We purchased goggles, snorkels, and flippers from Amazon.com and stowed them in our luggage. You can find the link to the pairs we bought here.
I will note that we found the exact same pairs at Target and Safeway in Kona for just a couple of more dollars, so we could have bought them there, but we didn’t want to risk it!
One note of warning: The waves at Kua are HUGE! We were constantly badgered by gigantic sneaker waves crashing over and rushing toward us. They knocked us all over the place. Once we passed the break line of the waves, the water was very calm and the snorkeling was easy!
See exactly what it was like at Kua Bay in my YouTube Video below!
Two Step at Captain Cook
Two Step is very aptly named. The volcanic shelf that separates the beach from the ocean has two steps in the rock that lead straight into the water. Two steps, and you’re in the ocean snorkeling over a beautiful coral reef!
It was the most active area for coral, fish, and other sea life! We saw dozens of different fish, and even though we spent all day here, I feel like we only saw a fraction of the area. It was unbelievable!
You can see more from our afternoon snorkeling at Captain Cook and learning about Hawaiian culture in the video below!
Night Snorkeling with Manta Rays
This experience was the only one for which we paid. All of the other places I have, and will, mention were free to enter and snorkel. That being said, night snorkeling with manta rays was completely worth the cost!
I booked a night time excursion with My Kona Adventures to go snorkeling with manta rays and my parents were very nervous. I surprised them with the plans, because I knew they would be hesitant, but in the end, they agreed it was an incredible experience!
P.S. I was able to get an AWESOME deal for the four of us by emailing ahead of time and asking about the packages they were offering. So don't be shy and ask ahead (and let them know The Traveling Tacos sent ya)!
See more from this nighttime snorkeling trip in my “Night Swimming with Manta Rays” blog post here and in the video below!
Places We Wish We Had Snorkeled:
Queen’s Bath / Kiholo Bay
You can read more about Queen’s Bath and our day of looking for petroglyphs in my “Kilauea-Kona Christmas Vacation” post here!
Sadly, we did not have time to get in the water at Kahalu’u Bay on our way down to Papakōlea’s Green Sand Beach. We were following the “Gypsy Tour Guide” app and it encouraged us to stop. From the shore, we could see brightly colored fish everywhere. It looked incredible, but we just didn’t have time to jump in.
Magic Sands was another stop our “Gypsea Tour Guide” app recommended, but this time, we did things a little differently and enjoyed happy hour drinks by the water. We didn’t get in the water here, but we could see a fair amount of snorkelers.
It looked like a nice spot. Instead, we cheersed our cocktails and watched the sun set!
Overall, we loved snorkeling in Hawai’i. It was extremely easy everywhere we went, and we always found the most interesting things to see. I hope, one day, we can come back and explore more!
Hilo is the United States’s most wet city accumulating over 100 inches of rainfall annually. Compare this to the Kona side, where we were staying, which only gets about 30 inches! This excessive rainfall creates an extremely lush landscape, and we were pumped to explore it!
Our first stopping point was Waipi’o Valley. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to hike or ride down into the valley, so we just stopped at the overlook and dreamed of what it looked like down below. From atop the view point, it was stunning. After taking it all in, we headed south down Highway 19.
Akaka Falls State Park
See more from the lush Akaka Falls State Park in my YouTube video here!
You can read all about Pineapples and the other places we ate across the island in the “Where We Ate on The Big Island” post here!
Both Rainbow Falls and the Boiling Pots were nice, quick stops just outside of downtown Hilo.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
You can read more about Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and our two trips in this more detailed blog post here!
We packed a lot into our day trip to Hilo and saw every highlight we could. There was a lot more we could have seen, but our day chasing waterfalls and volcanoes was perfect for us, and we drove back to Kona overjoyed with our day.
See every place we went in Hilo in my Youtube video below, and if you like it hit subscribe to see even more from our time on The Big Island!
If you would like to read more about our entire week on The Big Island, visit my Hawai’i Page, HERE, to read posts about every place we snorkeled, stayed, and ate.
See Where We Snorkeled On The Big Island
Where We Ate Across Hawai'i's Big Island
Where We Stayed For Our Week On The Big Island
You can read about that Hawaiian Cruise in the “Nannying on a Seven-Day Hawaiian Cruise” blog post here!
We could not have planned our trip much better than we did. We were very fortunate to be on the island when Kilauea erupted on December 20th, 2020.
We were inside the park almost exactly 24 hours before the earthquake and ensuing eruption occurred. At first, we were so upset that we hadn't seen anything, but we returned 72 hours later for one of the most awesome experiences of our lives!
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park - First Visit
Our first trip to the national park was pretty uneventful. We arrived way too late in the afternoon to do the things we wanted after visiting South Point and Papakōlea’s Green Sand Beach earlier in the day.
You can read more about each different colored beach, here in my detailed "Hawaiian Christmas Vacation" itinerary post!
I was really hoping we could make it all the way to the end of the road to see where the lava blocks the road, but that wasn’t going to happen. Instead, we stopped at a few overlooks to see Lau Manu and Pauahi Crater before turning around to leave the park.
We were a little disappointed with the experience, but we were glad we tried. Luckily, it wouldn’t be our only trip to the park!
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park - Second Visit
We were able to make it back to the park Tuesday evening after our day in Hilo.
Before we went back to the park we spent the day in Hilo hiking to several waterfalls and had the absolute best lunch downtown. Read more on my “Things We Did in Hilo” post here!
All day, we had been following the national park’s social media accounts and ensuring that the area remained safe to visit. These outlets provided a great piece of advice: visit in the evening to see the glow of the lava, because the lava is very deep inside a crater with unstable edges.
Their social media accounts also tagged photos from the same Steam Vents area we had visited before, so we knew exactly where we were going!
This sight more than satisfied every dream I had ever had of coming to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. When I finally got cold and met up with my family, I was happy that we were able to see one of nature’s greatest forces at work just below our feet.
Watch more from this bucket-list experience here, in my YouTube video below!
If you would like to read more about what we did on The Big Island, check out the separate “Kailua-Kona Christmas Vacation” blog post here!
It turns out that there are plenty of others in the world, but supposedly, their size and mineral content don’t qualify them as true “green sand” beaches. Regardless of technicalities, we loved the area!
When we arrived at Papakōlea, we chose to hitch a ride instead of walking the rough 2.5 miles of road. We didn’t have enough time for both hiking and swimming, so we chose to spend our time swimming instead of walking.
It took about 20 minutes to ride out to the edge of the crater, and the road was very bumpy!
I would never ever recommend anyone drive the road unless you have a suitable off-road vehicle. It is a very rough road!
See just exactly how bumpy the ride was in my YouTube video down below - my Hohem Gimball make it look pretty smooth but you can still get a feel!
This area was very different from any other beach I've ever been too! Up above the ocean the land is healthy grassland with lots and lots of green rolling hills, but down below, it's a green-sand treasure.
We walked a path along the cliff’s edge before walking down to the sand. We wanted to see the whole area before getting in the water, and we found an incredible 360-degree view of blue water and lush landscape. We stood at the windy tip then finally headed down the crater wall to the sandy bay.
The whole area was carved out by a volcanic eruption that occurred thousands of years ago, and that’s what made the sand green! Mineral deposits of Olivine were exposed by the eruption and are eroded by waves and wind.
We swam around, laid in the sand, and really enjoyed the afternoon before it was time for us to leave. We rode the bumpy trail back to our car and raved about the time we had just had.
Walking or not, I would recommend this glorious beach to anyone!
See more from our entire trip to Hawai'i on my Hawaiian Islands Blog Page, where I lay out every where we went!
Our first time, we had planned to visit Manini'owali Beach instead, but Kua Bay came highly recommended by our Airbnb hosts. When we googled it, we found that they were effectively the same place! It felt great to be reassured by a local that the place we wanted to visit would be worth it.
Check out the separate blog post about the “Ohana in the Back” that we stayed at and the help they provided to us, here!
We loved how the black, volcanic rocks broke up the shoreline and made a very unique ocean view. Plus, those rocks created small outcoves which made entering the water easier and created tide pools full of fish. The water was unbelievably crystal clear and bright blue! We spent hours floating, swimming, and snorkeling in it.
We loved this place for so many reasons. Beside its sheer beauty, it was convenient to get to! It was only about 15 minutes from downtown Kilauea, and the parking lot was just steps from the beach. There is also plenty of space! In the three times we visited in December, we never had an issue finding a place for our chairs and towels!
Kua Bay and Manini'owali Beach was our very favorite spot of the entire week in Hawai’i. We were so glad we found it early in our trip so that we could visit as many times as we did.
Read a little more about Kua Bay and the other places we snorkeled in the blog post titled, “Where We Found Snorkeling on The Big Island” here!
One of the most memorable things that we did during our Hawaiian Christmas Vacation was go night snorkeling with manta rays through My Kona Adventures!
None of us had ever done anything like this, and I don’t think any of us had ever been in deep ocean in the dark. This experience had come highly recommended by several blogs and websites, then our Airbnb host and another local recommended it, so we were sure to go.
Read more about where we stayed on The Big Island in my "Where We Stayed near Kona" blog post!
I had reached out to My Kona Adventures before our arrival to The Big Island and asked about their availability and packages. I found a good deal on Groupon and was hoping to use it, but it turned out that they were running a better promotion on site. We ended up saving nearly 50%!
If you plan to book your excursion in advance, be sure to email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask about current deals!
We booked a 7 p.m. slot for Friday night and arrived at the boat ramp in the pitch-black darkness. We all got our snorkels, and I asked for a wetsuit for warmth before we boarded the boat. While we took the five minute ride out to the bay, we strapped on ankle floaties to help keep us near the surface.
Our captain explained that our guide, Taco, would meet us in the water, and we all hopped in. Taco was holding onto a special floating board with bright lights attached to the bottom. The bright, blue lights help attract plankton which is what the manta rays eat 22 hours of the day. He informed us that the rays will come within what he called “licking distance”. He told us that absolutely no touching is allowed and that we needed to protect the animals in their natural habitat.
Once he was done talking, we looked down and, right away, could see the majestic beasts somersaulting by another group. We were amazed. The manta rays can have wingspans up to 20 feet, and Taco said they can weigh as much as two tons!
See exactly what we saw under the water in my YouTube video below!
Not long after we put our faces back in the water, the rays started to come closer to us. They found the lights below us and started to work up toward our raft. Before long, they were right under us, and I mean only feet away. These humongous animals came right up under our board, and like Taco said, they came within inches of us. It was incredible, unbelievable, and unreal.
The feeling of being close to these giants was like no other. We felt like we were observing aliens in a foreign world. All of the sudden, a dolphin swam under us too! It was completely unexpected! Everything about the tour was just absolutely incredible. We could not have asked for a better night in the water.
Like all great things, our touring time had come to an end, and it was time for us to get back on the boat. The hour we had spent in the water went by too fast, but we loved every single second of it. Truth be told, it was the perfect amount of time, because our arms started to get tired, and I started to get cold! It was a good thing that our boat ride was only a few minutes long.
Once on the land again, we couldn’t stop raving about how spectacular that experience had been. My parents, who were nervous at first, even said that it was one of the most fun things they had ever done. We highly recommend checking out My Kona Adventures and taking one of their tours. It was fantastic!
If you would like to see more from this snorkeling adventure and our entire trip to The Big Island, please check out my Hawaiian Islands page to see everything!!
Check out the listing for yourself here, as the "Kona Amazing Cottage - Pool/AC/Great Location" on Airbnb.com
Looking back on our booking process, we probably should have looked into things more closely before booking.
If we had read the description, which states, “Two people can feel very comfortable inside. Our unit will accommodate up to 4 people, but please be aware that it will be tight.” We probably would have booked somewhere else, but I’m glad we didn’t!!
They specifically recommended:
They also recommended many more things to do as we explored the island. You can read about it all in the, “What We Did For A Week on Hawai’i” post here.
Check the Airbnb’s availability HERE if you would like to book a stay at this wonderful home!
The White River National Forest is located outside of Minturn, Colorado, just south of Vail. It is about two-and-a-half hours from Denver. We left home early Saturday morning and arrived around 9 a.m. and discovered a few surprises.
Watch more from the entire weekend in our YouTube video below - and don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up to date with our latest adventures!
We knew it would be cold, but the temperature was only 9 degrees Fahrenheit according to my Jeep when we pulled down the road. That was about 20-degrees colder than we anticipated, but we kept going.
That was, until we also discovered that the road we were supposed to take was closed by a gate 8 miles from the trailhead! We parked the car and began reviewing our options and the posted maps. Hoping we could still get out to camp.
The maps showed that there were trails off Homestead Road and campgrounds along the way, so we decided to hike the road and find a scenic place to camp for the night. Easy alternative!
We put on our packs and snowshoes and started walking. We didn’t know, at all, what to expect, and we didn’t know how beautiful our surroundings would be!
No Name Gulch:
The night was one of the most difficult we’ve experienced. Temperatures reached 8 degrees, and we didn’t have the proper gear. We struggled, fully clothed and shivering, through the night. We had even stuffed the feet of our sleeping bags with excess clothing save one jacket we draped over our dog Maria. We learned a lot that night and have already begun researching our upgrades.
Here are some items we wish we'd had better versions of:
If you want to see in more detail all of the gear we carry in our backpacks, check out the detailed blog post from Yellowstone National Park here!
We woke up the next morning with frost stuck to everything inside the tent, including my hat. We laughed at how ridiculous the situation we’d put ourselves in was, snuggled up with our pup, and waited for the sunshine to hit our tent and warm us up.
Once the sun was high enough in the sky, we stood in its rays and briskly packed up camp. After stuffing our bags and making one final sweep of the campsite, we started our hike back to the car. The trail was just as beautiful as the day before, but we were motivated by the warmth of my car.
The hike back was much faster than the wandering stroll the day before. Both of our hungry stomachs and frozen toes were encouraging us to make it back as fast as we could. We arrived at my car in about two hours, and we couldn’t have been happier with the heat or the trip we’d just had. It was an incredibly fun and beautiful weekend, but we would have loved it that much more if we had been properly prepared.
Similar blog posts:
Read more about our entire trip to Puerto Rico in our "Puerto Rico Road Trip" blog post, here!
Taylor and I noticed the canyon rising out of the beach, and we immediately headed toward it. We climbed up the stark, white canyon finding a beautiful view of the surrounding mountainous jungle. There were people floating below, so we asked where the carvings were - no one knew.
We kept exploring, hopping from rock to rock, and keeping our eyes out for carvings in the stone.
See more from our adventures around the canyon in our YouTube Video below, and subscribe to our channel for more videos!
Read more from our entire trip to Puerto Rico, including our tours of local coffee farms and our sightly unfortunate "event" that happened in the jungle. Check it all out below or on our Puerto Rico page!
We had two more nights to plan, and we were torn between the beaches and the jungle.
You can read more about all of our other planned trips in Puerto Rico including plans to visit Ponce, Rincon, and El Yungue National Forest in the “How We Planned a Trip to Puerto Rico” blog post - coming soon!
Old San Juan 360-Degree View Room
Robert and his beautiful apartment were our first welcome to the island. We flew into San Juan late at night and Robert accommodated our midnight arrival graciously. He greeted us with a tour of his home, located in the hear of Old San Juan, then showed us our bedroom for the night.
If you would like to book your own stay at Robert's room in Old San Juan, check his availability here!
If you have never booked with Airbnb before, use this discount code on your first stay and save up to $60! https://www.airbnb.com/c/taylorc1809
You can see more from all of the places we stayed in our YouTube video below, and in more videos on our channel, here!
Lago Caonillas Lake View House
The apartment itself isn’t much.There is a kitchen table, couch, and kitchenette with a coffee pot, minifridge, and microwave in the main room; a bedroom with a bathroom, closet, and queen sized bed; and a TV room with a large couch and closet. Though the necessities are on the inside, the main amenity is on the outside.
If you would like to book your own stay at in Utuado, please call Danny at 787-616-8949 or check his Airbnb calendar here!
Hotel La Terraza
Eventually, we had to return to San Juan to catch our flights back home. We booked our second stay in Old San Juan at a place fit for wandering the area, but when we suffered a flat tire in the jungle, our plans changed dramatically.
Read all about our wild experience driving through the jungle in our “What It’s Like To Drive In Puerto Rico” blog post here.
If you would like to book your own stay at Hotel La Terraza check their Airbnb site to see what's available here!
All things considered, we chose great places to stay through Airbnb and can’t complain about a thing. A good place to call home-away-from-home can make or break a trip, and all of ours made the trip even more special.
We loved every place we stayed and visited in Puerto Rico. Read more about every where we went in Old San Juan, Utuado, and Arecibo in our blog post HERE!
We traveled west out of San Juan to Arecibo and south to Utuado stopping wherever we wanted along the way.
We rented a car through Enterprise Rental Cars and had quite an experience with it! Read all about what it was like driving around Puerto Rico here.
La Plaza del Mercado de Santurce.
We booked an amazing stay in Utuado through Airbnb and could not have picked a more dreamy jungle getaway. Read all about it here!
Sabor Isleño by Los Paneles
Cafe El Bohio
The next morning, we woke up and grabbed an early, traditional Puerto Rican lunch from Cafe El Bohio along the shores of Lago Caonillas. We were staying just up the road at Coanillas Lake View House, and it was too convenient to not try.
We enjoyed our fried pork, beans, and rice before hopping in the car and exploring around Utuado. The meal wasn’t anything special, but it tasted great and fueled us for the day!
Cafe Gran Batey
See more from this great tour in our YouTube Video below and in our more detailed blog post here!
La Placita del Vivi
After learning about the native Taino culture at the Caguana Ceremonial Indigenous Heritage Center, we grabbed a bite from the roadside cafe, La Placita del Vivi.
Carbon y Leña Beach Restaurant
Read more about all of the Airbnbs we stayed at across the island in the “Where to Stay in Puerto Rico” post here!
Every single meal we had in Puerto Rico was absolutely delicious! We branched out, tried new things, and were never disappointed. Each place had such friendly staff who were willing to help us, and we appreciate all of their kindness and all of the fantastic meals. We only got a taste of Puerto Rican cuisine, but we loved every bite we had!
Read more about our entire Puerto Rico road trip in this more detailed post here! We share were we stayed in San Juan and Utuado and give details about all the amazing places we went and saw.
Read all about it HERE!
We waved to a gentleman who was sitting in the shade outside, and then we walked inside and discovered a busy lady serving coffee, cornbread, and carrot cake to a family of visitors.
Finally, the beans are aged and roasted before they’re packaged or ground.
He was Lotty’s husband and owner of the Gran Batey Coffee Farm. He told us about growing up on the farm, working away from home, then returning to run the farm as his own. The man had done an incredible amount of work in his life and it showed. He and Lotty had grown the farm’s business to the point of partnership with major coffee brands, but the work was wearing on him. He still loved the place, but you could tell it was hard on him.
We will be drinking Cafe Gran Batey coffee for a long time to come, and we are very excited!
See more from our entire tour of Cafe Gran Batey in our YouTube video here!
Check out more of our blog posts from Puerto Rico below!
We chose Utuado for its nearby attractions like Cerra De Punta, Torro Negro State Park, El Cemi Museum, and all of the white canyons. Even though we only made it to one of the later, we loved every moment of our time in the Puerto Rico mountains.
If you would like to read about our entire trip, including two nights in San Juan and our afternoon in Arecibo, read our “Long Weekend Road Trip in Puerto Rico” blog post HERE!
Read more about our entire experience dining at Sabor Isleño by Los Paneles and other restaurants across the island in our “Where We Found Great Food in Puerto Rico” blog post here!
Driving around in Puerto Rico was an experience in and of itself read all about what happened with our rental car in our "How Safe Is It To Drive In Puerto Rico?" blog post HERE and watch our YouTube video below!
This wasn't our only amazing airbnb in Puerto Rico, we also stayed at two great places in Old San Juan - which you can see more about here!
We warmed up the hot tub and unpacked our gear before starting to plan out an itinerary for the next day. We sat outside and gazed at the stars while reading DiscoverPuertoRico.com’s article about Utuado. We did a little more research before deciding to go west and visit some coffee farms, learn about the native people of the land, and do a little hiking.
Lotty, who gave our tour, did not speak English! Fortunately, another family was on the premise, and their father spoke English well enough to translate.
If you want to learn more about Cafe Gran Batey, check out the detailed blog post here!
See more from Cafe Gran Batey in our YouTube video below!
You can see more from this interesting site in our YouTube video here!
Read about all of the Puerto Rican mofongo and mojitos we had in the “Where We Found Great Meals in Puerto Rico” post here!
If you want to see more from our adventure through Canon Blanco, check out our YouTube video below!
We tried to continue to our next stop, La Piedra Escrita, but were halted when the road we had been following on Google Maps ended! The pavement turned to jungle floor, and we had nowhere to go. It was quite scary and was only worse when one of our tires popped.
We knew it would be best to act with haste, and John replaced our tire so fast that I swear he could have been trying out to be a NASCAR pit crew member.
Read about what it was like to drive around the Puerto Rican rainforest in this more detailed driving blog post, here!
We had SO much else we wanted to see while in Utuado, here are just a few of the place we wanted to visit:
- Cerro de Punta (PR's highest point)
- Chorro de Doña Juana Waterfall Or Cascada Las Delicias
- Museo De Nuestros Martires
- El Cemí Museum
- La Piedra Escrita
We loved every minute of our time in Utuado, and have ever intention to come back to explore more one day!
Here are some of our other blog posts from our entire trip to Puerto Rico. Enjoy!
Where to Stay In Puerto Rico - Beaches or Rain Forest??
How to Plan a Vacation to Puerto Rico!
Where We Found The Best Food On The Island - Lots of Mofongo and Mojitos!
Read more about our entire road trip to Utuado, Puerto Rico in this outlined "Puerto Rico Road Trip" blog post, HERE!
Taylor arranged our rental through Enterprise Rent-A-Car. She booked us for an SUV, but it was a little unfortunate that we couldn’t select exactly which car we wanted. It also was crazy how much more expensive off road and 4WD drive vehicle got!
See more of what it was like to drive around, watch our YouTube video below!
The first drive in the Rogue was from Old San Juan to La Plaza del Mercado de Santurce. The city streets were narrow, but not confusing or difficult to navigate.
Check out where all we stayed in San Juan and Utuado in our "Where to Stay In Puerto Rico" blog post, HERE!
Once we got through Utuado the roads got narrow and started winding with a consistent, steep grade.
While driving through the mountains we learned it is common to hear horns honking to notify anyone around the curve that a car is coming. It’s also common to turn a curve to find a relaxing dog in the middle of the road or a group of people gathered near the roadside!
The views of Puerto Rico’s mountain ranges are stunning, but I couldn’t afford to take my eyes off the road for any amount of time.
For two days, Taylor and I explored the mountain roads on either side of Utuado. It was exhilarating to drive up and down these steep and lush roadways. When researching routes around the Utuado Area, I had read that some mountain roads in Puerto Rico are impassable and that GPS directions are not to be trusted.
Read more about all of the planning we did before arriving in Puerto Rico, please read our detailed post - coming soon!
Even though I had gone as far as drawing certain intersections and sections of road map in my notebook, Taylor and I forgot the warnings about GPS.
We accidentally hit this trail pretty hard, and to make matters worse, something in the grass punctured our passenger’s side front tire.
After a speedy tire change, the Rouge sported an emergency spare as Taylor and I limped it back to a tire shop.
No matter what day or time we were on the highway, traffic never seemed to slow. Commercial trucks and older vehicles kept a slow pace, some vehicles cruised at just above the 55 mile per hour speed limit, and a few zipped by everyone. This remained true in a steady downpour.
The last piece of driving the Rogue in Puerto Rico consisted of dangerous water pockets and flooded interchanges. As we neared San Juan, the edge lanes of the highway became more and more likely to hold water pockets that would jerk the steering wheel. The streets of San Juan were flooded, but Taylor and I returned the car safely to Enterprise.
All things considered, driving in Puerto Rico was a great experience, but a little bit more Spanish and familiarity with certain routes would have helped tremendously.
It is not a task for the faint of heart, and constant diligence is required, but the exhilaration while speeding around a mountainous curve kept me in a state of bliss while driving in Puerto Rico’s mountains, and the suspense of never knowing when an oncoming vehicle would appear, made those mountains one of my favorite places to drive.
See what it was really like in our YouTube video below, and see more on our entire channel HERE!
More from our road trip in Puerto Rico:
I try very hard to explore new places every time a friend or family member comes to visit. I searched for a resort I had never been to and found Mount Princeton Hot Spring Resort and Spa!
It fell perfectly in line geographically with other things I wanted to do with my mom, like “leaf peeping” and take a scenic train ride - which you can read all about in Our Leadville Road Trip Blog Post!
Before arriving at Mount Princeton, we hiked at the famous Kenosha Pass. We planned our trip perfectly to see the fall foliage and walked through miles of gorgeous scenery. All the hiking made us more than ready to soak our aching feet when we arrived at Mount Princeton.
You can see more from Kenosha Pass in this more detailed post HERE! Plus check out our YouTube Video below!
When we pulled up to the spa, we tried to check in at the historic bathhouse but were told there was a waitlist!
At first, we were a little disappointed. The attendant said it could be up to two or three hours until our name was called. Then, one of the other workers informed us there are more swimming areas at the upper pool! We would have never known!
He did warn us that there are more kids around the upper pools, and he also told us that it closes earlier at 5 p.m. (the lower pool stays open until 9 p.m.) We heeded all the warnings and walked up to the upper pools to find out for ourselves.
We were greeted with open gates, no lines, no crowds, plus the most beautiful views!
Watch our YouTube video to see just HOW stunning the views all were!
We walked up to the counter and each paid $25 to enter. The wristbands also gave us access to the lower area whenever it was our turn on the waitlist. We quickly changed into our bathing suits and found chairs for our towels.
We saw that all the groups were sitting in small pools next to the creekside rocks and wanted to join! We managed to climb down the six-foot-tall barrier wall and found ourselves a private pool.
After the springs, we continued to Leadville to stay at the Happy Hippy tie Dye House and ride the Leadville Scenic Train. You can read more in THIS blog post!
It’s only an hour from Denver and has extremely accessible trails, as it’s part of the 400+ mile Colorado Trail.
If you would like to read about everywhere I took my mom, including the Leadville Train and the Boulder Dushanbe Tea House, check out my itinerary blog post HERE!
Fortunately, when we started to get closer and higher up in elevation, everything started to change. First, the sun came out helping to raise the temperature outside by almost 20 degrees! Then, the leaves started to show out. The higher we drove into the mountains, the more changing leaves we saw. At this point, we were beyond excited to be arriving!
We set up a little picnic on a small hill looking down onto the trial and pond with 360 degree views of the foliage. We sat and snacked still in amazement of the scenery. Neither of us could shut up about how stunning it was.
When we finally finished the hummus off, we packed it up and got back in the car. Luckily, we were going the opposite way of the heavy traffic and continued our journey to Buena Vista where the views and fun never really stopped! Kenosha Pass was just the start for us!
After Kenosha we continued down the highway to Buena Vista where we soaked in Mount Princeton Hot Spring and then road the Leadville Train! Read about our entire road trip HERE!
When my mom came to visit me in the Fall of 2020, I decided to take her to this quaint town to show her some of Colorado’s best features including the Leadville Railroad & Southern Train!
You can read about all we did during this girls weekend HERE in this separate blog post!
We got there in plenty of time to buy some gifts from the gift shop, and fortunately, one of the workers informed us that it can sometimes be up to 20 degrees colder on the train. We bought a blanket just in case, and we ended up using it for most of the ride!
Watch more from our amazing afternoon ride in my YouTube video HERE!
The ride down was more relaxing, since we had just come up the same tracks. We were able to just sit, enjoy some snacks, and snuggle in our recently purchased blanket.
You can read more about everything we did together for her birthday weekend road trip by checking out this separate blog post!
(You can read more about both of those experiences in separate blog posts Leadville Train and Kenosha Pass!)
When we initially chose to visit Leadville, we started by looking for places to stay on Airbnb. After a lot of searching and comparing, one brightly colored pad kept showing up. At first, I didn’t even show it to my mom. I didn’t think it fit her style, and she wasn’t completely comfortable staying in a shared housing arrangement. But before I could suggest it, she sent it to me and said, “Look how cute”! I booked it immediately!
If you would like to book your own stay in The Happy Hippie House please visit their site here!
If you have never booked with Airbnb before use this code to get a discount!!
AIRBNB CODE HERE
It was a very different and completely “Coloradan” place to stay! If you are looking for an affordable, accessible, and unique place to stay, The Happy Hippie Tie Dye House is perfect for you!
If you would like to book your own stay in The Happy Hippie House please visit their site here!
If you have never booked with Airbnb before use this code to get a discount!!
AIRBNB CODE HERE
I had passed this stunningly crafted tea house in Boulder before and decided to save it for a special occasion. Nothing seemed better than my mom’s birthday! I made reservations for the afternoon she flew in. because I thought afternoon tea would be relaxing after she had endured the stress of flying!
We walked by, gazing at the decorations, and walked into the tea room. Right away, we couldn’t believe where we were! The entire space was carved, painted, and so intricate that it distracted us from the hostess asking for our name.
Once we were sitting at the table, our waiter came over almost right away with our first tea! He described what he was pouring and told us about the dim sum we would be enjoying. He also asked if we had any allergies or special requests for the chef before he started serving us.
Our waiter brought out new tea for us and an assortment of items ranging from sushi rolls to potstickers and pork bao sandwiches. We liked some things more than others and my mom didn’t like the sandwich very much, but I loved everything! We slowly tried everything and worked our way through the plates.
We chatted about how gorgeous the building was and how delicious our food was. we eventually got up and walked around to get closer looks at all the ornate details while taking lots and lots of pictures!
Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad Scenic Train Ride
Family Road Trip Through Rocky Mountain National Park & Estes Park
Taking My Mom To Historic Leadville Colorado for Hot Springs, Train Rides, and Fall Foliage
When we planned out a girls trip to Willow Lakes and Challenger Point, I noticed on the map how close the Watchtower is to the trailhead, and I suggested we meet up there the first night.
You can read more from our entire trip to Crestone, Colorado, including our summit hike up to Challenger Point in the separate blog post HERE!
I was a little nervous that the girls might not have been into the idea of martians and UFOs potentially invading our campsite, but fortunately, everyone was stoked to check it out! We all drove in from different parts of Colorado and met at the campground around 9 p.m. on a Thursday night in July.
Since it was so early when we got up, we had plenty of time to walk around the Watchtower before anyone else even woke up!
The Watchtower is a site for people to leave offerings to these beings, and to look down on the believed vortexes.
We first walked up the watchtower to look down onto the garden area. It gave us a great perspective of how many people had come over the years believing in some mystical help from these extraterrestrial beings.
We walked around the entire garden looking closely at but never touching the items. When we had taken in as much as our minds could contemplate, we went back to our campground and packed up.
If you would like to see more from our entire girls weekend trip please enjoy the video below or visit my separate blog post here!
If you would like to read more from our entire week in the San Juan Mountains please check out our separate blog post HERE!
Before heading to the park, I did some research on trails down into the canyon. I found that the Tomichi Trail is the shortest way to the Gunnison River via the south rim. Since we were going after work, our time was limited, so the Tomichi Trail seemed like our best option. Once we closed our work laptops, we hopped in the car and headed for the park!
It didn't take us long to discover that we needed a permit to hike all the way to the bottom. We were forced to turn back around, but our dog, Maria, was happy to get off the steep, rocky trail. Sadly, our goal to get to the Gunnison River would have to wait for another trip.
Once we got back in the car, we chose to drive down the South Rim Road and pull off at every viewpoint we saw. If we weren't going to be able to walk to the bottom, we were determined to see it from every available angle!
The next few stops were Rock Point, Devils Lookout, and Chasm View. Each stop has its own unique set of short and rocky trails surrounded by scruffy bushes and short, gnarly trees. Our dog, Maria, enjoyed trying to chase ground squirrels and other unseen critters through the brush, and Taylor and I enjoyed seeing the canyon from all different perspectives. Once we’d visited each of these points, we came to the most popular stop on the South Rim Road, The Painted Wall.
The Painted Wall was our last stop for the day, and as we were gazing at the natural wonder, I remembered that the visitors center was offering a guided geology hiking tour the next day, so I decided I had to come back to learn more!
He spent the hour explaining to us how the canyon was formed, pointing out all the different types of rocks, and describing how the canyon might look millions of years from now. I had never taken one of the National Parks’ offered ranger experiences, but after how much I learned from this one, I will always try to make time for one when I’m inside a park from now on.
When the tour ended and we were back at the visitors center, I was sad to be leaving. I still had so many questions and there was so much more to see, but I had to leave and meet back up with John who had to work instead of joining me on the tour. All I could think about while I was leaving was how this is truly a place I cannot wait to come back and explore more.
If you want to see more from inside the National Park please watch my video below!
I had never heard of the Uncompahgre National Forest, so I decided to trust him. I chose not to look at pictures of the destinations to keep my excitement up and my expectations down. Topographic maps and trail guides were the only things I looked at for the area we were visiting in Uncompahgre.
If you would like to read out our entire week-long trip check out our separate post here!
We hit the trail hoping to make it as far as we could before the sun set and before we were exhausted. Earlier that morning, we had climbed the difficult Mount Sneffels, (Read about it here!!) so we were already a bit tired. From where we parked our car, it was about 3 miles to the top of our first mountain pass, and our goal was to reach it.
You can see more from our weekend in the Uncompahgre National Forest watch our YouTube video below!
We were somewhat dreading the late start, but we quickly found encouragement. Every person we passed on the way up, “oohed”, “ahed”, and raved about what we were heading toward and that kept us pushing further and further up the pass. One couple called it the most beautiful trail they had ever been on and exclaimed that the Wetterhorn Basin surpassed their experience in the Canadian Rockies.
The trail starts surrounded by a forest of thick pines and follows the West Fork Cimarron River to its small, creek headwaters. Once we were out of the forest and above the treeline, we entered into one of the most scenic valleys I have ever seen.
It was around 9 p.m. when the darkness hit our tent, and we decided it was time to go to bed. We put all our food in our LokSak Bear Bags and hung them down wind before crawling into our sleeping bags.
We managed to sleep in much later than we had anticipated. The day before’s strenuous hikes really wore us out, and we stayed in our tent until almost 9:30 a.m. We enjoyed our morning, took our time getting up, and decided to explore around camp to let our dog, Maria, rest her paws longer.
We filtered some creek water with our LifeStraw Water Filtration System from nearby and boiled it single propane burner to cook another Mountain House Meal. We also filled up our water bottles for the day while we planned out our hiking path.
While eating our Southwestern Breakfast Scramble, we looked over the map and decided climbing the nearby mountains might be a little more difficult than we initially thought. With our packs and a pretty sore pup, climbing over rock scrambles and gaining thousands of feet of elevation didn’t sound like what we wanted.
We knew we were hiking in the hottest part of the day, but there would be plenty of water for our dog, and we thought that we would eventually hike down into the tree line on the other side of the pass. What we really didn't know, though, was just how absolutely spectacular Wetterhorn Basin and the trail leading to it would be.
We were blown away by the scenery and the persistent wind on this side of the mountain pass. We spent all afternoon wandering down into Wetterhorn Basin looking at all the flowers, trekking through the water, and trying to take in all the wonders we had found.
Eventually, after hours in the sun, we decided to make our way back up toward the pass and our campsite. It took us roughly an hour or so to get from our overlook of Wetterhorn Creek, over the pass, and down to our spot.
We caught another stunning sunset from our campsite and made a nice picnic of cheese and crackers while we watched it. We put away our food bags again before crawling into the tent happy as a clam and tired as a dog (maybe not as tired as our dog).
The next morning, we were awake fairly as the sun hit our tent. The night before’s early bedtime had let us both rest well, so we decided to use our energy to hike out and head home. Before we knew it, we were packing up all of our gear and breaking down the tent. We were sad to be leaving such a serene place but happy to be home after three weeks away.
It was a bittersweet feeling to be leaving the wilderness, but we had seen and done so much in the previous few days that we were perfectly content heading home. We both agreed this had been our favorite place in Colorado thus far. The wildflowers framed with the magnificent mountain backdrops made the picture perfect place even more beautiful.
After two years of waiting and developing my backpacking and mountaineering skills, John decided that he would plan an entire week long adventure for us through the San Juan Mountain Range in southern Colorado, including a stop at Mount Sneffels!
You can read about our entire adventurous week in the Sneffels and Uncompahgre Wildernesses in this separate blog post here!
We called it a night as soon as the sunset so that we could get an early start in the morning. We hoped we could get on the trail and get to the summit of Mount Sneffels by sunrise, so we set our alarms for 2 a.m. and said goodnight before 9 p.m.
Surprisingly, the early morning wake up call wasn't as difficult as we thought. By 2:30 we were up and moving around our tent. We put on warm clothes, laced up our shoes, and managed to be on the trail at precisely 3:26 a.m.
It took us exactly two hours to reach the trailhead. You can see, in the video below, that it was exactly 5:26 a.m when we arrived at the trailhead and signed our names in the log book!
We had our dog, Maria, with us, and even though there were warnings about potential risks for dogs, we thought she could handle it because of her previous mountain climbing experiences. Once the trail turned into rocks though, we got a bit nervous about how she would handle the steep grade.
The trail quickly went from a gradual incline to a nearly straight up rock climb in less than a mile. For a while, we were the only people on the trail, so we could stop and take breaks without anyone passing by, but eventually, another group of two and their dogs passed us. Not long after they did, we started to have to climb the rocks.
This part got a little scary not only because we were grabbing at rocks on our hands and knees on a steep mountain, but mainly because the group in front of us knocked a decently sized rock loose and sent it whirling straight toward us. If they hadn’t yelled a warning as loud as they did and given me the two and a half seconds to move out of the way, I would have been knocked off the mountain side.
John graciously offered to stop where we were, hold on to the dog, and let me summit first. According to our map we only had about .2 miles left, so we figured we would just trade off. We were lucky to have stopped when we did, because the last ascent was the hardest to climb.
The last few minutes of the climb were the coolest of all. I was able to turn around and look back on the entire climb I had just made, and it felt so rewarding to see how far I had come especially with the incredible mountain views surrounding me. It didn’t take long until I had pulled myself up to the tippy top of the mountain.
Standing 14,150 feet above sea level and looking down on the entire San Juan Mountain Range all by myself was a feeling I will never be able to explain. The hard hike, the early morning, the training hikes, and other 14ers led me to this point. I felt so strong and so proud of myself.
I didn't stay up at the top long, because it was super windy and John still wanted to make his way up. I signed the summit log book, snapped my pictures, took some videos, and started my descent.
The walk down was much scarier than the climb up simply because of the downward view, but it took only about half the time to get down. It took me and John each almost an hour to get from where our dog was, up to the summit, and back down. While John went up, I hung out and took in all the views and took some more pictures.
Eventually, we made our way back down the trail. It was around 8 a.m. and the trail was starting to get busy. Where we had been the only ones on the trail in the morning, there were now about 10-15 groups of people. It made the climb down a little more treacherous since we didn’t want to send any boulders flying down toward them.
If you want to see more from our entire week-long trip in Southern Colorado check out our YouTube video below!
Just outside of Aspen, seated between the Roaring Fork and Crystal Rivers, is Carbondale, Colorado. John and I traveled to this quaint mountain "suburb" one weekend in April to visit some friends and cast our fly lines in both of the town's rivers.
If you want to see more from our trip please check out our YouTube video - here!
On Friday afternoon, we drove down into the mountain valley ready to start our weekend. After we celebrated our arrival with our good friends, we called it a night in hopes of hitting the water early. Not surprisingly, I was the first to wake up, so I headed out of the apartment and started my search for a fishing spot.
I easily found a spot near town, across the water from the Days Inn, on Google Maps. My goal was to try to park near a boat ramp and explore the banks from there. I was so excited to find that I was all alone in the parking lot when I pulled up around 7:30 a.m. I grabbed all of my gear and headed under the bridge to wade up the Roaring Fork River for the first time.
You can find the exact location, here.
I walked in and out of trees, sandy areas, and the shallow water until I found a nice little island that created a split in the water. I knew this was the perfect place, and it had a great view of the mighty Mount Sopris.
I walked up and down the grassy island trying to find my first spot. I eventually found it where some tree limbs created a small riffle in the water. I knew this was a great spot, and I caught a beautiful rainbow trout. It was by far the largest fish I had caught to date.
I was overjoyed with the morning's surprise, and during my celebratory picture snapping, I received a message from the house saying everyone else was ready to join me on the water and catch something just as nice.
I quickly packed up and headed home to share my success and help everyone find a new place to check out. We chose to head down Highway 133 and try the Crystal River. The first pull off was just inside of the White River National Forest. You can see the exact location on Google Maps.
As soon as we set up chairs and our fly rigs, quite literally on one of his first casts, John caught a small trout! It was his first catch on a fly line, but the tiny trout wiggled off the hook before I could scoop it with the net.
We spent most of the morning hanging out in this spot taking in all of the mountain views and warm, sunny rays. Unfortunately, the sunny rays kept the fish from biting and that first fish was the only one we caught in this spot.
After a while, we grabbed our gear and headed out to spend the afternoon back on the Roaring Fork River. We chose to go to a different spot than where I had been earlier that morning and drove up toward Glenwood Springs.
We arrived at Veltus Park around 3:30 in the afternoon just in time to see hundreds of bugs hatching on the water. Though they were somewhat annoying to those of us not fishing, we didn't let the little bugs get in our way and spent hours casting here.
You can visit Veltus Park's website here!
I had about six or so hooks, but all of them got away. John chose to stand on the other side of the water and didn't have as much luck as I did. We stayed until the bugs died down and the fish stopped biting. It was the most fun day fishing yet, and we got plenty of practice matching our flies to the new surroundings every time we moved.
The next morning, I was able to wake John up early to join me on the water. We scouted out a new spot at the Blue Creek Ranch Open Space. We arrived at the Angler Parking Lot around 7:30 a.m. and were on the water shortly after. You can see the exact location on Google Maps.
We knew we had chosen a good spot, because in later conversations, this exact location kept coming up as a great place to wet a line. We didn't quite have the flies we needed and didn't get any bites. We didn't stay terribly long, because we were ready to find a new place to reunite with our fiends.
We all met back up at the same spot on the Crystal River as the day before. Just as the day before, the spot was unproductive, and even though we could see fish, we could not get them to bite.
Before long, the rest of the group was ready to call it a day, but since this was mine and John's last opportunity to fish for the weekend, we stayed on the water and drove up to a new spot.
Just a few miles up the river, we found a calm spot with a few large boulders at the mouth of a waterfall. We decided this was a perfect spot to toss, and we were correct. In the few hours we fished here, I caught two fish and John had a few bites! The spot was fairly secluded and had even better views than the previous spot. We were so happy we stuck it out and found this honey hole.
If you want to see roughly where we fished, you can find the nearest Google Maps location here!
Once some clouds rolled in, we had to call it a day and make the long journey back home to Denver. We went back by our friend's house to say goodbye. Overall, it was a tremendously successful weekend for a couple of beginner fly fishers!
Tucked away in the Rocky Mountains about 2 and a half hours west of Denver and 20-miles south of Kremmling, sits one of my favorite hidden spots in Colorado. Radium Hot Spring is nothing more than an array of rocks holding mildly warm water in a pool alongside the frigid, rushing Colorado River. It is a beautiful place to sit and soak on any day.
I have been to Radium Hot Springs on three happy occasions. The first was a blustery, snowy day with a visiting friend, the second was a piping hot summer afternoon with a couple after a concert weekend, and the third was for a fly fishing and camping weekend!
If you are looking for the most recent report please scroll to the bottom!
Memorial Day 2019:
My first trip was over Memorial Day weekend with a friend who was visiting from Nashville. We spent several days road tripping around the state and decided we needed a good soak after skiing in Breckenridge.
We followed AllTrails app directions to the trailhead which was actually the Mugrage campground. We didn’t think we were in the right place at first, but after a few minutes of driving around and poking through snow patches, we found the trail marker near a resting herd of big horned sheep.
We cautiously maneuvered our way up the hill trying to not stir the sheep. Thankfully, we reached the top of the hill with no conflicts.
From the top of the hill, the trail cuts through an open field full of cacti and hearty vegetation and leads toward the river.
The trail ends at a cliffside and features a makeshift campsite and fire ring. If it hadn’t been for the “diving allowed” sign, we wouldn’t have known that we had arrived.
We stood by the sign and looked over the edge to find an empty hot spring waiting below. The cliffside had an opening with ledges short enough to climb down. We took careful steps on the icy rock faces and made it to the pool.
It was freezing cold out, and snow was just starting to flurry. Taking our layers off seemed like a crazy idea, so we did it quickly. We slipped into the warm water and tried to warm up as quickly as we could.
The water in the spring wasn’t terribly hot. It was more like bath water, but the rising steam felt great while the snow flurries whipped around our hats.
We had the spring to ourselves for almost an hour until a rowboat of fishers came by and decided to stop. As quickly as we took off our wet bathing suits, we toweled off and put on our warm, dry layers to give the group their privacy.
Our soak was wonderful and relaxing on the chilly, gray day. It was so enjoyable that I came back for a second time and brought even more friends with me!
Labor Day 2019:
On our way back from a concert series in Steamboat Springs, John, another couple, and I passed through the town of Kremmling, and I insisted we stop. This time, we followed Google Maps which lead us to a different trailhead parking lot than I had used on my previous visit.
After navigating the rutted, difficult, and unnamed road off of Old Trough Road, we were, again, lead to a campsite at the trailhead. It brought us to the opposite side of Radium hot springs this time, and there were three different routes to choose from with no idea if any lead to the spring we wanted.
Initially, John and I stayed on the gated road, but after about a mile of walking, we checked our location and realized we had passed the spring. We retraced our steps and arrived back at the car and campsite and soon found that we had missed a sign marking the correct route down to the hot spring.
This route is much steeper until it reaches the same cliffside and makeshift campsite as the trail from last time. It was roughly a mile to the cliffside stairs, and we couldn’t wait to hop in the water and out of the sweltering summer sun.
There were two other people in the pool when we arrived, but that didn’t stop our friends from joining them in the water. It wasn’t as hot as it had been the first time, but in the midsummer heat, it was nice enough to stay until our fingers were pruney.
A few people who’d been at the Billy Strings concert in Steamboat showed up for a soak bringing the count to eight people and two dogs. As our group decided to get on the road and wrap up our weekends, a boat full of fishers anchored off to keep the pool full and lively.
The pool was about to get crowded but nowhere near as crowded as it would be, over the entire weekend, the next time I visited the area.
May 1st - 3rd, 2020
This trip was very different than all of my others to Radium, not only because we spent the entire weekend here, but because we did things other than just soak in the hot spring! This time, one of John's roommates joined us for the weekend of fishing and camping.
It was also different, because when we arrived, the road and trail were PACKED. It appeared that the spring had recently been added to the Warm Spring Trail as part of a larger trail system. It would only make sense for this to increase traffic at the site. New trailhead signs and maps were a nice addition, because they helped us find the trail much faster than last time.
We quickly made our way down the short trail and scouted out a campsite right on top of the hot spring. We arrived at sunset, so we quickly dropped off our first load of gear and headed back up the trail for a few convenient items. When we got back, we set up camp in the dark and built a nice fire.
It wasn't long before the sounds of the river below lulled us into a good night's rest. That rest was cut short when several trains rolled by early in the morning hauling freight through the nearby mountain towns. It was kind of nice to be up so early to try our hands at fly fishing.
John decided to fish near camp while I ventured up and down the river in search of the perfect spot. The Colorado River was very wide and rapid, so finding a place was a little difficult. I was very jealous of how the folks on rafts and boats could fish the entire watershed.
When mid-afternoon started to creep up, so did the clouds. We had to cut our day quite short when a wind and rain storm overcame the area, but fortunately, we made it to camp before it all started. We spent the rest of the day in our tents drinking and playing games until the sun peered out just in time for sunset.
We built a nice fire with some wood we had kept dry and enjoyed hot dogs and s'mores over the campfire before crawling back into our cocoons of tents. The rain was on and off throughout the night and it created a great sleep soundtrack for us.
When we were woken up by the trains the next morning, we woke up and started a fire for breakfast. We cooked up some bacon, egg, black bean, and green chili breakfast burritos and enjoyed the view from around the fire.
After the hearty meal, we decided to pack up and make our first trip to the car to drop off our heaviest gear. The hike back up is nowhere near as easy as the hike down, but we were glad to get our first load up the cliffside before soaking in the hot spring. We were hot and sweaty by the time we made it back down.
We got back down to the hot spring to find a plethora of boats parked at the spring, but no one was actually in the water. It turns out that the rain from the night before had flooded the hot spring and cooled the pool.
Unfortunately, we didn't hang out in the spring very long, but we did enjoy all of the people who were hanging out around the rocks. We soaked in the sunshine and soaked our feet until it was time to hike back out.
The nice break made the hike back up quite enjoyable, and before we knew it, we were back in the car heading home and already missing the sounds of the river and smells of the campfire.
Talkin' 'bout Tacos:
I'm Taylor, aka Tacos! I am sharing my journeys and experiences from across the world hoping to inspire travel and adventure in all who read!