Itinerary: Six Days in Southern Utah

I’m spending some time this weekend sorting through photos from our trip to southern Utah and I can’t wait to share them! This trip is something my husband especially has been looking forward to for awhile. It came from one of those conversations where we ask each other, “If you could go anywhere in ‘X Country,’ where would you go?” This spring we’d earmarked a week for a U.S. trip, and we both agreed it was time to tackle southern Utah.

Utah Road TripGoing in, neither of us knew exactly what to expect, but I have to tell you, this trip has made its way into my top three for scenic beauty. Per usual, we packed a TON into just six days, but we never felt rushed – which makes it a very successful road trip in my book. Read below for a detailed itinerary of six days in southern Utah:

Day 1: Las Vegas, St. George
We flew in and out of Vegas, because it was the least expensive flight from our home airport. We’d both been to Vegas before, so we opted not to spend the night. Instead, we spent about five hours walking the strip, having lunch (at Flour & Barley, highly recommended for wood-fired pizza and an extensive beer menu), touring the National Atomic Testing Museum, and drinking beer flights at CraftHaus Brewery. From there, we drove two hours to St. George, Utah, where we spent our first night.

Day 2: Zion National Park in Springdale, Utah

Zion National Park Observation Point

Observation Point in Zion National Park

We woke up at sunrise, packed our backpacks, and jumped in the car headed for our first national park of the trip. When we arrived in Springdale (about an hour from St. George) we grabbed a quick but hearty breakfast and made our way into the park. Quick tip – the national parks in Southern Utah, like many, require a day fee per vehicle of $25-$30. If you plan to see several, buy the America the Beautiful Inter-Agency pass. It’s $80 and worth it if you’re seeing at least three parks on your trip (or within one year, which is how long the pass is valid).

 

 

Zion National Park Pa'rus Trail

The Virgin River along Pa’rus Trail in Zion National Park

By 9 am, we were on the trail to Observation Point. This 8-mile steep out and back trail is labeled as strenuous, but the view at the top is so, so worth it. After a late lunch at Zion Brewing Company and some souvenir shopping, we went back out for a 3-mile out and back hike on the Pa’rus Trail. This easy trail is flat and follows the Virgin River as it winds through the park. It was the perfect way to end the day in Zion.

 

Day 3: Bryce Canyon National Park, Page

Red Canyon Bryce Canyon National Park

Red Canyon near Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce is about an hour and 45 minutes from Springdale/Zion, so we got an early start on our drive. On the recommendation of our beertender at CraftHause in Las Vegas, we stopped first at Red Canyon, just 10 minutes outside of the national park, where we were able to get up-close and personal with the hoodoos this area is known for.

 

 

Bryce Canyon National Park

Views of Bryce Canyon National Park’s famous hoodoos from the East Rim Trail

From there we made our way into the park and directly to Bryce Point, arguably the best overlook in the area. From there, we jumped onto the East Rim Trail, which winds around the edge of the canyon. In roughly two miles we’d made our way to Inspiration Point, and then on to the famous Sunset Point. A quick shuttle ride back to our car at Bryce Point, and we were back on the road. Our hotel for the night was in Page, Arizona, where we’d spend the following day.

 

Day 4: Horseshoe Bend, Lower Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell, Monument Valley
Horseshoe Bend Page ArizonaPage, AZ is a small town built in the middle of some absolutely amazing scenery. When we woke up, just after sunrise, we went immediately to Horseshoe Bend. We just missed the crowds who’d arrived to watch the sunrise, and had the view mostly to ourselves for the next hour.

Lower Antelope Canyon Page ArizonaNext up, we toured Lower Antelope Canyon. This was SO COOL, and 100% worth the price of admission.

Lake Powell Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Page ArizonaLunch at Big John’s Texas BBQ was the food highlight of our trip, and fueled us up before we drove through Lake Powell/Glen Canyon Recreation Area (also a fee area, but covered by my America the Beautiful pass!). The views here honestly looked fake, as if it was a painting we were looking at. The photos just don’t do it justice.

Monument ValleyAnother two-hour drive led us to Monument Valley. Our first stop was mile marker 13, where Forrest Gump just stopped running. From there we took in the views, pitched our tent at the campsite, and waited on the sunset.

Day 5: Moab, Canyonlands, Colorado River
Canyonlands National Park Moab UtahWe’d intended to hike the Arches on day five, but Mother Nature wasn’t having any of it. After a three-hour drive from Monument Valley to a rainy Moab, we decided to grab lunch and drive through the Canyonlands. The clouds (and SNOW!) at the top prevented us from getting the full effect, but as we made our way back down the mountain we were able to see some pretty spectacular views.

 

Big Bend Campground Colorado River Moab Utah

Big Bend Campground along the Colorado River near Moab, Utah

We spent the rest of the day on touristy things – shopping and beer-ing at Moab Brewing Company. Early in the day, we’d staked out a spot at Big Bend Campground, and headed there before sunset to make a fire and enjoy our last night in Utah.

 

Day 6: Arches National Park, Las Vegas
Arches National Park Moab UtahWe woke up at our campsite along the Colorado River, and the sun was trying to make its way out from the clouds. We decided to head straight over to the Arches, and by the time we arrived, around 8:30 am, we were greeted by blue skies. We made the three-mile out and back trek to Delicate Arch, and it was the perfect way to end our trip.

From Moab, it took us about six and a half hours to drive back into Las Vegas. With a red-eye flight that night, we didn’t have much time to spare. But, we managed to sneak in dinner at a place that just really gets me – Tacos & Beer.

 

I can’t say enough about the scenery, the parks, the people. Southern Utah will go down as one of the best road trips we’ve done, ever. Look for more detailed accounts of some of our hikes and activities in the next couple of weeks! Have you been to Southern Utah? What was your favorite activity? Let me know in the comments.

4 Easy Ways to Keep the Travel Bug At Bay

I’ve been home for about two weeks since my last trip, a whirlwind tour of the Pacific Northwest. And per usual, the travel bug has come back to bite me already. But let’s be honest – I don’t have the vacation time or the cash handy to drop what I’m doing and hop another plane.

Instead, I’ll be employing these 4 Easy Ways to Keep the Travel Bug at Bay while I save up for my next adventure.

 

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View from Carew Tower in downtown Cincinnati

Be a tourist in your own city. I live just outside a mid-sized Midwest city, but there’s so much to see and do. It may not be NYC or LA, but new restaurants are opening downtown every week, art exhibits, ballets and broadway shows are plentiful, and the outdoor adventure scene isn’t too shabby, either. In my down time from travel, I find that getting out and about in my city is a great way to do a lot of the things I love, like hiking and trying new restaurants and breweries, without forking over the money for a plane ticket or hotel room.

 

 

red-river-gorge-in-daniel-boone-national-forest

Red River Gorge in Daniel Boone National Forest is just a two-hour drive from my city

Plan a day trip. Where can you drive to in under three hours from your hometown? I can get to three other mid-sized cities, a National Forest, and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, to name a few. Sure, it can be a lot of driving in a day. But with the right travel partner(s), it’s the perfect way to get that quick fix you’ve been craving.

 

 

looking-glass-rock-in-pisgah-national-forest

Looking Glass Rock is in Pisgah National Forest, just one hour outside of Ashville, NC

Find your go-to weekend getaway. Not everyone is into the idea of repeat trips, but for me, after awhile you know what you like and what you don’t like. And if you can find a place you like within a reasonable distance for a weekend getaway, make it yours. I love, love, love Asheville, North Carolina. Not only is it a quirky city with INCREDIBLE beer, but it’s within an hour’s drive to multiple National Forests and Parks. Hello, mountains! I’ve been in the area three times now, and am planning a fourth trip near Thanksgiving this year. Each time I visit, I find something new and incredible, and until that stops, I’ll keep visiting. It’s under five hours’ drive time, and the perfect weekend getaway for me.

 

travel-planning-tipsResearch and plan for your next big trip. What better way to get excited than to research your next big trip? Sure, it might not happen for six months or a year, but you can use that time to discover destinations you never knew existed, add to your itinerary, or brush up on some useful language skills (if you plan to travel internationally). If you’re planning a particularly large trip that’s more than a year out, researching and budgeting can help you stay focused on your travel savings plan, and you’ll have plenty of time to find the best deals on transportation, lodging and attractions. Traveling and experiencing new things is the best – but planning for them is a close second, in my book.

What’s your best tip for keeping the travel bug at bay? Let me know in the comments!

Hiking Oregon’s Oneonta Gorge

If you’ve ever visited Portland, or thought of visiting Portland,  you’ve probably come across more than a few opportunities for nearby outdoor activities. Just 35 minutes from downtown Portland is a well-known area called Multnomah Falls. It’s gorgeous – waterfalls, greenery, the opportunity to hike up to the top or down to the bottom.

gorge1Keep going – five more minutes and you’ll arrive at Oneonta Gorge. Where Multnomah has multiple parking lots and shuttles that drop you off at the falls, Oneonta has parking along the roadway. And though it’s by no means deserted, you’re looking at sharing the gorge with 50 people vs. hundreds at the falls.

gorge2Let me tell you what’s incredible about this hike.

To start, it’s stunning. Even better, you can get right into the middle of it, rather than snap a far-away photo. Here’s how:

gorge4You hike through the water. No dry paths here! This is the best thing about hiking for me – that feeling when you see something so beautiful, but you don’t have to just look from far away. You can get into the thick of it. This hike goes to the extreme, dropping you into chest-deep water (only for a moment) and leading you straight to the heart of the gorge.

Oneonta Gorge in Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

But first, you have to scramble over these rocks and logs. It’s a bit tricky, considering there could be as many as 20 people trying to go in opposite directions – some are just finishing, while others are just beginning, and there’s only one way in and out. Go slow and be cautious, because the rocks and logs are wet and slippery. And if you can, wear a pair of water shoes with good grips on the bottom. It makes a world of difference. Bare feet on the stones in this river bed? Not a good idea.

gorgeb1Real talk: that water is cooooollllddd. The worst part is the first few steps into ankle deep water. Ever had to ice your foot after running or playing sports? It’s a little painful. But once you go deeper – it’s a gradual decline, from ankles to knees to waist, and then eventually chest deep – it just becomes thrilling, honestly. Look at the smile on my face! I was exhilarated.

gorge3Just after you emerge from the deepest water, you’re in the middle of this gorgeousness. It’s not more than 15 minutes to get there, but by the time you see this waterfall you know you’ve worked for it.

A few tips: I bought cheap water shoes on Amazon that I didn’t feel bad about throwing out – nobody wants to bring wet, smelly shoes home on the plane! I wore quick-dry clothes, and brought a towel and  a change of clothes for directly after. I brought a small backpack (that I had to carry over my head) with very few items. The camera went into a gallon-sized plastic bag, inside the backpack – just in case.

Have you hiked Oneonta Gorge? What other unique hikes have you done? Tell me in the comments!

 

Euro Trip 2016: The good, the bad, the (not-so) ugly

It’s been less than 48 hours since I landed on U.S. soil after a 13-day trip to Europe. My sleep schedule is off by six hours, and my house is kind of a mess… but I’m SO happy. This was an incredible trip, and one I won’t soon forget.

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In 13 days, my husband and I traveled to 16 cities in three countries. We stayed in two hotels, one hostel, and six AirBNB apartments. We traveled by plane, train, and automobile (in a rental car we lovingly named Hans – because he spoke nothing but German no matter how many buttons we pressed!). We hiked, we toured museums, we swam in the Mediterranean, we ate everything from swordfish to rabbit to lamb, and we probably spent 100 Euro on gelato and cappuccinos alone. <– To be fair, we ate A LOT of gelato, and drank multiple cappuccinos per day. It was just too good to not.

This experience taught me a lot, and I’ll post about each destination and activity in more detail later. But, I wanted to overview what I loved, what I learned, and what I’d do differently next time.

First, what I loved: EVERYTHING. Okay, it wasn’t 13 days of constant nirvana, but it was pretty close. If I had to pull out my three favorite experiences, it would be these:

The view of Lauterbrunnen from Wengen

The view of Lauterbrunnen from Wengen

  1. Hiking from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen in Switzerland. Holy panoramic views! Lauterbrunnen is in the valley, and it makes you feel immersed in the mountains, surrounded by waterfalls and green pastures. Wengen is near the top of the mountain, and you can look out into the valley for these incredible views. The hike up was, in a word, difficult. It was 90 minutes of winding up, up, up the side of a mountain, after all. But when you arrive and catch this view? Totally worth it. We spent an hour picnicking just off the trail where we could eat baguettes and drink rosé from the bottle while taking it all in.

    Perfect spot for a picnic in Switzerland

    Perfect spot for a picnic in Switzerland

  2. A day at the beach in VilleFranche sur Mer. The water actually is that color, in case you were wondering. This incredible beach (and adorable town) is about a 3-mile walk from Nice’s Vielle Ville, where we stayed. The views along the way were spectacular, the crystal blue waters and pebbled beach the perfect reward for the work to get there. As was common on this trip, we brought along a bottle of rosé to sip on at the beach. Sensing a theme here? The sun was shining, it was a perfect 73 degrees, and it made for an absolutely incredible day.

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    VilleFranche sur Mer in the south of France

  3. One day in Florence, Italy. This was somewhat unexpected, simply because I didn’t do a lot of planning for Florence. I had three things on my list: the Bardini Gardens, the statue of David, and dinner at Osteria del Cinghale Bianco. The gardens were STUNNING. It was so relaxing to walk through rows of flowers and beautifully manicured green spaces. There’s a terrace with a lovely view of the city, too.
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    The Bardini Gardens in Florence, Italy

    After the gardens, we stopped for gelato (again) and walked through town toward Galleria dell’Academia, where David lives. And we ended up right next to the Duomo. Have you ever seen such incredible detail on a building?

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    The Duomo in Florence, Italy

    After we hung out with David for a bit (quick tip: skip the line by reserving your tickets online in advance – it’s way worth it!), we stopped in at Piazza de Michaelangelo for this incredible panoramic view.

    Florence, Italy

    Florence, Italy

    After the best damn glass of prosecco I’ve ever had (we brought home a bottle, it was so good) we had our authentic Italian dinner we’ve been dreaming about for years. And it was the Best. Meal. Ever. Literally, I’ve never had a better meal. Cacio e pepe, wild boar ragu, sliced sirloin, panna cotta with wild berries, and a cappuccino to round things out. Oh, and a half liter of the house red. I left there smiling ear-to-ear.

    First course: Cacio e Pepe and Wild Boar Ragu with the House Red.

    First course: Cacio e Pepe and Wild Boar Ragu with the House Red.

Now, for a few lessons learned.

  1. Driving a rental car in a foreign country, even on the right side of the road, is stressful. Like, seriously stressful. Why are all the parking garages in Europe so small? No wonder the rep at the Sixt counter looked at us so incredulously when we told her “No, thank you,” on the additional damage coverage. And researching the rules of the road was not on my list of tasks to complete before heading across the Atlantic – but it should have been. Ever heard of a rotary? K, now drive around one every 200 meters. And don’t get hit by oncoming traffic, even though they don’t use signals, ever. This wasn’t your average road trip.

    Trying to put on a happy face as it rained for 48 hours straight. Photo taken in Annecy, France.

    Trying to put on a happy face as it rained for 48 hours straight. Photo taken in Annecy, France.

  2. The weather doesn’t care that you planned your entire trip around hiking some of the most beautiful trails in the world. I’m an eternal optimist, so I just assumed that Mother Nature would do me a solid and make it sunny and bright on my hiking days. And my beach days. And my touristy days. Hence, my lack of a plan B when it rained buckets in Chamonix, and Annecy, and Cinque Terre. Here’s where flexibility and positivity comes in handy – because you can either sit and wallow or go find a new adventure. And that’s just what we did.
  3. You don’t have to speak the language fluently – but trying your best goes a long way. I speak zero German, very rough French, and not a bit of Italian. I found that in Switzerland, I could get through most interactions with “guten tag,” “danke” and a smile and a nod, but we didn’t eat out much, and spent nearly all our time in the mountains. In France, avoiding conversation was much harder. I tried my best to order food or make dinner reservations with my rusty language skills, and I found that it did make a big difference in my interactions, and in the service we received.
Pisa, Italy

Pisa, Italy

What would I do differently? Not much. I’d consider doing the whole trip by train, for sure. And I’d probably pack more pants and long-sleeved shirts because it’s chilly at night when you’re on the coast, even in June. But I consider every moment a piece of what made my trip the incredible experience that it was, and honestly, sometimes the best moments are the ones that you don’t plan on at all.

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.