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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In honor of the upcoming Fall 2017 White House Garden Tour (October 21 and 22, 2017), this seemed like the perfect time to post a bonus blog this week about visiting the President’s Park, also known as the White House. The President’s Park requires some significant planning to see, but some ways to visit are easier than others. All of these ways to visit are free. Here are the ways we have found to see and visit the White House.
1. The Visitors Center
The easiest way to learn about the White House is to visit the Visitors Center. Essentially, it is a museum of past presidents’ artifacts, although most of the really interesting ones are in the American History Museum. This is where you obtain your cancellation stamp for the NPS Passport. It is across the street but adjacent to the White House.
2. Spring or Fall Garden Tour
The Garden tours are the easiest way to get up close and personal with the White House. The Garden tours are offered two weekends a year, one in the end of April and one in mid-October. We attended the spring tour on Saturday April 22, 2017, which was a 50-60 degree all-day rain day. Cacia and I got to the pavilion to get tickets between 8:30 and 8:45 AM, and there was no line. We got tickets for 10:30 AM, and we went for coffee and breakfast to pass the time. We got in line around 10:10 AM and were on the White House grounds around 10:35 AM.
Essentially, being up close and personal with the White House is the highlight of this tour, not really the gardens. If you want to get an exterior picture of the full White House, this is the tour that will allow you to do so. The lawn is in perfect condition, and we saw the biggest tulips ever. But it’s mostly lawn and not gardens. The most popular site to see within the gardens is the Michelle Obama vegetable garden.
The President’s Own Band performs, and they are absolutely excellent. Once you are on the grounds, it takes about 30 minutes to see the gardens.
3. Scheduling a visit through your representative
Residing in the District of Columbia, you would think that we could somehow get priority access to seeing the White House since we suffer through constant motorcades. We do not. Cacia and I requested a tour on April 16, 2017, and we did get a tour successfully on October 7, 2017. We were told to request at least 6 months in advance, although I have heard of people getting in on less notice. You do have to give quite a bit of information to security before you arrive so be sure to talk to your party in advance about how best to handle this. We saw many people get pulled out of the line because they spelled their names wrong or used nicknames.
Unlike the garden tour, the White House tour is actually more chaotic. You are supposed to enter the line 15 minutes before your tour, but the tourists do not understand rules so they all line up early. Since people are in line 2 hours before they should be, the line drags on. If you plan to be rude and do this, you should know that you will be pulled out of the line and lose your place. (Don’t suck! Follow the rules!) We got in line at 10:50 AM, and we got past security around 11:50 AM.
My favorite views of the White House were the ones that you do not usually see in pictures, the views from the inside to the outside.
Once inside the White House, the Secret Service and Park Rangers can answer all of your various questions about the White House, and they are more than happy to do so. It seems like the Secret Service should be scary, but my interactions with them at work and here are that they are a really nice group of people. Have a question about the picture on the wall or the china you are looking at? Ask them, and they know!
The east room was probably my favorite room we visited, as it is grand and beautiful, and it is one of the rooms you often see featured in pictures. This room also has the famous full-length portrait of George Washington, and it has been here since 1800!
The tour of the White House only spans about eight rooms, and we comfortably saw everything in 30 minutes. After our long wait in line, it felt a little anti-climatic, but I would recommend it to anyone. When else will you get to see where the President lives?
I hope this blog helps you plan your visit to the White House! If you have any questions, feel free to ask them below. Thanks for reading!
Zion National Park is probably one of the most interesting National Parks I have visited to date, and this blog is loaded up with pictures from my five hikes, including the well-known Angel’s Landing hike, and fun in Zion over a three day period. I could have easily spent three straight days in this park and done every hike, but time did not allow for that. Since this blog post is so much longer than normal, it only seems appropriate to introduce you to my companions.
The picture on the left are my friends Kaitlin, Dallin, and their son Henry. Dallin and I attended graduate school together, and we have all been friends ever since! I stayed with them for my entire week in Utah. The right picture is with my friend Josh, and I met him through Dallin. Josh comes to D.C. to advocate for the arts with his students once a year. These amazing people made my time in Zion so memorable and also helped drive me around to all of the National Parks I visited.
My first day hiking into Zion National Park was at the northern part of the park with Kaitlin and Henry. After driving into the park, we pulled into the parking lot for the Middle Fork Taylor Creek Trail. This is an easy trail over 5.2 miles with a 1,699 feet elevation gain. While easy, this trail is not dog-friendly.
The end destination of this hike is to the Double Arch Alcove and a Grotto. This trail is jumps back and forth over a creek, which was really fun. The path to the Grotto is not marked, and you will need a friend or a map to help you get there. It’s very small, but it was cool to see! After stopping in to see the grotto, you can head back over to the Double Arch Alcove to see the major site of this hike. Pro tip: Bring a picnic to enjoy while you take in the sight.
While you are hiking mostly to see the end destination and the red rocks on the way, we saw quite a bit of wildlife on this hike. There were lots of lizards and cool bugs, and apparently we walked right past a rattlesnake! (I’m glad we did not see it up close- a group going the other direction was waiting for it to pass!) This hike is exposed and requires quite a bit of water for that reason, but it’s a great hike for anyone! Before leaving the park, we took a look at Kolob Canyon, which is visible from an outlook very close to the Taylor Creek trail head.
A few days later Dallin, Kaitlin, Henry, and I made a trek down to Zion proper. The main part of Zion is a bit like Disney world, with narrating shuttles running every 3 minutes to escort you throughout the park. While this area of the park has a general parking lot, arriving in the early afternoon required parking in town and taking another free shuttle into the park. The good news is that Zion free shuttles are clean and comfortable, and they run more often than rush hour public transportation in Washington D.C., which is quite impressive. If you took one of the shuttles from Las Vegas airport to Zion, you could make an April-September visit happen completely with public transportation.
We opened our day with a walk down the Riverside Walk, which is an easy 1.9 walk with only a 344 feet elevation gain. The dominant use of this path is to get to the Zion Narrows, but we saw lots of people using it as a pleasant nature walk too. Like many of the easy paths here, the walkway was packed.
After a brisk walk up and down this path, we headed back to the shuttle to see Weeping Rock. At only .4 miles and a 173 feet elevation gain, this was another easy walk to make, and this trip will allow you to bring a dog! While this walk is really easy, Weeping Rock is just a crazy thing to see. It’s kind of a big and misty waterfall that you walk under. It’s indescribable and difficult to photograph so it is well worth seeing in person.
Our final hike on Zion Day #2 was the longest. There are 3 pools on the Emerald Pools hike, which is an easy 2.3 mile hike with an 833 feet elevation gain, although most of the elevation gain is on the way to the last pool. If you want something shorter, you can take the 1.3 mile hike and only 154 feet elevation change to visit just the Lower Pool. Unfortunately, this is another hike that does not allow dogs.
The Emerald Pools hike is a little strange because I found the pools to be relatively unimpressive. They are really just dirty little ponds, and the trip to each pond was much more interesting than the actual pool. This is a hike where the journey is more interesting than the sights. Nonetheless, we visited all 3!
The first pool looks similar to Weeping Rock, as a small waterfall pours over the walkway into the first pool. As you continue heading up, there are two more pools. The second pool is a very little and shallow pool but probably the cleanest of the three. The third and upper pool is just under 1/2 mile away from the middle pool, but this is definitely the hardest part of the journey, as it is mostly uphill with fewer flat areas. The third pool is a big pond in a type of alcove, and it kind of looks like a dirty sandy pond. Henry really liked playing in the sand! I had fun on this hike, and it was a nice way to finish off the day.
The peak of my visits to Zion was on the third trip there, and this one was to hike Angel’s Landing. With a 9:30 am arrival on a weekday, we did successfully park in the Park’s parking lot. Angel’s Landing is a 4.4 mile hike with 2,073 feet of elevation gain that is marked as difficult/strenuous. Josh and I took this hike by storm.
It definitely was not the hardest hike I have done, but the opening switchbacks are not easy. The first 2/3 of the hike are made up of two separate sets of switchbacks, and the last 1/3 is a rock-scramble experience with chains for balance. The rock-scrambles get very large lines and back-up so doing this trip on a weekday and early is an absolute must. We started at 9:30 AM, made it to the rock-scrambles by 10:30 AM, reached the summit by 11:10 AM, hung out on the top for about 30 minutes, and finished at 12:45 PM. We could have made it from the rock-scrambles to the summit in half of the time had we not waited in line so much.
While this hike was so painfully overcrowded, even with a 9:30 am start time on a Friday, it was so worth it.
If there is one hike that you MUST do in Zion, this one is it. The views are stunning, and it is just one of the coolest experiences. I highly recommend it!
After conquering a hike as cool as Angel’s Landing, you should definitely stop in the gorgeous gift shop and pick up a souvenir. The gift shop had the most reasonable prices I have seen for a National Park ($2.99 for magnets- score!), and there were so many things to choose from. The main Zion gift shop was nicer, but both visitor’s centers have their own passport stamps if you are looking for those.
It is $30/car to enter Zion, and the non-transferable vehicle passes are good for 7 days. Without my National Parks pass, I would have paid $60 in fees since we utilized two different cars throughout the trip. I’m now at $160/$80 for my National Parks pass.
You might be asking yourself, “A day of hiking is great, but what should I do with my evenings?” Just a half hour away from Kolob Canyon is the Utah Shakespeare Festival! I had the luxury of attending three shows during my visit (Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and they were all so different but well done. The Festival also does some non-Shakespeare if you would prefer that. It’s well worth it to make a visit to this awesome Festival after a day (or three!) of hiking.
Are you still there? Thanks for reading this extra EXTRA long blog this week. This will most likely be my longest blog ever, but I just wanted to take you along for the full journey. Next week’s blog for Cedar Breaks will be much shorter, but Dallin and Henry joined me on that adventure too! Don’t forget to subscribe and comment with any questions. See you next week!
Yesterday was the 101st birthday of the National Parks! Based on my explorations so far, I have to say that they are looking pretty good for their age. In honor of their birthday, I will be filling my weekend with National Parks visits, but first, here is a visit I made last week!
The National Park service has so many sites to see in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area that sometimes it is just easiest to combine trips together! This blog will feature both Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts and the LBJ Memorial Grove on the Potomac.
Over the course of the summer, I saw two venues at Wolf Trap, the Filene Center and the Barns. The Filene Center is a big outdoor amphitheater, and the Barns is literally the inside of a barn. I preferred the Filene Center since it was outdoors, and you can even sit on the lawn, although that still requires a paying ticket. It also has tiered seating versus everyone being on the same level, which makes the view much better. The Barns is much more intimate and indoors in setting and probably seats 200 people. Before one show, we tried to go for a walk in the woods, but the options are limited. However, there is a nice walk from the parking lot to the Filene.
Did you know that Wolf Trap is the only national park dedicated solely to the performing arts? Wolf Trap features many different kinds of events, and I had the opportunity to experience quite a few this summer including Chick Corea Elektric Band & Bela Fleck and the Flecktones (Jazz and bluegrass), Pilobolus Maximus (Modern dance and movement), and The Juniper Tree & Bastianello (Opera double bill). There were also pop artists, children’s shows, and more throughout the summer. There is really something for everyone at Wolf Trap.
While Wolf Trap in and of itself is pretty cool, one of my favorite parts is stopping for a meal before getting to Wolf Trap. The fast-food-casual Vietnamese restaurant Roll Play is seriously awesome, serving up delicious and cheap spring rolls and unique sodas. It is worth a visit if you are in Tysons Corner, and it is walking distance from the Greensboro and Tysons Corner metro (Silver Line).
Getting to and from Wolf Trap really does require a car, unless you attend a Friday or Saturday performance. My friend Lindsay picked me up from the Spring Hill metro (Silver line) for my first visit, but I had to Uber home since the metro closed far earlier than the Sunday night show we attended. Wolf Trap does have a stop with the Fairfax Connector bus, but it is $5 each way. You can only access this bus from West Falls Church (Orange), and shows can run later than the metro making it not as useful some days. It’s $3.85 in non-peak fare to go to either stop, but getting from the stop to Wolf Trap is just hard and a little expensive. Luckily, parking is free if you have a car!
If you do choose to take a car to Wolf Trap, the LBJ Memorial Grove is an easy place to stop off and have a picnic before going to a show. Located in Washington, D.C. but on the border with Virginia, the LBJ Memorial Grove is a small city park with a walking trail and a few picnic tables. Since it is located on the Potomac, it is a great park to stop by and visit on your way to a site in Virginia. Due to its location, there were many people dropping in kayaks from this park, and there is plenty of free parking. Like many of the sites in D.C., this is yet another park where you can look out and see the Washington Monument.
I hope you enjoyed learning about these two parks! I wish I had more pictures from Wolf Trap, but my last blog entitled Theodore Roosevelt Island had a ton of pictures if you are just here for the scenery.
I am not sure what the next few weeks blogs will hold yet. Next week, I will be taking you to two D.C. memorials, the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial and the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality House. Otherwise, we are experiencing a cool summer in D.C., and this weekend the highs are only in the low 80s and high 70s! We have discussed going to Harper’s Ferry or Great Falls, but nothing is firm yet. However, I plan to have fun!
Feel free to post comments or questions below, and thanks for reading!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
Hidden in the southeast part of D.C., the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are one of the most unique experiences I have had while living here. My DC partner in crime, Cacia, and I had been talking about making a trip here soon. However, we moved our visit up when we discovered that the annual Lotus and Water Lily Festival was on July 15 this year! While the park was very crowded, it was a very worthwhile experience.
The closest metro stop is at Deanwood on the orange line, although for the Lotus Festival, a shuttle was provided from Minnesota Avenue. You should not come to this park alone if you are taking public transportation, as the neighborhood has some safety issues. There was some parking, but not nearly enough for the Festival. We took the shuttle from Minnesota, but then walked to Deanwood and felt safe enough together.
The lotus flowers looked awesome and are best described in pictures.
To see the flowers, there are lots of walkways throughout the park. While the park is not huge, it seems like the flowers go on forever. While there were mostly the pink flowers, we found a few exceptions throughout the park.
While the Festival is called the Lotus and Water Lily Festival, an employee at the gift shop told us that the event is scheduled around the lotus bloom, and the water lilies usually bloom in mid June, a bit earlier in the season. We found this to be true as we walked through the park, but we still found a few water lilies.
Aside from the beautiful flowers, the Festival also has dance groups, vendors, and 2 food trucks to allow you to make this an all day experience. While the aquatic park is probably beautiful at other times of the year, I would highly recommend attending the festival! There were so many activities and seeing the bloom was an awesome experience.
This park has another large perk- it is dog friendly! What could be more fun than bringing your dog to an aquatic garden?! The Anacostia Riverwalk trail is directly next to this park, and the trail goes on for many miles and was particularly nice near the park. Unfortunately, the area’s crime rate spills over on this beautiful trail so be careful.
I really enjoyed my trip to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, and you should check it out too on your next visit to the District! Next week I am looking forward to sharing my trip to Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida. Make sure to follow my blog so you don’t miss any updates as I continue my National Parks adventure!
After a long week in the concrete jungle swamp known as Washington, D.C., I was so excited to finally make a return trip to Shenandoah National Park! I visited Shenandoah in elementary school with my parents, and we drove down part of Skyline Drive. Now with a 10 pound Pomeranian Poodle in tow, we decided to meet up in the park for a weekend trip.
While I drive, I don’t have a car in the city. I took Amtrak from Union Station to Culpeper, VA, which is about an hour away from Shenandoah. There are no rental car places so I did need to be picked up, but the actual park is only 75 miles from D.C. If you are coming from D.C., Sperryville just outside of the park has some limited food options, and we found a GREAT cafe called Before & After to stop at for lunch.
After lunch, we started up to the park to check in. We stayed in a pet-friendly room at Skyland, and the view was spectacular. We had a view right over the mountain and overlooking Luray. It was great to be centrally located in the park, and I immensely enjoyed leaving technology behind for the weekend. You can stay in rustic rooms, cabins, or camp within the property. Eating can be a challenge, as the rooms do not have any way to cook, but we managed to make it work for the weekend.
After getting settled into the room, we began our first hike at the Hawksbill Gap Loop. This trail takes you to the highest point in the park at 4,051 feet, and it’s an easy to moderate 2.9 mile hike. The views are phenomenal, and we were happy to be the only people at the top.
Can you believe those little dog legs made it all of the way to the top? Hudson was such a trooper on our trip! You can see behind me that there is a compass in the wall at the peak. The compass labels and points the direction towards the other peaks in the park. It was very fun to know exactly what we were looking at. The Hawksbill loop was my favorite hike we did this weekend thanks to the great views from the top.
The next day, we set out to hike the Rose River Trail. This trail was a little different, as the final viewing points were two waterfalls, not a peak. This 3.7 mile hike only has an elevation change of 908 feet, but with slippery rocks and some mud, it remained a little more than easy. We really enjoyed this hike because you are allowed to enter the water, and Hudson enjoyed wandering near the little waterfalls. The first large waterfall you pass is the Rose River Falls
There were also a few butterflies by the Rose River Falls, which made me very happy. These falls are about 1/3 of the way through the loop hike. At the near end of the hike, you come to Dark Hollow Falls. While the Dark Hollow Falls are taller, since they are accessible via a fire road, they are more crowded.
While I was ready to keep hiking, my parents were done with the wilderness after this hike. We spent some time at the Big Meadows Wayside, which was a store and casual restaurant, and we enjoyed some ice cream as a treat after this hike. We later walked the 2 mile round trip path from the store to the campground so I could check out campsites I would like to try in the future. (I have never camped so we will see if I manage to pull this off this summer!) In doing this, we found out that this is one of the big places to stop and watch the sunset! We didn’t get any pictures that do the sunset justice, but it was beautiful.
In the morning, I decided to finish off my trip with a solo hike on the Stony Man Loop, which went a little awry when I got mixed up and ended up on the Little Stony Man trail somehow instead. The trail head for the Stony Man Loop starts in Skyland, making it a great quick hike for a first or last day.
By some miracle, I did have enough cell reception to call and get picked up at the other trail head. I wouldn’t recommend packing a hike in when you are trying to catch a train, but it all worked out in the end! The views were worth it!
While it was sad to head back down the mountain to the Amtrak station, my parents, Hudson, and I had a great weekend trip to Shenandoah. With a $25 entrance fee, my National Parks pass proved it’s worth again. After spending $20 to enter Assateague Island last month and $25 here, I am at $45/$80 spent for my National Parks pass.
Even a little dog like Hudson can have fun hiking and swimming in the Shenandoah National Park. While I wish the trip could have been longer, we will have to return soon.