“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.” – Stephen King

Mount Katahdin

Recently I was inspired by another travel blogger who wrote a post detailing their travel bucket list, or the start of one. Because the thing about bucket lists is they have a tendency to continue to grow and you learn of new and wonderous places to see, hikes to do, and foods you just have to try. This happens to me almost every day as I read other blogger’s posts and Ooo and Ahhhh over fellow hiker’s photos where I am practically jumping out of my skin I want to see these places so badly!

So, I wanted to share with you my beginners bucket list. I call it my beginners bucket list because I already know that I will need to add to it as time goes on.

Angel's Landing

This is not to say that I don’t want to learn other things that will help expand my travel list, though not directly related to travel, such as becoming scuba certified, learning Spanish and French fluently, becoming a better snowboarder, etc. Those things are on a list all their own and I am working on them as I also work to achieve the goals of my travel bucket list.

Ok, so here we go! No holding back and leaving no stone unturned, this is my list.

  1. Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
  2. Hike the Camino
  3. Hike the Appalachian Trail
  4. Hike Hadrian’s Wall, UK
  5. Thru hike Jordan
  6. Climb Mount Kilimanjaro
  7. Hike to Everest Basecamp (I am starting to see a pattern developing…)
  8. Visit all National Parks
  9. Visit every UNESCO world heritage sites
  10. See the pyramids in Egypt
  11. Visit Pompeii and wonder at Mount Vesuvius
  12. Visit the home of Shakespeare
  13. Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef
  14. Visit Komodo Island
  15. Walk along the Great Wall of China
  16. Island hop in Thailand
  17. Visit the Galapagos
  18. Visit every country at least once
  19. Hike the Great Italian Trail
  20. Hike the Kumano Kodo Trail, Japan
  21. Visit Cambodia
  22. Do a yoga retreat in Napal
  23. Visit Bali
  24. Hike Rainbow Mountain, Peru
  25. See the Northern Lights, Iceland
  26. Try out Glamping
  27. Stay in an igloo
  28. Visit Jerusalem
  29. Hike to Mount Nyiragongo
  30. Be awe inspired at Stonehenge
  31. Live in another country for a year (other than the U.S., since I am currently a Canadian living in the U.S this could technically count as living in another country but I’m thinking more along the lines of a European country)
  32. Visit the Amazon Rainforest
  33. Visit the Amalfi Coast, Italy
  34. Do a U.S. West Coast Road Trip, stopping at various parks for some hiking along the way
  35. Island hop in Greece
  36. Hike to Troll’s Tongue
  37. Visit the Gate to Hell, Turkmenistan
  38. See the Lantern Festival, China
  39. Visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras
  40. Visit Angel Falls, Venezuela
  41. Volunteer with Vets Without Borders
  42. Volunteer with Wooffing
  43. Volunteer as a vet abroad studying wildlife
  44. Go to Wimbeldon

I know there are more and as they come to me I will certainly add them but here are a couple that would have been on my list had I not already done them:

  1. Hike the Mighty 5, Utah
  2. Go on safari in Africa
  3. Visit the Colosseum, Rome
  4. Marvel at the Birth of Venus by Botticelli, Florence
  5. Visit Maui, Hawai’i
  6. Hike Mount Katahdin, Maine
  7. See Yellowstone National Park

What is on your travel bucket list? Where are the top 10 places you just have to see or adventures you just have to do before you die?

Haleakala, Maui

I hope this post provides you with some inspiration and if you still need more check out “1000 places to see before you die.”

*This post contains affiliate links, so if you make a purchase through the links provided I get a commission and am able to make this site even better!

 

 

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Ghandi

Hiking

Recently I was nominated for the Blogger Recognition Award (psst…thank you again Just Leaving Footprints). I was so taken aback. One, I had no idea this even existed and, two, to have someone actually nominate me, I was floored!

So, what is the Blogger Recognition Award?

recognition award

This award is a way for bloggers to recognize each other’s hard work. And let me tell you it’s hard work! It’s not all just pretty pictures and great posts of drool worthy locations. Most blogger spend hours working on posts, improving their blog, networking, researching, and reading. So this gives other bloggers the opportunity to give a nice shout out to each other.

What’s the rules of the nomination?

  1. Once you have been nominated you have to write a post and thank your nominator (Just Leaving Footprints)
  2. In the post, you have to tell everyone how you got started with blogging
  3. You have to share 2 pieces of advice to other newbie bloggers
  4. Nominate 15 other bloggers

The story of Wandering with a Dromomaniac

I have always loved writing and have had this addiction to wandering for most of my life. For a long time, I considered trying to write travel articles for magazines but while doing my research I came across travel blogging. The more blogs I read, the more intrigued I became.

I have a very long list of places I want to go and things I want to do. I decided to focus my blog more on adventure and experiencing things outside my comfort zone. This could be in the form of food, hiking, or something that I wouldn’t normally consider doing.

With my blog I hope to inspire others to go outside of their normal and experience the world for the natural beauty it has to offer.

Some words of wisdom to bloggers just starting out

  1. Read everything you can get your hands on with respect to blogging and travel writing. You can learn so many valuable tips from books that will help you understand the process better and in the end, make you a better blogger.
  2. Have patience. It doesn’t happen overnight. Gaining a following, getting paid, becoming a force on the web takes time and patience, a lot of time and patience. But it will come if you are diligent and keep working hard at it every day.

Now, without further ado I nominate….

  1. Girl with the passport: A solo traveler, she wants to show others, through funny and engaging posts, that we are not alone and you really can follow your dreams. She wants others to get out of their comfort zone and try new things.
  2. Beer and a backpack: Justin is an international volunteer documenting his around-the-world journey, while trying to make a difference along the way.
  3. You bloody tourist: Anthony is a budget traveler looking for adventure, something to push his boundaries and introduce him to something new and then share it to inspire others to do the same.
  4. Authentic Food Quest: Rosemary and Clare set out to explore places through the local food culture. They believe that travelers can have deeper connections with a destination and people by opening up to the local flavors and tastes.
  5. The Bucket List Review: Mike is another budget traveler who provides a comprehensive guide to the best and craziest adventures worldwide and reviews some of the coolest, one-of-a-kind accommodations you can find.
  6. Study Hard Travel Smart: Katie uses her wanderlust to discuss her travel adventures, lessons learned, and musings about culture and the world around her.
  7. Explore the Map: Sam and Jacob are serious outdoors enthusiasts that provide detailed information on the beautiful trails and wonderful adventures around the globe.
  8. Roar Loud: Cathy and Frank have a curiosity to explore the world for new adventures and take every opportunity to get out and explore the world around them.
  9. Wondrous Paths: Rosie has a love of art history and chronicles the serendipitous things you may run across when traveling. The once-a-week outdoor markets. The festivals. The quintessentiality of different cities and towns.
  10. Little Things Travel Blog: Marissa is a believer in the little things in life and appreciating life’s simple pleasures. Her blog provides a travel guide to the world to help you appreciate the little things in life.
  11. Brazen Backpacker: Emily is a solo adventure traveler who wants to inspire people to get outdoors and out of their comfort zones. With each adventure she steps out of her own comfort zone and fully experiences the nature around her.
  12. Nomad Revelations Travel Blog: He is out to inspire and motivate others to travel, discover new things and live great experiences. In his blog he archives 16 years of travel adventures to inspire others to explore the world on their own terms.
  13. The Bucket List Project: Eric shares his bucket list in an effort to hold himself accountable and to share one-in-a-lifetime experiences and inspire others to get out there and create their own bucket list.
  14. MVMT Blog : Diana and Hope show you how you can travel outside of the boundaries of work, school, and other obligations that inevitably plague our lives. They provide resources on how to maximize your vacation days and budget your trips.
  15. Stray along the way: Bevan and Jill write about their adventure travel around South Africa, Mozambique and Indonesia inspiring others to get out and enjoy the outdoors and what nature has to offer.

“Happiness comes in waves,” Anonymous

Turks & Caicos

With winter upon us and the temperatures outside close to record breaking cold all I can think about are the beautiful beaches of Turks and Caicos. The crystal-clear water, the perfect weather, and being on the beach.

We went to Turks and Caicos to escape the winter and were not disappointed. We booked a condotel (yeah, I didn’t know what that was either) but it was the perfect choice. The place had only a few rooms, which consisted of a separate bedroom, bathroom, living room and a full kitchen and private balcony. We were right on the bottom floor so you could step out from you room and see lizards scurrying and exotic birds preening their beautiful feathers. Oh, and I can’t forget our daily visitor, the stray cat. Sigh.

Lizard

Exotic Bird

Stray

Turks and Caicos is beautiful but let me tell you it can get pricy. If you want a drink on the beach, expect it to cost around $18 USD per drink and dining out for two is easily $100 USD. However, if you stay in a condotel, or other hotel with a kitchen, you have the opportunity to save some money on at least some of the meals by cooking yourself (which is what we did). I’m not saying you have to do this for every meal because of course you want to experience the amazing seafood but it takes the edge off the budget a little to be able to eat breakfast and lunches in your room.

This island has a lot to offer and being the outdoorsy type of people that we are we wanted snorkeling and lots of it. We discovered that if you are willing to walk for it there was a beautiful reef right off the shore close to Turtle Bay. We were staying right in Providenciales, to have access to stores, restaurants and the action so Turtle Bay was about an hour walk on the beach, which was fine for us. The first time we took a taxi and it was kind of ridiculous. We walked back after our initial go and it made more sense to us to walk on the beach, enjoying the feel of the fine white sand between our toes, admiring the sheer beauty of it all and just taking our time, than giving lots of money to a taxi driver.

On the beach

The snorkeling in this area is incredible, I wish that at the time of this trip we had our underwater camera so I could show you just how incredible it was. You enter the water and within a few short steps you were underwater and circling a large tropical reef. There is a plethora of fish, corals and we did see a shark, which made me nervous but we kept going back regardless because it was just so perfect.

Caicos Dream Tours

The water is like bathwater, you will never want to get out. And because we wanted to continue our water journey we signed up for a snorkeling excursion with Caicos Dream Tours. They took us out to a secluded area where we dived for conch, getting to keep our shells after they were done preparing the most delicious conch salad I have ever eaten. If you have never had conch they prepare it raw mixed with fresh veggies, lemon, salt, and some also incorporate fruit. It’s to die for! It’s pretty much all we ate while we were there, prepared in as many ways as we could find. My favorite was the conch fritters.

Da conch

The conch was accompanied by rum punch that will sneak up on you if you’re not careful. The guides took us to Iguana Island after to check out these giant lizards close up and to sip on rum punch while we did it. This island is awesome! Especially for reptile enthusiasts like us. The island is completely deserted save for these incredible reptiles and some beautiful bird species. It’s a long tour and was worth doing because we got to see so much more and snorkel in other areas.

Big iguana

One of these other areas includes the barrier reef. The barrier reef runs parallel to the island shore keeping the waters around the beach calm and clear. The reef was teeming with life and some of the most magnificent corals I have ever seen. It left us wanting more. Which is why we continued to go back to our quiet snorkel spot in turtle bay.

We were never overwhelmed by tourists, and the snorkeling off the beach seemed to be virtually unknown to people. We may have encountered 2-4 people total in all the times we went there (which was pretty much every day). It’s like your own private underwater oasis. I recommend that anyone with an interest in snorkeling, whenever you visit a tropical island seek out these places because they change the trip completely and give you something special that’s pretty much all to yourself.

Blue water

Other than snorkeling in Turks and Caicos, I highly recommend attending the local fish fry. This is where the locals have stands set up and restaurants show off some of their best seafood. There is rum punch served in coconuts, conch cooked in all ways, spiny lobster, fish (of course) and so much more. There was music and dancing and I had a blast. I am so glad we didn’t miss this. It is typically held on Thursdays so make sure to extend your stay long enough to check it out. You won’t find better food in any restaurant I guarantee.

Although, I will say there is a great restaurant called Coco Bistro. It’s a little bit of a walk outside of Providenciales but it’s worth it. It’s this cool refurbished house painted a bright orange, set back off the road surrounded by palm trees. There is outdoor seating with lights strung from the palm trees that become part of the ambience of the place.

They are always busy and they recommend a reservation but if you aren’t picky you can just grab some bar seating, which has some bar tables, couches and a laid-back vibe. You can still get all the same menu items as in the regular restaurant seating and it’s right next to the regular seating so the atmosphere is no different. The food was amazing to say the least. Try it, you won’t regret it.

Have you been to Turks and Caicos? What was your experience? Any other hidden snorkeling gems I should know about or other wonderful places to eat?

“It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you. There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do. I bless the rains down in Africa. Gonna take some time to do the things we never had.” – Toto

Durban

I think that anyone with a serious love of wildlife has Africa on their bucket list. It is the mecca, one of the last places on earth to witness species of that magnitude in their natural setting. I was extremely fortunate to have visited South Africa, specifically Durban, as a graduate student. One of my conferences was being held in that magical country.

At the time I thought this might be the only chance I get to visit this wonderous land so I better make the most of it. Durban isn’t known as a big tourist hub, necessarily, and can be quite dangerous. We were instructed that if you are going to leave your hotel, drive only to your destination and back, no strolling the streets, no detours. I had heard horror stories of people smashing into people’s car’s while they were stopped at a stop light to snatch their purse on the back seat.

I didn’t have any of these encounters, however, even when we visited a large market. Not once did I feel unsafe. Durban is a really interesting city with a cool Afro-Indian vibe and beautiful beaches. It is the third most populous city in South Africa and the second biggest manufacturing hub next to Johannesburg. To learn more about the area I did a city bus tour and it really was worth it if you are interested in diving a little deeper into the history of the area.

Bus tour

Not only did you get the history, they also stopped at the Durban Botanical Gardens and the beach. The Botanical Gardens is Durban’s oldest public institution and Africa’s oldest surviving botanical gardens. The gardens, not only had an abundance of plant life, it also had several bird species in the area. It was a beautiful place to walk around and we even stumbled upon a wedding in progress while we were there.

Birds

Flowers

I am not typically into these types of tours, but the stop at the beach and the trip to the botanical gardens was a nice touch. What I really wanted was to experience the wildlife in this country. So, I signed up for several wildlife tours, one was a safari tour of Thula Thula private game preserve, the second a hippo and croc boat tour, and the final a safari tour of Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve.

Thula Thula

Thula Thula

The Thula Thula tour, started at their lodge, where we were offered drinks for a fee and some lovely views from the patio. You can stay at this lodge and they also have some camping options for a true Africa experience.

While I was there the rangers had found a dead rhino that poachers had killed for it’s horn. With the ever dwindling and critically endangered status of this magnificent animal it is somewhat disheartening to see that even a game reserve can’t keep these criminals out.

We took a safari jeep around the reserve and were lucky enough to see giraffe, wildebeest, zebras, nyala, elephants and so much more. The most impressive and possibly most intimidating were the elephants. We found a pack of female’s and their young and stopped to watch them, while being mindful of several bull elephants watching close by.

Zebras

As we sat there in awe of the pack I turned around just in time to see the biggest of the males coming straight for us. I yelled to the driver, who had stopped the jeep and he turned around. As soon as he saw the bull I could see the urgency in his eyes as he started the jeep.

Elephant

All I could think in that moment was that the jeep was never going to start and we would be stomped to death by this mammoth of an elephant. But it started right away and we moved along, the bull giving up as he saw us leaving. Talk about close encounters with the locals!

Landscape

The reserve was spectacular and definitely a must-see if you are in Durban. The landscape and the animals living there are awe inspiring. The beauty breathtaking. And even though it was winter in South Africa the weather was perfect.

Hippo and Crocodile Boat Tour

Hippo tour

The second tour was a hippo and croc boat tour in St. Lucia, South Africa. On this tour you take a pontoon boat up one of the largest Estuarine systems in Africa, which is South Africa’s first World Heritage Site.

This was a fantastic tour. You get onto a pontoon boat when you arrive and from there the guides takes you on a two-hour tour of the area, where you will see some 800 hippos, around 1000 crocodiles as well as a plethora of bird species.

Hippos

The boat travels lazily down the river, while the guide tells you about the native plants and animal species and the might of the hippo bite. It is another world and a fantastic compliment to the safari, seeing wildlife from another perspective. And let me tell you, there were so many hippos! It was fantastic.

Hippo tooth

Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve

My final tour was of Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve. This iconic park boasts 96,000 hectares of land housing the African big 5, Cheetah, Wild Dog, Nyala, Giraffe and more. The park is best known, however, for its rhino conservation. This reserve has the option of taking a guided jeep safari or driving yourself through the park. The roads are well kept and there is a ton of wildlife to see. I managed to see everything except the big cats, which tend to be seen more during the sunset tours or early dawn tours.

Giraffe

Wildebeast

This park has a lot to offer, however, if you find an animal of interest close to the roadway it can get rather crowded with jeeps and personal vehicles as everyone tries to get that perfect photo.

Too close

Close up

All the tours I did in total cost me around $400 CAD, some included lunch and drinks and all the shuttles to and from the location. It was worth every penny and I think that Durban is a totally underrated city, with wildlife in their backyard, a booming metropolis with plenty of things to do, and fantastic beaches if you are into surfing.

Have you been to Durban and on safari? Let me know your experiences and what places I am missing.


45% off everything in our ‘Up, up and away’ sale

“Dear Ocean, thank you for making us feel tiny, humble, inspired and salty…all at once.” – Anonymous

Maui is one of my favorite places, full of natural beauty on land and in the water. I was fortunate enough to visit Maui after winning a trip through Travelocity’s Roam with the Gnome contest. This was the first (and only) time I have ever won anything so you can imagine my excitement. The contest covered flights to Maui and 4 nights at the Marriott in Wailea but we decided to make more of a vacation out of it by booking extra nights in Lahaina and renting a car during those extra nights so we could explore the island a little more. I am so glad we decided to do this because Maui is the kind of place you need to leave the resort and see.

Lahaina

Lahaina

Lahaina is a historic whaling village, where as many as 1,500 sailors would take their leave, including Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick. This town is now a cute, artistic town with its sprawling banyan trees (including the oldest banyan tree in Maui), adorable little geckos scurrying around, and several small gift shops and restaurants. Also make sure to pick up a cup of Kona coffee and some ahi poke from the local supermarket, along with some fresh mangos.

Lahaina Jodo Mission

There are lots of places to explore in Lahaina, but one place we spent some time at was the Japanese Buddhist Temple, Lahaina Jodo Mission. The place has a feeling of peace engulfing it, you can stroll around the sandy property taking in the pagoda and the enormous 12-foot high bronze Buddha statue. The statue was installed in 1968 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of Japanese immigrants to Hawai’i. It is free to explore with the option of leaving a donation.

Buddha

Haleakala

Haleakala

Haleakala is a volcano that forms around 75% of the Island of Maui. Haleakala means “house of the sun” and legend has it that it was home to the grandmother of the demigod Maui. Apparently, Maui’s grandmother helped him capture the sun and slow its progression across the sky to make the day last longer.

There are lots of options for how to best spend your time on Haleakala. You can go by horseback, foot, or bike (in some parts) with many different trails to choose from including short hikes or long, backcountry hikes, and sunrise or sunset hikes (which require a reservation). No matter what you choose, though, you will not be disappointed. Haleakala has this otherworldly feel to it, with its reds, purples, and shades of brown.

The weather can be unpredictable, however, so dress appropriately and bring water and sunscreen (you are in Maui after all, not Tatooine). We chose the Sliding Sands summit hike, a strenuous hike that descends 2,800-feet in the first 4 miles to the summit floor. It is beautiful to say the least.

Iao Valley and Iao Needle

Another one of our stops was the Iao Valley and Iao Needle, which I just found out closed in September 2016 due to flooding. Apparently due to the flooding the river shifted and destroyed the trails, which cannot be repaired. At the time of our visit, however, it was a great stop with lush mountains and beautiful ponds surrounded by fantastic tropical plants.

Iao Gardens

There was a trail that followed along a river and around gardens with a viewpoint of the Iao Needle. It is a greenery covered stone that is actually a volcanic remnant and is surrounded by the Pu’u Kukui Crater. This was the site of a battle in 1790 between King Kamehameha I and the Maui army in an attempt to unite all the Hawaiian Islands.

Road to Hana

The road to Hana is a must see if you are planning a trip to Maui. The road is not super wide and can be treacherous but we managed to navigate it with minimal problems in our little economy rental car. There are lots of places to stop along the way, here is just a taste of some of those spectacular stops.

Hana Lava Tubes

Lava tubes

The Hana Lava Tubes are a series of tunnels below ground where lava once flowed. This was formed as lava flowed down towards the ocean creating a crust, which allowed lava to continue to flow below it. Once the lava had drained out a huge tunnel was left in it’s place. It is the largest lava tube in Maui and the 18th largest lava tube in the world.

Each section of the Lava Tubes had its own special features and there is lots of signage around describing what you are looking at. My favorite part of this self-guided tour was the chocolate corridor of stalactites. The entire corridor looked as though it was oozing chocolate kisses. Not going to lie, it made me kind of hungry.

Hershey kisses

Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach

This beach is located just off the Hana Highway and has beautiful 360 views. There is a little trail off the beach that leads through lush greenery with beautiful blue pools of freezing cold water. As you wander around the area you get different aspects of the beach, from the black sand to the various rock formations jutting out into the ocean.

Black sand beach

This beach is situated within the 120-acre Wai’anapanapa State Park and consists of black lava cliffs and a beach created by a lava flow several hundred years prior. It’s beautiful here. I did have one mishap here however, I was admiring the waves crashing in and tried to hop from rock to rock into the waves without getting wet and as the waves came crashing in I tried to leap back onto the sand. As I hit the sand my foot immediately sunk in and my flip-flop snapped leaving me shoeless. It was a hilarious disaster and I have the photo of the incident to remember that oh so magical moment. Sigh*

Shoeless

Hiking Trails

There are several hiking trails along the Hana Highway. One trail in particular that we stopped at was the Bamboo Forest on Maui’s Pipiwai Trail. This trail was like a tropical oasis with bamboo shooting up all around us.

Bamboo forest

You have to follow the Pipiwai Trail for 1 mile before reaching the Bamboo Forest but it is definitely worth it. Not only is it a bamboo forest but there are several spots to stop and check out some waterfalls. We didn’t do the entire hike due to time constraints but it was lovely.

Trees at work

Food and drink

I can’t forget to mention the food and drinks along the way. We stopped at two spots in particular. One was a fruit stand, where I finally got a coconut (my first one ever, which I can’t tell you how excited I was) and we picked up some fresh mangos, mangosteens, and coconut.

Mangosteens

We also stopped at an open-air food market along the way. There we had swordfish (also a first for me) and picked up some coconut chips (amazing!). The people were super friendly and the food was fantastic.

Outdoor eating

Wailea

Wailea is what I would consider a resort town. It was the location of the Marriott where we would spend our free nights. The hotel was super nice with infinity pools, hot tubs, views of the ocean and right off the beach some of the best snorkeling we could ask for. The food and drinks were not included, so that was a bit of a bummer but if you sign up for the Marriott rewards card you got a discount on the buffet breakfast, which was fantastic.

Breakfast

Every morning at around 6 am we would get up, eat a fresh mango and go snorkel around the rock jutting out from the beach. This was when the water was the calmest, as the day went on the water seemed to get choppier. The snorkeling was phenomenal, we saw turtles, eels, and tons of tropical fish and cool corals every morning.

After our morning snorkel we would hit the breakfast buffet, filling up as much as we could eat. This allowed us to skip lunch and save some money. Then we would spend the rest of the day hanging out at the beach, sitting by the pool, or walking the nice paths along the water where lizards could be seen basking in the sun.

Marriott

There is so much to see and do in Maui and we didn’t even get to a luau! Have you been to Maui? What did I miss that should be on this list of places to see?


“A thousand Yellowstone wonders are calling. ‘Look up and down and round about you.’” – John Muir 1898

Yellowstone Geysers

In 2010, my boyfriend and I embarked on a cross country road trip from Prince Edward Island, Canada, to Vancouver Island, British Columbia driving through the US. It was a trip to move my boyfriend to Vancouver Island, while I was going to remain in Prince Edward Island to finish veterinary school. We decided to make a vacation out of it and take the opportunity to do some hiking in one of the top national parks in the United States, Yellowstone.

Yellowstone is considered the first park to be designated a national park in 1872 when the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act was established. Prior to this there were several expeditions, with the first organized expedition in 1860, which failed as they attempted to explore the Yellowstone Plateau. In 1870, the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition occurred and the Old Faithful Geyser was named. In 1948, Yellowstone had its first 1 million visitors.

Old Faithful

This park is steeped in history and has been shaped into what it is today by many, becoming one of the most popular national parks in the world. It also has some pretty cool geothermal activity too. As you walk the paths to the different geysers and geothermal sites, there is a smell of Sulphur in the air and a hot steam that constantly washes over you. From geysers, to hot springs, to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Yellowstone Falls, in Canyon Village there is something for everyone.

Yellowstone Falls

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is the first canyon downstream from Yellowstone Falls along the Yellowstone River. The canyon is approximately 24 miles long and is an impressive sight to behold.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

The park is very user friendly, with very well-connected roads and platforms for access to up close and personal views of these natural wonders of nature. Along the way you can see bison, wolves, bears, deer and more. Just a fair warning that these are wild animals and are capable of doing more than just injuring a person. In 2015, 5 visitors were gored by Bison because they got to close. Trust me that selfie isn’t worth it. When we visited there was a family taking pictures standing just a couple feet away from a bull bison and you could tell that bison was getting pretty pissed off. I could feel the anxiety welling up as I just waited for the bison to attack the young child that kept inching closer and closer.

Close to Yellowstone is Grand Teton National Park.  Another historic park, Grand Teton National Park was so named in 1929. Nestled close to Jackson Hole, this area has a rich Indian Culture that remains today. With over 200 miles in trails, there is something here for everyone and the wildlife is out of this world. We did most of our hiking here, including two spectacular trails, Death Canyon Trail and Lupine Meadow Trail.

Lupine Meadow Trail

We chose to do the Lupine Meadow Trail to Amphitheater Lake first. Roundtrip, this is a strenuous 10.2-mile hike, with an elevation change of 2,980ft. There are a lot of switchbacks on this trail but there are also some really pretty flat, meadow sections where you can see mule deer and ruffled grouse. There are views of the Tetons and Jackson Hole along the way as well. If you are looking to have wildlife encounters, this trail is a good bet.

Lupine Meadow

At one point during this trail we thought we saw a moose in the woods and stopped to check it out. The movement in the trees stopped and I thought that it must have gone off so I continued on along the trail, leaving my boyfriend behind, when suddenly he shouted, “It’s a bear!” I turned and saw a bear slowly meandering across the trail in between us. My heart immediately shot up into my mouth and I did the one thing you should never do, I ran. The bear, however, didn’t care one iota for us and just went on his merry way but my boyfriend was not very impressed. With my adrenaline pumping and him shouting at me that I’m not supposed to run I finally slowed down.

Once I got ahold of myself we rounded a corner to see a peaceful mule dear snacking on the meadow grass. I stopped here, caught my breath and settled my heart down into it’s proper place while I took in the beautiful creature.

About 5 miles into the hike there is a side trail to Surprise Lake.

Surprise Lake

It’s a short quarter mile hike off the main trail to the lake but it is worth the sidebar if you have the time. After Surprise Lake it’s the final hike to Amphitheater Lake, arguably the most beautiful spot in the park. The lake is surrounded by Middle Teton, Disappointment Peak (11,618-feet), Grand Teton, Mount Owen, and Teewinot Mountain. The views here will take your breath away and it’s a great place to have some lunch.

Amphitheater Lake

Death Canyon Trail

We did the Death Canyon Trail the next day and I’m not going to lie I was looking all around me, ever vigilant for bears after the previous days encounter. Honestly, after that encounter I do it on every hike we go on, no matter where in the world I am. Death Canyon Trail is a 10.5-mile trail, if you do the whole thing and is considered strenuous with an approximate elevation gain of about 2,500ft. You can opt to do a shorter version, however, which is what we did, to the Death Canyon Patrol Cabin, which is a strenuous 7.9-miles roundtrip, with an elevation gain of 2040ft. This trail sounds scary but it is a spectacular hike, with beautiful scenery every step of the way.

Death Canyon

You start the hike at the Death Canyon Trailhead and after a short distance you will turn onto the Valley Trail, which leads to the Patrol Cabin. At 1 mile you reach the Phelps Lake Overlook, an area surrounded by trees and a beautiful panorama view of Phelps Lake.

Phelps Lake

At around 1.7-miles you reach the Death Canyon Trail junction and at 2.5-miles you are officially in the Canyon, with a lovely river trickling through and rock walls soring overhead on either side of you. Once you reach the upper part of the canyon the hike levels out and becomes very easy walking. There are lots of spots along the river to stop for lunch (this seems to be a theme for me) and to get some great pictures.

Death Canyon

At the end is the historic Death Canyon Patrol Cabin, originally built as a barn in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It became a ranger patrol cabin in 1945 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Have you been to Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park? What were your favorite hikes and adventures?

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26. November 2017 · Comments Off on Giving Back in Costa Rica and Nicaragua · Categories: Blog Post, Volunteering

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” – AESOP

In 2010 I participated in a program called VIDA (http://www.vidavolunteer.org/). Their mission is to positively impact the quality of life in underserved communities while offering volunteers a life changing experience (I got that off their website). They offer volunteer opportunities in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Guatemala with dental, medical and veterinary programs. Some programs are combined, or you arrive together then separate into your respective programs before being whisked away to either a hotel or a host family. During my trip we had hotels the entire time, shared rooms with four people to a room, but great hotels.

You don’t have to be a vet, a doctor or a dentist to participate but being a student or having a desire to enter these programs is a definite plus and the more experience you have the more you will get to do. And it’s not all about the program, they also take you to local restaurants, on a hiking tour, to the beach and ziplining. I did not do the zip lining (the whole heights thing) and it turns out I am the only one who has ever done VIDA and declined ziplining. Oh well, I took a nap on the bus instead.

Every day we spent around 8 hours performing spays and neuters on various dogs (strays and owned animals) as well as giving them vaccines and vitamin injections. All this was done in schools or community buildings with no air conditioning and not the most sterile conditions. It was 40 degrees Celsius and we fought to keep the sweat from dripping into the surgical site.

We paired up and were monitored and assisted by a licensed veterinarian. In Costa Rica the people were very open to us spaying and neutering their animals but in Nicaragua groups of us had to go door to door and try to convince people to participate in this program. People in Nicaragua were very suspicious of this and didn’t think it was good for their animal. It was a challenge. We tried to explain to them that it keeps the stray dog populations and diseases down for a healthier community, but they were still suspicious of us.

With these programs you see a lot of different diseases than you would normally see at home. Most of the dogs had so many ticks on the inside of their ears that you couldn’t see the inside of the ear, which leads to various tick born diseases, one in particular called Erhlichia. In Cosa Rica a lot of the dogs had scabies, a mite that causes hair loss, extreme itching and affects people.

It was my first experience with small animal surgery, as I was only just finishing my first year as a veterinary student (you don’t start doing surgery until your 3rd year, in North America at least). In North America surgery is a very sterile affair. You scrub in and scrub the animal, here it was minimal and like I said before we were fighting not to sweat into the surgical field. A couple of other differences was the use of injectable anesthetics instead of gas and using zip ties to tie off the ovaries, not suture material. But it all worked and from my discussions with the veterinarians on duty, who have been participating with this program for many years, there have not been of any significant complications.

When we were in Costa Rica, my partner (a classmate and good friend of mine) and I took on all the scabies dogs and I had my first experience with the bleeding that can happen with Erhlichia positive dogs. It was a little unnerving, but my partner was stoic as ever, taking the lead. I should say that before I went to veterinary school, I didn’t work in clinics, it wasn’t my goal to be a practitioner so a lot of this was new to me. I wanted to make a difference and felt this program was a good opportunity to get my feet wet.

I think in the end participating in this kind of program made me a better doctor. It also started a fire in me and a desire to participate in other programs, offering my services to make a difference in the lives of others. I highly recommend this program to those interested in the medical field because it is a wonderful opportunity to give back, see another way of life, and to learn more about another culture.

Have you volunteered in any programs that changed how you see life? Let me know!

 

“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence” – Henry David Thoreau

I saw a commercial one day touting the beauty of Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks and it was instant love. I had to hike those parks. It became a serious bucket list item, right up there with “Hike the Camino” and “Climb Mount Kilimanjaro.” So, I started doing some research on the parks and on Utah and talked about it constantly until we decided to go in the Fall of 2017. According to my research this is one of the best times to go because it’s cooler, there are less tourists, and it is no longer the storm season in that area. I spent a lot of time on the Visit Utah website, where they provide tips and potential itineraries and a way to have more information mailed to you. I instantly signed up to receive the information packet, which came with a map that I used every single day for picking out which towns to stay in between the parks. It was free and it was worth it.

Then I bought the travel guidebook “Moon Zion & Bryce: Including Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Grand Staircase-Escalante & Moab (Moon Handbooks).” Also, worth the cost. I used that book for everything, from planning trails to where to eat and stay along the way. It was the perfect guidebook, with interesting information about the area included. Like did you know that you can only get 4% beer in restaurants (and not in all restaurants) and that you have to order some form of protein before they will let you have a beer! Crazy! But it was true, we saw it happen.

We booked our flights from Las Vegas with basic economy from United, this new option they are providing where they give you super cheap deals ($380.60 roundtrip, nonstop for two people total) but you can only bring a bag that you can fit under your seat. No carry-on and no checked luggage. We went for it and it was very liberating to only bring what you could carry on your back for a week of hiking. I also rented a car, using hotwire.com, and found a deal for around $7 a day, unlimited mileage. It was as though the stars were aligning for this trip.

When it came to booking where we would stay the only hotels I booked were for that first night in Las Vegas, our hotel in Moab, because we heard from friends that it’s super busy there and can be hard to get a room unless you book in advance (they were right and boy were they expensive!) and our return stay in Las Vegas. Otherwise, I used hotels.com or booking.com the night before or the morning of to determine where would stay each night along the route. We tried to pick towns that were about half way between the parks so we could drive part way to the next park the night before to make the driving less daunting and so we could spend more time in the parks. This worked out surprisingly well and we got some great hotel deals along the way.

Utah took my breath away from the moment we crossed the border into the state. I was completely in love with the place. The parks were so different from each other and in between them you could drive for hours without seeing a house, a street light, or another human being. This is because around 88% of the 3 million people that live in Utah live around Salt Lake City in the north. The majority of the state is uninhabited and full of national, state and tribal parks, which made my heart smile. The towns that you do come across have populations between 100-500 people but they were all extremely friendly and helpful, though I wouldn’t fully go by their recommendations for restaurants. They have limited choices and the food wasn’t exactly spectacular but they meant well and were super excited about the food so you can’t help but take their recommendation. That’s not to say that all places were bad, we had a good BBQ style meal in Panguitch and a delicious breakfast at a diner the next morning, where they also provided us with sandwiches for the day’s hike. There was also Tamarisk, in Green River that had spectacular food, with a soup and salad bar and a melt in your mouth, homemade giant cinnamon roll.

But we weren’t really there for the food, we were after the parks and the hiking trail treasures they offered. Before leaving for Utah I had read through the aforementioned book and made a general plan for which hikes we might do at each park. Then we started adding other hikes, because it turns out we could pump out some serious mileage in a day. Our hiking trail criteria also evolved with each passing hike. It had to be long, strenuous and have great views, which meant significant elevation changes. These trails turned out to be the most jaw dropping and inspiring, with the fewest tourists, and the best way to see Southern Utah’s parks.

Zion National Park

Zion was the first park we visited and the oldest of the 5 having been designated a national park in 1919. It also has the coolest 5,613-foot tunnel built through the rock leading out of the park towards Bryce. There are parking areas when you first enter the park and shuttles to take you to various drop off points depending on the hikes you want to do. Bryce also had a shuttle service, though not quite as good as Zions.

Our first hike was the West Rim trail to Angel’s Landing. This trail is 5.4-miles round trip, though not a loop, with an elevation change of 1,488 feet. It’s considered to have the best views of Zion Canyon and a very scary final ascent to the peak. Angels Landing is a sheer-walled monolith 1,500 feet above the North Fork of the Virgin River. You hike up to Scout’s Landing, where in a couple places you have to hold on to chains so you don’t fall off the side of the cliff. Then it’s a ½ mile to the summit of Angel’s Landing with sheer 1,500 foot drops on either side of you, while you hold onto a chain on a tiny trail the rest of the way. We stared at it for a while debating if we wanted to do that last ½ mile to the summit. I should stop here and say I am deathly afraid of heights and dying. This trail warns that if you are afraid of heights you probably should sit this one out. I walked about 15 feet onto the trail stopped and decided it was not for me. People have died on that trail and I did not want to be one of them and besides the views from where I was were still spectacular. I still do not regret my decision. I am not an adrenaline junkie. The total hike was strenuous to say the least with what felt like a thousand switchbacks but the views were worth it and a section of the switchbacks was called Walter’s Wiggles, which I couldn’t help giggle at every time I thought about it.

The West Rim trail is right next to Kayenta trail, which leads to the Emerald Pools trails. The Emerald Pools trails have an upper, middle and lower pool. This is an easy hike to see all 3, though I could have skipped this one because it wasn’t anything special.

We then took the bus to the beginning of the Narrows. The Narrows is a full day/overnight/backcountry trail that you see in all the commercials. Hikers can go in groups where you wade through the river for a significant portion of the trail and the canyon walls close in around you. We walked up to where the trail starts but did not get to experience this marvel of a trail. It is my hope that someday we will go back and do some backcountry hiking.

Finally, we stopped and checked out the Court of the Patriarchs. This is a short climb up to a view point of 3 peaks named after the three biblical figures: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. At this point the sun was setting and the light coming off the Patriarchs gave the peaks an ethereal glow. It was the perfect end to our time in Zion.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce is the second oldest National Park in Utah and probably my favorite of the five. The parks elevation ranges from 6,600 to 9,100 feet, so it’s a little cooler here than the other parks. My plan was for us to hike the Peekaboo Trail and if there was time do a couple of the other shorter trails. Well we managed to start at the Peekaboo Trail, connect with the Navajo Trail, to the Rim trail and then connect with the Fairylands Trail to do the complete Fairylands loop.

The shuttle bus drops you off at Bryce Point, where you can hike up to the Inspiration Point viewpoint or start the Peekaboo Trail. We skipped the viewpoint and started right away on the trail. The first view of the hoodoos nearly stopped my heart. It brought tears to my eyes it was so incredibly beautiful. The sun was still rising and the pink, yellow, cream and orange hoodoos were standing like glittering sentinels in Bryce Amphitheater.

Bryce Canyon isn’t really a canyon, it’s the largest of a series of massive amphitheaters cut into the pink cliffs. Every corner was a new photo opportunity. Hoodoos are a special type of rock formation and if you look at them carefully you can envision all kinds of different sculptures, such as people dancing, castles and animals. The word Hoodoo is sometimes used to describe folk beliefs and practices. The Spaniards believed that Native Americans worshipped these statue-like “enchanted rocks” but there is no evidence to prove this.

The Peekaboo Trail gradually descends down into the amphitheater giving you a new view at every turn. Once at the bottom of the amphitheater you find yourself walking on sand surrounded by various types of pine trees. We walked half the trail before connecting to the Navajo trail, which is considered an easy trail and had quite a few more people on it than the more strenuous Peekaboo trail. I didn’t really find this trail to be anything special and once we arrived at the Rim Trail we decided to do the fairylands trail on a whim and am I ever glad we decided to do that. This trail had beautiful rock formations in cream, pink and orange hues all around us. The trail was peaceful and put me into a meditative state. The colored rocks made me think of candy corn with their shape and layers of color. The fairyland trail was my favorite trail of the entire trip, even though it was that first look on the Peekaboo trail that nearly brought me to my knees.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capital Reef is considered a “pass through” park. It doesn’t get the traffic that Zion and Bryce get but after hiking this park I really think people are missing out on this little gem. We decided to do hikes from the scenic drive only, though many hikes can be accessed from the highway. We started out at the Grand Wash Trail. This trail is 4.5 miles round trip and can be started from either the scenic drive or Highway 24. The trail basically runs between the two, if you hike from the Highway you will end up at the scenic drive and vice versa. This is an easy trail and is “Narrows-esque” in the respect that the canyon walls tower up on either side of you and close in to about 20 feet apart at its narrowest point.  The entire trail is a dried-up river bed or “wash” with little lizards running around. This trail stopped being a hike for us and became a lizard hunt pretty quickly.

On the way back, we decided to do the Cassidy Arch trail. This trail is considered strenuous, being 3.5 miles round trip with a 670-foot elevation change that felt like 1000. To stay on the trail, you followed the various cairns (little rock formations) provided. This trail isn’t for the faint of heart either, there are shear drops on one side of the trail at times, which I tried to stay as far away from as possible. Once you reached the end of the trail the terrain became what is known as “slickrock,” very flat rock covering the entire ground. We stopped to eat our lunch here thinking we already saw the arch from the trail but realized that was not the case. You could walk right up to the arch and on top of it if you wanted to (I did not want to, fear of heights and all) so I just looked at the majesty of it from the safety of the slickrock.

After the Cassidy Arch Trail, we decided to check out the Cohab Canyon Trail. I had read about this trail in the guidebook and it sounded like a fun hike. According to the guidebook this canyon was supposedly used by Mormon polygamists to escape federal marshals during the 1880s. Along this trail is a side trail to a viewpoint of the Fruita area and some nice photo opportunities. When we started the trail, it wasn’t very nice and I was thinking I had made a mistake picking this trail. Then we rounded the corner into the canyon and I felt like a kid in a candy store. There were all kinds of side trails (that I am sure are not meant to be side trails) where the canyon walls crush in on you and the rock has a swiss cheese appearance. I had a lot of fun on this trail, it was easy walking and there were great climbing opportunities to get to what I call “sit spots” or “places to hide from zombies.”

Capital Reef was a wonderful surprise in the end.

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands is a huge park with 5 major sections that are not connected to one another. I didn’t know this prior to the trip and had planned hikes in various areas but come to find out if you only have one day just pick one. The guidebook recommends the “Islands in the Sky District” if you only have one day. When we arrived, the wind was blasting and it was cold. We stopped at the visitor’s center and talked to the ranger who recommended, after hearing our hiking criteria, that we do the Syncline Trail in the Upheaval Dome area. This was a true back country trail that’s an 8-mile loop with a 1,200-foot elevation change. If it wasn’t for the cairns we would have gotten lost several times. This trail is not for a novice hiker and is the trail that has the most rescues every year.

Syncline follows the outside of Upheaval Dome crater, so you don’t actually see the crater at all during the hike. There is a short trail to the view point of the crater when you first arrive at the parking area and that’s where you will find most of the people. Syncline Trail was a lot of fun. There were switchbacks heading down, then you walked through a wash (dry riverbed) for a stretch, then climb up a lot of rocks (the best part) and probably the sketchiest part, then through a wooded area before looping back to the start. After we got through the wooded area the trail started to feel like it might go on forever because it is just that strenuous of a hike.

It is unknown what caused the crater but geologists have 2 theories. One is known as the “Salt Dome Theory” where it is thought that it began 300 million years ago when an inland sea covered the entire area. Climate change caused the water to evaporate, leaving a thick salt deposit behind. Over time, layers of sediment built up on top of the salt and hardened into sandstone. The heavy rock pushed down on the salt, creating uneven pressure that led to a budge in the salt layer. This caused a dome to appear on the surface, an upheaval dome. The crater seen today is simply the eroded remains of that dome.

The second theory is the “Meteorite Theory.” The thought is that a meteor crashed on this spot 60 million years ago. The crater left behind was unstable. Some areas collapsed while other spaces filled from below by rock and salt moving up into the sudden opening in the earth. Either theory it’s a pretty cool structure.

Arches National Park

Arches was our final stop in the Mighty 5. This park is pretty small compared to some of the others and is only minutes from Moab. A quick note on Moab. This town is perfect for the outdoor adventurer. It offers a little bit of everything, from hiking in the two national parks closest to it (Arches and Canyonlands), to mountain biking, ATV riding, and back country driving made only for jeeps and other rugged vehicles. The town itself had several coffee shops, restaurants, and gift shops. It was a fun little town, bustling with people, until around 9pm when the town just died. We were there on a Saturday night and thought it would be fun to spend the evening at the various bars, drinking their 4% beer, and maybe enjoying some music but the whole town just shut down at 9. It was the weirdest thing. I still loved it there and I was sporting a pretty serious sunglasses tan at this point, which apparently is the envy of everyone in Moab as people actually try to get that look. I guess it’s some sort of outdoor adventurer status thing. I just needed my prescription sunglasses to protect my eyes from the sun and to see but hey whatever.

We decided to hike the Devils’ Garden loop but only go as far as we needed to see the 8 named arches on the trail, then turn back and head over to the Delicate Arch trail. When we started the Devils’ Garden loop the wind was bitterly cold but the arches were spectacular. On one section you walk across a section of slickrock that has drop offs on either side (one drop off more scary than the other, you could easily survive falling off one side).

The cairns here were not as easy to follow as on some of the other trails but we found our way, though we ended up off trail several times. We hiked our way towards Dark Angel, not really knowing anything about it but expecting some sentinel arch that would take our breath away. Boy were we wrong. Dark Angel it turns out is not an arch at all but an Obelisk like rock structure, standing sentinel over the area. It was still impressive but I was kind of surprised.

On our way back up we ran into a group that had started on the Primitive Trail, the other more rugged section of the trail. We asked them how it was, because it looked like it was quite a bit longer than the part of the trail we had already completed. With their enthusiasm we decided to go for it and do the entire loop. The entire Devil’s Garden Trail, with the Primitive Trail section is 7.2 miles with very little elevation change, though you will still do some climbing. It was beautiful. You end up climbing through a section of fins, which are fin shaped rock formations. You literally walk along their edges leaping between them. After this section the remainder of the trail is pretty flat. It was a lot of fun and I am glad we decided to go for it.

Even though we were exhausted and there was a horde of tourists, we had to do the Delicate Arch Trail. My feet were hurting by this point after 5 full days of strenuous hiking but this arch will blow your mind. The trail itself is 3 miles total, though not a loop. It’s pretty strenuous too. At the beginning of the trail is an old farm house and some petroglyphs. Utah boasts a lot of different petroglyphs but somehow this was the first time we saw any on our trip.

Then it’s an uphill ascent to Delicate Arch. The crowds are kind of daunting but the Arch stands alone looking out into the world surrounded by a crater on one side and a drop off on the other. There is nothing surrounding it that’s what is really special about it. how this huge arch formed in this remote location is beyond me but even with the crowds constantly taking photos within the arch it’s a must see.

There are a lot of other trails in the Mighty 5 that we did not get to experience and we didn’t go to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument where you can apparently see some other worldly scenery and do some pretty spectacular hiking but I feel like we got to experience a lot of what the parks had to offer. The guidebooks say how long it will take to do these hikes but if you are a pretty avid hiker you can churn out way more miles in a day than what the book suggests, allowing you to see more of the parks than you may have thought possible.

A few resources and recommendations for planning your trip to Utah’s Mighty 5:

America the Beautiful Pass – $80

If you are going to do all the parks and more this pass is a must have. Order it before you go. I didn’t realize that the free shipping could take up to 15+ days and at that point we were a week away from flying out so I got it sent via a quicker route that said there may be additional shipping fees. However, when it arrived 2 days later there were no additional fees but I still wouldn’t take the chance, try to get it well in advance it’s good for a year. We ended up saving around $40 in park entrance fees by having this pass.

Booking.com (I liked using this website because you could quickly reserve a room and pay when you get there. Navigation on the mobile page was also super easy).

Hotels.com (I like these guys because you bank your hotel stays and after ten you get a free night (which is the average amount you paid for the ten nights, so it’s like a free night or a huge discount).

Moon Zion & Bryce Including Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Moab by W.C. McRae & Judy Jewell. This book was like my bible. It gave great food suggestions, some fun facts about the area, and made our trip less stressful so we could just enjoy ourselves.

Visit Utah website

Have you been to Utah’s Mighty 5? Did I miss any trails that should get a mention? Let me know your thoughts!

09. October 2017 · Comments Off on Best hiking trails in New Jersey · Categories: Adventure Travel, Blog Post

“I took a walk in the woods and come out taller than the trees.” – Henry David Thoreau

When you think of New Jersey the first thing that comes to mind is the Jersey Shore and the turnpike, not hiking and nature. But I am constantly pleasantly surprised at all the hiking opportunities and forces of nature that occur in this state. I have put together some of New Jersey’s best outdoor adventures that I think everyone should check out at least once.

Wawayanda State Park

Located along the New York border in Sussex and Passaic Counties this park appeals to any outdoor enthusiast in some form or another. It has Lake Wawayanda where you can swim, boat, and fish or you can head into the woods for some peace and great hiking. A twenty-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail runs through this park so you may see some thru hikers during your day hike. There are lots of options for hiking here, with 60 miles of trails, so whether you are a novice hiker or a more serious hiker you will be able to find a trail that suites your needs. We consider ourselves more serious hikers and we brought along our dog to explore the trails that Wawayanda had to offer. We ended up doing a large loop trail across the road from the first parking area that eventually came around to Wawayanda Lake where there were a lot of people enjoying a day of swimming and tanning on the beach. We hiked in the woods for 4-5 hours and for a significant portion of the hike we did not see another person, it was as though we were completely alone in the forest, aside from the fresh bear scat we encountered which was a little unnerving. It was extremely peaceful in these woods and somewhat unsettling to not see another soul for such a long span of time. You couldn’t hear a single car noise or manmade noise of any sort, it was as though you were completely alone in the world. Just you and the nature around you. It put you into a meditative state as you lumbered along well-groomed, relatively easy trails surrounded by the crush of vegetation. So, if you really want to get away from the craziness that sometimes is New Jersey, I highly recommend this park for a restorative get away that’s close to home.

Stokes State Forest

Here we hiked Tillman Ravine, which followed a stream with a swimming hole that looked like a teacup. The hike had brilliant greens from the trees to the vegetation, as though the entire forest were glowing with a vibrant green aura. The coolness in the forest made for an easy hike along the brook with minimal elevation changes. If you’re looking for a nice walk, one that’s not too strenuous this is the place to go. Stokes State Forest is nestled in Sussex County and also hosts a 12.5-mile section of the Appalachian Trail. There are plenty of hikes to choose from, it’s dog friendly, and there are lots of things to do from camping, hiking, boating to fishing and hunting.

Jenny Jump State Forest

Located in Warren County this park has stunning views of the Jenny Jump Mountain Range. Glaciers receded from this area at the end of the Wisconsin Ice Age about 21,000 years ago. This park consists of 11 miles of hiking trails and 3 miles of hiking/mountain biking trails. My favorite hike in that park is the trail to Ghost Lake. The trail is relatively easy hiking with a finish crossing over a small land bridge straddling the lake. You can stand right in the middle of the land bridge and take in the lake on both sides, the hazy mist coming off the water and on a hot day the snakes laying on the trail catching some rays. This is bear country and if you are interested in checking out the park just be aware that there are regular sightings of black bears in this area.

Hacklebarney State Park

Another glacial valley found in Morris County with the Black River cutting its way through the park. This park is lined in hemlocks with a coolness within the trees that makes for a refreshing hike. In the 19th century this area was mined for iron ore but is now a favorite hiking, camping and fishing spot for locals. The hiking trails are found in the northern part of the 465-acre natural area and give you great views of the River. Also, not a significantly strenuous hike, this is a nice, dog friendly day hike in a high traffic area. Lots of people visit this park but for good reason. This is by far one of our favorite places to hike in New Jersey.

Point Mountain Trail

This trail, in Hunterdon County, is a dog friendly trail that winds its way up to a lookoff point and then back down along the Musconetcong River for a loop trail that offers a plethora of landscapes. From the rocky 606-foot elevation change up to the peak on the 2.9-mile loop trail this is a high traffic area of day hikers and anglers. The river is stocked with trout and as you hike along the river it is dotted with fisherman, fly fishing for catch and release trout in the conservation stretch of the river. From the peak you get stunning views of Warren and Hunterdon Counties with the farmland all around and then you plunge back down into the forest, pushed in close by the trees, with small streams running through the trail and the smell of the river all around you. There are lots of opportunity for bird and mammal watching on this trail so bring some binoculars.

The Delaware Water Gap

This recreation area offers spectacular hikes with stunning views and nature that surrounds you completely and takes you by surprise at every turn. The New Jersey side of the Delaware Water Gap is home to part of the Appalachian Trail and boasts the top ranked Mount Tammany, a 3.3-mile trail that is heavily trafficked and pretty challenging with a steady uphill climb over large rocks. The views at the top are spectacular (minus the view of the highway below) and the hike provides one heck of a workout. Fall is by far the perfect time to go when foliage is at its peak. Since New Jersey gets hot and extremely humid in the summer be careful when planning to hike this trail and pack lots of water and snacks.

Another top hike in the Delaware Water Gap and one of my personal favorites in the hike up to Sunfish Pond. You can take a section of the Appalachian Trail up and back to Sunfish Pond or you can make a loop by taking Dunfield Creek Trail up and the Appalachian Trail back, or vice versa. Dunfield Creek is a beautiful hike the weaves around the creek running through the woods. It is much less travelled than the Appalachian Trail, with the woods crushing in around you. It can be a tough trail if there has been a lot of rain because you have to cross over the creek several times and if its overflowing crossing can be a little treacherous. But Sunfish Pond is a peaceful, solitary pond in the middle of the forest, a beautiful surprise amidst the trees. Though one word of warning, be careful on the rocks, they can be extremely slippery. I know this from experience and have the marks to show for it.

The Pine Barrens

The pine barrens in Southern New Jersey is like entering an entirely different world. The soil is not soil at all but sand and the trees are the stunted knotty pines you see in old horror movies and the rivers are a wine color due to the acidity of the water. This area is like nothing else in New Jersey, compared to the mountainous, thick forests in the northern part of the state. One trail, that is particularly beautiful is the Mullica River Trail, traversing from Atsion Lake to the historic Batsto Village. Batsto Village started as an iron ore mining village in the 1700s, switching hands several times before being purchased by the state in the mid-1950s. You have the option of parking at Batsto Village, where you can check out the buildings that used to be home to the mine workers and their families, or you can park in a large field at Atsion Lake filled with jeeps planning on doing some off-roading in the area, horses and their riders, bikers, and day hikers. This area offers a plethora of trails for all types. The Mullica River trail is 9.5 miles one way and is not a loop so you will have to come back the same way you went in. However, part way through the hike there is the Mullica River Wilderness Camp where you can set up a tent and spend the night. You will need to purchase a camping permit at the Atsion office prior to setting out but this gives you the flexibility to take your time, enjoying the eerily beautiful scenery and do complete the 19-mile round trip.  If you are looking for a completely different hiking experience, with easy terrain but otherworldly sites, this is a must see. The only thing to be wary of is to take note of the time of year as the summer brings out the greenheads and strawberry flies, which can be brutal. I have, however, hiked this area several times without incident.

What are some of your favorite hikes in New Jersey? Is there something I missed that you think should be on this list? Or did I list one of your favorite hikes? Why do you love it?

24. September 2017 · Comments Off on 6 restaurants to try while in Barcelona · Categories: Blog Post, Food and Drink

Before my boyfriend and I went to Barcelona we did a lot of research about the area. Whenever we travel somewhere new we try to learn as much about the culture and a little of the language before we go. This trip was no different. We learned that in Barcelona they speak Catalan, although it is such a melting pot of a city that most people speak English or Spanish. But because Barcelona fought so hard for their rights to be independent and rejoice in Catalonia we felt it was only right to learn some Catalan prior to going. Using this language and with some help from our wonderful hotel we were able to find some fantastic restaurants.

As with most cities, there are the tourist restaurants and there are the locals’ restaurants. Most tourists that go to Barcelona tend to congregate around tourist attractions and will eat at locations that are handy to said attractions. This tends to be a huge rip off. So, as you walk down Las Ramblas, jam packed with tourists being herded down the pedestrian road, the street itself is lined with sidewalk restaurants, touting Sangria and local foods. From my research, Sangria is so not the thing in Barcelona. Their thing is Cava, a sparkling wine. You can get this just about anywhere, though if you are not really a fan of champagne you are not really going to like cava. We were not really a fan but gave it a shot anyway.

If you want to experience food and drink in Barcelona, you have to know where to go and where not to go. Although I do have to say that on this list are a couple of places that were right on Las Ramblas de Catalunya, but they were so good that we ate there several times because we just couldn’t help ourselves. This list is also not an exhaustive list and in no particular order but just a few highlights and places to check out the next time you find yourself in Barcelona.

  1. Bodega Biarritz (Address: Calle Vidre, 8, 08002 Barcelona, Spain

We went to this restaurant because it was rated #1 on Trip Advisor, so we figured it had to be good, right? Well the food was excellent but come to find out the reason they are ranked number one is because the waiters and waitresses give you their card at the end of the meal with their name on it asking you to give a 5-star review of the restaurant on Trip Advisor. They also want you to include their name in the review so they can get a bonus for it. So, lesson learned, don’t always go based on rankings on Trip Advisor. This is not to take anything away from the restaurant, the food was fantastic. The restaurant itself was very warm and inviting with only a couple tables available or a bar that you can dine at. The seats were made from whiskey barrels and the whole feel of the place was relaxed and secretive. The menu was a pre-fix meaning you paid one fee and they brought you a selection of their tapas, which changed regularly. The entire menu was also vegetarian, so if you are looking to have octopus (pulpo) or Iberic ham (jamon) you can forget it. They also have a decent selection of wines available to pair with your food, including red wines from the various regions in Spain. Trip Advisor stated that the lines can be out the door and that it can be hard to get a table but we didn’t wait at all, probably attests to our late eating strategy, heading out for dinner at around 10pm or later. The check came in what looked like a novel that you opened and the check was inside. The place had a lot of nice touches and the wait staff was very attentive but I was not pleased with the solicitation at the end of the meal.

  1. Casa Lola (Address: Rambla de Catalunya, 70, 08007 Barcelona, Spain)

I only mention this restaurant because it has the best patatas bravas of any place we tried (and we ordered it pretty much everywhere we went). The red sauce drizzled over the potatoes was more homemade and less from a bottle with a ton of fresh garlic that made the dish all the more savory. That was really the only difference, the sauce, but it completely changed the taste of the dish. Most places it seemed like they just used a red sauce kind of like a Cholula topped with a creamy white sauce similar to ranch dressing. They just weren’t that special anywhere else.  Otherwise, this is a chain so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend eating there for dinner but I would definitely stop in for the patatas bravas.

  1. Ciudad Condal (Address: Rambla de Catalunya, 18, 08007 Barcelona, Spain)

This was our favorite restaurant by far and it was located just down the road from our hotel on La Rambla de Catalunya. This place was always bustling at night, even at midnight, with wait times between 1 and 2 hours unless you want to stand behind the folks eating at the bar and wait for them to leave. The bar seating is first come first serve so people would get drinks and hover behind the people at the bar willing them to leave. The first time we went we got a table and got the chefs choice of 5 tapas, which changed regularly. The second time we went we sat at the bar and the third time we got a table upstairs. Each visit provided us with a different atmosphere and my recommendation is to sit at the bar. It’s a little bit crazier but you get to watch the waiters running around behind the bar scooping up the foods displayed in the bars glass case and handing them through a tiny window to the chefs beyond to go to the various customers. You can sit there sipping your Rioja, or beer, or Cava and point at the various fares under the case and they will cook it up for you right then and there. I don’t feel like all they had to offer under that case was on their menus, so I feel like you got more out of sitting at the bar. The waiters would also bring out huge cast iron skillets full of seafood paella that they would scoop out for various patrons. The one night we sat at the bar they went through at least 5-6 of those huge skillets of paella, which was also delicious in almost any place you go to eat. I highly recommend trying seafood paella during your visit, with its scallops, mussels, prawns, and clams it’s a seafood lover’s dream.

My favorite thing at this restaurant though was the grilled cuttlefish. It was cooked to perfection in olive oil infused with garlic and herbs. It was perfectly tender and melted in your mouth. My second favorite thing was the grilled artichokes, cooked similar to the cuttlefish with olive oil and garlic. One of my boyfriend’s top picks was a more traditional dish called Cabreaos egg style. This had slivers of potatoes deep fried with something similar to the patatas bravas sauce and a fried over easy egg on top. The waiter would bring it to you and then mix the ingredients together in your bowl, breaking the egg yolk and getting all the ooey gooey goodness all mixed together. The atmosphere, the food and the controlled chaos of the place made it the most wonderful place to eat and the locals thought so too.

  1. Tantarantana (Address: C / Tantarantana 24, 08003 Barcelona, Spain)

We kind of stumbled upon this place one evening while getting lost in the Gothic Quarter. A lot of the restaurants in the Gothic Quarter you may find once and then never see it again in all your wanderings because the roads are like that seen in Venice. There is no rhyme or reason, and the walls are so close you feel as though the ancient stones are closing in on you. We had to wait about an hour to eat at this place, mostly because we wanted outdoor seating, but this little restaurant was tucked into a side street and absolutely teeming with people. We got a beer and waited on the steps outside for the next available table. Our waiter really made the meal, him and the desert. I tried to speak as much Spanish/Catalan as I could and in turn, even when I switched to English, he kept going in Spanish but it somehow just worked and I thought it made the experience even more special. The food was delicious but the desert was out of this world. There is a Crema Catalana that you can find at a lot of restaurants in Barcelona and I ordered it at this restaurant and thought I had died and gone to heaven. It is served in a little shallow clay dish and is an eggy custard with sugar on top that is scorched with a torch. It is sometimes called the poor man’s crème brûlée but let me tell you it won hands down for me.

  1. La Terminal (Address: Carrer Gran De Gracia, 57, 08012 Barcelona, Spain)

We stopped here during our tour of the Gracia area. It seemed like it was going to be a really fancy place to get a beer but thought it looked cool so we stopped to check it out. The bar had several of their own beers on tap and in the back of the place were tables where you could order a meal. We sat next to the bar and were given a bowl of olives and we each tried a couple of the beers they offered on tap. There was huge map of the world on the wall where we sat with the main airports around the world. The whole place seemed clean and fresh and completely unlike the rest of the Gracia area. The beer was well-made and I totally expected each beer to cost around 7 Euros. For the 4-5 beers we had, our bill was 10 Euros. I couldn’t believe it. I think I almost fell out of my chair. For beer that good to be that cheap I thought they had made a mistake but nope, that’s what happens when you leave the tourist traps of Barcelona. Quality food and drinks for less.

  1. Kælderkold (Address: Carrer de Cardenal Casañas, 7, 08002 Barcelona, Spain)

In contrast to La Terminal we found this microbrewery just off Las Ramblas. We found it before La Terminal and were excited to see a brewery since we both like to drink and brew our own beer and enjoy trying different microbrews. The bartender was originally from Denmark and the place had only been open for a short while. When we arrived, there was only one other couple there. They had a very interesting selection of beers from different areas around the world. I tried a sour beer, which was a first and it had an interesting, pucker your lips kind of taste. The beer here cost significantly more than the beer at La Terminal, being about 7 Euros a beer. It was cool to see and after being there for just a short time the place filled with people and became more of a happening, loud, laughing scene.

These places are just a taste of what Barcelona has to offer. Some things to think about when choosing where to eat and drink in and around the city:

  1. Tips are generally included on your bill and the people there don’t expect a tip on top of that. We learned that the hard way. Not only did we eat at a bit of an overpriced tourist trap, we left a huge tip, one you would expect to leave in America but is totally unnecessary in Barcelona. Lesson learned. Don’t do as we did.
  2. Try to speak the language, even a little. Trying goes a long way and people really appreciate that and it’s fun. This goes for ordering food and drinks as well.
  3. Go out to the Gracia area, this tends to be more of a local’s spot and you are more apt to find more reasonably, if not super cheap, places to eat and drink that are just as good, if not better than the ones in the other areas of Barcelona. The Gracia area has an entirely different feel from the rest of the city. You can tell immediately that you have left the comfort of the tourist locations and stepped into the real Barcelona. It’s more natural and raw, there is nothing fake or over dramatized about this area. You can feel the dust of the ages in the air as locals hang out at tables outside drinking and laughing with friends. There are so many restaurants to choose from in this area and little bars stuffed with people at night that my recommendation would be to stop in and try a little something at each. Have a beer at one place, a couple tapas at another and keep moving, this is the best way to really experience the scene in the Gracia area. It’s a fun and lively place and bustling with people everywhere, crammed into little bars yelling over one another while hanging out with friends. It’s absolutely wonderful.
  4. You might find a place you really like and decide you want to eat there again but may never find it again, thanks to the crazy, winding streets in places like the Gothic Quarter and the Born area. This happened to us at the first place we ate at in the Gothic Quarter. We loved that restaurant. It had some of the best octopus, pork knee and other specialty dishes you cannot find just anywhere. The unfortunate part is that we didn’t get the name of it and while wandering around the Gothic Quarter, which we did every day, we never found it again. All I have of the place are the food memories and one photo.    
  5. Eat as the locals do. The locals dine late. Though apparently, from my research they have a light breakfast, a large lunch and a small dinner. However, dinner is usually not until 10pm or later. We would head out for dinner any time after 10pm and there would be loads of people out eating tapas (or small plates).
  6. Another “eat as the locals do” recommendation that we loved during our stay is to pick up a bottle of wine, stop at a local bakery for some fresh bread and La Boqueria for some delicious Iberic ham (jamon) and cheese. Take it back to your hotel and enjoy a snack on your balcony. We did this every day, always stopping at the same little bakery, which was open all the time, even late at night, called Maxi Pan. We would cut up some meat and cheese and drink a bottle of Rioja or Catalan red wine bought from an outdoor farmer’s market. It was always one of my favorite parts of the day and a good break from the insane amount of walking we did.

That was our food and drink experience in Barcelona. Like I said it’s not an exhaustive list but it’s a good start when your new to the city. Where have you eaten in Barcelona? Is there one place that stands out most to you? Did you stumble upon some really amazing locals spot that you want to share? Tell me about your experience, I would love to learn more.