Category: Nature

Hiking in the Grand Canyon – North Rim and Bright Angel Point Trail

Any trip to the Grand Canyon is worth it, long or short. It’s not the deepest, longest, or biggest – but it feels massive.

Our visit was an audible. We’d planned to make it a one-day excursion, but on the way to Antelope Canyon we realized we could spend the night, hit the North Rim on the way back, and add only two-and-a-half hours of driving instead of seven.

We were sold! Without a change of clothes or toiletries, we left our hotel in Page, Arizona and headed to this American icon.

North Rim
The drive to the North Rim iss one of the prettier approaches to a National Park that I’ve been on. It’s a quiet drive through secluded, untouched landscape – pine forests, hills covered with wildflowers, and vast meadows all roll by as you head south from Jacob’s Lake.

My guess is those meadows are often filled with herds of buffalo for those lucky enough to drive through at the right time, but we didn’t see any.

Early on in the drive, our kids were struck by a forest recently decimated by fire and in the process of regrowing itself. The impact of a forest fire is hard to fully appreciate until you witness it in person. When there’s nothing but charred, jagged trees as far as the eye can see, the loss of decades of life wiped out in a matter of days is inescapable. The forest will come back, but probably not in our lifetimes, which is something that no one should feel bad for mourning over.

Grand Canyon North Rim - Forest Fire

Bright Angel Trail
With young children, a hike deep into the canyon wasn’t in the cards, so we struck out on the super-short Bright Angel Point trail that leaves right from the Grand Canyon Lodge at the North Rim.

It’s only a half mile round trip, paved, and has little elevation change, but check your fear of heights at the door. Bright Angel Point is a narrow peninsula of land that juts out into the canyon. This is just like a ridge hike – which means it’s a long way down to the left and to the right. We kept a close eye on our kids, because the only railings on the trail are at the overlook at the end.

From there, we saw amazing views of Bright Angel Canyon, Walhalla Plateau, Zoroaster Temple and the South Rim. The coolest part of the Grand Canyon are all the layers – so many colors packed into too many striations to count. If you’re adventurous or have kids who love giving you gray hairs, better looks at all of these things can be had by scrambling onto some of the outcroppings and rocky rises along the trail.

Grand Canyon Bright Angel Trail - Overlook

After you’re done, make sure to visit the Grand Canyon Lodge. It was built in the 20s and is an iconic part of the park in its own right. There’s a massive room with floor to ceiling windows and lots of seating for a break and to take in views of the canyon. We stopped in the little café outside the main lodge, grabbed some ice cream, and sat on log chairs on the balcony.

Grand Canyon Lodge - Ice Cream

Family Las Vegas Adventure in 12 Hours or Less

Amidst all the hiking and nature we had to get our fix of being on the grid. Vegas was only 2 hours from our cabin, and no one except me had ever been.

So we decided to rip off the civilization Band-Aid and cram as much into a day trip as possible.

Hoover Dam

If you’ve got a car, I don’t see how you can’t take time to jog south of Vegas and see this engineering marvel. The tour through the inner workings of the dam is phenomenal, but a little on the pricey side. We skipped it this time, and chose to park ($10), walk across the dam, and participate in the novelty of standing in Arizona and Nevada at the same time.

Hoover Dam

A drought is tough to spot in the desert. After all, there’s not much water there anyway. But it smacks you right in the face at Lake Mead. A forty-foot tall strip of white collars the reservoir, marking where the water levels used to sit. Vegas will run out of water unless they do something. Like I said, there’s not much water around, so there’s no obvious backup plan.

The best view of Hoover Dam probably comes from the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge (Highway 93), and not the road built on Hoover Dam. There’s no good spot to get a proper look at the size of the dam so if you’re skipping the tour, I’d recommend driving or walking across Highway 93 .

Luxor Pool

After Hoover Dam, we boogied back to Vegas and met friends from Phoenix who drove up for a long weekend. They were settled in at the Luxor and we had a couple hours to kill before our Cirque Du Soleil show.

Even though the Luxor is one of the older Vegas hotels, it feels updated. My first thought on the way up to their room was, “Are these elevators diagonal?” Yep, they are a little rickety but they go on an angle up the pyramid. Kind of like a poor man’s version of Willy Wonka’s Glass Elevator.

The pool is sprawling and features some waterfalls. But it’s basically a glorified spring break shallow end where bros, hung over girls and middle-aged men with gold chains hang out. Great people watching, and okay for families, there were plenty of kids splashing around.

We had two short scares in this pool – the first when neither of us knew our daughter was in the hot tub with the other kids. Then, when our friend’s kid vanished from right behind us. She was there one second, gone the next. While we were freaking out and running around the pool, she was calmly checking out a waterfall and walking back to the three pool chairs we claimed. Crisis averted.

Cirque Du Soleil – Mystère

The centerpiece of our Vegas adventure was the original Cirque du Soleil show, Mystère. None of us had even seen one, but the show had rave reviews.

Cirque du Soleil Mystere

Basically a bunch of weird stuff happens, a baby does a few goofs, and they summon a giant psychedelic snail at the end. Along the way the performers do incredible feats of strength and flexibility. Some are over the top, some are super stripped down. In fact, my favorite act featured two men, nothing else on stage, and a display of strength, control, and continuous movement.

The onslaught of color, sound, light, and spectacle was like nothing else our kids had seen and they were enthralled. They break up the acrobatics with several comic bits should get a chuckle out of anyone, so I’d say this was a great first show to take our family to.

The only downside was the frat bros we sat behind (Surprise! There are lots of bros in Vegas) – they’d had a few prior and loved their own running commentary. A lot. But it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be ignored.

Walking the Strip

You can’t visit Vegas without walking the strip. If the Cirque show was an onslaught of light, motion, and sound, the strip is a full on apocalypse. There are things to look at everywhere. No space is wasted. From all the lights, to the massive casino installations, to the buskers working the curbs, to the Hispanic men and women snapping their cards for escort services – it’s sensory overload.

If you walk the strip, be ready to walk. It may look like you only have two blocks until the Bellagio. But Vegas blocks are a half-mile long. You’ll fight huge crowds. And screw what everyone says about it being a dry heat. It is hot. Bring water or dollars to buy bottles off the vendors.

The walkway right before the Bellagio was particularly insane. Hundreds of people crammed onto a narrow walk above the road. It was like leaving a major sporting event just after the game is over. If you’re claustrophobic, skip it.

That effort to get to the Bellagio to see the fountains was worth it, however. When the fountain starts, the crowd quiets and a tranquil display of water and music cuts through the clamor. By that time of night, everyone was exhausted. That perfect moment of mental relaxation was exactly what everyone needed.

The Way Back

Our friends went back to their room, and we left in the early hours of the morning. The best part about the desert has to be the night sky. You haven’t seen the stars until you’ve seen them in the desert. Constellations and individual stars disappear. The Milky Way looks like the inside of a brain, with nerves and synapses spidering across the sky.

Stars in the Night Sky

At night out here, the animals come out. Hundreds of rabbits, literally crawling all over the road. Big ones, baby ones: they were everywhere. In the frenzy, I don’t know how the road wasn’t littered with carcasses. At the last moment, they all seemed to dart away from the light and return to nature.

Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park

I had one day to do whatever I wanted in Southwest Utah. I chose to wade the Narrows in Zion Canyon.

My best friend highly recommended this hike. He’d visited a couple years before and, luckily, I texted him beforehand. You’re going to get wet in the Narrows. Nearly all of it is in the Virgin River. In some spots, I got up to my nipples in chilly water. He told me I had to rent water boots from Zion Adventure Company.

I listened and it was well worth the thirty or so bucks I spent. Not only because of the rugged, but breathable, boots and neoprene socks, but also the complimentary hiking stick. I was also bringing my DSLR, so I grabbed a dry bag and headed out.

Temple of Sinawava
The trailhead for the Narrows is at the back of Zion Canyon, so you’ll need to take a free shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava, and then walk a mile on flat asphalt until you can’t go any further. The bottleneck in the canyon not only hems in the towering cliffs, but chokes a river of people into one spot too. I’ve never seen so many selfie sticks in one place.

The crowd didn’t thin out for the first few miles, so be prepared to deal with crowds. The canyon is fairly open here and you can hike on the riverbank in spots. Makes it great for folks wanting an easier day, or if you’ve got young kids. On one of the rock shelves, people created an awesome mural of muddy handprints and messages for other hikers to add to. Somehow, it made dealing with the crowd a little more palatable. We’d all created this simple artwork that would only last until the next good rain.

The Narrows - Zion National Park

Wall Street
After several miles, the canyon narrows into its iconic form. Flowing river from cliff to cliff, that tower over a thousand feet overhead, with only twenty or thirty feet separating. Here, Wall Street and Odenkirk Canyon split. I ventured down Wall Street, but I’ve heard Odenkirk offers more opportunities to swim and boulder.

The Narrows is simultaneously claustrophobic and inspiring at the same time. The rock is overwhelming. But the scale is awe inspiring, when you look ahead and see how tiny other hikers are compared to the walls.

The Narrows - Zion National Park

The actual logistics of hiking are something I’ve never experienced anywhere else. You truly are in the river the entire time. It’s a lot like hiking on wet, misshapen bowling balls. Only you aren’t able to see where you’re stepping. Also, don’t where thin clothing you can see through when it gets wet. I wore Chaps hiking pants and black underwear, and left nothing to the imagination.

The Narrows - Zion National Park

Big Springs
Huddled against the cliff about 6 miles in, you’ll find a stout water fall called Big Springs. This is the farthest back bottom-up hikers can go without a permit. Past that, you’ll need to reserve a spot, and probably spend the night. It took me until nearly sunset to get up and down the river. Twelve miles is a fairly big day anyway, and I was slogging through water the whole time.

I wouldn’t call this a “must see,” though. It’s probably worth skipping if you’re short on time or if you want to see Wall Street and Odenkirk Canyon. I spent a few minutes here taking a couple pictures and gulping down some water. But I soon found myself headed back down the river to walk in the rippling shadows again.

Hiking Snow Canyon State Park – Butterfly Trail and Cinder Cone

Utah wasn’t the first state that comes to mind for volcanoes. But just north of St. George, there’s an awesome park filled with lava flows and red rock.

Butterfly Trail
Not 100% sure how this trail got its name. There are no butterflies to be found in this parched desert. The kids and I chose the hike because it had a little bit of everything: lava tubes, petrified sand dunes, views of the stunning red and white rock formations in Snow Canyon. Our first choice, Johnson Canyon, was also strangely closed during the summer, and open during the winter. If you’ve been to other National Parks, you know that’s the complete opposite of the norm.

It was just me and the kids that day. After some initial grumbling from my daughter, both were pretty excited to hit the trail, even though it was over a hundred degrees. Make no mistake, this is a desert hike, but there’s lots to see. The first part of the trail involves scrambling down some petrified sand dunes, walking along side red rock cliffs, and crossing an old lava flow. From there, it opens up and flattens out. Not much but cacti, the open desert, and more red cliffs in the distance.

Snow Canyon State Park - Lava Flow

Snow Canyon State Park - Petrified Sand Dunes

The kids were excited and a little nervous at the idea of seeing Gila monsters, which supposedly call the park home. Even though we kept our eyes out, we didn’t spot any sunning themselves.

Cinder Cone
Cinder Cone actually sits outside the fee area, but is still listed on the park map. It’s an old volcanic formation that rises a few hundred feet out of the desert. The sides are covered in black volcanic rock, and the crater is easily visible from the highway that bends around it. Once you recognize the iconic shape, you’ll start to notice plenty of other cones in the area. As far as I know, this is the only one with a trail running around it to the lip of the crater.

Once my son heard this was a volcano, we knew we had to climb it. My daughter was a little nervous about a potential eruption, but we assured her it hadn’t gone off in nearly 40,000 years. The trail winds among some giant piles of jagged volcanic rock and steadily climbs up to the tall side of the crater.

Snow Canyon State Park - Cinder Cone

It’s not a particularly easy hike. There’s no shade, it can get up above 100 degrees, and the approach to the summit is a steep climb on loose, sharp pieces of rock. But at the top, there’s an awesome view of the surrounding desert, Snow Canyon, and the surprisingly deep crater. There’s also a trail that takes you around the lip and down into the center, but we didn’t partake.

Snow Canyon State Park - Cinder Cone

These were some of our favorite hikes on the trip, and they were also the closest to where we stayed in Pine Valley.

Visting Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Glen Canyon Dam

From above, Antelope Canyon doesn’t look like much. I’m used to things like Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon – where you stand at the edge of a massive expanse. Antelope is little more than a crack in the ground. If I was strolling by, I’d probably miss it or dismiss it.

Antelope Canyon

But if you venture underground, there’s a landscape unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Antelope Canyon
The hour we spent walking down this narrow canyon was my wife’s favorite stop of our trip. We were escorted by a tour guide like everyone else – we chose Ken’s Tours after a little digging online.

Here’s what to expect – you’ll pay a fee to enter the Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park and a fee to take a tour. I highly recommend reserving a spot – it’s crazy busy. In fact, the bottom is basically a conveyor belt of tourists with no gaps between groups. Figuring out what time to show up is also confusing – the park observes the America / Shiprock time zone, which is different than the surrounding area. Make sure to call ahead and figure out what their time is in relation to wherever you’re traveling from.

There’s also no running water, which we didn’t know ahead of time. Luckily, I keep a gallon of water in the car for emergencies. Even though the canyon is shaded and underground, it’s still the desert. Bring a water bottle for everyone.

Antelope Canyon

Once our tour descended into the canyon, it was wall-to-wall amazing. From start to finish, the canyon walls resemble flowing water that’s been frozen in sand. They undulate and curve and bend around each other to form naturally beautiful structures and features. The guides were also great about helping everyone find the right setting on their camera. Every single one of my pictures was properly exposed and colored thanks to our guide.

antelope1

Our kids struggled with staying off the canyon walls and rocks – they usually want to climb on everything, and the sandstone in the canyon is very fragile. They did love the demonstration our guide did at the end of the tour. He showed us how the canyon formed by using the sand on the ground and a water bottle. It’s hard to explain without the demonstration, but he basically made a rock out of nothing more than sand, water, and a little bit of time.

Horseshoe Bend
Since we were confused by the time change in the Tribal Park, we had almost two hours to kill. Luckily, Horseshoe Bend is only 15 minutes away from the park. After a quick drive, we were able to take in one of the most photographed spots on the Colorado River. It’s about a mile-and-a-half round-trip hike with a hundred or so feet of elevation change to the overlook, but it’s well worth it. We even saw a huge jackrabbit scamper across the trail on the way down!

The river sits 1,000 feet below the cliffs, making for an awesome vantage point. Check your fear of heights in the car – there are no railings here!

Horseshoe Bend

Glen Canyon Dam and Vermillion Cliffs
The drive into Page, Arizona is very easy on the eyes. The highway meanders past the Vermillion Cliffs, endless edifices of rock that are all sorts of different colors. Somewhere in there is The Wave, which looks even more amazing than Antelope Canyon. However, I understand it’s a 3-mile unmarked hike across open desert to find it, so we decided not to try it out.

As you near Page, you’ll see Lake Powell, a massive desert oasis that looks impossible amid all the barren, red rock. Even though the drought has knocked the lake behind the dam down quite a bit, it’s still impressive. And the dam itself is giant – I think it’s more impressive than Hoover Dam. Probably because you can get a better view of the size by walking out on the bridge crossing just in front of it.

Later in our trip, we heard from our guide that they are debating whether or not to tear down this engineering marvel, and return the land to its natural state. So if you want to see it, go soon, because it might not always be there.

Glen Canyon Dam

Pine Valley, the Cursed Pool, and the Kindness of Strangers

The first two weeks of our family adventure had some awesome highs, and some awful lows.

We stayed in Pine Valley, Utah. If you’ve seen the show Wayward Pines on Fox, Pine Valley is eerily similar to the titular town in the show. One road in, completely surrounded by mountains, only a hundred or so residents. Heck, there’s even a Matt Dillon Trail just outside town. Aside from the homes, the town has a fire station that mostly sits empty and a restaurant that’s open Friday night and all day Saturday.

And that’s it.

Pine Valley, Utah

In the House and Around Town
Pine Valley, Utah House

The house we rented was the 2nd home of a family who lived 40 miles away in St. George. It had just enough space, amenities, and yard for our family of four. The first two weeks held a lot of hustle and bustle. There are tons of parks within three hours: Pine Valley Recreation area, Snow Canyon, Zion National Park, Antelope Cnayon, Glen Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Grand Staircase are all day trippable.

When we were there, the kids caught grasshoppers, made fairy houses, and, most memorably, got an introduction to Dungeons & Dragons.

Getting them hooked on D&D is all part of my long-term strategy to prevent teen pregnancy. Mwa ha ha! And, I guess, I knew they’d love making up stories and pretending to battle fantastic creatures. For their first adventure, I found this perfect little two-hour campaign designed for young kids. I simplified the rules to try and make it as fun as possible for them.

Dungeons and Dragons

They took to it like dogs to water. The adventure I picked is made to illustrate how you really can do anything you dream up, not just hack and slash. Both kids figured that out quickly. Their first solution to any of the obstacles was to use their special skills or reasoning to solve the obstacle. My daughter loved taming animals, and my son kept trying to get any NPCs (non-player characters) he met to join the party. They did commit the cardinal sin of D&D, splitting up the group. But, they survived and joined back together for the final encounter.

They loved it so much, my son made up his own campaign while I was out hiking. We had a blast playing it a couple of times, and shared a lot of good laughs as a family at some of the things they dreamed up. I can’t wait to keep sharing this with them.

Our kids also went bananas over the local restaurant, The Brandin’ Iron. After our first dinner there, my daughter called it “Barnes and Noble” and the name stuck. Our server Sarah was phenomenal, and we requested her the other two times we went back.

On the three-day road trip down my daughter refused to eat anything, even if she ordered it. Tuna from Subway, deli sandwiches from Arbys, etc. etc. So when she ordered salmon from the Brandin’ Iron, we almost didn’t let her do it because we were afraid she’d waste a $25 plate of food.

Nope, she polished off almost all of it . And demanded we bring home the leftovers. And ordered it every other time we went there.

Hiking
We went on two hikes in town, in the recreation area and Forsythe Canyon, which I did by myself.

The recreation area is a pretty little stroll that’s perfect for young kids, no elevation change, lots of interesting things to see and smell (the trees smell like butterscotch!), and a reservoir for fishing and wading.

Pine Valley Recreation Area

I ventured up Forsythe Canyon for several miles by myself, but never really got out of the woods. Great for exercise, but this was probably the least scenic thing I did the whole trip. On the way back, I did get a huge scare from a vicious animal.

I was minding my own business on the trail when I saw a massive black shape ambling through the woods. My brain flashed to all the warnings and misgivings everyone had ever had about solo hiking. “Watch out for bears,” everyone said. I reached around to slowly grab my bear mace and…

A cow poked its head around a tree. I don’t know why a black cow was hanging out two miles from its pasture other than to troll me, but I didn’t appreciate the prank. Once it spotted me, it crashed stupidly through the woods back to its farm.

Turns out, animals have free reign in Pine Valley. At night we saw a lost calf and its mother in the middle of the road outside town. During the day, deer and a huge family of twenty (yes, twenty) turkeys were regular appearances at our house.

The Cursed Pool
Our kids love to swim, so when we heard there was a pool close to town, of course we had to go. Veyo Pool Resort seemed like a lot of fun – it’s tucked in a canyon with rock climbing, raspberry bushes everywhere, and crayfish hunting.

Veyo Pool

Unfortunately for us, it was nothing but bad luck. My son got a thorn stuck in his toe. Sandi got stung by yellowjackets. My daughter cut a slice off the tip of her toe.

And me, I got the worst. On the way to the pool the day before we were supposed to leave, three dogs ran out in front of the car, and I hit and killed two of them.

The driving conditions couldn’t have been more perfect – middle of the day, great weather, kids were quietly reading, my phone’s GPS was off, and I was slowing down heading into town. But on the right side of the road, waist high grass grew right up to the shoulder, and I didn’t see the sprinting dogs until I’d hit them already.

As soon as it happened, I knew I must have killed them. I pulled over to the side of the road, sobbing already, and the kids had no idea what was going on. They were panicked that something had happened to me. Behind us, two of the dogs were lying in the middle of the road, and the third was sniffing around.

I called 9-1-1, which probably wasn’t the right use of the number, but I had no idea who else to call. My son was crying because he thought the dogs had a shot at living, and no cars were stopping to help them. I thought for sure they were gone, but then one started moving.

The next twenty minutes (the police officer was a long way away) were spent keeping the kids safe and waving cars over so they wouldn’t hit the dogs again. Once I got up close, I knew it was only a matter of time until he passed away – I wished I could have put him out of his misery but the only thing I could have done was run him over again, which wasn’t really an option.

The police and owners showed up just as he laid his head down for the last time. The next couple of days were rough for all of us, I had trouble sleeping, and my daughter said she couldn’t stop thinking about the dogs at random moments in the car.

The one bright spot in all of this was our hosts. We had to coordinate insurance and repairs (our car needed a new radiator, condenser, and bumper), get a rental car, and find a place to stay – all without any real cell phone or internet coverage and 40 miles between us and the repair shop. But they did everything they could to help us. Drove me from the repair shop to their home. Fed me and let me stay the night. Let us stay an extra night in the Pine Valley house even though they had a new guest coming in that night. We couldn’t be thankful enough for all their help.

Once I got a rental truck the next morning, we decided to not wait around St. George. Instead, we drove up to our next destination, Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and I came back to fetch our car when it was ready.

Hiking in Zion National Park – Canyon Overlook and Emerald Pools

In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks. –John Muir

Zion National Park was the capstone park in our adventure out west. We chose where we’d stay based on proximity. It was the only park we visited twice. It was also the first hike in the mountains we’d take our kids on.

It didn’t let us down.

Canyon Overlook Trail
The drive up was almost as much fun for the kids as the hike itself. Zion is on a shuttle system, which means no cars on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive past the Pa’ Rus Trailhead.

To get up to Canyon Overlook, we took the Zion – Mt. Carmel Highway. The kids loved the switchbacks hundreds of feet above the canyon floor with no guardrails and seeing falcons catching thermals below our car. On the way up, we noticed arches cut into the cliff face that looked like the end of roads to nowhere, which we discovered were actually meant as “windows” inside the mile-long, one-way tunnel that cuts through the mountain.

Here’s where we got lost – the trailhead for Canyon Overlook is on the left as soon as you exit the tunnel. With all the cars lined up, we missed it and drove all the way to the exit of the park. But along the way we saw a mountain goat and lots of incredible formations. Up in the high country, it’s as if liquid rock flowed around the landscape and then froze in time. Sometimes, the best thing you can do when you’re in beautiful country like this is to get lost.

Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

At the trailhead, all were eager to break in hiking shoes and water bottles. The kids, as usual, were on the hunt for a perfect place to stop for snacks. We found one shortly after we started. A rock overhang shades a large area to the right of the trail, and we grabbed a few bites to eat. The kids loved climbing on a natural shelf under the overhang, and they probably would have been content to stay.

Canyon Overlook Trail - Zion National Park

Instead, we soldiered past some great views overlooking Pine Creek. About halfway up the trail, there’s another natural overhang with moss growing under it that’s a nice shade spot. Just before this is a narrow bridge going over a sizable drop. If you don’t like heights or have kids that have a hard time being careful, you might want to skip this trail. There are railings anywhere there’s an edge, but little kids could probably slip and scoot right underneath the rail.

Canyon Overlook Trail - Zion National Park

The view at the end of the trail is absolutely worth the effort. The viewpoint looks out over East Temple and Bridge Mountain, and is one of the easier places in the park to see the canyon from a completely different perspective.

Canyon Overlook Trail - Zion National Park

Emerald Pools
After our short warm up hike, we grabbed the shuttle bus from the Visitor Center (don’t even think about trying to find parking during late morning or early afternoon) and took a ride through the canyon, all the way out to the Temple of Sinawava. The narrow windows on the busses make it tough to see the towering cliffs properly, but step outside and it’s breathtaking in any direction.

To hike Emerald Pools, get off at Zion Lodge and head across the street. The trail up is fairly easy with some gentle up and downs. There were lots of lizards, beetles, and even a toad along the path that our kids had a blast trying to spot.

This was also where we noticed, for the first of many times, how many foreigners and different languages we heard while out and about in the parks. At one point, Sandi commented, “Europeans smell nice,” which I heard as “Your penis smells nice,” and I just about stepped off the trail laughing. The kids thought it was hilarious too, and I’m sure everyone around us thought we were nuts.

Lower Emerald Pool wasn’t that impressive in July when we were there, but during the spring months when the water is up and the waterfall tumbling over the cliffs overhead, you might feel differently. We hiked just past Lower Emerald Pool and then turned around since our 5-year old had reached her maximum hiking distance with the two trails we tackled.

Hiking in the Acadias – Day Hiker’s Paradise

“Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Acadia National Park is filled with loads of snackable trails. It’s a day hiker’s paradise. No matter what you like, this park’s got it: mountain peaks, the ocean, woodland, freshwater springs, beaches, the list goes on forever. Maine was also the last “corner” state I needed to knock out on my quest to visit all 50 states, and it did not disappoint.

I got to Acadia too late to snag any of the coveted campground spots at Blackwoods or Seawall, so it shaped up to be a cheap motel kind of night for me. After I’d squared away a place to sleep, I made the most of my remaining hours of daylight.

Ocean Path
Starting with a quick stop at Sand Beach and Great Head, I made my way along the Ocean Path – a dazzling walkway along the Atlantic Ocean. The salty waves crash against rugged cliffs as you pass Old Soaker, Thunder Hole, and reach the Gorham Mountain Trailhead.

Ocean Path - Acadia National Park

Thunder Hole is a must-stop, especially if you have kids. This rock formation causes a natural chamber that, when the tides are right, creates a loud whump you can feel in your chest from the parking lot. There’s debate about the best time to go, but try for an hour or two before high tide.

Bee Hive, Gorham Mountain, and the Bowl
The trail to Gorham Mountain climbs up Cadillac Cliffs at a reasonable rate – you’re only ascending 500 or so feet. I took the lower path, and had some fun scrambling over boulders, rocks, and passing underneath mossy overhangs.

Past Gorham Mountain lies the Bowl, a quiet mountain lake. There were quite a few fish swimming in the shallows, but I was too eager to see them – when I leaned out to get a better look my sunglasses fell in! Luckily I was able to snag them and head for the Bee Hive.

Acadia National Park is known for its iron rung trails, some much more precarious than others. Where the trail gets too steep, or even vertical, you need to use iron bars drilled into the rock. The Bee Hive is a good intro. After the summit, the descent on the other side hangs you out over drops of a hundred or so feet. In reality, if you actually fell, you wouldn’t go that far, but when you’re hanging off a rock it sure doesn’t feel like it. I passed a couple with a dog, so it’s obviously doable.

The Beehive - Acadia National Park

I wrapped up my night on Cadillac Mountain, watching the sunset over Somes Sound and the Maine wilderness. If you plan on going, plan to deal with crowds, there were hundreds of people up there all with the same idea as I did.

On the plus side, you might overhear a dad joke. I heard one man tell his son, “Look! You can see the Maine-land from here.” He got a high five.

Sunset on Seargent Mountain

I hopped in my car, found my motel past Bar Harbor, and planned out my next day, where I intended to knock out some serious mileage.

Jordan Pond and South Bubble
I started the morning at Jordan Pond, a large lake nestled between Cadillac and Seargent Mountain. I parked at Jordan Pond House and trekked along the east edge of the lake. This portion of the hike would have been much more enjoyable, but it’s flat, easy nature meant tons of kids. Their wails and parents’ yells carried across the water easily, making it anything but tranquil.

At the north end, the trail heads up to South Bubble, a massive boulder sitting on a cliff’s edge. It looks like a small shove might send it into the abyss.

South Bubble - Acadia National Park

Seargent Mountain
Descending South Bubble back to Jordan Pond, I skipped over to the west side and grabbed the trail heading to the summit of Seargent Mountain. Along the way, fairly early, you come to an imposing arched bridge with a waterfall running underneath. It’s a great juxtaposition of historical architecture and nature. Past that, the trail steepens, with a couple challenging sections and slippery rock slopes.

Then the trail opens onto summit’s approach, with hardy plants growing among the hiker’s cairns mark the path. Four trails converge on the summit of Seargent Mountain, where you can see Somes Sound, Frenchman Bay, Cadillac Mountain, and the rest of the Acadias spread out around you.

Seargent Mountain - Acadia National Park

From here, many people probably head back via the trail to Penobscot, but I had more summits to hit!

Gilmore Peak, Bald Mountain, Parkman Mountain
I descended the south path and turned west toward Maple Spring and was on my way to Gilmore Mountain. Most of these trails are under the cover of the forest, and there’s lots of steep up and down as you get to the top of each of these three peaks. The view of Somes Sound was fantastic from all of them. If you’re looking for something shorter, all are probably better suited to day hikes from Highway 198.

Parkman Mountain - Acadia National Park

But coming from the Seargent side as I did, I got to do them all twice! There’s no real loop back, so I hiked to Bald Peak, turned around, and retraced my steps.

Seargent Pond and Penobscot Mountain
Once I returned to Seargent, I turned down the southern path towards Penobscot. Along the way I passed Seargent Pond, another tranquil mountain lake. (You see one, you see them all, right?) I love coming across these lakes in the wilderness – they’re mostly untouched by man, never by motorized boats, and are their own little self contained ecosystems.

Seargent Pond - Acadia National Park

The summit of Penobscot offers a lot of the same views that Seargent does, but has a much better look at Jordan Pond as it stretches out below you.

Jordan Pond House
I finished my hike at Jordan Pond House, where there’s a restaurant, gift shop, horseback riding, and tons of crowds. I wanted to grab a cup of tea, sit on the lawn and take in the surroundings. Unfortunately, it felt more like an overcrowded restaurant on Saturday night, and the host told me that if I wasn’t ordering food, I couldn’t get a table.

So instead, I made my way back to Bar Harbor, relaxed after a grueling, but satisfying day of hiking with a great meal and said goodbye to the Acadias.

Hiking in the Adirondacks: Giant Mountain, Roaring Brook Falls, Lake Placid

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. –Edward Abbey

I didn’t enjoy the Adirondak Mountains, but I definitely want to visit again.

Why? The rain, the cold, the clouds, and my new hammock put a damper on what I’m sure is a gorgeous setting.

Roaring Brook Falls
I arrived at Roaring Brook Falls campsite late in the evening after a long drive from Toronto. I actually loved this place quite a bit. It’s a short, quarter- to half-mile walk through the woods ending at the base of a 150-foot waterfall. First timers, the map is a little misleading – you have to cross the rushing creek and duck through a narrow path before the undergrowth gives way to a shadowed campground.

Roaring Brook Falls

The creek encircles the whole camp after tumbling down the falls. The sound of rushing water provided a relaxing background soundtrack while I threw up my new hammock tent, and chatted with a family from Montreal about their vacation and the coming rain. I hoped they’d stick around even if the weather turned south – I don’t like sleeping alone in the wilderness if I can help it.

Unfortunately, my first night in the Hennessey Expedition Hammock didn’t go that well. I’ve got a friend who swears by them, but I’d forgotten the downside –how there’s no ground to keep you warm. It wasn’t freezing, but it got down to 40 degrees at night and I definitely felt the cold seeping in, even though I was in a sleeping bag rated down to 32 degrees and I had all my layers on. I couldn’t get comfortable, and probably got under four hours of sleep.

Hennessey Expedition Hammock

Giant Mountain
Even so, I wasn’t feeling the lack of sleep the next day, because I was going to be hiking up a mountain! Like a kid heading off to his first day of school, I was pumped up to tackle Giant Mountain, a great warm-up before trying Mt. Marcy the next day.

Giant Mountain Trailhead

Every website listed Giant Mountain as an “easy” hike. Three miles and a couple K in elevation change sounded doable. I even walked the 1.5 miles from Roaring Brook to the trailhead at Chapel Pond along the road.

Easy. What a bunch of crap.

Imagine climbing steep, uneven, rock stairs for three miles straight. Then pour water over most of them. That’s the hike up Giant Mountain. I’m not usually a complainer, but this “easy, family hike” was anything but. The only real flat portion of this trail is under a mile in when you reach the Giant Washbowl.

Giant Washbowl

Giant Washbowl is a solitary pond tucked just on the other side of the first ridge you climb. The water reminded me of something out of a horror flick or a fantasy novel –inky black and bone-white trees line the edges. The trail crosses the pond on driftwood beams that creak and groan underfoot. Truly a surreal place to be.

Luckily, I met fellow hikers to commiserate with on the way up. Honestly, that’s one of my favorite parts of hiking – the “trail friends.” You’re alone enough in the wilderness. When you’ve been walking with nothing but the wind in the trees and rustling animals, you can’t help but say hello to another human being.

There’s a functional benefit to trail friends: safety in numbers, sharing water and food, coaching up to the summit. But we also help each other validate why we’re crazy enough to strap forty pounds to our back and walk up a mountain for no real purpose other than to say we did it. We find people just like ourselves out on the trail, something we can’t do in the hustle and bustle of the city.

Even with the challenge, it never ceases to amaze me how quickly nature can call out to something inside you. Usually it’s some folly: a mountain lake nestled among the cliffs, or a small rippling meadow hemmed on all sides by trees. It’s those moments that I live for out on the trail. Giant Mountain has several of those on route to the summit. When you emerge from the trees, you are treated to some wonderful views of the surrounding mountains and a crisp breeze.

A small piece of advice – take the detour around Giant’s Nubble, which is about 2 miles into the trail. You’re climbing enough, no need to go back up and come back down needlessly to save what’s only a hundred or so feet in actual distance.

I’ve yet to reach a mountain summit that wasn’t satisfying, but I almost gave up on Giant Mountain. Not from exertion, but because I was worried about making it back down in time. The hike was taking much longer than I thought it would.

Still, I made it, and the view was gorgeous. The summit looks out over a massive “scoop” out of the landscape. It’s 1-2 thousand feet down to the forest and the “arms” of Giant Mountain reach out in a gentle semicircle that frames up the view. Amazing.

Giant Mountain Summitt

People might call me crazy, but going down on a hike is worse than going up. Especially on this trail, since it’s so rocky, uneven, and treacherous. At one point, the path seemed to vanish over a cliff face. The rangers had spray painted an arrow to direct you towards the left side of this cliff face, where the slope was actually traversable if you got down and scooted down the trail.

I thought I’d sleep great that night, but the chill and downpours kept me awake for another sub-4 hour night.

Lake Placid
The rain the family from Montreal warned me about had come. There was no wind, no thunder and lightning, but there was rain. More than 24 hours of it, with only a couple hours of letup. It started late at night and continued until I left the next morning. I had rain gear, but the idea of hiking 15 miles in a downpour did not sound appealing, especially given how badly Giant Mountain kicked my out-of-shape behind the day before. So I scrapped Mt. Marcy and decided to visit Lake Placid instead.

Leaving the campsite was a little scary – the water had swollen the creek to a small rushing river. Not quite as bad as McCandless experienced in Into the Wild, but there was nowhere traversable, even after walking the whole river bank. At this campsite, you’re essentially landlocked – the mountain backs up against the bend in the river, so there’s really no way out other than to cross it.

I had to pick the least of all evils and just jump with fifty pounds of gear on my back and know that I was going to land in calf-deep water.

Lake Placid was the site of multiple Olympic Games, and a lot of the infrastructure is still there. I gave myself a tour of the ski jumps, the torch, medal stand, and some of the training facilities. Luckily, the rain let up for a couple hours, allowing me to get out of my car and get a closer look at things.

To get to the ski jumps, all posted signs tell you to use the lifts to get to the top, but things were closed when I arrived on a Sunday. Rules. pshaw! I drove up to John Brown Farm and discovered a back entrance to the jumps!

Lake Placid Ski Jump

Go past Ski Jump Lane, and pull into the first parking area on your left, before you get to the actual farm. There’s a trail that heads off to the left – follow it and it will circle up to the maintenance parking lot by the jumps. From there, you can walk right in and explore the grounds. If you want to go up to the top of the jumps, you won’t be able to, the only place to buy those tickets is down at the bottom.

Lake Placid Medal Stand

After seeing the ski jumps and the medal stands, I headed down to find the Olympic Torch. As a track athlete in High School, I always loved watching the Olympics and seeing all the sports that only get airtime every four years. I had high hopes, but it’s a little underwhelming – the torch sits among a track, softball field, and other high-school sized sports fields. Several pickup trucks were parked next to the symbol of the pinnacle of human achievement tucked behind where 6-year-olds play soccer like some dusty bowling trophy, and it all felt very anti-climactic.

Lake Placid Olympic Torch

So I left the Adirondaks quite a bit disappointed, but wanting to come back and give them another chance.