Monday, September 22, 2014

Guest Post: Best of the Best - Portland, Maine

As fall begins, consider squeezing in a visit to tourist-friendly Portland, Maine. Planning a trip after Labor Day ensures you beat the crowds. Here are the places you need to know for the best day experience.

Eastern "Prom" - Portland, Maine
Walk: Portland Trails*: Back Cove Trail

Distance: 3.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Parking: Free at lot across from Hannaford on Preble Street Extension

The Back Cove Trail is a loop trail (3.5 miles) which boasts beautiful views of the Portland skyline, the occasional marsh wildlife such as Great Blue Herons, and perfect for walking, running, and biking. The terrain is with mostly flat except along a stretch that parallels I-295. There are benches and water fountains (seasonal) along the trail.

*A network of trails in greater Portland, free for public access. Full map here: http://trails.org/our-trails/

Hilltop Superette Counter
Lunch with a View: Hilltop Superette @ 135 Congress St.
Fare: Deli style sandwiches, pizza ($1.79 slices), and hamburgers

The 80-year-old store has been recently raised back from the ashes as it was nearly destroyed by arson last year (previously Colucci’s). Now the local market (opened July 2014) is bustling in the Munjoy Hilll neighborhood. The menu boasts local produce and breads from Borealis Breads. I highly recommend the Italians, especially the Spicy Superette if you like a little kick. Grab a bag of chips to share, drinks, and walk down the street towards the Eastern Promenade for a picnic style lunch with a view of Casco Bay and surrounding islands.




Infinity Beer Barrels
Beer: Bunker Brewing Company @ 122 Anderson St.
Summer Hours: Thurs & Fri 5-8pm, Sat 12-5    Call before stopping by

This microbrewery was established in 2011 and has quickly made a name for itself. Nestled off Anderson St. in a 1920s era brick garage in the developing neighborhood of East Bayside. You will experience a small artisan brewery that founders Chresten Sorensen and Jay Villani believe to be the future of beer. If you appreciate a good pilsener try their Machine Czech Pils (flagship brew). The Peninsula Pale Ale is a local favorite. Feed your competitive edge and challenge your party (or locals) to a game of corn hole just outside the garage.


Dinner: Corner Room @ 110 Exchange St.
Fare: Italian Kitchen & Bar
Happy Hour: Mon-Thurs  4-6pm (complimentary tapas to pair with drinks)
Late Night Menu: Thurs-Sat ‘Til 11pm
Corner Room Restuarant

An open kitchen restaurant invokes a warm and cozy atmosphere with house-made pastas, pizzas, antipasti, and artisanal breads made from local ingredients. Small patio available for dining. The Corner Room is one of the four “Rooms” restaurants owned by chef Harding Lee Smith.



Dessert: Bar of Chocolate @ 38 Wharf St.
Fare: Wine, Dessert, and Espresso Bar
Hours: 4pm-12am everyday


Walk down Exchange St. to Wharf St. and the Bar of Chocolate after dinner at the Corner Room. This the perfect place to visit after a nice meal and its hidden in plain sight! Wharf Street is in the absolute heart of the old port and is one of the few historic cobble stone streets remaining. The Bar of Chocolate is small and cozy and always has excellent locally made treats stocked in the dessert case ranging from flour-less chocolate cake to blueberry pie. Pair your desert with your favorite wine, cocktail, or tea/espresso for a wonderful cap to your day.





MEET THE EXPERT:  Jenny Galasso - Portlander
Jenny is a blogger and local to Portland, Maine.  She is an expert on Maine adventures, restaurants, and hidden gems.  View other posts that feature Jenny by clicking keyword "Jenny" on the side bar.  

Friday, September 5, 2014

Blueberry Mountain - Short and Steep

Life on Bickford Brook Trail
Ebeneezer's Pub is a Belgium beer bar in Lovell, Maine.  It's been voted "Best Beer Bar in America" by
Beer Advocate and happened to be hosting it's Belgium Beer Festival.  Matt and I decided to double date with our friends Amber and Jason to the event.  Since we were already up north, we looked for a short local hike to try before we hit the bar.  Lovell is on the NH/Maine line close to Fryberg, Maine.  I found a hike in Evan's Notch to Blueberry Mountain (1781 ft).  This hike can also connect to Speckled Mountain to make a nice +7 mile loop, but on this day, we decided to adventure on a 3 mile out and back trek up Blueberry Mountain.

Here is how to recreate this adventure...

Adventure:  Blueberry Mountain, Evan's Notch, NH

Getting there: The Bickford Brook Trail is located along Rt. 113.  It at "Brickett Place" - a small historical house/museum.  From 302/113 junction, take 113 north about 20 miles.  Brickett Place is located on the right, just after the Cold River Campground (on left).  There's plenty of parking (cost $3 cash per car or National Park Pass).  Privey toilets are available at the trailhead.

Trail Sign at Brickett Place
Trail:  From the back of of the Brickett Place parking lot, take the Bickford Brook Trail.  This goes through woods, crosses a beautiful stream (take the spur down to see the waterfall!).  This will gently take you to the junction of the Blueberry Ridge Trail.  Take a right on the Blueberry Ridge Trail.  This trail is surprisingly steep - ascending with rocky trail and partial slab.  A large open slab before the summit provided a great photo spot/lunch spot.  The actual summit was wooded and only provided partial views.  Blueberries carpeted the peak, a tribute to its name.  There is no marker at the summit.  From here, we turned around and returned to the car.  

Difficulty:  Moderate - I was surprised how steep some portions were for such a short peak!  

Distance:  0.7 miles to junction + 0.8 to summit = 1.5 miles one way/3 miles out-and-back round trip.

Recommendations:

View from lunch ledge 
- Take the time to stop at the stream crossing.  There is a short spur trail that will lead you down to a
beautiful waterfall. 
- Avoid wet slab on rainy days - it's dangerous
- Take your photos and lunch on the large open slab right before the summit.  The summit is wooded with limited views.  

Afterwards - If you are beer lover, drive the 30 minutes to Ebeneezer's Pub in Lovell.  They have 35 Belgium brews on tap and a great pub menu.   It is located at 44 Allen Rd. Lovelle, ME 04051.

It was great to get a little hike in with our friends and then visit the Belgium Beer Fest at Ebeneezer's.  I can't wait for next year, to do it again!



Waterfall on  Bickford Brook Trail spur
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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Olympic National Park Beaches

2nd Beach, La Push.  Photo by Bruce Hansen (c) Mt. Hood Press
There are many reasons to visit Olympic National Park in summer - hike stunning ridgelines of tall, glacier
2nd Beach, Olympic National Park
capped mountains, explore wildlife-rich riperian zones of blue, glacial water, and walk among giant trees, dripping with ancient-looking moss.

Still...the number one reason I wanted to visit Olympic National Park was to walk the coastline, explore life-filled tide pools, and gaze at enormous rock monoliths in the pristine beaches of northern Washington State.

In my short, four day stay, I was able to visit three beautiful beaches.  Details about our itinerary are available on the Four Family Friendly Days in Olympic National Park.  Since my favorite part of the stay was the beaches (as well as the reason I came), I decided it was appropriate to do an additional post of these magnificent spaces.    Below is advice, descriptions, and directions to three of the most spiritual beaches of the region.

Ruby Beach on a cool, foggy morning
Advice:

1.  It's Cold - Don't expect Santa Monica sunbathing.  Even in August, these beaches are cool, cloudy, and have freezing water.  It's part of what makes them unique and home to abundant wildlife.  Enjoy the beach as a place to walk, explore, and photograph, but leave your beach towel and bikini at home.

2.  Check the Tide - Check a local tide chart.  It's best to explore the coast at low tide when you can poke around the pools and walk more of the beach.  

3.  Go Early to Avoid Crowds - None of these beaches will reach SoCal type crowding, but after noon, expect to see families and tourists exploring the beach. For a pristine, empty beach, get there early...or better yet, camp out on the beach!


My adventures - Three Olympic National Park Beaches and how to get there...

2nd Beach - La Push, WA

It's unfortunate this gorgeous shoreline has the un-romantic name of "2nd Beach".  It doesn't do it justice.
Little Girl finds Sea Star home
While 1st beach can get crowded due to it's easy street access, and 3rd beach is the the first crowded parking lot from La Push Road, 2nd Beach is tucked away between it's sisters.  It's the perfect escape.  After a short, wooded hike through giant, ancient trees, I emerged onto a open (and empty) one-mile stretch of beach.  Sea stacks and small rock islands pierced through a sea of fog, and as I walked, the wave of cloud would move, revealing and hiding new rock monoliths.  This was a great spot to explore tide pools.  I was relieved to see groups of healthy sea stars - not yet struck by starfish wasting disease.  It was exactly why I had wanted to visit this park.  It felt magical. 

Get there:  We drove 2 miles north on Rt. 101 to Rt. 110.  Turn left (West) on Rt. 110.  This will turn into La Push Road.  Travel about 13 miles on 110/La Push road.  You will pass the parking lot for 3rd Beach and the Quileute Tribal Office before coming to the parking lot for 2nd Beach.  

2nd Beach, La Push

2nd Beach, La Push


On the jetty at First Beach
1st Beach - La Push, WA

This is one of the easiest beaches to access in the park - No Hiking Required.  This beach sports a long jetty covered in large and battered driftwood.  I climbed on the largest piece of driftwood I've ever seen - a uprooted and weathered tree that had a root system still standing at least 25 feet high!  Rocky islands and needles rise offshore and create a unique coastal landscape.  I visited this beach to watch the sunset and even though it was foggy, it was amazing to watch colored sky peek through the cracks in the clouds.  

Get there:  We drove 2 miles north on Rt. 101 to Rt. 110.  Turn left (West) on Rt. 110.  This will turn into La Push Road.  Take 110/La Push Road to the end and you will enter the town of La Push.  Follow signs to 1st beach parking.



Ruby Beach - Olympic National Park

We were fortunate to reach Ruby Beach at low tide where I could get a hands-on experience with
Rock Needles at Ruby Beach
the many tide pools.  Large green anemones carpeted the rocks, rough blue mussels clung to the stone, and hand-sized orange and purple sea stars cooled in the pools.  We enjoyed the morning fog and many rock needles rising out of the sand while we wandered.  Our 9 am walk left us one of the only people enjoying this heavenly piece of nature.  It was the perfect way to end our trip in the park.

Get there:  From Forks, take Rt 101 south 27 miles to Ruby Beach parking area (there is a sign on the right).  Walk a quarter mile trail to the beach below.  

Although I loved every part of the park we explored, the beaches were my favorite.  The rock islets, foggy days, and enormous tide pool organisms create a place of wonder and peace.  It calms my soul and makes me yearn to return.  


Sea Stars in Olympic National Park

Ruby Beach

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Four Family Friendly Days in Olympic National Park

View from the top of Hurricane Hill near Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park
Although I was born and raised in Oregon, I haven't been to the Olympic Peninsula since I was very small. So, when I was out in Portland for a week this summer, I asked Mom if we could get out of town and head north!  She and my dad are travel writers and well acquainted with the sights of Washington.  They planned a wonderful, beautiful, and tranquil four days in Olympic National Park.  Our itinerary is perfect for someone looking for a smattering of what the park has to offer including easy-moderate day hikes and a little bit of everything - beaches, rainforests, and mountains.

Here's how to recreate this adventure....

Day 1 - Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane Hill hike
Activities:   Hurricane Ridge is in the Northern portion of the park.  It is easily accessible from the town of Port Angeles.  We started at the visitor center.  This alone provides magnificent views of snow-capped peaks (in August) and rolling hills of alpine gardens.  We spotted multiple deer on our drive (so watch out!)  Many hikes are accessible from this spot, but we chose to drive up the beyond the visitor center and take the "Hurricane Hill" hike.  This easy, paved trail winds 1.5 miles to the 5,757 foot summit with views of the surrounding mountains, wildflowers, bay, and even a peak at Vancouver Island.  After our hike, we enjoyed a picnic lunch in the car before returning to Port Angeles.
Hiking Hurricane Hill

Night Accommodations:  Port Angeles has a number of hotels, motels, and inns.  In addition, the Heart O' the Hills campground is located at the based on the Hurricane Ridge park gates and offers quiet, wooded spots to campers.

Food:  For dinner, we enjoyed a wonderful seafood dinner at Kokopelli Grill in Port Angeles (try the salmon chowder!)  Make reservations because it's a popular spot.
We also had a fantastic breakfast at the First Street Haven Diner.  Great cinnamon roll!


Day 2 - Lake Crescent, Maymere Falls, and Twilight
Lake Crescent


Activities:  On Day 2, we enjoyed breakfast at the First Street Haven Diner before heading out toward the town of Forks.  Along the way, we made a few stops to get a glimpse Washington State magic.  A favorite was the stop at the Lake Crescent Lodge.  This beautiful and charming inn is located on the still shores of beautiful Lake Crescent.  The day we visited, the lake was still - fog drifted through the surrounding hills, making it a serene and peaceful spot.  From here, we were able to take a hike to Maymere Falls.  This easy 1.8 mile round trip hike takes you to a narrow cascading falls nestled between old growth Sitka spruce.

Marymere Falls
We also made as stop at Sol Duc Falls (Also spelled Soleduck) located near the well-visited Sol Duc Hot
Springs (fee to soak).  Sol Duc Falls has multiple entrance points and trails to it, but we took the most trodden route from the parking lot located at the dead end road.  This 2 mile out-and-back easy trek takes you through beautiful forests, past a haunting hiker shelter to the bridge that overlooks the three falls.

From Sol Duc, we continued to the town of Forks. This town has become famous in recent years as the setting for the popular Twilight novels.   Before retiring for the night, I insisted on seeing some of the Twilight tourist attractions, such as ... the Forks High School (with original movie sign), a replica of Bella's truck at the town visitor center, and Forks Outfitters - where Bella worked.




Sol Duc Falls
Night Accommodations:  Forks has a few hotels/motels as well as camping available at Sol Duc and nearby LaPush.  We enjoyed our stay at the Forks Motel - where we were able to get a "suite" complete with two bed rooms, bathroom, and outfitted full kitchen.  This made us able to shop for groceries in town and make our own meals.

Food:  Because Forks has such limited dining options, we purchased groceries and made all our food in our kitchen motel room at the Forks Motel.

Tide pools at 2nd Beach
Day 3 - Beaches and Rainforest

Activities:  Our second day in Forks started by making our breakfast in the motel and heading out to LaPush.  This Native-American Land and town are home to some of the most amazing beaches I've ever seen.  After consulting a guide book, we decided to explore the "Second Beach".  A short, one mile walk through the Quileute Indian Reservation and we emerged on a stunning beach pierced by large rock monoliths.  As the fog cleared, more rock giants rose from sea.  Walking along the coast for 2 miles, we explored local tide pools and gazed at the evergreen-coated cliffs.  It was spectacular.




Moss covered trees in Hoh rainforest
After our walk, we returned to the hotel for lunch, before heading back into the park.  This time, we drove to Hoh Rainforest.  We took the short but SWEET "Hall of Mosses" trail.  Although only 0.8 miles, this loop trail took over an hour due to the frequent photo stops.  I really felt as though I'd stepped back in time.

We returned to the Forks Motel, where we made dinner, but watched the clock, and around 8 pm, headed to "First Beach" in LaPush in the hopes of seeing the 8:30 pm sunset dip into the ocean.  This beach is accessed directly from the town of LaPush and no hiking is required.  I marveled at the rock islands out at sea while climbing over the driftwood-covered jetty.

Night Accommodations:  Forks Motel (see above)

Food:  Made our own in our kitchen at Forks Motel.

Massive Trees along the coast

Day 4 - One Last Beach Walk

Morning at Ruby Beach
Activities: Before heading back to Portland, we stopped along Route 101 at Ruby Beach.  Since we got there at around 9 am, we found ourselves ALONE on one of the most amazing beaches I've ever seen!  We walked the sandy shores for a mile, photographing and gaping at the immense rocks and pristine tide pools. By the time we got back to the parking lot around 11 am, the lot was full and many families were combing the beach.

We returned to Portland refreshed by the purity of the Olympic Peninsula nature scenes and already aching to return.  I highly recommend this National Park for lovers of nature, mountains, waterfalls, and beaches.  It was the perfect way to enjoy a week in the Pacific Northwest!
Morning stroll at Ruby Beach

Additional Recommendations....

Sunset at 1st Beach in LaPush
- It's waaaaaaaaaaaay cooler  (like 20 degrees) in the Olympic Peninsula than in Seattle/Portland.  I packed shorts for a mid-August summer day, but instead spent the entire time in my one pair of pants and borrowed sweatshirt.  80 in the city could be 60 in the park!

- The peninsula has poor cell phone reception.  Even Forks, a populated town had me stuck on AT&T's "extended network".  The Forks Motel offered weak complimentary wifi - just enough to check email, but not much more.  Plan accordingly.

- Get to beaches early.  Although this park did not seem very crowded for a warm August weekend, we discovered that even getting to beaches at 9 am would give us the gift of solitude.

Bella's truck from Twilight in Forks, WA


Friday, July 25, 2014

3 Great Hikes in Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Hiking in Steamboat Spring, Colorado
Steamboat Springs is a perfect town to explore the outdoors - hiking, biking, skiing, and tubing are just a taste of the activities the town has to offer.  My host, Courtney, took us on a number of hikes in our one-week stay.  Here are my favorites....

Hot Springs
Strawberry Park Hot Springs - The Strawberry Park Hot Springs is a natural hot spring that has been built up by a local entrepreneur.  The hot springs now boasts multiple pools, camping area, restrooms, and massage.  Visitors are welcome to drive in, but we combined our love of hiking with soaking for this Steamboat adventure.  The trailhead for this hike is a little "hidden".  To get there, park at Mad Creek Trailhead on Routt Country Rd 129.  Instead of taking the Mad Creek Trail, walk down the parking lot toward the road and you should see a worn path (not marked) walking away from the parking lot.  You'll pass a gate the trail marked Hot Springs Trail 1169 will go off to the right.  It is a moderate uphill hike through aspen forest along the Hot Springs Creek.

When you arrive at the Hot Springs, make sure to walk up to the check-in counter.  All guests must pay to use the hot springs.  Cost is $12 adults (Sun-Fri) and $15 (Saturday and Holidays), $7 for teens, and $5 for kids.  The hot springs was a great spot and very family friendly.  They had running water and restroom facilities.  We brought a pack lunch and enjoyed it "pool-side" before hiking back down the same way.  Overall, this is a 5 mile round trip hike.

Hot Springs Sign


Trail to Upper Falls
Upper and Lower Fish Creek Falls - Fish Creek Falls is a popular destination in the Steamboat Springs area.  This 280 ft falls is located only 1/4 on an easy road from the parking lot and is sure to be bustling with tourist on a warm summer day.  However, 99% of the visitors will turn back after the falls and not continue the 2 miles to the Upper Creek Falls - another gorgeous waterfall surrounded my wildflowers in the summer months.  To visit these falls, take 3rd street north and turn right on Fish Creek Falls Road.  The parking lot is four miles down this road.  This is a US Forest land.  Cost is $5 per car.  Hike down 1/4 mile down the overlook trail to the bridge overlooking Lower Fish Creek Falls.  From here, continue on this trail.  The trail winds through aspen and conifer forest to arrive a second waterfall surrounded by wildflowers and providing views of the valley below.  Overall, our hike was 5 miles out-and-back.


Lower Fish Creek Falls

Hiking through wildflowers up to Rabbit Ears
Rabbit Ears - This mountain peak is located outside of Steamboat Springs in Kremmling, CO.
 Because of it is mostly hiking through meadows, we saw amazing wildflowers along this hike as well as great views of distant mountains.  The trailhead is tricky to find.  Take East US 40 to Dumont Lake turnoff and continue onto National Forest Road 315.  This road goes for about 1.5 miles until you see a large stone monument on your left.  Turn left at the monument into a small parking area.  Park in the first lot begin walking down the road.  At a second parking lot, you will bear right - there will be a sign marking 291.  This is your trail.  The trail (or road) winds through meadows up to the "Rabbit Ears" rock formation.  Admire the volcanic rock along the trail and multitude of wildflowers in summer.  It is 3 miles of moderate trail to the summit (10,694 ft elevation).  Return the way you came for a total of 6 mile hike.  There is no charge for parking and no bathroom facilities.

Approaching the Rabbit Ears
This is just a taste of Steamboat Springs' MANY wonderful hikes.  I recommend a trip to Steamboat Springs, Colorado for hiking and adventuring!


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