Every time I have been to the park I hav been with a different friend, family member, or hiking partner to explore this rugged wilderness with, and every time I am left feeling thankful and blessed to be so close to some place so special.
Living in Denver gives me many opportunities to see truly incredible places near home, and Estes Park, where Rocky Mountain National Park is located, is one of those magical places. Sadly, I don’t come here enough, but when I do, it is a special occasion.
There are many ways to travel throughout the park - by car, bus, foot, bike, or even horseback, I am going to lay out the ways I have traversed through the park and give some insider recommendations!
Know Before You Go:
New in 2020 and remaining through 2021 is a permit system to enter the park. You must have a timed entry permit to make it through the Ranger's gates.
Permits can be purchased, here: https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/timed-entry-permit-system.htm
Summer Vs. Winter
Rocky Mountain National Park is open year round from the east side, or Estes Park entrances, but certain roads close at the start of winter and the entrances from Grand Lake become far less in the winter. This includes leading up to The Alpine Visitors Center, which is also closed in winter. (It took me seven trips to the park to time make it there!)
I personally do not think you can go wrong in either season, but one time of the year definitely has more open and accessible - and that would be summer.
To handle the influx of people in the summer, there are more visitors centers and restrooms open, and the towns are bustling with people and open shops. It's a plus and minus to have people and operating businesses, but its nice when you are with other tourists just bumping around!
Things really pick up after Memorial Day and stay busy through August. I personally like May (if you are okay with the chill!)
Driving Around The Park:
The easiest way to the most of the park is drive yourself! There is a bus you can take from point to point but I have never personally ridden.
I recommend starting from Estes Park and working over towards Grand Lake, or even turning around at The Alpine Visitors Center or at the winter gate of Highway 34. There is a lot more to do near Estes Park, and as of 2020 the wildfires have really closed off the western park of the park.
I usually just drive clockwise around Highways 36 and Highway 34 and only one time did I make it up the road during the right season to go to The Alpine Visitor Center.
Watch more from the time I drove my grandparents through the park! This is the only time I have ever drive all the way through to the Grand Lake side.
Hikes I Have Been On Inside The Park:
I say “trail”, because we would find out that we were not following the trail at all! Instead, we were just following another group's shoeprints in the snow. We knew that the lake is at the top of the hill, so we kept trekking and eventually made it to our destination and back onto the proper trail.
Bear, Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes
We had intentions to hike all day and see as much as we could, but an afternoon storm drove us back to the trailhead just after noon.
At Loch Lake, the winds were released, and we found ourselves in a tornado of whipping gusts. It didn't stop us from strapping on our skates and trying out the ice. The ice was extremely bumpy, because the water froze in place as the wind pushed it into waves. Needless to say, it was difficult to skate on, and compared to my friend Natalie who was a collegiate hockey player, I was an embarrassment! We let the wind push us around the ice until we nearly froze. Then, we took off our skates and quickly made it back to our cars.
Each of my experiences inside the park has been such an adventure, and I cannot wait to go back and explore even more. The park has so much more hiding inside its thousands of protected acres, and I cannot wait to see what I discover next time!
See more from Colorado's other National Parks on my "Parks Page"
The Four Pass Loop is a 26-mile roundtrip hike that entails almost 8,000 feet of elevation gain, passes two lakes, three “14’ers”, and is one of the most scenic places in the entire state of Colorado.
We completed the loop the first weekend of August 2021, and it took us four days and three nights to make it all the way around.
We decided to start our hike from Crested Butte instead of the more traditional route from Aspen, because coming from Maroon Lake near Aspen requires a parking permit or a shuttle ride up to the trailhead.
We really didn’t want to do either, so we decided to add a few extra miles and start form The West Maroon Trailhead outside of Crested Butte.
Day One: West Maroon TH over Frigid Air Pass
(Miles 0 - 7.5)
We could tell things would be a bit different from here on out. The trail became more rocky, and the color of the rocks changed to a deep red. Everything was different than the West Maroon trail we had been on earlier. We could see miles ahead to where we needed to go, but it was gradual, so it wasn’t too daunting.
Frigid Air Pass:
Frigid Air Pass wasn’t the most difficult, but none of the four passes would be easy. I didn’t know this yet. At this point, my friends had gotten quite a far distance ahead of me. I could still see them, but they were pretty much at the top of the pass while I was taking a break and just about ready to start from the bottom.
We had plenty of time before the sun went down to cook dinner, set up our tents, and sit around the campfire for a little while!
Day Two: Trailrider Pass to Snowmass Lake
(Miles 7.5 -15)
We got a bit of a later start than anticipated, and were ready to go at 9 a.m. Our second day on the trail would be all-around wonderful. The trail was fairly gradual at the start, and we had plenty of time to prepare ourselves for the steepness of the second pass.
Just like the day before, my friends got way ahead of me hiking up the trail. They, again, were waiting for me at the top of the pass. This time, we could see down onto Snowmass Lake when we hiked over the pass, and it was remarkable.
I couldn’t believe how different the view was from this pass compared to the last. As beautiful as the view was, I didn’t sit there to enjoy it long. I knew we would continue to have the view for the entire hike down the mountain’s face, so we quickly started hiking again.
Where the trip took a turn...
I walked down to Snowmass Lake right as the sun was starting to set. I probably had about 20 or 30 minutes before the sun went behind the mountains. It gave me enough time to cook dinner, filter water, and find a campsite.
Snowmass Lake requires camping in designated areas which made finding a place to camp a bit difficult. Luckily, a nice group made room for me and my friend who had not yet arrived.
Day Three: Buckskin Pass to Crater Lake
(Miles 15 - 24)
Our alarms went off at 5:00 a.m. sharp, and we were instantly up and moving. We wanted to meet up with the couple camping one and a half miles down the trail before they took off, so we were hiking by 6:30.
We hit the trail without any breakfast to rush to our friends, and this lead to a not-so-great morning.
The first portion of our day was a climb over Buckskin Pass. This was another 2,000 foot climb in less than two miles. It was incredibly difficult. This part of the trail was the most difficult for me. I struggled very much. I cannot deny that I wanted to quit.
I lost my mental stronghold...
I made it over the pass and felt great by the time I reached the top. It felt like I could keep hiking the rest of the day, so I did not give up. I did not quit, and I kept pushing to Crater Lake after a nice, long stop.
My one girlfriend, who I had met at Snowmass Lake the night before, hiked out and took the shuttle. That was always her plan. She only joined for the one night, because she lives in the area and can do the rest of the trail any other time.
We said goodbye, and the couple and I kept going around the lake. Although I was feeling great, this turned out to be another rough portion of our trip.
We took a wrong turn...
When we made it back down, we regrouped and established a goal that we would try to reach to make camp. My friends went on ahead at their much faster pace, and I planned to meet them there.
When I got to the point on the map where I was supposed to meet my friends, nearly an hour after I had last seen them, I started calling out their names, and they came running. They had just found camp and were coming down the trail to help me. We embraced and quickly unloaded my gear at camp. We ate, hung our bear bags, and went to bed before 8:00 p.m.
Day Four: West Maroon Pass to Crested Butte
This last morning, we woke up with a completely different attitude than we’d had on any other day, because we only had a few miles to go. Plus, we knew what the second half of the trail held in store for us. We packed up, quickly made it up the valley in which we were camping, and approached West Maroon Pass.
It was an emotional journey. The last few miles back to my car felt like a blur. I couldn’t stop thinking about how humbled I felt to be trekking by myself and rounding out the last few miles of a 30 mile hike.
When I arrived back at the trailhead, I cried some more.
Most were tears of happiness and disbelief, but I was also sad, because my friends had driven into town.
See more from my other backpacking trips:
Camping inside The Great Sand Dunes National Park
My First Solo Backpacking Trip in Medicine Bow, Wyoming
John and I have had the incredible pleasure of traveling to Ireland twice now. The first time we came to Ireland, we celebrated New Year’s Eve 2017. Our second time, we visited in July of 2021 for a wedding.
Neither trips were centered around exploring Dublin, but we made the most of our short time in the beautiful capital city on both trips.
Here are some places we recommend:
To get an even older look into Irish culture, you can see one of the country’s most prized possessions. The Book of Kells was written circa 800 AD and is now held inside Trinity College in Dublin. The Book of Kells is an elaborate transcript of the first four gospels of the New Testament of The Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This book dates back to 800 AD. It is intricately crafted and beautiful to see. It really gives a good look into the importance of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
This church was built in 1095, and because of its natural construction, has managed to preserve the dead bodies stored inside. The mummies date back over 800 years. We tried to visit on our last trip, but the church closes for lunch from 12-2 in the summer, so we missed them!
Another thing we missed was The National Leprechaun Museum, because they are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This museum was highly recommended by a local who said, “the museum makes you feel like you yourself are a leprechaun, and that everything around you is gigantic!”
Read about the other places we recommend visiting in Ireland:
Things to do in County Kerry
Killarney National Park
Every summer, John and I enjoy taking one long trip across the United States to visit some place we have never been. Most of our summers have been spent together in the American Southwest, and the summer of 2021 was no different. This year, we took a road trip to Sedona, Arizona.
We have been to Arizona many times including most recently for Memorial Day to kayak the Colorado River, which you can read about here, but we have never been near Sedona. When my Aunt and Uncle informed me they would be there for vacation, we timed our annual road trip to tag along for a portion of their trip.
Where to Eat:
The only place we ate dinner out in Sedona was at Sound Bytes, a large music joint with a big patio and a great view! We chose it, because they didn’t have a wait, and it was recommended by a neighboring restaurant owner.
The food was better than expected, and the wait staff was a fun crew. We had a great meal taking in the stunning scenery around us.
Warning - Sedona is HOT!
I highly recommend that you check the weather and warnings every single day before going out. Not only is heat an issue, but when it does rain, flash floods are also a major concern. Not to mention wildfires which hindered our plan to take a dip in Owl Creek.
Sunrise at Airport Mesa Trail:
Our first morning in Sedona, we woke up as early as we could and tried to chase the sunrise at The Airport Mesa Loop Trail.
We left our rental home at 5:15, and the sun was just starting to peak out over the horizon. We hurried as quickly as we could to get onto the trail.
Overall, it was a wonderful morning for us to see all of the valley's towering formations we would be hiking throughout the week.
Again, we got up well before sunrise and started hiking Boynton Canyon before the heat of the day began. This time, we left before 5 AM and were starting The Boynton Canyon Trail in the rays of first light.
This was hands down our favorite hike of the trip. The view started incredibly and only improved the further in we went.
Our last morning in Sedona, we woke up well before sunrise again. We knew we had to go early to beat the crowds, because we had saved the most popular location for last.
We arrived at the Devil’s Bridge trailhead just before 5 AM and there were already a slew of cars in the parking lot. We quickly booked it up the trail to get to the bridge before the sun broke free from the mountains.
Slide Rock State Park:
We were so lucky to get into Slide Rock State Park in the late afternoon we went. This insanely popular swimming hole was understandably packed.
The rock formations here create natural slides and waterfalls, and the park is essentially a giant natural waterpark. We managed to walk away from most of the crowds of people, and discovered a sweet cliff-jumping spot.
We had so much fun!!
One evening we made one last stop at Crescent Moon Ranch to try to see the reflection of Cathedral Rock on the water.
This was a great spot to stand in the water and wade around while we took in the view. During the heat of the day it would have been the perfect place to take a dip.
Sedona is home to the world’s only McDonalds sign that cannot claim the famous “Golden Arches”. Instead, the arches on this worldwide chain location are turquoise blue because of a strict city ordinance on maintaining aesthetics.
We didn’t eat here, but it was definitely an interesting and quick stop!
Our house was near the Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park. We quickly walked the short trail to the temple and managed to explore before the sun went down.
While walking around the religious grounds, we learned about the Buddhist community in Sedona and Buddhism generally. Many triangular and colorful flags hung between trees, and a large infographic peaked our interest.
We appreciated the silence of the place, before heading home for a good night's sleep.
We walked around outside while a mass was being held inside, before we finally went in and saw the stunning crucifixion and stained glass windows.
We cannot wait to come back!
Over Memorial Day Weekend 2021, John and I traveled down to Page, Arizona to accompany our good friends on their annual Colorado River kayaking adventure.
We would spend two days kayaking from Glen Canyon Dam down to Lee's Ferry boat ramp, aka the start of The Grand Canyon, along a 15-mile stretch of The Colorado River.
Our friends reserved everything for us!
She reserved our backhaul with Steve Kelly from Kelly Outfitters and our kayak rentals through Kayak the Colorado. We had to arrange these beforehand because one, they fill up pretty fast, but two because no private boats are allowed up the river and three, you cannot get in from the dam!
Kassi knew all of these logistics and laid it all out for us before we left.
Before heading to Page, we also read up on both Kayak The Colorado and Kelly Outfitters’s webpages. We found Mr. Kelley’s article “Top 10 Backhauling Tips” extremely helpful. There was information on the water and route, fishing advice, and resource maps. We highly recommend reading both sites before booking a trip.
All we had to do was show up... at 6 a.m.
See the highlights from our trip in my video below!
We hopped in our kayaks, and away we went!
Fly fishing wasn't successful the first day.
The freezing cold water under our kayaks was crystal clear. Even though it was clear, it was a glowing, neon green from the thriving algae and plants below the surface. We could see fish weaving in and out of the tall grasses and we, right away, tried our hand at fly fishing. We didn’t have any success the first day, but the second day was an entirely different story!
We camped at the Ferry Swells Campground.
We pulled our kayaks out of the water and setup near a fire ring in the campground. We spent the rest of the daylight hours exploring up, down, and around the canyon cliffs. When the sun set, we headed back down to start a campfire and have dinner.
Fly fishing success.
Hiked to Waterhole Canyon.
I flipped my kayak and we had to stop...
I was the only one to flip all weekend, but luckily, I was in shallow water. I stood up and walked to shore, and nothing was lost! It was scary for a second, but once I gathered my wits, everything was fine. We were nearing the end of the trip, so once the weather calmed down, we were able to paddle onward and get off the river within an hour or so.
Good thing my brand new iPhone 12 was in my Stash 7 Waterpocket. It protected it during my fall, and let me kept taking pictures afterwards! Thanks for the great gear Stash 7!
Read more from our other trips to nearby places:
With Colorado’s springtime in bloom and it's summer on the way, Taylor and I took our first weekend fishing trip of the season to Salida, Colorado.
Unlike our usual tent-camping arrangements, we were able to camp luxuriously thanks to Kuku Campers. We took one of their Class C-Lux, a Mercedes Sprinter van, to try to catch a famous-among-anglers insect hatch.
Picked up our van!
We drove to the Kuku Campers Denver location to pick up our rental. After meeting the Kuku staff, we signed the necessary paperwork, inspected the vehicle, and took a tour of its features. Neither of us were familiar with Mercedes Sprinter vans, but the Kuku staff showed us every little detail.
Found a campsite!
Once we’d arrived, we wasted no time getting ready for bed. We quickly discovered that the lower level sleeper would be preferable to the top bunk sleeping platform. We began dismantling the dining table and setting up the bed.
Our first night in the Kuku Camper Van was much more comfortable and restful than either of us expected it to be. We actually slept in for a while after sunrise because of the van’s sleeping curtains.
Made stops in Salida.
First thing, we visited a fly shop in Salida to purchase some necessary fly fishing gear. Then, we stopped at Steam Coffee Caboose for a hot drink to enjoy as we scoured the area for the perfect fishing spot.
Went fly fishing!
After scoping out several spots, we found the Mount Ouray State Wildlife Area by chance, and it was perfect. We spent most of the day wading in the river, trying different flies, and watching kayaks and rafts float down river. We didn’t have much luck fishing, but any time on the water is time well spent.
Made lunch in the van.
In the mid-afternoon, it seemed like a storm might be rolling in, so Taylor and I packed up our gear and walked back to the van. In the parking lot, Taylor used the kitchen amenities of the Kuku Camper to make lunch.
Got ice cream downtown.
We eventually packed up and drove the campervan into downtown Salida. The town was buzzing with the Saturday evening crowd and live music. Taylor and I couldn’t resist having ice cream and a shake from Salida Pharmacy & Fountain, and it only made our walk about town more enjoyable.
Soon after finishing our treats, we headed back to the van to drive to our campsite once again.
Stargazed around the campfire.
We’ve been to Canon City to ride the Royal Gorge Route Railway Train and to visit the Royal Gorge Bridge Park, but this time, we only stopped for breakfast.
We dropped into the Happy Endings Caboose Cafe and couldn’t have had a better meal or a happier ending to our weekend in the mountains.
Monday / Return Day:
Moab, Utah, is a very popular place for very good reason. This desert playground is home to the world's highest concentration of natural arch formations and is one of the most geologically stunning places in the country.
Moab is also home to two national parks, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks . Which see millions of visitors every year.
We traveled down to Moab for the first weekend of May, 2021. We met up with some friends who have been dozens of times before and really knew some of the best places around town. We followed their lead, discovered some places of our own, and had one of the best weekend trips yet!
Tip #1: Visit public lands - like Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Land
It was not only easy to camp near our car. It was also spectacularly scenic. We didn't know what the view was like until morning, but we were blown away when we stepped out of our tent.
When the road near our campsite got too popular for our liking, we drove out and found some hidden hiking spots not far from our campsite.
Tip #2: Have a plan, and don’t be afraid to break it
Normally, John and I have big plans for the places we visit, but this weekend, we really tried to stay open and flexible to whatever the group wanted to do. That didn’t last long. It turned out that everyone else was pretty well set on what they wanted to do, so groups broke off, and John and I found ourselves adventuring alone!
While looking on Google Maps, I noticed a few interesting stops along our route, so I made John pull over every time I saw the name of something I recognized. This was,. hands-down, the best way we could have explored.
Thanks to the maps, we found petroglyphs and a hidden, massive arch near our campsite on BLM land. Then, closer to Corona Arch, we found dinosaur tracks and more rock art in the Poison Spider / Potash Road area.
Tip #3: Don’t be afraid to ask!
John and I saw a spot on the map that intrigued us, but we couldn’t find any information about the trail’s length, how long it took to get there, or its difficulty.
We pulled into the small parking spot and started talking to another couple who was parked and packing their day packs.
| || |
Thank goodness we stopped and talked to the couple, because this was our favorite place we visited on our trip. It was an absolute oasis in the middle of the desert.
Tip #4: If you want to preplan a hike, go for the most difficult rated trail - most others won’t!
If you want to pre-plan a hike and you are trying to avoid crowds, I recommend choosing the more difficult, less traveled path.
This advice might not be the best if you can’t actually handle a difficult hike, but we found some of the trails weren’t as difficult as their rating made it seem.
Be warned that Moab is in a desert, so most hikes are hot, sun-scorched, and waterless. Not all hikes are suited for dogs or unprepared people. If the heat is a concern, tip #5 might help!
Tip #5: Hike at weird times and on off days
Hiking at sunrise and sunset are always the most beautiful times to be out in the desert anyway, and most people either haven’t woken up or are worn out from the sun. Plus, in the Utah hiking at early or late hours can be the safest and coolest way to explore the rock formations and canyons.
Check out my other guides to Utah:
My parents have always dreamed of celebrating Christmas like “The Kranks” and skipping the holiday fuss by going on vacation instead. Finally, in 2020, their "Christmas with The Kranks" dream became a reality.
We booked flights to spend the week leading up to the holidays in Kailua-Kona, Hawai’i and were unbelievably excited for our vacation to start.
Before we left, we were tested for COVID-19 by a trusted Hawaiian partner testing location . We had to take a very particular test, within a 72-hour timeframe, and upload it to a specific website in order to get onto the island. It was an entirely new process to all of us and honestly, we struggled a little bit through all of the confusion.
You can see exactly what the process was like in my YouTube video below.
Where we stayed:
Our hosts turned out to be amazing too! Every night, they gave us recommendations for things to do in the area. Without them, we would have missed out on many incredible things!
Day One, Thursday: Downtown Kona and Kua Bay
First we checked out the Kona Farmers Market to get some breakfast and fresh produce for the week!
The market was located downtown off the Main Street in Kailua-Kona, Ali’i Drive.
We picked up some star fruit, apple bananas, rambutans, mangoes, and several other fruits. Then, we grabbed coffee from Papa Kona and sat on the beach to enjoy our fresh breakfast.
We got there around 10 a.m. and were immediately in love. The little white-sand beach was beautifully strewn with stark, black volcanic rocks. We claimed a private spot with an outcove into the water and laid down our stuff right away. We ran into the water and couldn’t stay out of it the entire day.
Day two, Friday: Petroglyphs and Snorkeling with Manta Rays
Puakō Petroglyph Park -
To start the day, we drove over to Puakō Petroglyph Park and walked the trail marveling, questioning, and admiring the carved images. It was amazing to learn about the people who seemed ancient but lived only hundreds of years ago. When we had seen all that we could, we walked out and drove to our next stop, Queen’s Bath.
Queens Bath -
Queen’s Bath is a small, fresh water spring, tucked away right off the beach. We walked along a sandy trail for a few minutes before we found the secret little pool.
My mom really wanted to find it, yet I was the only one who got in! It was freezing cold, and full of little shrimps, but very, very cool to hop in and look around for a bit.
When we left we walked to the water and almost instantly discovered sea turtles swimming in the water!
It was incredible to see them in their natural habitat. The turtles would only be the first wildlife we saw that day, because that night, we had scheduled a night snorkeling excursion to see manta rays!
It didn’t take long, after we were in the water, for us to start seeing the humongous creatures.
I keep emphasizing their size because their wingspan can be up to 14 feet!!! Theses rays came so close that we were within, what our guides called, “licking distance” of them. It was CRAZY!
Day Three, Saturday: South Point, Green Sand Beach, and Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
Before our day started, we downloaded an app called “Big Island Hawaii Gypsy Guide” to enjoy some educational audio while driving around.
This was one of the best decisions of our trip. The guide provided great information and told us where we should stop for good views, interesting information, and historical points.
South Point -
We only hung out here for a couple of minutes to take a few pictures and watch some cliff jumpers dive into the ocean. None of us were brave enough to take the plunge ourselves, and also we had other places to be! So we hopped back in the car and drove to our next nearby destination.
Papakōlea Green Sand Beach -
Not far from South Point is Papakōlea, and it's Green Sand Beach. This was on my dad's list of places to see so we really planned our day around here. We planned to spend most of the afternoon on this, almost, one of a kind, beach.
We had been advised to hire a driver instead of walking the exposed four-miles-long road, so we did just that and paid $20 per person for a round trip ride to the volcanic crater.
Punalu’u Bakery and Black Sand Beach -
When we were done at Papakōlea, we rode back out and drove ourselves towards a different colored beach! First though, we made a quick stop at Punalu’u Bakery. This is the southernmost bakery in the U.S. and their malasada came highly recommended!
We arrived at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park and sadly realized we did not plan things correctly. We arrived just before sunset, and it was already starting to get dark. Plus, it was so foggy that we couldn’t see a darn thing.
Day four, Sunday: Back to Kua Bay with a Luau at Night
We had booked a luau at the famous Umeke’s Restaurant. We got dolled up and ready to go have a fun, traditional Hawaiian night!
The luau told many stories about the surrounding mountains and where the people and the land of Hawai’i came from. It was very interesting, and the food was great!
Day Five, Monday: Snorkeling at Two Step in Captain Cook
Pu'uhonua O Hōnaunau Park -
After we took it all in, we eventually moseyed down toward the beach and got ready to walk around Pu'uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park to learn all about Two Step before snorkeling in it.
It was beautiful and so interesting to learn about!
It is called “two step”, because the volcanic shelf literally makes two steps into the ocean! It makes it a perfect place to snorkel especially for beginners - and it was by far the best place we snorkeled on the island!
Check out my YouTube video below to see just how incredible the entire area truly is!
Day Six, Tuesday: Chasing Waterfalls in Hilo & Back to Volcanoes!
We got to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park just before sunset, and it was perfect timing. As the sun set, the glow from the lava started to show, and it was the most incredible thing I had seen.
Even though we weren’t close and couldn’t actually see any lava, it was one of the unique sights I may ever see.
Day Seven, Wednesday: Kua Bay, again, before Heading Home
We spent our final day in our own little paradise swimming, snorkeling, and soaking in the sunshine. Eventually, we had to make our way to the airport to catch our overnight flight home.
We sat on the plane rehashing all we had done over the course of the week, and we just couldn’t believe how incredible the entire vacation had been.
We decided that we might consider having a Mele Kalikimaka in Hawaii every year!
Read these other related Hawai'i blog posts:
Where We Stayed In Kona, Hawai'i
Snorkeling Spots On The Big Island
Our trip to Puerto Rico was fairly spontaneous. When I received an email that my Spirit Airlines travel credits were set to expire soon, we looked at our calendars while searching for flights. It turned out that flights to San Juan, Puerto Rico, worked out perfectly in our favor!
Once we booked our flights, we started researching and planning.
We had four nights on the island with three days to play! It was difficult to narrow down our plans, because every side of the island offers very different attractions. Ultimately, we decided to go west to Aricebo then south to Utuado and go on a jungle adventure.
Plus, if you have never booked with Airbnb use our code to receive a discount: Traveling Tacos Airbnb Code
We woke up the next morning and enjoyed the daytime view of the city before packing up and walking through Old San Juan toward our rental car. We had reserved a vehicle through Enterprise Rent-A-Car and had to pick it up from their Condado Plaza Hilton location.
We had to take shelter from a midafternoon rain storm in Luis Munoz Rivera Park. While we waited the weather out, we watched some iguanas run around in the tall grass. The rain stopped after thirty minutes, and we eventually finished our walk and picked up our vehicle.
Our first stop was a fresh market to pick up some fruit for the weekend! We drove to La Plaza del Mercado de Santurce and were very happy that we stopped. This market had all of the interesting foods we were looking for and great street-side restaurants.
Bananas, mangoes, and a papaya, were our first purchases, because we knew what they were. Feeling more adventurous, we bought some rambutans and a guanabana. We didn’t actually know, at the time, what we had bought, but all of the fruit only cost us $12. We were beyond excited to taste everything.
We stopped at one of the restaurant counters and had a wonderful, local woman help us order some octopus ceviche, El Pulpo, and fried plantains, Tostones! We chatted with her and her husband while enjoying the delicious food, and they told us all about their life on the island. They were just the first of many welcoming locals whom we met along our trip!
After the absolutely delicious meal, we finished our drive to The Lago Caonillas Lake View House. It was our home sweet home for two nights, and it was the most cool place we have ever stayed! We purposely booked it because of the stunning, online photos, absolutely beautiful views of the jungle, and because of the hot tub!
The next morning, we woke up, had a dip in the hot tub, then drove to get some breakfast. Cafe El Bohio was just up the hill, and we enjoyed a breakfast of fried pork, rice, and beans. It was a great and filling meal before an adventurous day ahead!
We walked off our food around Lago Caonillas before driving back down the mountain through Utuado to our first stop of the day, Cafe Gran Batey. Our arrival to this adorable, family run coffee farm could not have been at a better time.
Next, we arrived at the Caguana Ceremonial Indigenous Heritage Center very excited to learn about the native Taino people. It is a major archeological site that gave us a better picture of the people who lived here as recently as the fifteenth century.
We walked around the stone sites for a while before asking some questions to the ranger on site. He told us all about the land, the site’s significance, the Taino religion, and Puerto Rican culture. It felt great to learn more about the place we were exploring. When we had no more questions, we headed back toward Utuado to have a bite to eat.
The canyon touts petroglyphs, and the signs had a picture of them, but sadly, we never found any in the few hours we spent wandering. The canyon scene surrounded by mountains made up for the slight disappointment.
Knowing that we could find more danger than we wanted in the remote jungle, we quickly removed the popped tire and secured our spare tire.
It was quite an eventful detour, and we felt silly having popped a tire when we had prepared driving directions, and we wish we had been smarter.
Luckily, we had purchased insurance on our Enterprise rental car, so all we had to do was go to a partner repair shop and get a new tire. The bad thing for us was that the closest store open on Sunday was in Arecibo, on the north coast of the island, about 2 hours from where we were! We waved goodbye to Utuado and slowly drove to have our tire replaced.
We enjoyed the fresh coconut water, and John ate almost all of the meat. Though we had never planned this activity, we couldn’t have been happier with the situation. It didn’t take too long to have our tire replaced, and once it was done, we were hungry.
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We savored a gigantic, fried red snapper over mofongo, chicken, and a mash of yummy goodness. After we completely stuffed ourselves, we started making our way back to San Juan for our final night on the island.
We chose this boutique hotel because of its rooftop infinity pool! It was very nice, but sadly, we arrived a little too late in the evening and during a rain shower. It didn't stop us from getting in for as long as we could, but eventually we had to call it a night and start packing our stuff.
Road Trip To Leadville With My Mom To See Fall Foliage, Soak in Hot Springs, and Ride Scenic Trains!
For my mom’s birthday this year, she decided to come to Colorado for a mother-daughter weekend with me. As soon as she booked her flights, I started planning things for us to do!
I like when people come to visit, because it gives me an opportunity to do some of the more trendy things I see on social media that I normally wouldn’t do. (For example, check out the road trip my family went on the last time I mom came to town!)
The fun started as soon as I picked her up from Denver International Airport. Her plane landed around 10 a.m just in time for brunch! We drove straight to The Corner Beet to have some delicious toast and juices.
We split more toast than we could handle! For the two of us, we ordered The House, West, and Capitol. We sat outside and enjoyed the day and the toast while catching up with each other!
Check out their vegetarian menu here: https://cornerbeet.com/menu/
We had reserved a table for the afternoon Dim Sum Tea and were treated to a wonderful three-course-meal! We had our fill of various pot stickers, sushi rolls, delicious desserts, and of course, lots and lots of tea.
The Dim Sum Tea is only featured once a month, so it was a very special afternoon. Then, we saw a wedding happening outside and the evening became even more dreamy!
The next morning, we hit the road to start the road trip part of my mom’s visit. We left around 10 a.m. for our first mountain stop, Kenosha Pass, just outside of FairPlay!
From the hike, we went the opposite way of the traffic and continued on toward Buena Vista. Our next destination was Mount Princeton Hot Spring to soak our sore feet!
We could not have planned or timed our arrival to Mount Princeton any better. We were waitlisted at first for the lower, historic pools before we went to the upper pools and walked straight in!
The upper pools are home to the infinity pool and kid’s slide area and closes earlier than the rest of the resort.
We had two hours to relax in the steaming waters before they closed, and right when we hoped out, we got a call for our spot at the lower pools! It was perfect!
We had reserved a room for the night at the Happy Hippy Tie Dye House in downtown Leadville, and it was more than we could have ever expected in, let’s say, unique ways!
In true Colorado fashion, the house was extremely “4/20” friendly and welcomed smokers (which we weren’t) with open arms. It was all funny to us, and we both had a good night’s sleep without any ganja.
Eventually, we walked to the Leadville Railroad and boarded our reserved train ride up and around Prospect Mountain!
The train ride was one of the highlights of our trip. The views of the fall foliage and the surrounding Mosquito and Sawatch Mountain Ranges, from the open-air car, were unbelievable. On top of the scenery, the tour guide gave us fun and interesting pieces of history.
We couldn’t have asked for anything better!
I found dozens of trails in an area just south of Medicine Bow Peak itself many of which were designated for backpacking. I turned to social media to find put which area seemed the most picturesque. It all appeared beautiful and spectacular, but the southwestern side of the valley seemed a bit more scenic than other areas. I read one review that said, “Do any trail you want, but you HAVE to start at Lake Marie. It is the most beautiful.” I took this advice, printed off maps of the Lake Marie area, and set my car’s GPS to the nearby parking lot.
By 6 p.m, Maria and I were standing on the edge of Lake Marie. She was standing in the water, and I was gazing around with my mouth wide open for the view in front of me. The Medicine Bow mountains were sprawled out in front of me while bright, bursting yellow and purple flowers surrounded me. It was one of the grandest scenes I've experienced.
Wide awake at 5:30 that morning, I stammered in my tent for a bit before getting out to get the food from my bear bag. When I walked out, I was a little surprised at the sight I found! Fish were jumping everywhere! There were so many that it looked like a light rain was falling. It was a sight I had never seen before. I quickly got my food down and grabbed my rod.
It took me a few minutes to get a bite, and the first one slipped out right away. It caused my fly to be wet for the next cast, and the fly didn’t sit on the water properly. I applied a little Loon floatant and cast again. I caught my first ever fish on a dry fly pattern, and it was magnificent.
It didn't take me long to reel the beautiful brook trout into my net, and it didn't take me long to send him back on his way. I snapped a few pictures and unhooked the little guy. In just a few seconds, I was already back on the shore throwing my line again. A few casts later, I had success again when another beautiful, tiny fish was in my net.
Around 10:30 a.m, I left my camp and walked to the trail. For the mile-and-a-half up, the trail went through patches of wooded forests, opened into a blooming valley surrounding a small unnamed pond, then turned back into the trees. It felt like it was a fun game of peek-a-boo with the ponds that Maria and I were playing.
The trail was fairly populated, and very easy to follow. It took us roughly 40 minutes to make it to the top of the ridge line which led up to the summit. We paused at the top to take in the views, but also because there was snow! Maria rolled around and cooled down on the icy pack then pulled me along across the icy sheet.
You can watch more from our entire trip on my YouTube Channel or in the video below!
We all meet up on Thursday night at the UFO Watchtower outside of Moffat, Colorado, to allow the girls to get acquainted with one another and hopefully see some aliens!
The watchtower has been on my Colorado bucket list for a long time. I have passed by every time I've visited Great Sand Dunes National Park, but I had never been able to stop before. When I discovered how close The Willow Lakes Trailhead is to this quirky little spot, I asked everyone if they were comfortable camping there. Luckily, no one was scared of the martians, and everyone said yes!
This weird place (which you can read all about HERE in a separate blog post) was the perfect spot for us all to meet. We had so much fun planning our routes and looking at maps while also scouting the sky for lights or anything else out of the ordinary in the middle of the Colorado desert.
Willow Lakes was our goal for the first night so that we could set up base camp just off the trail to Challenger Point. Our maps and the trailhead sign said it was 4.5 miles to the lakes with a constant incline and gain of over 2,700 vertical feet. We all looked at each other, took a deep breath, and strapped on our packs to start walking.
The first mile was a struggle. Maybe it was because we were all getting adjusted or maybe because of the sandy trail, but we took a good many stops before we really found our pace. By the time we reached the overlook of the valley below and our first stream crossing, we were moving along steadily getting happier and happier the further we walked into the mountains.
When we got closer to the top, the weather turned against us for a few minutes, and it started to rain. We knew we weren’t far from our end location, so we put on our raingear and kept trucking. Fortunately, the afternoon thunderstorm was short lived, and when we arrived at Willow Lakes, the sky had cleared up.
The lake was much bigger and more beautiful than I had anticipated. The waterfall on the far side was glimmering as it poured into the crystal clear water below it, and where we were standing, there was another waterfall pouring down into the creek. We all stood and took it in, proud that we had made it up to the lake.
We had just enough time to set up our camp, cook some food, and hang up our bear bags before another storm rolled it. Luckily, we had shelter to retreat to this time, and although it was early in the night, we all went to bed and set our alarms for early the next morning.
It stormed all throughout the night which caused us to have a later start than anticipated, but once it was dry out and we were all packed and ready, we made our start to Challenger Point. Unfortunately, the day before's hike had worn Kassi out, and she decided to hold back from submitting with us. At 8 a.m. on the dot, Natalie, Rachel, and I set out toward the trail.
Once we made it to the ridge line, the fog had started to roll in. The ridge was the coolest yet scariest part of the trail, primarily because it was super windy, but also because I couldn't see what was below me!
To add to it, Rachel and Natalie had gotten a little ahead of me, and I wasn't able to see them any more. Fortunately, other hikers were catching up, and I was able to walk the route with another group, and a group coming down said my friends were waiting. That motivated me to hustle up to the top!
Just as I came up on the summit, the clouds started to clear, and I could see my friends standing at the top! I yelled and cheered their names as I finally caught up to them. We all hugged and high-fived when i got there, and I expressed how proud I was of them for beating me to the top!
The fog and clouds decided to cooperate and cleared up as soon as I got to the top. Literally, the sky opened up, and the clouds parted. We could finally look down on the trail we had just traversed. It was actually so clear at the summit that we could even see Great Sand Dunes National Park!
Once I got some energy back, I decided to head up to Willow Lake to do some fly fishing. There was another angler near the waterfall below who said he had already caught two, so I had some inspiration to try!
Sadly, I only saw one fish in the lake, and he wasn’t intrigued by the flies I was casting. I believe the water was too cold, since it was cloudy and chilly outside, so I only fished for a few hours before calling it a night. It turns out that I quit at the perfect time, because right when I got back, it started to pour!
Fortunately, the rain had stopped by the time we woke up, and we were able to pack up all of our gear without it getting too wet. Once our campsite was broken down and our packs were completely full, we were ready to head back down the trail to our cars.
When we got back to our car, we were amazed how quickly it had all gone by. The whole weekend had seemed to be a dream. Everything had gone so smoothly and perfectly that things like our heavy packs and rainy nights didn't dampen our spirits in the slightest bit.
Backpacking The San Juan Mountains Mount Sneffels and Uncompahgre Wiilderness with Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
For our sixth anniversary, I planned a trip for Taylor and I to spend four days in Southern Colorado visiting a new National Park, mountain climbing, offroading, and camping.
We explored part of Black Canyon of The Gunnison during the work week, then climbed Mount Sneffels before spending two days camping in the Uncompahgre Wilderness.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is an incredible area in Western Colorado. Taylor and I were staying in Montrose at The Safari Tent in the Cedar Creek RV Park working for the week and took one evening to explore the Southern Rim of the canyon.
We attempted a trail down into the canyon, but it was too steep for our dog, Maria. Instead, we drove the length of the South Rim Road stopping off at each mind blowing viewpoint. From Tomichi Point, to the cross fissures, to Warner Point trail, we couldn’t stop discussing the canyon as we made our way back to our home away from home in Montrose.
If you would like to see more from out trip to the canyon please visit our blog post HERE!
After one more day of working remotely, Taylor and I would continue our Southern Colorado Road trip to Mount Sneffels. The Mount Sneffels Trailhead can be reached from Ouray, Colorado.
Taylor and I drove her Jeep Cherokee up the winding, narrow Camp Bird and Yankee Boy Basin Roads until the road became much more difficult around 2.5 miles its end . We found a place to pull off and set up camp before preparing for our summit hike the next morning.
At 3:00 in the morning, we woke up to try to catch sunrise at the summit of Mount Sneffels. We set out on the hike, and after 2.5 miles of the steep road’s switchbacks, we arrived at the Mount Sneffels Trailhead at 5:30 a.m. From here, we had to endure roughly 1.5 more miles of trail which was littered with loose, jagged rocks. This last mile was steep, difficult, and dangerous.
Nearly an entire mile of the remaining path is a rockslide so steep that Taylor and I had to use all fours at some points. We also had to dodge a melon-sized rock that the group ahead of us dislodged on their ascent. After reaching the top of the rockslide and another short rockslide, we had to lift ourselves up a nearly 15 foot long rock wedge. Our dog, Maria, could not continue up the mountain, so Taylor and I alternated summiting.
Once we had both reached the top, we started the hike back down. The way back down provided no relief due to the steep nature of the entire trail. Loose rocks are even more dangerous on the way down, and we were careful not to endanger any of the hikers making their way up.
We made it down safely and arrived at our camp right after 10 a.m. exactly 7 hours after we had left. We packed up our campsite and headed back down toward Ouray to continue on to our next stop. After a burger and a few minutes of sitting in the fresh Ouray air, Taylor and I started our drive to the Uncompahgre National Forest.
We had intentions to backpack for several days through the Wetterhorn basin and conquer Wetterhorn, Matterhorn, and Uncompahgre Peaks. We began at The West Fork Trailhead in a lush greenfield surrounded by large pine trees on each side. West Fork Cimarron River cuts through the valley on the Western side of the trail.
We would follow West Cimarron River to where it becomes tributary creeks pouring from the valley’s mouth. After following the trail up the Southwestern slope from the massive valley’s floor, Taylor and I climbed up several hundred feet up the valley’s wall and decided to set up camp. After a spectacular sunset display during our dinner we hung up our bear bag and called it a night.
We had been told that the Wetterhorn Basin is, ‘better than the Canadian Rockies’, but we could never have imagined how picturesque and lush with life it actually was. Climbing the pass into the basin was the perfect amount of work to make the short visit completely worthwhile.
As we crossed the pass, A sea of pine trees beneath us gave way to the sloped greenfield we stood upon. Crossed by tiny creeks and covered in colorful pockets of wildflowers, the lush grass covered the valley walls until rocky, gray peaks and ridges capped the landscape. Wetterhorn Mountain majestically sits alone at the mouth of Wetterhorn Basin.
We made it back to camp and had some dinner, but due to our prolonged exhaustion, we found ourselves laid down for bed before the late mountain sunset. The next morning, Taylor and I decided that driving across the country, climbing a 14er, and hiking a mountain pass was enough to make us miss our own beds.
We continued to look around in amazement as we packed our gear and enjoyed a breakfast backpacking meal. Luckily, we had recovered much of our strength, so the hike back to the car was a downhill piece of cake.
We woke up Saturday morning ready to make the hike up, but when we checked the weather, we discovered an afternoon storm would be rolling through as we would be reaching Crystal Mill.
I was determined to not let this stop us, so we set out anyway hoping to beat the storm. On the way there, our friend suggested we rent an ATV to drive up to the top and outrun the weather. He told us that there is a rental place close to the trailhead, so we set our GPS to RPS Rentals in the town of Marble, Colorado.
While we were conversing back and forth about how we could manage seating arrangements, the owner received a call from his next reservation saying that they were cancelling because of the weather! It just so happens that the next reservation was for the four-seater. The timing was perfect!
The four-seater, for 2 1/2 hours and strictly 12 miles, cost us $350. It was something John and I would not have splurged on had we been alone, but we took the leap with our friends. In the end, it was worth absolutely every penny.
The OHV road to Crystal Mill had just been reworked during the previous fall and was in much better shape than we had anticipated. Another group of our friends were able to drive a Toyota Four Runner up to the mill. We realized that the rental wasn’t completely necessary, but the ATV was way more fun. There is no doubt in my mind that we made the right choice of vehicle
Even though the road wasn’t as rocky or bumpy as we thought it would be, it was still extremely narrow and windy. The entire ride follows the Crystal River and features absolutely breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. It was only about 5 miles from RPS rentals to the top of the mill, and it took us around 45 minutes to get there. We got to the top when we weren’t even expecting to be there yet.
We quickly handed him some cash and nearly sprinted down the short hill. We couldn’t wait to see the powerful river and feel the mist of the rushing water up close.
We walked down to the water and stuck our feet in the freezing cold water. The dogs took a dip too, while we all laughed and talked about how incredible all of this is. Soon after, we decided it was time to head further up the trail and check out the town of Crystal.
The small town has a store and many old log cabins. We went into the store and purchased a book about some of the town's legends and folklore and sat outside to read a few of the tales. It was amazing to think about what this town was like back in the early days of pioneers and settlers. Sadly, we couldn’t daydream for long, because the rental period was coming to an end.
We loaded up the ATV and began our descent. The drive down was much quicker than the climb up, but we did have to make many more stops for cars and hikers along the way. It was much, much busier than when we had started. We safely made our way back to RPS Rentals right on time. We thanked the man for the rental and shared just how incredible our drive was
I am a strong believer that everything happens for a reason, and my trip with friends falling apart was the first of many things that reaffirmed my belief this weekend. Everything didn’t go as I planned, and it was a serious roller coaster of ups and downs, but the highlights overshadowed every rough patch along the way.
Maria led me up a path that took us behind the waterfalls before we ever saw them all from the front. It is a very short walk from the parking lot to the falls, so it wan't take long before we were standing in the glory of these magnificent, lush waterfalls.
Flowers were blooming in the bushes all around, and fish were swimming right up to the mouth of where the three falls’ waters combine. It felt for a moment like I could have been standing in the closest thing to The Garden of Eden I might ever witness.
While I was standing here, we met a couple and their two doggies, and I had another one of those “everything happens for a reason” moments when I connected with them greatly. I later ran into them again before leaving, and we exchanged contact info! It was a great way to end the few hours I had been there, and it sent me on my way in such a happy mood.
You can read more about my afternoon in Rifle Falls in this separate blog post HERE!
First, I discovered that Rattlesnake Canyon is actually day-use only. I am not sure if this was a recent change or if the posts I had seen of campers were just rule breakers, but I decided to change my plan. Instead of spending two or three days in the arches, I was now limited to just a few hours. I switched my gear from my large overnight pack to my smaller day pack, and tried to get on with hiking.
Maria was sitting under a tree panting, and I had already given her a few bowls of water. I knew the heat was getting to her, and I made the safe choice to head back up the canyon after only making it one and a half miles.
You can read in more extent about the tail and the conditions that caused us to turn around in a more extended, detailed blog post HERE!
I decided it was the perfect place to set up camp to get an early start in the morning. I set up my tent and got some dinner cooking. As soon as I finished my meal, the weather flipped and went from hot and sunny to cloudy, windy, and chilly. I could tell a storm was rolling in.
Even with me and Maria inside the tent was lifting up around us, and the stakes in the ground were barely holding us down. I made the split second decision to pack up and get in the car.
It rained all through night, well into the morning, until almost noon. When it finally broke, I rearranged the car so that it was drivable and took off as soon as I could in fears the rain would start again at any minute.
All of these issues that had kept me from camping in Rattlesnake Canyon may have saved my life. Any sort of flash flood, lighting strike, or wet / cold conditions could have been devastating more than 5 miles away from shelter. It was crazy to think about as I was white-knuckle driving out of the steep, muddy canyon.
You can see more from this spectacular place in another blog post - which you can find HERE!
We walked along the trail for about another mile until we reached the mouth of the Big Canyon. It was here where another incredible thing that most definitely would not have happened if I was still in Rattlesnake Canyon.
Maria attracted another dog from one of the nearby camps, and when the owners and I retrieved our pets, one of them recognized Maria and instantly asked if he had met me before. It turns out that we had met just a few weeks ago while I was camping at Radium Hot Spring! It was a wild, one-in-a-million type encounter. We both couldn’t believe it, and I told them I would stop back by to hang out after I did a little more exploring.
The group told me about another swimming hole up the river and about some ancient petroglyphs in the rocks. They said they were about a mile and half up the creek, and I decided that was a bit too far for this trip, so Maria and I dried off on the nearby rocks before stopping back by to see our friends.
The hike back out seemed even easier than the hike in, and we were back in the car in absolutely no time. We drove out of the trail head road, turned down a different one in the same Dominguez-Escalenate Public Lands area, and drove to a campsite I had been recommended.
I walked down to the river and rinsed off my body and all of my cooking supplies before setting up camp. The spot had a designated fire pit, and I started one to cook some sausage over the open flames. After dinner, I stayed up until the stars came out to see the constellations over the tall, orange walls. When it got late, I crawled into bed and slept throughout the night peacefully and undisturbed.
We met just outside of Grand Junction and threw our lines on the Colorado River. We saw dozens of fish over the course of the day. Some were just feet away from us, yet neither of us were able to catch a thing. It was frustrating, but the company was so enjoyable and the views were so great that we didn’t let it get us down.
We eventually packed up and agreed we would have to try this spot again another day. Even though we didn’t catch anything, it was a perfect way to end my trip. Trying a fishing spot with a new friend was exactly what I needed to cap my first ever solo road trip.
When I made it back to Denver, I couldn’t believe what all I had been able to see and accomplish in those few short days. I was extremely proud of myself for sticking to my guns and doing what I wanted to do, because it led me on the most incredible journey and introduced me to places and people I know I will be seeing again soon!
I took my first trip out to this area during my June 2020 solo road trip (which you can read all about HERE!) with the main goal being to spend two nights backpacking in McInnis Canyon and camping under the Rattlesnake Arches.
I arrived in Colorado National Monument on a Thursday evening, and even though Rattlesnake Arches is just outside the park's boundaries, I needed to drive through it to reach the trailhead. Knowing that I would have to take this beautiful route, I had reserved a campsite inside the park at The Saddlehorn Campground.
Driving through the park might have been one of the best parts of my entire time in the area. The famous Rim Rock Road is 23 miles of jaw-dropping scenery.
Rocks hundreds, if not thousands, of feet tall surrounded me as I drove making me feel minuscule against its bright orange walls.
I arrived at my campsite in the Saddlehorn Campground and set up camp before sunset. Once my tent was pitched, I crossed over the campground to watch the sun set the evening sky ablaze. The entire town of Grand Junction was visible from where I was standing, and its twinkling city lights were glowing against a now dark, purple sky.
That night, I discovered that I had forgotten a very cruical aspect of my backpacking gear: my camp stove's propane canister. I unable to cook dinner that night at the Saddlehorn Campground, because they allowed charcoal fires only. The next morning, I had to leave the park and go back into town to grab one.
I had read on AllTrails not to follow the site's directions to the trail, but I had forgotten in the moment and ended up at the wrong location. I was miles from where I needed to be but in the right area. Instead of following Google Maps, I located the trailhead on the map and roughly followed the roads that seemed to lead there. I was essentially using it as a traditional map. Several times, I thought I was lost, because the road into McInnis Canyon is very long and quite scary at some points.
I had no idea what I was going to do for the next few days, since my plans had been derailed. It was getting late in the afternoon, so I didn’t have much time to think about what I should do. I quickly switched my most important gear to a smaller daypack and set off on the trail.
The entire trail is 11 miles long round trip. It takes 4-5 miles to complete the lower trail and another 3 to do the upper. Either of these routes can be chosen after you walk a mile and half into the trail.
When we got to the bottom of the canyon, we were faced with a marker that said we had 2.2 more miles to the lower arches, and I looked at Maria who was panting and drooling and realized she wouldn’t make it any further. Without getting to see any arches, I sadly but safely made the decision to turn around.
At this point, I hoped that we could try again the next day or try the nearby Mee Canyon trail which is significantly shorter. I drove out to the edge of the day-use area Rattlesnake Canyon and set up camp for the night.
The decision to leave the trail when I did, set up camp and subsequently also take it down, when I did, might have all saved my life. A major stormed rolled in over night and if I had been camping I might not have made it.
My trip might not have been perfect, but it was an adventure, and it definitely gave me new stories to tell. I’ll always be thankful for this solo experience, and I will definitely be back to explore Rattlesnake Arches on a much safer trip.
I only explored a tiny fraction of the canyon, and I am convinced that this will always be one of my favorite places in Colorado. If you want to see the entire road trip I visited this canyon as a part of, please check out my Western Colorado Road Trip blog post HERE!
You can see more from my entire afternoon in the canyon on my YouTube channel HERE!
The canyon is pretty large and has several different trails. I set out with intentions of getting as far as I could and hopefully finding one of the swimming holes I had seen online located inside of The Big Canyon.
The trail follows along the Gunnison River and eventually crosses it and the parallel Rio Grand Railway. The crossing is about a mile into the trail, and from there, the trail splits into the Big and Little Dominguez Canyons. I opted for the Big Canyon. Once we were on the other side of the river, we were about one mile from the mouth of the canyon.
We had been looking at these rocks from afar, but they were even more glorious up close. I could see all of the cracks and crevasses that break the rocks into pieces, yet they hold together so tightly that it seems magical. The canyon was created by Dominguez Creek which feeds into the Gunnison River. Once we were in the canyon, we followed the creek to a swimming hole.
Suddenly, the rocks opened up below our feet into a tinier version of the canyon we were standing inside. Below us, a flowing stream of water spilled into a large pool of water. We scurried our way down the rocks and immediately hopped in. At first, we had the hole to ourselves for about 20 minutes.
You can watch even more from Dominguez Canyon on my Youtube channel here!
If you want to read about my entire Western Colorado road trip check out my blog post HERE!
The park is very small and so is its parking lot. I pulled into the last open space around 11 a.m. I leashed up my dog, Maria, and we set out on the trail into dense forest. It is a very short walk from the parking lot to the bottom of the falls, and we could hear the water rushing the entire time.
We could feel the mist blowing off the falls as we explored behind the falls. Maria and I stayed on the trail and discovered a cave! The falls cut through limestone rock and hollows out and erodes the rock shaping it into caves. Maria sniffed out the cool air blowing through the rocks, and we squeezed our way in!
Next, we took a staircase and followed a path along the cliffside and eventually to the top of the falls! Along the way, sturdy platforms developed by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department allowed us to look down into the magnificent area.
I didn’t believe that the falls could look any more beautiful than they had from the other viewpoints, but I was absolutely blown away as we stood at their base.
The water that flowed from them was crystal clear, and dozens of fish could be seen swimming in it. Flowers were blooming on all of the bushes surrounding the falls; all being fed by the light mist blowing around and creating rainbows in the sky. I felt as if I were walking in the Garden of Eden.
I stood here gawking, giggling, and photographing for what felt like an eternity. I was meeting people, walking around, and looking at everything from every view I could find and I was amazed the entire time, but when some clouds started to roll in over the cliffside, I determined it was time to head back to the car and make my way toward Grand Junction.
I could never have imagined how truly incredible this park was going to be. Pictures don’t convey the wonder I felt, but I will never forget it. Any time I am near Glenwood Springs, I will try my hardest to visit again. I’ve heard it’s an entirely different form of wonderful when frozen in the winter!
Even after a gloomy March of "quarantining" and a fresh six-inches of snow, I was not going to let anything change my plans. The first weekend of April 2020, John, his roommate Chris, and I Chris set out for St. Vrain Creek inside the Brainard Lake Recreation Area to camp and fly fish for the weekend.
We only saw one other person on the trail that morning, and once they passed us, we never saw anyone for the entire weekend. It was just us and our dog Maria alone in the quiet winter wonderland.
The off-trail snow between trees was much deeper and softer. This made searching for a spot even more difficult.
Fortunately, we didn't have to search long, because we found a nice, flat area perfect for two tents and a fire pit about two-tenths of a mile off the trail.
By noon, we were able to tie on our flies and drop our lines in the creek below us. Most of the creek was frozen over, but there were pockets of open water that we were able to cast into. We knew that the temperature of the water would be a factor from the start, but we still had hope for bites.
We spent a few hours casting into this spectacular pool, but sadly, it did not provide us with any fish or even any bites for that matter. It was all okay, because the views were perfect and the sunshine felt glorious. We eventually worked our way back to camp and got ourselves and our clothes dried out from the day of hiking and fishing.
We started our campfire and warmed our extremities just before the sun crept behind the mountains. It was blazing just in time for us to eat some of the meals we had prepared. John and I cooked a Good To-Go dehydrated meal of Three Bean Chili while Chris enjoyed some homemade rice and beans over the fire. We all had marshmallows for dessert, because I forgot the rest of the s'mores ingredients. Soon after, we called it an early night when the darkness rolled in.
We walked as far as we could throwing lines in all of the small holes along the way, until we were approaching private property. We never found a spot like the one from the day before, so we slowly walked back up to camp to go try that same spot again.
After the water filtered, I boiled and poured it into our Alpine Air Southwestern Style Masa with Beef. The directions said to wait 10-12 minutes, so we took that time to start tearing down camp and packing up all of our gear.
We left our packed bags at the top of the cliff overlooking the hole. After our last climb down, we fished for another hour or so without a single bite. Even without a bite, our time fishing couldn't have been much more satisfying. Even so, we knew the hike out would be mostly uphill and decided to start making our way.
It was a very quick two-day trip, but it was a perfectly successful first trip of the spring!
Fly Fishing Road Trip to Carbondale, Colorado
Spring Break Road Trip Through Rocky Mountain National Park
Weekend At Great Sand Dunes National Park
Together, we clocked over 800 miles in the car traveling between campsites, hiking trails, exploring art galleries, tasting restaurants, and anything else we wanted in Taos, Santa Fe, and many small towns in between.
Around 10 p.m., we approached our site for the night. The entire weekend we planned to car camp in the back of my Jeep Cherokee. We had backup plans in case car camping didn’t work out, but we successfully camped at safe and free places each night.
Our first campsite was my favorite. We chose to sleep at the trailhead of El Salto Waterfall just outside of Taos so we could hike there the next morning. This area was our greatest discovery of the entire weekend.
We followed the trail along the banks of a small, clear creek which was frozen over in layers. The frozen creek was a perfect guide and emitted a beautifully serene sound to listen to between the sounds of fresh snow crunching beneath us.
The creek cuts through a massive canyon that we slowly ascended into. Since we started early in the morning, we barely had any sunlight, but as we kept trekking, we found incredible views of the sunrise around every new rock and boulder we came upon.
We spent hours just wandering, spinning around, inspecting, and marveling at this winter wonderland but never made it to the waterfall. When we realized the time and the remaining distance to the top, we chose to turn around. We enjoyed the views just as much, if not more, on the way back down now that everything had been drenched in sunlight.
(Here is our hike recording on AllTrails: https://www.alltrails.com/explore/recording/el-salto-waterfall-trail--67 )
On the way, we made a fantastic pit stop in the town of Arroyo Seco. This town was so quaint that we hadn't even noticed it while passing through the night before, but it was impossible to pass in the daylight.
We wandered into every store on the small town’s main street (there were only about five) then settled in at The Wake and Take Cafe for a drink and to plan the next steps of our trip.
Again, we had no idea what to expect from the Hanuman Temple. We had seen it recommended on a Facebook page and decided to check it out. We were blown away by what we discovered. Not only was this temple to the Indian Saint Neem Karoli Baba impressive in size and decoration, I was blown away by my weird connections to its creator.
The minute you get near humans, you lose that, and you are constantly saying, “You are too this,” or, “I am too this.” That judgement mind comes in, and so I practice turning people into trees which means appreciating them just the way they are.”
We walked between the temple rooms through the impeccable grounds absorbing the peaceful energy radiating through the space. We sat in one of the smaller rooms and read all about the hindu gods before reluctantly retreating back to our car.
It gave us both a newly found gratitude for our trip and re-energized us for the exploring to come.
We nearly made it into Taos when we stopped at a roadside shop with a large “TAOS” made of metalwork letters. This one stop turned into a marvelous hour-long exploration of a vast collection of nick-nacks, artwork, pottery, and ironworks. The collections filled a warehouse with a dozen rooms.
We also checked out a few bookstores, chocolate coffee bars, and a small restaurant before deciding to get cocktails and listen to live music at the Taos Inn.
Ojo Caliente was almost an hour drive from Taos, but it was worth every minute and every penny. Soaking in those hot pools, under the twinkling starry night, was a perfect way to end the day we’d had. We arrived around 7 p.m. and had until 10 p.m to try all of the pools, steam rooms, and saunas.
Some of the pools are said to have healing minerals that relieve difficulties like digestion issues, arthritis, stomach ulcers, and some immune issues. For us, the hot waters helped relieve the tightness in our muscles from camping and hiking and relaxed us ahead of another night of camping!
You can read more about the waters in my separate review post - ojo-caliente-spa-and-hot-springs.html
We woke up the next morning refreshed, chilly, and excited to see what the day had in store for us! We quickly moved from the back to the front of the car and made an early morning drive to the Tent Rocks our first destination.
This time, Natalie and I had enough room in the parking lot to cook some breakfast and take our time packing our cameras and supplies. If you want to see and read more about this adventure you can check out my other blog post, just about the Tent Rocks - here!
Just like we’d been the day before, we were absolutely stunned by what we wandered into. As soon as we started on the trail, the views of the nearby cliffs and their unique tent-shaped formations were everywhere we could see as we walked toward them.
The primary trail, Cave Loop, is only 1.2 miles long, and unfortunately the mile-long Slot Canyon Trail was closed due to snow and ice. The open loop took us near the canyon walls and down into the hoodoo formations.
The famous, interactive art installation in Santa Fe was #1 on our road trip list of places to visit, and after the morning we had just had among the tent rocks, we were even more pumped for this exhibit.
We walked through spaceships and climbed through household appliances while touching, dancing, and feeling everything we could. There were so many people inside and so many things to look at, we suffered from sensory overload on our first walkthrough.
We took a relaxing break after our first go around and grabbed cocktails from the bar before heading back in for a second time.
Once we felt like we had seen it all, we finally left the fantasy world and headed back into reality.
We drove back into the Santa Fe National Forest at a different entrance than before looking for a place to park and rest our heads. After a few foiled attempts, we found an empty trailhead parking lot and crawled into the back. We were still on cloud nine from the day we had had at Meow Wolf.
We woke up the next morning with our car covered in a crisp layer of frost and snow. We pulled ourselves back up to the front of the car to defrost and eventually hit the road home. Since it was still early in the morning, we decided to make a few pit stops on our way back to Denver.
We again didn't really know what to expect, other than a church. When we finally got to the sanctuary and learned the history of the facility, we were amazed. We had no idea we would be visiting a holy pilgrimage site.
The story tells that, back in the 1800’s, a giant crucifix of a black Jesus was found buried in the dirt on this site. The black Jesus was famously from Guatemala and was believed to have been buried with one of the first priests in the Chimayo region.
Here is a great expansion on the story by Atlas Obscura:
Now, the church attracts thousands of visitors every year to touch and/or taste the holy dirt for its power, but we only viewed from the outside. When we ended up at the gift shop, we walked out and back to our car ready for our next stop for food.
La Cueva Cafe can probably only fit a dozen or so customers and was one of the smallest restaurants I’ve seen. The intimacy of the restaurant added to the experience of the great New Mexican meal. The workers were all friendly, and it was nice to hear conversations and laughter around us as we scarfed down our tacos, enchiladas, and tamales.
As we looked over the incredible rocky canyon below us, we were figuratively blown away by the contrasting scene of the far off mountains and the rushing river below. We were almost literally blown away by the wind too. It only makes sense that the last stop of our trip would blow us away just the way we had been blown away by the entire weekend.
Attending this festival seemed out of reach while living in the south, but when I moved to Colorado I put it on my calendar right away.
- There are two sessions for each day: morning and afternoon. The morning session starts around 6 AM but gates open as early as 4:30 AM. The afternoon session opens at 3 PM.
- Price of admission is per session unless you stay inside the gates between sessions. Each session is $10.
- Parking is difficult, as total attendance reaches upwards of 100,000 people. Park and ride services are offered, but tickets must be purchased online. Park and ride tickets include admission and are $15 if purchased in advance. Day-of park and ride tickets are $22. Parking is available near the festival for $15, but this fee does not include admittance.
- We discovered that parking between sessions allowed us to park next to the entrance gate without being asked to pay the parking fee. ;)
We arrived at the Balloon Fiesta Park around 10:30 AM, and absolutely nothing was going on at the festival. So little was happening that there weren’t even workers collecting money for parking or for tickets! We parked next to the entrance gates and strolled right in for free!
After the delicious meal, the concert was just beginning to start, so we made our way to the other end of the fair grounds to check it out. We found that we’d have to buy tickets to get inside a fence surrounding the concert stage, but we could hear and see everything from just outside the fence.
Several of the balloon crews set up tailgates with tents, food, and games which made listening to the music even more fun. We met lots of nice people while we enjoyed three different acts.
We eventually meandered back to the beer garden to purchase a few very expensive beers. A lovely couple invited us to join them at a table, and we talked for almost an hour as the beer garden filled up with people leaving the concert stage.
Every person we met at the festival was unbelievably friendly and welcoming. We met people from all over the world. Germany, France, and at least a dozen states were represented. It was incredible to see how this event brought so many different people together.
At first, only a few balloons started to expand, but before we knew it, there were dozens of balloons full of air and thousands of people admiring their designs.
The sun set behind a grouping of balloons that John and I were viewing, and it cast a beautiful reddish-orange hue onto the swarms of people and colorful balloons.
The balloon baskets never leave the ground during the night glow, so we were able to get up close and personal with the crews and see inside of the balloons.
When we made it through the lines of cars, cones, and cops, we were starving. We made a quick stop off Route 66 at Frontier Restaurant for some delicious and inexpensive Mexican platters. When we had our fill of tacos and enchiladas, we drove into Cibola National Forest and found a place to park for the night. It was only around 9 PM, but we hopped in our car camping setup to get a good night's sleep and prepare for the early morning wakeup call.
When we did get in, we couldn’t believe how many people were in attendance this early in the morning. It was such a spectacle to see thousands of people huddled and snuggling with one another in the cold, dark morning air.
John and I bought hot chocolates and breakfast burritos right away to warm ourselves up. We enjoyed these from our tapestry on a nice, open grassy patch as we waited for the show to begin. When the balloons started to inflate, we instantly finished what we had left and hopped up off the ground.
What started as just a dozen or so balloons turned into fifty, then hundreds of balloons waiting to take off. They used fans then flames to blow up their balloons illuminating the pre-dawn sky.
When they were all out of reach, we decided to take off ourselves putting the balloons and all the fun we had shared behind us. Neither one of us could believe how magical the festival had been. It was unlike anything we expected, and we cannot wait to return next year with friends to share how spectacular it was!
- Bring cash! Some of the vendors only accept cash and many charge fees for using cards!
- Speaking of money, alcohol is crazy expensive and can only be consumed in one area unless you bring in your own! You read that correctly! The festival allows coolers and many people took advantage to save money.
- Wrap up! It is very, very cold in the morning. We were lucky to have remembered to check the weather, but we wish we had brought a big blanket or something to wrap up in while we ate breakfast and waited on the balloons.
- Shop around for a place to stay. The festival has glamping tents and RV sites while Albuquerque features many traditional and unique lodging options. We wish we could have booked one of the festival’s options so we wouldn't have had to fight traffic in the mornings!
- Look into the entire festival! The first Friday had “shape-rodeos” where only the character and other shaped balloons are on display. Some of these fun balloons only blow up on these days, so there will still many we didn't get to see!
During Taylor's first trip to the national park in March (which you can read about, here) she wasn’t able to camp among the dunes, but we spent the last Friday night in September doing just that.
There are stone fire rings that help define cleared pull offs along the road. We found a vacancy with no trouble. Our car camping platform was the perfect place to dream about the dunes in our future
Taylor purchased raw shea butter and we rented two Monarch sand sleds. Less than four miles down the road, we showed Taylor’s National Parks Pass and were soon walking into the small but rich visitor’s center.
Taylor and I were eager to take on the challenge of hiking over the top of the dune field’s ‘front range’. We enjoyed a prepared lunch and discussed how to best climb the monstrous piles of sand.
The next hill was 260-foot tall behemoth. Temporarily exhausted from reaching the top of the last mound, I scouted the highest parts of the ‘front range’ for our best route.
We quickly moved back to the front, steeper, side and tried our hardest to push ourselves up. We eventually, after many breaks, made it to the top. We passed one tent along the way and kept climbing the ascending ridge searching for a bird’s eye view of the sandscape. Soon, we found our overlook and our campsite.
The Great Sand Dunes is an international Dark Sky location, and we had planned this trip according to the moon calendar to see the darkest sky possible. Sadly, our only glimpse of this wondrous dust was the night before at Lake Como Road.
Taylor and I woke up Saturday morning with our tent in the shade of a dune. We climbed to the top of the ridge we’d followed into the dunes with our sleds. The morning sunshine felt so good that we decided to stay another day.
We walked further down the 4x4 road watching the humble creek roll away from Mount Herard. Bushy trees, wetland grasses, and gnarly trees nearly concealed a young buck across the creek from us. We watched him pull leaves, dart his tail, and peer through the green woods toward any slight sound or movement. When he hopped away and over the hill, Taylor and I decided to start our journey back to camp.
Our eyes and spirits wouldn’t be the only casualties of the sandstorm. As we neared the campsite, we noticed our misshapen tent. The tent material had been mangled by the wind and had nearly snapped our tent poles.
With grit-filled gear and clothes, our primary concern was the potential that the winds continued into the night as we tried to sleep. We decided to abandon the second night of camping and made our way out of the dunes, after a very windy and difficult pack up.
Many of the campsites don’t take reservations and operate on a first come first serve basis, and many of them do not allow dogs or groups larger than 8. We were planning to have a group of ten or more (eight ended up going) with almost as many dogs tagging along. Through my searches, I found the ‘Oh Be Joyful’ and Lake Irwin campgrounds, and Ohio Pass Road was recommended for dispersed camping. I figured these sites would be good starting points for my search when I got into town Friday afternoon.
There were a few open sites that I could see from the road, but the marker for a campsite atop a steep hill caught my attention because of its privacy. I climbed the hill and quickly set up my tent to claim the elevated oasis in the heart of the Elk Mountain Range. Maria ran and played on the lush hill while I worked to get ready for everyone’s arrival.
One couple and their pit bull pup arrived first, and shortly after, three other cars arrived with the last five humans and the other four dogs. Everyone quickly set up their sleeping arrangements and lugged their gear up the hill. It was already after 10 pm, but that didn't stop us from making smores and having a few drinks. Once the fire started to die down and a few of us got cold, we decided to call it a night.
By sheer coincidence, we emerged from the wooded trail to find a waterfall and huge field of wildflowers at the very same time that our fishing friends were checking it out. We were all blown away by the site we had simply stumbled upon, and somehow, we had it all to ourselves
It was a beautiful evening spent with even more beautiful company, but like all good things, it came to an end when the clouds started to roll in and our exhaustion became apparent. We eventually put out the fire as everyone rounded up their dogs and hopped into their sleeping bags.
We all hit the ground running to pack everything as quickly as we could. We weren’t quite quick enough and got stuck packing up most of our gear as the rain fell. We eventually got everything packed and loaded into our cars, and we finished before the worst of the morning storm set in.
It was so nice to hear how grateful everyone was to have been able to come together like this, and we started to plan more trips for this fall during breakfast! The weekend was perfect in every way, and the Crested Butte area provided much more than I could have ever imagined. I cannot wait to go back and see what the area has to offer during other seasons of the year!
Yellowstone National Park encompasses over 28,000 square miles of sulphuric hot pots, glacier valleys, bubbling geysers, and picturesque lakes. In one week, John and I were able to see its highlights while backpacking through the backcountry and driving around its main roads.
You can see our entire trip on our YouTube channel here!
We headed out to Cody, Wyoming, with hopes of getting a good, hot meal and a soft bed. We only found one of these and also unfortunately missed the 100th annual rodeo.
After each day of driving around the park, we left its boundaries to grab a bite and stay the night. Some nights were easier than others, but we wrote about where we ate and stayed each night in this separate post to help others who are in the same situation we were in!
I took some pictures, but as I started to walk toward the hill for a different angle, the bison started to approach John! It got within 5 feet of him while the two stared at one another. John never lost his cool, and the bison turned to walk toward the road! Still struck with awe, we hopped into the car and continued driving to the Mud Volcano.
This was our first hydrothermal area in Yellowstone. It sits inside the Yellowstone Caldera and is constantly shifting. Magma below the surface creates mud pots, hot springs, and geysers. Some of the most acidic mud in the park is found here and caused by microscopic organisms on and below the surface.
The Mud Volcano Trail is a half-mile boardwalk loop that passes Dragon’s Mouth Spring, Mud Volcano, Grizzly Fumarole, Sour Lake, Black Dragon’s Cauldron, Sizzling Basin, Mud Geyser, and Mud Caldron. It was truly fascinating to walk around and explore these sites.
This area has been torn apart by glacial movement, volcanic activity, and erosion all mixed together. You can see the layers of history in the incredible canyon walls that the Yellowstone River has cut through.
We started our tour of the ‘Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone’ at Artist Point working our way south then north again along the north rim. Uncle Tom’s Trail was closed when we went, but the South Rim Trail was open, and we were still able to get close to the upper falls. As we continued northward, we drove up to Mount Washburn but quickly turned around as an afternoon thunderstorm rolled in.
Our next stop was Tower Falls and the general store. Mid-day was approaching, and it was hot and crowded. John and I went in the general store for souvenirs and air conditioning but ended up with beers. We crushed them under the awning outside before continuing on to Tower Falls.
It was a quick stroll to see the fall, but the trail continued past the viewpoint. We kept going the extra bit, and the trail led us to the shores of the Yellowstone River. We explored and hung out for a bit before deciding to head back up for lunch.
We timed our arrival at Mammoth Hot Springs perfectly. The earlier shower had scattered some of the crowd, and many of the visitors had finished for the day or were making dinner. For periods of time, we had entire areas to ourselves which allowed us time to quietly ponder and talk about the perplexing landscape. We wondered and discussed a lot, because little of the science and geology on display answered our questions.
Palette Springs was one of the most perplexing formations we witnessed in Yellowstone National Park. As hot steam rises through limestone, calcium carbonate is dissolved and carried to surface pools. The calcium carbonate is deposited and form stone curtains that show the pathways of overflowing water. These wonderful pools of steaming water are also homes to multi-colored bacterium. From organisms that feed on sulfur to organisms that photosynthesize, these pools are abloom with life.
When our brains were fried from contemplation and our tummies started growling, we decided to head out the North Entrance toward our hotel. We grabbed some bar food at the Emigrant Outpost in Pray, Montana, on our way to The Lewis and Clark Motel in Three Forks.
It was named after the local group of Native Americans who ate and relied on the mountain sheep. We saw some marmots and a cute deer hiding in the woods before we drove off to another geyser basin.
Norris Geyser Basin sits along two fault lines and a fracture in the Yellowstone Caldera. These cause frequent earthquakes and movements in the land. A park ranger said that every year new hot springs appear while others become dormant. We could see just how quickly things were changing, because part of the boardwalk in Porcelain Basin was roped off.
The geysir basin is split into two sections: Porcelain Basin and Back Basin. Porcelain Basin is a large, colorful sight, but Back Basin provides close up views of individual geysirs. We chose to do the Back Basin Trail first.
The longer trails have smaller crowds, plus there was a lot more to see in this area including the tallest active geyser in the world, Steamboat Geyser! We watched and hoped for Steamboat to blow at the beginning of the Back Basin Trail just past Emerald Spring, but sadly did not see it erupt.
We got a surprise eruption from Vixen Geyser as we were leaving Veteran and Corporal Geysers. The little hole shot water about 15 feet into the air for several minutes. It was very impressive and unexpected. We finished the Back Basin Trail with Palpitator Spring, Fearless Geyser, Monarch Geyser Crater, and Minute Geyser before heading to the Porcelain Basin.
I had never heard of or seen mud pots before, but when we arrived at Artist Paint Pots in the Gibbon Geyser basin, we could see exactly what they were named for. The gurgling pools of clay and nearby fumaroles were steaming along the hillside as we walked across the boardwalk overlook.
Lower Geyser Basin is home to the Fountain Paint Pot Trail where John and I strolled around quickly looking at more mud pots and geysers. This is one of the few places in the park where you can see up to a half dozen geysers erupting in one place. We chose not to go down Firehole Lake Drive due to time constraints. The sun was starting to set, and we still had to see Grand Prismatic and Old Faithful!
Grand Prismatic was one of the things I was most excited to see in Yellowstone. Those brilliant colors are iconic, and I couldn’t wait to take it all in. Before actually getting to Prismatic Spring, the trail crosses the Firehole River where steaming water flows over the edge of the spring into the river. The boardwalk then takes you to the top of the basin and leads along the rim of the mystical, blue Excelsior Geyser Crater and up to the copper mouth of Grand Prismatic.
We arrived at the Old Faithful Visitors Center around 8:45 pm with just enough light out to see the geyser. There was hardly anyone waiting on the benches except a few families. The one closest to us believed it would erupt in the next 15-20 minutes.
After a little while, another family approached and said that it was going to be almost another 30-45 minutes. We knew that, by that time, there would be no light left. We were starving, so we decided to save Old Faithful’s explosion for the next day and see if we could score a bed in the lodge.
With no luck in the park again, we went out the West Entrance of the park and drove to Idaho. We found a secluded place to park my car camper with freecampsites.net and rested our heads next to a gently flowing creek
Day Eight: The Final Morning
The last morning of our trip started with breakfast from Old Town Cafe in West Yellowstone before embarking on our last day of driving through Yellowstone National Park. It was Sunday, and the only thing left we had left to see was Old Faithful erupting.
It took us a lot longer than we expected to get there, because the crowds had grown dramatically. Parking lots were overflowing and causing jammed turn lanes, plus more people meant more cars parked on the side of the road when wildlife was visible. It was extremely frustrating, but John and I were unbelievably happy that our past two days hadn't been like this.
We finally arrived at the Old Faithful Visitor Center around noon, and it was also packed. There were people everywhere. We had 30-45 minutes to spare until the geyser’s predicted eruption. I walked through the history and science museum before we met on the boardwalk and found a seat to watch the show.
As soon as it ended, so did our vacation. Everyone around us left the area, and we eventually meandered our way to the car looking back at what had been a crazy, wonderful, and beautiful trip.
You can see our entire trip on our YouTube channel here!
After dozens of calls to Park Rangers and Forestry Offices across Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, we found that Yellowstone National Park was snow free and hikeable. Right away, we sat down and started planning an epic 60-mile hike in the southeastern corner of the park.
You can see our entire hike on our YouTube channel here!
It took a great deal of research to make sure we would be safe in bear country when so far from rescue. We have never done a trip this long and intense before. We spent days planning out our trail, buying new gear, and packing up our campfire meals for the week long adventure. You can read all about our research, planning, and packing process here.
He told us that we would have to be very careful because of nearby bear activity and high water in some of the creeks we would have to traverse. We felt that we were prepared mentally and with equipment, so we signed all of the necessary paperwork to confirm that we knew the dangers and paid our fees. To see what gear we carried check out our detailed post here - it lists our most essential items and the few things we wished we had chosen differently.
After the ranger handed us our permits and a detailed map, we headed on our way. We arrived at the Nine-Mile Trailhead on the east side of Yellowstone Lake around 4 pm. With full packs and big smiles, we started our journey into the unknown.
For the first mile or so, these charred and damaged trees surrounded us. The lake provided a stunning background behind the broken limbs and blackened stumps and helped make the journey feel less eerie until we entered the wooded and swampy areas.
The Meadow Creek watershed area is where we really entered into the deep woods. The trail became muddy and marshy from snowmelts, recent rainfalls, and little sunlight that broke through the heavy forest canopy. We also noticed a change in the environment by the bugs.
We quickly learned that we had underestimated the amount of bug spray and bite treatment we would need for the week. It was one of the more valuable lessons we learned on this trip, and you can read about our 10 biggest takeaways from our first backpacking trip in this post!
Every campsite we visited in the backcountry had a designated campfire area complete with a fire ring, logs arranged around it for seating, and structures created by park rangers for hanging food high enough to be kept away from bears. We staked out everything and set up our tent in accordance with the wind so that the food smells wouldn’t bring bears toward us in the night.
I say attempted, because that was all we were capable of on this day. The slight exhaustion and the soreness from the day before settled in and made for a fairly hard day for us. Also, starting in the middle of the day made for a much hotter walk than either of us wanted, because we were covered head to toe to protect against the vicious bugs.
As we got closer to the southeastern arm of Yellowstone Lake, we started to see snowy caps on some far away mountains. It baffled us that the peaks remained frozen in the heat of July.
It was almost 9 pm when we arrived at the ridgeline campground. We had just a few minutes of sunlight left when we set up our campsite and started a campfire. We were both a little disappointed in our progress that day, because we were walking at nearly half the speed we normally do when hiking, and we discussed ways to make up the ground we had missed.
We weren’t able to enjoy the night sky for long before storms started to roll in over the mountainous horizon, so we hopped in our tent after dinner and let the thunder put us to sleep. We woke up early the next morning to get a good start on the day.
They agreed that we made the right decision and confirmed that the creek was flowing swiftly and reminded us that we would need to be careful when crossing. They told us to get back on track with our permits and try to not stray from them too much. We told them we’d do our best.
Once we were packed and ready to go, we hiked down the hill to Beaver Dam Creek around 10 am. We got to the water, rolled up our pants, put our water shoes on, and I pulled out my hiking poles. We thought we were prepared for the crossing, but those thoughts of preparedness turned out to be my downfall – literally.
When we entered the water, it was only about shin deep and lead us to falsely think we could cross it independently. Instead, the creek deepened quickly and the current got stronger as we went further in. Instead of holding hands or linking arms as we had been shown, we walked side by side until I slipped.
The water completely knocked my feet out from under me, and I started to tumble. The weight of my bag and the gushing water coming over me made it impossible for me to gain my footing back or even stabilize myself enough to stop floating down the river. In a matter of seconds, I was being carried downstream dozens of yards from John and the shoreline. Never in my life had I yelled out for help the way I did in this situation. John instantly ran to shore and dropped his bag in hopes of helping me. Somehow, I managed to grab a nearby tree limb and pull myself out of the water before he could arrive.
John ran to me, helped me get up, and grabbed my gear. We backtracked the few hundred feet we had just hiked to the creek and arrived back to the safety of campsite 5H1.
After cleaning up my wounds and laying out all of my clothes and gear to dry, John and I reevaluated what just happened and realized how big some of the mistakes we made were. It was another lesson we had to add to our experiences, and we both agreed to never underestimate a river, stream, or creek ever again.
I was glad we put so much consideration into what was in our first aid kits, you can read about what we carried in this post. My cuts and scrapes could have been easily infected, but we made sure to take good care of them immediately.
We set up our hammock and took a nice mid afternoon nap before walking back down to the creek to try our hand at some fly fishing. It was really the first opportunity we had to take significant time to try it out. Even though it wasn’t very successful, it was still fun practicing our casts and rigging up the gear.
When the bugs got bad and the sun started to set, we headed back up to the campsite to make some dinner. We enjoyed our Mary Jane’s again just before a storm rolled over us. We slept like babies to the sound of pouring rain and regained our energy for the next day's hike.
We were having a very strong day, because the lazy day before really gave us our strength back. We were going at our usual 2 mile per hour rate until John let his focus slip and had a fall that resulted in a punctured palm. Luckily, we were only about a mile from a campsite, so he cleaned, treated, and bandaged the hole in his hand before we pushed on to the site.
The storm lasted a good little while. Since we didn’t have a plan for the night, we decided to set up camp when the rain stopped even though it was only around 4 pm.
We managed to make a small fire with the damp wood around us and watched as the lake started to get dark and choppy again. This night, we weren’t as fortunate as others and had to eat our meals inside of our tent, because another storm came in so quickly.
Before we knew it, we were at Cub Creek and only about a mile and half from the trailhead. We knew we were heading into the forest of dead trees and sunshine, so we stopped one last time for a power snack and to refill our waters.
We learned a lot on our first multi-night backpacking trip, and doing it in our nation’s first national park made for an incredibly special trip. Since we didn’t finish the trail or get to fish the Yellowstone River, we are already getting plans in place to return to this remote destination and successfully explore its entire length.
You can see our entire hike on our YouTube channel here!
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.