Everything was put on hold when COVID-19 started, including our plans to go on a 14-day trek to Everest Base Camp. I was going crazy being stuck in the house and constantly getting stressed at work. I waited patiently and checked everyday when Yosemite would reopen amidst the global pandemic. They finally opened Yosemite to visitors in June with day-use reservations. Day-use reservations are available online at recreation.gov for $2. Only one reservation is needed for each vehicle and you must arrive at the date listed on your reservation. It is then valid for seven days including the date listed on the reservation. According to Yosemite NP website, this system will be in place through October 2020 to adhere to public health guidelines.
The last time we were in Yosemite (June 2019), my husband and I completed the Vernal and Nevada Falls via the Mist trail (8.8 miles with 2,191 ft elevation gain). The views were out of this world but there were too many people on the trail. This year we wanted to go on a trail that is less crowded and a little bit more challenging. My go-to app AllTrails led me to Upper Yosemite Falls. The app recorded this trail at 7.2 miles out and back with 3,175 ft elevation gain. As usual I am never EVER ready no matter how much research I do. I knew this trail was going to be hard but I always tend to underestimate.
We arrived at Yosemite Visitor Center’s parking lot at about 7:30 in the morning. We parked there because we thought we could use the free shuttle but unfortunately they did not have the shuttles running due to COVID-19 concerns. Around 7:45 AM, we started walking to the trailhead, which was probably a few miles away from the parking lot. By the time we arrived at the trailhead it was already starting to get hot. The first half of the trail had plenty of shade but there were lots of bugs. I would recommend average hikers to bring 3-4 liters of water, trekking poles and to wear boots with ankle support. I constantly watched my steps but I still almost rolled my ankles a couple of times. The second half of the trail was exposed and had what seemed to be a never-ending switchbacks. It took us four hours to get to the viewpoint with plenty of breaks. We found ourselves a nice, shady area and stayed there to eat lunch. I can’t say that going down the trail was easier because my knees were sore after three hours of keeping myself from rolling down the steep, rocky trail. I think it helped that we still had to walk about 15 minutes to get to the car because I had a “cool down” period as opposed to me usually sitting down right after a strenuous hike. Surprisingly I was not sore at all the day after the hike.
It was nice to be able to get a chance to enjoy Yosemite with the reservation system in place. I wish they would continue to use it so that other people will also have a chance to experience the beauty of Yosemite like we did. We made sure that throughout the hike we maintained social distancing. I also brought 70% alcohol in a spray bottle to sanitize our hands with before eating or touching our faces.
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What do you do when you have a travel itch but you’re not financially ready to go for another big trip? Start driving and see where your gas money takes you! It can’t hurt to do something spontaneous from time to time. It takes away the stress of planning and overthinking everything.
During the Presidents Day long weekend in February, my husband and I decided to take a spontaneous trip to Death Valley National Park. We don’t usually go anywhere without planning ahead of time. We talked about going somewhere to spend the long weekend on a Friday afternoon and the next thing we know we were headed to the desert early morning the next day. Who knew that it would be our last trip before going on a COVID19 lockdown?
Death Valley is located near the Nevada stateline, about 500 miles from where we live. It took us roughly eight hours with light traffic to get to the entrance. After checking out the visitor’s center our first stop was at Zabriskie Point to watch the sunset. We had to walk for a few minutes to get to the viewpoint from the parking lot. Zabriskie Point is known for its erosional landscape that formed millions of years ago. It’s one of those places you have to see with your own eyes to appreciate its beauty.
After watching the sunset I was ready for dinner. We had to use the park’s map to look for places to eat because we didn’t have any cellphone reception. We found this place called The Ranch at Death Valley. The food was average quality for an American-style buffet. We didn’t want to drive far in the dark so we settled for whatever was closest to us.
After having dinner we headed down to Harmony Borax Works for a guided stargazing event hosted by the park’s rangers. When we got there it was already pitch-black so after parking on the side of the road we had to use the red light on our headlamps. It took some time for my eyes to adjust to the darkness but when it finally did, I couldn’t stop looking up at the stars. I don’t know much about astronomy so I was grateful for the rangers and their high power laser pointer.
We went back to Zabriskie Point hoping to take a couple of pictures and enjoy the star-filled sky. I enjoyed the view for the first few minutes but after awhile the wind started to pick up and it got so much colder than I expected. Nevertheless, we were able to stay there for half an hour before my fingers became numb.
We didn’t have any hotel reservations since this was a last-minute trip. Everything was completely booked except for the campgrounds. We haven’t tried camping before so we had no idea what we were in for. Sunset campground was the only one we could find that didn’t need any reservations. We arrived at the campground at 10 P.M. but there was still plenty of space. I insisted that we sleep in the car because I’m too paranoid to sleep in a tent, let alone sleep in a tent with strangers right outside. I brought pillows and a heavy blanket thinking I’d have a decent night’s sleep. I kept waking up every two hours because of how uncomfortable I was and I kept looking out the window waiting for the sun to come out. We always joke around about how we’d quit our jobs and be nomads, but now I know I’m definitely not ready to give up my bed at home and a clean bathroom just yet. We got up around 6:30 A.M., packed our stuff and hit the road.
Before heading home we made sure to stop by Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Dante’s View, Artist’s Drive, and Badwater Basin. Mesquite Flat was my favorite out of all the places we went to. I had no idea that a bunch of sand could be mesmerizing. I just have to remember not to wear a black top and sweatpants to the desert next time. The heat drained all my energy no matter how much water I drank. All in all, we had a blast and it was worth the drive.
This trip was long overdue. My husband and I finally made an effort to go to Oregon and Washington. We’ve put the idea in the back burner because it’s just a few hours away from California. I knew that we could always go at the last minute. We went in October and as expected it was raining almost everyday. It’s probably one of the reasons why I’ve been delaying the trip.
Day 1: At first, we wanted to drive from California to Washington so that we could stop by Crater Lake National Park on the way. But the rental car was way more expensive than the plane tickets so we decided we’ll save that for another trip. Like most of our trips, we flew from California to our first destination. We took a flight from SFO to PDX and rented a car. We arrived around 2 P.M. and waited in line to pick up the car for almost an hour. All the other counters for the car rentals were empty except for Enterprise. Anyway, we eventually got the car and decided to go to Multnomah Falls. Finding parking was a challenge! We would’ve gone early in the morning to avoid the crowd if we had more time. We didn’t really plan on spending too much time in Portland. We only had the rest of the day to explore the area. To be honest, I find Multnomah Falls to be “too touristy” or maybe I just expected more. The people we encountered lacked the basic trail etiquette so we skipped the hike to the top of the falls.
Of course our trip would not be complete without visiting The Grotto. Again, I expected too much. I guess at least I could say I’ve been to Portland. It was already late in the day and we were hungry so we did not go to Columbia River Gorge, Forest Park, and Voodoo Doughnut as planned. We found this sushi place in Portland called Mirakutei. I don’t know why it only has four stars on Yelp because it’s an easy five. This had to be the highlight of our Portland trip. The place was pretty small but we didn’t have to wait to be seated. We got to sit at the sushi bar where we could watch them prepare the rolls and sashimi. The service was excellent and food was delicious. We ordered a lot of food that the sushi chef even made a joke saying, “ready for some more?” We all started laughing knowing I would have ordered more if I had more space in my stomach. Needless to say I highly recommend this place. We stayed at TownePlace Suites Portland Beaverton for the night. The facility is clean, spacious, and has plenty of parking space. They also served continental breakfast, which is always a plus. It’s too bad we only stayed overnight.
Day 2: Our first stop of the day was Ape Cape Lava Tubes. It started raining just when we were about to hit the trail. I wanted to make the most out of this trip so I had to suck it up and just put on my rain gear. The trail to the Lava Tubes is very easy and kid-friendly. We even saw a group of kids that looked like they were on a field trip. It might be challenging to have kids with you though once you get to the Lava Tubes. It is very dark, cold, and slippery. Proper footwear with ankle support and headlamp or flash light is a must. The trail is about three miles out and back and rated as moderate. There’s nothing much to see but it was a great experience.
We were hopeful to see the weather clear up as we drove up to Mount St. Helens. It took us about two hours to get to our first stop, Johnston Ridge Observatory. We were lucky it stopped raining, but not lucky enough to see anything. It was freezing cold and foggy at the Observatory. The least we could do was buy our National Park Annual Pass and look at the exhibit.
The rain was not letting up so we called it a day and checked in at Stone Creek Lodge. I absolutely love this place because it’s located five minutes away from Mt. Rainier’s entrance. I refuse to pay for a hotel or a lodge inside a National Park unless there are no other options. The lodge does not have wi-fi or TV so you get to disconnect for awhile. We had a family of deer chilling out in front of the lodge every morning which made the stay more enjoyable. The only downside to staying in a lodge is that they did not include breakfast. I’m always hungry so I always need to have a big breakfast or I’m not going anywhere. We had to settle for cup noodles for a hot meal because the lodge only had a microwave, toaster, and a fridge.
Day 3: It finally stopped raining. But that doesn’t mean anything because the mountain has its own weather. Either way we were still hoping to get a glimpse of the spectacular views from the Skyline Trail. It took us about 40 minutes to get to the staging area. It’s always a good idea to check the Visitor Center before hiking so you could get tips and ideas from the rangers. Unfortunately, the Visitor Center was still closed when we got there and would not be open for another hour. It was foggy and it looked like it was about to rain so we decided to just head out to the Skyline Trail. Visibility was reduced to merely 75 to 100 feet. I was 95% sure the weather wasn’t going to clear up but 5% hoping that I was in luck and the mountain would eventually make an appearance. The Skyline Trail is about six miles long with an elevation gain of 1788 feet. We did the loop counterclockwise. We did not get to see Mt. Rainier but we encountered a lot of wildlife including marmots and a black bear. It was an extraordinary experience being able to see a black bear just 100 feet away. If there’s anything I learned from this hike, it’s to always look up when running/hiking especially when it’s foggy. I almost ran into the bear had I not stopped running down the trail. The hike itself was not bad at all. I would definitely come back in a warmer season. After the hike, we checked out Paradise Inn and took a couple of pictures before heading back to the lodge.
Day 4: It was raining again and the last chance of seeing Mt. Rainier is gone. It was bittersweet leaving the lodge and leaving Mt. Rainier without actually seeing it. But another day is another adventure. We left the lodge early for a 3-hour drive to Port Angeles. We got there early enough to have breakfast before our 10 A.M. whale watching tour with Island Adventures. The tour was about five hours long. We saw Race Rocks Ecological Preserve and plenty of killer whales, humpback whales and sea lions. After the whale watching tour, we went straight to Olympic National Park Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. We waited until nine o’clock when it was pitch-black to stargaze. We would have stayed longer if not for the freezing temperature and high winds. We were able to see the milky way and even the International Space Station. Driving from Hurricane Ridge is so much harder at night due to its windy road and having to constantly look out for wildlife crossing. We stayed at Days Inn Port Angeles for the night. It’s probably the most run down Days Inn I’ve ever stayed at but it’s convenient because of its location.
Day 5: We checked out shortly after having breakfast to go to our next destination. We had to drive for 30 minutes to get to Lake Crescent. It is a lake located within Olympic National Park. At this point, we were just driving around and taking it easy. When we arrived at Lake Crescent Lodge we walked around and pretty much spent the rest of the day sitting by the lake. We wanted to try stargazing there too but it started raining later that night.
Day 6: The skies cleared up so we went for a quick hike to Marymere Falls before checking out of the lodge. The Marymere Falls Trail from the lodge is an easy, two miles out and back hike with an elevation gain of about 300 feet. I felt like it was more of a walk rather than a hike because we were back in less than two hours. After taking a couple of pictures at the dock we hit the road again and drove for about 45 minutes to our next stop– Sol Duc Falls. This is another easy, heavily trafficked out and back trail. The fall colors were starting to show which made the trail more interesting. We drove for the rest of the day with a couple of stops at Hoh Rainforest, Rialto Beach, Kalaloch Beach, and Lake Quinalt. After our long drive we checked in at SpringHill Suites Seattle South/Renton, where we stayed for the rest of our trip.
Day 7: We scheduled a tour with Boeing in Mukilteo. We paid $25 for each ticket for a ninety-minute tour. I have a fascination with airplanes so I was eager to see the factory. Before going on the tour, they showed us a short clip about Boeing and gave us a quick rundown of the do’s and don’ts. They divided us into two groups and had us ride a bus which took us to the location of the factory. When we got off the bus, they were very specific on having us stay in one lane because there were other tour groups ahead of us that were coming back from the tour. We had to walk for the entire tour and we also had to take a couple of freight elevators. The tour was everything I expected it to be. It made me want to stay and work for Boeing (not that I know anything about assembling an airplane). After the tour we went to Snoqualmie Falls and Space Needle. The Space Needle is something that you have to see to be able to say you’ve been to the city. I guess you could compare it to having to see the Golden Gate Bridge if you are in San Francisco. But for almost $40 a ticket, I am 99.9% sure that I will not be coming back.
Day 8: We dedicated this day to looking for good food and exploring the city. This day was also my birthday and our 3rd wedding anniversary. We found this hole in the wall restaurant called Tsukushinbo. I’ll probably write my experience in another blog post, but I highly recommend this restaurant for anyone travelling to Seattle. We waited in line outside the restaurant 30 minutes before they opened. It is that worth it! We spent the rest of the day walking around aimlessly. My husband made a dinner reservation at The Pink Door, which I wrote about in another blog post. We also wanted to try some desserts and drinks at Pike Place Market but by the time we finished dinner, most of the stores were already closed. To rub salt into the wound, it started hailing and raining. We could not walk anywhere without getting completely soaked so we had to call it a night. Let’s just say it was a memorable experience. We didn’t get to try a lot of the food so we’ll definitely be back.
While we were in Seattle last month, my husband and I were looking for a place to celebrate my birthday and our wedding anniversary. We usually use Yelp to search for restaurants that have the kind of food we’re looking for. It also helps us decide by reading the comments and ratings. I don’t know why I’ve never thought about it but my husband had an idea to look for “hole in the wall” places in the city. One of the places that came up was The Pink Door. The first thing that caught my eyes were the 4.5 star-rating and two dollar signs. I thought, okay, if this has 4.5 stars and only two dollar signs then it must be worth the try. The next thing I looked up was if I had to dress up for this place. Their website actually says the attire is smart casual. Most of the comments I read on Yelp basically said that it was really up to you. Some people come in jeans, some people come all dressed up. I didn’t want to dress up especially because it was raining half the time we were in the city.
I hate driving and parking in the city. We were debating if we should take Uber or just drive our rental car. The debate was over when I looked up how much it was to take Uber to the city and saw $35 one way. That’s just too much! So we ended up driving and parking in a garage. The garage parking was about $10-15 per hour, which is still a lot cheaper compared to San Francisco so I wasn’t complaining. We had to walk for a few minutes to get to the Pike Place Market area where the restaurant is.
The Pink Door is literally a pink door. No sign, just some decor, hence, a “hole in the wall.” We almost passed by the entrance if it weren’t for the guy who almost bumped into us coming out of the restaurant. When we opened the door it lead us to a flight of stairs going down where we were greeted by the receptionist. I was glad that my husband made a dinner reservation because they reached their capacity quickly. Despite having a reservation we still had to wait about 15 minutes for them to set up our table.
We were seated next to the window with a sunset view. The table was fairly small and it was too close to the window—too close that I could see how much they needed painting. I guess they’re going for the rustic look. Don’t get me wrong because I loved the ambiance.
Soon enough our server came and explained the menu. I was so hungry that I wasn’t even paying attention to what he was saying. I immediately looked for appetizers (antipasti) and ordered a bruschetta. The tomatoes were delicious! I’m not a food critic so I only have two responses– either I like it or I don’t.
For my main course I ordered the fish of the day, which was the Alaskan salmon. The salmon had some kind of orange sauce and vegetables. My husband is a meat lover. That’s why I was surprised when he ordered the Lasagna Pink Door (fresh spinach pasta layered with besciamella, pesto and topped with marinara sauce). After having our main course we were planning to get dessert somewhere else but the server was so convincing that we ended up ordering mascarpone-lemon-pistachio cheesecake. I wish I have more words to describe the food besides “I absolutely love everything that we ordered.”
If there’s anything I actually criticize about a restaurant, it would be their restrooms. Again, they did not disappoint. The restroom was clean, matches the restaurant theme, and even has a step-on metal plate on the door so I don’t have to touch the door handle. For that I gave them a 5-star rating. We’ll definitely come back if we ever found ourselves back in Seattle.
Yellowstone National Park is the first national park in the world. It is home to at least 500 active geysers including Old Faithful, which erupts every 35 to 120 minutes. The park is located mostly in Wyoming but also spreads to Idaho and Montana.
The best time to visit is between April to May and September to October when the weather isn’t too hot and there is less people. We planned our week-long trip in the last week of May.
Day 1: We flew in from SFO to HLN and picked up a rental car upon arriving. Since we still had some time to spend in Montana we explored the city and went to Montana Capitol and Cathedral of Saint Helena.
Day 2: We started driving to Yellowstone National Park, which is three hours away from the hotel that we stayed in HLN. The weather was promising when we arrived at Yellowstone. It was a little overcast but not cold, just perfect. After taking pictures at the park signage we went straight to Mammoth Springs Area.
When we got out of the car, we were greeted with the strong odor that’s similar to rotten eggs. It made me gag, but I got used to it after awhile. There was a bison eating on the side of the parking lot so we stopped to watch it. I was too excited to finally see wildlife up close. We were getting comfortable because it was not moving and it was at least two to three cars away from us. All of a sudden it started running towards our car. I’ve never been more scared as I ran for my life and circled back to get in the car. I learned my lesson to keep my distance and be alert at all times especially around wildlife. The National Park Service recommends that you stay away from bisons at least 25 yards away. A bison can weigh up to 2,000 lbs and can run up to 40 mph.
After visiting Mammoth Springs Area we took a trail to the Brink of the Lower Falls. The trail is very easy and only a mile long. At the end of the trail you will be overlooking the waterfall.
Our next stop was Lamar Valley. This has to be the best spot for wildlife viewing out of all the places we’ve been to. We saw a number of bisons in the middle of the day. Although they said that the best time for wildlife viewing is at dawn and dusk. Find a nice spot to park your car and bring a pair of binoculars.
We checked in for the night at Hibernation Station, which is located outside the park. We stayed in a pretty decent size log cabin for $200/night. Considering it’s only three minutes away from the National Park, I think it’s a pretty good deal compared to the prices of the cabins and hotels inside the park. After getting dinner we went to check out Madison Amphitheater where they usually hold an organized stargazing activity. We found a small group in the parking lot where they were setting up what looked like small telescopes. It was pitch dark and I was embarrassed to have my headlights disturb them so I immediately parked the car and turned off the lights. We got out and put our red light headlamps on and scanned the parking lot for any wildlife. I was paranoid that an elk or a bison would sneak up on us because it was an open space and we couldn’t see well. I was also constantly making noise so that the animals will stay away. We stayed there for half an hour but it was too cloudy to see any stars.
Day 3: We checked out of our hotel and explored the Canyon Area. We were walking on wooden boardwalks for the most part so it was pretty easy. We didn’t break a sweat, in fact, we had to wear another layer of clothing because the temperatures in the park could be unpredictable.
Day 4: We stayed in Old Faithful Lodge for the night. This lodge is unbeatable for its price and location. You would have to book months in advance because it can get expensive and usually gets sold out fast. Our lodge had a queen bed, twin bed, and a small bathroom. There is no TV or wi-fi. It’s walking distance to Old Faithful. It also has a cafeteria and bake shop where you can dine and watch Old Faithful at the same time.
After breakfast, we had plenty of time to walk around Old Faithful area. I felt like this trip was the most relaxed trip we’ve ever taken because none of the trails were hard and we weren’t rushing to get from one place to another. After three days of seeing a ton of geysers and smelling rotten eggs I was getting bored and was hoping to see more wildlife. We took our time to watch Old Faithful, walked around the trail loop and went to see Grand Prismatic Spring. Unfortunately, we couldn’t view the Grand Prismatic Spring from the hill above because the trail was closed. It was hard to capture the spring due to the steam and heavily trafficked, narrow boardwalk. We left Yellowstone in the afternoon and headed down to Antler Inn in Jackson, WY to spend the night.
Day 5: We had the whole morning planned out to hike Colter Bay Lakeshore, Grand View Point, and Inspiration Point trails in Grand Teton National Park. But after hiking Colter Bay, somewhere in between car rides we decided to be lazy and just drive around to look for wildlife. We ended up seeing bighorn sheeps. It was quite interesting to watch their behavior. When we spotted the group they were all at the top of the hill. We waited and waited until one of them, I assume the alpha male, started going downhill. The next one waited several minutes before going after the alpha, as if they were surveying the area for any predators. We found out that they had a baby bighorn sheep in the group that’s why they were being extra cautious.
We had lunch and enjoyed a couple of beers at the Old West Day event in Jackson Hole. The event had a number of exciting activities like rodeo, music, arts and crafts, food trucks, and brewfest. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect that day.
Day 6: We left the beautiful, small town of Jackson Hole in the morning. Since it was only a couple of hours away, we decided to go to Idaho Falls and Shoshone Falls. Our first stop was Idaho Falls River Walk. We didn’t really plan on spending a lot of time here. We took a couple of pictures and stayed for a few minutes. Shoshone Falls is located about 2.5 hours away from the River Walk. I was surprised to see how crowded it was. We had to pay an entrance fee of $3. The parking lot was full but we only had to wait a few minutes to get parking. The trail to the observation deck is wet and muddy due to mist from high water flows. Nonetheless, it was an easy 10-minute walk to see the waterfalls.
Day 7: We stayed at Crystal Inn & Suites in Salt Lake City, UT. I highly recommend this place for their clean rooms, inclusive breakfast buffet, and friendly staff. After having breakfast at the hotel we drove around the city. Some of the places we went to were Cathedral of Madeleine, Utah Capitol, Temple Square, and Bonneville Salt Flats. Out of all the places we went to, I was most excited to see the salt flats. I’ve seen the pictures posted on the internet when we were planning this trip and I couldn’t wait to post one myself. It looks different in person. You have to get the right angle and lighting to capture the perfect optical illusion. You can also drive on the salt flats at your own risk.
Day 8: All good things must come to an end. We checked out of the hotel early to drop off our rental car and catch our flight from SLC to SFO. Overall, I was very happy and satisfied with this trip. There were a lot more things we could have done or seen but I’m glad we just took our time and didn’t have to follow a tight schedule like we usually do.
Located about 150 miles away from the San Francisco Bay Area, Yosemite National Park is my favorite go-to destination for a day hike. I fell in love with this place in 2016 when I came to visit for the very first time. No wonder it’s a popular tourist destination. With a view like this, I could sit here all day everyday if I had a chance.
Tip #1: Visit in Spring (April, May, June)
I’ve been to Yosemite in winter, summer, and spring and so far I’ve noticed that spring is the best time to visit. The waterfalls are at their peak at this time so have your waterproof camera and jacket ready. The only downside that I can think of is if you choose to visit in April some of the trails and roads may still be closed due to the snow. So make sure to check the road conditions on their website beforehand.
DO NOT go there during the holidays or weekends. Unless you’re planning to get stuck in traffic inside the park or waiting in long lines to ride the shuttle bus or restrooms, then your best chance of getting the most out of your trip will be to go during the weekdays (if possible).
Tip #2: Get there early
My days off are usually in the middle of the week so if I want to go somewhere I’d have to leave before or after the rush hour traffic. I usually leave the house around 4 A.M. and it takes me about 3.5 hours (without traffic) to get to the park. In my experience, if I arrive early enough, I can skip the park entrance fee because there’s usually no one there at that time to collect it. I’m not sure if this applies to everybody but leaving late around 6 P.M. also guarantees that they will not check if you already paid or not. The park entrance fee is $35 per vehicle. If you’re a frequent visitor like me, I encourage you to get an annual pass, which costs $70. With the annual pass, you have an unlimited access to any U.S. National Parks for a year.
Getting there early also gives you a chance to choose where to park. Finding parking can be a challenge if you arrive later in the day especially during summer. I like parking at the visitor center and using the free shuttle bus to get around.
Tip #3: Use the free shuttle bus
Park your car somewhere and hop on the bus! Not only is it eco-friendly but also convenient. Don’t forget to grab a map at the gate entrance or the visitor center. For someone like me who sucks at navigating, this is a no-brainer. The shuttle bus schedule varies depending on the season.
Tip #4: Bring your own food and water
It goes for every tourist destination, if you want to save money you should bring your own food and water. If you’re planning to spend a whole day in the park you will need to stay hydrated. You can also bring a reusable water bottle. The park has some water bottle filling stations.
Tip #5: Go for a hike
It doesn’t have to be a hard one. There are a lot of trails to choose from. I like to use AllTrails app to find information about a trail (Check out my AllTrails profile). This way you can enjoy the park even more. They say that “the best view comes after the hardest climb.” A lot of the beautiful spots can only be reached by foot.
My personal favorite is Vernal and Nevada Falls via Mist Trail. This trail is approximately 6.4 miles loop with an elevation gain of 2,191 ft and rated as moderate. We went on this trail in mid-July. I underestimated this trail when I read that you WILL get wet on the way up to Vernal Falls. Lots of wet and narrow stairs! By the time we reached Vernal Falls I felt like I was in the middle of a storm. I was completely soaked from head to toe. Gear up and wear waterproof everything or at least wear something that dries up quickly. It took us five hours to complete the trail with plenty of time to rest at the top.
I will never forget my first strenuous hike as it also happened to be our first big trip. It was the beginning of my love/hate relationship with hiking. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I’d rather stay in bed and watch TV than do anything outdoors let alone hiking. Soon enough I discovered the beauty that awaits after a climb– or in this case, descent to the Grand Canyon. THAT’S WHEN I BECAME AN ADDICT (if hiking is an addiction).
Day 1: We arrived at LAS around 9 P.M., picked up a rental car, and drove to my friend’s apartment. It was my friend’s birthday so we celebrated as much as we can with whatever time we had left. No LAS trip is ever complete without getting a few Fat Tuesdays and walking down The Strip. I don’t know what we were thinking but we thought it was a good idea to go to AYCE sushi at midnight. The rest of the night was history.
Day 2: #TeamNoSleep left Las Vegas around 9 A.M. It was a 3-hour drive to Bryce CanyonNational Park. On the way we stopped by Zion National Park. We didn’t really plan any activities here so most of the time we just stopped on the side of the road and took pictures. We checked in at Bryce View Lodge. The location of the hotel is 5 minutes away from the park entrance.
Day 3: We woke up early to catch the sunrise at Bryce Canyon. Like our other trips, some things just don’t go our way. We waited for about 30 minutes only for it to start snowing. We got in the car and got back on the road again. Three hours later we arrived in Arizona to explore the LowerAntelope, Horshoe Bend, and Desert View Watch Tower. The Lower Antelope Tour is a 1-hour guided tour. The trail to the canyon is easy and you only have to walk for a few minutes. I think we spent half the time waiting in line to get into the canyon because there was just too many people.
The trail to the Horshoe Bend is a little more challenging and not for the faint-hearted. Although it’s just a little over a mile, it might be hard for someone not in good physical condition considering the hot weather and the slight incline at the beginning of the trail. Thanks to viral posts, a lot of people are pushing themselves physically to get that money shot. This trail is heavily trafficked out and back.
NEXT STOP– Desert View Watch Tower, located about 2 hours away from the Horshoe Bend. This is where I had a chance to see the Grand Canyon for the very first time. People are allowed to go in the tower for viewing purposes. After exploring Grand Canyon Village we checked in at Red Feather Lodge and called it a day.
Day 4: None of us knew what we were in for. We heard several times from the shuttle bus driver that it may seem easy going down that you might not realize how hard it would be to come back up. So we took the shuttle and got off at the South Kaibab Trail starting point. We started bright and early so we’d have enough time to rest and enjoy the trail. The driver was right. I kept telling myself how I was having the best time of my life. But that didn’t last very long. The trail kept getting narrower and steeper and my legs were starting to kill me. Long story short, we decided to turn around when we reached the Tip Off, which is roughly 5 miles from the starting point. We hiked a total of 10 miles out and back for 8 hours with an elevation gain of 3,297 feet. Mind you, we DID NOT train for this. We should have.
Day 5: Have you seen the way penguins walk? That’s how I walked for the rest of the day. We left the Grand Canyon early to beat the traffic going back to LAS. We stopped by Hoover Dam and Shake Shack before heading back to the airport. This trip is one for the books!
Alaska has always been one of my bucket list destinations. There’s something about this place that fascinates me… the thought of being secluded or away from this crazy city life? Wildlife? Maybe. One thing is for sure, AURORA BOREALIS or the northern lights is one of the reasons why I’ve been wanting to go for the longest time. If you’ve seen them in pictures and think it’s extraordinary, just wait until you see them dance right before your eyes. The best time to see the northern lights is in September until March. My husband and I stayed in Alaska for a week in early February to have enough time to see Aurora.
Day 1: We flew in from SFO to SEA, then SEA to ANC, picked up a rental sedan, and explored the city before checking in at Americas Best Value Inn Executives. One thing I’ve noticed is that they don’t require chained tires and I instantly regretted not renting an AWD. I would recommend getting an AWD especially if you’re not used to driving in snowy or icy conditions.
Day 2: We took a 1.5 hour trip to Turnagain arm and Portage Glacier. We were unable to walk across the frozen river to see the glacier because the path had already melted, no thanks to global warming. Next stop for the day was Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage. An admission fee of $16 for adults is collected at the entrance. You have an option to either walk around or drive around to see the wildlife. If you don’t do too well in cold weather (plus wind chill), driving around is the best way to go.
We constantly checked the Aurora forecast to get an idea if we have any chances of seeing Aurora. The Kp index (level of geomagnetic activity) is a number from 0 to 9. The higher the number is, the better chances you have of seeing Aurora. We started driving around at midnight and stayed in places like Earthquake Park. We also asked the locals for best places to see Aurora in Anchorage but they said that the chances of seeing Aurora are low due to light pollution. If we had any chance at all, it would probably have to be Kp 5 or higher.
Day 3: We checked out of our hotel and drove to Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge. We were hoping to see wildlife, unfortunately… NADA. Although we knew it was off-season, if we had a chance to plan this trip all over again, I would’ve planned just one full day in Anchorage. To be honest, I was somewhat frustrated spending 3 days here and not being able to see or do much. We dropped off the rental car and took a flight to FAI (which was delayed for a couple of hours by the way). Upon arriving at FAI, we picked up a rental AWD and went straight to Best Western Inn Chena Lodge. I wasn’t gonna waste any more time so after dropping off our luggage, we picked up a late dinner/early breakfast at Taco Bell. It was a bit cloudy but we took our chances and headed to Cleary Summit. It was about a 30-minute ride that felt like forever.
Here I am sitting in the dark, cold SUV, sleepy, tired and hungry as hell, about to take a bite out of the burrito when all of a sudden I see green streaks in the horizon. I thought I was dreaming! Keep in mind that we didn’t have the time to set up the correct camera settings and we were freezing cold at 2 A.M. but we tried our best to capture it. FINALLY!!! (checks bucket list) AURORA YOU DID NOT DISAPPOINT!!!
Day 4: We checked out of the hotel and headed to Morris Thompson Cultural Center. There is no admission fee at MTCC but you’re welcome to make a donation. They have an amazing number of exhibits and extensive information on The People and The Land. We only spent about an hour at this place before we went to our next stop–Denali National Park.
During winter, Denali National Park has limited activities and accessible roads. Activities include snowshoeing, dog sledding/mushing, stargazing, and cross-country skiing. We were only able to explore 1/3 if not 1/4 of the park. We barely scratched the surface! But don’t worry, a visit to the Denali Kennels will make your trip worth while.
I could imagine Denali National Park would also be a good spot for Aurora viewing due to it’s location, away from the city lights. After visiting Denali, we checked in at A Taste of Alaska Lodge. If you are traveling on a budget, this might not be the best option for you. The cost to stay here ranges from $200-250/night. I can’t say it wasn’t worth it when we watched the sunrise in the comfort of our bed and with the heater turned on. We could also see Denali from the dining room where they served our delicious breakfast. If the weather permits, they have a Yurt that everyone can use if you decided to stay up for Aurora viewing.
Day 5: I don’t regret not getting into the Chena Hot Springs. Getting in is no problem but I couldn’t imagine getting out of the water, walking a long way and freezing to death! Being the coward that I am, we just walked around and decided to go for the Aurora Ice Museum instead. As the name suggests, everything, absolutely everything is made out of carved ice. Before you enter, there’s an employee that will explain the do’s and dont’s while inside the museum. If you purchase an Appletini, it will be served in an ice glass. I should’ve listened to the lady when she was talking because when I finished my drink I was too excited to step out to break my ice glass. I thought we’d be able to break the ice glass outside and come back in. But she had already locked us out before I even knew it. We were only able to see about half of the ice sculptures.
Day 6: I knew I wasn’t gonna see Santa but I was thrilled to say that I’ve been to North Pole. This is where we bought all the souvenirs for our family and friends. If you are big on Christmas decors, this is the best place to go. After buying souvenirs and taking our “picture with Santa” we went to the Museum of the North. Since we didn’t get to see much of the real thing, seeing the wildlife taxidermy will have to do. I had to get a picture with the famous #OttoBear.
Day 7: Going back to reality. We took a flight from FAI to SEA then SEA to SFO. Just a piece of advice for newbies like me– if you have a connecting flight make sure you do the math and allow yourself a couple of hours in between flights in case your first flight gets delayed.