Saturday, November 25, 2023

Unwrapping Adventure: Your 2023 Gift Giving Guide for the Outdoor Enthusiast

Are you struggling to find the perfect gift for the outdoor adventurer in your life? Look no further! This Gift Giving Guide is curated with tried-and-true gear that's sure to elevate their outdoor experiences. I personally love all these items and can attest to their awesomeness!

10 Gifts for the Outdoor Enthusiast:

These are linked to my Amazon Storefront List. I receive a commission when you purchase through this link. Thanks for you support!

1. Gregory Juno 30 Backpack (or Citro for Men)

Why it's a great gift: This is my favorite backpack for its versatility. I use it for day hikes, hut trips, or as a carry-on for travel. With a hydration pack included, it keeps your outdoor enthusiast refreshed and ready for any adventure.

Gregory Juno / Citro Hydro Backpack 

2. Topo Athletic Ultraventure Shoe

Why it's a great gift: After testing over 30 pairs of low top hiking shoes, this one emerged as the most comfortable. The Topo Athletic Ultraventure Shoe provides the perfect blend of support and comfort for every step on the trail.

Topo Ultraventure are a comfortable low top hiker

3. Kari Traa Merino Base Layer

Why it's a great gift: Keep the adventurer warm in any weather with the Kari Traa Merino Base Layer. Made from high-quality merino wool, it's not only cozy but also regulates body temperature, making it an ideal base layer for all outdoor activities. They also sell a polyester version.

4. SOL Fire Lite Rechargeable Lighter

Why it's a great gift: A reliable fire starter is a must for any outdoor enthusiast. The SOL Fire Lite Rechargeable Lighter ensures they can easily ignite a campfire or stove, even in challenging conditions. This was my favorite after testing many this fall for Field and Stream.

Electric lighter can light stoves and fires!

5. BruTrek BaseCamp French Press Coffee Maker

Why it's a great gift: For the coffee-loving adventurer, the BruTrek BaseCamp French Press is a game-changer. Brew a perfect cup of coffee right at the campsite and start the day off right. Matt and I use it as home as well!

Our BruTrek french press makes enough for two!

6. JPL Go 3 Portable Speaker

Why it's a great gift: Elevate the outdoor experience with some tunes. The JPL Go 3 Portable Speaker is compact, durable, and delivers impressive sound quality, ensuring good vibes in the campsite! (but don't blast music on the trail please!)

7. Darn Tough Hiking Socks

Why they're a great gift: Keep those feet happy with Darn Tough Hiking Socks. Known for their durability and comfort, these socks provide the support needed for long hikes and varied terrain. These are my favorite hiking socks...and everyday socks as well.

Darn Toughs come in great patterns and colors too!

8. Therm A Rest Seating Pad

Why it's a great gift: Take a load off! The Therm A Rest Seating Pad is lightweight, compact, and provides a comfortable place to sit during breaks or around the campfire. It's an essential in the winter for a summit break.

9. MT-100 Decathlon Puffer Jacket

Why it's a great gift: When the temperatures drop, the MT-100 Decathlon Puffer Jacket steps up to keep your adventurer warm. With its lightweight design and excellent insulation, it's perfect for chilly mornings, cold evenings, or as an extra layer during winter hikes. The jacket's compact nature also makes it easy to pack, ensuring it's always on hand when needed. Give the gift of warmth and style with this versatile puffer jacket. I've had mine for over a year and is my favorite mid layer.

The MT100 Decathlon puffer is comfortable and compactable!

10. Seacoast Hikes and Nature Walks E-book

Why it's a great gift: Inspire new adventures with the Seacoast Hikes and Nature Walks E-book. Packed with detailed trail information and stunning visuals, it's the perfect guide for discovering hidden gems in the great outdoors.

My book!


This Gift Giving Guide ensures your outdoor enthusiast is well-equipped and ready for any adventure that comes their way. Happy gifting and happy trails!

Follow me on Instagram to follow my adventures!

Want more? Check out last years gift guide!

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Girls Trip 2023: North Cascades and Mt Rainier Loop - Hiking, Camping, and Sightseeing

Hiker with a cloudy Mt Rainier behind.  Text reads Washington Hiking Road Trip - North Cascades and Rainier Loop

 It's that time of year again... GIRLS TRIP!  Leanne and I are far from "girls" its seems as 40-year-old women, but we still have been having this traditional trip since 2007!  With my parents in Portland, Oregon willing to watch the kids for a week, I looked for a trip that would be easily accessible from this site.  Never having been to North Cascades National Park nor Mt Rainier National Park, I decided to plan a camping/hiking trip that visited both parks with the bulk of the trip centering around some intensive day hiking in North Cascades.  As it seems to happen to us a lot, our plans were sadly changed when fires broke out the day before we entered the park and escalated - forcing us to evacuate and change our plans a bit.  We rolled with it and it still turned out a great trip.  Here's our *revised* itinerary.

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

Day 1: Pick up Campervan in Portland, Oregon and Drive to Olympia, Washington

We started by renting a camper van out of Portland, Oregon. Unfortunately, we didn't love the van so I'm not going to name drop (feel free to DM me on instagram for the name). But it had over 300,000 miles on it, broken hubcaps, dirty, and overall beat up. (Spoiler: it made the trip) However, I wasn't pleased.  Either way, we picked it up and drove north.  Our first night camping was at a private campground in Olympia that was meant to break up the drive. The campground was called Riverbend.  Tent sites were large, private, and had a great waterfront access.  There was a flush bathroom on site but it was a bit of a walk, however, each tent site had it's own porta potty too! We made dinner, enjoyed the river view, and spent our first night figuring out the van bed. 

Day 2: North Cascades - Visitor Center, Set up Camp, Short Hikes

We had a leisurely morning, then took off to North Cascades National Park.  We stopped at the visitor center near Newhalem, got a park map, bought some souvenirs, then took off to do a set of short hikes before reaching our campground.  Here are some great small hikes to do when you first arrive:

- Stirling Munro Trail: This short but scenic boardwalk trail is only 300 feet long.  It weaves through trees to a mountain overlook and departs directly behind the Visitor Center.

- Trail of Cedars: This short and easy 0.6 mile out and back trail weaves through Cedar giants, along the shores of the glacial blue Skagit River. 

- Ladder Creek Falls: Though only 0.5 mile loop, this trail is steep.  It crosses a bridge and climbs behind the Newhalem Gorge Powerhouse to Ladder Creek Falls - small, yet beautiful waterfall.

- Gorge Overlook Trail: This 1/3 mile loop trail climbs to give views of the Gorge Dam and Ross Lake.*Here we got our first glimpses of (at that time) a very small wildfire on the hill across.

After we finished these hikes, we checked into our campsite at Colonial Creek South Campground.  We booked this site exactly 6 months prior to arrival - the soonest offered.

Happy to be in North Cascades National Park!

Day 3: North Cascades - Maple Pass Loop and Rainey Lake

- Maple Pass Loop: Today was about a very special hike.  I was dying to hike Maple Pass Loop.  We woke up to a smoke campground and drove east, hoping to escape the bad air on our big hiking day.  We had read that this was a popular hike so we arrived at the trailhead around 8 am and found plenty of parking.  While the hike started smoky, we soon hike above the smoke and had clean air, blue sky, and perfect hiking weather.  We tackled the loop in a counter clockwise manner, which we were happy with.  The hike was moderately challenging, and extremely rewarding.  We got to back to the van around 2pm where we switched shoes and hit up one more little hike.

- Rainey Lake Trail: This trail is 2.0 out and back to the clear blue Rainey Lake.  The ADA trail meanders through flat forest, then emerges on a viewing platform.  We cooled our feet in the water before heading back to the car and campsite.

On the drive back to the campsite, we saw views of the growing smoke and fires erupting from the shores and Sourdough Mountain on Diablo Lake - just a couple miles from our campground.  It was eerie and nerve-wracking.

Maple Pass Loop Views

Leanne hiking along Maple Pass Loop in North Cascades

Day 4: North Cascades - Blue Lake, Washington Pass Overlook, Cutthroat Lake, and Winthrop

Again, we decided to drive east, this time, not only to escape smoke put also to end in the town of Winthrop where we could resupply on ice. The smoke had blown through the cascade valley and unfortunately our entire day air quality showed evidence of the fires back on Diablo. Our hikes and stops included:

Blue Lake Trail: This 4.6 mile out and back trail was a relatively easy to moderate trail that rewarded with beautiful forests, mountain views, and a beautiful alpine lake.  This trail was crowded and busy at the lake.

Washington Pass Overlook: This overlook was our picnic lunch spot, and also included a 0.3 mile steep, yet paved overlook trail that awards is stunning views of Washington Pass and the twisted road below.

Cutthroat Lake Trail: This 3.8 mile easy to moderate trail had views of rising peaks on either side and ended at a solitude lake.  We had to drive a bumpy forest road to get to the trailhead, but the van handled it fine. We started this hike at 4:30 pm and saw few other hikers.  The views were beautiful but the air quality provided a reminder that the park was suffering. 

From this hike we drove another 30 minutes from Cutthroat Lake to the town in Winthrop where we planned to sightsee, grab dinner, and resupply.  Shockingly, when we returned to "service" we discovered the campground and highway 20 had been closed due to the fire and we were suddenly without a campsite.  While the letter said we could get our "stuff" until 10 pm at night, at that point we were 1.5-2 hr drive from the campsite and it was already 7:30 pm.  We decided to abandon our items (laundry line, table cloth, and some food in the bear box) and stay put.  I got us a last minute waterfront tent site at the Winthrop KOA and we hit the town.  We enjoyed walking the cute western town, grabbed burgers at the burger bar, ice cream, and settled in - trying to figure out our next plan of action.

Observing Fire-fighting efforts.  Thank you firefighters!
Winthrop's Western theme was adorable!

Day 5: Drive Winthrop to Leavenworth to Snoqualmie

Unfortunately, now it was a Saturday and we were striking out on finding a campsite as we meandered south toward Rainier.  Fortunately, a family friend offered her home!  Even though they weren't in town, they gave us access to their house in Snoqualmie and we slept in the van on their driveway.  We took off from Winthrop in a cloud of horrible air quality which continued for hours into our drive.  Looking to make the most of this new roundtrip, we decided to stop in the Bavarian-themed tourist town of Leavenworth for lunch.  It was rainy when we arrived, yet still enjoyed sightseeing and window shopping.  We waited in line for about 30 minutes to get a bratwurst and pretzel at München Haus, followed by pastries at the Danish Bakery. We had planned to hike near Snoqualmie, but it continued to rain and we just weren't feeling it.  We settled in at our friends, took much needed showers, visited a local gem and rock shop, then made our camp dinner in their kitchen.

Leavenworth is a Bavarian themed town in Washington.  We loved it!

Day 6: Mt Rainier - Longmire Area

Since check-in at our Rainier campground wasn't available until 1 pm, we had a leisurely morning and had a short (and very steep) hike:

Snoqualmie Falls: This was a 1.4 mile out and back paved trail through forest descending from the top parking lot to the bottom of the falls.  AllTrails says its 331 ft elevation gain which isn't too bad but it felt steep!  

Snoqualmie Falls

We drove to our next campground - this was a delight!  Elkamp campground was small and wooded with mossy cedars.  A brook ran next to our tentsite with a meadow and mountains behind.  It was only 30 minutes to the Longmire Visitor Center in Mt Rainier.  After setting up camp, we drive through the Nisqually entrance and to Longmire.  We visited the visitor center and did the following hikes in the area for the rest of the day:

- Trail of Shadows- This 0.7 mile loop is an easy trail of packed dirt and boardwalk.  It passes through a large forest with nurse logs, towering trees and marsh.

- Comet Falls Trail - This 3.8 out and back trail leads to the beautiful Comet Falls.  The trail climbs 900 feet in elevation on packed trail, some rock, and even a ladder.  AllTrails rates it as hard.  We saw gorgeous waterfalls, pika, marmots, and deer!  We arrived at the falls (one of the tallest in the park) at 5:30 pm.  We enjoyed taking photos, soaking in the views, then headed back down.  

We saw the sunset as we drove back to Elkamp, had a late dinner and prepared for an early morning hike the next day.

Comet Falls in Mt Rainier near Longmire area

Day 7: Paradise in Rainier: Skyline Loop and more

Today's goal was to hike the Skyline Loop.  The weather continued to mess with us.  After weeks of clear weather, both days we were in Rainier had horrible rain/fog forcasts.  However, we decided to try anyway.  Nervous about parking, we got to the Paradise Visitor Center Parking around 7 am and scored a spot in the first row.  Woohoo!  Banked in thick fog, it seemed silly to start the hike. I snoozed in the van while Leanne packed a trail lunch.  Around 9:30 am, we donned our rain gear and set out on the trail, doing it clockwise.

- Skyline Loop - Skyline Loop might go down as one of my favorite hikes of all time.  I can see why it's so popular.  It has everything in summer - glaciers, mountain views, gorgeous waterfalls, and even epic waterfalls - all in 5.5 miles.  The first part of the hike was all in fog and rain - however, not far after the glacial vista turnoff, we got a few "peeks" of Mt Rainier.  A few more showed up (although Panorama Point was in the clouds), and got a few fun photos with the volcano.  As we hiked the downside, I loved the glaciers and flowers.  We got lucky that the opposite ridge cleared and we enjoyed gorgeous mountain views throughout our descent. With all the stops and crowded trail, we didn't get back to the van until 2:30 pm.  

Our view of Mt Rainier through the clouds.

Not wanting the day to end, we got ice cream at the visitor center cafe, rested in the sun, toured the visitor center, and headed out on another little trail.

- Nisqually Vista Trail - Wanting to continue our experience, we hiked the 1.1 mile Nisqually Vista Trail near the visitor center.  It traveled through lichen adorned forest and (had the mountain been visible) a a nice view of Mt Rainier.

- Reflection Lake - We packed up the van and made one last stop.  We hit up Reflection Lake about 30 minutes prior to sunset hoping the mountain would emerge out of the clouds.  It never did, but the lake was beautiful and we enjoyed walking the short trail around half of it.

We returned to Elkamp and crashed for the night.

Day 8: Return the van

We had to have the van returned to Portland at 10 am.  So, we got up early, packed up and drove back. Returning the van was easy.  I was incredibly relieved the van survived the trip.

In summary

Even with the rickety van, wildfires, and canceled plans - I really enjoyed this trip.  It was definitely "hiking heavy" which was the intention.  Maple Pass Loop and Skyline Loop goes down as top ten hikes of my life.  If you have questions about the trip or want to see more photos, visit my instagram and DM me on here!

Woman looking out at view of mountains in North Cascades National Park at Washington Pass Overlook.

Here are some other similar adventure trips you might enjoy:

LA to Colorado - Hiking and Adventuring

Michigan Nature


Sunday, July 2, 2023

A Trip to Greenleaf Hut with Appalachian Mountain Club

I was lucky enough to take part in a guided hut trip with the Appalachian Mountain Club!  This is not my first trip to the high huts.  I worked for AMC from 2007-2010 and regularly took groups to the area.  This felt like a coming home as well as a reawakening to the many possibilities of the mountains and how much the AMC contributes to my hiking happiness.  

Text:  A trip to Greenleaf Hut with Appalachian Mountain Club by Freelance Adventurer
Check out the three day guided trip to Greenleaf Hut
 with Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) in the White Mountains.

If you'd like to do a guided trip, check out both the free (day hikes) and pay (overnight) trips offered by the club here.

Don't need a guide?  Book your own stay at Greenleaf Hut or another AMC facility.

Before you book, become a member.  Members get 20% off their stay as well as other discounts and benefits!

Read on to learn how to have a memorable 
adventure with AMC at Greenleaf Hut in 
the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Here's how to recreate this adventure...

Day 1:  The AMC Highland Center at Crawford Notch.

I arrived at AMC Highland Center in the heart of the White Mountains of New Hampshire around 5:30 pm.  Just in time for happy hour in the living room!  It was a rainy night, but the field of lupine in front of the lodge made for a welcome site.  I was given a name tag, checked into my private room/private bath, and mingled and met the rest of the group at happy hour.  

Highland Center at Crawford Notch
Enjoyed my first night at the Highland Center in Crawford Notch.

At 6 pm, we moved to the dining room where we enjoyed a delicious lodge dinner - served buffet style.  After dinner, we convened in one of the classrooms.  Our guides facilitated introductions, went over the hiking plan, and what we needed to pack.  Next, we were shown to the basement LL Bean gear room.  This is available to guests and participants.  It has everything from high quality hiking boots, fleeces, sleeping bags, backpacks, and more.  Many of the participants borrowed packs, boots, and rain gear.  Around 8:30 pm, we departed to our personal rooms to pack, shower, and rest up for the next day's hike.

All your gear needs will be met in the LL Bean room
available free for guests at AMC facilities.

Day 2: Hiking to Greenleaf Hut

I woke up and packed, then headed downstairs for a hearty breakfast from the lodge cafeteria. We got a weather update and set out.  Our trailhead was a short drive away.  We were offered to either be transported by van or travel alone.  I took my car to cut down on the next day's drive.

We arrived at the Old Bridle Path trailhead in Franconia Notch around 8 am.  Our lead naturalist, Nancy, gave a rundown on some of the flora and fauna we might see on the trail and we took off at a moderate pace. 

Trailhead - 2.9 miles to our destination.

 A ways up the trail, we reached a section that was being worked on by the Appalachian Mountain Club's professional trail crew.  I was amazed to see their beautiful work and learned about the "Restoring the Ridge" project - a collaboration between the federal government and Appalachian Mountain club - to preserve this iconic loop hike for generations to come.  We also learned that our AMC membership helps this project!  

two female trail crew members build steps by hand on the Old Bridle path
AMC professional trail crew makes steps
that will last generations and handle thousands
of yearly visitors and harsh weather.

This project combines federal dollars with
AMC funds from your membership.

Soon, we popped out onto a ledge.  While the Franconia ridge above was still in the clouds, we were able to see views of the valley below.  While taking a restful snack break, our naturalist brought our attention to various bird calls.

hiking group takes break on ledge and view valley below
We take a break along Old Bridle Path.

The trail got steeper as we approached the hut.  When we got to Greenleaf hut, it was hugged by a cloud.  Now, around 1 pm, we were ready for our trail lunch (given/packed by the Highland Center kitchen).  After choosing a bunk in the hut, we sat on the porch and enjoyed our lunch.  

two girls climb up to the top (3rd bed) bunk in AMC hut
Bunks come with a pillow and three wool blankets. 
Bring sheets or sleeping sack/bag.

We still had plenty of time until dinner, so even though the visibility wasn't great, we decided to summit Mt Lafayette.  Hoping the clouds would clear by the time we got up there, we continued up into the alpine zone.  Nancy pointed out new plants off the trail.  In about an hour, we reached the ridgeline.  Unfortunately, there was no view due to clouds and mist, but that's ok.  We descended off Lafayette, back to the hut.  

We were treated to an informative talk about the climate science done by AMC scientists as well as their citizen science programs.  We also learned about the hut systems that makes it sustainable in the peaks.

approaching greenleaf hut in fog
Greenleaf Hut is run by Appalachian Mountain Club. 
In summer, it is a full service hut with bathrooms, meals, and beds.  Reserve online.

Dinner was multiple courses - served family style at long tables. You won't go hungry!  The food was both delicious and plentiful.  After dinner, guests read from the library, played games, and chatted before quiet hours at 9:30 pm.  Around sunset, the clouds cleared and we were treated to views of the magnificent Franconia Ridge!  It was a welcome site for guests and staff!

Day 3: Summit views and hiking down

The hut croo (yes, that's how they spell it), woke us up to some soft singing at 6:30 am.  We got up, dressed, and packed and then had a delicious breakfast in the dining room at 7 am.  After breakfast, the group discussed our goals.  Half of the group was ready to take Bridle Path down to return home before noon.  Some of us (me included), wanted to summit Mt Lafayette once more to get a summit view.  With multiple leaders, we were able to split the group.

morning light on tables laid out for breakfast at AMC Greenleaf hut
Morning light streams in at Greenleaf hut -
laid out for breakfast.

As our group moved up the mountain, the clouds came rolling back in.  Fortunately for us, however, we were able to get a ridge view (with clouds) from the top.  

Woman (The freelance adventurer) stands center and behind her franconia ridge on Mt Lafayette
Arguably Mt Lafayette is one of the best views in the White Mountains.

After a leisurely summit break, our small group worked our way back to the hut.  After a bathroom break, we chose to take a different trail down - the Greenleaf Trail.  Some highlights of this trail included mossy "fairy forest" and Eagle cliff.  

Our guides brought us back to our cars two exits down the road.  It was a sunny, warm summer day and couldn't have been a better end to the trip.

Cliff face and ferns along it.
Eagle Cliff along the Greenleaf Trail

Want to try this experience?

Go to AMC activities, and check out the backpacking options.


Hike yourself without a guide!  Book your hut stay!


Become a member to support the trail work, science, and recreation by Appalachian Mountain Club.

Want to see more video and photos from this trip? Check out more on my instagram account the @freelanceadventurer

Text: hut trip with AMC - 3 day guided trip with Appalachian Mountain Club
Highly recommend going on a guided trip with Appalachian Mountain Club.

You might also like these adventures:

Carter Notch Hut in Winter
Lonesome Lake - Perfect Family Hike
24 Hour Affordable Getaway in the White Mountains