Photo Inspiration- Japan

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Japan was my first stop on my first trip to Asia. I was excited and nervous, but fell in love with the country on my first day. From the modernness of Tokyo to traditional Kyoto, I found something new and exciting at every turn.

One of my favorite experiences was staying at a traditional guest house (Ryokan) and participating in a traditional tea ceremony. I could have spent weeks exploring Kyoto, but only had a few days. I hope to make it back there soon!

 

A Weekend in Sequoia National Park

The Mission: Spend a weekend at Sequoia National Park with my mom!

The Prep: I booked our campsite 3 weeks in advance for Potwisha campground and got the last campsite available! Book as early as possible and don’t count on just showing up and finding a spot.

The Gear: Please see my post on Camping Essentials

The Execution: We arrived at Sequoia National Park in the morning and paid our $30USD entrance fee, good for 7 days. Not far from the park entrance, we found our campsite at Potwisha, a small, quiet campsite equipped with flush toilets. We set up our tent and secured all of our food and scented items in the bear locker provided.

After getting our campsite settled, we drove roughly 40 minutes from Potwisha to the General Sherman Tree parking lot. Mileage wise, this is not far, but the roads are very windy and speed limits are slow so it took us awhile to get all the way up the mountain.

Once we found parking, we hiked a quick half mile down to the General Sherman Tree. There is also a shuttle that goes from the parking lot down to the tree area if you are unable to walk that distance.

After checking out General Sherman, we started hiking along Congress Trail (2 mile loop) to explore some more of the Giant Sequoias. We veered off onto Alta trail for a while to get away from the crowds before turning back and finishing Congress Trail.

Back at the General Sherman Tree, we hopped on a shuttle that took us to the Giant Forest Museum. After a few minutes in the museum, we hopped on another shuttle up to Moro Rock. We stopped to check out the Auto Log and then continued on to the rock.

The steps to the top of the rock are rather steep, but there are safety rails that lead the way. At 6,725 ft, the view from the top was magnificent, but I wouldn’t recommend this hike if you’re afraid of heights!

After Moro Rock, we hopped back on the shuttle, grabbed our car and headed back to camp for the night. Unfortunately, we were hit with a major thunderstorm that evening, complete with flashes of lightning and heavy rain. We stuck it out through the night, but were soaked by daylight.

We decided after a long sleepless night to give ourselves a break and do a short hike near the campsite on our last day before driving home exhausted.

The Highlights:

  • Campsite cost about $22USD.
  • If you want to camp, book a campsite as early as possible. Backpacking is also an option, but requires registration and a bear canister.
  • Crowds are heavy around the major sites, but if you hike just a short distance off a main trail, the crowds thin out and you will get to enjoy more of the park.
  • Take advantage of the shuttle as parking is scarce. Shuttles run every 10 minutes so you never have to wait long.
  • There is a small restaurant and store at Lodgepole Visitor center for food and firewood.

Backpacking Big Sur- Ventana

The Mission: Camp at Big Sur Memorial Weekend with no reservations!

The Prep: We found parking near the Big Sur ranger station on the side of the highway. Parking is also available in the lot at the trail head for a fee, but there are very few spaces.

The Gear: Please see my post on Camping Essentials

The Execution:  We started off down Pine Ridge Trail toward Ventana, passing a rather loud campsite at Pfeiffer Big Sur. The sign states that there is no camping before Ventana and there really was NO camping before Ventana. The trail is rather narrow and cut into the side of the mountain… so there really is nowhere to camp before you reach Ventana camp.

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The trail out was mostly uphill with small stretches of downhill to flat. We were met with sweeping views of the valley and higher mountains surrounding us with giant redwoods stretching low from the valley to high above our heads. The fog from the coast rolled in through the mountain peaks keeping us cool and shaded on our hike and the sound of rushing water from the stream in the valley below provided our soundtrack.

After plenty of steep uphill hiking, we reached a sign for Ventana camp, just one more mile away.

We were now sent all the way down to the valley through a series of switchbacks winding down the mountain. When we finally reached the bottom, we were greeted by groups of campers dotted around the valley on both sides of the stream. Although it was a holiday weekend, there were not as many campers here as we had anticipated. We found a nice little clearing away from the water and set up camp for the night.

We built a small fire, ate some dinner and listened to the sound of the rushing water as we sat under the stars.

The next morning, we got an early start to tackle the switchbacks up the mountain. We were dreading these switchbacks all night, but they weren’t nearly as bad as we had anticipated. We knew if we made it through the switchbacks, the rest of the trail would be mostly downhill and easier than the previous day on our hike out.

We had a gorgeous, cool morning for our 5 mile hike back to the ranger station as we enjoyed the fresh air and beautiful redwoods surrounding us. We’re looking forward to returning to this area and doing a longer hike next time!

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate to strenuous
  • Trailhead  begins near the ranger station: Big Sur Station, 47555 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920
  • The hike to Ventana is 5 miles. The next camp area after Ventana is an additional 5 miles (10 miles total).
  • If you plan on building a campfire, get a free permit in advance.
  • Watch out for poison oak, it’s everywhere!!
  • Bring a water filter if you plan on drinking from the stream.

10 Day Morocco Itinerary

From the vibrant city of Marrakech to the serene Sahara Desert, Morocco is a diverse country for exploring. To avoid the crowds and intense heat, we traveled to Morocco in January. The weather was perfect with daily highs around 70F and daily lows around 50F.

Morocco Itinerary

Day 1 and 2: Marrakech (2 nights)

The only accommodation for this trip booked in advance was our first night in Marrakech. We booked online and scheduled an airport pickup service. The driver dropped us off in a roundabout where another gentlemen walked us through the winding alleyways of the Medina. The Medina is extremely hard to navigate so we were lucky to have local help in navigating our way to the Riad.

We spent 2 days wandering the maze that is the medina, eating tagine, browsing the souks, relaxing in Jardin Marjorelle and admiring the tile work at Bahia Palace. We were itching to explore more of the country so the wonderful gentleman of Riad Houdou assisted us in renting a car. For about $400USD +gas, we were able to rent a car for the remainder of our stay and discover Morocco on our own schedule.

Highlights:

  • Getting lost in the medina
  • Eating slow roasted lamb in Mechoui Alley
  • Bahia Palace
  • Jardin Marjorelle
  • Snake charmers in the Medina
  • The liveliness of Jamaa el Fna after dark

Day 3: Ouarzazate (1 night)

The drive to Ouarzazate from Marrakech took us over some of the highest peaks in Africa through the High Atlas Mountains. The long, windy road through Tizi N’Tichka pass to Ouarzazate took about 4 hours. The landscape changed vastly as we drove up and over the mountains, making a stop at the fortified city of Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah at dusk.

Highlights:

Day 4: Merzouga (1 night)

Early the next morning, we began our 5 hour journey to the Sahara. We arrived in Merzouga just in time to book a camel trek into the Erg Chebbi Dunes. For $120USD, we booked a night in the desert including camel ride both ways, accommodation, dinner, breakfast and shower back at the hotel in the morning. I would recommend booking in advance as we had some trouble finding an opening last minute.

We mounted our camels at dusk and road for about an hour into the depths of the dunes. We arrived at a lovely camp complete with sleeping tents, dining tent, restroom and campfire. After eating a delicious tagine dinner, we roamed the dunes in the darkness with the brightness of the stars and the Milky Way lighting our way. Upon return to the camp, our Berber hosts treated us to some mint tea and played traditional music as we huddled around the fire. We went to bed in our tents made of rugs wearing every layer we had available and still ended up freezing all night!

Morocco

Early the next morning, we packed up and rode our camels back to Merzouga. There was a traditional breakfast waiting for us and we were allowed to use the hotel facilities for a quick shower. We said our goodbyes to our new friends and camels and set off on our way to Fes.

Day 5 and 6: Fes (2 nights)

After a 7 hour drive, we finally arrived in Fes. Exhausted, we found our Riad and went straight to bed. Early the next morning, we had a delicious Moroccan breakfast and headed to the Medina.

For about $5USD we found a local to give us a private tour of the Tannery, including a climb up the terrace for an incredible view. Despite the pungent smell, the technique and care that goes into creating the leather products from start to finish was fascinating.

After the tannery tour, we spent the rest of the day exploring all the Medina has to offer including the beautiful Attarin Medersa, incredible city views from rooftops and Bab Boujloud- the gorgeous blue gate that welcomes you to the city of Fes.

Fes

Highlights:

  • Where to stay: Riad Fes Aicha
  • Tannery tour
  • Walking the Medina
  • Attarin Medersa (Entrance fee roughly $1USD)
  • Bab Boujloud (Blue Gate)
  • Rooftop views of the city

Day 7: Chefchaouen (1 night)

A “quick” 3.5 hour drive from Fes turned into a stressful drive through the windy roads of the mountains. There is a highway that goes from Fes to Chefchaouen, but on the map it looked farther so we opted for the more “direct” route. Lesson learned…always, ALWAYS take the highway!

After a strenuous drive, we arrived in the enchanted city of Chefchaouen, known for its blue hue. Chefchaouen is a small, quaint town with not much to do other than marvel at the extraordinary color that paints the town. So 1 day here was more than enough. We strolled through the square, wandered the maze of alleys and admired the many shades of blues.

To get a bird’s-eye view of the blue city, we took a short 20 minute hike to the top of a hill nearby. We exited the medina near The Hotel Atlas  and walked uphill to the Spanish Mosque perched above the town. Even on a rainy day, the blue of the city brightened the sky.

Chefchaouen

Highlights:

Day 8: Tetouan-Tangier (1 night)

The next day, we took a short 2 hour drive to Tangier, a port town known as the gateway to Europe. On the way, we stopped at the small town of Tetouan to explore the markets and eat a delicious lunch at Blanco Riad.

Stepping into the city of Tangier was like stepping into another country completely. Right away, you could see the European influences and energy brought from the influx of travelers from across the Strait of Gibraltar. We spent the night and hopped on the first ferry to Spain in the morning.

Highlights:

Day 9: Gibraltar (1 night)

First thing in the morning, we parked the car at the ferry station (free) and took the ferry from Tangier to Tarifa (1 hr). Once in Tarifa, we hopped on a  free shuttle to Algeciras (30 min, show your ferry ticket).  From Algeciras, we took a short taxi ride to La Linea ($25USD) where we walked across the border (which happens to be an airport runway) to Gibraltar.  Once in Gibraltar, there is a local bus, but we decided to walk so we could explore. For dinner, we hopped back over the border to Spain and enjoyed some tapas before heading back to Gibraltar for a good nights rest.

First thing in the morning, we decided to hike the mediterranean steps to the “top of the rock”. The steps, built by british military start at Jew’s Gate cemetery and run along the eastern side of the rock. The hour-long, grueling hike was well worth the struggle with incredible views beyond imagination.

Monkey

The Rock

At the top of the rock, we toured the battery before walking down to the Military Tunnels and St. Michael’s Cave. We ended the day from a secret spot we found inside the rock where we watched the sunset over the water with Morocco in the distance.

Gibraltar

Highlights:

  • Where to stay: Rock Hotel
  • Where to eat: La Chimenea
  • For a less strenuous approach to “the top of the rock”, there are several options including the cable car, bus or private tour.
  • The only food/refreshment on the rock is located near St. Michaels Cave.
  • Plan to spend an entire day exploring the rock.
  • If hiking, take plenty of water.
  • The temperature drops drastically at the top of the rock so plan to bring a warmer jacket.

Day 10: Safi (1 night) 

Arriving late in the evening to Tangier, we decided to get right on the road and begin our 7 hour drive to Safi along the African coastline. We made brief  stops along the way in Rabat and Casablanca before arriving in the beautiful town of Safi at sunset.

We spent our last day in Morocco walking the coastline and exploring the small Medina in Safi, one of the smallest, most local towns we visited. We stood on the cliffs watching the sunset, wishing we had more time in this beautiful country before we drove back to Marrakech to catch our flights back home.

Highlights:

Morocco Travel Tips:

  • Money: Most places are cash only and ATMs are hard to find. Plan on bringing enough cash for the entire trip, including accommodations.
  • Dress: Women should plan to dress modestly, but it is not necessary to cover your head.
  • PDA: Avoid kissing, hugging, holding hands etc with your significant other in public. This is considered inappropriate and you will likely get some dirty looks.
  • Access: Non-Muslims are typically not allowed in the Mosques. If you are unsure, it’s best to ask before entering.
  • Accommodation: Stay in a Riad (traditional Moroccan house). We learned the hard way that it’s best to book accommodation in advance if you can!
  • Tipping: Carry small change. You will need to tip often for everything from directions to parking and on your restaurant bill.
  • Tours: Do not pay “guides” that offer you tours on the streets in the Medina. Instead, go to a tour office or ask at your accommodation.
  • Haggling: Don’t be afraid to negotiate on prices for everything from cabs to souvenirs.
  • Stay in Touch: Likely, your cell phone will not work here, but you can purchase a local sim card. We used Maroc Telecom which was a bit spotty, but worked for our needs.
  • Driving: When driving, roads are not marked well (ie: It will not say N1 or N10), so look for the name of the city you are heading towards as these will be the only “directional” markers you will see.
  • Checkpoints: Driving through Morocco, you will pass through many checkpoints. They may ask for your passport, but typically we were not even stopped.
  • Women Driving: While you may get a weird look or two, I had no issues as a woman driving in Morocco.
  • Filling Your Tank: Gas stations are few and far between outside of the main cities so make sure you fill up when you see one. Stations are full service and take only cash. Unlike in the states, where pumps have a sensor and stop filling when the tank is full, the attendant looks down into the tank and takes a guess whether it is full or not. Check for yourself and make sure your tank is full before leaving.
  • Avoid Getting Lost: When navigating the Medinas, look for permanent landmarks to mark your way such as doors or shop signs. If for example, you say “turn right at the shoe stand to get back to the riad”, the shop may be closed on your way back and you will not be able to tell where the shoes were.
  • Plan for Closures: Friday is a holy day so be prepared for shops and establishments to be closed.
  • Health: Drink only bottled water to avoid getting sick.
  • Communication: A variety of languages are spoken across Morocco including: French, Moroccan Arabic, Berber and English.
  • Sanitation: Take your own TP! Most public toilets in Morocco do not have TP so it’s best to bring your own, just in case. I’d also recommend hand sanitizer!
  • Drink: Develop a liking for mint tea as you will be drinking a lot of it!
  • Eat: If you see a lamb hanging by its feet on the side of the road, STOP! This means the meat is fresh. We had some of the most amazing lamb of our lives on the side of the road in Morocco. Covered in cumin and grilled, you won’t want to miss it!

 

M*A*S*H Site Hike

The Mission: Hike to the site where the hit show M*A*S*H was filmed.

The Prep: I parked on Mulholland Drive to avoid the parking fee and started from the trail head along the road. You can also park at the main parking area for $12. There are restrooms and water fountains in the parking lot.

The Gear:
Trail shoes
Shades
Sunscreen
Hydration pack
Hat

The Execution:
I grew up watching reruns of the hit show M*A*S*H on television and couldn’t resist the opportunity to hike out to the site where the show was filmed. I arrived early enough to find street parking and avoid paying the fee at the park entrance. I entered the park through a trail head on Mulholland Drive and was quickly met with myriad forks in the road. I didn’t have a trail map so I pulled out my phone and looked for “Crags Road”. The actual site lies on this road so it was a good directional reference point.

A short way down the path, I ran into a lot of families heading towards the swimming hole. It seemed as though the majority of the people I saw were not here to hike, but rather to picnic and swim. I came to a fork in the road where the majority of the crowd veered to the left towards the water and I stayed right towards the M*A*S*H trail. The scenic hike took me up a short hill with expansive views of the canyon and mountains in the distance. As I descended, I was met with more trail heads in a variety of directions, I continued straight on hoping I was still on the correct path.

Eventually I was met with the sign above, and relieve washed over me as I realized I hadn’t strayed from my course. I crossed over a small bridge that was desperately trying to hide the smelly, stagnant water below. As the path grew narrower, I continued through the trees until the trail opened up to reveal the site I had been waiting for.

I strolled around the site admiring relics of a past life that were now overgrown and rusted. Informational plaques dotted the area offering a glimpse into the bustling past of the secluded site. It was hard to imagine this dense, dry habitat as a former home of Hollywood magic. I sat at a picnic table to enjoy my lunch and bask in the history and drama of the scene before leaving my old television memories to the past and heading home.

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: casual
  • Trail is mainly exposed so it gets quite hot. Wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water.
  • Trails are not well-marked, but if you have your phone, use google maps to ensure you are heading towards or on Crags Road.
  • Park address: 1925 Las Virgenes Road, Malibu Creek State Park, Agoura Hills, CA 91301

Solstice Canyon Loop

The Mission: Explore the ruins of Solstice Canyon.

The Prep: Once you turn onto Corral Canyon Rd, turn left into the parking area. There are very few parking spaces here so continue on over the one lane bridge to additional parking. This is also where the trail heads, bathrooms and trail maps can be found.

The Gear:
Trail shoes
Hiking shorts
Tank top
Hydration pack
Shades
Sunscreen
Trail map

The Execution:

I had read about Solstice Canyon and the “eerie abandoned ruins” as a must see so I decided to check it out for myself. Upon arriving at the park, I saw multiple trail heads so I grabbed a map and scouted out the Solstice Canyon trail head. The trail started out easy, flat and with plenty of tree coverage. As I continued on, I was met with several forks in the road and no trail signs. I consulted my trail map only to be more confused. I decided to continue straight on and went up and down a few inclines before I reached “the ruins”.

I walked up a few stairs to an old, demolished building now covered in graffiti and overgrown with foliage. A few old chimneys stood tall and an old stove lay idle in a corner, but otherwise the site was unrecognizable as a former home. As disappointment sent in, I heard someone talking about a waterfall close by. My excitement grew as I climbed the steps to the “falls”. I was met with a trickle of water cascading down boulders looking thirsty and aching for its’ former glory to be restored to pre-drought conditions. As I descended the falls, past the crowds that had amassed, I yearned for a quieter hike back and decided to connect to the Rising Sun trail to loop back to the parking lot.

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The Rising Sun trail started out on a fairly steep incline and continued up, and up and up. Most hikers go out and back on the Solstice Canyon trail and already I was relieved to shed the crowds and enjoy the serene peacefulness of the Rising Sun. The trail was completely exposed with no tree cover and became very hot very quickly. I stopped a few times to hydrate and look back down at the ruins I had just explored and take in the sweeping canyon views.

As I continued on, I was met with an amazing panoramic view. Ocean on one side, canyon on the other. By this point, the trail had leveled off and I was able to stroll along easily while taking in the views. Eventually I reached the TRW overlook trail, from here you can take the TRW loop the long way (to the right) back to the parking lot or the short way (to the left) back to the parking lot. I chose to go left, went down a steep grade and then descended some stairs before arriving back at my original starting point.

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate
  • Many parts of the trail are exposed and can be very hot, pack enough water and sunscreen.
  • Trails are not marked well so be sure to grab a trail map before beginning your hike.
  • Restrooms and water fountains available at trail head.

Moraine State Park

The Mission: Take a day trip to Moraine State Park.

The Prep: Packed a picnic lunch and strapped my bike to the car.

The Gear:
Shades
Sunscreen
Bike/helmet
Picnic lunch
Water
Sandals
Beach towel
Walking shoes

The Execution:
Growing up in Pittsburgh, my family would often take a day trip to Moraine State Park. An easy 45 minute drive from the city, the park has a gorgeous lake, bike and hiking trails, disc golf and even a beach. I decided to relive my childhood and spend the day at my beloved lake. I packed a cooler with water and a picnic lunch, strapped my bike to the car and headed north to the park.

I decided to start my day on the lake with some kayaking so I headed towards the South Shore. I put on my sandals and shades and rented a kayak at Crescent Bay boat rental. Canoes, boats and SUP are also available for rental here.

Out on the water, boats cruised by, fisherman made the catch of the day and my skin fried to a crisp. I paddled around a small island, over to the opposite shore and through some passing sailboats before my arms were completely worn out and I headed back to shore. All in all, I spent about an hour out on the water which was more than enough for my arms.

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After a morning on the lake, I stopped by one of the many picnic areas in the park to enjoy my lunch before heading to the bike trail on the North Shore. I brought my own bike and helmet for the day, but there is a bike rental area at the trail head if you don’t have your own.

The 14 mile RT trail weaves in and out through the trees offering glimpses of the lake. Along the trail there are several picnic areas, benches, restrooms and even a camp site. At the 7 mile marker, the trail ends with a great view of the lake. I stopped here to hydrate and rest my legs before heading back. This trail is NOT a loop; the trail is 7 miles each direction and there are many hills and curves. On my return, I stopped by the “beach” to cool my feet off in the ice-cold water before I continued my journey. There is a parking area at the beach if you decide to drive out after your ride. The actual beach is rather tiny, but there is a large grassy area, picnic benches and even a disc golf course. After my stop at the beach, I finished my 14 mile ride and headed back towards Pittsburgh utterly exhausted.

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate
  • Photo ID and cash or credit deposit is needed for all rentals.
  • You will have to drive from the South Shore to North Shore- this is not walking distance.
  • Trail maps are available at the bike rental center.

Anatomy of a Day Hike

Anatomy of a Day Hike

So you want to go on a day hike….

If you’ve read my blog, you know I do a lot of hiking, but what you don’t read about is what goes on behind the scenes. Below, I’ll walk you through the steps I take to prepare for a day on the trails.

  • Terrain: Boulders, ice, gravel, paved, steep, flat? There are various types of terrain and different footwear options for each. Do some research on the trail you will be hiking and then decide on which footwear suits that terrain. From trail shoes to mountaineering boots, there are different levels of footwear. I recommend stopping by your local outdoor store (I love REI) to get fitted for a pair that suits your needs. Depending on the terrain, you may want to opt for a pair of trekking poles. I find they really help on steep or rocky terrain.
  • Weather: Hot, cold, rainy, windy? Check the weather before you start preparing for your hike.
    >Warm weather: Let’s face it, you’re gonna sweat. I love the wicking technology that “wicks away the sweat” and is fast drying. I go for a wicking/SPF top, hiking shorts, wicking socks, bandanna to wipe away the sweat, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, appropriate footwear.
    >Cold Weather: Layers, layers, layers. I still recommend wearing a wicking shirt as the base layer. I typically go with a long-sleeved “cold gear” specific wicking top. Next is my insulating layer; I like to go with a fleece. For my outer layer, I absolutely recommend a water-PROOF not water-resistant jacket, it will make all the difference if you get caught in the rain or snow. On the bottom, I again go with cold gear pants layered under a thicker pair of hiking pants. On the feet, I go with a thicker pair of wicking socks and waterproof boots. Don’t forget the accessories! A fleece lined hat, gloves, and a scarf top off the ensemble. I also like to take an extra pair of socks and an extra layer or two, it’s always better to be prepared in case the temperature takes a plunge.
  • Essentials: I like to keep a list of my hiking “essentials”. These are the items that I take with me regardless of the distance, duration, weather, or terrain of the hike. Keeping a list handy helps me ensure I never forget anything.
    >Directions: Weather you have a gps system or map and compass, make sure you know where you’re going! Also, let a family member or friend know your plans for the day and what time they should expect you back. Check in with them upon returning so they know you are safe.
    >Water: The most important item on your list. I typically take a hydration pack- a backpack that has a bladder inside to hold the water and a tube that comes out the top to drink from. It is so important to make sure you are properly hydrated. Take enough water for you hike and monitor your intake throughout the day. It’s not a bad idea to take a water purification system with you in case you run out of water and need to drink from a local source.
    >Food: Food is essential to keep you going. You will be burning a lot of energy while hiking all day so bring plenty of food and snacks including protein.
    >Sun Protection: Protect yourself from those rays! Sunscreen (don’t forget to reapply), sunglasses, hat or visor, SPF clothing.
    >First Aid: I recommend picking up a pre-packaged first aid kit- they have everything you need and in smaller quantities than buying everything individually. Insect repellent typically is not included in first aid kits so make sure you grab some. I love the insect repellent wipes with deet. They are portable, easy to use, and effective- again, I bought mine at REI. Another addition to your first aid pack- TP. Let’s face it, you will eventually have to go and having TP with you will make it way more comfortable to do your business. I also recommend taking a plastic zip lock bag to put your used TP in (leave no trace- take out what you take in).
    >Emergency Kit: Personally, I always have a whistle, lighter or waterproof matches, multi-tool, cell phone, compass/map and some sort of flashlight.

A Weekend in Yosemite

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The Mission: Spend a weekend camping at Curry Village in Yosemite Valley.

The Prep:
Depending on the year, the valley may not open until June based on that year’s snowfall. Accommodations in peak season are booked months in advance so plan ahead. I made a reservation for the Curry Village canvas tent cabins, but regular cabins with private bathrooms are also available.

The Gear:
Sleeping bag (blankets, pillows and towels are provided, but I prefer to use my own sleeping bag)
Headlamp
Hiking boots
Merino wool socks
Padlock
Camelbak
Extra layers
Earplugs

The Execution:
Living in central California, I was lucky enough to have Yosemite National Park at my doorstep. Only an hour from the park entrance, I traveled to the park most weekends for day hiking and exploring. When family came to visit, I decided to make a reservation at Curry Village so we could spend a long weekend in the park. I booked my reservation 2 months in advance and got one of the last tent cabins available. A tent cabin is basically a wooden platform and frame draped in canvas. Unlike typical tents, the tent cabins have an actual door. Inside, the tent is outfitted with cots including blankets, pillows, and towels. Outside, each tent cabin has its own bear proof storage locker. Communal bathrooms and showers are available for those staying in the village.

Upon arriving at the park, a fee is required for entry. The entrance fee is per vehicle, not per person and around $30 USD. I however possess an annual pass for all national parks which is a great deal at $80 USD/year. After entering the park, it’s about an hour drive down to the valley and Curry Village.  On the drive to the valley, we passed through a long tunnel opening up to one of the most magnificent views of the park, rightly named “tunnel view”. Here we got our first glimpse of the famous El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls.

After arriving and checking in at Curry Village, we went through all of our belongings and put aside ANYTHING that may have a scent to it. This includes all food, beverage, toiletries, chap-stick or anything else that has a scent and we stored these items in the bear locker outside of the tent. The bears in the park are very savvy so we secured our locker with our padlock and checked our car to ensure nothing scented was left behind. This may sound dramatic, but check out the car on display in the valley where a bear ripped the door off of a car because it smelled something inside!

CALI

We spent the rest of the day exploring the park and taking in the natural beauty surrounding us. The park offers something for every activity and skill level; from short walks to the falls, rock climbing, rafting, bus tours, biking and long hikes there is something for everyone. One of the most famous viewpoints is at Glacier Point. Visitors can either make reservations for a bus tour or drive to the top where there is an amazing view of half dome.

CALI

CALI

The next day, we decided to wake up early to conquer one of my favorite hikes in the park. This trail starts at Glacier Point and ends down in the valley. This is a one way trail so we took the bus up to Glacier Point so we could hike back down to the valley. There are two trails, but I prefer the 8.5 mile panoramic trail. While it sounds like this trail would be mostly downhill, it is quite the opposite. The trail is very strenuous and takes somewhere between six and eight hours to complete. Although this hike is demanding, it provides some of the most beautiful views of the park including panoramic views of the valley and an up close and personal encounter with Illilouette Falls. The trail eventually merges with the Mist Trail where you guessed it, it’s quite misty. Prepare to see some beautiful waterfalls, but also to get a little wet.

After an intense day of hiking, we spent our final evening in the park relaxing in the valley. That night, the valley turned intensely dark, ideal for star gazing and on this perfectly clear night, the stars were nearly bright enough to light the whole camp. A perfect ending to a perfect weekend.

The Highlights:

  • Make reservations early.
  • Take earplugs as the tents are close together and can be noisy.
  • Be sure to put all scented items in the bear locker.

Hiking Breakneck Ridge

cold spring

The Mission: Escape NYC for a day in the great outdoors.

The Prep:
Grab a train ticket from Grand Central to Breakneck Ridge. Travel time is approximately an hour and a half.

The Gear:
Trail shoes
Hydration pack
Hiking pants
Light layers on top
Shades
Sunscreen

The Execution:
Being an outdoor lover in NYC can be quite difficult. Central Park is great, but sometimes you yearn for something more. Every fall, the outdoor loving city dwellers of NYC clamor upstate to Cold Spring, NY for the fresh, crisp fall air and Instagram worthy foliage. We gather at Grand Central Station, clad in our lulu with coffee in hand to board the early morning metro-north train for Breakneck Ridge. While many take this time to enjoy the scenery from their train car window, we seize this opportunity to continue sleeping off our hangovers. After about an hour and a half, we arrive at our destination. We followed the throngs of fellow hikers exiting the train and headed to the trail head.

The beginning of the trail requires a lot scrambling and with hikers of all levels navigating the face, the initial ascent was slow moving. After conquering the steep slope, we were greeted with sweeping views of the Hudson Valley River. We stopped for some water and a few photos before continuing on. Most hikers continue on the white trail, but we decided to avoid the crowds and follow the red and yellow blazes down the bypass trail onto Wilkinson Memorial Trail. This part of the hike was much easier than the initial climb and dropped down into the tree covered valley. The leaves at this time of year boasted a variety of vibrant colors and offered a serene setting. We followed the stream through the forest until we ended up on the main road. From here we followed the signs to the town of Cold Spring.

Cold Spring is a quaint little town with a bustling main street lined with independent shops and restaurants. Alongside the train tracks is Cold Spring Depot Restaurant, the perfect spot for a post-hike drink. We grabbed a table near the band and ordered up some hot cocoa with Baileys, enjoyed some much needed grub and reminisced about our day before crossing the tracks and hopping on a train back to city life.

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate
  • Approximate hiking time: 3-4 hours
  • Train time each way: 1.5 hours
  • Check the train schedule as not all trains stop at Breakneck Ridge.
  • Take plenty of water.
  • There are many restaurants downtown for lunch after hiking.
  • Wear sturdy shoes.