The Hills Are Alive in Madera Canyon, West Texas

If you want to have a Sound of Music moment in Texas, this is your place! It is located in West Texas near Fort Davis in a preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy and the panoramic views of the Davis mountains are stunning!

Trail

The trail is 2.5 miles, easy, and only partly uphill. The best part is that it forms a loop so you never see the same thing twice. It starts out flat and crosses a creek, then heads uphill. You can hike the entire thing in a couple hours.

Picnic Area

The tables are huge and its a very low trafficked area so plan to bring a picnic and relax after your hike.

Location

Just past the McDonald Observatory on Highway 118, about 24 miles northwest of Fort Davis. You may feel a little lost, but just be on the lookout for the Lawrence E. Wood Picnic Area signs and a string of picnic tables visible on the side of the road.

Kids

Carry little ones in a child carrier like this one on Amazon, or plan to only go to the first overlook. A 7 year old or above could do the whole loop.

What to Wear

You will need a hat, hiking shorts, low top hiking shoes, and an equipped day pack (<– click here to see my recommended packing list). Here’s my recommendation:

Favorite Part

The views. Nearly every overlook was spectacular, and the mountainsides were covered in pines.

Least Favorite Part

The pond we hiked to was a little underwhelming. Don’t expect some glacial lake here!

Things to Know and Important Links

More pics

Fun times! Hope y’all get to enjoy it soon. Happy hiking!

The Perfect Girls Weekend in the Blue Ridge Mountains

This weekend I went to visit my friend Ha in the little hillside town she calls home of Black Mountain, North Carolina. It’s a burg on the outskirts of Asheville in the heart of Appalachian mountain territory. Ha kept telling me, “Whitney, you have got to come see the hiking here, it’s amazing!”

Well, if I must!

If you’re curious about the Appalachian mountains and want a weekend away in a peaceful pocket of our country then this is a great spot to go, especially with your girlfriends!

Wait, a hiking and outdoorsy vacay with my girlfriends?? But they aren’t outdoorsy.

This is enjoyable by even those who aren’t super outdoorsy. The ease of the hiking trails and accessibility by car is a huge point in its favor, and then the exquisiteness of the Biltmore Estate adds that refined element that makes for a perfect girls weekend. Trust me!

Blue Ridge Parkway

First thing in the morning, we headed out on the Blue Ridge Parkway, an iconic roadway built during the Great Depression as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal.

It winds through the mountains, taking you around gorgeous scenic overlooks and sun dappled forests.

The road heads northeast for several hundred miles and covers some of the best terrain Appalachia has to offer. You could spend a week exploring it all.

The mist and cloud cover made the views even more dramatic and I was completely in awe.

(PS. I love it when scenic destinations are accessible by car!!)

One good place to get out and hike is Craggy Gardens Visitor Center and Craggy Pinnacle Trail, which is just my cup of tea–easy, short, scenic, and lined with flowers.

The overlooks are fantastic.

The Appalachian mountains are much older than the Rockies and are softer, lower, and more undulating than the rough crags and sheer exposed rock you might be used to seeing in other parts of our country. Appalachian scenery is so much greener too.

A hum of bumble bees accompanied us up the mountain. They were loving all of the flowering plants!

The Biltmore

After Craggy Gardens, we hit the Biltmore, a beautiful estate built back in the late 1800’s by the Vanderbilt family. If you are wanting your fairy tale moment, here it is.

The Biltmore is one beautiful swirl of Downton Abbey, Beauty and the Beast, the Great Gatsby, and Versailles–all set to the stunning backdrop of the wild Blue Ridge mountains.

Today the estate consists of 8,000 acres of rolling hills, meadows, pine forest, and creeks and rivers. The landscape was designed by the same man who designed Central Park, so even in places where mother nature’s handiwork wasn’t great on its own, the scenery was adjusted to be perfect.

There is a resort on the grounds and plenty of outdoor activities, from biking trails to an equestrian center and sporting clay shooting.

The view from the veranda is the part worth waiting for–over 87,000 acres of pristine Blue Ridge mountains stretch out before you and the blue hue of their slopes explains immediately how the mountains got their name.

And the land is protected in perpetuity. Early in the 1900’s, Edith Vanderbilt sold 87,000 acres of their land to the government to form what is now the Pisgah National Forest.

I LOVED the gun room in the Biltmore and am definitely saving this photo for inspiration…

Here’s just a few more snaps from the inside of this gorgeous manse…

Black Mountain, NC

The next day we drowned our sorrows in the world’s largest cinnamon roll and a chicken biscuit from Blue Ridge Biscuit Company.

Also loved the charming little coffee shop, the Dripolator.

The town of Black Mountain is charming. The storefronts are brick, the homes are all perfectly maintained with darling wraparound porches and hydrangea bushes out front, and it’s one of the few places left where you feel like time actually slows down. I got the sense I could leave my car unlocked and be just fine. Ha put it well when she said she felt like she has relaxed ever since leaving Austin and moving here. Even though I only spent 36 hours in the place, I felt recharged and reset!

I would recommend two to four full days for this vacation, not including travel time. There are a lot of stops along the Blue Ridge Parkway I have yet to see.

Thanks Ha for the fantastic visit. You’re the best friend a girl could ask for!

More deets on the Blue Ridge Mountains coming up soon, stay tuned.

A Girl’s Getaway to Enchanted Rock

This is the story from our camping trip — tips for visiting the park to come next, stay tuned.

This past weekend I took a group of girls on a camping trip at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area and we had so much fun!! If you have never been to this park before, you should stop what you’re doing and make a reservation.

Enchanted Rock is like a mini-Yosemite National Park – a smaller, pinker, Texas version of one of our greatest national park.  Yosemite is known for its rolling rocky slopes and waterfalls; Enchanted Rock has its own rolling hills of pink granite.

The landscape is varied – canyons one minute, summit views the next, and lakeside paths the next.

Except we have bluebonnets! Take that Yosemite…

En route to the park, we stopped in Fredericksburg for a picnic of caprese sandwiches and Thai chicken salad were on the menu! Only the best for these girls.

My goal is to show ladies that the outdoors can be fun, and inspire their appreciation for conserving nature here in Texas and around the world. So to me, every detail that makes our time outdoors better is important, down to the fresh mozzarella!

(Texas was REALLY helping me out by putting on a show of native wildflowers – WOW.)

One of the girls had never been camping before, so I was crossing my fingers she had fun. She is the last person you would think of as an outdoorsy person, but I’ve been working on her over the last few years!! Mwahaha.

The camp sites at Enchanted Rock are very secluded — so secluded in fact, that they can be hard to find, and finding ours was kind of an ordeal!

But that was a good thing. It was nice to feel like we were out in the middle of nowhere: just us, nature, and as many comforts of home as we could fit in our vehicles.

(Including this awesome folding hammock!)

The campsite may not have had running water or electricity but it did come with our own private pink granite hill and wildflowers pouring out of nooks and crannies.

Thanks to the seclusion, our neighbors were spared them from hearing our renditions of “Get low”, the “Star spangled banner”, “Texas Our Texas”, and many stories which will not be repeated on this blog.

What happens at Enchanted stays at Enchanted…

I did a little bit of Dutch oven cooking for dinner – Southwest cornbread and apple cobbler. It hit the spot!

Despite a middle of the night adventure that involved wild animals (story coming soon) we enjoyed an incredible starry sky and a good night’s sleep. We woke up early the following morning to take on the main point of our whole trip: hiking to the top of Enchanted Rock!

We headed out around 7:30, coffee in hand, just as the sun was rising, to be some of the first people on the top.

The temperature was still in the low 60’s and the morning sun was causing the granite to come alive in hues of pink, orange, and red. There was hardly a cloud in the sky so it glowed electric blue.

With the sun peeking through the bluebonnets and the pink granite as a backdrop, I felt like I was living in a travel magazine – or Heaven itself. I took photos but there is nothing like the experience of seeing it for yourself.

The hike to the top was pretty much straight up, and we felt the burn in our legs. But fortunately we didn’t suffer long – only about 20 minutes to the top!

We were rewarded with an endless panorama of the Texas Hill Country. We could see birds soaring over the surrounding hills at the same elevation as us, so it was truly like having a bird’s eye view of Texas.

I think we all enjoyed the tranquility of the moment and having the place to ourselves.

On the way home we took the Echo Canyon and Loop Trails, which were incredible and led us through a canyon and beside a lake, past hundreds of bluebonnets, buttercups, Indian paintbrush, and other wildflowers and more panoramic hill country views.

I would totally recommend these trails on your next visit!

I am proud to report my friend Katherine, the one who had never camped, not only survived her first weekend of camping but had fun! Or maybe she’s just telling me that…either way, I appreciate the grace.

The cap on our fabulous weekend was breakfast sandwiches on Texas toast and s’mores! The girls went to town with s’more combinations and ended up coming up with a new one: Croissant strawberry Nutella s’mores, which they report are amazing.

Perfect weekend in the books.

Thanks to all the ladies who came and made this camp out so fun, thanks to our park system for this amazing park, thanks to God for wildflowers, and thanks readers for coming back to the blog! Hope everyone has a nice week and I can’t wait to tell you more about this park in upcoming posts!

Stay tuned for:

  • The Best Trails of Enchanted Rock
  • Tips for Planning Your Visit and Suggested Itinerary
  • A Camping Menu for Enchanted Rock

XOXO

Ps. Affiliate links used.

Whit’s Wilderness on the Hike Like a Woman Podcast!

This week I was featured on the Hike Like a Woman podcast, and I wanted to share the link here for any of you who are interested in listening!

We discuss my favorite places to hike, hunting, and the blog. Hike Like a Woman is a great website where women hikers can find community, and you can connect with them on social media here:

Last year I became a Hike Like a Woman ambassador, which has been a great way to meet women hikers from around the country.

Thanks for listening and for all of those of you who support this blog!

Ali and Crew Hike the Highest Peak in Texas

When my childhood friend Alison shared a picture of herself and three girlfriends on top of Guadalupe Peak, I was so impressed. Guadalupe Peak stands at 8,751 feet above sea level in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, one of two national parks in Texas.

These girls came, they climbed, they conquered, they celebrated with champagne. Today I’m interviewing Alison about the trip and getting the low down on this mountain. Good news: it’s not as daunting or as difficult as it seems. My only question is now, How come my girlfriends and I haven’t done this?!  (Beware friends, I may soon be recruiting you for a similar adventure.)

So, what prompted this trip?

My friend Katie, actually. She had done Big Bend the year before, but hadn’t really hiked. She mentioned Guadalupe Mountains to me and we decided to do it, and then two other friends, Allie and Shelby, came too.

When did you go?

  • Halloween weekend. I think October is a great time, it’s not scorching hot and you can actually wear pants and not be miserable.

(Whit’s sidenote — This is how Texans describe winter weather: “You can actually wear pants and not be miserable.”)

LODGING

Did you camp? Where did you stay?

  • We stayed in a hotel in Carlsbad, New Mexico. We didn’t do actual tents. I don’t know if you want to say that on your blog! Haha!

Honestly, some of my readers don’t like staying in tents. Not everyone’s hard core.

ITINERARY

Tell us your itinerary.

  • Day 1 – Left Austin at 2pm, drove from Austin to Carlsbad (7 hours)
    Dinner at a hole in the wall Mexican food joint
  • Day 2 – Hiked to the top of Guadalupe Peak
    Dinner at a local pizza place in Carlsbad
  • Day 3 – Toured Carlsbad Caverns
  • Day 4 – Drove back to Austin

HIKING TO THE TOP

How long was the hike to the top of Guadalupe peak?

  • We started around 9am, and I think it took us about 3 hours to the top.

How did you like it?

  • The hike was really fun. There is an awesome view from the top! Our friend Katie had brought food and champagne. She always likes to have champagne after a hike, and so we went to nearby McKittrick Canyon and had champagne after it was over.

How challenging was it?

  • It was challenging, definitely. There is a 3,000 foot elevation gain. The difficulty is right up front in the first hour. I was winded. Allie was just talking away as we were hiking and I was like, “How are you not winded right now?” Some of us were super fit, but some of us didn’t work out every day. No one complained so I think we all did fine.

Did you feel like you were on a mountain or did it feel like just another hill in Texas?

  • Haha yeah…pretty much another hill in Texas. It was kind of cool though. I think this land is beautiful in its own way, but I much prefer Colorado. The hike was actually really pretty because it had a great mixture of landscapes–arid desert at the beginning of the trail, and then it got rockier, and then there were pine trees in certain areas. Some trees were changing color, and it felt like a wintery day for October.

WILDLIFE

Did you see any wildlife?

  • No, actually. Which was kind of surprising.

WHAT SHE WORE

What did you wear hiking?

  • The other girls wore yoga pants but I wore some Magellan hiking pants and a black work out shirt and then I brought hiking poles.

Sidenote: Whitney and Alison agree that hiking poles are awesome! Super helpful for big hikes.

Did you bring a day pack?

  • I took my Camelbak with water and one granola bar. The hike really wasn’t that strenuous so I wasn’t that hungry.

TIPS FOR WHIT’S WILDERNESS READERS

On your next trip, would you do anything different?

  • I would have loved to camp. But you also have to think about your party you’re with and if you don’t have the gear or the experience it’ a whole different ball game.

Do you have any advice for people going on this trip?

  • Go with a person that enjoys hiking
  • Have hiking boots/shoes – just tennis shoes are not good. Buy them early and break them in.
  • Don’t expect it to be easy like Barton Springs
  • Plenty of water – have a camelback
  • Bring hiking poles

Whitney’s tip: bring a Texas flag to wave in photos up at the top!

All in all, how would you sum up your trip to Guadalupe Peak?

  • It’s a good weekend trip. I thought it was worth the drive. I mean it’s relatively close, it’s here in Texas, so why not go.


DETAILS ON CARLSBAD CAVERNS

Was Carlsbad Caverns awesome?

  • Yeah, it was really pretty. We spent a full day but I mean, we saw a lot of rock. It’s a very impressive cave.

Anything worth doing in the town of Carlsbad?

  • There’s not much to see besides the caverns.

Favorite thing you did at Carlsbad Caverns?

  • We did the lantern tour, where its pitch black except for our lanterns which was really fun. We paid a little bit extra to do that, which I think was worth it. We had this really funny tour guide who was awesome. Then we went around the really big cavern on our own.

Thanks for sharing your adventure with us, Alison! You girls are impressive for making it up the highest peak in Texas. Way to go.

So, who wants to go with me on a girl’s trip?


IMPORTANT LINKS

Affiliate links used

St. Ed’s Park is Keeping Austin Wild

One day recently, I was surprised to turn off of loop 360 on my way to St. Edwards Park and all of a sudden be out in the country. It’s rare to find a nearby pocket of wilderness in any town, and even in “green” Austin most of our city parks are within eyeshot of urban world.

But not St. Edwards Park. Since St. Ed’s Park is one of the top rated parks in our city, a group of outdoorsy ladies and I investigated one day last Fall so we could bring you this report!

The Highlights

  • One of the highlights of the park is Bull Creek frontage.

The limestone cliffs are pretty and the creekside trail is flat and easy, so would be perfect for young kids. (And dogs who want to get in the water. 🙂 )

So scenic!

  • Trails are ample, so you can get a good work out in.

So ample, in fact, that you might get a little lost.

We got slightly turned around in the extensive network of trails and had to use Siri to get us out. Hi, I’m Whitney from a hiking guidance blog. I have gotten a group lost in the woods. Go me.

(This is my “whoops” face.)

Fortunately the park is small enough that you couldn’t get lost forever.

  • On that note, one highlight is that you still get cell phone reception, so if you’re needing to check a sports score, stay accessible to work colleagues, or Instagram your adventures, then this is a great place to be.
  • And the view!! The view from the top is so pretty. Can you believe this is urban Austin?

How spoiled we are.

  • The park is only 10 min from the Arboretum
  • Last but not least, the park has some steeper trails so if you’re eager to feel the burn, or are training for a tougher climb out in the mountains, you can definitely find it.

By the time we were done with our hike, we sure were happy to see the car again and crack open an ice cold La Croix.

Thanks to Wild Rose Apparel for outfitting us with hats and koozies!

All in all it was a good park and I will be returning eventually. In the future I will only stick to the hillside trails and not go along the creek bottom. I also want to check out River Place trail before returning here.  Have you been to St. Edward’s Park? Would love to hear from you!

FYI

  • The park has lots of brambles down by the creek, so prepare to feel like you’re bushwacking if you choose to hike in that area
  • There are no picnic tables, which is kind of a bummer…so plan for a “tailgate party” after your hike
  • After a big rainfall event (more than a few inches), it will be very muddy and there is a good chance some of the trails will be flooded, so I would avoid it
  • Don’t wear your fancy tennis shoes on the creekside trails, they will get dirty
  • Several of the hills are steep
  • There are no bathrooms

Have fun! Hashtag #whitswilderness if you check it out and want to be featured on my page. Happy hiking!

 

Falling for Fall at Lost Maples State Natural Area

Brandon and I finally got to experience Fall and all its orange and red glory on a camping trip to Lost Maples State Natural Area a few weeks ago!

Given that we don’t get much of a Fall here in Texas, and given that my Fall clothes are still packed away in boxes, it was a huge treat to get a small taste of the season.

lost-maples-sna-smaller-92-of-107

Lost Maples is located in Southwest Texas, in the direction of Garner State Park, Leakey, and Medina. It is THE place to see the leaves change in Texas and you should not miss seeing it at least once in your life!

lost-maples-sna-smaller-35-of-107

We made the reservations over ten months ago (you have to reserve very early for this time of year as it is extremely popular!) and got up early on Saturday morning to head down there. Thanks to a tip from a friend, we knew to stop at the Love Creek Orchards Apple Store in Medina on the way.

lost-maples-apple-shop

They sell cute gifts and every form of apple you can imagine, so it turned out to be a delicious stop. They have a patio and restaurant where you can order breakfast and lunch. We got two apple turnovers filled with fresh Medina apples and we were pretty much in breakfast heaven.

lost-maples-sna-smaller-10-of-107

So delicious.

The drive from Austin was beautiful but the stretch between Medina and the park was truly the most stunning part.

lost-maples-sna-smaller-11-of-107

I took so many pictures and videos outside the car window!

lost-maples-sna-smaller-14-of-107

When we arrived we set about putting up the tent.

This is where Brandon takes charge. I follow orders and take pictures. I’ve learned this is my better role when it comes to building or arranging things, whether it’s the tent or the dishwasher. His mind is like one gigantic Tetris game and this is where he shines.

lost-maples-sna-smaller-16-of-107

Five seconds later…

lost-maples-sna-smaller-17-of-107

Ta da! Campsite done.

lost-maples-sna-smaller-19-of-107

With all of that set up, we headed out on the Maple Trail, which was very cute and had some of the best colors of the park.

lost-maples-sna-smaller-24-of-107

It was charming and perfect for kids, and reminded me of something out of a children’s book.

lost-maples-sna-smaller-23-of-107

Trooper loved it!

From there we continued on East Trail, which is 4.6 miles and leads up to the top of a ridge. East Trail is THE trail you come to the park to see, and do not miss it!

lost-maples-sna-smaller-26-of-107

This path starts out innocently enough, with wide and flat walkways…

lost-maples-sna-smaller-33-of-107

lost-maples-sna-smaller-29-of-107

Passes Monkey Rock, which is shaped like a monkey…

lost-maples-sna-smaller-30-of-107

passes by a beautiful cave and creekbed…

lost-maples-sna-smaller-36-of-107

Through lots of fall leaves…

lost-maples-leaf-shots

and deposits you here:

lost-maples-sna-smaller-37-of-107

The infamous stairs.

For 1.5 miles, the trail is pretty steep as you reach the top of the hill. No mercy and no rest for the wicked.

By the end of it, I was carrying Trooper and was hoping someone would carry me. Brandon and I were asking each other “How did we ever make it hiking in the Sierra?”

lost-maples-sna-smaller-39-of-107

It was so worth it though, because the views were absolutely breathtaking.

lost-maples-sna-smaller-41-of-107

I couldn’t get over how pretty it was. The trees down in the valley were starting to turn orange, and the Sabinal river which cuts through the park was forming a pool beside some campsites.

We rested our weary bones (and our weary dog) up here and had a picnic…something I would definitely recommend doing. Every Texan needs to have a picnic up on this hill!

lost-maples-sna-smaller-43-of-107

Lots of folks were up here just enjoying the view and there were clearings all along the ridge, so you could commandeer one and sit for a while.

This was a high point in our trip.

lost-maples-sna-smaller-46-of-107

Get it, high point?

🙂

On the way back, we had to stop and observe a water feature of some sort my husband found, because he’s an engineer and that’s the kind of thing that really rings his bell.

lost-maples-sna-smaller-57-of-107

“Take my picture,” he said.

There?” I asked, thinking he would certainly want a better backdrop.

“Yeah I want the bridge in it,” he said.

I should have known.

I suppose I shouldn’t have teased him too much because I did ask him to take this picture, after all:

lost-maples-sna-smaller-93-of-107

and he didn’t ask a single question.

(We former ballerinas have our quirks too.)

lost-maples-sna-smaller-105-of-107

Later that afternoon we came back and made s’mores, cooked chicken on the dutch oven, and hung out and read. We were exhausted! Climbing up that hill did us in.

lost-maples-sna-smaller-67-of-107lost-maples-sna-smaller-83-of-107

lost-maples-sna-smaller-59-of-107

The next morning, Brandon got out his fishing gear and we all went down to one of the ponds along the East Trail to see if he could catch something.

lost-maples-sna-smaller-101-of-107

Sadly nothing was biting but it was a very tranquil start to the morning!

lost-maples-hiking-collage

We packed up shop and headed back towards Austin, with one minor detour to see this overlook…

lost-maples-sna-smaller-107-of-107

Oh Texas, you so pretty!

We had such a fun-filled, FALL-filled weekend at Lost Maples and will be coming back again. I could see us making this an annual thing! The campsites were spacious, the restrooms tidy, and there were plenty of hiking trails and fishing holes. This has the most varied landscapes of any of the state parks I’ve visited thus far and is one of my favorite state parks. Plus, it makes my autumn loving heart so happy.

Y’all should check it out.

Plan Your Visit

Recommended itinerary

Friday

  • 3pm leave Austin
  • 6pm Stop in Medina, Texas at Love Creek Orchards for dinner, and pick up apple turnovers for the following morning’s breakfast
  • 7pm Arrive at Lost Maples (30 min from Love Creek Orchards)
  • Set up tent, stargaze

Saturday

  • Morning: hike Maple Trail and East Trail
  • Picnic Lunch at top of hill on East Trail
  • Afternoon: games and nap at the camp site
  • Saturday evening: campfire, Dutch oven cooking maybe?, s’mores!

Sunday

  • Adventurous option: hike up West Trail (this one is strenuous!)
  • Laid back option: take a scenic drive west on HWY 337 (see map) and look for scenic view
  • Stop by Love Creek and pick up your very own Lost Maple seedling to take home!

Alternatively, leave early Saturday morning like we did and stop at the apple orchard for breakfast. 

Things to Know

  • Nearest General Store: There is a handy general store at the corner of Hwy 187 and 337. Details click here
  • Lost Maples State Natural Area Website: click here
  • Reserve 10+ months in advance!
  • No hand towels in the restroom

Map to the Overlook

map-to-scenic-area

Head west on 337 and you will see it on the south side of the road. (There are lots of good overlooks around here!)

pinterest-graphic

There’s Something about Roadtrips with Mary

Of all the ladies I follow on social media, my friend Mary is one of the most entertaining. Whether it’s her three year old watering the yard buck naked (yes, that ended up on Instagram) or boomerangs of various family members dancing (whether or not they know she’s recording), Mary and her family always seem to be doing something fun.

vail-vacation-26

This summer, Mary and her husband Jethro took their three kids on a roadtrip to Colorado through New Mexico and camped in state parks and national forests along the way. Naturally, to those of us following along on social media, they seemed to be having a blast. Their adventures included lots of swimming–everywhere from hot springs to lakes–two UFO sightings (supposedly), a bear encounter, a middle-of-the-night thunderstorm at their campground, and even an impromptu recorder performance by her kids and husband. (Which was a real treat for Mary, I’m sure.) Her pictures reminded me of fun summer roadtrips when I was a child. Simple things like arriving at a new campsite or stopping at a rock shop were big events to me and I remember those days fondly.

Roadtrips are great for adults too–roadtripping is a relatively easy, affordable way to enjoy the beautiful parts of our country like the Rockies. Today I’m sharing Mary’s trip as inspiration for those of you looking for your next adventure. Enjoy!

Mary, thanks for being on Whit’s Wilderness today! Let’s start with WHY–What made y’all want to take a roadtrip to Colorado?

We had done a roadtrip to New Mexico the year before and so we wanted to push ourselves. Our kids are at an age where they can help with packing, building the tent, you know–it helps when they are a little older.

vail-vacation-37

How old are they?

Ethan is 11, Bella is 7, and Isla is 2.

Traveling with three kids can be expensive, not to mention a big undertaking. How does this trip rank as far as affordability?

It was very affordable. Under $2,000 for 1 1/2 weeks, and that’s everything included. Food, gas, everything. Trips shouldn’t have to be expensive. You don’t need that much money for this trip and kids don’t know the difference.

Was it difficult planning, packing, and getting everything together for the trip?

It was a lot of effort, yes. But really not any more than going on another trip. And it was so worth it. The kids had so much fun. I may have forgotten all of Bella’s sweaters, but it was ok–we made do.

vail-vacation-19

Tell us about the itinerary.

Day 1

  • The first day we went to Bottomless Lakes State Park in New Mexico. We got in at night so it was a little scary, but you know what–I trust my husband. I know he would take care of us. Waking up there was like Christmas the next morning, such beautiful scenery.

vail-vacation-9

Bottomless Lakes

fullsizerender

Bottomless Lakes

vail-vacation-11

Bottomless Lakes

Day 2

  • The next day we went to the alien museum in Roswell. It was cheesy, but this was the best money we spent on the trip! The kids loved it and for the rest of the day, they were looking out the window for aliens. Our car was really quiet that day.

fullsizerender_1

Day 3

vail-vacation-16

Storrie Lake

vail-vacation-20

Storrie Lake

vail-vacation-1

  • (Mary’s husband Jethro chimes in:) There are campsites throughout the Carson National Forest in that area which are also really nice. I would have liked to stay there.

{WW note: Storrie Lake, Morphy Lake, and Carson National Forest are all strung out in that order along the highway. See map below.}

map-of-storrie-lake-morphy-lake-carson-forest

Day 4

  • This day we drove to Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Storrie Lake to Pagosa Springs is a really nice drive. We stopped in Taos, and that was a nice town. We saw the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which is the highest suspended bridge in the nation.
  • Pagosa Springs was great! Awesome shops, nice people. I would make sure you reserve a hotel room in advance though. My husband is not the type to reserve in advance, and we ended up in a hotel room that was…not so great. I had brought our own sheets and pillows, thank God.
  • The springs themselves were great for us but not for kids. The water was too hot. (It was 110 degrees.) But the San Juan river is right next to the springs, and it is 60 degrees so we also swam there.

vail-vacation-29

San Juan River

vail-vacation-30

Hot Springs

Day 5 – 8

  • From Pagosa we went to Vallecito Reservoir, and that was beautiful. We rented a cabin (Cooper’s Cabins) and stayed for four nights. There was swimming, fishing, and hiking, and the inlet walk was beautiful.  One night we had a bear outside our cabin! We had left the cooler outside, and we hear this noise…we look out and he’s dragging our cooler.
  • Be sure to get food in either Durango or Pagosa Springs before going to the cabin, because there’s not a grocery store.

vail-vacation-32

View from our cabin

vail-vacation-33

Jethro was determined to catch a trout! He did, we cooked it, and it was delicious!

vail-vacation-34

Lake Vallecito

vail-vacation-35

vail-vacation-36

Day 9

  • After we left Vallecito, we drove on the “Million Dollar Highway” from Durango to Montrose. The name was so fitting! It was so beautiful I wanted to cry. The road is on the edge of a cliff, with mountains all around. Spectacular. Be safe, drive slowy and take your time. Make sure your brakes work before you go on this road! Jethro fixed our brakes before we left and he was hoping he did it right. We loved this part of the trip.

fullsizerender_2

fullsizerender_4

vail-vacation-40

It took us about 4 hours to get to Ouray (on the way to Montrose).

  • Ouray was awesome and we would like to go back there some time. Probably just the two of us for a romantic getaway. The town is surrounded by the mountains, there are hot springs, shops, a brewery. We didn’t spend much time there and we regret that.

vail-vacation-24

vail-vacation-62

Day 10

  • We drove from Montrose to Ridgeway and camped along the Gunnison Reservoir, the largest reservoir in Colorado. Our campground was the Cimarron Campground in the Curecanti National Recreational Area. (See map here.)

vail-vacation-51

vail-vacation-60

 

vail-vacation-53

Day 11

  • Headed home. Went through Monarch Pass, which was scary.
  • There’s a sportsman’s shop in Gunnison everyone goes to, which is worth a stop.
  • On the way home, we stayed in Carlsbad. Book as far in advance as you can for Carlsbad!

vail-vacation-25

Sounds like a very full itinerary! Would you do it again?

Oh yes! Of course. We had a great time. There were moments when we couldn’t stand each other. On the last night, we were down to a few cans of spaghetti and one last peach. We let the kids have the spaghetti and Jethro and I split the peach. That was our dinner. But we just had to go with the flow. We grew closer as a family and got so united. Imagine all sleeping in a tent, not taking showers! This week Ethan shared this trip in school and said how much fun he had with his family. That was my reward.

vail-vacation-69

fullsizerender_3

Is there anything you wouldn’t do again?

Probably Pagosa Springs just because of the kids. It was really nice, but we would have enjoyed it more if it had just been us.

What tent did you take?

We got it from Target. It was great because it was easy to set up and we could put it up in the dark.

vail-vacation-3

Would you recommend doing this in an RV instead of a tent?

No. Our kids have grown so much because of this trip. Ethan already knows what to do at a campsite. In an RV, he would be more needy. There’s no restroom? Deal with it! He has to adapt.

Advice for what to wear & pack?

  • It’s cold so pack lots of sweaters. If you are from Texas, you will be cold.
  • Blanket poncho – we brought this blanket poncho and it was amazing, everyone used it.
  • Swimsuits
  • Water shoes
  • Emergency kit – with first aid, came in very handy
  • Bring lots of extras of everything
  • If I were going by myself, I would bring pepper spray. The state parks were pretty empty.

vail-vacation-13

Any advice for people wanting to take a similar trip?

  • Stop at the alien museum in Roswell – that was the best money we spent!
  • We didn’t know late July/August was monsoon season in New Mexico, so it rained a lot on our trip. I wouldn’t go during this time.
  • We really liked Bottomless Lakes State Park. Be sure to stop there.
  • Get a hitch on the back of your car to carry your cooler (WW note: like this)

Above all, trust your instinct and your husband, go with the flow, and enjoy this time — your kids go off to college so soon.

Wise words. Thanks Mary for sharing your adventure with us. I’m feeling inspired for another road trip!

vail-vacation-22

Save

Save

Save

Sunrise in the Sierra Mountains

One of the most majestic sights to see in the Sierra mountains will always be a sunrise or sunset. I’ve never seen another mountain range that is as filled with light as the Sierra, and it’s no wonder that when the writer and hiker John Muir called it “the Range of Light”, the term stuck.

{See A Guide to my Favorite Trail in the Sierra to plan your own trip.}

“The mighty Sierra…it seemed not clothed with light but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city….”

— John Muir, The Yosemite

On our recent backpacking trip (post here) my brother hung himself out of the tent one morning and captured these images, all while still tucked comfortably in his sleeping bag.

Like the good outdoor blogger I am, I was sound asleep. Thank goodness this blog doesn’t depend on me.

shadow-lake-and-pct-98-of-106

The sunrise show is about to begin…

shadow-lake-and-pct-99-of-106

A trickle of light comes over the neighboring peaks…

shadow-lake-and-pct-100-of-106

A trickle more. All the heart eyes emojis here.

shadow-lake-and-pct-101-of-106

This color! Over the course of the night, the wind had died down and the waters turned into glass.

shadow-lake-and-pct-102-of-106

“And after ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all others the Range of Light.”

— John Muir

I still pinch myself that this was real. Add this to your outdoor bucket list and when you get there, be sure you are awake for the sunrise. Obviously, it’s worth it.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

A Backpacking Trip Like No Other

The most beautiful and awe-inspiring places are, without fail, the hardest to write about on this blog. Nothing I say can do them justice. I end up sputtering out phrases like “it was so incredible!!” and hoping the pictures will tell you everything else.

So here goes—this week I’m sharing the “epic” “stunning” “gorgeous” and “incredible” trail I recently hiked in the Sierra Nevada, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Today’s post is about the adventure, and tomorrow’s post is all about guidance for your own hike there.

Update: guidancce post is live! Click here: A Guide to My Favorite Trail in the Sierra

shadow-lake-and-pct-95-of-106

I’m blessed with a brother that loves the outdoors even more than me. He hikes, rock climbs, ice climbs, and scrambles over precipices from here to the Western seaboard, and is gone so much he’s hard to keep up with. He owns at least 3 of everything a person needs to go backpacking, and stuffed away in his noggin between baseball stats and economics data lies a decent knowledge of the Sierra Nevada.

 

img_6713

So, when I told him Brandon and I wanted to go backpacking, he not only acquiesced but took up the chore of researching trails and coming up with a game plan. He was essentially our mail order guide, though slightly peskier.

(Justin and my previous backpacking trip together, over 15 years ago, bordered on complete failure. We hiked into the remote reaches of Rocky Mountain National Park with our mother and a bunch of rented equipment from REI, only to find that it was going to rain for three days straight and the tent would leak. Our mother laid awake every night listening for bears, since due to weather we were forced to eat summer sausage in the tent. Good times.)

This was Brandon’s first backpacking excursion ever, and with no idea how he would react, I was crossing my fingers for perfect conditions—weather wise, elevation-wise, and distance-wise. I wanted him to have fun, of course, but I also hoped that at very least he wouldn’t be completely miserable. I made sure we had new hiking shoes, some new gear (I may have used this as an excuse to get a few new things, no big deal), and helped us get as prepared as possible. All summer, Brandon would load my pack up with physics textbooks and carry it on our walks around the neighborhood. We were a sight to behold.

The trail we hiked started in Mammoth Lakes, California, a cute mountain town. One of the great decisions we made was to get there a day early and stay at one of the many drive-up campsites around Lake Mary and Lake George.

shadow-lake-and-pct-72-of-106

This allowed us time to get organized, sight see in nearby Yosemite National Park, and say our final goodbyes to flushing toilets. (Tear.)

img_6740

I would recommend these campsites if you’re with young kids or not up for a big backpacking excursion! The scenery rocks and the campsites are tidy (thanks in part to the chipmunk cleanup crew), and there are dozens of gorgeous trails in the area. See tomorrow’s post for a day hike suggestion.

Our trail was 21 miles long in total, with about 1,000 feet elevation gain each day (with the exception of the third day). We planned to hike about 6-7 miles each day, with the final day leading us back to the car. The trail was a loop, as opposed to out and back, so we never hiked the same part of the trail twice.

The morning of our hike, a funny thing happened. Each of us emerged from our tents wearing orange! It looked completely planned, though it was not.

shadow-lake-and-pct-76-of-106

Go Team Orange!

Given that the trail we were hiking was located in a wilderness named after the most famous landscape photographer of all time, Ansel Adams, I had expected great things. I also knew that the Pacific Crest Trail, one of the more famous trails in America, would be part of our hike and that our particular route was so popular that we couldn’t get advance reservations.

But despite all of that, I was so unprepared for the beauty that lay before us.

shadow-lake-and-pct-24-of-106

Within the first half a mile: this view.

shadow-lake-and-pct-25-of-106

Within the next two miles: this view.

dsc02193

Over the next few miles, constant views of a gushing waterfall as we approached Shadow Lake.

shadow-lake-and-pct-109

The reward at the end of the next steep incline: the beautiful Shadow Lake.

shadow-lake-and-pct-27-of-106
Resting at Shadow Lake

One amazing sight after another–and so it went for three days.

shadow-lake-and-pct-31-of-106

So many trails in this world require you hike for miles and miles through the woods just to enjoy one or two beautiful sights. On this trail, we barely had to go a mile before we were treated to something new.

shadow-lake-and-pct-80-of-106

The first night, we camped beside Ediza Lake, a glacial lake surrounded by peaks called The Minarets.

shadow-lake-and-pct-110

I had a lot of fun that night leading the guys in a yoga session (I NEVER thought they would go for that…but they did), inventing a story for them about how Ediza Lake got it’s name, and singing old camp songs. I’m sure if I hadn’t been there they may have enjoyed the peace and quiet of the wilderness a little more.

shadow-lake-and-pct-108

Just after the sun set, Justin and I climbed up a nearby rock for a view of the lake at twilight.

shadow-lake-and-pct-85-of-106

(One of his pieces of backpacking advice is to explore the area around your campsite.)

shadow-lake-and-pct-86-of-106

Brandon did not join us. We had climbed over 1,000 feet in elevation that day, and he was out like a light. In our relationship, he’s typically the responsible one, but this time we had a little bit of a role reversal as I set up the tent and took care of unpacking our things.

shadow-lake-and-pct-107

Hehehe.

The following day was as gorgeous as the day before. It was this day we were treated to one of the most beautiful parts of our hike—a downhill traverse with panoramic views of Garnet Lake.

shadow-lake-and-pct-42-of-106

It was all I could do not to fall flat on my face while trying to hike and enjoy the view at the same time.

shadow-lake-and-pct-43-of-106

That night, we camped by Thousand Island Lake. It was even grander than Ediza Lake, and I felt like I was walking through an Ansel Adams photograph.

shadow-lake-and-pct-57-of-106

Named for the rock outcroppings which dot its surface, Thousand Island is framed by two huge peaks—Banner Peak and Ritter Peak—and rimmed with massive boulders smoothed by ages of wind, snow, and rain.

img_3018

shadow-lake-and-pct-60-of-106

We camped on a flat rock outcropping with a view of Banner Peak. I look at this picture and still can’t believe this was our campsite!

shadow-lake-and-pct-96-of-106

Our third and final day on the trail was perhaps my favorite—it was downhill (amen) through a flowered meadow, with panoramic views of the Sierra mountains all around. We could see Shadow Lake in the distance.

shadow-lake-and-pct-67-of-106

shadow-lake-and-pct-106-of-106

We could feel the pizza and hamburgers we’d been fantasizing about getting closer and closer with every step.

shadow-lake-and-pct-64-of-106

On the trail you have ample time to think, and often your thoughts circulate around what you would eat if you were back in civilization. We all agreed there was only one thing we needed:

Not to just eat pizza, but to eat pizza while sitting in a hot tub.

(On your next backpacking trip, tell me if that’s not what you dream about too.)

shadow-lake-and-pct-65-of-106

As we were coming down off of the trail, we passed a surprising number of women and couples heading on up the trail the other way. I loved seeing all those women taking on the trail!

My brother, who has seen lots of countryside in his day and climbed more peaks in the lower 48 than I can count, said that this trail was the most beautiful one he had ever seen. A lot more subtle and soft spoken than I am, my brother is not one for hyperboles so I take his statement to heart.

img_2996

dsc02268

Even Brandon, who by the end of each day was face down in a pillow, said this trail will be hard to top.

shadow-lake-and-pct-68-of-106

I’ve decided that with hiking, there’s a ratio of effort to beauty, and that ratio determines if you’ll enjoy it in the end. This trail was high on the effort side of the scale, but the beauty far outweighed the effort.

Oh and by the way, we did make it to that hot tub.

shadow-lake-and-pct-70-of-106

Hallelujah!

A huge shout out to my brother for planning the trip, equipping us, putting up with my jokes, and stretching his hamstrings during yoga. He even hiked a portion of the trail the week before we arrived to make sure it was good enough. Justin officially receives a Whit’s Wilderness Gold Star for Service to the Blog.

Tomorrow: guidance on how to hike this very route!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save