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.

PA

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

CALI

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.

The Steps to Elephant Mountain

TAIWAN

The Mission: Hike Elephant Mountain for a stunning view of downtown Taipei.

The Prep:
Take the metro to Xiangshan station and leave through exit #2. Follow the path next to the park and turn left at the park’s end. You will walk up a small hill and make a right where you will see the steps to the entrance of the trail.

The Gear:
Comfortable walking shoes
Raincoat
Water
Camera

The Execution:
Taipei 101, an immense skyscraper in downtown Taipei dominates the skyline. I had heard that the best way to see this tower was from Elephant Mountain. Unfortunately, this was my last day in Taipei and it happened to be raining, but I decided to go for it anyway. After finding the entrance, I realized I should have spent some more time on the step machine at the gym. The trail starts with some steps, continues with some steps and leads to, you guessed it…more steps. There was a small overlook platform to stop and take in the view before continuing on to the “real view”. Here there were several large boulders that other visitors were climbing on to get the ultimate photo. With the heavy rain and my ultimate clumsiness, I decided to forego the climbing and walk a little further. I continued up the trail until I saw a small path off to the left. This I believe was the best viewing area. From here I could see the clouds rolling by offering me short glimpses of that giant skyscraper, Taipei 101. Even in the rain, the view was incredible. I continued up the path a bit, but I had no idea where it led so I eventually turned around and headed back down the slippery stairs in the pouring rain.

The Highlights: 

  • Level of difficulty: moderate
  • When you reach the fork in the path, I suggest taking the route to the left. It’s a little less intense.
  • If you go in the rain like myself, watch your footing as it was quite slippery.