will cover manufacturer defects up to a year from the date of purchase. In either case, customers have to contact the GoPro customer support first to let them determine if the camera is covered under the warranty. GoPro now offers the subscription GoPro Plus service. For $4.99/month, users can get extra protection for their camera – basically replacement of your GoPro for any type of damage no questions asked – along with a range features including auto cloud back up.
There is a new version of the Hero camera out in the market now, the Hero 6 Black, so the price of the Hero 5 has decreased to about $300. You can purchase the camera on the GoPro website, REI (note cameras are not eligible for REI’s one year customer satisfaction guarantee policy) or any other major electronics store.
GoPro is undoubtedly the top of the line action camera! It has a lot of amazing features. Just check out the GoPros Instagram or YouTube account to see the awesome things the camera is capable of doing. However, if you are just looking for a camera that can take a few pictures and short videos while hiking, you probably don’t need this camera. So my recommendation is to pass on the Hero 5 Black unless you have a specific need for an action camera.
Now more than ever being outside is an important source of joy, peace and healing for me. I’m trying to take advantage of the flexibility working from home full time gives me to get outdoors as much as possible.
Research shows getting outside is not only beneficial for physical and mental health, but can also help give a boost to the immune system as well as reduce stress and anxiety in the body. While there are lots of benefits to being in nature during the pandemic, there are a few important precautions I follow to keep myself and others around me safe.
With travel restrictions and the risks traveling poses for COVID transmission, I’ve used this time as an opportunity to discover all the outside gems steps away from my home. I’ve avoided even my usual hiking spots a few hours away for the most part because many rural areas and Native communities have less hospital capacity and health resources.
Here in the D.C. area, where I live, there are tons of local parks, state parks, and other green spaces managed by the National Park Service to explore and adventure in. It’s been nice to have this time to rediscover these abundant opportunities.
Adventuring close to home is also giving me new perspective on what these close to home spaces mean for diversifying the outdoors. These everyday opportunities to connect with nature and get introduced to the joy and fun of the outdoors are redefining the outdoor narrative – outdoorsy doesn’t have to be conquering the outdoors.
Because it’s possible to transmit COVID even in the outdoors, I follow all CDC and locally recommended social distancing guidelines. This means maintaining at least six feet of distance from anyone I run into on the trail. I’m also not hiking or engaging in other outdoor activities with friends and certainly not in groups.
As more people are venturing outside, local trails and parks can get crowded. To be able to maintain social distancing guidelines, I try to hit the trails during off peak hours (early in the morning, close to dusk, middle of the day, etc.). I routinely take a walk on the trail that is literally in my backyard in the middle of my work day because there are less people on the trail and it’s a nice way to break up my day.
Of course, if you’re not feeling well, make sure to stay home.
Let’s admit it – not many of us find wearing a mask comfortable. Even on the trail, I keep my mask in an easily reachable place and wear it when around other people even if they are six feet apart or we’re just briefly crossing paths on the trail.
I’ve long been a fan of bluffs to keep out dust and bugs during backpacking trips. During the pandemic, I often fold the bluff over to ensure it has two layers (guidelines the CDC has provided for optimal masks). That’s tough during the hot and humid months in D.C. when I’m sweating so much that sweat pools around my mouth making it hard to breathe. As a fix around this, I carry a second bluff or opt to wear a regular mask. On cold days though, the bluffs work really well if not for anything else but keeping my face warm.
After a spell of brutally cold weather when I was not motivated to go outside, a warm but windy day was a good chance to get outside and explore. Since the pandemic started, I’ve been reluctant to stray far from home so the National Arboretum, which I hadn’t visited in years, felt like just the right adventure for the day.
Sophie, my little chihuahua adventure pal, Adam and I strolled the 2.6 miles of West Side Trail late in the afternoon. From the New York Avenue entrance, I drove around the first big parking lot to the National Capitol Columns where there was plenty of parking. After taking a very short walk by the columns, which was very crowded, we made our way to the trailhead which is a paved road that on slight and gradual uphill.
Although the wild flowers that line this path in the summer had long turned in for their winter snooze, the fallen leaves and trees made for a different kind of picturesque walk. The trail itself only had moderate traffic, so it was easy to social distance. Once I finished the loop (or during it), I stopped along the many other parts of the Arboretum including the herb garden and the field of state trees.
Because the trail is paved it is an accessible hike. The trail is also pet-friendly but I did have to keep little Sophie on leash so as not to disturb the plant species throughout the Arboretum.
If you’re looking for a short adventure that makes you feel like you’ve escaped the city, the West Side Trail should be right up your alley!
While getting outside is a great way to break up the monotony most of us are experiencing during COVID, it’s still important to practice social distancing because it only takes one exposure to transmit the virus.
Although I’ve avoided heading into the mountain towns close to D.C. for much of the pandemic, I headed out to the George Washington National Forest this weekend. It was a combination of the best fall foliage in several years and my body feeling the need to try a challenging hike. I wanted to make sure I chose a trail with minimal crowds as possible and Little Schloss met all that I was looking for.
This hike offers the same breathtaking views as Big Schloss but without the crowd!
I started the hike on the purple-blazed Little Sluice Trail, which went into a steep climb almost immediately. The gorgeous views was visible at the 1 mile mark, but it was also the steepest part of the climb. I took lots breaks to catch my breath and enjoyed the views. The last part of the climb is a series of switchbacks. To head to the rock scramble and the overlook, head left after the last switchback. This isn’t marked I almost missed it even though I was paying attention to the trail split. The rock climb is steep on loose rock, and I definitely had to pay attention to hand and foot placements.
Once I clawed my way to the overlook, I floored by the views. I’ve not experienced such beautiful fall colors in awhile and the steep hike to this spot well worth the effort! After the steady climb and the long break to enjoy the gorgeous views, I didn’t have any energy to push further so this was my turning point.
One of the underrated parts about this trail is the many options you have to make this as short or long as you desire. To push the additional .7 miles to make this the 5 mile out & back hike, head back to the trail split and keep going straight. The stopping point isn’t marked but it’ll be hard to miss – a large meadow surrounded by spruce trees and several camp sites.
If you still have energy to push further to complete the 13.2 mile loop, continue on the purple-blazed Little Sluice Trail. When the purple-blazed trail ends at the intersection of the blue and orange-blazed trails, make a left to follow the blue-blazed Tuscarora Trail which will end at the intersection of the yellow-blazed Little Stony Creek Trail. Follow the trail to FDR 92 road which you’ll follow for the last 2.5 miles.
I did this hike fairly late in the day – around 2 PM. During my hike, I didn’t see anyone on the trail until the very end. There was enough space at the overlook for all of us to spread out well beyond 6 feet.
If you make it out here, send me a note and let me how you enjoyed the hike!
With most Thanksgiving traditions disrupted this year, it was nice to keep one of my traditions – hiking on #optoutside day (check out my thoughts on what opting outside meant to me in 2020). I hiked to Annapolis Rocks this year – a challenging hike, close to home and brought back fond memories of my Appalachian Trail thru hike.
The 5.1 mile, out and back hike on the Appalachian Trail got my heart and leg muscles pumping. The first 1.5 miles is a steady uphill and parts of it are rocky as well. Once I crested the climb, the remaining part of the trail was gentle. The last quarter mile to Annapolis Rocks is through a side, blue-blazed trail, which will come on the left and is clearly marked.
This is also a popular camping area with 16 no fee, no reservation spots and a campground caretaker on site, but is likely closed for the time being for COVID. In case you need it, there is a also an outhouse available for use by the camping area.
The rock outcroppings that is Annapolis Rocks offers unencumbered views of the forest area below and the valley ahead. On Friday, I even spotted a bear and couple of cubs in the forest. The beautiful views offer lots of opportunities for eye catching pictures!
This is a very popular hike in normal circumstances and the traffic has only increased during the pandemic. To safely social distance and grab a parking spot, I got to the trail by 8 AM. A note of caution – there are no parking spots outside the parking lot and the chances of getting a ticket and/or being towed are very high for parking in an unofficial spot.
The hike is extremely dog friendly, but there are ticks so make sure to check your furry adventure pal for the critters after the hike.
If you decide to tackle this hike, enjoy the challenge and beauty, and maybe even be inspired to hike other parts or the entire Appalachian Trail!
Every year, I look forward to #optoutside day (the day after Thanksgiving)! It may be cheesy but whether it’s tackling a mountain or taking a walk in a neighborhood park, I love the idea of a large group of people across the country taking one day to get outside and appreciate the beauty around them.
There was something soothing in the fact that I was able to keep this tradition – getting some healing time in nature – in the midst of all the other interrupted traditions. And who didn’t need some time of collective healing in a year when we were constantly reminded of the fragility of life – whether as a result of COVID or for many Black people an unexpected encounter with the police that turned deadly?
When I’m outside in nature, I can let my mind wander to process things. This year, as I was huffing and puffing my way up to Annapolis Rocks, I wanted to hold space for all the lives lost in 2020. I couldn’t mourn them without also thinking about the systems and structures that are intentionally designed to ensure some lives are more endangered than others. Of course, this was also in the context of the prevailing hatred and lack of empathy so many in our country have towards anyone them deem different. While I like to think of the outdoors as my safe space, I also know a lot of these things seep into outdoor experiences for people of color.
While I was holding space for what was lost or could have been, I also embraced every little bit gratitude I had because grief and gratitude can powerfully co-exist for healing.
I embraced the joy of having a healthy body and the presence of people in my life that uplift me. In particular, I had so much gratitude for my mother’s health – she managed to wrap up chemo just as we headed into the shelter-at-home orders and her health steadily improved over the course of the year. I’m beyond grateful for a partner who continually demonstrates the power of unconditional love day in and day out. In a devastated economy, I appreciate not just having a job but a workplace that stepped out of its comfort zone and committed to a bold vision for centering explicit discussions of race and equity in our external work but also internal processes. In short among all the grief, there was also gratitude.
It did not escape me that safely spending time outdoors in the midst of a raging pandemic requires the privilege of health and resources (e.g., time, money, etc.). With each step I took, I was grateful that I had the privilege of being outdoors, my ultimate place of worship and healing. And that I was able to do this with thousands of other people across the country only made it that much sweeter!
Happy #optoutside day!