Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park

Hiking in Acadia National Park

Fall on the east coast is incomparable, and travelers from all across the country head to New England in October to chase the colorful leaves down the coast. Leef peepers often start in Maine and drive south to capture photos of the season’s most beautiful colors.

Autumn in Maine

This past fall, I was lucky enough to time a trip to the onset of fall foliage in Maine, and take some gorgeous photos during a hike in Acadia National Park. It was the weekend after Columbus Day – which is typically a very busy tourist time in Massachusetts and Maine. By that next weekend, most tourists had departed but the colors were just reaching their peak.

Acadia National Park in Maine

I hiked in Acadia on the tail end of a road trip from Boston to Bar Harbor, and after gorging myself on lobster rolls and clam chowder, I was ready for a longer, more strenuous hike.

Pemetic Mountain, South Ridge Trail Loop – 6 miles, advanced

Acadia’s mountains were different from any I’ve hiked in the past. These beauties are forested near the base, but as you climb higher, they open up to stunning granite formations. Hiking up Pemetic Mountain on the South Ridge Trail Loop takes you on a path around Jordan Pond, through the forest, and finally up above the evergreens. By the time I reached what I thought would be the summit, I had to take a breather and enjoy the gorgeous views.

Acadia National Park

After another half hour’s climb, I reached a clearing and this stunning vista.

Acadia National Park

But wait, there’s more! Keep trekking up and over the final hill to the highest point, and here’s what’s in store:

Pemetic Mountain in Acadia National Park

My husband, Mike, at the tip top of Pemetic Mountain in Acadia National Park

Rather than backtrack down South Ridge Trail, I decided to follow the connecting North Ridge Trail down the  mountain, so that I could take the famed Carriage Roads back to the Jordan Pond lot where the car was parked. I would share a photo, but I was too busy concentrating on not doing permanent damage to my knees, or falling flat on my face to snap a shot of the descent. That trail was STEEP. Take your time on the way down, and move as slowly as you need to. From jumping off of boulders and cursing myself for not bringing a walking stick, it was tense at times. But, I made it in one piece.

And boy, were those carriage roads worth the trip! So charming I forgot to take a photo. What kind of blogger am I, anyway? You can read more about the carriage roads here. Another quick 1.5 miles later, I’d reached my car and the Jordan Pond parking lot.

 

Acadia National Park

Hey, I made it! This is my super happy face after finishing the five-hour trip up and down Pemetic Mountain. Enjoying Maine’s incredible coastal views.

This hike was one of the more difficult hikes I’ve encountered, mostly due to the steep decline. But the views were oh so worth it. All in all, it took me five hours, with many breaks and time spent sitting down to enjoy the panorama of Maine in October.

What’s your favorite trail in Acadia National Park? Let me know in the comments!

Advertisements

Tips For Planning Your Own European Tour

First-time European traveler? Trying to save some cash by not working with a travel agent to plan your next trip to Europe? From one planner to another, here are a few tips from my own experiences that may help you along the way.

Choosing your destinations may be the hardest part of the entire trip. My advice is to begin with a broad, general idea of what you’d like to see, and explore the surrounding areas. Have you always dreamed of seeing Paris, but haven’t thought much further? London is a few hour’s Chunnel ride away, and the French countryside is gorgeous, too. Switzerland is stunning, and the public transportation is one of the absolute best – tour Zurich, Lucerne, Bern and Montreux and do it all by train. Did you realize that Italy is bordered by France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia? The most incredible thing about Europe is that you can experience so many cultures in so little time. With such well-connected public transportation systems and roadways, you’ll be amazed at the adventures you can pack into a 10- to 15-day tour.

Globe

From there, honestly, what’s worked for me is to start a Pinterest board dedicated to the trip. Do some research online, visit travel blogs, look at other travel-themed pin boards, and just start gathering those can’t-miss locations and experiences. You can pare down later on – for now, go all out!

Use a Pinterest Board to collect travel ideas

After you’ve figured out a loose list of locations, one of the next things you’ll need to tackle is, when? Well, it depends on what you’re looking for. In many European countries, August is the busiest month for tourists. Attractions and museums will be crowded, hotels will be booked full, and your price for lodging, travel and dining can end up through the roof. If you’re not visiting for the weather, consider an off-season month. Or, look at late May, early June, September and early October for the best of both worlds – you can expect less rain in most areas, as well as fewer tourists than in peak months.

What season should you travel in?

Next up, it’s time to buy a plane ticket. Where should you fly into and out of? If you plan to visit many cities and countries during your tour, consider flying into one airport and out of another. As I planned an upcoming trip to Switzerland, France and Italy, I knew it would eat away at my days if I backtracked to be able to fly round-trip. To find the best prices on airfare, I tried multiple combinations and eventually found that flying into Zurich and out of Rome was the most cost-effective combination. I didn’t initially intend to visit Rome, although it’s always been on my list, so it was a nice way to justify adding one extra day on the tail end. Because, it’s Rome.

Planning Your Own European Tour

Quick tip: plane tickets overseas, to Europe in particular, generally don’t drop in price the closer you get to your travel dates. I’ve found that the lowest prices were available 10-11 months before my travel dates, and my research after the fact backed that up. By six months out (when I finally accepted that prices weren’t going back down), my ticket was an additional $350.

A few other tips for planning your European Tour:

  • Pay special attention to Sundays and holidays. Train travel can be affected, as many will run on a restricted schedule on those days. Plus, many restaurants and attractions may be closed or have limited hours.
  • Prioritize expenses. What’s most important to you – food, souvenirs, museums, luxury accommodations? You can save on some to splurge on others. But just remember, this is vacation. I’m a firm believer in choosing a few key experiences to indulge in.
  • Plan for delays. They’ll happen, whether it’s missing your train or lingering over a delicious meal longer than expected, and that’s okay. If you’ve budgeted more time than you think you’ll need for a particular attraction or section of the city, your itinerary will remain intact.
  • Relax and enjoy. The best advice I can give for planning your very own tour of Europe is to embrace the unexpected. If planning makes you more comfortable, then plan as much as you can. But allow yourself to enjoy the little moments and small discoveries you make along the way.

 

Hiking the Rocky Mountains for Beginners

Hiking the Rockies for Beginners

If you’re like me, you can’t just stare at the mountains – you have to go into them to explore. Denver makes a terrific home base for exploring the Rockies, and it’s in proximity to tons of hikes suitable for beginner and intermediate hikers. Here are just a few of the trails I recommend:

Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park – 2.2 miles, easy

Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is perhaps the most popular hiking area for visiting travelers because it’s so well-known. What makes it even better is the easy access to hiking trails. When you drive into the park (it’s about an hour from downtown Denver) you pay the toll and head straight in. To reach the trailhead that leads you to Dream Lake, you’ll drive along Bear Lake Road and look for signs for a Park and Ride lot. Especially during peak season (May through September), the parking lots fill before 10 am. The Park and Ride lot is equipped with really nice restrooms, water fountains, and a line for the free shuttle bus. Quick tip – the line for the shuttle bus can be quite long, but it moves fairly quickly. Getting an earlier start makes wait times lower and trail traffic less intense. However, this is a well-loved, and highly-traveled trail – so you shouldn’t expect to find yourself alone in the wilderness. There’s plenty of beauty, peace and quiet for all, though.

Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

The shuttle bus will take you further up into the park, and drop you off at the Bear Lake Trailhead. From Bear Lake, the trail splits – take it to the left toward Dream Lake. The trail climbs steadily up toward Nymph Lake, which makes a terrific spot to rest and take in the views. Continue around the lake and head up the steep climb that will offer you incredible views on your way up. Your next landmark is the trailhead for Lake Haiyaha. Turn right here to continue to Dream Lake, and enjoy the beautiful scene laid out before you. When I visited (in late September at the peak of fall colors) I sat on the boulders in front of the lake and had a picnic lunch, before heading back to the Lake Haiyaha trailhead and looping around to find it. I had more time and energy, and it was a convenient add-on.

Trading Post Trail at Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater – 1.4 miles, easy

Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater

Red Rocks is known for its amphitheater and the incredible concerts it hosts, but there are also some beautiful hiking trails connected to the park. Trading Post Trail showcases the incredible rock formations, valleys, meadows, and more. The terrain is a little rough, so even though it’s just over one mile long, I recommend hiking shoes. While you’re there, take the time to walk the amphitheater steps and take in the views from the top. It’s truly stunning.

Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater

Lake Isabelle in Indian Peaks Wilderness – 4 miles, intermediate

Lake Isabelle Trail in Indian Peaks Wilderness Area

The trail to Lake Isabelle was a favorite for me, because it was more wild than the other trails. Terrain ranged from lush forest to boulders and stones littering creekbeds that flowed down the mountain. Plus, I saw a moose IRL (from a distance). Located in the Lake Brainard area just outside of Boulder, the hike to Lake Isabelle is stunning. After a quick stroll around Long Lake, simply follow the signs across valleys and streams for two miles to reach Lake Isabelle. This hike only gains 400 feet in elevation, but it had my heart pumping. When you arrive at the top, expect wildflowers, spectacular views, and even a bit of snow – it’s generally found here year-round.

Lake Isabelle Trail in Indian Peaks Wilderness Area

Lake Isabelle in Indian Peaks Wilderness

Lake Isabelle

You can tack on an additional two miles and 1,500 feet in elevation from Lake Isabelle to reach the Isabelle Glacier if you have the time and energy – I opted to head back, and backtracked the two miles to my car.

If you decide to make Denver your home base, be sure to check out the local food and beer scene – after a few hours hiking in the mountains, I thoroughly enjoyed replenishing those spent calories at The Populist, Hops and Pie, Great Divide Brewing Company, River North Brewing Company, and Our Mutual Friend, to name a few.

California Dreaming on Pacific Coast Highway

When I was young, my family didn’t go on many vacations. I was introduced to the absolute wonders of traveling by my husband, who insisted that we take an “epic road trip” for our honeymoon. Oh, and it should be done in a convertible, he said.

3833_10101025954301274_274118493_n

For a girl with little to no travel experience other than lazy beach vacations, I was nervous, to say the least. Where should I even begin to plan a trip like we envisioned? How would we get around? Would we be able to eat good, local food, or would we end up in tourist traps?

It was my first try at planning a trip sight-unseen, and I only had a few days of vacation to work with, so we decided to drive the coast of California. My husband and I each picked our “top priority” city – for me it was San Diego, for him it was San Francisco – and we planned the trip between the two cities.

487644_10101036374194724_1039813215_n

When planning a trip with limited time, it’s easy to convince yourself you can do 100 things if you simply maximize your time. The problem is, you really can’t – and you shouldn’t try to. If you’re a planner like me, you’ve written down all of the sites you want to see and the restaurants you want to try. But if you plan too much in too tight of a time frame, you lose the option to just enjoy the sites, linger over wine, spend an extra hour walking the beach hand in hand, or take the scenic route home. And by scenic route, I don’t mean jumping on the bus in the wrong direction and losing two hours on your way back to Coronado from La Jolla Cove. Although, that could happen, too.

219036_10101033575453424_1399075481_o

Now on to the good stuff – the highlights of our trip. We began in San Diego and spent two nights at a resort on Coronado, which was beautiful. Despite a few detours we did make it to La Jolla cove (pictured above), which I HIGHLY recommend to anyone visiting San Diego. We swam in the 70-degree Pacific Ocean alongside a few other brave swimmers while dozens of seals sunbathed nearby. We roamed the Gaslight district and laid on the beach. We strolled through residential neighborhoods and took a water taxi across the beautiful Coronado Bay. I could have spent another three days exploring the city, but the next leg of the trip was calling.

 

326844_10101033582249804_739173142_o

Central Wine Country in Paso Robles, CA

 

Quick tip: if you’re renting a car one-way it can be much more expensive than dropping off and picking up at the same location. Consider picking up your rental car from the airport lot, and find out if your hotel offers a free shuttle service to the airport – ours did and it saved us a $45 cab fare.

We drove 570 miles in two days, and stopped in several cities. One of my favorite things we did was to stop in Paso Robles to do a few wine tastings. It was 10 am, and the only place we found open at that hour for tastings was a small vineyard called Castoro Wine Cellars. My husband and I sat down at the bar and were greeted by a friendly woman who figured out we had no idea what we were doing within 30 seconds. She laughed along with us as she taught us the ins and outs of tasting wine, offering us food samples that paired well with the wines. It was an incredible experience in a beautiful part of the country, and I would go back in a heartbeat.

134421_10101033584939414_543664812_o

During the drive in Big Sur – the views are INCREDIBLE, in case you haven’t heard – we found a few absolute gems thanks to recommendations from a friend who’d done the trip years earlier. First, we hopped out of the car in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and hiked down for this view.

340753_10101033587803674_53175859_o

Next we pulled into a small roadside restaurant called Nepenthe. Coffee, cheese, fruit, and this gorgeous scene were laid out in front of us as we indulged ourselves for an hour at their outdoor tables.

224499_10101036376819464_1285513726_n

When we made it San Francisco, we spent our days walking miles and miles through the city. We did take a trolley tour, which I loved, and spent a morning at Alcatraz. Touristy? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

209687_10101033683072754_678756166_o

At the end of the trip, my husband (a graphic designer by trade) put together a video with the song that had become the anthem of our road trip. We took photos and video on our Canon Rebel T2i and mixed in a few shots from our iPhones. It was an incredible keepsake from our trip, and puts me right back into that California state of mind. You can view it here.

Have you driven the California coast? What were your favorite activities? Let me know in the comments!