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.

6b74f02a-0b9b-4059-860f-1a5dd4c7a242

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.

Biking the Coastal Trail in Anchorage

anchorage

The Mission: Bike 22 miles from downtown Anchorage to the chalet at Kincaid Park.

The Prep: 
No need to reserve in advance. Head to the Downtown Bicycle Rental  shop and pick up your bike, lock, helmet and directions. The trip should take roughly 3 hours. Bike rental is $16 for the first 3 hours. You will be charged upon return for any additional time you keep the bike.

The Gear:
Light layers as the wind can be chilly on the bike
Water
Sunscreen
Comfortable shoes

The Execution:
We started the day early and picked up our bikes at the rental shop where we received detailed instructions from the staff on how to get to the entrance of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. We pedaled through town to the trail entrance where we followed the coast of Cook Inlet. We encountered sweeping views of far off mountain ranges and a glimpse of bald eagle soaring high above us. The trail proceeds to parallel the train tracks for a bit before weaving back into the lush greenery. There were a few rest areas where we stopped to take in the view of Anchorage,snap some photos and grab a snack. You can choose to stop and turnaround at any point on the trail, but we continued on to the end (11 miles) and then turned around to head back to town- 22 miles in total. Unfortunately, we didn’t see a ton of wildlife on our ride, but it was still a beautiful and relaxing ride- a great introduction to Alaska and a must do if you visit Anchorage!

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: casual to moderate
  • If you’re not up for a bike ride, it’s a nice trail for a casual walk.
  • Keep your eye out for wildlife!
  • Wear bug spray- lots of mosquitoes.

A Day of Hiking in Kenting

10487345_10108061612381054_2131824639715181174_n

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.

10959239_10108039949264114_7040699672364994763_n

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.