Monday, August 3, 2015

Lonesome Lake - The Perfect Family Hike

View of Cannon Mountain from Lonesome Lake

Lonesome Lake is a perfect hike for kids!
There are a million hikes to choose in the White Mountains - long, short, steep, flat, wet, dry - the list goes on and on.  But if you are planning a hike for a three-year-old, you need to choose wisely.  In my most popular post "5 Best Family Hikes in the White Mountains", I suggest this jaunt up Lonesome Lake Trail to mountain views, bog-bridge trails through meadows, and a comfy lunch spot at the AMC Hut.  It was time to put it to the test. On this perfect summer day, my friend Ingrid and I took her two kiddies - one-year-old Georgie and a three-year-old Ilsa to this iconic spot in New Hampshire's Franconia Notch.  Read below to replicate our adventure...

Adventure: Day Hike to Lonesome Lake

Ilsa crosses a small brook near the campground.
(Photo by Ingrid)
Getting There:  The trail-head for Lonesome Lake is located in the popular Lafayette Campground in Franconia State Park.  The campground is only accessible from a southbound exit on I-93.  If you are coming from the south (like I was), pass the area and take the Cannon Mountain exit, where you can get back on I-93 South.  The parking lot fills quickly on weekends, so plan to get there early.  If you can't, you can park on the I-93 north side at the Falling Waters Trail and take the under-highway tunnel to the campground.

Trail: From Lafayette Campground, take the Lonesome Lake Trail (yellow blaze).  After about 0.4 miles, the trail reaches a junction with the Hi-Cannon Trail.  Continue on Lonesome Lake Trail through hardwood forest.  The trail is uphill but moderate - giving hikers stone steps to help them up steep sections and even a few switchbacks (unusual in the Whites!)  Continue another 0.8 miles (1.2 total now) to the east side of Lonesome Lake.  Take a left and travel Around Lonesome Lake Trail- getting glimpses (and sounds) of the lake and shore.  After about 0.4 miles, you will pass over a bridge that gives clear views of Cannon Mountain mirroring on the clear lake before reaching the platform/beach area and the stairs to the hut.
Ilsa enjoys a swim at Lonesome Lake (photo by Ingrid)
In the summer months, the beach area is a perfect spot to rest or swim in the summer time.  On a hot weekend day, plan on sharing the area with 10-20 people who share your love of nature.  From the swimming area, visitors can get a clear view of Franconia Ridge in the distance.

Bog Bridges Around Lonesome Lake Trail.

Don't forget to visit the hut for a cookie or cup of hot chocolate (and possible bathroom break) before continuing around the lake.  From the swimming area and hut, continue on the Around Lonesome Lake Trail another 0.4 miles onto a path of bog bridges that travels over fragile meadow and wetlands.  Sneak a peak in the small streams and you might see some small trout swimming in the shallows!  As Ilsa informed us, "It looks like a fairyland!"

Soon, you'll return to the junction with Lonesome Lake Trail.  Return the way you came.  If you are a lucky little girl, you might have your Auntie Lindsey carry you down so you can rest your little legs.  Back at the campground, use the restroom before returning to the car for the ride home.

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Distance: 4.2 miles round trip including doing the perimeter of the lake.

Summit gets a swim in too!

- Set up your children for success.  Get them excited about their hike - tell them what they might see, what the trail will be like, etc.  Bring trail snacks, treats, a toy, and a change of clothes and towel (for swimming).

- Young children should not carry a backpack (unless they ask to).  Make the experience lighthearted and fun.  Give positive affirmations for good hiking behavior.

- Bring a back up carrier for little kids.  Our three-year-old hiker rocked the hike up (with a couple candy bribes and many stops), but was pooped for the downhill.  We were prepared with a backpack child carrier.

- Take advantage of the hut bathrooms and rooms to allow children to comfortably change clothing.  You can also refill potable water here.

- There is no charge for parking.

- Get to the parking lot early on summer weekends.  It fills quickly!

- Check the weather - the White Mountains are prone to afternoon thunderstorms and variable weather.  Plan ahead and be prepared!
Kids hang out at base of AMC hut.
(Photo by Ingrid)

It was a PERFECT day in the White Mountains -  clear, sunny, warm (but not hot), and not humid.  We all enjoyed our hike up the shaded trails of Lonesome Lake Trail to the sunny swimming beach at the hut shore.  If you are looking for a great kid-friendly hike or just a moderate hike of your own, you won't regret spending your day in Franconia Notch's Lonesome Lake.

You might also enjoy the following posts:
-  Sugarloafs - 2000 footers with Outstanding Views
-  Best Family Hikes in White Mountains, NH
Livermore Trail - Easy Multi-use trail in the White Mountains

Please leave any questions and comments below.  Don't forget to like The Freelance Adventurer on Facebook and on Instagram @FreelanceAdventurer.

View of Franconia Ridge from west side of lake.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Best Road Trip - 15 nights in Iceland - Cost, Advice, and Itinerary

Godafoss Waterfall, Iceland
Hard to say something is the best, right?  I mean, I've been on some pretty awesome road trips - Newfoundland, California, Colorado, Michigan, Pacific Northwest, Southwest National Parks, Ireland....the list goes on and on.  But I can say - Iceland trumps them all.  The natural beauty is incomparable - it's AMAZING! Combined with the ease of foreign currency (all you need is a credit card), the delicious food, and the tourist-friendly attitude, makes this island THE BEST place to visit.  Yes, it's cold.  Yes, it's rural. No, there are no beaches to lay out in a bikini.  It's not that kind of vacation.  If you are looking for a natural wonderland and long roads where the only traffic is the sheep and horses on the side of road, then go here.  Below you'll get a review of our 15-night itinerary as well as some tips and tricks for your trip.  Happy Travels!

Dynjandi Waterfall, Iceland

THE BEST ROAD TRIP - 15 Nights in Iceland 

Outside of Reykjavik 
This trip wasn't cheap...but it was cheaper than I expected.  With a day job as a middle school science teacher, I don't have a huge slush fund for travel.  However, by saving $100 from each paycheck for three years (money that should have probably gone into some sort of Roth IRA retirement account), I saved $5,000 - my expected cost.  As it turned out, the trip cost - for everything - about $4,000 a person (3 person trip).  This included...

$760 - Round-trip Direct Flight from Boston
$1,936 - Payment to Iceland Unlimited (2 week budget car rental, 15 night budget accommodations, Ferry to Westfjords, Whale Watch Trip, Blue Lagoon Entrance, and Travel Agent Services [24-hour contact, map, meeting, cell phone, gps])
$421 - Expenses - 1/3rd of the gas, snacks, souvenirs, snacks
$569 - Food and Drink (Lunches and Dinners only. Breakfast was always included by guesthouses.  We often only went out for one large meal a day to save money)
$300 - Extra Excursions (Horseback Riding, Silfra Snorkel, Glacial Bay Boat Tour)
$160 - Third of cost for broken windshield (cracked along trip and had to replace)
TOTAL: $4,146

And it was worth EVERY PENNY!  I'm starting to save for a return trip (the Roth IRA can wait...)

5 Things I didn't know until I went to Iceland...

Hraunfossar waterfall
1.  There are waterfalls EVERYWHERE. - Yes.  I knew there were waterfalls there.  I had done my photography research on Godafoss, Gullfoss, and all the other "fosses".  What I didn't realize is that you can't throw a puffin in this country without hitting ten waterfalls.  Driving along fjords all day, we'd see literally hundreds of falls coming off the mountains and draining into the fjord.  It was amazing and beautiful.  Perhaps next time I go, I'll try to stop more often for the "little ones" (they aren't little by US standards) and spend less time at tourists favorites.

Lupines Everywhere!
2. In July, the country is covered in lupine flowers, sheep, and horses. - Oh my goodness! The beauty!  It's hard to describe, but we would drive for a full day through what looked like one massive field of purple lupines.  It's memorizing.  Icelanders also have large herds of sheep and horses that roam freely through the island.  Every glance is picture-perfect.

3.  Everyone speaks English. - Well, ok...I DID meet one woman who didn't at a rural gas station in North Iceland, but everyone else in the gas station did.  Since there are so many European tourists, English has become the "tourist language" and most menus, products, and signs were in English - even in rural areas.
Walking on ice - bring a jacket

4. The food is good. - I had expected food choice would be limited due to the remote and isolated location.  We found that restaurants served excellent and diverse menus.  Portion size was fair and so was cost.  Remember, you don't tip your servers in Iceland and tax is included in the cost of the food, so a $30 meal isn't that bad when you consider it includes tax and gratuity.  Oh...we also noticed there are a lot of pizza places.

5.  It's chilly. - I mean, I knew this I guess.  The summer prior, I had kept pretty close tabs on the daily weather in Reykjavik, but it was still surprising to be mid-July with a high of 55 F.  Bring lots of layered clothing and sunscreen.  The harsh northern sun will get you. Don't forget your swimsuit too - Hot tubs everywhere!

And now for the itinerary ... Click on the day and follow the link to the write up about that day.  

15 Nights in Iceland (in July)

Day 1 (July 8)Blue Lagoon and Reykjavik Introduction - Arrive in Iceland at 6:30 am. Take Flybus to Blue Lagoon for opening at 8:30 am.  From Blue Lagoon, take Flybus to Reykjavik.  Check into Guesthouse Aurora and explore local spots.

Day 2 (July 9)West Iceland - Lupines, Waterfalls, Hot Springs, and Craters 
Get rental car from Enterprise and drive west.  Explore Hvakfjordur fjord and the Glymur waterfall. See other sights along the road. Stay at Hotel Borganes.
Day 3 - Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Day 3 (July 10) Snæfellsnes Peninsula - Beaches, Churches, and Mountains  Explore the Snaefellsnes peninsula and glacier.  Stay at Guesthouse Kast.

Day 4 (July 11) - The Wild Westfjords - Winding Roads, Mountains, Puffins, and a Ferry Take 9 am ferry  in Stykkisholmur alon Breidafjordur bay.  See Latrabjarg cliff and puffins!  Stay at Radagerdi hostel in Patreksfjordur.

Day 5 (July 12) Westfjords Waterfalls and Coastal Villages  - Explore more of the Westfjords including Patreksfjordur, Talknafjordur, and Bildudalur.  Visit the Dynjandi waterfall and Isafjordur.  Stay at Hotel Edda Isafjordur.

Day 6 (July 13) Westfjords Continued - Hot Tubs, Waterfalls, and Sorcery -  Explore the capital of sorcery and witchcraft while exploring more fjords and beauty.  Stay at Guesthouse Laugarholl.

Day 7 (July 14)Northwest Iceland - Black Beaches, Driftwood and Icelandic HorsesDrive by fertile farmland and barren mountains roads.  Take an afternoon tour on Icelandic horses.  Stay at Guesthouse Holar. 

Day 8 (July 15)Akureyri - Shopping, Food, and Drink - Drive to the capital of the north.  Explore the town and stay at Guesthouse Gula Villan.

Day 6 - Drangsnes Hot Tubs

Day 9 (July 16)North Iceland - Whales, Waterfalls, and Nature Baths - Head for Lake Myvatan.  On the way stop and see Godafoss waterfall.  Go on 3 hour whale watching tour in Husavik.  Stay at Guesthouse Stong.

Day 10 (July 17)Myvatn - Craters, Sulfur Pots, and Steam Vents - Drive to Eastern Iceland.  Stop to see Dettifoss - Europes most powerful waterfall.  Stay at Icelandair Hotel Herad.

Day 11 (July 18)East Iceland - Hot Tubs, Lobster, and (more) Waterfalls - Drive through East Fjords and fishing villages.  Stay at Guesthouse Arnanes. 

Day 12 (July 19)Southeast Iceland - Icebergs and Glaciers See glacial lagoon through a boat tour.  Explore Vatnajokull National Park, Svartifoss Waterfall, and Vik.  Stay at Hotel Edda in Skogar.

Day 13 (July 20)The South Coast - Waterfalls, Waterfalls, and Snorkeling - Drive the south coast and stop to see many waterfalls including Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrabui. Snorkel Silfa in Thingvellir National Park. Spend the night at Guesthouse Lambastadir. 

Day 14 (July 21) The Golden Circle - þingvellir National Park, Geysers, and Gullfoss - Visit Thingvellir National Park.  See geysers and Gullfoss waterfall.  Return rental car and stay at Reykavik Hostel Village.

Day 15 (July 22) Reykjavik- Hot Dogs, Happy Hour, and Sunshine CityEnjoy the last day in Iceland by exploring Reykjavik on foot. 

Day 16 (July 23) Fly home - Morning flight back to Boston.

Day 12 - Glacial Lagoon
In conclusion, this trip might have been a "once in a lifetime adventure", but I can't accept that.  I HAVE to go back!  Who needs a retirement plan anyhow?

Please leave any questions and comments here.  Don't forget to like The Freelance Adventurer on Facebook and on Instagram @FreelanceAdventurer

Westfjords Selfie

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Day 15 & 16 - Reykjavik- Hot Dogs, Happy Hour, and Sunshine City

Laugavegur Street, Reykjavik
The weather gods smiled upon us on our last full day in Iceland.  Sunshine and warmth (well...60 F) made the city come even more alive.  We had a few things left on our Iceland bucket list including eating a hot dog from a food cart, some last minute shopping, and a splurge of a dinner.  Here is how we accomplished this...

Day 15 & 16 - Reykjavik- Hot Dogs, Happy Hour, and Sunshine City
Hot Dogs at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur.  Notice the line behind them.

Our day began with breakfast at our hostel followed by a walk around town.  We were fortunate that our hostel was located right at the start of the popular shopping street Laugavegur.  This street has gift shops, boutiques, cafes, bars, and many parts is for pedestrian traffic only.  Our goal was to work down Laugavegur towards a popular hot dog cart - Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur.  The place is known as good bite, and consistently has a line of 5-25 people.  I ordered two dogs with "the works".  This included ketchup, mustard, friend and raw onion, and remoulade (sweet mayo dressing).   They were delicious!

Enjoying the sunshine and a mocha at Uno
After the dogs, we went to Uno for coffee.  We stopped here because it was a warm, sunny day (I was down to only one long sleeve layer!) and they had patio seating.  We enjoyed people watching and sipping our hot drinks.

From there, we took a long, out-of-the-way walk back to the hostel.  I wanted to walk through Hljómskálagarður - a town park and small lake within the city.  It was such a beautiful day that walking outside was a perfect way to explore and get some Vitamin D.

Back at the hostel, we researched restaurants for our last Icelandic dinner.  We settled on seeking out Snaps - rated by one magazine as "The Best Goddamn Restaurant".  We also researched happy hour spots and found out that Apotek- a swanky restaurant and bar - had 1/2 off cocktails during happy hour.  Sold!

Dinner at Snaps

Another 10 minute walk and we reached Apotek where we enjoyed gourmet cocktails in their comfortable and stylish lounge.  Afterwards, we walked 5 minutes to Snaps.  Word of caution - make reservations for Snaps.  We hadn't thought of this, but we were informed they were entirely booked.  Fortunately, there was room at the bar, so we all enjoyed a meal there after all.  I felt the menu had a French influence and I enjoyed my mussels, fries, and house red wine.

After dinner it was time to return to the hostel and pack up.  The next morning, we took an early FlyBus from our hostel to the airport.  It was time to go home.
Walking through Hljómskálagarður park.
What a trip!  It was great to have one extra day in Reykjavik to unwind and explore.  I feel extremely grateful and humbled that I was able to travel 15 nights through Iceland with two wonderful women.  Thank you Leanne and Ali for being the most fun, relaxed, and easy companions.  It's so much better to go to an amazing place and have someone to share experiences with.  I'm also grateful for the work done by Linda at Iceland Unlimited.  She gave great advice, was accessible and easy to communicate with, and found us budget accommodations near amazing locations.
The map we got from Iceland Unlimited with our highlighted route (pink) and interesting sites hand written in blue and green.  What a help!  Thanks Linda!!!
On most of my annual girls trips I know that, realistically, I will not be back to that location. Even though this trip cost three years of savings, I REFUSE to accept that I will not return.  Iceland will haunt my travel dreams for the rest of my life and I will continue to plan a return.  Until next time... "Kveðja".
Farewell, Iceland.  Thanks for the memories and magic!  ~ Lindsey, Leanne, and Ali

Please leave comments or questions below, or visit us on our Facebook page at The Freelance Adventurer for more photos and stories or visit us on Instagram @FreelanceAdventurer.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Day 14 - The Golden Circle - þingvellir National Park, Geysers, and Gullfoss

Gullfoss Waterfall
Our trip was winding to a close, and we had left one of the most visited parts of the island for last - the Golden Circle.  The Golden Circle is a popular tourist driving route that includes þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, and geysers.  We had a great day exploring these beautiful sites before returning our rental car to Reykjavik.  Here is how to recreate this adventure...

Day 14 - The Golden Circle - þingvellir National Park, Geysers, and Gullfoss
Kerio Crater

The day started with a drive up Rt 35.  We made quick first top at Kerio - a crater with a turquoise lake inside.  There was a charge to enter the area (~$2 US), but worth it to see the beautiful sight.  Visitors can walk the rim as well as walk down to the lake.

Our next stop was to the large and powerful Gullfoss waterfall.  Hundreds of tourists walked with us along the short 10 minute trail to the viewing area at the top of the falls.  It was an awesome and formidable sight.

Crowds walk down to Gullfoss waterfall
From Gullfoss, we retraced our way back on Rt 35 down to Geysir - a popular geyser that blows every 10-15 minutes.  Surrounding the geyser are some mud pots, sulfur pools, and other geothermal formations.  It was exciting to watch the geyser erupt multiple times and explore the area.
Geysir sequence
Views from þingvellir
We stopped for a lunch of sandwiches and soup and the large visitor center, gift shop, and cafeteria across from Geysir.

Afterwards, we traveled across Rt 365 to þingvellir National Park (pronounced Thingvellir) where Leanne and I had gone on our snorkel trip the night before.  We hiked on the well-labeled trails by serene lakes, shadowing cliffs, and cascading waterfalls.  Interpretive signs educate visitors about the social and historical significance of the site.

From þingvellir, we took Rt 36 back to Reykjavik to return our Enterprise rental car.  Somehow along the trip, a piece of gravel (probably from an overzealous 4x4 passerby in the Westfjords) had chipped our windshield. This chip lead to a significant crack.  As a result, we had to pay for a new windshield (about $500 US).  Why didn't we get the gravel insurance you might ask?  Well, first of all, we weren't told it was important, but also it would have cost about $300 to insure ourselves against gravel on the trip.  Realistically, I would have been willing to gamble that on a no-chip trip.  Either way, Enterprise was easy to deal with and they gave us a ride from the bus/rental station to our accommodations -  Reykjavik Village Hostel.
Smaller waterfall in þingvellir
The hostel was adequate - bunk beds in a private triple room with shared bath.  The location was great - near the start of popular shopping street, Laugavegur.  We strolled down the street and eventually settled on a Thai dinner.

We retired to our hostel, knowing that tomorrow would be our last full day in Iceland.  It was a bittersweet thought.  We were all a little homesick, but sad to leave this dynamic and amazing country.

A folded basalt ground with tall lava-rock cliffs in þingvellir National Park.
READ ABOUT THE NEXT DAY HERE: Day 15 & 16 - Reykjavik- Hot Dogs, Happy Hour, and Sunshine City

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Day 13 - The South Coast - Waterfalls, Waterfalls, and Snorkeling

A hike behind Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
Day 13 was all about water.  We packed three of the big and famous waterfalls in the country into this day.  In the evening, Leanne and I popped into þingvellir National Park to snorkel the Silfra Fissure - an underwater gorge where two tectonic plates are pulling apart.  Here is how to recreate our adventure...

Day 13 - The South Coast - Waterfalls, Waterfalls, and Snorkeling

Feeling the mighty power of Skogafoss Waterfall!
We discovered that the south coast of Iceland was fairly packed in the summer.  Tourists spending just a few days in the country can rent a car or take a Reykjavik Excursions coach out to this area for the day.  After days without crowds, it was almost stressful being surround by other tourists.

We started the morning early, and WET!  I really wanted a photograph in front of the Skogafoss waterfall near our guesthouse.  I dragged Leanne out of bed to get there before the crowds.  Unfortunately, the morning light put the waterfall in the shade and it was difficult to get the perfect photograph.  It was still awesome feeling the power and spray of the massive falls.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall Hike
After we dried off and had breakfast, we headed out on the Ring Road (Rt 1) to Seljalansfoss.  A moderate 30 minute walk will take you up to the falls. It's a great little hike because you get to actually walk behind the falls in a carved-out cavern.  It was the second time that day I got to feel the mist of a gorgeous fall.

After our hike, we drove to the town of Selfoss to look for a lunch spot.  We decided to inquire in the town library where we could find a local seafood place.  The librarian was very helpful and directed us 10 minutes out of town to the village of Stokkseyri where we enjoyed a delicious seafood chowder, bread, and cocktails at the Fjöruborðið cafe.  I highly recommend the restaurant.

After lunch, we visited the waterfall Urriðafoss which was located just a short ways off the Ring Road (near Selfoss).  It was a wide cascade and we were the only ones there.

Silfra Fissure
Since we had a 5 pm meet up for our Silfra sorkel, we decided it was best to check in to our guesthouse early.  Lambastidir Guesthouse is located just outside Selfoss center on small and quaint farm.  We were excited that our room had a private bath and there was a hot tub and sauna on the property.  It also had a delicious continental breakfast in the morning.

Leanne and I suited up in warm clothes and drove into  þingvellir National Park.  We had scheduled our snorkel two weeks prior with  We were instructed to meet our group at the visitor center within the park.  After our group of 20 was all together, the guides had us following them in car to the dive site (5 minutes drive).  There, we were suited up in a thermal coverall, dry diving suit, wet suit gloves, wet suit hood, and a snorkel and mask.  As science teachers, Leanne and I were totally geeking-out over the fact that we got to dive in a divergent plate boundary between the Eurasian and North American Plate.

Snorkeling in freezing water between two tectonic plates!
The water was cold and clear.  There is little to no life, and was amazing to see the rocky gorge below us and we snorkeled along.  We were in the water for a total of 30-40 minutes.  Any longer and I think my nose and fingers would have gone numb.  I was skeptical about the experience at first, but I have since decided that it was totally worth it.  After the dive, you are welcome to purchase photos from your trip (we abstained since Leanne had a waterproof camera with her), and they treated us to hot chocolate and cookies.  Still hungry, we did a 8 pm stop back at the visitor center for hot dogs and soft serve before driving the hour back to Lambastidir Guesthouse.

Underwater views in Silfra Fissure
We ended the night with a midnight dip in the guesthouse hot tub.  I was getting used to this.

Turf House alongside the road in Pingvellir National Park
READ ABOUT THE NEXT DAY HERE: Day 14 - The Golden Circle - þingvellir National Park, Geysers, and Gullfoss

Please leave comments or questions below, or visit us on our Facebook page at The Freelance Adventurer for more photos and stories or visit us on Instagram @FreelanceAdventurer.