Delaware Water Gap

After a great visit to Steamtown, Cacia and I decided to head over to the Delaware Water Gap.  On a day with some rain and temperatures in the low 50s, we enjoyed an in-the-car picnic and hiking through the woods.  In the final days of September, leaves were starting to change colors, and the park was very quiet.

After a little research, I chose the Tumbling Waters hike for us to complete.  If you park at the Education Center, there is a small parking lot with 20-25 spots, and the trail head is just across the street (Emery Street).  The path is a loop.  This 3.3 mile trail had 593 feet of elevation gain, and with the rolling hills, there were some nice ups and downs to keep the path interesting.

IMG_5770

This path is partially shared with the Two Ponds trail, which is an education trail, so we opened our trip with a walk past the trash graveyard, showing how long it takes for various things to compost.  The trail splits off from this path fairly early, and it becomes very pretty and serene quickly.

This hike was rated as moderate on AllTrails (my hiking app of choice), but there were also many easy sections like the one pictured above that we enjoyed as well.  My main interest in this hike was that it makes a trip down to a waterfall, which is where the more moderate aspects came into play.  Stairs have been built into the side of the hill to reach the waterfall, but the trip back up was fairly steep and a nice workout.  However, the sight was totally worth it!

IMG_5791

In addition to this waterfall, there is another one a few hundred feet away, but you stand at the top of those falls and cannot really see down them.  These double falls were really gorgeous in person and looked especially pretty with the changing season.

Cacia and I both felt that this hike was really interesting because the views kept changing.  Every 1/2 mile or so it seemed like there was a slight change in the trees, or the type of path, or the wildlife we saw.  This kept the whole trip very interesting, and it would be a great hike on a sunny day too because of the solid tree coverage for most of the hike.  At one point, you even reach a clearing from the trees and can look out over the hills.

It took us 2 hours and 15 minutes to walk the trail, and this included a nice stop at the waterfalls.

IMG_5764

 

We had one traumatic part of this trip, and it was because Cacia almost did not get her passport stamp.  Many of the ranger stations are closed on the weekends in the Water Gap, and we were concerned about finding her stamp.  If you are looking to collect a cancellation stamp, the education center by the Tumbling Waters trail head carries the cancellation stamp.

We drove through quite a bit of the Delaware Water Gap, and you really need to get out of the car and take a trip down a trail to get the whole experience.  It’s a really beautiful place that seems to not see too much traffic.

After a great day, Cacia and I drove into Strasburg to spend a night at a hotel closer to Gettysburg (And so I could get a chocolate milkshake from Hershey’s Chocolate World).  Next week’s blog will talk about our time at Gettysburg.

Advertisements

Steamtown

After a childhood of going to visit steam trains for vacation trips, it should not be a surprise that I wanted to visit Steamtown in Scranton, PA.  Steamtown is a historic rail yard with a large museum and many engines to check out.  It’s approximately a four hour drive from Washington, D.C. (Add an hour if you leave on Friday at rush hour), and it is well worth a visit.  I did this trip with my D.C. Partner in Crime, Cacia.

Scranton, PA is a small sleepy town in northeast Pennsylvania.  While the beautiful historic buildings still stand from its glory days, the town is pretty much a ghost town.  Steamtown is one of the remaining reminders that this was once an industrial and coal-driven city.  Pulling into the parking lot of Steamtown is an exciting experience, as you are surrounded by steam trains from the past.

IMG_5751
The Reading Railroad (Pronounced “Redding”), possibly best known for being a Monopoly Square

As you walk towards the museum, a ranger station allows you to pay the fee and buy train tickets.  We visited on a fee free day, but normally it is $7/person to visit Steamtown, which would have been covered with my National Parks pass.  Train rides are $5/person.

The site is mainly broken into the museum, roundhouse, and train rides.  The museum had exhibits featuring the history of the railroads, and the space is industrial and cool.  The exhibits had some interactive features, including an area to test your knowledge of train whistles.  My favorite part, though, was the roundhouse.  It featured many restored steam engines and cars to look at up close and walk through.  We especially enjoyed walking through the different kinds of cars and standing on platforms right in front of the biggest steam engines.  Outside of the roundhouse, there is one steam train that you can enter and pull the bell.  That was very fun too!

IMG_5710

After getting our fill of these attractions, we took a $5 ride on the “Scranton Limited,” which was a very limited 3 mile train trip through the historic rail yards.  The 30 minute ride mostly consists of signals being thrown as you slowly ride through the yard.  If you are looking for a great train ride, I would make the trip to Strasburg Railroad instead.  It’s two hours away from Scranton and three times the price, but the train experience is much more exciting there.  Everything else at Steamtown was exceptional and cool, though!

We spent around three hours in Steamtown on a Saturday morning at the end of September, and it was in the low 50s (Much cooler than D.C.!).  Both Cacia and I had a lot of fun visiting this unique National Park stop.  We decided to pair this visit with a trip to the Delaware Water Gap in the afternoon, and it was a great way to spend the day.  You can check out next week’s blog to learn about our hike there.

See you next week!

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon is one of the most remarkable and memorable sights I have ever seen in my life, and I feel so lucky to have visited.  Bryce Canyon has the largest collection of hoodoos IN THE WORLD.  That’s right- you can see this crazy wonder of nature hiding away in Utah.  What are hoodoos, you ask?  Hoodoos are non-uniformly shaped pillars of rock that are created through erosion.  While I do have a variety of pictures in this post, the only way to truly experience this park is to visit.

When you drive into this park, you really have no idea what you are about to see.  The Aspen trees and open fields keep the major sight a mystery.  If this is your first visit to the park, I recommend taking a stop in the gift shop to take a bathroom break, stamp your passport, and buy your souvenirs.

To see the hoodoos, one should start heading towards the lodge, either via the park shuttle or by parking in the parking lot.  If you are not interested in hiking, the views from the overlooks alone are spectacular.

IMG_5532

In my advanced research, I knew exactly which hike I wanted to do in Bryce Canyon.  The Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail comes in at 2.7 miles with a change in elevation of 679 feet.  This hike is considered a moderate hike, however, I think this is only because the end of your hike is the upwards part to come out of the canyon. Throughout this hike, one hikes down into the hoodoos, and you get to see everything up close and personal.

IMG_5542
A tunnel between the rocks to continue along the trail

After walking between the rocks in the photo above, I barely could believe I was not in a dream!  Bryce Canyon just feels like a magical land, and the Navajo and Queens loop let you fully enjoy the magic.  You can see the changes in foliage as you get further and further into the canyon, and there are a few picnic tables at the bottom if you want to pack a picnic.

Usually, switchbacks are a little intimidating, but as I looked up and down along the switchbacks in Bryce, I was still blown away by the beauty of this park.  If a park is so beautiful that you enjoy the switchbacks, you know you have found somewhere special.

IMG_5565
A picture from about halfway up one of the sets of switchbacks we hiked up.

Overall, this hike is really fun and probably one of the most interesting hikes I have ever been on.  While Bryce Canyon is a larger park than just this area, this is definitely the main area of the park to visit.

After the hike, Dallin, Henry, and I did a little driving to look out from other overlook areas.  We saw some active wildlife on our hike, aside from just chipmunks looking for leftover sandwiches.  While driving along, we saw an elk running across a field, and this was in the middle of the day.  In non-peak seasons, there are probably many interesting animals to see.

Bryce Canyon normally is $30/vehicle to visit.  Thanks to my National Parks pass, this was another free visit, and this brings my pass value to $202/$80.  The value of this pass really shows itself in the western part of the United States since there are so many larger parks to visit.

IMG_5610
Henry’s new passport filled with stamps from the week

This post is my final post from my Utah trip.  After a week visiting Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks, and Bryce Canyon, I definitely am feeling a bit of a travel bug!  The parks in Utah were so amazing, and I would highly recommend visiting these parks when you get a chance!

Thank you so much for following along on my National Parks journey.  The day I got back from Utah marked the 150th anniversary of the Antietam National Cemetery and 155th anniversary of the battle of Antietam in the United States Civil War.  Despite being exhausted, Cacia and I made the journey to Antietam and Monocacy battlefields.  To catch back up a little bit, this will be a two blog week, with my next blog discussing this visit.

Harper’s Ferry

Spring and summer are my favorite seasons, and it always feels like I am trying to squeeze everything in at the end of August.  As the pools close and the weather gets cooler, I am always disappointed.  To enjoy one last touch of summer, I made two separate day trips to Harper’s Ferry in the last weekend of August and first weekend of September.

The first trip to Harper’s Ferry was to go on a tubing adventure with my friends, Cacia and Nathan.  There are lots of different companies that offer tubing experiences, generally flat water or white water.  We choose to do the $31 all day flat water experience, which allowed us to float down the river as many times as we wanted in a day.  We ended up only doing it once, as the water was a little cool and the sun was hiding, but we had fun!

IMG_5122
A view from the town of Harper’s Ferry, from where Meriwether Lewis stood when he was exploring America.  If you look in the river, you can see people tubing, just like we did!

Not so shockingly, you cannot take anything with you in the tube, as it would get ruined when it got wet.  What was shocking was the amount of awkward paddling we did to not hit off of any rocks, as the Shenandoah river is very rocky!  If we did it again, I think we would do the white water since it moved a little faster.  This is definitely not a lazy river experience (It’s MUCH slower!), but we had a lot of fun!

With being chilled from rafting, we went to find food for lunch and wandered the town just a little bit.  When my parents and Hudson came the next weekend, our goal was to explore the town.  I don’t think I have mentioned yet that my dad LOVES trains.  He loves them a lot, and we have taken rides on many trains throughout Pennsylvania.  As you can see in the picture above, there is a train tunnel, and I knew I needed to bring my dad here.

IMG_5186
The main street of Harper’s Ferry.  The town and most of the park is located on a hill so bring your walking shoes, even if you are just exploring the town.

With my parents and Hudson, we set out to explore the town of Harper’s Ferry.  Harper’s Ferry is a bit like Jamestowne, except many buildings are still standing.  You can enter and explore many buildings, and there are signs explaining the various ways historians have learned about Harper’s Ferry.  My favorite building explained how one can tell from the foundation and various wall markings how houses expanded and modernized.

IMG_5183
This building looked a bit more finished than some.  Some buildings are like little museums while others are re-creations of the time.

The park was very quiet the day we visited, and that was perfect since Hudson’s nickname is Sir Woofs A Lot for a reason.  The paths throughout the historic district are small so coming in non-peak time is a plus.  After exploring the various buildings along the main street, we stopped at the doggy-friendly patio of Cannonball Deli.  This was one of the nicest dog-friendly patios I have seen, and we loved our meals.  If you have a dog, you do not want to miss this place!

After eating lunch, we continued exploring the town.  The entire town of Harper’s Ferry is on a hill, but we decided to take a little trip past the two churches of the town to Jefferson’s Rock, where Thomas Jefferson himself stood on his visit to Harper’s Ferry.  After taking a few flights of rocky stairs, we arrived to a stunning view from above the town.

IMG_5211
Jefferson’s Rock

As we walked away from Jefferson’s Rock, we decided to walk across the rail bridge over to the C&O Canal towpath (Yes, this is the same towpath that I was on a few weeks ago at Great Falls.  It’s very long.).  We walked a little along the water, but we were really hoping to see a train on the bridge, as we had seen quite a few go by that day between the Amtrak and freight trains.  With no luck, we headed back down along the water to walk back to the car.

On the walk back, there were smaller train tracks, and my dad was really interested in them.  He said they were older tracks, and thought maybe a scenic railroad used them since we had seen the other trains on the Amtrak lines.  To his surprise and delight, we found out that these tracks are still in use.

IMG_5231
Just a man, his Poma-Poo, and a CSX train

After watching the train go by, we made our trip back to the car.  Parking was a very different experience between my first and second trip to Harper’s Ferry.  On the first trip, we parked at the Visitor’s Center, which has a huge parking lot, and we took one of the many shuttle buses down to the historic area.  There is a 4-5 miles walk if you choose not to take a bus.  With the Hudson dog on the second trip, it took a little more planning.  I dropped my dad and Hudson off to go find parking since dogs are not allowed on the shuttle bus.  We lucked out and found a parking spot in a small NPS parking lot along Shenandoah Street, but this was the complete luck of going on a cloudy Friday.

While I did not utilize it, Harper’s Ferry is public transportation accessible!  From Washington, D.C., one can take the MARC train (Brunswick Line) or the Amtrak (Capitol Limited).  The MARC train is a commuter train so it would take some planning to use this train, as it goes to Harper’s Ferry in the evening and back to D.C. in the morning, and it does not run on weekends.  The Amtrak train runs once a day each way, and it also passes through Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Chicago.  You would need to take a bike on the train or utilize another means of transportation, as there were no rental cars or cabs at the train station.  However, if you wanted, you could make a weekend trip here utilizing only public transportation!

IMG_5239
Walking across the train tracks

Two trips to Harper’s Ferry just over a week apart would have been $20 ($10/trip) without my National Parks pass, but it was free for us!  I’m at $100/$80 for my National Parks pass as of this trip.  If you are not parking and come in on the train, the service does not appear to collect the fee, although the signs do say people without a vehicle must pay $5/person.  Cacia and I are hoping to make one more trip here to hike the Maryland Heights loop, which is supposed to have a great view of the town and lots of Civil War sites to see!  Hopefully we will be back in mid-October.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post!  Feel free to ask any questions in the comments or let me know if you have had a great experience at Harper’s Ferry too.  Next week’s blog will be packed full of pictures from my trip to Zion National Park.

Great Falls (Virginia)

Great Falls National Park is located in Virginia, but you can access the view from Virginia or Maryland.  When I first moved to D.C., I visited Great Falls from the Virginia side at the end of October, and then I really wanted to return and visit the Maryland side to do some hiking and see the other view  (Check out my previous blog to learn about the Maryland side!).  When I returned to hike the Billy Goat Trail, I decided to head over to the Virginia side again to take a look from over there.  This blog describes my experiences from both times of the year (summer and fall) so you can decide for yourself what time of the year is the best time to visit.

The Virginia side of the falls had a lot more traffic in the summer than the fall.  A sign when we turned down the entrance road told us to expect a wait of 45 minutes to get in.  Luckily, we only waited about 30 minutes, and there was plenty of parking to choose from when we did finally get past the ranger station.  There is a food stand and lots of picnic tables, and many people were taking advantage of both things.  This side of Great Falls is more green and grassy than the Maryland side.

Since I had already visited the Virginia side, my friend Cacia and I just went for the overlooks.  The crowds at the overlooks were actually smaller in the summer than my fall visit, and I was happy to see that the falls had quite a bit more water flow than the first time I saw them.

IMG_5101
Great Falls in August 2017 from Overlook #1

After taking a quick look from Overlook #1 and Overlook #2, Cacia and I headed back to the car to get some dinner.  However, when I visited in the fall, there was far less traffic and people floating around than in the summer.  My friends, Jessica and Meg, and I pulled right into the parking lot, and while a few people were getting hot drinks from the food area, people were mostly visiting the park to see the falls and leave.  The leaves were beautiful, and a few people were trying to kayak up the falls.  The falls are very small in the fall and look like rapids from the three outlook points.

IMG_3571
A view of the falls in October 2016 from Overlook #2.  The water and skies look so different from one picture to the next!

There were lots of dogs and families out on the nature paths in October.  I would not consider there to be any hiking on this side of the falls, but there are lots of nature paths to take a leisurely and flat walk along.  While wandering down one, we discovered that we could get closer to the water on one path, and it was fun to sit on the rocks and enjoy the water sounds.  We also enjoyed walking along a different path looking at the autumn leaves.

IMG_3568

While I prefer the Maryland side of Great Falls since there are hiking trails, the Virginia side has the benefit of being more friendly for Hudson the little Poma-Poo.  This summer trip to Great Falls also lead to the break-even point of my America the Beautiful National Parks pass!  After saving $20 to enter Assateague Island in May, $25 at Shenandoah in June, $25 at the Everglades in July, and $10 at Great Falls in August, I am at $80/$80 spent for my National Parks pass.  It’s all a bonus from here!  It should be interesting how much overall savings this pass leads to.

I hope you enjoyed my blog post for this week.  I just returned from Utah, and I had so much fun visiting so many amazing sites in Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon!  I will be working on those blogs to post over the next few weeks, but next week’s post is all about my two recent trips to Harper’s Ferry to tube and see the historic town.  See you next time!

Great Falls (C&O Canal Maryland)

I have been looking forward to the Great Falls Maryland side for months.  After visiting the Virginia side last October and hearing about the Billy Goat trail, I really wanted to experience the other side of the falls.  This is the only part of the C&O Canal with an entrance fee, and it is $10 per vehicle, if you park in the National Parks area.  Accidentally, Cacia and I found free parking along the C&O Canal Towpath by Section A of the Billy Goat trail so we did not pay to park, even though we were prepared with the parks pass.

It is an absolute must to arrive to the Maryland side early, as parking is limited.  At 9:30 AM on a Saturday in August, we managed to snag a spot someone was leaving, but the parking area was already full otherwise.  After crossing a bridge, we walked along the towpath until we found the trail head for Billy Goat trail Section A, the most difficult of the three paths.  The Billy Goat trail goes up and down quite a bit, and between the views and jumping from rock to rock, you just will not want to miss any of it.

IMG_5069
Sitting on top of a rock formation early in our hike

This path does not allow dogs, and it really should not allow children under 4 feet tall or adults who are not in average physical health.  The rock scrambles require a small amount of upper body strength and legs of a certain length.  We saw a few people get stuck and need assistance in various places.  This is a very moderate 3.7 mile loop hike, and the rock scrambles add some extra fun to the hike.

IMG_5081
One of the rock scrambles we experienced on the trail.  The trail gets so crowded that lines back up trying to get up and down the path, but it is still really fun.

After finishing our hike, we took a walk down the C&O Canal to the Visitor’s Center, and we were surprised to see that it was free bike rental day at the park.  Volunteers supplied bikes and helmets of all sizes to anyone who wanted to ride!  It was a very cool volunteer event, even though we did not take advantage of it.  We walked inside the tavern bookstore to get Cacia’s stamps, filled our water bottles, and had a little snack before heading over to see the falls from the Maryland side.

What I really like about the Maryland view is that you take a winding boardwalk to see the falls, making it more exciting than the overlooks in Virginia.  Since the path winds around, we could see the little falls along the way too.  If this was Niagara Falls, Maryland is the equivalent of Canada.

IMG_5098
Looking at Great Falls from Maryland.  This is across from Overlook #1 in Virginia.

After looking at the falls, we made our way back down the C&O Canal to the car.  The Billy Goat trail becomes a loop in its connection with the C&O Canal but do realize that even once you are off the trail that you will have a little walk back to your vehicle.  This park is not accessible from public transportation so find a friend or rent a car to get here.

I loved my visit to the C&O Canal to experience Great Falls, and I definitely recommend checking the Billy Goat trail out if you can.  There are three sections, with C being the easiest and A being the hardest.  This was my first real experience with rock scrambles, and now I am so ready to head back over to Shenandoah to try doing them at Old Rag too.

After we spent the morning in Maryland, Cacia and I took the trip over to Virginia to see the other side of the falls.  By the end of our Great Falls day, we exceeded 20,000 steps for the day, leaving us both content and tired.  A future blog will detail our visit to the other side.

I am looking forward to leaving for Utah on Friday and enjoying hiking by day and attending productions with the Utah Shakespeare Festival by evening.  I cannot wait to make my first trip to Utah, and I am so excited to take a week long vacation.  I will try to post an update to my blog next week from the airport about my trip to the Belmont Paul Equity House located here in Washington, D.C.

Thank you so much for reading this week, and feel free to subscribe or post your thoughts in the comments below.

Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve

I already know what you are thinking- Who takes a trip to Florida in July?  And to see the Everglades nonetheless?  Yes, I did in fact do this!  Thanks to a work trip, I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Florida.  My friend from graduate school, Emma, and her soon-to-be husband Kevin crazily agreed to make this journey with me!

The number one tip I can give you is to take bug spray and plenty of sunscreen if you visit these parks in July.  It is hot, humid, and takes mosquito bites to a whole new level.  The idea of seeing swamps may seem to be crazy, but it is so cool!  We started out at the Shark Valley Visitors Center.  I felt like I was adventuring through the tropics.

IMG_0350
A flooded pathway in Everglades National Park

Since it was the summer, we found most paths to be completly flooded and not accessible.  Due to the heat, we walked down the tram path for about 1.5 miles and then turned around.  Many people used the path to bike through the National Park, which could be fun in the cooler months.

While on the tram path, we did find a really cool wooded walkway over a large part of the swamp.  While I was convinced the whole time that an alligator was going to jump out and eat me, that did not happen.  It was so cool to walk over the swamp, though!

IMG_0344
Kevin, Emma, and I crossing over the swamp on a walkway!

To get around the Everglades, you actually cross through many parts of the Big Cypress National Preserve.  The National Preserve has spots where you can observe wildlife.  We really did not see very much wildlife there, but we did see the only wildlife we needed to see.

IMG_0351
An alligator peering out under the walkway we were crossing over at the Ochopee Visitors Center.  It was cool to see one, and it was just far enough away for comfort.

As we started venturing back up to Naples so I could pick up my rental car and settle into my hotel for the conference, we stopped back in the Everglades to see the Gulf Coast.  It was great to see the coast in a non-beach setting, and there had been many dolphin and manatee sightings over the last few weeks.

While my experience in the Everglades mostly involved driving, there are many more activities and less heat in the winter.  It was still very cool to see such a different area, and it was interesting to learn that this actually is a flowing body of water, not just a big swamp.  If you collect the National Parks cancellation stamps, there are many to collect here.

IMG_4960
Five different cancellation stamps

With a $25 entrance fee for the Everglades, my National Parks pass proved it’s worth again.  After saving $20 to enter Assateague Island in May, $25 at Shenandoah in June, and another $25 here, I am at $70/$80 spent for my National Parks pass.

While these National Parks were very cool, there are so many amazing outdoor activities in Florida that should not be missed as well!  In addition to checking out Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve, I had a ton of fun in the sand at Siesta Key (Sarasota), kayaking through Mangrove trees, and seeing sunsets in Naples.

IMG_4929
Siesta Key in Sarasota, Florida

Thanks for reading my blog this week!  If you have any questions or comments, post them below in the comments section, and be sure to follow my blog to not miss any posts.  I am back in D.C. for a few weeks now, and I need to do some light hiking to get ready for my September trip to Utah!