How To Plan A Hiking Vacation

Vacation can mean different things to different people. Some individuals like to plan beach vacations where there main goal is to find a beach chair and bake in the sun while reading, sleeping or listening to the waves crash into the shoreline. Some, on the other hand, would rather feel as if they need a vacation from their vacation since often times doing something active when they are at home simply is not feasible and it’s what they yearn to do. For us….its the second scenario. And that is what I am going to discuss here today. I receive so many email questions on how I plan our vacations that I decided instead of answering each and every one I would make a few suggestions and pointers here.

#1 You must look at your group size and the ages of your vacationers. This for us is easy since our son has become and adult. He is able to do anything we can do which is nice. However, that being said, he is often not willing to do everything we want to do. What I do is gather everyone going and discuss things we all would like to do in the area we chose to vacation and then look at every ones ability levels.

IMG_6888

#2 Pick a place you can all agree on. This is often times that hardest thing. Take for instance my family. Our son wants, in the worst way, to go to Washington or Alaska. Mom(me) however, will NEVER go to Alaska….I already live in the frozen tundra of Green Bay. And Washington is beautiful, it has mountains(snowy mountains) but it is often rainy and I love sunshine. Which means that is a no go also! So we agree to disagree and someday he can go and send me pictures from those states. Then we have my husband, whom usually agrees to go on any vacation. He is not too fussy. Although, this last vacation in Virginia showed him that mountain hiking may require some extra knee support next time. And then you have my destinations…..the list is LONG!!!! I like it HOT! And I like ELEVATION!

Mom Cathedral End low logo-1

#3 Decide on how may days active and inactive you will be vacationing for. I made a big mistake our first trip to Utah for our 20th anniversary. We were there on our first guided trip ever and it happen to be our first ever mountain hiking adventure also. It was four days of long, hot, very steep switchback hiking in the most gorgeous place I have ever seen in my life. When the guides dropped us back off at our hotel for the night after hiking four days and traveling three hours from Utah back to Nevada we could hardly walk. We were hungry and the hotel offered a buffet right on the premises where we stayed and neither of us even wanted to walk down the hall to eat. We were so exhausted, sore, and oh so very sore. So I vowed from then on to plan one day of relaxation…..shopping, driving scenic roads, or just pool time. And no more than 3 hiking days in a row. This is what we did the first time we brought our son back to Utah with us and it worked so well. Yes, it was still exhausting but we could at least still function after a short rest. This goes back to knowing your activity levels of your group.

IMG_2108

#4 Now pick your activities, gather your maps, talk with professionals, and get to know your surroundings. I always pick our trails after researching online, hiking forums, and park websites. Once I have the trails we plan to hike chosen, I then make sure none of them need permits to do. If they do make sure you have time to apply and get the proper permits. Research parking, trail heads, animals/bugs/snakes to beware of, and GPS coordinates. Park rangers, if you are visiting a park or even near a park, are useful individuals. They often will know things you cant find online. Also, all national park websites have alert pages you can check up until the day you plan to hike. Flash floods, trail closures if there has been an accident, warnings regarding wildlife problems and so on can all be found here. I also love forums….they offer priceless information about many things you would lever think of… from what to eat on the trail to where you can find basic water while in the backwoods.

IMG_6000

#5 Plan for the climate you are headed to. We have a completely different packing list for Utah/Sedona than we do for Tennessee/Virginia. Desert hiking and forest hiking are two different animals completely. Again, research sample packing lists for different climates. Know that if bugs are an issue head nets will be your friend. Or if bears are active in the area make sure whatever you bring to protect yourself is legal in the state you happen to be hiking in. Find out when hunting seasons are in the area you plan to vacation. Hikers and hunters are typically not the best of friends….at least not here in WI. And know that bear spray canisters are not allowed on airplanes. Whomp….whomp!!

IMG_9611

IMG_9589

#6 Pick a place to stay. Whether its a hotel, campsite, or resort with all the amenities, pick this out and make sure everyone is on board with the choice. I know after a long day on the trails there is nothing better than a warm shower. We almost always vacation while on our hiking trips in a hotel. We sleep in beds and have flushing toilets. Ice machines are always a bonus to fill ziplocks with for sore muscles too…..just being honest!!!! Pools are simply a bonus after a long day.

IMG_6109

#7 Means of travel there and while there. Ahhh, the big question of fly or drive? We have done both. We have had issues with both. No one way is perfect. Logically speaking, this is a crap shoot so good luck.

IMG_20170112_1530132_rewind

As for traveling when you are there….if you flew you will more than likely need a rental vehicle. Know your trails and if they are on fire roads to reach the trail head. Some trail heads will require a high clearance vehicle to reach the trail head. Sedona, AZ was a place where we needed a high clearance rental…so research, research, research….you will not be sorry you did.

#8 Research the area your staying in and make a packing list from this research. Are there grocery stores? Are there outfitters if you forget something important…like your boots? Where is the closest medical building if you get bit by a snake? ( I would be dead of a heart attach for sure before reaching the ER but its still good to know where it is) Is there cell service typically in this area or will you need a SPOT global locator? I am sure there are more but all these are super important. First, when we traveled to Utah there was one grocery store in the small town we stayed in and Clif Bars were 2 for $5……here I can purchase and entire box for $5. We have learned to pack as much trail food from home as possible. Its just easier, cheaper, and saves you a trip to a store before you begin your adventure when you arrive. Animal/ plant encounters happen often, so pack first aid but also know where your nearest emergency room is. And just know that there really are still places where cell phones will not work in this world.

IMG_1818

#9 Have a backup plan. Life happens and if it can go wrong it often will. Prepare to change up the plan at any moment. We did this a few times thanks to flash floods in Utah, hurricanes hitting close to a trail head, broken vehicles the day before leaving for an 8 day road trip, wild fires in Tennessee, search and rescue closing down that days planned hike etc…..just have a backup plan.

IMG_6848

#10 Remember your on vacation….Dream big, not impossible!!! Don’t pack yourself so full that it causes worry and stress to get it all done. See what you can and leave the rest for next time. List the most important things and do them first and follow the order until it’s time to leave. Take us for instance, in Sedona we all wanted to climb Cathedral Rock so we made sure this was first. Then in Virginia my dream was to hike up McAfee Knob so we did this first. Make a plan and stick to it. However, even though we did both of these wants first, we still have not finished our list of things to hike in either Arizona or Utah so we know eventually we will return.

IMG_9505

I am sure there are many more pointers by people that plan many more active vacation trips that I do. Although, these are the ones I follow the most. I am a planner and have found my planning abilities make our trips pretty flawless. It does take time but trip planning for me is fun. And, as a bonus, when it all goes as planned it’s even more fun.

If you are thinking about planning an active vacation and want to ask specific questions please don’t hesitate to contact me. I would love to help make your vacation as wonderful as ours have been. So whether your headed to somewhere warm, tropical or to the good old state where I live….Wisconsin….enjoy the journey.

 

Advertisements

Virginia Part #2 : Sharp Top Trail @ The Peaks Of Otter

After hiking McAfee Knob on day one while in Virginia we woke up sore and stiff. Although, we were not going to let that hamper our plans for the day which were to hike Sharp Top Trail next.

IMG_9607

IMG_9598

IMG_9596

Across the road from the trail head is the Peaks Of Otter Visitors Center where we first stopped for a trail map, restrooms, and a chat with the park ranger.

IMG_9602

IMG_9601

Why??? Well, all the way to the Peaks of Otter on the Blue Ridge Parkway we saw numerous and I mean numerous trucks full of dogs and bear hunters.

IMG_9589

And sure enough when we were pointed across the road to the trail head there were also signs warning us of the bear problems nearby.

IMG_9605

IMG_9611

We made sure before heading down the trail that our bear spray was on us at all times.

IMG_9609

IMG_9612

This was a hell of a hike!!!! Short, at just over 2 miles according to our GPS, but wow was it rocky and very hard to manage at times.

IMG_9672

IMG_9615

IMG_9617

About 3/4 of the way up you reach an area with big boulders once again that lead you up some steps and brings you to an old building.

IMG_9625

IMG_9628

IMG_9633

IMG_9639

Round the corner from this building and you will be speechless. Suddenly you are once again on top of the mountain looking at 360 degrees of beauty.

IMG_9642

IMG_9643

IMG_9661

IMG_9677

Simply amazing!!!!

We spent a good amount of time up here where we had a small snack before deciding to head back down by the way of the shuttle offered at the gift shop at the bottom. Down is so much more painful than up for both my husband and myself that we agreed with the rolling rocks we climbed to get up here that the shuttle would be the safest route back. This shuttle can be taken both ways or one way either up or down. For us one way cost $6 each. The shuttles run on the hour and the entire ride up/down takes about 15 minutes.

IMG_9678

My opinion of this hike is its rough on the knees and ankles. It took us just under 1.5 hours to get to the top and the trail itself is straight up. We saw no bear on this trail but I will tell you we did see them very nearby so some type of bear repellent would be a safe idea. If you are not a hiker and don’t have the proper gear to attempt this hike the shuttle is worth every penny to enjoy the view from the top.

 

 

 

Memories I Will Have Forever From Virginia: Part One….McAfee Knob

Memories….they are made everywhere. Many of my memories are from here in Wisconsin where I was born and raised for the past 40+years of life. However, this past week I made some more memories with my husband on a bucket list trip to Virginia where I know my heart aches to be……in the mountains.

IMG_9708

We live in the flattest state around(in my opinion) and I have seen almost all there is to see here numerous times. So when the chance comes that I get to escape the grind of every day life to go to my happy place I am the first one packed and ready to go. So let me share with you the past week in the mountains of Virginia.

For this vacation we drove from WI to Salem, Virginia to begin our adventure. Now you may wonder…why such an off the wall city like Salem? Well, I had a bucket list dream to fulfill and I wanted to make sure I could do this before we packed in anything else. My dream was to hike the AT up to McAfee Knob and get the iconic picture that you see in many, if not all, hiking magazines, on hiking websites and so on. Every time I would see this picture displayed I would tell my husband….some day I will get there. And as usual, he would just smile and say….I have no doubt you will. Love you honey!

The morning of our hike we left before sunrise to make sure we could find the trailhead and get a parking spot. I had read that parking was sometimes packed but was hoping it would not be too bad since our hike was happening Monday morning. We arrived with about twenty minutes to spare before the sun started peeking over the mountains. The lot had a fair share of cars but all looked to have been there overnight. The lot was easily located of the 311 and marked clearly.

IMG_9436

IMG_9564

IMG_9558

IMG_9565

IMG_9560

The trail itself starts across the street from the parking area. Again, clearly marked with signage once you cross the 311 carefully, since cars zip around this mountain road fairly quickly.

IMG_9440

IMG_9442

The view going up was so beautiful.

IMG_9450

IMG_9466

A bit up the trail you will come to a split. Signs are large and arrows point you in the correct direction. ***Now, I will tell you that many AT hikers recommend hiking the fire road up to the knob and then taking the AT back to the parking lot or vice versa since the AT is quite rugged. We did not do this. I did not train physically and drive for two days to hike any fire road for whatever reason what so ever. I came to hike the AT up to McAfee Knob and back and I am so happy we did.

IMG_9448

The trail we found to be difficult. Remember….we hike flat ground in WI almost all our life. This part of the AT was covered in rock, boulders, and roots in many places. Very little was ground and being we were headed to the top of of a mountain it was clearly up all the way.

IMG_9464

IMG_9478

IMG_9562

IMG_9489

IMG_9480

Eventually you will come to a crossing that again is well marked and will lead you across the fire road.

IMG_9485

Then you reach an AT shelter where you head up another clearly marked trail.

IMG_9550

Eventually you see the trail start to have huge boulders and you weaving around these while you make the last stretch to the top.

IMG_9497

IMG_9496

By this time I was tired. And I mean TIRED!!!! Hiking up the entire trail was difficult plus our GPS clearly did not agree with the mileage that was posted with all the information I had read regarding this trail. So if you attempt this hike and find your mileage is also different keep going…..you will be so happy you did. We finally reached the top of the knob and immediately we checked the mileage to compare.

IMG_9500

I soon forgot about this little issue because when I rounded the corner I felt like I wanted to cry. OK, maybe I did a bit. It was truly amazing in every way!!!!!!

IMG_9528

IMG_9506

IMG_9507

We had did it and we did it together. We arrived to find a few others but the longer we stayed the more others arrived. We ate a small snack and rested a bit before returning to the bottom by way of the AT once again. We saw deer, lizards, and many, many caterpillars along the way.

IMG_9549

IMG_9554

When we finally arrived back at the 311 parking lot we had clocked a total of 9.5 miles and almost 6 hours of hiking with I would say about 45 minutes were at the top exploring, resting and having lunch.

IMG_9567

Most importantly……I crossed something of my bucket list that I will cherish forever…..my own iconic photographs on the top of McAfee Knob with the love of my life.

IMG_9503

IMG_9501

IMG_9514

IMG_9519

A dream come true!!!!!!!!!!!

Miners Castle-Michigans U.P.

Miners Castle was one of the destinations we visited while hiking waterfalls in Michigans U.P.. Even though it is not a waterfall it was on the agenda since this is one of the first places my husband ever took me to get me interested in the great outdoors. I immediately fell in love with this area.

IMG_9129

Very easily accessible on the top portion of the overlook since there are paved sidewalks that lead right up to the overlook platform.

IMG_9130

This is the view from the upper overlook.

IMG_9132

IMG_9134

To continue down to the lower viewing platform you will encounter steps. Nothing too serious but none the less steps. So wheelchairs or anyone with a disability may have a problem reaching this area.

IMG_9131

IMG_9137

This is the view from the lower overlook.

IMG_9139

I would not call this hiking but if your in the area I would not pass this by since it is quite the sight. It’s very beautiful any time of year….even winter;-)

You will find ample parking, no fee to view from either platforms, and bathrooms are also located here but in the past we have found them locked in the winter months.

IMG_9128

 

Wagner Falls-Michigans U.P.

Wagner Falls in Michigans U.P. is easy to miss since you come upon it right on the side of MI-94. Parking is very limited and many people we found later in the day parking along the actual highway itself. We lucked out and actually got an actual parking space since we arrived early in the morning hours.

IMG_9100

IMG_9101

There are no restrooms here, no fee is charged, and most of the hike is on a wooden platform path.

IMG_9104

Again, as at most Michigan waterfalls, you will come to the end of the path and have to climb stairs to the viewing platform. Although, here there are not many at all and the falls can be seen a bit from the end of the path without climbing the steps.

IMG_9105

Our son and his friend even braved past the viewing platform since it was early and no one was here yet to try and capture a closer photo of this waterfall. Being a mom who believes rules are meant to be broken I told them to go for it…..mom fail…. I know but it is what it is.

IMG_9117

The falls were beautiful in the morning hours, the walkway was slippery due to the morning dew that had covered it, and the actual walk in was short and easy.

IMG_9111

 

Miners Falls-Michigan U.P.

One of our favorite waterfalls in Michigans U.P. is Miners Falls.

IMG_9145

Parking here is ample when it’s not the busy season…..we visited on Labor Day weekend and it was packed!!!!! Bathrooms are available right in the parking area and a few picnic tables are also in this area to rest or have a picnic.

IMG_9144

It’s an easy hike into the falls with a crushed gravel/dirt path through the woods.

IMG_9147

That is until you hit the stairs that lead to the actual viewing platform for the falls. There are a good number of steps so strollers/wheelchairs will have problems from this point onward. And no, you cannot see the falls without taking the steps.

IMG_9148

This waterfall is quite magnificent….with a thunderous roar and a mist of spray while viewing. Many have trouble photographing this waterfall due to this mist…..as I did also while here.

IMG_9150

IMG_9156

This waterfall/trail is free along with free parking.

 

 

 

Our Visit To The DeYoung Family Zoo In Wallace , MI

Once again my husband came up with a spectacular idea to make my weekend a bit more fun while taking it easy and letting this muscle strain heal…he suggested we take a trip to Wallace, MI and visit the DeYoung Family Zoo.

IMG_8786

I have a love/hate relationship with zoos since I sometimes feel sorry for the animals penned up and not free to be in their normal environments. Although, I do love the zoos that offer a place for animals to rehabilitate from injury or even survive as happy as can be in the case of a birth defect. I have found that its best not to know and just enjoy the zoos we visit to the best of my ability since let’s face it, zoos have been around forever and will always be a popular place for families to enjoy whether I like them or not. In this instance this is by far one of the more rustic non commercialized zoos I have ever been to. For a reasonable entrance fee you can enjoy a natural setting with animals and very little hype when it comes to snacks, gift shops, and extras around every corner.

IMG_8785

There are no paved sidewalks in this zoo and no big guard rails to keep you at a distance from the animals. However, every cage is double fenced and found easily with hand painted signs through out the area. It’s like hiking through a jungle full of various animals.

IMG_8829

IMG_8830

IMG_8834

IMG_8838

The do offer food to purchase and feed the animals in the feeding area. Although, we only saw one place to buy food and that is in the same building you enter and pay admission in. So save yourself some time and buy this at the same time you pay your admission fee.

IMG_8848

IMG_8850

There are also signs posted along the way when special feeding times are for the large animals if you enjoy this type of thing. Crowds gathered for the hippo were amazing so this is something you will want to make sure you grab your spot in time.

IMG_8857

IMG_8856

IMG_8863

It was a nice change from the zoo in our area here. All dirt trails, tons of trees, and nothing for your children to beg you to buy throughout the entire zoo.

IMG_8800

IMG_8825

IMG_8815

IMG_8804

IMG_8865

I would highly recommend this zoo if your looking to get away from the big city and enjoy a few hours of animal adventure.

Get here early for good parking since parking is limited. Bring your own snacks or a picnic lunch since snacks/food is also very limited. And remember bug spray since this is Michigan and bugs are everywhere!!! And if you forget the wipes/hand sanitizer…no worries, they offer soap and water right on the premises to clean up after the feeding area.Oh, and I almost forgot….grab some tissues/toilet paper since all the facilities are porta potties and some where out of toilet paper while we were here.

IMG_8789