Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area: Day Use

Are you looking for something different along Oregon’s coast? If so, Oregon Dunes is for you!

The dunes span 40 miles and rise up to 500 fee above the Pacific Ocean. Among the dunes, you can find everything from rivers to rainforests.

We arrived at the dunes from the East via Reedsport and turned northbound. Oregon Dunes’ day use area is north of Gardinar and south of Dunes City.

5 Tips For Enjoying Oregon Dunes Day Use Area

1. Plan Time to Hike.

The day use area consists of a parking lot and a viewing platform. Once you see the view, it may be hard to resists the hike.

A marked trail leading to the ocean is easily to access from the parking lot. There are two main hiking options. One is a 5 mile long loop and the other is a 2 mile, out and back trail to the coast.

We started our hike around noon, hadn’t eaten lunch yet, didn’t pack water or snacks and opted for the shorter of the two trails. For those of you that have hiked in dunes before, there is a constant false sense of distance. Even with knowing that ahead of time, we were all surprised when we rounded a corner and still had not made it to the coast. It is longer than it seems but the trail is clearly marked and well traveled.

Wooden posts mark the trail through the dunes. The trail through the forested sections is obvious. Even on a hot July day, the beach was nearly empty when we arrived. I can’t imagine it ever gets much more crowded. If you are hoping to avoid crowds and get some exercise, this is the place!

View from Oregon Dunes Day Use area hike.

2. Wear Shoes.

The sand can be hot! When you are not walking on hot sand, you may be walking on hard packed forest trails. Don’t leave your shoes at the car and chose your footwear carefully!

Oregon Dunes trail through the forest is easy to follow and diverse!

3. Bring Water and Snacks For An Afternoon At Oregon Dunes Day Use Area.

This seems obvious but we are famous for being underprepared or overprepared. I can’t decide if we are over confident, lazy, or impulsive but it is not unusual for us to check out a hike and end up 2 hours down the trail without snacks.

We started this hike by walking to the viewing platform, then onto the dune, then down the hill, and so on. I think you get the idea! Hiking on the dunes and into the forest was just too much fun and we didn’t want to stop once we started.

Oregon Dunes day use hike

4. Be Prepared For Signs Giving Instructions In Case Of An Earthquake and Tsunami.

For those of you that have spent much time on the Oregon coast, this shouldn’t be too surprising. I typically read the sign and keep walking. By the time I hit the ocean on this hike, I don’t think I could have evacuated very quickly in the event of a tsunami. We all weigh our risk, I guess.

5. Dress For Exposure To The Elements.

In addition to shoes, I would recommend the following items:

Hat

Sun screen

Sunglasses

Beach towel

Bathing Suit

Wind breaker

Oregon Dunes

Have Fun At Oregon Dunes!

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Oregon Trip Planning: Dee Wright Observatory

Our second time at the Dee Wright Observatory was even more impressive than our first. We ended up there by default when the campground we aimed for was full. Oregon trip planning isn’t really something that I do very well. I actually don’t tend to do any trip planning at all.

Since we have been unable to get to our cottage this year, I have been trying to fill in the gap by buying another kayak and googling every freshwater lake in Oregon.

Oregon Trip Planning: Santiam Pass

We packed everything from kayaks to remote control trucks and headed to Big Lake Campground, near Sisters, Oregon. Most of the campground is first come, first served. It was mid-week and I was foolishly hopeful. The campground was full. For those of you interested in Big Lake Campground, it shares a driveway with Hoodoo ski area and is adjacent to Big Lake Youth Camp, which happened to be one of CD’s re-supply stops when he hiked the PCT. The campground was crowded and the sites were small. Other than feeling bad about driving all that way and not getting a campsite, I wasn’t too disappointed to not camp there.

Camping everywhere between there and Sisters was full. We headed back west on 242.

Cold Spring Campground had 2 spots available even though it was nearly 7:00 at night. We opted to gamble on the Willamette National Forest and continued west.

McKenzie Highway Pass: OR 242

McKenzie Highway runs between Sisters and Belknap Springs and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I recommend this route as long as you are not in a hurry, enjoy driving twenty miles per hour, and are not prone to motional sickness.

If you chose this route, the pay off is one of the most interesting lava fields I have seen.

It wasn’t long before we caught our first glimpse. The lava runs right up to the road to the north and towers high above it but to the south there is just the usual landscape.

Oregon trip planning at its finest! Check out the lava flow next to the road!

We hoped to camp at Lava Camp Lake Campground. Be careful not to confuse this with Lava Lake Campground, east of Bend. The entrance to Lava Camp Lake Campground is just before McKenize Pass summit when headed westbound. The entrance is difficult to find and is a dirt two track on the south side of the road. You follow this for approximately two miles to a day use area and a hand full of camp sites. Most sites are not on the lake. I wouldn’t have wanted to drive anything higher or much longer than our Sprinter down the road and when we got there, the campsites were full, of course. It is National Forest and I am sure some people slept in day use area parking but we chose a brief walk and drove on again.

Dee Wright Observatory

Less than a half of a mile up hill is one of the most unique places that I have been.

We pulled into the parking lot of Dee Wright Observatory, I opened the door and set up the stove. It was well passed dinner time and we all needed a break and a second to think of what to do next. I was lighting up the stove when some people a few spots away shouted: “you must have the same idea as us.”

It took for a moment to see what was going on but then I realized that this couple was setting up a tent on the sidewalk, a table next to thier car, and two camera tripods. Another couple at the other end of the parking lot were sitting in thier car playing cards and eating chips. Everyone was there to see the comet NEOWISE.

Dark Skies, Oregon Trip Planning

Here we were at the top of McKenzie Pass, surrounded by 8 miles of black lava rock and not an artifical light in sight. It was nearly dusk. The kids and CD went for a hike while I made dinner. We moved the kayaks to the sidewalk and turned the van around for prime coment viewing. We just happened to find a great camping spot!

The excitement in the parking lot was obvious. People were chatting and pointing while be attentive to social distancing. It was helpful that there are two large parking lots and there was never more than six or eight cars at a time.

Between the cool temperatures and the wind, there were few mosquitos. We opened our van doors and watched the sky. We saw the comet in between camera flashes. It was good for the soul.

Cars came and went until midnight or so and then it was quiet and dark. We slept until 9:00 and woke up feeling like we had landed on the moon!

Trees and lava next to each are impressive, however.
Lava and mountains

From the observatory you can see glaciers on the Three Sisters, views of Mt. Washington, and random trees growing out of lava flows. There is a paved walkway with signs discussing different features of the lava flow.

Oregon trip 101, have fun, of course!

Pacific Crest Trail Access: OR 242

CD is pretty much always looking for PCT access. Approximately a 1/4 mile west of the observatory, on the north side of the road, there is PCT day use parking. You can hike southbound and head towards the observatory or northbound and head for Belknap Crater. We did both and they were both amazing! The landscape is so unique. Wildflowers, red dirt, and trees touch fields of black lava. The lava towards 10 or 20 feet above the ground at times and it feels bizarre to imagine how it just stopped flowing and piled up in such dramatic fashion.

The trail is well marked. Footing on the lava is a bit tricky but the dirt trail is easy walking. For this PCT day hike you don’t need much more than a parking permit, sunscreen, snacks, and camera. Enjoy!

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Teddy Roosevelt National Park: Painted Canyon Trail

Are you looking for a place to stretch your legs while traveling I-94? If so, the Painted Canyon Trail at Teddy Roosevelt National Park is a perfect choice. Here are 8 reasons that the Painted Canyon trail makes a perfect stop on your next road trip.

1. Easy off – easy on highway access.

Finding the trail head is as easy as stopping at a rest area. You can see the visitor’s center from the highway and the trail head basically in the parking lot.

2. You may see a Buffalo.

Signs of Buffalo are everywhere from the parking lot and the picnic area to the trail and surrounding grasslands.

3. There is potable water adjacent to the trail head.

A drinking fountain and faucet are located near the trail head. We filled our water bottles, rinsed our dishes, and washed our legs with soap after finding poison ivy on the trail. By the way, there is poison ivy near the trail entrance. The trail is wide enough to avoid walking through it but it was too late by the time we realized it was there.

4.The Painted Canyon Trail forms a loop.

My favorite trails tend to be circles. I enjoy completing the loop rather than walking in and back or deciding where to turn around. This trail loops back behind a rock wall that hides that parking lot and highway. We felt as if we really went for hike into the wilderness!

5. The trail is well marked, easy to follow, and interesting enough to be fun!

6. The distance is just right for a hiking during a road trip.

We often find our road trips sidelined by long hikes that are beautiful but take all day. It is not uncommon for us to find that we have driven only 100 miles by the time dinner rolls around. It takes a while to drive across the country when you are doing it a 100 miles at a time! The Painted Canyon Trail is 0.9 miles and takes 30-45 minutes. Even our 5 year old easily made it in less than an hour.

7. The views from the trail really are better than those from the highway or the parking lot.

The hike is worth it when the views are better than from the van! Here is a view from the trail.

8. Take this trail to escape the wind at Teddy Roosevelt National Park!

The wind was blowing pretty strongly when we started the hike. Within a few minutes, we were removing our sweatshirts and complaining about the heat. As soon as we got back to the trail head, the wind was howling again. If you are feeling worn down by wind, take this trail and enjoy still canyon air!

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Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore: In An Afternoon

Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore: In An Afternoon

Do you have 1 day to spend at Pictured Rocks but are unsure of how to spend the time? If so, here is our recommendation!

We drove west from Munising, swam in Lake Superior, waded in streams, and hiked to the Au Sable Light Station.

Here are a few things to know about going to the light station.

1. The last 1.5 miles to the Au Sable Light Station is on foot.

You can either walk the trail or walk the beach. We walked the trail there, had a picnic there, and walked the beach back!

2. You can see Lake Superior both from the top of the light house and from the beach. It is amazing either way!

3. There is a ship wreck on the beach between the light house and the trail head.

The shipwreck is different than most I have seen. It is just a skeleton of a boat and is fully accessible from the beach. You may be aware that lake levels change over time. This picture was 2019 so the water was relatively high compared with past years but a bit lower than 2020.

4. Remember to bring your National Park Passport and Junior Ranger books.

We carried drinks, sandwiches, snacks, sunscreen, hats, and plenty of other things. We didn’t bring our passport books and had to settle for a stamp on a blank piece of paper. Its not the same!

5. You may end up swimming in Lake Superior.

It may sound cold and daunting but, on a hot day, it is clean, clear, and refreshing! It was unbelievable hot the day we were there. I wasn’t prepared to swim in the lake and ended up taking a nice long swim in my tee shirt and skirt. It wasn’t my proudest moment but I was perfectly content, comfortably cool, and it was worth it! Next time I will be better prepared!

6.Wear water shoes and carry bug repellent.

The beach is rocky in places and all of the tales that you may have heard about biting flies in the U.P. of Michigan are true!

7. Consider stopping once or twice on your drive to the trail head.

You may want to plan enough time to go wading in a stream.

8. The ranger talk at the light station offers a quick glimpse of the history.

Learn about the Au Sable light station, Lake Superior, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The tours are thirty minutes long and require a $3 donation per person.

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Dinosaur National Monument: 5 Things to Know

I have been to every National Park in southern Utah. Most, more than once. I had never been to Dinosaur National Monument. It felt out of the way from I-80 and I prefer I-70 through Utah.

I enjoy southern Utah so much that once I hit Utah, going south feels like the only options. Everything is different this year, however. We are taking our annual road trip, despite the current pandemic, because we have the opportunity to see our families. Since everything is different and I love Steamboat Springs, we opted for highway 40 from Salt Lake City.

Dinosaur National Monument’s west entrance is at very close proximity to this route. When we got there, I could not have been more surprised and amazed! The scenery is beautiful. It reminds me a bit of Moab but far less populated. We accessed the visitor’s center, hikes, and a campground on the Green River all within 10 miles of the highway and in a 15 minute drive. Here are 8 things to know that I didn’t know until this week.

1. Dinosaur National Monument is not as far out the way as it may seem.

It is on the way if you happen to be on highway 40 between Heber City, Utah and Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The west entrance visitor’s center is less than 10 miles from the highway, hikes, and the campground are a few miles beyond.

There are other entrances but we did not explore those on this trip and cannot speak to those. In looking at the map, they clearly seem further from the highway and more difficult to access than the Jensen, Utah entrance. The Quarry Visitor’s Center was well attended but we chose to bypass it in light of the current pandemic.

2. It offers plenty of river sports.

The Green River and its largest tributary, the Yampa River, run through the park before heading south to meet the Colorado in south of Moab.

Whether you prefer to hire a commercial guide or apply for a private permit, the rafting is guaranteed to be an adventure!

If rafting isn’t in your plans, bring your fishing pole, swimsuit, and picnic supplies and settle into a spot on the river bank.

3. The hiking is diverse and accessible.

I have been to tons of National Parks and Monuments and done many, many hikes. Less than two miles from the visitor’s center and on the way to our campground, we stumbled upon one of the most diverse hikes that I have seen.

The Sound of Silence trail is a 3.2 mile loop, rated moderate to difficult. It starts in a dry river bed, winds up and over various rock layers and through narrow washes. We walked in and out the first mile at sunset just after we arrived at the park and then returned the next morning for the full loop. I was not disappointed! Bring a hat (there isn’t any shade), sunscreen, water, and decent shoes. You will get dusty and hot. The trail is well marked and would be nearly impossible to follow with out the markings.

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4. The views are different than you may expect.

Red, green, white, and shades of brown are all mixed together. Red rock stands against white, with valleys and high hills.

5. The campgrounds are easy to find, clean, and enjoyable.

From the Jensen, Utah entrance, there are 2 campgrounds within 10 miles. We chose Green River and it was perfect for what we needed. It was easy to get to and did not require tons of extra driving. It is on the edge of the river and offers a variety of campsites. We followed a trail to a sandy river bank, climbed a steep hill side, made friends with a resident chipmunk, and spotted tons of lizards. There is potable water, toilets and picnic tables. Not every site had shade. Some sites were smaller than others and none were fully exposed to the river but for our purposes and camping in our Sprinter, it was a good fit. The location sealed the deal for sure!

Dinosaur National Monument has much more to offer than just fossils and is easier to access than you may think. Get out there and enjoy!

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Grand Canyon: Camping At Hermit Rapids.

Have you ever wanted to camp in the Grand Canyon? If so, consider Hermit Rapids.

Here are five things to know about hiking Hermit Trail and camping at Hermit Creek.

1. You will need a permit.

This can be obtained at the back country ranger station. You must camp in designated sites. Hermit creek campsites are first and Hermit Rapids are second, 1.5 miles further down the trail.

The trail head can be accessed with your camping permit and is 8 miles west.

2. The trail is maintained but not always obvious.

Yes, we found ourselves off the trail a few times but never enough to get particularly scared or worried. I considered it to be a trade off for getting away from the crowds.

3. The hike is not easy.

In the nearly 10 miles from the trail head to the Colorado river, this trail drops from approximately 6600 feet elevation to 2300 feet. The first 2.5 miles alone drops nearly 2000 feet.

I loved this about this hike.

4. There is water!

Bring your filters and purification systems and get some water. Santa Maria Spring is 2.5 miles from the trail head and is a great place to catch some shade and some cool water!

Hermit Creek is the next water source. It flows from its location at the campsite into the Colorado River.

Not only did I appreciate the drinking water but putting my feet in Hermit Creek was like a slice of paradise!

Grand canyon.
A great place to take a break!

5. It is worth the hike in to the Grand Canyon.

The rapids are impressive and the night sky is dark. Expect to see a handful of others on the trail and at camp. For me, there were just enough people to help me feel like I was in the right place but not so many that I was aware of their presence in the canyon.

We hiked in May and the sun was hot. There is a period of shade if you hit the timing right on the hike but this is easy to forget once the hot sun hits you again.

We walked out of the canyon and straight to our car without being greeted by tour groups and day hikers. The trade off was that there wasn’t anyone there to cheer for us or congratulate us on our successful hike back from the canyon floor but still, it was worth it!

Tarptent
A period of shade on the way down and way up.

Please follow our blog for more fun!

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Glacier National Park: An Afternoon At Two Medicine

I could write ten blog posts about my adventures at Glacier National Park. My first time in the park was over twenty years ago. Those few days of hiking and exploring were the spark for much of the traveling that has come since. Just when I thought I could not be more impressed by Glacier, I stumbled into Two Medicine.

Two Medicine is found on the east side of the park and on the shore of Two Medicine Lake. We arrived via Highway 2 from West Glacier on our way out of park. Once there, we found a campground, camp store, ice cream, hikes, picnic areas, boat rentals, and views for miles!

The view from camp store is awesome! The boat dock is to the left and hiking to the right. We recommend checking it out while eating ice cream and skipping stones!
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5 Ways to Enjoy Two Medicine, Glacier National Park.

1. Browse the Two Medicine Store.

Are you hungry? Do you need hiking or camping supplies? Are you just looking for a nice cup of coffee? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, drop into the store. In addition to having everything you need and then some, enjoy its history and scenery.

2. Have a picnic.

Get your lunch to go and head out to the lake. Skip stones and listen to the waves as you eat.

We love having a picnic on the shore of a mountain lake, obviously!

3. Take a boat ride.

We didn’t have a chance to enjoy this first hand but we heard good reviews by people at the park. The tours were full so we will make a note to reserve a seat next time.

4. Enjoy a hike.

Hikes are easy to come and offer great rewards. Waterfalls as accessible in as little as .3 miles. Full or half day hikes and multi-day backpacking trip options are available as well.

This hiking trail was just right for us!

5. Stop by the ranger’s station. Get your National Park Passport stamp!

The ranger’s station was great and everyone was kind, of course! The kids were amazed by the size of this print. I was, as well.

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You can check out some of our other posts, as well!

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Florissant Fossil Beds: 5 Reasons To Check It Out!

We had been on the road for more than two months. We were eager to get home and anxious to be on the road when we found ourselves in Colorado with our “check engine” light on. Thankfully, family loaned us a car so we could set off on some day trips! Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is less an hour drive from Colorado Springs. It was one place that we had yet to explore.

Here are 6 reasons that we are glad we did!

1. Hands-on Activities

The variety and depth of hands-on experiences were more than expected. We joined the kids for one lap around the visitor’s center and nearby yurt before they settled into their activities of choice. From digging for fossils, to sorting rocks, we spent much more time here than planned.

We loved looking at fossils and rocks also.
Fossil sites are fun for digging also!

2. Hiking

I was glad to find more than 10 miles of trails to hike! In addition to meadows, you can find pine forests and boulder fields. The views are much different than those just a short drive east.

Not just fun hiking, the views are great too!

3. Self Guided Walking Tours

The walking tours are easy to follow and full of fun facts also.

Check out the tour, its worth it!

4. A Petrified Redwood Forest at the Fossil Beds

I expected to see fossils but I didn’t expect an ancient lake and forest!

This may be the best old forest of all time. We all agreed, by the way.
This “big stump” didn’t fit in the scene where it was stood but we thought it was cool.
Also, an old forest was there. The kids liked it too, however!

5. Get your stamps here: National Park Passport stamps and Junior Ranger Badges

Why not?!

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Craters Of The Moon National Monument: In One Day
Oregon’s Coast, Manzanita: A Hidden Gem.

Manitou Incline: All Your Questions Answered.

The Manitou Incline is well known among Colorado Springs locals. It is the remains of a narrow gauge railway that was built in 1907 and destroyed by a rock slide in 1990. The rails were removed and the rail road ties remain.

Until 2013 locals and fitness enthusiasts would walk past “no trespassing” signs to hike up the remains. CD and I were among the people that made this trek and did so without injury.

It has since been repaired and officially opened to the public. Thanks to this restoration, the trail is much more safe which still being sufficiently challenging.

Manitou Incline Stats:

  • Altitude at the base: 6600 ft
  • Ascent: 2011 ft
  • Distance: 0.88 miles
  • Steps: 2744
  • Grade: up to 68%

Getting There:

  • By car: Manitou Springs is a 20 minute drive from Colorado Springs
  • By bus: Check the schedule here

Parking:

  • The base of the incline offers paid parking.
  • The town of Manitou Springs offers various parking options. A free shuttle bus runs to the incline every twenty minutes year round. I have also walked the approximately 1.5 miles to and from town but I thinking that the shuttle bus looked like a nicer option!
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Packing List:

  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • Trekking poles
    • 2 poles. Seriously – you will thank me later!
  • Water
    • To drink and to pour on yourself if are still there when the sun hits!
  • Snacks
    • I recommend a piece of fruit for a picnic at the top!
  • Camera
  • A friendly smile and a social attitude
    • Everyone is in this together! You will find that people are chit chatting and encouraging each other the whole way. It is the best!

Trip Planning And Other Tips:

  • Start early if you can
    • I usually don’t start early enough and end up mid incline in the hot sun. Be aware that there isn’t any shade. You can duck off to the side in the trees a bit but it won’t offer much relief.
  • Embrace the community! Talk to people. Give encouragement. Accept encouragement. Smile. Laugh, sweat, and cheer together!
  • Going down will take longer than going up. They don’t allow walking down the incline so be ready to hike the Barr Trail down.
  • Know that there is a bail out spot half way up. It connects back to the Barr Trail and heads down. If you can make it, keep going slow and steady. The view from the top is impressive.
  • Be aware of the false summit. Just like most mountain hikes, the incline offers false hope. For this hike you are pretty much always “almost there”.
  • Don’t be afraid to be slow and steady. I have climbed it fast and climbed it slow. Both have been great. In terms of the actual time, slow and fast aren’t really that different. Enjoy!

Please follow our blog for other adventures!

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Craters Of The Moon National Monument: In One Day

It was dark, the kids were asleep, and we were driving through the same part of Idaho that we had many times before. We hadn’t decided where to camp or how long to drive so we exited the highway, towards Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Our Sprinter van was the reason we made this choice; we didn’t have cell service, there weren’t any hotels, and I had not idea if there was anywhere to sleep once we got there. It turns out that the closest hotels are more than 30 miles from the park and the campground was full.

We parked our van near the visitor’s center and settled in for the night.

The next day we work up and it looked like we were on the Moon. The kids were amazed and excited all at once!

It looks like I imagine the moon!

5 Helpful Tips For 1 Day At Craters of Moon National Monument.

  1. Plan where to stay. The campground is small and may be full. Other lodging options are approximately 30 miles away.
Craters of the Moon

2. Check out the visitor’s center! Not only can you get your National Parks Passport stamp and your Junior Ranger badge but it has displays, movies, and activities for everyone!

3. Bring a headlamp! The lava tubes are a must-see. The caves trail offers easy access. You must get a Caves Permit prior to entering the caves. The permit is free.

caves: lava tubes
caves.

4. Prepare for the elements. Bring a jacket if it is windy and a hat if it is sunny. The trails are exposed and you will be out in the weather.

sun. wind. moon rock. the kids loved it!
walk on the moon on a clear day

5. Bring food and drinks. It takes a bit to get back to town to the East and even longer to the West. There aren’t restaurants or gas stations right there so pack a lunch, grab a picnic table, and enjoy!

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a nice walk on the moon on a clear day. the kids ran part of the way.

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