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!


Please leave comments and questions below...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dinosaur National Monument - Uncovering the Past

Sign at Utah entrance to Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Park was given a name to mark it's most amazing feature - hills of sedimentary rock filled
Dinosaur skeleton in Quarry Exhibit Hall
with ancient bones.  We stopped on our drive to Colorado, expecting to see some cool dinosaur skeletons and then mosey on.  What we discovered was that this park holds many treasures besides the amazing fossils.  It is home to a stunning landscape of bare rolling hills and mountains cut by rivers and carved with the petroglyphs of ancient people.  It's almost a shame we only had one afternoon to explore, because it's clear to me that Dinosaur holds many more treasures than it's named for.

Here is how to recreate this adventure...


We only had one afternoon to explore this massive 200,000 acre wilderness, so we chose to focus on three activities.  Listed below...


1.  Quarry Exhibit Hall - This is one of the must-see parts of the park.  Instead of leaving fossils exposed to the "elements", the park has constructed an impressive structure around the "wall" of over 1,500 bones.  Visitors can walk the two-storied viewing area and use an interactive touch-screen monitor to find out what each bone belonged to.  To get there, enter the park from the Utah side (near Jensen, UT).  Once through the park gate, park at the Visitor Center.  During the summer, motorized trams take visitors every 15 minutes up to the exhibit hall (5 minute ride).  Once there, you can stay as long as you want, view the "wall" as well as see full dinosaur skeletons and interpretive signs.

Tram to Quarry Exhibit Hall
Exhibit Hall built around a wall of fossilized bone
Visitors get an up-close view of million-year-old fossils

2.  Fossil Discovery Trail - From the Quarry Exhibit Hall, you can take the tram back to the Visitor Center, or you can hike back on the easy, 3/4 mile (one way), trail.  The sandy path winds through the nearby hills where you will observe dazzling rock and discover million-year-old fossils still embedded in sandstone.  A description of the rock, fossils, and trails can be found HERE or a guide can be purchased at the visitor center.  I LOVED this short hike.  The layered bright orange and red rock was an exotic sight to a non-desert native like me!  Although short, pack at least 1 L of water a person and protect yourself from the sun.  It was hot.
Walk between colorful hills on the Fossil Discovery Trail
Flowers bloom against brightly colored rock

3.  Cub Creek Road - Once back at the Visitor Center, we filled our water bottles, and drove down the Cub Creek Road.  To get there, simply exit the parking lot of the Visitor Center and turn left.  This road winds along the Cub Creek, providing pull-out stops to important and impressive sights including 1,000-year-old petroglyphs and pictographs of the once-abundant Fremont people.  More information about the people at the their art can be found HERE.  At the end of the road, visitors are offered a small, shady picnic area and pit toilets along with the historic Josie Bassett Morris homestead - the cabin of the famous pioneer woman.  In total, the road extends 10 miles from the Visitor Center to Josie Morris's cabin, but we spent at least an hour stopping and walking/photographing the scenery and petroglyphs.
Faint petroglyphs of the Fremont people
Lizard Petroglyph made a thousand years ago

Amazing scenery along Cub Creek Road
It's truly a shame we didn't get to spend more time at Dinosaur National Monument.  One afternoon only gave us a small taste of what the park has to offer - stunning scenery, pure wilderness, and evidence of those who have lived there.  I can't wait to go back and explore more of this national treasure.  

Other Recommendations...
- Bring water bottles and sun protection - it's hot and sunny!
- Don't drive Cub Creek without stopping and walking to the points of interest.  This provided some of the best views in the park as well as a chance to see ancient petroglyphs.
- This is a great "family-friendly" park.  It wasn't crowded and all three places listed are very family friendly.


Pulled out to view petroglyphs (on rock on left)
  
Please leave questions and comments below...

Hiking to the Hollywood Sign

The back of the HOLLYWOOD sign as seen from the summit of Mt. Lee.
Wonder View Trail
I know hiking isn't the first activity that comes to mind when you think of Los Angeles, but as a hiking junky, I've discovered that almost every area in the country has hiking nearby.  Los Angeles, as it turns out, had AWESOME hiking!  And what better way to celebrate L.A., than a hike to the iconic Hollywood Sign?

There are multiple ascents to the famous landmark.  The sign sits on the side of Mt. Lee, one of multiple
peaks in the expansive Griffith Park.  The most well known and traveled is to take the paved Mt. Lee Drive (no cars).  Here, you can trudge up hill on a graded and wide paved road. This wasn't "natury" enough for this Granite Stater - so we chose to take the more challenging trail that is a narrow and steep hike through dusty red chaparral.  It was perfection.

Here is how to recreate this adventure...

Lone Pine Peak
Adventure:  Hiking to the HOLLYWOOD sign via the Wonder View Trail

Getting there:  The hike starts in the middle of a Hollywood hills neighborhood at the corner of Lake Hollywood Drive and Wonder View Drive.  We got there by taking Highway 101 to the Barham Blvd exit and traveling north on Bartham Blvd for 0.3 miles before turning right on Lake Hollywood Drive.  After about a half mile, you will reach Wonder View Drive.  There is plenty of parking along the road leading down to the reservoir.  There was no charge for parking.

Trail:  The hike starts by walking up the neighborhood road of Wonder View Drive.  This will turn into a
Leanne hikes the ridgeline to Mt. Lee
trail that branches off to the right.  From here, you have a steep (but moderately challenging) climb to the ridge.  When you read the fork at the ridge, you have a choice.  A quick scurry to the left and you'll be at Burbank Peak (also called Lone Pine for obvious reasons) gives you clear views of the San Gabriels and Los Angeles County.  If you go to the right, you'll first summit Cahuenga peak - the tallest peak in the Hollywood Hills. Continue on and you'll drop down, before joining the paved Mt. Lee Drive trail to the summit of Mt. Lee and views of the HOLLYWOOD sign, the Griffith observatory, and the city of Los Angeles.

Difficulty:  Moderate (some steep parts but no difficult scrambles)

Distance:  3 miles round trip.  925 foot elevation gain.

Yucca Plant and Los Angeles in the distance
Recommendations: 

- It's hot!  Get there early in the day and bring 2 L of water.  Although short, the hike is completely exposed and the steep climb will get you dripping sweat. Don't forget sunscreen, hiking shoes (no sandals), and a snack.

- Try for a clear day - Sometimes L.A. smog or a marine layer can get in the way of a fantastic view.  We were able to see the ocean, the city, the surrounding mountains and the Griffith Observatory.


Approaching the back of the Hollywood Sign
- Go before you go - there are no bathrooms at the trail head or on the trail...and nowhere to duck away!  Make sure you use the restroom before hitting the trail.

I can't wait to go back and explore some more hiking in Los Angeles!




Check out more about our 2014 Girls Trip at  Girls Trip 2013 - LA to Colorado

Please leave comments and questions below...

Girls Trip 2014 - LA to Colorado

Mountain View from Gondola in Telluride, CO.
Courtney (and baby Cedar), Leanne, Jenni, and I
For those of you who have followed my blog for a couple years, you might be aware that I look forward to one thing every year.  No, it's not Christmas, the start of summer vacation, or even my tax return.  It's my annual "Girls Trip"! This tradition started back in 2006 when my  best friend, Leanne, and I spent our savings to go to New Zealand for a month.  Soon, our friend Courtney wanted to do a girls trip so we headed out to see some of the southwest national parks.  The trips continued - each year having a least one adventure together.  We've added girls to the group, and over time, some have left the pack.  The goal is always the same - adventure to somewhere new with a great group of girls (or should I say women).

For this years girls trip, we decided to meet up in Steamboat Springs, Colorado for a week of hiking, a trip to the annual Balloon Rodeo, and some town shenanigans.  Courtney, now carting around her baby, Cedar, lives in Steamboat, so it provided the perfect home-base to explore Colorado. With extra time, I decided to first fly to Los Angeles, where Leanne lives, and then we would road trip up to Steamboat, picking up friend Jenni on the way.  This gave us a chance to explore some more of the West as well.  My blog posts about the trip are meant to catalog my memories and photos from the trip, and also serve those who are looking for similar trips. Below you will see my itinerary as well as links to blog posts that give more detail about events, hikes, and locations.  Please contact me if you have any questions!

We drove over 2,300 miles.  Map by google maps
Itinerary

Venice Beach, CA
Day 1 (July 4) - Fly from Boston to Los Angeles.  Arrive in the evening and watch fireworks from a friend's rooftop apartment.

Day 2 (July 5) - Beach Day!  Get a pedicure (so LA!) at 9 am.  Drive to Venice Beach at 10 am.  Since it was early, we found free parking a few blocks from the beach.  Read, chat, swim at the beach until 2 pm.  Return to Leanne's apartment for showers and movie night.

View of Los Angeles from Cahuenga Peak hike
Day 3 (July 6) - Go for a hike up to the Hollywood Sign.  Summit multiple peaks, including the tallest peak in the Hollywood Hills - Post about it HERE.  Return to Santa Monica, eat lunch, and shower.  Head out in the evening to the Santa Monica.  Walk through downtown Santa Monica, shop, and watch street performers. Head out to the Pier and watch the sunset.  Enjoy late night burgers and drinks at The Craftsman.

Santa Monica Pier at Sunset

Day 4 (July 7) - Rollerblade from Venice Beach to Santa Monica and back.  Street parking available at 9 am.  Easy rentals at Venice Beach - mine was $15 for 3 hours (cash).  Easy Rollerblading terrain and no crowds on a Monday morning.  Pack up and drive east to Wrightwood, California (2 hour drive).  Spend the night with friend Jenni (who will be going on trip).

Day 5 (July 8) - Breakfast at the Grizzly Cafe in Wrightwood, CA and drive to Park City, Utah.  Stay at cousin Polly and Matt's house in Park City.  Dinner in Park City at Vinto Italian Restaurant.

Palm Trees at Venice Beach, CA


Dinosaur at Dinosaur NM
Day 6 (July 9) - Drive to Dinosaur National Monument (Utah Side) in Jensen, UT.  Visit the Vistor Center, take tram to Quarry Exhibit Hall, hike Fossil Discovery Trail, drive Cub Creek road.  We saw dinosaur fossils, petroglyphs, and amazing desert scenery. Around 3:30 pm leave and drive the 2 1/2 hours to Steamboat Spring, Colorado.  Dinner with friends in their home.  More about the visit on post HERE.



Hiking in Dinosaur National Monument, UT
Strawberry Park Hot Springs
Day 7 (July 10) - Hike to Strawberry Park Hot Springs ($12-$15 adults cash).  Park at Mad Creek Trail head on Routt Country Rd 129.  Walk back down road ~ 400 yards to start of trail head (not marked here).  Trail winds through meadows/farmland to forested trail marked "Hot Spring Trail No. 1169".  Trail is around 5 miles round trip and takes you straight to the hot springs. More on my Steamboat Hiking post HERE.  That night we took the Steamboat resort gondola to "Sunset Happy Hour".  $12 gets you a ride up and back, $5 off food and beverage at the Thunderhead Bar, live music, and an amazing view.

Sunset Happy Hour


Lower Fish Creek Falls
Day 8 (July 11) - Hike Upper and Lower Fish Creek Falls.  Park in US Forest Parking lot ($5) on Fish Creek Road in Steamboat.  Hike down the overlook trail to bridge (crowded on weekends).  Once you pass the the lower falls, you'll see less hikers.  Hike up through forest to the Upper Creek Falls (2.5 miles one way).  More info on my Steamboat Hiking post HERE.  After hike, clean up and head into Steamboat.  Walk around town, shop, etc and then go to Mambo Italiano for happy hour pizza and beer.  Head back to Courtney's house by free Steamboat bus system.

Day 9 (July 12) - Start the day with a hike up Emerald Mountain to view hot air balloons rising at the nearby "Balloon Rodeo".  Visit West Lincoln Park for the 40th Annual "Art in the Park" event.  Walk among vendors selling jewelry, art, and clothing.  Enjoy live music and food for sale.  Afterwards, head back to Courtney's to get tubes for a tubing afternoon down the Yampa River.  Put tubes in at Fetcher Park behind Mid Valley shopping area.  Expect some rapids and a fast moving river. We took out at 13th Street Bridge.  We had our own tubes, but many places including Backdoor Sports rent and sell tubes.  After tubing, we cleaned up and headed up to Gondola Park by free bus to see the Balloon Glow.  Unfortunately, the wind made it impossible to blow up the balloons, but we enjoyed people watching.
Art in the Park, Steamboat Springs, CO
Balloon Rodeo
Day 10 (July 13) - Wake up early for the launch of the Balloon rodeo.  Drive to Meadows parking lot at 6 am for a free shuttle to hot air balloon launch point.  Surround yourself in the color and magic as one by one, balloons take off around you.  Enjoy a breakfast burrito by the Lions Club.  Later, hike to Rabbit Ears Peak (3 miles one way).   This hike has beautiful wildflowers and stunning scenery.  It's accessed off National Forest Road 315.  Parking is free.  Trail is marked number 291 off the dirt road from the parking lot.  More information on Steamboat hiking post HERE.  After hiking, clean up at Courtney's and head back to town for happy hour drinks and delicacies along the Yampa River restaurant E3 Chophouse.  Return to Courtney's for our last night in Steamboat Springs.

Balloon Rodeo 2014, Steamboat Springs, CO

Telluride, CO
Day 11 (July 14) - Drive 8 hours to Telluride, Colorado with a stop to see Leanne's uncle in Conifer, CO.  Enjoy dinner and drinks at hotel bar Oak (near gondola) and soak in the hotel hot tub.  Amazing mountain views along the drive. Check into hotel Camels Garden.

Idarado Legacy Trail
Day 12 (July 15) - Enjoy a half day of exploring in Telluride.
 Walk Idarado Legacy Trail through town.  Trail meanders along the river and provides interpretive signs about the area.  We had hoped to hike up to Bridal Veil falls but heard from another hiker that the trail was closed due to maintenance.  Take free gondola from Telluride, to summit, and then down to Mountain village, and back.  Stop at summit and enjoy breathtaking views of Telluride and surrounding mountains.  Leave Telluride and drive the 12 hours back to Wrightwood, California - with a stop at the Four Corners Monument in UT, CO, NM, and AZ.


View from top of Gondola in Telluride, CO.
Day 13 (July 16) - Return to Santa Monica from Wrightwood.  Fly back to Boston.

View from the car in Arizona

Overall, we drove over 2,300 miles.  It was a great adventure and I look forward to more girls trips next summer!

Boots at happy hour

For other "Girls Trip" blog posts check out the following...
2012 - Newfoundland - 2 weeks hiking, camping, and exploring.  Blog magazine at http://ontherocktrip.blogspot.com/
2013 - Michigan - Upper and Lower Peninsula hiking, camping, and exploring.  Post on Freelance Adventure at
Beaches, Dunes and City Walks - HERE
Pictured Rocks Astounds - HERE