The Civil War and Eastport, ME

Welcome to Eastport, Maine, home of Shackford Head State Park and the easternmost city in the United States! Located on the Bay of Fundy, this quaint coastal town has all the charm you would expect from a small east coast city, but don’t let its size fool you- Eastport has some big time sightseeing destinations that make this city one of the coolest places to visit in Maine.

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The main reason that brought us to Eastport was Shackford Head State Park, because state parks are wonderful and I have a mighty need to see them all.

Shackford Head features an interconnected trail system that leads you through lush woods to a rocky headland, passing by beaches and protected coves along the way. From the overlook at the top of the headland you can see Cobscook Bay and parts of Canada. It is also a great park for wildlife viewing, particularly several species of birds including bald eagles!

You can stop at some of the beaches to swim if you want (and the weather permits); while it was much too cold for swimming when we were there, I was still super excited to get to touch the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.

And to make the park even cooler, it has some pretty awesome ties to history as well (keep reading for more info on that!).

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My first time touching the Atlantic Ocean!! 😀

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The Shackford Head Interconnected Trail System, 2 miles round trip

“The Shackford Head and Overlook Trails (1.2-mile roundtrip) provide fantastic views of Cobscook Bay and surrounding peninsulas. If you enjoy challenging terrain with additional overlooks, continue on the Ship Point Trail (an additional half-mile loop) and return to the parking lot via the Schooner Trail for a total of roughly 2 miles.” (Maine Trail Finder website)

So basically, in just two miles you can hike all of the trails in the park. Win!

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Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Be careful when exploring the beaches – tides fluctuate at more than 20′ and move in quickly.
  • During the spring and summer, keep an eye out for ticks, which carry Lyme disease. Check yourself for bites after your visit.
  • Swimming is permitted at all the beaches, but isn’t recommended at Cony Beach due to being the site of Civil War ship demolition (more info on that coming).
  • This park is not staffed by rangers, so take extra caution while hiking and exploring as there is no help nearby.
  • And definitely be cautious on high bluffs and cliffs. There are a lot of slick surfaces in this park.

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Boardwalks!

For a list of all the trails in Shackford Head State Park, visit the Maine Trail Finder website!


The thing that really sets Shackford Head apart from other state parks though is its ties to the Civil War (ah, the post title finally makes sense hehe).  In the early 1900s, five Civil War battleships were burned here at Cony Beach to salvage any usable brass and iron.

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We had to cross the barrier of squishy old seaweed swarmed by gnats in order to reach the alleged Civil War battleship remains. That is determination, y’all.

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Sea critters!

We had heard that some of the remains of the ships were still left on the beach, so naturally we had to investigate…

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We definitely found some interesting structures, but were they part of the old Civil War ships? I don’t know. It seems odd that any left over pieces would survive over 100 years of tides, weather, and visitors, but you never know…they did look an awful lot like ship pieces…

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But old Civil War ship remains or not, they were still fascinating to look at and formed some cool tide pools, whatever they might be.

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And Cony Beach itself is beautiful and worth seeing even if it may or may not contain a piece of Civil War history. East coast beaches are so different from the beaches back home in LA. And I love them.

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Even if those weird structures on the beach aren’t pieces of old battleships, Shackford Head still has Civil War historical sights to check out.

In the large grassy area across from the parking lot, there is a memorial for all the ships that were burned here at Cony Beach, as well as informational plaques with photographs:

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I mean, based on the photos, the things on the beach very well COULD be pieces of the ships. I like to think that they are. It’s amazing to think of all the things these battleships have seen and experienced over their nearly 200 year old existence, from the day they were built, through the Civil War, to their final resting place on a beach in Maine. A lot can happen in 200 years.

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Location: Off Route 190 in Eastport, close to downtown Eastport, ME. Turn onto Deep Cove Road, and travel 0.8 miles to the entrance of Shackford Head State Park (a gravel drive on your left just before the campus of the Maine State Marine Technology School).

Hours / Season: Open all year; 9:00 a.m. to sunset daily unless otherwise posted at the gate.

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 information on Shackford Head State Park, visit the official website!

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The City of Eastport:

Shackford Head is obviously really cool, what with it’s Civil War history and beautiful views of the coast and all, but it’s not the only reason to visit Eastport. Here are a few more reasons to check out this small coastal town:

  • It’s the easternmost city in the US (the actual easternmost point is in West Quoddy Head State Park, and is just a rock out in the ocean)
  • Awesomely fresh and delicious seafood
  • Old Sow Whirlpool

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First let’s talk about the seafood (priorities). After spending the early part of the afternoon exploring Shackford Head, we went into town to warm up with some clam chowder! We found a great little restaurant right on the bay, and fresh clam chowder and hot tea were the perfect remedy for this cold day. Eating seafood right where it’s caught is the best. Period.

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Now let’s talk Old Sow. Old Sow is the biggest whirlpool in the western hemisphere, and the second largest in the world.

What is a whirlpool, you might ask? Here is a brief description from the Bay of Fundy website:

“This powerful whirlpool is formed when the rising tide passes both sides of Indian Island, takes a sharp right turn around the southern tip of Deer Island to flood the Western Passage.”

Basically, the currents push the water in a way that causes it to move in a circular motion, creating a large funnel leading to the ocean floor. Old Sow has clocked speeds of up to almost 7mph, which is pretty damn fast for ocean water to be spinning in a circle.

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We tried really hard to see this whirlpool. First we tried booking a harbor cruise, but it was cancelled cause the water was too rough. So then we tried to see it from the shore. I think I might have seen it, but it wasn’t very active that day and the photos look like a whole lotta nothing. To see what it looks like on a good day, do a Google search of “Old Sow Whirlpool”…it’s pretty impressive.

How can you view Old Sow?

“Old Sow is reported to be most active about 3 hours before high tide. This activity continues for about two hours and takes the form of a collection of small gyres, troughs, spouts and holes, and on the rare occasion will form one large funnel. This area, which has been reported to be as wide as 250 feet in diameter, can best be described as turbulent water. However, during spring tides (high water tide caused by a full or new moon) combined with high winds or a tidal surge will increase Old Sow’s activity causing more intense funnels and formations.” – Bay of Fundy website

The best views are from a boat (like the harbor cruise we tried to take), or from Deer Point in the Deer Island Campground, near the ferry landing at the south end of the island.

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Add in being the easternmost city in the whole country, and you’ve got one pretty awesome place to visit. For more info about all the great things to see and do in Eastport and to look for hotels, visit the Maine tourism website!


 

 

 

Watching The Sun Rise On Cadillac Mountain

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

.

.

.

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!


 

 

 

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!


 

 

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.


 

 

Day Trip to Neuschwanstein Castle

Around 2 hours outside of Munich, nestled in mountains above the town of Schwangau, sits Neuschwanstein Castle. This castle looks like something straight out of a fairy tale (it was even used as the inspiration for Cinderella’s Castle in Walt Disney World!). With a history as romantic as its location, a trip to Neuschwanstein is perfect for anyone with a love of history, architecture or who has a love of storybook worthy scenery.

To visit Neuschwanstein, I decided to enlist the help of the pros and booked a guided tour through Viator. The tour met up bright and early at Munich Central Station (which was right across the street from my hotel…yes!!). And my goodness it was cold!! Luckily the tour left quickly, and coffee in hand, we all piled onto the warm train and settled in for our 2-hr ride. DSCN1044

2 hours might seem like a long time to sit on a train, but the ride was actually very pleasant. Our tour guide told us stories of Munich, the Wittelsbach Dynasty, King Ludwig II and Neuschwanstein, all while taking in the beautiful scenery of the Alps and southern Germany.

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The Alps!!

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Before I knew it, we had reached the small town of Fussen. From there, we hopped on a bus that took us to Schwangau, where the castle is located.

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Fussen

Upon arrival in Schwangau, we took a lunch break while our tour guide arranged the rest of our journey. Yes, I got more bratwurst and German coke. I had formed a fierce addiction to those wonderful sausages.

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And then the journey continued on foot. We walked through Schwangau, passing by King Ludwig II’s childhood castle of Schloss Hohenschwangau.

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Walking through Schwangau

 

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Schloss Hohenschwangau

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The walk up to Neuschwanstein is pretty fierce, so we each paid a couple euros to take a tram. We stopped at Marienbrucke first, a small bridge stretching across Pollat Gorge that King Maximillian II (King Ludwig II’s father) had built as a birthday present to his mountain-climbing love, Marie. Those with a fear of heights might want to skip this one, as the gorge is a long way down. But the views of Neuschwanstein from the bridge are absolutely incredible, with rolling hills and small villages surrounding this magnificent castle.

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After taking in the panoramic views from the bridge, we continued on foot to the castle. There was still some snow on the ground, and it just added to the magic of the castle.

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Schwangau, with Schloss Hohenschwangau

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As I’m sure you have figured out by now, this tour requires a TON of walking. You’ll definitely be wanting the comfortable shoes for this one.

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Made it to the castle!

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Feel like Disneyland yet?

And then it was time for the guided tour. Neuschwanstein is absolutely gorgeous inside, and the decorative details are incredible. No photography allowed inside the castle though, so I don’t have any pictures of it. They wouldn’t have been able to do it justice anyways.

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“Mad King” Ludwig II was a shy dreamer with a vivid imagination and a tendency to isolate himself. He had visions of grandeur, and identified himself with the kings of the Medieval age. He was obsessed with the idea of a holy kingdom by the Grace of God over which he could rule as a true king, instead of the reality of just being a constitutional monarch with little ruling power. Ludwig II retreated more and more into a fantasy world where he could live the old-world, poetic life he dreamed of. He spent less time in Munich, and sought a residence away from the hustle of city life. He wanted to build his own kingdom where he could be free to live in his world of fantasy, a world in which great kings still existed and resided in ornate and elaborate castles in the countryside.

Ludwig II selected a location near his childhood castle, and began construction of Neuschwanstein in 1866, two years after taking the throne. Ludwig wrote to his good friend Richard Wagner, saying:

“It is my intention to rebuild the old castle ruin of Hohenschwangau near the Pöllat Gorge in the authentic style of the old German knights’ castles, and I must confess to you that I am looking forward very much to living there one day (in 3 years); there will be several cosy, habitable guest rooms with a splendid view of the noble Säuling, the mountains of Tyrol and far across the plain; you know the revered guest I would like to accommodate there; the location is one of the most beautiful to be found, holy and unapproachable, a worthy temple for the divine friend who has brought salvation and true blessing to the world. It will also remind you of “Tannhäuser” (Singers’ Hall with a view of the castle in the background), “Lohengrin'” (castle courtyard, open corridor, path to the chapel); this castle will be in every way more beautiful and habitable than Hohenschwangau further down, which is desecrated every year by the prose of my mother; they will take revenge, the desecrated gods, and come to live with Us on the lofty heights, breathing the air of heaven.”

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In reality, the castle construction took much longer than Ludwig II expected, and he was not able to move in until 1884, roughly 20 years after the original plans were drawn.

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The lifestyle Ludwig II was building for himself proved to be in conflict with his duties as head of state. Neuschwanstein and the life Ludwig II lived in it were expensive; far beyond the means of a private king. Foreign banks threatened to seize the property, and Ludwig’s refusal to act rationally about the situation resulted in the government declaring him insane and removing his title and power. He was interned in Berg Palace, and the next day, he was found dead in Lake Starnberg under mysterious circumstances alongside the psychiatrist who had declared him insane. It is thought that he preferred death over returning to reality, and he choose to end his life while still in his world of dreams and illusions. However some people also believe he was murdered, with several witnesses claiming to have seen or heard King Ludwig II be shot and then dumped into the lake. The truth remains a mystery…

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Following the tour, there is a cool gift shop where you can pick up some fun Neuschwanstein souvenirs. I got a hand-blown glass Christmas ornament and some postcard pictures of the castle interior.

But oh the walking has not yet ended. While we were able to take a tram up to the castle, we had to walk all the way back down to Schwangau. Our tour guide told us what time we had to be back in Schwangau to get on the bus, and then permitted us to shop and stroll our way back at our leisure. I stopped at a cute little stand and bought some hot chocolate in a souvenir mug and some German cookies to enjoy during the walk.

And then something magical happened. It started snowing!! I know that is not a big deal to a lot of people, but as a southern Californian, I had never been snowed on before. I had been to the snow of course, but had never actually experienced seeing snow fall. I was beyond excited. Everything about the castle felt like magic, as if Ludwig II was still creating his romantic fantasy world from beyond the grave.

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SNOW!!!!!

Our tour group eventually all made it back to the bus in Schwangau, but some of the group took too long getting there and made us miss the train in Fussen. Thankfully there would be another train along in an hour, but until then, we had to kill some time in Fussen. Which normally would’ve been wonderful, because Fussen is a very pretty town with lots of fun shops and stuff, except for the fact that it was freezing and pouring rain.

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Like I would let that stop me. I still went out and explored anyways. A little rain never hurt anyone (unless you are in an old movie, in which case rain = certain death).

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I appreciated the humor of whoever put this pink shirt on the statue hehe

The train ride back to Munich was decidedly less pleasant than the last ride. I was soggy from wandering in the rain, and the train was super crowded. A lot of people even had to stand, which was a bummer since it was a 2-hr ride.

By the time we made it back to Munich, I was starving, cold, and exhausted, but still mesmerized by the magic of the castle.

For more information on Neuschwanstein Castle, visit their website.

Hiking in Redwood National Park: Coast

While the park may be famous for its towering redwoods, the coastal section has a beauty all its own and definitely should not be missed. In truth, it was probably my favorite part of the park. The trees are incredible, no doubt, but as a Southern CA girl, my heart always lies with the ocean.

We started our visit to the coast with a stop at the Klamath River Overlook, which is supposed to have awesome whale watching. We were not fortunate enough to see any whales, but the views of the coast and the Klamath River sure were beautiful! (This was just a drive up and park overlook- no hiking or walking required. And there were quite a few picnic tables available… Maybe a nice picnic spot?).

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After the whale watching fail, we took a sunset hike to the beach. We did the Yurok Loop Trail, which is a fairly easy, 1-mile loop, and is technically listed as part of the North section of the park (not the Coastal section), but I included it here because it leads to, well, the coast.

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The spur trail to get down to the beach was a little bit challenging to find. It actually may not have even been a real spur trail, but enough people have used it that it sure looks like one. I am glad we found it though, because the beach was AMAZING!

We were super lucky and arrived at low tide (tide charts are available in the ranger stations and visitor centers, in case you want to ensure your arrival at low tide), and the tidepools were super cool! The sea stars were gigantic…bigger than your hand, and a really pretty purple color.

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The colors from the setting sun did beautiful things to the water, and it was one of those moments where nature leaves you in absolute awe. Like Forrest Gump says, “I couldn’t tell where Heaven stopped and the earth began.”

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Towards the end of the loop, when you are almost back at the parking lot, there are more wild berry bushes with tons of blackberries. Now for some reason the park ranger we spoke with did not recommend this trail, and said it wasn’t very good. Maybe my standards are lower, or maybe she is just crazy, but I thought it was the best trail in the whole park.

The Yurok Loop Trail can be found on the park’s hiking guide for the North section, but for a listing of all the official Coastal section trails, click here.

Waikiki!

No trip to Oahu is complete without a visit to one of the most famous beaches in the world: Waikiki!

Hotels right on the beach are crazy expensive, but luckily there are plenty of more affordable options a few blocks inland, all within walking distance of the legendary beach. On the walk to the beach there are many shops and restaurants, where you can buy anything from cheap souvenirs to designer duds. We made a pit stop at Island Vintage Coffee, which served the most tasty coffee beverages, as well as lots of delicious and natural food offerings. We grabbed some stuff to go, and headed to the beach!

My coconut mocha latte…yummy!

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One of the entrances to the beach off of Kalakaua Ave (the main drag of Waikiki):

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Yay! Coffee on the beach = perfection!

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We bought this delicious papaya filled with Greek yogurt and fruit at Island Vintage Coffee… it was one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had!

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My pedicure matched my lei hehe

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Enjoying the warm Hawaiian sun…

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Even in December, the water was still warm enough to enjoy swimming in, especially since the sun was so hot. Definitely not “bath water” warm though.

After the beach, we did some shopping!

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I know I can shop at these places back in LA anytime I want, but there is something fun about doing it on vacation. And now the purchases double as souvenirs.

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Our second day spent at Waikiki started off with a journey to find spam musubi for lunch…

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This place was easy to find and had awesome reviews. And the reviews were right…this spam musubi was delicious!!!

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When visiting Hawaii, you kinda just have to try some sort of food with SPAM in it. Personally, I love SPAM, and don’t care what it is made of. That stuff is tasty! Especially when made into spam musubi.

Such a beautiful sight… and at less than $2 per spam musubi, we bought a whole bag full of them!

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And then took it to the beach for a little picnic.

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Another one of the iconic images of Waikiki- a statue of Duke Kahanamoku, the man known as “the father of modern surfing”.

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Waikiki is a beautiful beach. However, it is also a very crowded and commercialized beach, crawling with tourists. For a more serene and relaxing experience, perhaps consider trying a different beach. Waikiki is best visited basically for bragging rights, and being able to say you have been to Waikiki. But still definitely a must-see on Oahu, so don’t head home before setting foot on the famed shores of Waikiki!

Tortuguero National Park

Since our time in Costa Rica was limited, we decided to make San Jose our home base for the week and book daily tours to see different parts of the country. We found a 1-day tour to Tortuguero National Park through Viator. Our guides picked us up at our hotel at the crack of dawn, and drove us to the boat docks. The park is only accessible by boat, so we set off on a river cruise through the rainforest! If any of you have ever been to Disneyland and rode the Jungle Cruise, I swear, it feels exactly the same.. Except real.

Some highlights of the cruise:

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Our guide let us sit on the front of the boat… that was pretty awesome.

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After about an hour and a half of cruising the river, we arrived at Tortuguero! Upon landing at the docks, we had to walk through Tortuguero village to get to the beach. The village was quaint, and filled with shops. I would’ve liked to spend some time there looking around, but alas, we were on a tight schedule.

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So on to the beach! Tortuguero National Park is located on the Atlantic Ocean side of the country, and the weather and the water were absolutely beautiful. During certain times of the year, green sea turtles use this beach as a nesting ground (hence the name of the park) and the beach is off limits. But this was not that time of the year, so we were able to splash around in the ocean a bit. It really would’ve been cool to see the turtles though.

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After our fabulous (albeit brief) beach time, we hopped back on the boat and traveled to one of the many eco-lodges in the park. The lodge offered access to a crazy awesome hiking trail entirely on boardwalks and hanging bridges. This, for me, was probably the highlight of the park. We saw so many animals, and the hanging bridges were so fun to walk on!

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The lodge also served us a tasty buffet lunch, which was included in the price of the tour. Then it was back on the boat to begin our journey back to San Jose! Some pics from the ride home:

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I would highly recommend this tour to anyone who has a day to spare when traveling to San Jose! Even though we didn’t get to see the sea turtles, there was so much other wildlife, and the river cruise and rainforest hike were both delightful! It was definitely hot though, so be sure to pack lots of sunscreen, water, and a hat! Especially if you have a Celtic complexion like me haha.