HIKING IN WINTER OR HOW TO FALL UP A MOUNTAIN

catskillHiking in the winter can be tricky in the Northeast. Even with infrequent snowfall in most places, the higher elevations we love to visit tend to be more often covered with a blanket of white. While beautiful, this isn’t always ideal for a good hiking experience; especially if you don’t have the proper gear.

In the Catskills, you can drive up and down the mountain roads without knowing what the weather might be like when you reach your trailhead. As we approached Notch Inn Road and the Warner Creek Trailhead, our surroundings suddenly changed from deep green to all white. The steep drive up Notch Inn Road was slow and careful until we found a spot to pull off and layer up for the hike.

Finding the trailhead was tricky, as the road also serves as a driveway to a large house. The trail starts just before the house’s proper driveway and begins up a rocky stream bed. The large rocks were covered in snow, which masked the layer of ice underneath. We found that out the hard way; literally. Suddenly, each step became a calculated move over uncertain terrain. This didn’t change as we moved on; it only got worse.

After a seemingly long scramble over and around big rocks, we reached a trail junction that led toward Plateau Mountain and the Devil’s Path. This was a less rocky trail with a slight grade that increased as we went. The trail started to switch back several times at this point, with the thick layer of ice beneath the snow becoming more troublesome under our normal hiking boots. I would highly recommend crampons or other winter hiking gear if you try this in similar conditions.

We got the hang of walking on the edge of the trail, where the leaves and twigs helped us gain some traction. The going was slow, but once we bypassed the switchbacks we had to climb through some more rocky sections before coming to the most difficult part of the ascent. A steep climb even in normal conditions, this section was an exercise in creativity as we used roots, small trees, and rocks as anchors and handholds to pull ourselves up the icy slope. Slowly but surely we reached the end of this push and were back on flatter ground.

The scenery changed to a serene, snow-covered grove of fir trees. The trail rolled gently as we enjoyed the break from watching every step. Every turn provided another beautiful scene pulled from a winter painting. The snow hung softly on green needles of each tree, poised to fall with the slightest brush. Silence hung pleasantly in the air except for the crunch of snow under our feet, and the frequent yelps as one of us lost our footing.

After one final quick climb, we reached a nice overlook where we rested for a bit and decided it was probably the best idea to turn back. Though it was hard to measure distance with our slow speed, it was late afternoon and we knew we didn’t have a lot of time to make our way down. This turned out to be a wise choice since the trek down was almost more tedious.

The slight grades that provided a small annoyance on the way up were now ice chutes just waiting for a misstep. We took our time and made it through the worst stuff safely, using the ice to our advantage when we could just sit and slide down parts of the path. Once darkness fell, however, we were still a good mile or so from the car, standing on icy rocks and now we had no idea what we were stepping on. If the initial descent was slow, then this was basically standing still. Each extra cautious step brought us closer to home, though every corner we rounded had us wondering how much farther we had to go (and if we were even still going the right way.)

Luckily I had my flashlight with me, as I always carry it in my pack for situations like this. We made it down after what seemed like hours and happily took our seats in the car, peeling off boots and socks before we headed directly for the nearest deli for food that we had been craving since before the sun went down. I suppose this is a cautionary tale, but you can’t get the sweet feeling of relief without enduring a little pain first!

Cycling Acadia National Park and Cadillac Mountain

acadiaAfter four separate visits to Acadia National Park in and around Bar Harbor, Maine, I can say with confidence that this is one of my favorite places in the United States. With amazing views, a variety of wildlife and foliage, and fantastic hiking for any skill level, Acadia is a wonderful slice of New England’s majesty. And on my most recent visit I finally decided to bring my bike!

One of the great things about Acadia is its expansive layout. Taking over most of Mt. Desert Island, it can be difficult to decide how to begin seeing everything you’d like to in the park. Whether you bring your own or rent one in downtown Bar Harbor, bicycling is the way to do it! The main park loop winds 27 miles through the heart of the park, along the rocky coast to the dense forest and back again. Depending on when you visit, you may have to contend with heavy traffic in some areas, but I have found most motorists to be more than accommodating to cyclists along the way.

camping

On two wheels, you can easily enjoy the beauty of the park without looking for a place to park and getting out every few minutes to look at something. You’ll pass by Thunder Hole, where the crashing waves funnel into a narrow inlet and explode out in an awe-inspiring whoosh! You also pass by a dozen or so trail heads if you feel like a short jaunt along the rocks or a long climb up the steep Precipice trail! I recommend all of the above! Another landmark you’ll pass by is Cadillac Mountain. The entrance road sits unassumingly off the main loop and could be inviting to a casual cyclist. Trust me on this: it is anything but casual!

The four-mile road up Cadillac Mountain almost immediately turns into a steep grade as you leave the main park road. The initial steep climb lasts long enough to weed out anyone that’s not in it for the long haul. After the first half mile or so the grade lessens just slightly and you begin a long series of winding switchbacks that seem endless. If you are more of a novice cyclist like myself, you’ll be passed by those cyclists with super-thin tires and form-fitting outfits who aren’t even breaking a sweat as you draw deep breaths with each firm push of the pedals. The climb is relentless as you break into the final mile where breathtaking views drop off either side of the narrow road, and you realize you’re going to make it. In the final stretch you pick up your pace, nearing the parking lot and your prize of a perfect view and a much-needed rest.

The climb is well worth it when you see vistas of island-dotted waters and beautiful forests in all directions around you. At 1,530 feet, you’re at the highest point in the park and along the North Atlantic seaboard. There are a number of trails that meander around the summit leading away from the crowds that form near the parking lot. After a quick stop at the visitor’s center to get your “I Biked Cadillac Mountain” sticker, it’s time for the fun part: going back down! Make sure you give your brakes a good check and strap your helmet on tight, because once you start going down, you aren’t stopping for four miles. The ride down is exhilarating if not completely frightening! If you’re daring you can keep a good clip the whole way down, braking only for the several very tight switchbacks and never really worrying about a car passing you. Always keep a speed that feels safe for you!

After a long day riding the loop and climbing Cadillac I’d recommend finding a nice spot along the rocks at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse and watching the sun drop as it paints the sky a brilliant orange. It’s a truly relaxing and fitting way to end a day in Maine. Bring the bug spray, bear spray and long sleeves! Do not also forget to bring a handy weapon to protect yourself from people with bad intentions. It is better to be ready at all times. Then retire to your campsite for a nice fire under a starry sky and get ready for more the next day!

MICHAUX STATE FOREST

Michaux state forestJust off the Appalachian trail near Harrisburg PA, in Michaux state forest, you will find a terrific camping spot…at the very top of a mountain. The ride up the mountain is very scenic and you will pass by many little cabins and campsites, as well as a lake that you can swim in when you’re hot and ready to cool off. The cabins and campsites you need to pay for… but if you venture to the very top of the mountain, it is free. There is a magnificent view of the stars so bring your telescope!

We stayed there a weekend, we had bikes that we flew down the mountain on with amazing speed, however the trek back up was not so fun. We found a luna moth as well as a rattle snake on one of our walks, and we ate delicious camp food and laid out under the stars. We rode down to the lake when we got too hot and cooled off in bliss.

Michaux state forest was named after Andre Michaux. He was a famous French botanist. The forest is 85,000 acres large and in 1902 the first tree nursery was established at Mont Alto in this forest.

The scenery is ever-changing in this amazing forest.

If you’re ever looking for a nice place to get away for a little while, this is a very nice spot!

WHAT COULD BE GREATER THAN KAYAKING WITH A GATOR?

kayakingWhen we decided to visit the massive sown as The Everglades we knew it would be a unique experience. Knowing that, we wanted to see it from a different perspective than we might see any other National Park. Since the park is mainly water we decided that kayaking would be the perfect way! We chose well. We got our information at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center and rented our kayaks from the shop below it. I would recommend getting a waterproof map of the area before heading out. It helped us immensely being able to reference as we rounded innumerable small islands and large areas of open water.

Fighting the tide on the way out, we were introduced to just a few of the birds we would see on this trip. Perched upon the navigational signs and manatee zone warnings stood great pelicans silhouetted by the bright afternoon sun. Despite the warnings, we never saw a manatee (or a gator…) As we entered Indian Key Pass there was a Welcome to Everglades National Park sign. It might just be my favorite way I’ve ever entered a park.

Everglades National Park

The pass was tough as the tide was coming in and keeping our pace slow. We took a break just a mile or two in. The pass was well traveled by yachts, tour boats, and fishermen, though we saw no other paddlers. The current kept us struggling from point to point, feeling as if we were never going to make it. When we hit the bird haven of Indian Key we stopped for a longer rest. We had some snacks and took a walk on the beach to stretch our legs that had been stuffed in our boats for a few hours now.

After our rest, we headed out to the open water of the Gulf of Mexico where the going got even tougher. The waves started crashing over our small crafts, getting us wet and dampening our already weary spirits. We noticed a small opening between two islands that had to be our channel. We headed for it fast and got there slowly. Once in, we paddled easy for the last mile around the south side of Tiger Key and found our campsite sitting before us in beautiful white sand glory.

We pulled our kayaks ashore and breathed a sigh of relief that we were done paddling for the day. Seven miles seems a lot longer when you’re rowing against a strong current and choppy open water. Spawning fish made themselves known, splashing in the shallow waters along the shore as we inspected our private island. Once getting our tent set up we hung our wet clothes on tree branches and were immediately treated to a gorgeous setting sun on the other side of the narrow island. The orange glow lit up the tide pools and the mud where long-necked birds were wandering.

When the sun was down we took refuge in our tent from the mosquitoes and had some snacks before deciding on an early bedtime. The raccoons were rustling and making noise and birds chirped as the final light faded away. The night was cold and long as we somehow overlooked packing blankets. We shivered the night through under a large emergency blanket that worked very well for what it was. We were fortunate to at least have that!

We woke up in the morning just as the sun was breaking over the horizon outside the front door of our tent. We opened the flap to enjoy the scene for a short while before the cold had us retreating to our silver blanket fortress for a little longer. Once the sun was up the temperature rose quickly, and we were breaking down our camp and back in the kayaks for our return trip.

The return was much less stressful as we followed the current in for most of the route. We took a shortcut around Picnic Key for some different scenery. As we paddled along we saw birds scanning the water and catching fish to fly away with. Fish were jumping out of the water just feet from our boats as we glided by. The roots from the mangroves covering the islands stretched out into the water and receded into darkness under thick cover. It was amazing to see nature like that.

We reached Chokoloskee Bay much more quickly than we anticipated and saw our launch point in the distance. We paddled hard across the water as the sound of noisy propellers on air boats touring the area filled the air. We reached the shore as other kayakers were heading out. Despite the sunburn, it was certainly one of the most fun and awesome experiences I’ve had. ‘Yakpacking is the way to go!

Stand-Up Paddle Boarding in the Rio Grande

SUPStand up paddle boarding is a growing trend this summer as more and more people want to experience everything that it has to offer. With a Hawaiian heritage, it is a recent form of surfing that started out as a way for surfers to paddle longer distances to go further into the water and get those larger waves. You can stand up paddle board on any type of water, whether it is on a lake, river, canals, or on the ocean.

Paddle boarding is when you kneel on a board and paddle with the hands, or you use a paddle to navigate through the water. This is the easier form of stand-up paddle boarding, where you are standing and use a paddle to navigate through the water. The Rio Grande has recently become a popular place to try this new trend as it is great in the state of New Mexico.

Beginners can take a guided adventure through the Rio Grande. With lessons that are structured for the individual needs of every person that partakes in the adventure, you will learn the ins and outs of stand-up paddle boarding before you hit the waters of the Rio Grande. Meeting in the heart of the Rio Grande Gorge, you will get a board that is easy to use and supports stability. All gear is supplied as well as a hearty snack and refreshment for the whole duration of the beginner trip.

The Rio Grande has warm water in the summer months, making it the best river to learn how to stand up paddle board. The lessons last roughly three hours long, and they start on land so that you are able to learn how to correctly stand up paddle before you get into the water and learn the basic paddle stroke. Once in the water you will get the grasp of standing on the board, and then take into account the paddle stroke that accompanies standing on the board in order for you to navigate through the water.

Once you have completed the lesson you will know how to stand up paddle board and you will have experienced the great Rio Grande, seeing all of the beauty that this part of the country has to offer. It is a great summer activity that continues to grow in popularity.

WATERFALL HIKES IN MAINE

maine waterfallsMaine is a beautiful state full of lakes and mountains, offering you many outdoor activities for year-around fun. For those that enjoy a good hike, whether it is a short mile-long hike or a couple of days full of hiking, Maine has all of the hiking that you could ever desire.

Hot and muggy days fill up Maine’s summers, and a typical hike will include water but there is nothing better than a good waterfall hike for you to cool off from. A waterfall does not only work as a way to cool down but it is also scenic, adding to your hiking trip. Bringing your swim suit and a towel will make the trip completely worth it when you are at the waterfall.

Elliotsville has a beautiful 40 foot waterfall known as Little Wilson Falls. You can hang out at the top of the falls and swim in the shallow pools. It has beautiful views surrounding it and pools all along the hiking trail for you to jump in.

Moxie Falls, which is one of Maine’s highest falls is located in Moxie Gore. The hike includes a three-quarter mile that brings you to the top of the falls and then follows the falls down for a spectacular view.

Dunn Falls in Oxford County has an 80 foot vertical drop and is known as one of Maine’s most amazing waterfalls. The trail that it is on is moderately difficult, taking about 90 minutes to hike to the falls.

Mad River FallsMad River Falls in Batchelder’s Grant is part of the White Mountain National Forest. A 50 minute easy hike is all it takes to get to the 100 foot drop, covered by trees. This hike is close to other waterfalls such as Rattlesnake Falls, so you can take the entire day to hike windfall2around to see all of the gorgeous waterfalls within the area.

There are many other waterfall hikes in Maine, as the list goes on and on. Some others to note are Angel Falls, Screw Auger Falls, Kees Falls, Rattlesnake Flume and Pool, and Step Falls. All can offer simple hikes or more difficult hikes depending on the type of hike and number of people you have going on the waterfall hike with you. Maine is a place that is meant to be explored, and a waterfall hike is a trip that everyone must take when they are visiting.

TIPS FOR WHITE WATER RAFTING WITH KIDS

Nantahala riverIf you are looking for a unique, family-friendly adventure, look no further than a white water rafting trip. Thrills abound for all ages on Nantahala river rafting. This one-of-a-kind activity, and with the right precautions and safety measures, everyone can stay healthy and happy during the trip.

There are plenty of tour companies across the United States that offer trips—from a half-day to several days—that are appropriate for children of most ages. Depending on the river, there may be some age and weight restrictions, so you’ll want to check with your tour company as these vary widely.

If you’ve decided to take the plunge, here are some safety tips to keep in mind if you are planning to take the kids along on a white water rafting trip:

1. Pick the right river. Class II and under are recommended, but you should also check with your white water rafting company. There are certain times of the year the water can be rougher than others, so double-check that it is the appropriate time for children.

2. Plan ahead. Young children especially might become frightened even on fairly calm waters, so talk with about the Nantahala river rafting kidstrip ahead of time. Explain that they might be splashed with cold water—they’ll probably also get wet—but tell them that is part of the fun. Plan a warning phrase, such as “Here it comes!” so they are alerted to water hitting the raft or anything else they might find startling.

3. As a general rule of thumb, there should be one adult per one child in the boat at all times.

4. This goes without saying but it still worth mentioning: life jackets and helmets should be worn at all times—by everyone, kids and adults. Most, if not all, tour companies provide these safety items.

5. Have small children use a life rope. If a child does go over the edge of the boat, this will make it easier to grab them before they float down the river. There can still be an undertow below the surface of calm waters.

6. Keep kids in the interior of the boat. Don’t let them hang off the sides. Unexpected roughness can occur even on the calmest water.

With a little advance preparation beforehand and lots of safety measures onboard, you can create memories for your family that last a lifetime. White water rafting is a fun family adventure!

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