Watching The Sun Rise On Cadillac Mountain

Out of all the places to watch the sunrise, what is the big deal about Cadillac Mountain?

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It’s the first place to see the sunrise in the whole United States!

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Enjoying apple cider doughnuts to help wake me up during the long car ride to the summit.

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Cadillac Mountain (in Acadia National Park in Maine) is able to boast this title due to not only being located in the easternmost state, but by also being the tallest mountain on the whole east coast (standing at 1530 feet). And the best part? No hiking required for this summit!

The summit is reached via a 3.5-mile winding mountain road leading to a fairly large parking area. From there, a brief walk will lead to the overlook. Once at the top, visitors have excellent unobstructed views of the coast and of course, the sunrise.

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Things To Know Before You Go:

  • Be sure to check current sunrise times and weather conditions. If it’s super cloudy, maybe try for a different day when visibility is better.
  • To keep in mind: “sunrise” is defined as the point when the leading edge of the sun is first visible even though this is some minutes before the sun actually rises above the horizon. (From Physics Stack Exchange)
  • It can get crazy ridiculous crowded at the summit, so get there early. In fact it can get so crowded, the park rangers will occasionally close the entrance road and stop allowing people up in order to restrict the amount of visitors up there for the safety of the flora and fauna.
  • Plan to check out the sunrise early in your trip, just in case conditions are bad or rangers won’t let you up. That way, you’ll still have other days left to try again. It would suck saving it for your last day, only to find the rangers have closed the road.
  • It takes awhile to drive to the summit, especially if there is traffic. And finding parking can be a nightmare. Allow more time than you think you’ll need.
  • To keep in mind: The road is closed from December through April 14 and whenever weather conditions (such as dense fog or ice) require.
  • Dress warm! It is super cold up there, especially while it’s still dark.
  • Be cautious of the plant life. Cadillac Mountain has seen substantial vegetation and soil loss due to high volumes of visitors. Try to stay on rocky areas.
  • Bring snacks and a warm beverage to keep you company. You’ll be up there for awhile. Blankets are nice too.

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So When Is Sunrise?

Well, it changes every day. For current info for the day of your visit, click here!

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And now, a bunch of sunrise progression photos, taken with my Nikon Cool Pix point and shoot camera! As is always the case, the photos don’t come anywhere near close to representing how amazing this was to see in person, but at least it’ll give you idea until you can go out there and see it yourself…

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And it’s up! Quite a different landscape in the light. Hello fall foliage! Good morning!

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I totally won’t judge you if want to go back to bed after this. Being up before the sun is just TOO EARLY. Or maybe go grab a giant cup of coffee from Jordan Pond House (once it opens). Maybe a quick car nap then coffee? You deserve it…you were just one of the first people in the whole country to see the sun come up. AND you survived the crowds and chilly temperatures. Bragging and celebrating is completely justified.

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For additional info on Cadillac Mountain or Acadia National Park, visit the official park website!


 

 

 

How To Spend A Weekend in Kings Canyon National Park

So by now you have already seen all my posts about Kings Canyon, breaking down each part into pieces and offering up specific details. And if you haven’t, you should, cause they’re awesome ;-). You know which trails to do and where to camp, but how do you put it all together?

Of course there are hundreds of ways to see Kings Canyon, and tons more to do than we saw on our trip there. So go wild and create your perfect itinerary! But if you need some inspiration, here is a sample itinerary of what I believe to be the best things to do in Kings Canyon, fit into an extended weekend trip.

This is how we did it:

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Day 1:

  • Arrive in the Grant Grove section of the park just after lunch.
  • Check out the visitor center in Grant Grove to pick up maps, souvenirs, and ask the rangers any questions you may have. And definitely check out all the exhibits while you’re there.
  • Visit the General Grant Tree and walk the loop trail
  • Hike the North Grove Loop.
  • Head to wherever you are staying for the night and enjoy a relaxing evening.

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Day 2:


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Day 3:

  • Have a leisurely morning at camp – there is no need to rush today. Maybe brew some camp coffee using the GSI percolator.
  • Hike the Buena Vista Peak Trail.
  • Check out any scenic overlooks in the Grant Grove area that you haven’t seen yet.
  • Drive to Hume Lake in the Sequoia National Forest.
  • Enjoy the rest of your day hanging out at the lake! Rent boats or mountain bikes, check out some of the hiking trails, dip your feet in the water, lay out and read a book…Taking time to just relax on vacations is important too!
  • While you’re there, treat yourself to some ice cream!
  • Return to your lodgings and have a chill night around the campfire.

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Day 4:

  • This is your last morning in Kings Canyon…make an awesome breakfast and take advantage of those last few hours in the campground.
  • If you have any last things you wanted to see or do in Kings Canyon, now is the time.
  • Pack up camp and return to civilization.

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And there you have it- 4ish days of adventuring and relaxing. If you want more detailed descriptions of all the awesomeness in Kings Canyon, check out all my other posts! And if you want even more specifics, visit the official park website!

And as always, if you have any questions or want extra itinerary help, drop me a line! Info is on the Contact page.


 

 

 

Visiting the Easternmost Point of the United States

Welcome to the town of Lubec, Maine, nestled on the shores of the Bay of Fundy, and home to the easternmost point in the Unites States!

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Lubec is indeed so far north and east that it is practically in Canada. You can see Canada across the bay, and the whole time we were there our cellphones kept jumping between international and domestic roaming. So if you visit Lubec, keep an eye on your phone, cause international roaming charges are the worst.

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The town itself is rather small. You won’t see many chain places here, but you will find lots of small-town charm. We arrived late in the evening, still jet-lagged after a two-day travel fiasco trying to get to Maine from Los Angeles, and totally starving. Our first stop? Dinner at Water Street Tavern!


This is definitely the best place to go for some of the freshest seafood in the whole country! My friend Joe ordered lobster, and so the chef went out and caught one in the bay and brought it to the table still alive to show off his catch before cooking it up.

That’s pretty fresh.

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Not pictured: I ordered the most amazing lobster mac and cheese I’ve ever eaten. You just can’t beat Maine when it comes to lobster.

Also not pictured: Joe wasn’t sure how to tackle a full lobster, so our server came out to help crack it open. In doing so, lobster juices flew everywhere…but mostly landed all over our friend Jim.

Not gonna lie… that’s kinda my favorite memory from our trip to Maine hehe.

Click here to check out the Water Street Tavern and Inn!

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Full of amazing lobster and completely exhausted, we headed to our hotel, Cohill’s Inn. For lodging, there isn’t a ton of options in Lubec. But even if there had been 100 hotels, I would still tell everyone to stay at family owned and operated Cohill’s Inn. It’s small (think only 9 rooms), but the rooms are quaint and delightful, and it’s located right on the waterfront. Plus the staff is super friendly, and they have a tasty complimentary continental breakfast served in the pub downstairs.

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Since we were there at the very end of their season we didn’t really get the full Cohill’s experience, but that’s ok since we were just passing through anyways. But it looks like a lovely place to stay during the summer season! Fresh food and craft beer in the pub, warm coffee out on the deck while watching for seals and bald eagles, bike riding along the bay… you know, basically an idyllic east coast summer getaway.

To check it out or make reservations, click here!

Cohill’s is located at 7 Water Street, Lubec, ME – 04652
207-733-4300

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So why Lubec? Because it is the closest town to the easternmost point in the United States! After a quick breakfast at the inn, we headed out to go find it…

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And where is the easternmost point? Well, officially, it is a rock just off the coast of Maine called Sail Rock. But you can’t exactly swim out there and take pictures on the rock.

So for tourism and visitation purposes, the easternmost point is located at West Quoddy Head State Park.

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This is the best State Park I have ever been to, no joke. It had the most stunning views, and such vibrant colors! Here’s how we explored Quoddy Head:

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Coastal Trail, 4 miles round trip

“The Coastal Trail (4-mile roundtrip) affords more challenging terrain (and spectacular ocean views), with some steep and rocky sections. This trail passes Gulliver’s Hole (a narrow chasm formed from the erosion of a vertical fault in the volcanic gabbro rock); High Ledge (a 150-foot-high bluff); and Green Point (a large ledge outcropping where hikers can reach the beach).” (maine.gov)

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There are five trail options at West Quoddy Head, but we picked this trail because it is a combination of most of the other trails and offers the best collection of what the park has to offer. Four of the park trails connect with each other, so you can more or less combine them in any way you want to get the experience you are looking for.

Click here for a list of all the trails in the park and a trail map!

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Keep in mind though, that when the trail descriptions mention bogs, they aren’t kidding. Be prepared for a muddy and soggy hike!

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One of the coolest parts? WE SAW ACTUAL BALD EAGLES.

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Joe was leading the hike, and when he went around a bend, there were two of them just chilling in the middle of the trail! Of course they flew away immediately, so this was the best picture I got, but man, what a cool thing to see! Talk about once in a lifetime experiences.

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The bogs were actually super cool too though, featuring sub-arctic and arctic plants rarely seen south of Canada. Plus you guys know how I feel about interpretive trails on boardwalks (I think they’re totally awesome, for any of my new Wanderers :D)

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And then of course there is the lighthouse itself, commissioned by Thomas Jefferson back in 1808. The light still shines (two white flashes every 15 seconds), visible from up to 15-18 miles out to sea. The 15 red and white stripes were added to the tower in 1858 to make the station more visible in snow and fog.

The tower is closed to visitors, but there is a cool museum and giftshop inside the house.

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Here are some tips to make your visit to Quoddy Head safe and fun (obtained from the official park website):

  • The Park is often wreathed in fog that forms when warm, moist air from the mainland meets masses of cold air over the surrounding waters. Fog and sea breezes can make for chilly conditions, even in the height of summer, so bring extra layers. Be prepared for low visibility and carry a park map with you when hiking trails.
  • Exercise caution and supervise children when walking on cliffside trails or by the shore. Tides can fluctuate more than 20 feet and flow in quickly.

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Don’t forget to take a photo at the official plaque marking the easternmost point in the United States!


Location: 973 South Lubec Rd, Lubec, ME 04652 (Four miles off Route 189 in Lubec).

Contact: May 15 through October 15: (207) 733-0911
Off season: (207) 941-4014

Hours / Season: Open 9:00 a.m. to sunset daily from May 15 to October 15. Visitors may continue to enjoy the park during the off season by parking outside the gate and walking in during these same hours. Please be aware that facilities are closed during the off season.

Fees (per person at time of publication): Adults 12 and older $4 (non-resident), $3 (Maine residents)

Seniors 65 and older $1 (non-resident), free (Maine residents)

Children 5 – 11 $1, Children under 5 free

For more info, visit the official West Quoddy Head State Park website!


 

 

Kings Canyon National Park: Tips and Packing List

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“In the vast Sierra wilderness, far to the southward of the famous Yosemite Valley, there is yet a grander valley of the same kind. It is situated on the south fork of the Kings River, above the most extensive groves and forests of the giant sequoia, and beneath the shadows of the highest mountains in the range, where canyons are the deepest and the snow-laden peaks are crowded most closely together.”

           – John Muir, 1891

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Kings Canyon is a national park that is often overlooked in favor of its more popular neighbor, Sequoia. Anyone who does that is really missing out though. Kings Canyon is a beautiful park full of amazing sights and natural wonders. Deep valleys with granite walls, towering sequoias, and a powerful roaring river running through it….there’s no doubt, Kings Canyon is an awe-inspiring park for sure.

The crowds can get intense though, and the weather can present some challenges. So here are my tips on what to do and what to pack in order to get the most out of your visit:

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Useful Tips

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  • Make sure to allow some time to explore the national forest area in between the two halves of Kings Canyon. There’s a lot of great hiking options there, plus a lake where you can rent boats!
  • The park is divided into two halves, Cedar Grove and Grant Grove. Make sure to visit both, and allow plenty of time to drive between the two (it’s a fairly long mountain road… roughly an hour or two).
  • Pack a swim suit! There are several points along the river that are safe for swimming, plus tons of surrounding lakes throughout the national forest.

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  • But stay out of the river in faster moving areas. The current is swift and deadly, and can be nearly impossible to get out of (seriously…people drown here every year). Enter the river only where it is mostly calm and shallow! Like in the above picture. Avoid areas like the picture below:

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Just kidding… obviously no one is dumb enough to swim in that. But for reals, don’t go in any of the rapids.

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  • Pack plenty of insect repellent and citronella candles (for back at camp). Where there is water, there are bugs. Lots and lots of bugs. Tiny little gnats that constantly swarm your face and get in your eyes. Repellent and candles won’t make them completely go away, but they sure help!
  • Dress in layers. The temperature can vary greatly depending on where you are in the park and the time of day. Jackets are a must! But so are tank tops.

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  • Bring everything you think you’ll need. There is a small general store at Grant Grove, but it is a long drive to the closest town. So if the general store is closed for the night or they don’t have what you need, you are shit out of luck.

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Weather

Historic Average Temperatures
Giant Forest, Lodgepole, and Grant Grove
Average high Average low Extreme high Extreme low
Jan 42°F
6°C
24°F
-4°C
68°F
20°C
-6°F
-21°C
Feb 44°F
7°C
25°F
-4°C
70°F
21°C
-4°F
-21°C
Mar 46°F
8°C
26°F
-3°C
76°F
24°C
0°F
18°C
Apr 51°F
11°C
30°F
-1°C
77°F
25°C
8°F
-13°C
May 58°F
14°C
36°F
2°C
83°F
28°C
13°F
-11°C
Jun 68°F
20°C
44°F
7°C
91°F
33°C
22°F
-6°C
Jul 76°F
24°C
51°F
11°C
92°F
33°C
34°F
1°C
Aug 76°F
24°C
50°F
10°C
94°F
34°C
28°F
-2°C
Sep 71°F
22°C
45°F
7°C
90°F
32°C
23°F
-5°C
Oct 61°F
16°C
38°F
3°C
82°F
28°C
11°F
-12°C
Nov 50°F
10°C
31°F
-1°C
96°F
36°C
4°F
-20°C
Dec 44°F
7°C
27°F
-3°C
73°F
23°C
-4°F
-20°C

*** Cedar Grove is closed in the winter due to frequent rock falls ***

(Info obtained from the NPS website)

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Packing List

  • GSI Percolator. No camp breakfast is complete without a fresh cup of coffee brewed over a campfire. This 12-cup percolator from GSI is one of my favorite things in the whole world. It’s tough enough to withstand direct heat from the fire, and it brews a great pot of coffee every time. It’s a camping must-have!

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GSI Percolator

  • Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent. There are seriously more bugs in this park than I can handle, especially on the Mist Falls trail. This is a great natural insect repellent to help protect you from all those nasty diseases bugs carry, and also just to help keep them out of your face while you’re trying to hike. 

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Repel

  • Aleader Water Shoes. River rocks can get really slippery, plus there’s all sorts of gunk in the riverbeds. Water shoes are a great option to make playing in the river safer and easier! These ones dry fast, have good traction, and provide plenty of cushioning for your feets. Plus they are available in 15 different colors!

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Aleader

 
  • Roxy Beanie. The temperatures can vary quite a bit here, with cold nights and mornings and warm afternoons. I always like to pack a beanie to keep my head warm during those colder hours. I love this fleece-lined beanie from Roxy! Stylish and super warm. But if this one isn’t your jam, there are tons of other Roxy beanie options out there!

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ROXY

  • Coleman Cool Weather Sleeping Bag. Having a sleeping bag to keep you warm during those cold nights is an essential. You don’t need to buy one of those expensive ones from REI though in order to stay warm! This one from Coleman is made for temperatures as low as 30°F, and is only around $30. Who says outdoors gear has to be pricey? And if you’re in the market for a bag with different temperature ratings or different features, they have plenty more to choose from.

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Coleman

  • Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven. When it comes to cooking over a campfire, cast iron is the way to go! I love the 12″ oven, because it is so versatile. Soups, stews, cobblers, meats, veggies… you name it, it can be cooked in this oven. You can even flip the lid over to use as a griddle! Meaning less dishes for you to pack.

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Lodge Dutch Oven

  • Burt’s Bees cosmetics and personal care items.  Just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you have to let your beauty routines slide. Pack items that travel easily and multitask, such as these makeup removal wipes and BB cream with SPF from Burt’s Bees. Made with responsibly sourced, 99% natural ingredients and no animal testing, this is a company who’s products you can feel good about using out in nature!
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Burt’s Bees


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So there you have it! Really the only thing you need in order to enjoy your visit is a little bit of advance preparation. This is an easy park to visit, and you don’t need much to have a good time here and experience all the best things to see and do. So get out there and see Kings Canyon!

And be sure to check out all my other posts on Kings Canyon for ideas on what to see and do during your visit!

For additional information on Kings Canyon National Park, visit the official park website.

Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in Grant Grove, though many of the facilities have shorter hours during the winter season. Cedar Grove is closed for the winter.

Entrance fee is $30 per vehicle.


 

 

This Is Halloween! Hiking to Pumpkin Rock

High in the hills of Norco overlooking the Jurupa Valley and the 15-freeway lives the iconic Pumpkin Rock. This hike is a seasonal favorite for locals, and it’s the perfect way to get into the Halloween spirit!

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The trailhead in George Engalls Equestrian Park

I recently went on this hike and wrote a piece on it for Weekend Sherpa, so I won’t get into too many details about it on here.

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I just wanted to share my photographs with all of you because I like how they turned out and only a few of them made it into the published story.

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This hike was super fun, and very easy. Only around 2 miles or so. And it’s really easy to get to, being only a few minutes from the freeway. But for full details and directions to the trailhead, check out my story on Weekend Sherpa!


 

 

Great Basin: Hiking Around Wheeler Peak

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Great Basin National Park can sorta be thought of in two pieces: the area surrounding Lehman Cave, and the area around Wheeler Peak.

To get to the Wheeler Peak portion you have to follow the whole scenic drive from the park entrance until it ends at the Bristlecone parking area. It takes awhile to get up there, but it is worth the effort because this is where all the best hikes in Great Basin are located.

Besides Wheeler Peak itself, here are my top picks for hikes in the Wheeler Peak and Bristlecone parking lot area:


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Sky Islands Forest Trail, 0.4 miles round trip

“This gentle, wheelchair accessible, trail winds through a high alpine conifer forest. Interpretive signs explain how this forest exists, cut off from other forests by distance, elevation, and time. Begin at the Bristlecone Parking lot at the end of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive.” (NPS website)

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Nice and easy trail, perfect for kids and handicapped folks

No matter which national park I go to, I always do all of the short little nature trails. Because why not? They are short and easy, plus they always lead to interesting sights. Doing this trail will only add a few minutes to your day, which is totally worth it once you see all the beautiful trees and little alpine streams.

This is a great hike for those who are unable to do the full Alpine Lakes Trail.

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Alpine Lakes Loop Trail, 2.7 miles round trip

“The trail passes two beautiful alpine lakes, Stella and Teresa Lakes, with great views of Wheeler Peak. Begin at the Bristlecone Parking Area, near the Wheeler Peak Campground.” (NPS website)

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This is a very pretty hike. It crosses over beautiful alpine meadows, with the imposing Wheeler Peak looming in the background.

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STELLA!!!!!!!!!!

It is also relatively flat, making it a good hike to do to help you acclimate to the higher altitudes in the park. And it leads past two stunning lakes. Total win.

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Trying to find the trail underneath the snow drifts…much butt scooting required.

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Stick your hand or feet in the water…it is impressively cold. I mean, it is basically just melted snow still surrounded by frozen snow, keeping it chilled.

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Teresa Lake, aka literally the coldest water I have ever felt

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More snow butt scooting.


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Bristlecone and Glacier Trail, 4.6 miles round trip

“Interpretive signs in the bristlecone pine grove explain the lives and significance of these ancient trees. The Glacier Trail is the continuation of the Bristlecone Trail. It continues beyond the bristlecone pine grove to the only glacier in Nevada, nestled beneath Wheeler Peak.” (NPS website)

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This hike was super cool and a lot of fun. The trail starts at the same trailhead as the other two hikes, and then splits off towards the glacier and bristlecone pine grove. It isn’t a difficult hike, and is absolutely a must-do when in Great Basin, especially for the bristlecone pines. They are the oldest living things on the planet, and don’t grow in many places.

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To get to the bristlecone pines, follow the trail towards the glacier. After a while you will see the Bristlecone Pine Grove Interpretive Trail to your left. It is just a quick little loop, but will put you up close and personal with these ancient trees (and by ancient, we’re talking over 5000 years old). Pretty awesome.

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The Bristlecone Pine spur trail

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The hike to the glacier was a bit more of challenge. After the bristlecone grove, much of the trail was covered in snow drifts (we were there in late June, for reference). However, you could see the trail pick back up after each snow drift, so we knew we wouldn’t get lost if we wandered across the snow. Plus other people had already crossed the snow before us, so we knew it was safe as long as we followed their footsteps. Literally, haha.

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Lots and lots of snow was still covering the trail to the glacier when we were there in the end of June. Be careful if you decide to cross snow drifts!

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Seriously though, really do be careful when crossing snow drifts…you never know what is underneath them, or how deep the snow goes.

Was it worth it? Yes. Did it make for some really cool photos? Definitely yes.

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The glacier!! and backside of Wheeler Peak

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All three of these hikes start from the same trailhead, and could easily be done in one day. Normally I try to give you my pick of the best hike in the park, but it is hard to choose between these. If time permits, seriously try to do all of three of these hikes. They will give you a really good sampling of all the coolest stuff to see in Great Basin. But if you can really only do one hike, pick the Bristlecone and Glacier Trail. That trail will take you to the only glacier in Nevada, nestled at the base of (arguably) the tallest mountain in Nevada, and past the oldest living things in the world. That’s a pretty epic round-up for just 4.6 miles!

And be sure to check out those scenic overlooks as you drive back to camp or wherever your next destination may be!

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Scenic overlook

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Click here for a list of all of the hikes in Great Basin National Park.


 

 

Hiking Acadia’s Precipice Trail

For all my fellow adventurous souls out there, this one is for you. If you’re like me and seek out the most brag-worthy trails in all of the national parks, look no further. In Acadia National Park, it’s the Precipice Trail.

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In fact, this hike is actually classified as a non-technical climb. Why? Because you are scaling the side of a rocky cliff via a series of ladders and iron railings.

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Precipice Trail to Orange & Black Trail, 2.5 miles round trip

“Iron rungs and ladders on exposed cliffs, very steep. Do not descend on Precipice Trail. Starts/ends at: Precipice Parking Area.” (NPS website)

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That description doesn’t even begin to describe the epicness that is the Precipice Trail. Easily the coolest hike I have ever done, this trail is definitely not for the faint of heart or physically unfit.

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If you are even kinda afraid of heights, skip this hike.

If you can’t climb a straight ladder (meaning straight up and down, no leaning), skip this hike.

There aren’t many hikes out there that require upper body strength, and this is one of them.

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Here are some things to consider for safety:

  • Make sure the weather reports are clear before starting. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS HIKE IN BAD WEATHER!!!
  • If it has been raining recently, the trail will be extremely slippery, including all of the rungs. Be sure to wear good shoes! And if in doubt, bring some gloves to help you grip the rungs.
  • Obey posted signs and follow the trail. Don’t attempt to hike back down the way you came up- continue following the Orange and Black Trail to get back to the parking area.

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Honestly, the scariest part of the trail was how slick it was from recent rain. One wrong step and you could fall off the cliff and die. And no, I’m not exaggerating. People have actually died on this trail. So hike smart, and stay safe. Grabbing that awesome Instagram photo won’t be worth it if you aren’t able to go home to post it.

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There are several points on this trail where you are literally scaling the wall of a cliff. No technical climbing skills required though- there are rungs and railings to help you along. It looks scarier than it is.

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The trailhead is located at the Precipice parking area, roughly halfway in between the Sieur de Monts park entrance and the Sand Beach Entrance Station. It’s easy to spot; you can’t miss it.

Once you are on the trail, just follow the blue paint! There are blue paint marks and arrows throughout the hike to keep you on the right path.

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This is hands down the coolest hike in Acadia! If weather permits and you are in good enough shape, you definitely don’t want to miss this one. The views are incredible, and the photo ops are endless.

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For a complete list of hiking options in Acadia, click here!


 

 

Kings Canyon: Hiking in Grant Grove

So as I mentioned in my Scenic Drive Through Kings Canyon post, the park is split into two sections, with a big stretch of national forest dividing them. Grant Grove is the considerably smaller of the two, and also the more easily accessible and more frequented. But don’t let its smaller size fool you; some of the coolest sights in the parks can be found here, like forests full of majestic sequoias, the largest trees in the world.

Here is a list of what I consider to be the best things to see and do in Grant Grove:

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General Grant Tree Trail, 1 mile loop

“One of the world’s largest living trees. President Coolidge proclaimed it the Nation’s Christmas tree in 1926. Visit the historic Gamlin Cabin and the Fallen Monarch along this 1/3 mile (.5 km) paved trail. North and west of the Kings Canyon Visitor Center.” (NPS website)

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If you are looking for the most iconic or most popular sight in the park, this is it. This trail is unbelievably crowded, complete with giant tour buses and all, but the General Grant Tree itself does not disappoint. It is GIGANTIC, and beyond impressive to see. And incredibly difficult to photograph. There is no good way to capture the enormousness of these trees on camera… you just have to see it. It’s an easy loop, with lots of spur trail options to add on to your hike if you feel like doing more exploring. Despite the crowds, it’s definitely worth a stop.

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North Grove Loop, 1.5 mile loop

“This lightly traveled, 1 1/2 mile trail provides an opportunity for a close look at the big trees. Enjoy a quiet walk past meadows and creeks, through mixed conifer and sequoia forest. The trailhead is at the Grant Tree parking area.” (NPS website)

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The North Grove Loop starts in the same parking lot as the General Grant Tree Loop, so if you have an extra hour or so and want to see more trees, this is a good choice. It is much more secluded than the General Grant Loop and is a great place for a quiet walk through the forest. The views aren’t that spectacular though, so I wouldn’t go out of your way to do this one. This hike is perfect though if you have spare time and want to seek some peace and quiet. Maybe some woodland meditation or yoga?

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Buena Vista Peak, 2 miles round trip

“The 2 mile round-trip hike up this granite peak begins just south of the Kings Canyon Overlook on the Generals Highway, 6 miles southeast of Grant Grove. From the top of Buena Vista Peak, a 360-degree view looks out over the majestic sequoias in Redwood Canyon, Buck Rock Fire Tower, and beyond to a splendid panorama of the high Sierra.” (NPS website)

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Ok, this was easily the best hike in the Grant Grove area. I love hikes that pack a lot of bang for your buck, and this was definitely one of those hikes. Only 2-miles round trip, but look at those views!!! Pro tip: skip the King Canyon Overlook and just do this hike instead. The views are 100 million times better.

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And all of these hikes can be done in half a day, leaving plenty of time for other adventuring!

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For a full list of hikes in the Grant Grove area, visit the Kings Canyon official website!


 

 

Badlands National Park: Tips and Packing List

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Called “Mako Sica” (“land bad”) by the Lakota, and “les mauvaises terres à traverser” (“bad lands to travel across”) by early French trappers, Badlands National Park has long been known to be a harsh and inhospitable environment. The parks 244,000 acres of land contain sharply eroded buttes, colorful spires and pinnacles, deep gorges, and sprawling prairies. Harsh winds ravage the land, and thunderstorms, lightning, and tornadoes pose a constant threat. There are few trees in the park, and average temperatures in the summer can reach near 100°F, and drop as low as 30°F in the winter. If you are looking to find one of the most desolate and unforgiving landscapes in America, this is it.

However with that ruggedness comes exceptional beauty, and visitors get to experience the same untamed wilderness that early explorers encountered. But thanks to the National Park Service, we can see it safely. And with a little planning and preparation, your visit to Badlands can be smooth and easy! I have prepared this guide to help you in your endeavors. From useful tips, sample itineraries, to a packing list, here is everything you need to know before heading to Badlands National Park!

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KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:

  • There are really fun tourist things located outside of the park at both entrances that should be included in any Badlands itinerary. Be sure to check out Wall Drug and Ranch Store.
  • In 2-3 days, you can see pretty much everything in the entire developed section of the park. Keep reading for a sample itinerary!
  • The weather varies a lot month to month (and even hour by hour!). Here is a chart to help you choose what month to plan your visit:

Badlands Weather Averages

Month Temperatures (F°)

Highs/Lows

Precipitation (inches)
January 34 11 0.29
February 40 16 0.48
March 48 24 0.90
April 62 36 1.83
May 72 46 2.75
June 83 56 3.12
July 92 62 1.94
August 91 61 1.45
September 81 51 1.23
October 68 39 0.90
November 50 26 0.41
December 39 17 0.30

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STAY SAFE:

  • Be respectful of wildlife. After all, the wildlife is indeed wild, making them unpredictable. Admire them from a distance, especially bison.
  • Watch out for rattlesnakes. These guys seek shade during the hot day and will hide in places like under boardwalks and stairs, and within tall grass. Do not stick your hand (or any other body part) in places you can’t see (like crevices, overhangs, in holes, under plants, etc). At night they seek warmth on paved roads, so carry a light and watch your step. Keep your ears open for their warning rattle, and if you encounter one, back away slowly.
  • Wear closed-toed shoes (hiking boots are best). This will help protect your feet from cactus spines, accidental steps on rattlesnakes or spiders, and will help prevent you from slipping when walking on the rugged, unstable terrain.
  • Stay hydrated. This will help prevent heat exhaustion.
  • Use plenty of sunblock. There really aren’t any trees or shade in this park, and that sun is brutal.
  • Start your hikes early in the day to avoid the risk of heat exhaustion. Here is my blog post on preventing and dealing with heat exhaustion.
  • Don’t rely on your cellphones for anything. Reception is pretty awful in the park. Use park maps, bring a portable GPS system, and above all else, STAY ON THE TRAILS!!
  • Be prepared for sudden and extreme changes in the weather. The day could start hot and sunny, but quickly turn into wind or thunderstorms. Even tornadoes are a possibility. Check daily weather forecasts, dress in layers, and carry a rain poncho. If you hear lightning, seek shelter and avoid trees, high places, and dry washes that can quickly fill with water.

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SAMPLE ITINERARY:

Here’s how we did Badlands. Was it the best possible itinerary? Kinda yes, kinda no. But it did allow us to see everything we wanted to see. Our itinerary included two nights in the park, one full day, and two half days.

Day 1:

-Arrive in the late afternoon.

-Stop at the Visitor Center to obtain information and souvenirs.

-Check in to Cedar Pass Campground and set up tent. Click here for information on camping and lodging options in Badlands.

-Hike: Window Trail, 0.25 miles/0.4 km (round trip)
Easy. This short trail leads to a natural window in the Badlands Wall with a view of an intricately eroded canyon. Please stay on the trail (NPS website).


Day 2:

-Hike: Cliff Shelf, 0.5 miles/0.8 km (round trip)
Moderate. This loop trail follows boardwalks and climbs stairs through a juniperforest perched along the Badlands Wall. A small pond occasionally exists in the area and draws wildlife, such as deer or bighorn sheep. Climbs approximately 200 feet in elevation. Please stay on the trail (NPS website).

-Hike: Notch Trail, 1.5 miles/2.4 km (round trip) – My favorite hike!!
Moderate to strenuous. After meandering through a canyon, this trail climbs a log ladder and follows a ledge to “the Notch” for a dramatic view of the White River Valley. Trail begins at the south end of the Door and Window parking area. Watch for drop-offs. Not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights. Treacherous during or after heavy rains (NPS website).

-Hike: Door Trail, 0.75 miles/1.2 km (round trip)
Easy. An accessible ¼ mile boardwalk leads through a break in the Badlands Wall known as “the Door” and to a view of the Badlands. From there, the maintained trail ends. Travel beyond this point is at your own risk. Watch for drop-offs (NPS website).

-Lunch Break.

-Hike: Castle Trail, 10 miles/16 km (round trip)
Moderate. The longest trail in the park begins at the Door and Window parking area and travels five miles one way to the Fossil Exhibit Trail. Relatively level, the path passes along some badlands formations (NPS website).

*This was our itinerary fail. You should never start your longest hike of the day in the middle of the afternoon, especially in hot weather. I ended up getting heat exhaustion and we were unable to finish the trail. My friend and I had to take the Saddle Pass Trail to get me back to the road faster. That trail doesn’t need to be on any itinerary, unless you are looking for a way to cut the Castle Trail short*

-Return to Visitor Center to cool off with a popsicle from the general store.


Day 3:

-Tear down camp.

-Hike: Fossil Exhibit Trail, 0.25 miles/0.4 km (round trip)
Easy. Fully accessible boardwalk trail features fossil replicas and exhibits of now extinct creatures that once roamed the area (NPS website).

-Stop at every viewpoint on the scenic drive on our way out of the park.


The only trail we didn’t have time to add in was the Medicine Root Loop, which is a moderate 4 miles round trip. An additional half day in the park would’ve allowed plenty of time for this trail. Two full days and one half day would be a perfect amount of time for everything. Three days is the most I would recommend staying in Badlands. If you only have one day to spend there, cut the Castle Trail/Saddle Pass from the itinerary, and don’t add in Medicine Root Loop.

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PACKING LIST:

  • Propane Stove. There are no open fires permitted in Badlands due to extreme fire danger, so propane stoves are a must when cooking. Wind shields, like on this one by Coleman, are VERY useful in this park. This is the stove I use, and it’s awesome. It has two burners, each with their own temperature controls, and it can fit two pans at the same time, which is great for cooking for groups like I do.

Coleman Classic Propane Stove

 

  • First Aid Kit. You never know what can happen out there, and this park has more than its fair share of things that can take you down. So it’s always good to be prepared! This kit has 275 useful, hospital grade medical supplies to get you through any situation. And it’s nice and compact, measuring only 12″w x 8.5″w x 4″d. For this particular park, having a snake bite kit on hand couldn’t hurt either.

    Thrive Brand First Aid Kit

 

  • Bandannas. If you read my post on surviving heat exhaustion, you already know that bandannas are a useful tool to help cool you off if you start overheating. Wide brimmed hats are also great to help keep the sun off of your face and shoulders. Gotta be prepared for that hot weather!

    Levi

     

    Quicksilver

 

  • Electrolyte Powder. When the temperatures get this high, you need a little extra boost to help keep you hydrated. This electrolyte powder can easily be mixed into your water, so it’s great to have on hand for when you are feeling a little drained or weak.

    Gatorade

 

  • Dome Tents. It gets crazy windy in Badlands, so a dome tent is more stable than a huge walled-tent with standard poles. The straight sides of those tents basically act like sails and catch the wind, whereas the wind blows right over the dome tents. Our big tent ended up collapsing from the wind, and worrying about it happening again lead to very sleepless nights.

    Coleman Sundome 4 Person Tent

  • Hydration Daypacks. Another easy way to make sure you keep drinking water? Have it strapped on your back with a convenient drinking hose right next to your face. When it comes to backpacks, I always turn to Osprey. These are some great options:
  • Osprey Syncro 3 Hydration Pack

     

    Osprey Packs Raptor 14 Hydration Pack

     

    Osprey Packs Women’s Verve 3 Hydration Pack

     

  • Portable GPS System. As mentioned earlier, cellphone reception sucks in Badlands (as it does in most national parks), so you can’t rely on it as your navigation system. If you follow park maps and stay on designated roads and trails, you probably won’t need any sort of additional navigation. The signs are pretty easy to follow. But if you enter the backcountry, you’ll definitely want a portable GPS system as a backup plan should things go wrong. Hell, they are always handy to have as a backup plan, even just to keep in your car for emergencies. This one is powered with AA batteries and lasts up to 20hrs. And it’s waterproof too.

    Garmin eTrex 10 Worldwide Handheld GPS Navigator

 

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USEFUL INFO (OBTAINED FROM NPS WEBSITE):

Badlands National Park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Entrance fees are collected year round. The park is in the Mountain Time Zone.

Visitor Center

Ben Reifel Visitor Center
Hours of Operation – Mountain Time Zone
8am – 4pm (Winter Hours)
8am – 5pm (April & May)
7am – 7pm (Summer Hours)
8am – 5pm (early September to late October)

CLOSED on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day

Phone

(605) 433-5361

Location

Cedar Pass “Badlands Loop Road” Hwy 240

Nearby Facilities

Cedar Pass Lodge, Badlands Inn and Campground, operated by Forever Resorts, an authorized concessioner of the National Park Service, is only open during the summer season. The Lodge offers rental cabins, a gift shop, and full-service restaurant.
Call (877) 386-4383 for reservations.


Entrance Fees

Private Vehicle: $20 – Valid for 7 days

Motorcycle: $10 – Valid for 7 days

Individual (hike, bicycle, etc…): $10 per person 16 and older – Valid for 7 days

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For additional information, visit the Badlands National Park website.


 

Hiking in Wind Cave National Park

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While Wind Cave National Park is best known for having one of the longest and most complex caves in the world, it also has over 30 miles of hiking trails through rolling grasslands and prairies full of wildflowers.

I don’t have much wisdom to impart on this topic cause, well, we only did one trail. But it was an awesome trail, so here is some info in case you want to check it out, as well as a TON of pictures. Hehe.

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HIGHLAND CREEK TRAIL, 8.6 miles one way, strenuous

“The longest and most diverse trail in the park. Experience prairies and forests as well as riparian habitats along Highland and Beaver creeks and Wind Cave Canyon.” (NPS website)

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The part about being the most diverse trail in the park is what sold us on this one. We only had one day to hike, so wanted to choose something that would offer the most bang for our buck and allow us to see the best sampling of Wind Cave above ground.

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This was definitely a good choice. Open prairies, wildflowers, forests, and tons of wildlife. And it was an easy trail too. It’s graded as strenuous, but that is only because of the length. This trail is mostly flat and feels like a pleasant stroll through nature.

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But part way through we encountered a problem.

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At least 100 bison were blocking the trail.

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Wildlife safety tip #1 is to stay at least 25yds away from the critters, especially big territorial ones like bison. They may look cute, but these guys are gigantic and can get mean. We wanted to finish this hike, but we’re not stupid and opted to leave the herd of bison alone. I mean, they were directly on the trail and everywhere surrounding it. There was no way around them without going hundreds of yards off trail. And that’s not a smart thing to do either.

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So we decided to turn around and do another cave tour instead! But at least we got some awesome photos and were able to see around half of the trail before the bison cut us off.

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And honestly, we were ok with that. The brief section of the trail we saw provided a good sampling of the above ground portion of Wind Cave, and the real reason to come to this park is the cave anyways. Sure the trails are pretty and all, but they aren’t any more or less pretty than other parts of South Dakota, such as Custer State Park. So if you come to Wind Cave and don’t have much time, I would recommend focusing on the cave. Being able to add in hiking trails is just a bonus. But an awesome bonus if you can spare a few hours.

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For information on all the other hiking trails in Wind Cave National Park, check out the NPS website!


Have you done any of the other trails in the park? Tell me how they are and share your thoughts!