Banff National Park 7 Day Hiking Itinerary

The Mission: See as much of Banff National Park as possible in one week!

The Prep: Accommodations fill up quickly in the area so we booked ahead on Airbnb! The town of Banff was a little out of our price range so we opted to stay in Canmore. Canmore is another cute, little town about 30 minutes outside the town of Banff, but much more affordable.

The Gear: Please see Anatomy of a Day Hike

The Execution:

Day 1:

We flew into Calgary and picked up our rental car at the airport, got right on the road and drove the roughly 90 minutes to Banff. This year was the 150th anniversary of the National Parks in Canada and because of this, entry to all the National Parks is FREE!! Woohoo! I registered online in advance and my park pass was sent to me in the mail so we were all set to go through the quick entrance once we arrived at the park. We stopped in the town of Banff and went directly to the visitors center where we picked up some park and trail maps. As it was a bit later in the day already, we decided to do a less crowded, shorter hike; opting to go to Ink Pots.

This 5.8km hike starts at Johnston Creek. There were two parking lots, but they were both full so we parked on the side of the road and headed to the trail. There were restrooms and a small cafe with coffee and ice cream right at the trailhead. The beginning of the trail up the creek was paved which eventually led to a catwalk that is connected to the side of the mountain. With rock on one side and water on the other, this small walkway got fairly congested with a plethora of hikers and baby strollers. Just a little over a kilometer in, we arrived at Lower Falls. We took a few pictures and quickly hiked another 1.6km to Upper Falls. Again, we found it a little too crowded for our tastes so we decided to continue on to the Ink Pots.

Heading up to the Ink Pots, the crowds thinned and the trail was no longer paved. Under a lush forest of trees, we hiked the rolling hills all the way to a valley where we were met with a panoramic view of the mountains. Just a few steps further and the beautiful blue of the ink pots took our breath away. The springs here are unique as they are cold springs around 4 degrees celsius. We stopped here to take a few photos and have some lunch before we took the trail back down to the parking area.

Overall, the Johnston Canyon falls area is great for those with limited hiking ability or families. While we found the falls and creek beautiful, the Ink Pots were much more impressive and worth the extra 3km to see them.

Johnston Canyon level of difficulty: Easy
Ink Pots level of difficulty: Moderate

Day 2:

We woke up on day 2 with fresh legs ready to take on a more difficult hike. Wanting to stay away from the crowds, we opted for Sulphur Mountain Trail. This 5.5km trail definitely had us breaking a sweat. The trail winds up the mountains by a series of switchbacks underneath a gondola. With very little reprieve, there was a steeper incline at every turn, but we often stopped to catch our breath and enjoy the view of the Bow Valley below.

It took us roughly 2 hours to reach the top of the mountain where we were met with sweeping panoramic views of the valley below. Other (maybe smarter) people opted to take the gondola to the top of the mountain rather than hike it, but I believe we really enjoyed the view much more having to work for it!

Since there is a gondola to the top of the mountain, it was fairly crowded. There is a large building at the top that offers restrooms, a restaurant, a viewing deck, educational information and even a gift shop. If you opt to take the gondola, the price as of this post was $31 per person each way.

We stopped to have a bite to eat and then continued along a wooden walkway to an old weather tower. It was incredibly windy as this was the highest point of the mountain so we didn’t stay long. We took a few photos and headed back down the trail to the bottom of the mountain.

At the bottom of the trail is Banff Upper Hot Springs, a natural spring, but outfitted as a regular swimming pool. After a strenuous hike, we figured we deserved a treat so we grabbed our swimsuits and towels from the car and soaked our sore muscles in the hot springs for a few hours. The center also offers coin lockers, swimsuits and towels for rent if you don’t have your own!

Sulphur Mountain trail level of difficulty: Strenuous

Day 3:

On day 3 we were ready to check out the grand attraction- Lake Louise. So we set out early and were lucky enough to find a parking spot at the lake. The turquoise blue was immediately breathtaking. We had never seen a lake this color before. Even this early, there were tons of tourists and even brides taking photos all around the lake. We continued walking until we found a sign for Lake Agnes Tea House trail.

The 3.6km trail to the tea house took us uphill through a few switchbacks, past mirror lake, up to a waterfall and then suddenly we were there. A set of wooden stairs took us directly to the tea house on Lake Agnes. I couldn’t think of a more beautiful location to stop and have a cup of tea…but we didn’t! We were eager to continue our journey so we hiked right past the tea house and around the lake where we would hike an additional 1.6km to Big Beehive.

The trail took us all the way to the far end of the lake where we were rewarded with a beautiful reflection of the mountains on the lake and the tea house in the distance. We continued up a set of switchbacks that offered even more impressive views of the lake through the yellow larch trees.

Once at the top, we headed left out to the top of the beehive. We were so surprised when we realized we had a perfect view of Lake Louise below us on one side and Lake Agnes on the other! At the end of the beehive, we found a perfectly placed gazebo where we stopped to have lunch and take in the view of Lake Louise below. If we thought the lake looked magnificent from below, the view from above left us speechless.

After lunch, we decided to head back down. We could go back down the same way we came, but we decided to go the opposite direction for a change in scenery. Some hikers chose to continue on to the Six Plains Glacier Tea House hike, but we bypassed this for the day and headed back towards the lake. A little rain and a few hours later and we were back at the lake, surrounded by tourists once again.

Big Beehive Trail level of difficulty: Moderate

Day 4:

We woke up to find a cold and rainy day ahead of us so we decided to take this day to drive the Icefields Parkway. The road connects Banff National Park to Jasper National Park and is known as one of the most beautiful drives in the world. We packed some snacks for the day, filled up the tank with gas and hit the road.

The drive itself is incredible as you pass through the continental divide surrounded by the rocky mountains. Even on a cloudy, rainy day, the views were nothing short of impressive. The road is well-marked, pointing out turnouts for all of the major attractions from Bow Lake all the way up to Columbia Icefield. While everywhere we stopped was incredible, my personal favorite would be Peyto Lake; a gorgeous blue lake and on this day surrounded by snow-covered pines.

The drive to Columbia Icefields and back to Banff took us most of the day with all the stops and little hikes we took along the way. Luckily we took some food with us as there is only one place to stop on the entire drive with food and also only one stop with gasoline so it’s a good idea to fill up before you leave Banff. At Columbia Icefield we found a large visitor center that also had a small cafeteria and restrooms. Here, you can also purchase a tour of the glacier. We opted to just walk up to the tongue and take a look ourselves, but you are unable to walk on the glacier unless you are accompanied by a tour guide.

Even with the dreary weather, the drive was magnificent. The drive to Jasper and back to Banff is definitely feasible in one day, but would also be nice with a night or two stop off in Jasper if you have the time.

Day 5:

After a day of rest, we were ready to hit the trails again! Today we would do the hike that I’ve been waiting for the whole trip…Larch Valley. I was super excited to be visiting Banff in September so we could see the much raved about Larch Trees in their prime.

The Larch Valley trail starts near Moraine lake. There is a very small parking lot at this lake and it is typically full so we parked at the overflow lot and took a shuttle from the overflow lot to Moraine Lake. The 4.3km trail starts to the right of the lake and climbs through a thick forest of trees up to the valley. As the elevation increased, we started to see more and more golden-yellow larches sprout through the thick green pines. On this snowy day, the golden-yellow was a little subdued as the thick white coat of fresh snow covered the golden branches, but the view was still stunning and special under the fresh snowfall. It was hard to peel our eyes away from the gorgeous trees below, but the panoramic mountain view was equally spectacular. This hike instantly became my favorite hike of the trip.

We chose not to do the additional 2.5km up to Sentinel Pass as it was already cold and windy enough for us in the valley so we bundled up and headed back down to Moraine Lake and waited for the shuttle to take us back to the overflow lot where we began.

Larch Valley trail level of difficulty: Moderate

Day 6:

The hike to Saddleback Pass began at Lake Louise once again. The 7.4km round trip hike started to the left of the lake this time. A dense forest led us up a series of switchbacks, past huge rock piles from earlier avalanches and looking out on the valley below. We intended to stop at Saddleback Pass, but there were no signs on the trail so we just continued hiking no sure whether we had made it to the pass or not. We continued on until we were met with a sign the pointed to Paradise Valley in one direction and Fairview Mountain in the other. Realizing we had passed Saddleback, we decided to head towards Paradise Valley.

The narrow path led us on a descending path through a forest of dense trees. As the elevation started to decline, we realized just how far below this valley trail was to take us. We decided to stop before we got too far and turn around to continue back down the path we came on. We weren’t quite up for the strenuous trek back up from that valley!

Hike to Paradise Valley Junction level of difficulty: Moderate

Day 7:

Our final day at Banff arrived much too soon. Wanting to squeeze in one last hike before we had to head back to Calgary, we decided to try an easy trail a bit further away from the crowds of Lake Louise.

We opted for the 10.2km round trip hike to Boom Lake. This wide, forest-covered trail was just what we needed after a few days of tougher hikes. Very low intensity and fairly little elevation gain, the hike to the lake was relaxing and serene. We emerged from the forest and were met with a crystal clear lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The lake looked incredibly inviting and if it was MUCH warmer, I would likely have taken a dip in the glassy water.

We took a nice long break enjoying the scenery and a snack before we headed back to the car park and hit the road for the 90 minute drive back to Calgary.

Boom Lake level of difficulty: Easy

The Highlights:

  • There are plenty of hikes in the park for all ability levels
  • Lake Louise and Moraine Lake may be the big attractions, but don’t miss out on all of the other great hikes and beauty in the park
  • Accommodations fill up quickly so book early
  • We were able to pay for everything the entire trip with credit card and did not need any local currency

Ireland Self-Drive Itinerary

With an Irish name like Kelly Murphy, I figured it was about time I traveled to Ireland to visit my motherland and learn a bit more about my heritage! We flew into Dublin and booked an Airbnb right outside the city center. We rented a car and drove around southern Ireland for 9 beautiful days.

Day 1: Dublin

Day 1, we arrived in Dublin, checked into our Airbnb, stopped at a local pub for some bangers and mash and hit the sack!

Day 2: Galway

The next morning we woke up early and went to the Book of Kells at Trinity College. The long room is a beautiful library filled with ancient books from floor to ceiling. After Kells, we walked over to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and toured the beautiful old church. After grabbing some lunch, we hopped in our car and drove towards Galway.

Galway was a bustling little town with street performers on every corner. We listened to some great local music and even saw some dancing. We spent a few hours here walking around and enjoying a meal before checking into an Airbnb for the evening.

Day 3: Burren National Park, Cliffs of Moher

Day three started with a drive through Burren National Park. Coming from the US, we expected this to be a crowded park with an entrance fee and line to enter. Burren was quite the opposite. We drove down a narrow tree-lined lane and eventually came upon an iron gate and a small sign indicating that we were at the park entrance. There was not another soul in sight so we stopped to read a bit of the history and take a look around.

After a bit of exploring, we hopped back in the car and headed to the Cliffs of Moher. A small entry fee led us to breathtaking scenery and miles of coastline to wander. We spent most of the day here walking the pathway at the edge of the cliff, taking photos and enjoying some lunch. You can most definitely spend an entire day here- I would recommend packing a lunch and some sunscreen and having a picnic! The Cliffs of Moher were without a doubt the highlight of our entire trip.

We spent the night in the town of Doolin where we had the pleasure of listening to a local trad band in a small pub. We had heard that Doolin was known for local music and we were not disappointed!

Day 4: Dingle Peninsula

From Doolin, we headed to the town of Dingle where we spent the day driving the scenic Slea Head Drive. The western end of the route boasts stunning coastal views and can’t be missed. The drive starts and ends in Dingle which is a great little town to stop for a bite to eat before or after you begin your journey.

The drive took several hours and we were exhausted afterwards so we headed to our Airbnb in nearby Killarney for the night.

Day 5: Killarney, Ross Castle, Muckrock House

Killarney ended up being one of the busiest towns on our route, filled with tourists and traffic so we decided to forgo driving the Ring of Kerry and instead just made stops at Ross Castle and Muckrock House.

Rock Castle is an old tower castle full of history in a beautiful lakeside setting. In addition to a tour of the castle, you can also book a boat tour out on the lake.

Muckrock House is a cant miss! A beautiful historic mansion surrounded by beauty- gardens, lakes and mountains. You could spend hours here (and I would recommend doing so) just walking around the estate and enjoying the scenery.

Day 6: Cork, Blarney Castle

Waking up in Cork, we walked the town and enjoyed a bite to eat before heading to Blarney Castle. We spent most of the day exploring the ground and gardens of the castle and of course….kissing the Blarney Stone!

The castle itself has some steep and narrow stairs so it may not be suitable for everyone. However, the estate is lush, green and gorgeous and worth the price of admission in itself. There is also a small cafe on site for snacks or a quick cup of tea.

Day 7: Cahir Castle,Swiss Cottage

The next day we spent enjoying the countryside views on the way to Cahir. We stopped for a tour of Cahir Castle (another tower castle) and then made our way to the Swiss Cottage up the road. I wouldn’t say these are “must dos” on the itinerary, but it was a nice place to stop on the long drive to Kilkenny.

Day 8: Rock of Cashel, Kilkenny

We spent the night in Cashel and woke up early to visit the Rock of Cashel- an old historic abbey up on the hill. There is an entrance fee and if you’re looking to save some money, I would say to skip this one. You can see most everything from the outside and the real view is from afar.

After lunch in the town of Cashel, we headed to Kilkenny where we would spend the rest of the day exploring the small town and having a few pints at the local pub.

Day 9: Powerscourt House and Gardens, Dublin

We started our drive towards Dublin and had planned on stopping at the Powerscourt House and Gardens along the way, but were disappointed when we arrived a bit too late and they were no longer allowing entry for the evening. That being said, I cant speak to the beauty of this one, but I’ve heard that it’s a great spot and is on the path back to Dublin and would be a good spot to stop for a few hours.

We arrived back in Dublin in time for our tour of the Jameson Distillery. With each admission, you receive an overview of the history, how the whiskey is made, a tasting and a free drink.

We spent the rest of the evening waking Temple Bar, enjoying one last Irish meal and taking in some local Irish Dancing at a pub. I wouldn’t leave Ireland without seeing some local dancers and musicians!

Trip Highlights:

  • We traveled to Ireland in mid-April and it was still quite chilly. I would recommend bringing a heavier jacket and a scarf.
  • Driving is on the LEFT side of the road!! Be aware and be careful.
  • The people in Ireland are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met! Be sure to meet some locals and ask them for tips on local restaurants and pubs.

Germany: Christmas Markets Itinerary

christmasmarkets

I’ve always wanted to see the famous Weihnachtsmarkt in Germany so I decided to take a two-week, freezing cold solo trip through Germany to get into the Christmas spirit!

Day 1, 2 and 3: Berlin

I flew into Berlin and found my way to my Airbnb just steps away from Alexanderplatz. This was the perfect location to explore the city with my first Weihnachtsmarkt directly across the street and public transport right at my doorstep.

I spent my first two days in Germany wandering the city, seeing the major sites and spending my evenings at the Christmas Markets drinking waaaaaaaaaaay too much Glühwein.

Berlin Highlights:

  • Glühwein
  • Curry Wurst
  • Brandenburg Gate
  • Checkpoint Charlie
  • East Side Gallery
  • Holocaust Memorial
  • Potsdamer Platz
  • Nightlife
  • Public Transportation Info

Day 4: Day trip to Potsdam

I woke up early and went to the HBF to hop on the RE to Potsdam. A short 20 min ride and I was in the beautiful city of Potsdam. I immediately took a local bus to Sanssouci Palace and Park where I spent the majority of my day exploring the palace and grounds. Unfortunately, since it was winter, the grounds were quite bare and it was freezing, but it was still lovely and quite worth the trip.

Once my fingers were numb from the cold, I went back to town to indulge in a hot bowl of soup and large cup of cocoa before hopping back on the train to Berlin for the night.

Day 5: Dresden

A quick 2 hour ride on the Eurocity train had me in Dresden before noon. After checking in at my Airbnb, I set off to explore the city. The city does have public transport, but it is a small city so I decided to do the whole day by foot. Most of the major attractions are in one area of town so it is easy to spend the day in the center of the city, but one day here was definitely enough.

The markets here were so beautiful. Nothing compared to Berlin size wise, but still lovely. I had to restrain myself from purchasing all of the amazing handmade items for sale, but I did splurge and eat all of the goodies in sight! I definitely fell into a deep sugar comma sleep that evening.

Dresden Highlights: 

  • Church of Our Lady
  • Bruhls Terrace
  • Zwinger Palace
  • Pfund’s Dairy
  • Semper Opera
  • Procession of Princes
  • Royal Palace
  • Neumarkt
  • Pillnitz Castle

Day 6: Berlin

I took an early train the next morning back to Berlin so I could catch an evening flight to Munich. The trip from Berlin to Munich can also be done by train, but the price was relatively the same to fly so I decided to take the quicker option.

Day 7, 8 and 9: Munich

Munich was by far one my favorite stops on this trip. The architecture, the Christmas Markets and the beer had me hooked! Daytime was spent sightseeing and beer drinking while evenings were spent at the Weihnachtsmarkt drinking Glühwein and eating Kartoffelpuffer.

Munich Highlights:

  • Nyphemburg Palace
  • Residenz
  • English Garden
  • Neus Rathaus
  • Linderhof Palace
  • Schleissheim Palace
  • Pastries! Surprisingly, Munich had some of the best pastries Ive ever eaten! Stop by a bakery.

Day 10: Füssen

I took a RE train to Kaufbeuren where I quickly transferred to a RB train to Füssen (roughly 2 hours). Once in Füssen, there was a shuttle bus waiting to take passengers from the train up to the castle. This was a short trip, but definitely too long to walk. Once in Hohenschwangau, I bought my tickets to both the Hohenschwangau Castle and Neuschwanstein Castle and wandered the small town until my reservation.

My first trip was a short, beautiful walk up to Hohenschwangau Castle. This was a much shorter tour than Neuschwanstein, but still interesting and beautiful in its own right.

My next stop was the famous Neuschwanstein Castle. I decided to walk to the top which was quite a hike. It’s all uphill and took about 40 minutes. There were also horse-drawn carriages and shuttle that you could pay to take to the top of the hill if you are unable to walk that distance.

I walked up early to snap some photos and take in the view before I started the 30 minute tour. The castle was truly incredible and beyond beautiful, the story was amazing, and I was so glad I made the trip to see this iconic castle with my own eyes.

After the tour, I wandered around a little longer, ate dinner in town and took the bus back to Füssen where I enjoyed some music at a tiny Christmas market before getting some rest at my local Airbnb.

Füssen Highlights:

  • If you know when you will be visiting, go online and reserve your tickets in advance as tours are sold out quickly.

Day 11 and 12: Nuremberg

I took a 3.5 hour train ride from Füssen to Nuremberg and immediately went to nap at my Airbnb. That evening, I went to explore the Christmas market and drink more Glühwein. All of the markets had been very crowded, but this one in particular was extremely packed and hard to move around. Despite the crowds, I was still able to leave the market with a beautiful hand crafted Nutcracker to take home!

The next day, I explored the city which can easily be done in a day and took a tour of the underground Rock Cut Cellars. The cellars are great as long as you aren’t claustrophobic! The ceilings are quite low in most parts and you go quite a few floors underground. If you’re prone to anxiety attacks, this is not the place for you! The stories of the cellars though are very interesting and worth the tour if you have time!

Nuremberg Highlights:

  • Kaiserburg
  • Rock Cut Cellars and Dungeons
  • Tanner’s Lane
  • Haubtmarkt

Day 13: Munich

An hour ICE train ride had me back in Munich for my last day in Germany. I enjoyed a few more delicious German beers before I headed to the airport feeling ready for the Christmas season!

Trip Highlights:

  • It was EXTREMELY cold, check the weather and prepare to dress appropriately as you will be walking outside a lot at the markets.
  • Public transportation is amazing, no need to rent a car unless you really want to.
  • Train tickets from city to city are slightly cheaper if you buy online in advance.
  • Each city has their own public transportation system. Make sure you buy the appropriate tickets for each system you plan to use.
  • I found Airbnb to be  much less expensive than hotels and in really great locations. If you’re new to Airbnb, get a free travel credit here!
  • Bring an extra bag to pack all the lovely hand crafted items you will buy at the markets!

Norway Self Drive Itinerary- Western Fjords

Norway

Day 1: Fly into Bergen

We flew into Bergen and immediately picked up our rental car and started our drive to Stavanger. The drive took a little over 4 hours and included two ferry rides. Exhausted, we arrived at our Airbnb in Stavanger and got a good night’s rest before we started our adventures.

Day 2: Hike Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock)

We stopped at the grocery store before heading out on the hour and a half drive to Preikestolen. This drive included one ferry ride. We paid for parking, used the restroom and filled up our camelbaks before starting out on the 2-4 hour hike.

This hike can definitely be done in under 4 hours, but the views are exceptional and we spent a lot of time hanging out and enjoying the scenery.

For more detailed info, see Hiking Preikestolen.

After our hike, we started driving the two and a half hours towards Kjerabolten. We stopped to camp right near the entrance of the hike so we could get an early start in the morning.

Day 3: Hike Kjeragbolten

Even though we started our hike early, the parking lot was nearly full. We spent almost the entire day on this hike, enjoying the scenery, taking photos and exploring the area.

For more detailed info, see Hiking Kjeragbolten.

Tired, we started our four and a half hour drive towards Trolltunga. It had started to rain so we stopped and set up our tent under a small shelter and spent the night.

Day 4: Hike Trolltunga

In the morning, we continued our drive to Trolltunga and stopped in the town of Odda to get a bite to eat before beginning the hike. Once our bellies were full, we drove to the trail head and prepared our packs.

The hike to Trolltunga took us roughly 6 hours. We arrived around dusk, set up our tent for the night and enjoyed the evening with an incredible view.

For more detailed info, see Hiking Trolltunga.

Trolltunga

Day 5: Hike Trolltunga

The next day, we explored more of Trolltunga and hiked the 4 hours back down to the parking lot.

When we arrived back at our car, we were so excited to remove our shoes and packs! We took a few minutes to stretch and relax before we started our hour and a half drive to Voss where we would camp for the evening.

Day 6: Kayak Gudvangen

We woke up early in Voss, grabbed breakfast and drove a quick 40 minutes to Gudvangen. A beautiful, sunny day, we rented a double Kayak at Nordic Ventures. There are also Kayak tours you can take here, but we decided to rent a kayak and explore on our own. They offer full day and half-day rentals and we opted for the full day so we could take our time and enjoy.

Nordic Ventures supplied everything we needed: kayak and paddle, skirt, wet-suit, booties, waterproof jacket, life vest and dry bags. We packed a lunch and began paddling out into the fjord. We passed a few other kayakers and lots of tourist boats. The water was calm and the view was breathtaking. We stopped off to explore a waterfall and dip our toes in the freezing glacial water.

We paddled a bit further and stopped for lunch on a small, lush, green,  sun drenched pasture. We ate our lunch while lambs roamed around us with the serene sound of waterfalls in the distance. We even took a swim in the fjord and laid on the shore to dry in the sun. I could have stayed here forever, but we had to get the kayaks back by 5:30pm so we geared up and started our paddle back to shore.

Our arms were quite tired on the way back so we took our time and enjoyed the scenery and the lovely weather. We made it back just in time for closing, returned our gear and began the five and a half hour drive to Hoddevik. We were very tired so we stopped on our way at the town of Lem and camped for the evening.

Day 7: Surf at Hoddevik

Day 7 started out with a stop at Bøyabreen Glacier, Fjærland. Here we found a lot of tour buses so we didn’t stay too long, but it was an amazing spot to view the glacier. The water in the lake below was an incredible shade of blue with small ice chunks casually floating by. We could feel an icy chill coming from the glacier above as we marveled at the large, blue ice sheet. There was also a restaurant and restrooms here where many of the tour buses stopped for lunch.

After our glacier stop, we continued the drive to Hoddevik. It started to rain, but it didn’t stop us from hitting the surf. Hoddevik is a very small town so it wasn’t hard to find the board rental shop right by the beach. We rented boards and suits and hit the waves. While the waves weren’t huge, they were consistent and there were very few surfers competing for waves.

After a few hours of surf, we headed to nearby Ervik. There are also surfable waves in Ervik, but we came here on a suggestion from a local to check out the old Nazi tunnels in the mountain. We hiked across the beach and up a cliff, through a gate and finally reached the entrance to the tunnel. There were two paths in the tunnel. The path to the right led us to an amazing view of the ocean where the path to the left let us to some old broken stairs up to a small house out on the cliff. This was definitely an off the beaten path stop, we were the only people around and were able to enjoy a nice quiet hike with only sheep as our company and the sound of waves crashing as our soundtrack.

After our hike, we began the three and a half hour drive towards Geiranger, but stopped about an hour in and found a spot to camp for the evening.

Day 8: Hike in Brunstad (or go to Geiranger)

The next day we had planned on heading to Geiranger, but the weather was fierce so we decided to take a detour and spend the day in nearby Brunstad. We got an amazing Airbnb with a wood burning stove and incredible view.

We took a VERY rainy hike up to a nearby Norse village. The old farming village was like a time warp, sending us back to the days when farmers would bring their livestock to this tiny village for summering. We decided to continue up the mountain hoping to reach a lake we had heard of, but after about an hour of hiking in the pouring down rain, we decided to call it a day and head back down.

Norse Village

We were soaked and muddy and happy we had a nice warm cabin to go home to and dry off. We got an amazing night of rest and were sad we had to leave our quiet little village the next day.

The touristy thing to do here would definitely be to go to Geirangerfjord, but we really love immersing ourselves in the local culture and enjoyed our time away from the tourist crowds and exploring Norway off the beaten path.

Day 9: Drive towards Bergen

The next day we began the six and a half hour drive towards Bergen. We stopped multiple times to veer off course, take small side roads and explore anything and everything that seemed interesting and beautiful.

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After a day of admiring our surroundings, we had a nice dinner at Stryn Hotel and found a campsite near by for the evening.

Day 10: Hike in Bergen

On our final day, we finished our drive and spent the day in Bergen. We checked into our Airbnb not far outside of town and took a local bus to Stoltzekleiven. We hiked the 722 stairs up to Sandviksfjellet and the view was well worth the effort.

Bergen Hike

After enjoying the bird’s eye view of Bergen, we hiked back towards a small lake. Here we were met with multiple hiking trails. We were surprised there were so many hiking trails right in the heart of the city.

We took a trail from the lake all the way down to the city center. We passed several other trail heads and even some backpackers heading out for a night of camping.

We treated ourselves to a delicious dinner at Bare Vestland and explored the city for the evening before returning to our Airbnb and packing up to fly out the next morning.

Bergen

Day 11: Fly home

Goodbye, Norway! Leaving Norway was really hard. The entire trip was beautiful and breathtaking with something to wow at after every turn. I’m already starting to plan my trip to return!

Norway Travel Tips:

  • There is a very cool law in Norway that says you can camp just about anywhere. We took advantage of this to save a lot of money on our trip.
  • Norway is expensive, plan accordingly. For reference, gas was about $7USD/gallon and a meal at the gas station was about $30USD.
  • Grocery stores are closed on Sundays, make sure you stock up beforehand.
  • If driving, you will be taking quite a few ferries. Check schedules beforehand.
  • Tolls and ferry rides are also expensive, make sure to factor this into your budget.
  • Most gas stations did not take our US credit cards at the pumps which made getting gas difficult after hours. Make sure you fill up while stations are still open.
  • We used our US credit cards everywhere and rarely needed local currency.
  • If you haven’t used Airbnb before, it’s a wonderful, cheaper alternative to hotels. If you’re new to Airbnb, get a free travel credit here!

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!