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.

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!

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

Navigating Nha Trang

The Mission: Explore Nha Trang, Vietnam on my own terms.

The Prep: Do some research and decide what attractions you can’t miss and check out a few local tour agencies to compare prices.

The Gear:
Shades
Sunscreen
Bathing suit
Comfortable shoes
Water

The Execution:
Nha Trang- a beautiful beach town with blue skies and sparkling waters. From HCM you can either take an 8 hour train ride or a one hour flight into Nha Trang. I opted to fly via Vietjet for an incredible price of $50 USD roundtrip.

Nha Trang is known for its beaches, but I had read about some beautiful waterfalls up in the mountains and was eager to do some hiking. There were many tour companies along the main roads so I took a stroll to check out some of my options. I could rent a motorbike and cruise the area myself, but I’m terrified to drive one of those things so I decided I would hire a driver for the day. Most companies offer tour packages that take you to many of the most popular sites, but I wanted something a bit different. I spoke with the tour operator and listed the areas I wanted to see. After a bit of negotiating, we came to an agreement that the driver would take me to my listed destinations over a period of 6 hours for $20 USD.

I met my driver, strapped on my helmet and saddled up for a day of exploring Nha Trang. Our first stop was Long Son Pagoda with the famous sleeping Buddha. I was warned by my driver upon entry that there were many scam artists in the area and not to speak to anyone. As I started to explore the area, I was approached by a number of people trying to sell me things and begging for money. My driver, being a bit protective, took notice and escorted me through the grounds for the remainder of my time there. After hiking the steps to see Sleeping Buddha and taking photos with the giant White Buddha, we were off. We stopped at a local home where I learned how to weave a rug, stopped by the fishing village, explored the Po Nagar Temple, cruised down the coast and through the rice fields on the way to Ba Ho Waterfall.

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Once at the park, my driver took to his hammock as I hiked towards the falls. The trail up follows the stream and is covered by trees. I hiked until I came to a fork in the road with a few women selling food and beverages. They pointed me in the right direction and I eventually saw the red arrows painted on the rocks. I followed the arrows up, around and over the rocks until I reached the falls. While not overly impressive, the hike was a lovely and refreshing change from the bustle of HCM where I had been the previous week. I wandered around for a bit and took a quick dip in the pools to cool down from my hike before I headed back down to find my driver and head back to town.

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The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate with the tour companies and get the experience you want for the price you can afford.

A Day at Sun Moon Lake

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The Mission: Cycle and Hike in one day!

The Prep:
From Taipei, take a train to Taichung. When you arrive at Taichung, stay in the building, but go all the way downstairs where you will see a counter to purchase bus tickets. Ask for a ticket on the Nan-Tou bus to Sun Moon Lake and which station to wait at. The bus ride will take approximately 90 minutes.

The Gear:
Comfortable shoes
Shades
Sunscreen
Light layers
Lots of water

The Execution:
The bus dropped me off near a 7-11 in town at Sun Moon Lake. I walked down the main road where I saw several places to rent bikes. I surrendered my photo ID and a cash deposit to rent a bike asked for directions to the Yuetan bike path. I chose to do the 8km trail, but you can also opt to do the full 30km around the lake!

The trail started out paved, crossing a bridge and weaving in and out through the trees before opening up parallel to a main road. Here the trail turned into an elevated boardwalk with vast open views of the lake. I continued on through the trees, over abstract bridges, around meticulously landscaped gardens and out to an overlook. I passed the visitor center and came to a fork in the road, I opted to ride up the ramp and eventually down along the lake again. After riding sever more kilometers, I realized I was no longer on the trail I had intended to do, but continuing further on. Since I planned on hiking later in the day, I opted to turn around and head back to along the trail to town. I was amazed by the variety of vantage points along the trail that provided a different perspective of the lake from every angle.

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With only one day at Sun Moon Lake, I decided to follow up my bike ride with a hike to Xuanzhuang Temple. After dropping off my bike, I went down to the pier and took a shuttle boat for $NT100 across the lake. the Mt. Shueisheda trail is approximately 5.6km and got rather steep in certain areas. It was a beautiful hike with lovely foliage, but not many tourists tend to hike that far back so it was not nearly as crowded as many of the other trails. I hiked the steps and reached the main road where I finally saw the temple. After touring the temple and the grounds, I stopped at a lovely covered sitting/picnic area and enjoyed the great view of the lake. After my legs recovered, I headed back down the trail and took the shuttle back to the other side of the lake.

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate
  • Grab a lock from the bike rental company so you can stop and explore.
  • Take your camera for this scenic route!
  • The bike rental company will charge you by the hour so make sure to time your ride if you are trying to stick to a certain budget.
  • Take plenty of water for your hike, there are steep areas including a section of steps.

Exploring Taroko Gorge

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The Mission: Marvel the marble at Taroko Gorge, Taiwan.

The Prep: 
This was my first tour I’ve booked through Viator. The $149 USD tour included pick-up, flight to Hualien, lunch, and train ride return to Taipei.

The Gear:
Walking shoes are a must, but hiking boots were not necessary.
Shades
Rain jacket for another rainy day!

The Execution:
The adventure began with an excruciating 6am pick up time. The driver took me directly to the airport where I met up with the others who would join the tour. The driver left us with our tickets and directions and we hopped on a quick flight to Hualien. When we arrived at Hualien, our tour guide was waiting to take our group to Taroko Gorge.

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The trip wasn’t quite what I expected. The van took us through the park, stopping occasionally to take in the sites  or have a coffee break with each stop being somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes long. I was hoping to explore more trails so a fellow passenger and I decided to take make the most of each stop and hike the trails in the area in the time allotted; which, on occasion, included sprinting back to the van so we didn’t get left behind!

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We stopped for lunch at a hotel in the park where we had the opportunity to hike up to a temple before we ate. After lunch, we had an extended stop at the Eternal Spring Shrine. My new friend and I decided to hike the 2.2km including the “sky ladder” stairs up to the Bell Tower.  From the top of the Bell Tower, we had an exclusive view of the canyon and falls below. We didn’t have much time so we sprinted down the steps, through the tunnels and back to the van before we got left behind. We left the park and the day ended with a stop at the beach.  The day was miserably cold and windy so we didn’t stay long. We all hopped back into the van and headed to the train station back to Taipei where we met our original driver to get dropped at our hotels.

The Highlights: 

  • Level of difficulty: casual
  • Although the park is beautiful, I don’t think the tour is worth the price tag.
  • The full day tour takes around 13 hours so be prepared for a long day.
  • If you want to see a lot of the park without doing a lot of walking this tour is for you. If you want to do more hiking, speak to your guide as I did and get recommendations to go off the beaten path and see more of the park.

Ice Climbing in Seward

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The Mission: Scale the crevasses of Exit Glacier in Seward, Alaska.

The Prep: 
Tourist season in Alaska is short-lived so making reservations in advance is recommended. After much research, I decided on Exit Glacier Guides- reservations can be easily made on their website. The trip is a bit pricey at $185, but well worth it!

The Gear: 
Exit Glacier Guides graciously provides all climbing gear. Check out their website for a list of what you’ll need:
http://www.exitglacierguides.com/trip_information

The Execution:
We arrived at the shop early and immediately felt comfortable with the staff who helped outfit us with crampons and a pack! Once we were fitted and packed, our small group hopped in the van for the short ride to the park. We moved at a fairly quick pace as we hiked to the trail to the glacier in order to optimize our climbing time. The hike took about an hour and a half with little to no stopping. I was happy with my decision to wear multiple layers as I got quite hot on the hike, but once at the glacier the wind was absolutely freezing!

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When we arrived at the glacier, the guides helped us strap on our crampons and ran us through safety and the basics on walking on the glacier. After a short introduction to climbing basics, we practiced our skills on an easy route to get used to the motions and using the crampons and ice picks. Taking turns climbing and resting was a great way to not only to catch our breath, but to watch and learn from the others in the group.

After a few practice climbs, we moved on to the crevasses! The guides would set up two routes at each crevasse throughout the day- one easier and one more difficult. After picking my route and getting hooked up to my belayer guide, I took my first plunge into a crevasse. The guide slowly lowered me to the bottom, talking me through the process to ensure I was comfortable. Once at the bottom of the crevasse, my guide directed me on how to initiate the climb- reaching and hammering my picks into the ice, pulling myself up and kicking my crampons into the ice to gain my footing. This took much more arm strength than I anticipated and by the time I reached the top, I was exhausted, but thrilled with my accomplishment. We had the opportunity to climb several crevasses before we had to break and hike back exhausted and basking in the glory of our accomplishments.

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The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate
  • The guides made the trip. They were very knowledgeable, friendly, and made the trip a ton of fun!
  • Wear layers! The temperature varies dramatically from the hike to the glacier.
  • The hike to the glacier is fast paced and you will be wearing a pack. Make sure you are physically prepared for this.
  • The only bathroom is at the bottom of the mountain. Bring TP and be ready to go behind a rock if need be.
  • Sunglasses are recommended, the sun reflecting off the ice can really hurt the eyes.
  • This is an all day tour. Be ready to commit to an 8 hour day.
  • This was one of my favorite experiences, but if you’re not ready to climb, they also offer glacier hikes that are not as rigorous.

 

Glacier Hiking in Iceland

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The Mission: Hike my first glacier in magical Iceland.

The Prep: 
You’ll want to make arrangements for this one in advance. I booked online for $177 USD which included hotel pick-up and drop-off and all the gear you’ll need, but no food or beverage.

The Gear:
Heat gear leggings
Hiking pants
Waterproof insulated jacket
Fleece lined hat
Gloves
Merino wool socks
Hiking boots

The Execution:
After a long night (and morning) of Brennivin (aka Black Death) drinking, we dragged our hungover selves on the bus for Solheimajokull glacier. Once at the glacier, we were offered waterproof pants (definitely necessary) and geared up with crampons and ice picks. The guides offered a lot of interesting facts about the history of the glacier and its formation and were extremely knowledgeable and eager to answer all of our questions, not only about the glacier, but also about their lives in Iceland. We saw waterfalls and crevasses and learned that the black ash all over the glacier was due to a recent volcanic eruption. The guides took us on a 3.5 hour exploration of the glacier before we headed back to the bus and toward our next stop. We made stops at Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls to explore and take some photos before heading back to the hotel. Overall, the trip lasted around 10 hours. An incredible and unique experience, that I imagine would be even more enjoyable not hungover!

 

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The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate
  • Bring plenty of water and lunch.
  • Be prepared for any weather conditions- weather on the glacier can be much different from weather off the glacier- quite windy and possibly rainy.
  • Waterproof gloves will make your life way more comfortable.
  • Not recommended for people with balance issues.

A Day of Hiking in Kenting

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The Mission: Find the entrance to Kenting National Park and hike some trails!

The Prep:
I decided to stay in Hengchun, a small town north of the park. From here, I took a local bus down to the Kenting area. It can be quite confusing as Kenting is the name of the park as well as the name of the area surrounding the park.

The Gear:
Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen!
Shades
Hiking shoes
Merino wool socks
Shorts and tank top
Plenty of water and snacks

The Execution:
I started early and hopped on a bus for Kenting, not knowing exactly where to disembark. I told the driver I was trying to get to the national park and to let me know when we were close. At some point the driver stopped the bus and shouted “here! off now!” and off I went with the faint sound of laughter from the other passengers in the background. I took in my surroundings and realized I was in front of a resort, not a park. After aimlessly walking down the highway for a while, I found a Starbucks and asked for directions….at least I was walking in the right direction they said. I continued walking for another 20 minutes when I found the park entrance. I was hoping to find an information booth or some sort of map, but found nothing of the sort so I continued walking into the park and finally saw a road sign for “Kenting Forest Recreation Area”- I was going in the right direction. I waited at the bus stop for a while only to realize it was never coming so I started hoofing it up the hill. A few cars stopped and tried to offer me rides (I think), and as much as I would have loved to forego the long uphill walk, I figured hitchhiking probably wasn’t the smartest idea so I continued on….and on…and on. After about 45 minutes, I reached the entrance where I received applause from some of the other visitors who had driven by me on the road.

After paying the NT$150 entrance fee, I roamed the area wandering through lush forest greens, coral reef and narrow canyons. I explored the Fairy Cave and encountered some bats, took in the views from the observation tower and roamed the Valley of the Hanging Banyans with its’ hanging roots. The park is very easy to navigate via the paved trails and numbered signs that direct you to 17 different attractions.

When I was finished exploring the recreation area, I took a walk down the road to the Sheding Nature Park. Here I found multiple trails winding through more coral formations and narrow caves. I hiked up to one of the viewing platforms where there was a spanning ocean view and extreme winds. Wanting to escape the cold of the winds, I headed back down to the trail system and continued around the loop chasing butterflies through the dense greenery.

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After completing a loop around the area, I was sufficiently tired and ready for lunch, but I still had to walk another 45 minutes back down the hill to town!  After a quick bite to eat, I hopped back on the bus to Hengchun where a much longer day than anticipated resulted in a nap.

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: casual to moderate
  • Save yourself a lot of trouble and rent a motorbike to get around the park. It will save you a lot of extra walking!
  • Arrive at the recreation area early as it tends to get crowded.
  • If you forgot water or snacks, there is a visitor center at both Sheding and the Nature Area as well as restrooms.
  • Grab a map at the entrance of the Nature Reserve and decide which direction you want to go so you don’t backtrack- it’s easy to get turned around in this park.
  • Parking is available at the Nature Area for a fee.