25 Things to Do in Mammoth Lakes This Fall

Ah, fall in the Sierra. Crisp, cool air in the mornings; warm, golden light in the afternoons; and the blowing breeze making the bright yellow and orange aspen leaves dance in the wind. There really isn’t anything like it.

In a resort town like Mammoth Lakes, fall is known as the shoulder-season, and it is drastically less crowded than any other time of the year. But just because the mountain is still closed for skiing and the air is getting cooler does not mean that there are less things to do during your visit – if anything, if you are looking for solitude, fall is arguably the best time to visit Mammoth! Here are twenty-five of my favorite activities to do in Mammoth Lakes during the fall:

Leaf-Peeping

Of course, the first thing that you should do when you visit Mammoth Lakes in the fall is find that fall color and go leaf-peeping!! Leaf-peeping in the Sierra is truly stunning, and I try to make a trip out there at least once a year to check out the fall colors. Peak is usually around mid-October, but that truly depends on the weather that year. Find the Eastern Sierra Fall Color Report here.

Catch Fall Colors Around the June Lake Loop

The Sierras may be one of the best places in the country to check out fall color, but within the Sierras, there’s nothing like the June Lake Loop during peak color. Drive through miles of bright yellow leaf tunnels and watch as color explodes from the mountainside as it follows a creek-bed. The June Lake Loop is sixteen miles of beautiful road, and during fall, the drive is incomparable.

Fall Hiking

Fall may possibly be my favorite season to hike in. The air is much cooler, the sun less intense at those high Sierra elevations, and the trails are practically empty. Add in some various fall color, and you have the perfect recipe for a perfect hike. Check out trails like Crystal Lake, the Deer Lakes Loop, Thousand Island Lake, or Sherwin Lakes for some hikes close to Mammoth Lakes.

June Lake Autumn Beer Festival

The June Lake Autumn Beer Festival is, hands down, one of my favorite events in the Mammoth Lakes area. The Festival is held every year on the banks of Gull Lake at the beginning of October, usually when the fall colors are at their peak. The event is essentially a tasting festival, and breweries from near and far come to June Lake to pitch a tent and serve festival-goers their most popular beers. Tickets are much cheaper than what you would normally expect for unlimited tastings at a beer festival, and events throughout the day (like stein-holding competitions!) provide plenty of entertainment. It’s honestly just a great day of beer and sunshine in the shadow of Carson Peak. I would highly HIGHLY recommend.

Ski Films

Did you know that we actually have seven seasons throughout the year? There are the main four – Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, of course; but only a few select people know the additional three seasons – pre-ski season, ski season, and not ski season. Crazy, huh? While ski season and not ski season can vary between Winter, Spring, and Summer, pre-ski season almost always falls during Fall, and one of my absolute favorite traditions during pre-ski season is watching ski films to get you pumped for the season!!

Various venues around Mammoth Lakes will host ski films in October and November – keep an eye out for events at Canyon Lodge or Wave Rave. Usually, it’ll be the latest movie that Teton Gravity Research puts out. It is honestly such a perfect fall event to get you stoked for the season.

Dinner at The Lakefront Restaurant

If you are looking for a night of luxury, look no further than the Lakefront Restaurant, located in Tamarack Lodge on Twin Lakes. Eating at the Lakefront is much more than just having dinner – it is a full-blown experience. The restaurant is only one small room with about fifteen tables in it. It is extremely cozy and intimate, and the food and wine are literally to die for. Fall is the perfect time to experience the Lakefront – the feeling of cozying on up with your glass of red wine and short rib knowing how crisp the air is outside is truly unparalleled.

Mammoth Oktoberfest

Every year, Mammoth Oktoberfest arrives at the Village in mid-September. Enjoy a weekend of drinking beer, listening to live music, and wearing your favorite lederhosen!

Watch Sunset at Minaret Vista

There is no better place to watch the sunset in Mammoth than at Minaret Vista. You get 360 degree views of the Minarets, Ritter and Banner, Mammoth Mountain, and the San Joaquin River Valley. It is the perfect spot to catch a Sierra Wave over a bottle of red wine!

Mammoth Rock n’ Rye

Mammoth Rock n’ Rye is an annual Rye festival where (what feels like) hundreds of different Rye makers and distributors set up booths at the Village for Rye tasting. From what I understand, Rye is a whiskey that must have more that 51% rye in it (am I wrong? if so, please correct me in the comments!!). Regardless of what exactly it is, the Mammoth Rock n’ Rye Festival is nothing but F-U-N.

I first attended the Mammoth Rock n’ Rye festival after getting free tickets through work. Now, I’m not a hard alcohol drinker – at all. I strictly drink beer and wine (and plead the fifth as to how much), but I rarely, rarely drink hard alcohol. That being said, the Mammoth Rock n’ Rye was definitely an exception, and after a few “tastings” of Rye, ya girl was good to go on hard liquor. Just make sure that you have a ride set up to take you home.. ain’t no one driving after participating in the Rock n’ Rye Festival!

Other than Rye tastings, Rock n’ Rye also has live music and food booths. Even if tasting isn’t really your thing, it is an awesome time spent outside in the Village. Would highly recommend it!

Soak in the Hot Springs

Fall is probably the perfect season for a natural hot spring soak. The air is cool enough for you to relish in the hot water, and although there may be some early season snowstorms, it is very unlikely that the snow will stick enough to make the dirt roads impassable. There are plenty of natural hot springs in the Long Valley Caldera. Try out Wild Willy’s, Hilltop, the Rock Tub, Shepherd, or Crab Cooker.

Take a Scenic Gondola Ride

Looking for a panoramic view, but not trying to climb up a mountain to get it? Take the gondola up! For the first part of fall, until the bike park closes, you can take a scenic gondola ride up to the summit of Mammoth Mountain. Once you are up there, take a walk around the summit, visit the interpretive center, or grab a snack. The possibilities (and views!) are endless.

Visit Red’s Meadow and Rainbow Falls

The road to Red’s Meadow usually closes sometime in October, though it is extremely dependent on the weather. For example, in 2017 and 2019, the road to Red’s Meadow closed on October 29th and 27th, respectively. But in 2018, due to early season storms, the road closed on October 9th. If the road is still open during your fall visit, take a drive down to Red’s Meadow and explore Devil’s Postpile and Rainbow Falls! If you feel like going for a longer hike, there are (what feels like) hundreds of different trailheads from the road – try a hike to Minaret Lake or Thousand Island Lake.

Late Season Backpacking

Late season backpacking is so good for so many reasons – cooler weather, less crowds, LESS MOSQUITOS, fall colors, permit availability… the list goes on and on. Fall is the perfect time to take on some of those popular trails that you have been pining over.. which is exactly what I did when I finally got permits to backpack Big Pine Lakes during the last weekend in October a few years back! I have a friend that use to work in the Inyo Forest permitting office who said that you could basically always get walk-up permits for any trailhead after Labor Day.. including for Whitney herself! Just be sure to take into consideration the possible drawbacks that can come with fall backpacking – colder nights, earlier sunsets, and potential implement weather.

Fishing

Fishing season begins at the end of April and ends on November 15th. There are plenty of spots around Mammoth Lakes and in the Eastern Sierra to fish – lakes, rivers, and creeks, oh my! Be sure to adhere to all of the rules and regulations and to pick up a fishing license before you go. For the current Eastern Sierra Fishing Report, click here.

Take a Yoga Class at Snowcreek Athletic Club

The Snowcreek yoga room is big, bright, and beautiful. It overlooks the Sherwin Range and is the perfect spot for some mid-day downward dog. Find the class schedule here.

Enjoy a Beer Flight in the Mammoth Brewing Co. Beer Garden

After a long day on the trails finding the best fall color, take a beer break at the Mammoth Brewing Co. Beer Garden. With beautiful views of the Sherwin Range and picnic tables galore, the Beer Garden is a perfect place to try out all of Mammoth Brewing Co.’s beers in your very own tasting flight. For a full list of Mammoth Brewing Co.’s beers, click here. My favorite is the Golden Trout Kolsch!

Mountain Biking

Mammoth Mountain’s Bike Park typically stays open until mid-September. Rent a bike at Main Lodge and take the gondola up to the top for a long ride down the mountain! The first time that I took the gondola up to the top was the first time that I had been mountain biking… ever. I made it all the way down to the Village and had an absolute blast. If you are a relatively strong biker, don’t be afraid to try out the ride from the top, even if it is your first time mountain biking. It is definitely a little intimidating, but so so worth it.

Take a Fitness Class at Snowcreek Athletic Club

There’s no time like fall to get in shape and ready for the upcoming ski season! Snowcreek Athletic Club offers boot camp, pilates, yoga, HIIT, and kickboxing classes on a daily basis – and that is just the start! Also, when you purchase a day-pass in order to take the classes, you get to utilize the other amenities that Snowcreek has to offer – such as their pool, jacuzzi, and steam rooms. Find the class schedule here.

Pick-up a Crowler at June Lake Brewing

After leaf-peeping in June Lake, stop by June Lake Brewing for a crowler (that’s an aluminum growler!). JLB has a great selection of beers – there’s something for every drinker! Enjoy your beer in the brewery or on their comfortable patio in the sun and among the trees. Find a full list of their beers here.

Check Out the World’s Smallest Movie Theater (probably)

Fall is the perfect time to cozy up in Minaret Cinemas after a long day outside and happy hour at your favorite bar! Minaret Cinemas only has two screens, so check out their website beforehand to make sure you know what is playing and when.

Giovanni’s Happy Hour

The best happy hour in Mammoth, hands down, is at Giovanni’s Pizzeria. Great deals on wings, pizza, and drinks. Find Giovanni’s in the Vons shopping center.

Bike the Mammoth Lakes Basin Bike Path

The Mammoth Lakes Basin Bike Path starts in the middle of town and takes you all the way up to Twin Lakes, Lake Mary, Lake Mamie, and Horseshoe Lake. Since it is its separate own path, no need to worry about cars! Keep in mind that the bike path takes you high above the town and into the lakes basin – I can tell you from experience that the ride down is a lot more fun than the ride up!

Catch Sunrise at Hot Creek

“There are only a handful of places on Earth like Hot Creek’s active geologic setting, which makes it a nice addition to your next adventure in Mammoth Lakes. Within the shallow gorge, groundwater heated by subsurface bodies of molten rock (magma) reaches the surface and mixes with the cool waters of Hot Creek, creating a picturesque environment with otherworldly features.”

Visit Mammoth website

Hot Creek is a unique geothermal feature a few miles east of Mammoth Lakes in the Long Valley Caldera. Not only is the running creek heated by groundwater hot from magma, but there are several other hot spring pools surrounding the creek – many of which are almost unnaturally bright blue! Fall is the perfect time to explore Hot Creek at sunrise – in the off-season, I can almost guarantee that you will have it all to yourself!

Get Breakfast at The Breakfast Club

One of my favorite breakfast spots in Mammoth is The Breakfast Club. Good, hearty, homecooked meals with a very welcoming atmosphere. Check out their menu here.

Take a Ride to Tioga Pass and the Eastern Entrance of Yosemite

Fall is the perfect time to take a ride to Tioga Pass and the eastern entrance of Yosemite National Park. The summer crowds have dissipated, the air is crisp and cool, and (if you go at the right time) fall colors are popping off. The drive up Tioga Pass is beautiful itself, but if you are looking to get out of the car and onto a trail, check out the trailheads out of Saddlebag Lake or Tenaya Lake. On the way home, don’t forget to stop at The Mobil for lobster taquitos or at June Lake Brewing for one of those crowlers that I mentioned above!


Disclaimer: This blog was written in the time of COVID-19; however, this blog was not written with COVID-19 in mind. Please be sure to follow all of the guidelines in place, and keep in mind that some of the events listed may be cancelled.

What is the Great American Outdoors Act?

If you have been on the internet at all today, you’ll have likely seen that the Great American Outdoors Act was passed! Woo!

So, I’m just going to say it, because I know that we are all thinking it… what is the Great American Outdoors Act?

The official purpose of the Great American Outdoors Act is “to establish, fund, and provide for the use of amounts in a National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to address the maintenance backlog of the National Park Service, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, and the Bureau of Indian Education, and to provide permanent, dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and for other purposes.

So, what does that actually mean?

It creates the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund, which will fund backlogged projects in various federal park services, and it provides permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund:

  • For the next five years (2021 – 2025), fifty percent of all energy development revenue that the United States gets from oil, gas, coal, or alternative or renewable energy development on Federal land will be put into the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund. The maximum amount that can be put into the fund is $1,900,000,000 each year.
    • 70% of the Fund will be allocated to the National Park Service
    • 15% of the Fund will be allocated to the Forest Service
    • 5% of the Fund will be allocated to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service
    • 5% of the Fund will be allocated to the Bureau of Land Management
    • 5% of the Fund will be allocated to the Bureau of Indian Education
  • For the first year, the Secretary of Agriculture will submit a list of priority projects to be funded in 2021. After that, the President will submit a list of projects to Congress that will be funded from the Fund.
  • Aside from the revenue made from the energy development projects, the Fund can also be funded from public donations.

Land and Water Conservation Fund:

  • Provides permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which gives grants to State and local governments to improve and develop parks in their own communities.

Overall, the Great American Outdoors Act is a huge win for our parks, conservation, and for us – those who enjoy getting out into the great American outdoors!

Camping Basics: Finding a Dispersed Camping Spot

Memorial Day Weekend and the unofficial-official start to summer is upon us! Bring on the warm days in the sun, long nights spent around a campfire, and… closed campgrounds due to COVID-19. Fun!

Just because campgrounds are currently closed (at least in Southern California!) at the time that I write this blog due to the global pandemic, it does not mean that all camping is impossible. Now more than ever is the perfect time to try out dispersed camping!

So what is dispersed camping? Glad you asked! Pursuant to the US Forest Service, “Dispersed camping is the term used for camping anywhere in the National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground. Dispersed camping means no services; such as trash removal, and little or no facilities; such as tables and fire pits, are provided.” Dispersed camping is also allowed in National Grasslands and BLM land. Typically, dispersed camping spots are found down forest service roads. Just like backpacking, dispersed campers are encouraged to camp in existing established spots – places where it is clear that campers have camped before. Every National Forest has its own rules, but typically, dispersed camping is not allowed within one mile of a developed campground or day use area.

While there are many pros to dispersed camping (solitude, no need to fight over reservations, FREE), dispersed camping can definitely be a little intimidating – especially if it is your first time. Since there are no developed sites, it can get a bit nerve-wracking to think to yourself, “Okay, I’ll just drive down this random forest service road until I find a good spot” if it is your first time to the area. But let me tell you this, while I have had some close calls with dispersed camping (looking at you, Big Sky, Montana), I’ve never not found a dispersed camping spot when I was looking for one. And like most things, I almost always get better results when I’ve put in more time researching the area.

To help you learn how to prepare for dispersed camping, I’ve compiled the steps that I take to adequately prepare for a weekend of dispersed camping in an area that I am going to for the first time. Are there other things that you find helpful as you prepare for your camping trips? Leave them in the comments below!


Step 1: Forest Service Website

The first thing that I always check is the forest service website for the National Forest that I’m visiting. This is beneficial for a few reasons: to make sure that the areas that I’m looking at are indeed forest service or BLM land; that dispersed camping is allowed; and to check to see if there are any special rules and regulations that I should be aware of. Every National Forest/BLM area has its own rules – so no matter what, before you visit, make sure that you know those rules. These websites also have links to special permits that you might need to get (i.e. the California Campfire permit), and guidelines as to how long you can stay in one area or how far you have to be from a developed campground, etc. Often, these sites will also have free maps to download. Overall, a really great resource!

Step 2: Google

After I check out the Forest Service website to make sure that dispersed camping is allowed in the area that I’m looking at, I’ll usually google “free camping near ___” or “dispersed camping in ___.” There are a bunch of websites devoted to dispersed camping that have a lot of really great information on them! Try freecampsites.net or hipcamp.com. Personal blogs are also a great resource (shameless plug: try Dispersed Camping Near the Grand Canyon or Dispersed Camping Outside of Yellowstone). A lot of sites won’t give you the exact coordinates of the spots (kind of the whole point of dispersed camping – to disperse campers around a large area in an attempt to reduce the impact on the ecosystem), but most all of the sites will give you a great idea on where to start looking and tips and tricks on the area.

Step 3: Google Maps

By far, the most helpful thing to do before visiting an area with the intention of spending the night is to spend some time looking at the area via Satellite View on Google Maps. It is pretty insane how clear Google Maps can get when you zoom in. You can pick out forest service roads, established campsites, and sometimes even occupied campsites!

Most of all, I find it most helpful because it gives me a good idea of where forest service roads are, the names of each of the roads, and how long I need to travel down each forest service road to start finding sites. From experience, I can tell you that it isn’t super fun to drive down a dirt road late at night, not seeing anywhere to camp, and wondering how far the road goes and whether there will be room to turn around (looking at you again, Montana). Google Maps gives you a great visual of the area so that you are relatively familiar with the terrain once you actually get there.

Step 4: Social Media!

Hands down, one of my favorite things about social media is sifting through location tags and hashtags to find out current conditions on areas that I’m looking to travel to. While I do understand the arguments against location tagging, I personally find that they help much more than they hurt, and I will always support responsible location tagging. Most people who post pictures with location tags are super helpful and are eager to assist. If you feel comfortable reaching out, leave a message or a DM asking your specific questions about this location. But regardless, pictures themselves can often prove extremely helpful, for instance if you are looking at snow levels or conditions of roads/what kind of cars can make it down a certain road. Be sure to take some time researching on social media – it almost always proves fruitful.

Step 5: Reach out to others

For as much as you can learn about an area by researching it online, it is always extremely helpful to speak to someone about the area before you go. Try calling the ranger station to learn more about the area – the rangers are probably the most knowledgeable people that you can speak to about the rules, regulations, and where the best spots are! Also, try finding people who have been to the area before. I’ll often reach out to strangers on social media asking about conditions – most of the time, everyone is super helpful! If I can’t find any recent pictures on social media using location tags or hashtags, I’ll also post a request on my story asking for anyone who has been to that location to DM me. I’ve learned a lot from reaching out to others.

For what it’s worth, I’ve been dispersed camping in parts of California, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado, and I’ve always had a great experience. If you are planning to try out dispersed camping in any of these states, drop a comment below or send me an email at meghikes1@gmail.com. I’d be more than happy to share general National Forest locations and forest service roads that I’ve camped at and had good luck with, along with tips and tricks specific to that area.


This concludes my five-step program for finding the ultimate dispersed camping spot. Dispersed camping is awesome for so many reasons – I hope that this step-by-step guide helps you get out to the most perfect spot!

If you have any other things that you do before dispersed camping that you find helpful, drop them in the comments below! And if you have any questions about your upcoming trip, please feel free to send me an email at meghikes1@gmail.com.

Happy camping!

Switching to Ultralight Gear

During the summer of 2019, I was deep in the trenches of planning a thruhike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2020. Fortunately and unfortunately, in the form of a new dream job, plans changed and my thruhike was postponed until another year. Turns out that was a blessing in disguise in more way than one, as many 2020 thruhikers have had to get off trail and postpone their hikes due to COVID-19.

The most prevalent aspect of planning my thruhike was finally upgrading to ultralight (UL) gear. Now, I’m going to be real here – prior to this summer, I was SO anti-UL, it was actually insane. I literally have a draft blog post, originally written in the summer of 2018, where I go into detail about why I am not, and will never be, UL. Good one, past Meg.

I figured that if I were to successfully hike 2,650 miles, I would have to lighten my load. I was rocking all of my original adult backpacking gear and while it served me well, it was time for an upgrade. I eventually ended up with a pretty sweet setup, and as someone who did not end up on the PCT, I wanted to share it with other fellow weekend warriors. Although it shouldn’t have been surprising, once I tested out my new kit on a weekend backpacking trip, it really was shocking how much better it was to carry a lighter load. For anyone looking to upgrade their gear (or buy their first pieces of backpacking gear!), I highly suggest looking into all of the UL options out there.

I’m not going to lie – UL gear is expensive. This all cost me a pretty penny, but ultimately, it was totally worth it for me. If you are worried about the price point of each piece of gear, I would suggest purchasing slowly. It may not seem like a big deal, but two pounds here and there is going to add up FAST. You don’t need to have a full UL setup to feel its effect on the trail.


BACKPACK

Replaced:

REI Co-Op Crestrail 65 Women’s Pack

Weight: 4lbs, 9 oz (73 oz total)

The first piece of gear that I traded in for ultralight was my pack. And yes, I’m fully aware that, in normal circumstances, your pack is the last piece of your ultralight setup that you should purchase. It makes sense – ultralight backpacks are smaller and are theoretically created to carry less weight. But, armed with my REI dividend and sheer stubborn willpower, I made the decision to purchase the backpack first. Based on the high snow year, I also knew that I would be upgrading more of my setup before my first backpacking trip, so I didn’t think it was a huge deal!

With:

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest 55L Ultralight Backpack

Weight: 2lbs (32.11 oz total)

As soon as I started entertaining the idea of getting a new pack, I knew pretty much right away that it was going to be from Hyperlite Mountain Gear. I had been following their company for quite awhile and hadn’t heard single bad thing about their packs. Once I seriously looked into buying a new pack, however, I was very conflicted as to whether purchase a Southwest or Windrider, as well as the 2400 or 3400 volume. Eventually I settled on the Southwest 3400, and I’ve been happy with my decision ever since. The larger size allows me to pack more gear if necessary (let’s say, to finally cross winter backpacking off my bucket list), but doesn’t add too much weight to the pack itself. And I’m SUPER happy with the Dyneema exterior pockets – those things hold so much gear… they are like the Mary Poppins bags of backpacking pockets. For a full review of the HMG Southwest 3400, click here!


TENT

Replaced:

REI Half Dome Tent

Weight: 4lbs, 9 oz (73 oz total)

The next piece of gear that I replaced was my tent. I had had my trusty REI Half Dome tent for almost five years before I replaced it, and this thing has gone EVERYWHERE with me. Backpacking, car camping, you name it. This tent is reliable, roomy, and comfortable, but it was just too big and heavy for an ultralight setup. For what it is worth, I still often use this tent for car camping, and would recommend it in a heartbeat. Most often, I’ll bring it on my backpacking trips if I have to camp the night before picking up my backpacking permit and don’t want to have to pack my backpack in the morning (i.e. getting up to Alabama Hills at 10pm and setting this tent up before picking up my permit at 8am in Lone Pine the next morning). But most notably, I’ll still take it on backpacking trips (in my UL pack!) when I know that the weather is going to be atrocious and we might need a more durable tent to make it through the night – here is looking at you, 50+ mph winds on San Gorgonio.

With:

NEMO Hornet 2 Tent

Weight: 2 lbs, 6 oz (38 oz total)

I decided to replace my Half Dome with the NEMO Hornet 2 Tent. The only requirement that I had for a tent was one that was light, but could also comfortably fit two people. Basically, I wanted a tent that made sense for a one- or two-person backpacking trip. Before deciding on this tent, I actually went back and forth between this one and the Big Agnes Tiger Wall. Both had great reviews, were very light, and were around the same price point. I ultimately made my decision when I went to REI and felt each of them in my hands. It was actually kind of funny – since they are both expensive tents, they were locked up and I had to have an REI employee help me unlock them. When I finally decided on the NEMO tent, he told me that a lot of people go back and forth between the two tents that I was looking at, and he asked me what my deciding factor was. When I told him that the NEMO packed down a bit better than the Big Agnes, he told me that he asked so that he could tell future customers what made me decide. Now, I’m fully aware that that statement could have been part of his sales pitch, but if an employee at REI Arcadia ever tells you to choose the NEMO tent over the Big Agnes, you are welcome.


SLEEPING BAG

Replaced:

REI Co-op Habanera Sleeping Bag

Weight: 4lbs, 3 oz (67 oz total)

This was the hardest piece of gear for me to replace. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE MY SLEEPING BAG. I tend to run extremely cold while backpacking, and I had finally found a sleeping bag that kept me warm throughout the entire night. It is a 13 degree bag with a survival rating of -57 degrees – there is no doubt that this is intended to be a winter bag, but I took it with me on every summer trip that I went on, and I was warm every single night. Honestly, I debated for a very long time about even replacing it, but I finally gave in when I realized how much room it took up in my new bag. No matter how much I squished my bag into a stuff sack, it just took up too much room. I begrudgingly started researching new bags.

With:

Western Mountaineering Versalite Sleeping Bag

Weight: 2 lbs (32 oz total)

After tons of research, I finally decided on the Western Mountaineering Versalite sleeping bag. Again I say, this was no easy decision. There are so many different types, prices, and weights of bags out there. I had to decide between down or synthetic, quilt or bag, what degree, price point, weight, shape, and more. Eventually, the weight and degree rating outweighed all of the other factors, and I settled on this bag. Since it had such a low temperature rating (10 degrees!), I was a little worried about the size, but it packs down extremely small. I use the stuff sack that the bag came in, but I’ve heard that it’ll pack down even more if you get a compressible stuff sack. I’m not going to lie, it is significantly less puffy than the Habanera, but it is just as warm and half the weight. I’m really happy with my purchase and think that this bag is well worth the price point.


WATER FILTER

Replaced:

MSR Miniworks EX Water Filter

Weight: 16.9 oz

Funny story – I’ve had my MSR handpump water filter for literally EIGHTEEN (18) years. My family bought it when I joined my middle school’s backpacking club in sixth grade.. and it has been an essential piece of my kit ever since. Yes, this thing pumps water slow AF, but it is also reliable AF. It is truly a shame that it weighs so much because I have no doubt that this thing will last the test of time.

With:

Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System

Weight: 3 oz

I’m going to be real here – if it weren’t for the INSANE weight difference, I would not have purchased a new water filter. I’m so in love with my MSR filter that it is almost worth the extra weight for me, but I finally gave in and purchased a Sawyer Squeeze. Honestly, I’m not totally sold yet. The only two backpacking trips that I’ve used the squeeze on are the two backpacking trips that I’ve felt super nauseous once getting to camp – but they have also been two pretty intense trips. I will give it to the Squeeze – this filter pumps extremely fast and is very convenient. For a price of only $50, you really can’t go wrong.


GEAR I HAVE YET TO SWITCH

Sleeping Pad:

REI Co-op AirRail 1.5 Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad – Women’s

Weight: 1 lb, 9 oz (25 oz total)

Will I replace my sleeping pad? The verdict is still out. While my current one is pretty heavy for a sleeping pad (the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad, which is what I probably would replace it with, weighs in at an impressive 12 oz), I probably won’t replace it for awhile. I really like my sleeping pad – it packs down well, is really comfortable, and doesn’t make noise (which I’ve heard is one of the biggest complaints about the NeoAir XLite). I also feel comfortable carrying the extra ounces if it means sturdier material – the material is so thick that I’d be surprised if this pad ever popped.


Overall, I’ve been extremely happy with my new UL setup and would recommend each of the pieces of gear that I’ve purchased. For a complete weight breakdown of my gear, see below:

Pre-UL gear:

REI Crestrail 654 lbs, 9 oz
REI Half Dome Tent4 lbs, 9 oz
REI Habanera4 lbs, 3 oz
MSR Water Filter1 lb, .9 oz
REI Air Rail Sleeping Pad1 lb, 9 oz
TOTAL:15 lbs, 14.9 oz

UL gear:

HMG Southwest 34002 lbs
NEMO Hornet 2 Tent2 lbs, 6 oz
WM Versalite2 lbs
Sawyer Squeeze3 oz
REI Air Rail Sleeping Pad1 lb, 9 oz
TOTAL:8 lbs, 2 oz

Hell of a difference, eh?

Gear Review: Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest

In summer of 2019, after six years with my beloved REI Crestrail 65 pack, I finally made the switch to an ultralight backpack. I knew for awhile that my next bag was going to be a Hyperlite Mountain Gear bag, but I didn’t know exactly which one. After lots of research between the the Southwest and the Windrider, I finally decided upon the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400. From the moment that it was shipped to me, it was love at first sight. This bag is lightweight, durable, roomy, and ridiculously comfortable. Not only do I use this bag for overnight trips, but it is lighter than all of my daypacks, so I also use it for dayhikes here and there. In sum, this bag rules.


SPECS:

WEIGHT: 32.11 ounces
CAPACITY: 55L; 9.8L of external storage
MAX LOAD: 40 pounds
CLOSURE: Rolled velcro top with buckle
MATERIALS: Cuban fiber with Dyneema exterior pockets; 1/4″ foam back panel pad
PRICE: $345.00


WHAT I ABSOLUTELY LOVE:

THE WEIGHT: The HMG Southwest 3400 weights in at a whopping two pounds. TWO. POUNDS. That is absolutely INSANE – my old bag weighed almost five!! The cuban fiber is lightweight, but totally sturdy, and the size of the main compartment is not compromised in the slightest by how little the bag weighs. The first time I took this bag out was like night and day from my old bag, and I honestly don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back to a heavier bag. I feel like I can hike infinitely longer and faster using this bag.

THE CENTER EXTERIOR POCKET: The center exterior pocket is HUGE, easily accessible, and totally secure. Every time I use this bag, I’m always surprised as to how many things I can fit into this pocket. I tend to put snacks, sunscreen, bug repellent, and my trash bag in the pocket when I hike, and have never had any issue with things falling out of it. It’s almost like the Mary Poppins bag of exterior pockets. Great feature!

THE FEEL: Although the backpack does have an internal frame, it is much less supportive than my previous backpacking backpack with a FreeFlow back panel to keep my back cool. This was the only spec of the backpack that I was a little nervous about, but honestly, without all of the extra weight, the backpack was extremely comfortable sitting on my back. Because the backpack is so soft, it almost molds into the curve of your back and feels very natural. I usually am dying to take off my backpack as soon as I get to camp, but even after a long day of hiking with this pack, it still feels extremely comfortable.

THE LOOK: I’m not going to lie, “the look” usually accounts for .5% of my decision to purchase a piece of gear. In fact, if said gear is discounted due to to being a less than popular color, I will absolutely purchase said gear and rock all the crazy colors (here’s looking at you, Salomon trail runners). Don’t believe me? Just look at my old teal and orange backpacking backpack (the first time my dad saw it, he asked me if I had turned into a Miami Dolphins fan), my hot pink sleeping bag, and my lime green tent. BUT! This backpack look so.freaking.sleek. Hands down the coolest-looking piece of gear that I own.


WHAT HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BE IMPROVED:

THE SIDE POCKETS: Although the side pockets are big enough to fit a waterbottle and an extra piece of gear (tent poles or a tripod, etc.), they are a bit on the smaller side. With the extra piece of gear in the side pocket, it is a little hard to slide the waterbottle in and out. The first time I used the pack, I had to have my hiking partner put my waterbottle back in for me every time I took a drink. By my second and third trips, the side pockets were starting to loosen a bit, but I think I would like the bag just a tad better if the the side pockets were a little bigger.


WHAT I DISLIKE:

THE LACK OF A SMALL, ZIPPERED POCKET: Okay, so as much as I wanted this bag to be absolutely perfect (and believe me, it is close!), there is just one thing that I really don’t like about the bag. There are no small, zippered pouches anywhere on the bag itself. My old bag had one with easy access, and I liked to be able to put my car key, drivers license, and a $20 bill in it for safe-keeping, not to be opened until I needed it. The only zippered pockets that the Southwest has is the hip belt pockets, and I tend to go in and out of those pockets a lot. On my latest backpacking trips, I’ve put my key into a hip belt pocket, and I was pretty nervous the entire time that my key was going to fall out when I went to get chapstick, a lighter, my knife, etc. I think that next time I go backpacking, I’ll bring a little zippered pouch to keep those things in… but it definitely won’t be as easy access because I’ll want to keep it safely in the bag.


ADDITIONAL FAQ:

What is the difference between the Southwest and the Windrider?

The Southwest and the Windrider are essentially the exact same bag, except the Southwest has solid Dyneema Hardline pockets and the Windrider has mesh pockets. At first, I had convinced myself to get the Windrider with the mesh pockets, but eventually, I changed my mind and decided that the Southwest pockets seemed a little more durable. Whether that is true or not, I’m not sure, but I’m super happy with my decision to get the Southwest!

Why did you purchase the 3400?

I was also going back and forth on whether to purchase the 2400 or the 3400. On one hand, the whole point of getting an ultralight bag is to carry less weight, so I figured that I should get a smaller bag to restrict how much I could bring. On the other had, the weight difference between the 2400 and 3400 is negligible, and I wanted to be able to bring more gear if I needed it (for example, on winter trips where I needed to bring more layers). This was a huge decision for me; one that I sought input on in many a Facebook hiking group. Overall, even though I always have extra room in my bag, I’m super glad that I went with the 3400, just in case.


Overall, I’m super happy that I purchased this bag, and would do so over and over again. If you have any questions about my experience with this bag, please comment below or email me at meghikes1@gmail.com. Happy adventuring!

A Sunny Weekend in Yosemite National Park

Last summer, on the last weekend in June, I had the opportunity to visit Yosemite National Park with Girls Who Hike Central Coast! You’ll remember that my last visit to Yosemite didn’t exactly go as planned (thanks to drenching rain, a destroyed tent, and a forgotten suitcase), so I jumped at the chance for a sunny weekend in the Valley. This trip was mostly dedicated to hiking, and I was able to check two hikes off of my list that I hadn’t previously done before.

DAY 1: ARRIVAL

I left Los Angeles around 5:30pm on Friday night. Other than a little bit of traffic in the San Fernando Valley, the drive was smooth-sailing, and I got to the campground around 11pm.

Wawona Campground

We stayed at Wawona Campground on this trip. Wawona Campground is located one mile north of Wawona on the 41. It is about 26 miles south of the Valley, but takes about an hour to get there due to how windy the road is. Be sure to take this drive into consideration if you are trying to get to the Valley by a certain time!

Other than being far away from the Valley, the campground was perfect! Located right on the South Fork of the Merced River, Wawona had plenty of room, gracious tree cover, and was well-maintained. The sites were equipped with bear boxes, dumpsters, and clean bathrooms, and were spaced out pretty well, so you didn’t feel like you were camping on top of your neighbors. I would definitely stay there again!


DAY 2: UPPER YOSEMITE FALLS AND EAGLE PEAK

Day Hike to Upper Yosemite Falls and Eagle Peak

On our first (and only, I suppose) full day in Yosemite, we hiked to Eagle Peak via the Upper Yosemite Falls trail. The trail to Eagle Peak follows the trail to Upper Yosemite Falls for the first three and a half miles before turning west for an additional three miles to the peak. In total, the hike is approximately thirteen miles long.

The trail begins in Camp 4. The first mile or so consists of long, shaded switchbacks. You gain elevation quickly, and although there isn’t much of a view here, you’ll be glad to have gained this elevation in the shade. Keep in mind though that the trailhead is on the valley floor – even though this part of the trail is shaded, it still warms up very easily! I would highly recommend starting this trail early in the day.

Once you’ve climbed about one thousand feet in a little over a mile, you come to Columbia Rock, and the views of the valley finally open up! Other than Eagle Peak itself, this may be the best view of Half Dome over the whole hike. This viewpoint has plenty of room to take a break, stretch out, and enjoy views of the valley while you eat your mid-hike snack. If you are looking for a much shorter hike, Columbia Rock is the perfect place to turn around and head back to the trailhead.

For the next half mile, the trail becomes much more gradual – and at one points, loses elevation! You are treated to gorgeous views of Upper Yosemite Falls. Don’t be afraid to hop on and off of some of the little side trails to the north – these give some of the best, most unobstructed views of the falls and the valley below. This is also the only place that you will be able to see Upper, Middle, and Lower Yosemite Falls all at once!

You’ll eventually come to the base of Upper Yosemite Falls (kind of). From here, the trail leaves the falls and turns into short, steep, and exposed switchbacks. This was definitely the hardest part of the trail for me. My suggestion? Put your head down, bust out the switchbacks, and take breaks when you need to. Remember that once you are done with these switchbacks, you’ll be at the top of Upper Yosemite Falls and can catch your breath in the shade for as long as you want!

When we arrived at Upper Yosemite Falls, we took a nice forty-five minute long break before continuing to push to Eagle Peak. We saved checking out the Yosemite Falls viewpoint until we came back down. Keep in mind that it is about 2 tenths of a mile to the viewpoint, so if you think you’ll be too tired by the time you are heading back from Eagle Peak, visit now! You really can’t miss standing on top of Yosemite Falls – one of the world’s tallest waterfalls!

From here, the trail becomes much more gradual than the switchbacks preempting it. You’ve already gained most of your elevation, and the hike becomes a pleasant dirt trail under the trees. You’ll cross a few streams and have to log-hop across some muddy portions of the trail if you hike early in the summer season. This part of the hike is also much less crowded, and allows you to experience absolute solitude in one of the most popular national parks in the United States.

With only a half mile left to Eagle Peak, the trail finally starts to gain some serious elevation, but after the switchbacks up to Upper Yosemite Falls, this gain will feel very tame. You’ll start to see boulder piles to the left of the trail that look like they might be Eagle Peak, but continue along the trail until you can’t get any higher. You’ve officially arrived at Eagle Peak and, hands down, the best view of Half Dome in the entire valley.

We did this hike as a dayhike, but this would be an incredible overnight trip. There were plenty of protected campsites around the peak that would give you the best sunset and sunrise views you might ever experience. Backpacking Eagle Peak is definitely on my bucket list!

Once you’ve thoroughly enjoyed the view from Eagle Peak, follow your footsteps back to Upper Yosemite Falls. Once we were back at the viewpoint, I was already exhausted, but I couldn’t NOT go see the falls, so I dropped my bag and checked out the view. Although you really couldn’t see the falls that well (since you were on top of them), the view is INSANE. So cool to get a birds eye view of the falls thundering down to the valley below.

The last three miles of the hike were probably the hardest three miles I’ve ever hiked in my life. We were losing sunlight (and fast), and pure exhaustion was taking over. We lost elevation quickly, but the valley seemed to be a million miles away. I’ve only ever almost passed out from pain once in my life, and I specifically remember my hands getting numb immediately before. On the last ten minutes of that hike, I had that exact same feeling and I was legit nervous that I was going to pass out from sheer exhaustion. Fortunately, we finally arrived at Camp 4 and I was able to sit down and eat a few bites of a sandwich before the rest of the group caught up to us. It probably took me about 30 seconds to fall asleep in the car on the way back to the campground. That hike took it OUT of me!!

Although the hike to Eagle Peak is very difficult, I would recommend it in a heartbeat. The view from Eagle Peak is absolutely UNREAL, and everyone should experience it on at least one of their trips to Yosemite!


DAY 3: NEVADA FALLS VIA THE MIST TRAIL

Day Hike to Nevada Fall via the Mist Trail

Although I was absolutely BEAT from the hike to Eagle Peak the day before, I decided to hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail on the way up and the John Muir Trail back down. I was super excited to see Nevada and Vernal Falls, as the trailhead is the official start of the John Muir Trail! If you’ve read my blogs about the John Muir Trail, you know that I was unable to get permits for the JMT from the Valley and had to start from Tuolumne Meadows, 21 miles from its official start. This trail follows the first 3.5 miles of the JMT, and it was so cool to visit a new part of a trail that felt like home.

The closest parking lot to the Happy Isles trailhead is at Half Dome Village, about a half a mile away from the trailhead. There is a nice walking path from the parking lot to the trailhead, so if you aren’t worried about adding an additional mile onto your hike, I would suggest just walking it. If you don’t want to add the mileage, you can take the shuttle from the Village to the trailhead. Just keep in mind that during the summer months, the shuttle gets extremely crowded!

The first mile or so of the trail, up to the bottom of Vernal Fall, is paved and ADA-friendly (ish). It was actually surprisingly difficult for a paved trail. The elevation fluctuated pretty drastically – like a roller coaster! I was huffing and puffing very early on. The trail follows the north side of the Merced River until you hit the bottom of Vernal Fall and cross over onto the south side.

Once you cross over to the south side of the Merced River, you have two options: hike up to the top of Vernal Fall via the Mist Trail or leave Vernal Fall and hike the John Muir Trail to Nevada Fall. I elected to hike up the Mist Trail. If you aren’t interested in getting wet, I would suggest not taking this trail. The mist coming off of Vernal Falls during the summer is absolutely drenching and absolutely relentless. Like many other hikers, I brought along a cheap poncho, as I didn’t want to have wet clothes for the rest of the day.

The Mist Trail up and around Vernal Fall is so beautiful!! Because of all of the mist, the area stays super green and no matter which way you view the falls from, there always seems to be a rainbow surrounding it! At one point, you start to hike up in a cave-like bowl, and I swear I wasn’t in Yosemite anymore – it seriously looked like I had hiked to Hawaii. Take your time hiking up to Vernal Fall, as the trail stays pretty slippery from the mist, but also because the area is just so beautiful!

Once you reach the top of Vernal Fall, there is plenty of room to stretch out across granite rock and dry out. Many people end their hike here – if you are wanting a shorter hike, this would be a good spot to turn around. I elected to continue onto Nevada Fall.

The hike continues through the forest and away from the river. It is significantly less crowded here, and I found myself alone for the majority of this section. It just so happened, however, that right as I caught up to a family of five, another hiker coming from the opposite direction told us all, “There is a bear up there.” Now, if you are relatively new to my blog, you’ll know that I am a total wimp when it comes to hiking alone. I was already feeling a little on edge from hiking by myself in the Sierra, only to hear the father of the family say to me, “Not what you want to hear when you are hiking in Yosemite alone.” You hit it right on the head, bro. Fortunately, I convinced the family to let me hike with them for 5 minutes (basically by saying, “Yeah, I’m going to walk with you for five minutes.”), and no bear was to be found. Almost immediately, we arrived at the bottom of Nevada Fall, and I bid my new family goodbye.

From the base of Nevada Fall, it is kind of hard to see the waterfall. You can hear it, but the angle of the rock makes it a little awkward for sightseeing. You immediately begin ascending a set of tight switchbacks to the north of the falls, and man, they are STEEP. It was probably the first time that I was grateful for hiking alone, because after my hike the day before, I was exhausted and out of breath the entire time. Those were some of the slowest switchbacks I’ve probably ever hiked.

Eventually, I arrived at the top of Nevada Fall, and the view was absolutely gorgeous!! Sentinel Dome stood loud and proud, and the falls were raging. Like the top of Vernal Fall, there was plenty of granite to lay out on and enjoy the area. I chose a spot right atop of the falls and had lunch with the squirrels. It was absolutely perfect. I was a little surprised though – for how alone I was during the hike, the top of the falls was packed!

Once I started hiking down the John Muir Trail to finish the loop, I was treated to panoramic views of Nevada Fall. In addition, at this time of the year, there were also seasonal spring runoff drenching the trail. It felt like I was walking through a shower! Although I had my poncho readily available, the water felt good in the sun, and it wasn’t enough to make me uncomfortably wet. It was beyond refreshing.

The John Muir Trail continued down in long switchbacks until it met up with the trail at the bottom of Vernal Fall. From there, you follow the same path that you took to begin the hike back down to the trailhead.

The Mist Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Yosemite Valley, and for good reason. If you only have time for one hike during your time in the Valley, I would absolutely recommend hiking the Mist Trail Loop. I’m so bummed that it took me multiple trips to the Valley for me to finally hike it – don’t make my mistake! Hike the Mist Trail next time you visit Yosemite!


Overall, another great trip to Yosemite. While this trip was all about getting big miles in, if you are looking to experience Bridalveil Fall, Tunnel View, lunch at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel Dining Room, or Lower Yosemite Falls, be sure to check out my blog all about our winter trip to the park.

Happy exploring!

Dispersed Camping Near the Grand Canyon

In August of 2017, I had one of those “this is exactly where I am meant to be right at this moment” moments. It was about 10pm on the last night of our 17-day road trip across the Western United States, and we were camped a super remote spot a few miles south of the South Rim entrance to Grand Canyon National Park. The night was warm and calm, but in the distance, we could hear a faint lightening storm and coyotes howling to the moon. Before long, fat rain drops began slowly hitting our tent. While the lightening stayed at bay in the distance, the night felt so electric. That night is honestly my favorite memory of our whole trip (and maybe that whole year!).

While planning for our trip, I knew that we would be dispersed camping in Arizona. The perfect combination of not wanting to tightly schedule our road trip by making reservations and knowing how FREAKING easy it is to find a dispersed camping spot in Arizona* led us to Fire Road 688: the absolute perfect spot for dispersed camping!

*made possible by my prestigious education at Northern Arizona University, where I quickly learned that basically any forest road turns into a perfect spot for a “forest party” if you open your eyes wide enough. Go Jacks!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with dispersed camping, the US Forest Service defines it as, “camping anywhere in the National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground.”  Dispersed camping is completely FREE, and if you know where to look, is much easier finding room to camp than in established campgrounds. Because you aren’t in a campground, there are no services – for the most part, you’ll be camping without water and without a toilet. The Leave No Trace principles are EXTREMELY important while dispersed camping – no one is going to clean up after you when you leave! ALWAYS pack out your trash, camp in established campsites, and bury your waste at least 6 inches down!

Fire Road 688 is located 10.5 miles south of Mather Point and 3.7 miles south of Tusayan. We watched the mileage once we hit Tusayan so that we wouldn’t miss the road; however, from the north, there is a big sign showing where the turn-off is. The road is also searchable on Google Maps. Once you turn onto the dirt road, it is in impeccable shape – we saw tons of HUGE RVs finding their perfect spots. After traveling about a mile down the road, you will start to see the established camping spots. The spots are absolutely massive, yet they have plenty of space in between each of them, so you never really feel like you have neighbors.

Location of Fire Road 688 compared to the town of Tusayan, the South Rim Entrance to GCNP (shown by the red line), and Grand Canyon Village

Our spot was a few hundred feet off the fire road, was perfectly flat, had a ton of trees for hammock-hanging, and even had an established fire ring! While we saw a few cars passing our spot on the fire road, we couldn’t see another camping spot while standing in ours. It was quiet, remote, and most importantly, FREE. We had lots of cow friends pass through our site, and even heard elks bugling at night!

Our spot from the vantage point of the Fire Road – we had an established pull-out and everything!

Each national forest has their own rules for dispersed camping, but they tend to be pretty lax.  This spot is in the Kaibab National Forest.  We checked the national forest website to make sure that we knew the regulations regarding dispersed camping in this area (always check and see if there is anything special you should be aware of!).  Like many national forests, the rules on dispersed camping were pretty lax – you can stay in your campsite for 14 days in a 30-day period, but then must move on and cannot come back to your original campsite for 7 days.  If you wanted to have a fire, you are encouraged to use an existing fire ring, and you could not camp within one mile of a designated campground.

Neighbors!

The Kaibab National Forest actually created their own cutie “Dispersed Camping Guide” with their nine rules for camping. Download it here:

Although each of the camping spots have plenty of room in between them all, this fire road was very popular for camping. We spoke to a ranger at Mather Point who, when we told him where we were staying, mentioned that he always recommends to visitors to camp off of Fire Road 688 instead of staying at the campgrounds at Grand Canyon National Park, even when there are spaces open in the park!

One last thing – if you are going to camp here, please please PLEASE adhere to the Leave No Trace principles! Leave it better than you found it to ensure that we can all enjoy our public lands in the future.

Leave-No-Trace-Seven-Principles-Infographic.jpg
The seven Leave No Trace principles, courtesy of a quick google search and Earth River SUP!

If you have any questions about camping outside of the Grand Canyon South Rim park entrance, please comment here or email me at meghikes1@gmail.com!  More than happy to help!

Happy Trails!

5 Books That Every West-Coast Outdoor Enthusiast Should Read

If you can’t find me scaling mountains outside, you’ll likely find me curled up with a good book, scaling mountains on paper. Here are my five favorite outdoor books that every west-coast adventurer should read!

Disclaimer: I originally titled this list as “5 Books That EVERY Outdoor Enthusiast Should Read,” but I quickly realized that 4 out of the 5 books specifically were about the western United States. What can I say? I might be just a little biased – I’m born, raised, and have only ever lived in the western United States! These mountains are my home, and I absolutely love reading about the history of my very own backyard.

*Please note that this post contains affiliate links (at no extra cost to you!)


Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart by Carrot Quinn

Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart is hands down one of my favorite books of all time. A memoir of one hiker’s thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, this book is refreshing, comical, and empowering. I think the thing that I love most about her story is that it details the day-to-day life on the trail instead of focusing on her life leading up to it (here’s looking at you, Wild). Carrot is an extremely talented writer, and makes you feel like you are hiking right alongside her. I pickup this book whenever I’m itching for adventure, and it never fails to inspire me to start planning my next trip.

Get it here: Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart by Carrot Quinn

The Last Season by Eric Blehm

The Last Season details the life and disappearance of Randy Morgenson, a Sierra backcountry ranger who mysteriously vanished during one of his backcountry stints. Written against the backdrop of California’s Sierra Nevada range, this biography is truly gripping, and I had to stop myself from reading it too fast, as I was desperate to understand what happened to Ranger Morgenson. Morgenson and Blehm both clearly share the same love for the Sierra, one that I share as well, and it was fascinating to hear about some of the unknowns surrounding my favorite mountain range. Blehm is a detailed and well-researched writer, and leaves out no detail of the search and Morgenson’s life. It was also absolutely fascinating to learn more about the lives and trials of backcountry rangers. The Last Season truly is a great novel for anybody who loves spending time in the backcountry.

Get it here: The Last Season by Eric Blehm

Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner

Cadillac Desert tells a less-famous side of the history of the western United States and how it became to be as we know it – by bringing water to the desert and turning into the metropolises that we know it as (think Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Phoenix). This book really opened my eyes to the natural landscape of some of my favorite cities, and how life as we know it wouldn’t have been possible without the various ways in which water was brought (and stolen!) to the region. Cadillac Desert also dives into the first exploration of the Colorado River, the great dam obsession in the early- to mid-1900s, and the great lengths that the City of Los Angeles took to alter the Owens Valley forever. For all of you history nerds out there, this book is a must-read!

Get it here: Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner

The Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs

The Secret Knowledge of Water is probably one of the most fascinating books that I’ve ever read. It follows the author’s search for water through the deserts of the American Southwest. Through his exploration, Childs documents his techniques for finding water in arid, seemingly hospitable places, and he does so beyond poetically. Childs does his best to break the stigma that the American Southwest is nothing but dry desert, and within the first few pages, I was convinced. Other than document his physical search, this book explores the relationship that water has on whatever region it calls home, and gives insight as to both the beauty and terror that water can truly havoc on a landscape. Childs has a talent for “painting” with words, and I felt like I could truly see whatever landscape that he was describing. Regardless of whether you live in the American Southwest, The Secret Knowledge of Water will leave you with a better understanding and awe of water, the deserts of the world, and even your own backyard (wherever it may be).

Get it here: The Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs

On Trails by Robert Moor

On Trails, written by an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, is a memoir about one man’s journey to discover the inherent nature of trails themselves. Created by both humans and animals alike, trails have been created ever since the dawn of time. In his book, Moor walks all sorts of trails, and uses his book to share his knowledge of what they, and their creators, can teach us about our own lives in and around the broader world. Moro’s novel is poetic, historical, and shows the reader just how connected we all may be.

Get it here: On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor

My favorite spot to curl up with a good book – my hammock!

What I’m Reading Now

Where the Water Goes by David Owen

My current read is Where the Water Goes by David Owen. From the inside cover: “The Colorado River is an essential resource for a surprisingly large part of the United States, and every gallon that flows down it is owned or claimed by someone. David Owen traces all that water from the Colorado’s headwaters to its parched terminus, once a verdant wetland but now a million-acre desert. He takes readers on an adventure downriver, along a labyrinth of waterways, reservoirs, power plants, farms, fracking sites, ghosts towns, and RV parks, to the spot near the U.S.-Mexico border where the river runs dry. Water problems in the western United States can seem tantalizingly easy to solve: just turn off the fountains at the Bellagio, stop selling hay to China, ban golf, cut down the almond trees, and kill the lawyers. But a closer look reveals a vast man-made ecosystem that is far more complex and more interesting than the headlines let on.”

Get it here: Where the Water Goes by David Owen


Although I own all of these books either by paperback or hardcover, I recently switched to a Kindle, and absolutely love it! Interested in having your entire bookshelf at the tip of your fingers? Consider signing up for Kindle Unlimited; the lightest way to bring books into the backcountry. I have a super basic Kindle, and love curling up with a good book at the end of a long hike – without having carried all of the weight!

What are some of your favorite outdoor books? Drop them in the comments below – I’m always looking for a good new read!

Happy trails (and reading)!

The Ultimate Road Trip Throughout the American West: Detailed 17-Day Itinerary

In the summer of 2018, my boyfriend, Matt, and I decided to go on a 17-day road trip through the western United States! We decided to drive from Los Angeles up through San Francisco and the Redwoods, stay a few days in Portland, and then head over to Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park before heading home through Bryce Canyon National Park and Grand Canyon National Park. All in all, we drove 4372 miles over the course of 17 days, and had the absolute time of our lives!

Now, you would think that a 4000+ mile road trip would require extensive planning (and… it very well might), but I specifically decided not to plan anything about our trip except for a tentative schedule. In 2013, I had gone on a 5-day road trip with a girlfriend without any plan whatsoever, and we absolutely loved the freedom of being able to decide that day where we wanted to go. One small, small detail about that trip slipped my mind when deciding not to plan for this trip though… I took that 2013 trip in late September, when campgrounds were empty and campsites were plentiful. Matt and I, however, were taking our no-plan trip in early August 2018, when the swarms of campers are out and schoolchildren had yet to go to back to school. Although everything ended up working out totally fine, there were a few near-tear-misses and stressful situations that could have been avoided with just a little bit of planning.

In this blog post, you’ll find our itinerary for our trip and a list of things that I would do differently if I had the chance!


THE ITINERARY

Night 1: Dean Creek Resort

How did we end up there? Dean Creek Resort is located in Humboldt County, three miles north of Garberville, California. When we started from Los Angeles that morning, we had NO IDEA that we would end up in Humboldt County that night. Our original plan was to drive up to San Jose, stop for lunch and a tour of the Winchester House, and then head to a campground near Mt. Shasta for the night. That plan, however, quickly changed once we arrived in San Jose. We arrived with lots of texts from family members worried about the Carr Fire, which had claimed five lives on the day that we were supposed to arrive. We toyed around with the idea of driving past Redding and up to the Oregon border for the night, but the idea of driving towards the fire and smoke wasn’t too appealing. We decided on a whim to drive up the 101 to the beaches of Northern California and Oregon, and figured that we had to pass an empty campground and some point. Yeah… fast forward six hours later to me white-knuckling the steering wheel as we navigate a pitch-black two-lane road with no campgrounds in sight… Getting smoked out in Redding was sounding better and better as the night wore on. Eventually, we finally happened upon a campground around midnight, and I had never been more grateful to get out of a car!

Would I stay there again? In all honesty, probably not. It ended up working out totally fine and was a complete godsend, but I just kind of felt… uncomfortable there. About five miles before we got to the campground, we saw some guy practically sitting in the middle of the 101… hitchhiking? I’m not really sure, but he did not seem fazed that we were driving 70 mph about a foot away from him. We arrived super late and had a weird experience checking in, and then put up our tent in the dark, when no other campers were awake. Around 2am, someone in the vicinity began working on their car until about 4am – I’m not a skiddish camper, but there were some weird noises coming from that campground that night – enough to actually make me feel unsafe. It was also kind of expensive for a campground ($39 for a non-electric tent site). I don’t know, I could have just been on edge from the drive in, but I just felt weird there.

Also… fun story! About six months after we stayed there, I decided to watch Murder Mountain on Netflix (if you haven’t watched yet, WATCH. SO interesting.). Murder Mountain is a true-crime docu-series that tells the story of the Rancho Sequoia area of Alderpoint, California, also known as Murder Mountain from the 1980s Carson serial killings, and for present day disappearances and suspected murders. Me, being the curious true-crime-addicted weirdo that I am, google-mapped Alderpoint, and it is located ON THE SAME EXIT AS DEAN CREEK RESORT. I KNOW. Granted, it is located about 19 miles east of the resort, BUT STILL.

I will say though, it was located right off the 101 and on the south fork of the Eel River, and was absolutely BEAUTIFUL. It was also located only 5 miles south of the southern entrance to the Avenue of the Giants. The website now says that it is under new management, so the ~vibe~ might be a little better than when we stayed. If you’ve recently stayed at Dean Creek Resort and loved it, please let me know! I would really love to recommend it, as it was in the perfect location, but considering our experience, I’m not sure if I could do that right now.

Night 2: Elk River Campground

How did we end up there? Elk River Campground is located in Port Orford, Oregon, about two miles off of the 101. Like the night before, we soon found ourselves aimlessly driving the 101, searching for a campground with a free spot. Unlike the night before, however, there were plenty of campgrounds… just none with availability. We must have stopped at four different campgrounds before finally happening upon a sign for Elk River Campground. It was located about 2 miles off the highway, and with the luck that we had been having that day, we decided to call and see if there was availability before driving so far out of the way. Matt talked to the owner, and she said that they had a huge field that they allowed campers to set up camp on, and for only $10 per tent! We were immediately sold – we finally had somewhere to stay!

Would I stay there again? Absolutely. Elk River Campground was peaceful, quiet, and most importantly, cheap. They had lots of room for tents, free showers for campers, and deer that made their way through the campground. I’m not gonna lie, we had an interesting neighbor named Terry, who probably downed a handle of vodka to himself that night. When we first arrived, Terry was very welcoming; however, as the night wore on, I’m 95% sure that we heard him cussing out a tree, and I’m 99% sure that his girlfriend made him sleep outside that night. That being said, we left Elk River Campground with a good night’s sleep, a thankful bank account, and an appreciation for campgrounds without neighbors named Terry.

RV rates!

Nights 3 – 5: Portland Airbnb

How did we end up there? Okay, so remember how I said that I hadn’t planned anything except for a tentative schedule? Yeah, I just remembered that that isn’t exactly correct. I did plan three nights in advance – and that was three nights at an Airbnb in Portland! We grabbed this Airbnb about a week before heading out on our trip, so after two nights of frantic panicking when we couldn’t find a place to stay, we were SO GLAD that we had three nights actually scheduled!

Would I stay there again? Yes, definitely! Our Airbnb was located near NE 63rd Street and Fremont Street. It was a short drive to the Kennedy School and the Alberta high street area, and was surrounded by bus stops to get us all throughout the city. We spent a day driving down the Columbia River Gorge, and the location was perfect for hopping onto I-84. I would absolutely recommend our specific Airbnb, but it looks like our host has since stopped renting out his rooms. Although I haven’t stayed in any other Airbnbs in Portland, they were plentiful, and most are very cheap! We got ours for about $40 a night, and most of the others that I saw in the area were around the same price.

Night 6: Rocky Mountain Hi Campground

How did we end up there? Rocky Mountain Hi Campground is located 28 miles southwest of Glacier National Park, in Kalispell, Montana. Like all of the other campgrounds that we had stayed at on this roadtrip so far, Rocky Moutain Hi Campground was a godsend – we rolled up super late at night, with nowhere to stay, and in near panic. We had just finished an all-day drive from Portland and were desperate for somewhere to sleep. We had called earlier, and the front desk told us to find a spot in the overflow tent lot and pay in the morning. That night, as we arrived, we honestly had NO IDEA where the overflow tent lot was. We pitched our tent in a grass area, and had no trouble through the night, so we think we were in the right place? Regardless, we were super thankful to have found a spot, and it set us up perfectly for visiting Glacier National Park the next day.

Would I stay there again? Definitely!! We LOVED Rocky Mountain Hi Campground!! The campground was clean, welcoming, and had lots of amenities for overnight campers. They offered coin showers and laundry, and although we did not take them up on either, we appreciated the fact that it was there. It was a little on the expensive side ($27 for the night), but other than not knowing if we were in the correct spot or not, we felt extremely comfortable. It was located in a perfect spot to explore Glacier National Park and the surrounding area. Would highly recommend!

Nights 7 & 8: Apgar Campground

How did we end up there? We knew that we wanted to try for one of the many campgrounds in Glacier National Park while we explored the park. I had previously stayed at Apgar Campground the summer before, and had absolutely loved it. Its close proximity to Lake McDonald, West Glacier, and Whitefish proved to be very convenient, and it was the first campground that we encountered on our drive in from Kalispell. Now, if you have never tried getting a campsite in Glacier National Park in the summer, I have eight words for you: May the odds be ever in your favor. Glacier National Park has thirteen different campgrounds, only three of which can be reserved in advance. The rest, including the most popular campgrounds of Sprague Creek, Avalanche, and Two Medicine, are all first-come, first-serve. And boy, do they fill up fast. We arrived at Apgar around 9am, and were told that it was full. Now, I knew from the year before that just because it says full does not mean it is actually full. The trick is to troll around the campground, drive down every.single.loop, and see if you can spot anyone leaving. Fortunately for us, on our third loop, we spotted a couple leaving and were able to grab the campsite! The next trick is to leave one person at the campsite while the other pays for it down the road – while I was paying, about five campers stopped and asked Matt if he was packing up or just arriving!

Would I stay there again? Yes! Although Apgar Campground is located further from the Going-to-the-Sun Road or the east side of the park than, lets say, Avalanche or Sprague Creek, it is located at the base of Lake McDonald and next to Apgar Village. It is the first campground that you will hit on your way into the park from the west side, and because of this (and its size), will likely be your best chance of grabbing a site.

Night 9: Dispersed Camping at Sage Creek Trailhead

How did we end up there? We found this gem of a spot at 5:30 p.m. on a summer Saturday night. We had just driven all the way down from Glacier National Park, and we were exhausted.  A quick Google search had told me that there were “plenty” of campgrounds along the Gallatin River near Big Sky, but on account of it being a Saturday night in the summer, they were all completely full. Like the beginning of our trip, we began feeling pretty desperate, but felt like there was no other option but to continue on to Yellowstone.  We kept passing trailheads with the “National Forest” logo on it, and dispersed camping was in the back of my mind, but I was having trouble with my service going in and out to do any proper research. About 4(ish?) miles south of Big Sky, we saw about 4 RVs on the side of the road, tucked away behind some trees and bushes.  We flipped a quick U, and sure enough, they were all parked at the Sage Creek trailhead! There was one other tent-camper there, and we asked her if she knew whether dispersed camping was allowed at this trailhead. She confirmed and invited us to pitch our tent next to hers. Home was found!

Would I stay there again? Yes! The area was SUPER nice, and the trailhead even had a toilet! We were actually pretty spoiled for “dispersed” camping. Lots of established campsites, and lots of room to spread out. Some more tent campers arrived later on in the night, and we all had a fire in one of the established fire pits. Matt and I decided that it was probably one of our favorite nights camping during our entire trip. It was in the perfect spot to explore both Big Sky and Yellowstone. And best of all… it was FREE.

Night 10: Canyon Campground

How did we end up there? Like Glacier National Park, the vast majority of Yellowstone’s twelve campgrounds are first-come, first-serve. Now, we had been told by our camp neighbors the night before that finding a campsite in Yellowstone wasn’t too hard, and that the Mammoth Hot Springs Campground almost always had campsites. We took our time getting to Mammoth Hot Springs (newsflash: Yellowstone is HUGE), and by the time that we rolled up around 3pm, there was one car in front of us who snagged the LAST CAMPSITE. It was a grade A bummer. But, all part of the adventure! We decided to exit the park at the Gardiner exit and see if we could find any dispersed camping (since we had such good luck the night before!). Alas, no such luck was found, but we did happen upon spots at Canyon Campground, about 16 miles north of Gardiner.

Would I stay there again? Sure. If I had the opportunity of staying inside Yellowstone National Park, I would absolutely take it, BUT if all the spots were taken, Canyon Campground is a nice option. Located right on the Yellowstone River, Canyon Campground is small, quiet, and cheap. Sites were only $7 a night – music to our ears! The only drawback was that it was pretty far from Yellowstone. Although it was only 16 miles from the entrance, the Gardiner entrance is pretty far from most of the famous sights in Yellowstone. Just know that if you stay at Canyon Campground, you’ll have a relatively long drive to anywhere else in the park. Other than that, we really enjoyed it!

Night 11: Lizard Creek Campground

How did we get there? We happened upon Lizard Creek Campground after spending the day in Yellowstone National Park. We wanted the opportunity to explore Grand Teton National Park the next day and, ideally, wanted to stay somewhere between the two parks. Enter Lizard Creek Campground: the campsite mecca between Yellowstone and Grand Teton. As we were driving, we saw the sign for Lizard Creek and almost thought it was too good to be true. We turned into the campground not holding our breath for a spot, and lo and behold, we grabbed one of the last few spots!! It was perfect!! We honestly couldn’t believe our luck.

Would I stay there again? YES. I would highly HIGHLY recommend Lizard Creek to anyone visiting either Yellowstone or the Grand Tetons!! It was a super nice campground located right on Jackson Lake – we ended up swimming all afternoon! There were tons of spots, but it was still very quiet and clean. It set us up so perfectly for visiting Grand Teton the next day, as it was located right off of John D. Rockefeller Jr. Parkway. Spots were kind of expensive for dry camping ($29), but I honestly thought it was so worth it. I can’t wait to go back one day!

Night 12: Airbnb in Orem, Utah

How did we end up there? We ended up staying at this Airbnb in Orem, Utah on a total whim. Our original plan was to make it all the way down to Bryce Canyon National Park that night; however, after exploring Jackson Hole that day and seeing all of the clean, clean tourists, we both decided that we would like to have our first shower since Portland that night, and we were ready to make that happen at all costs. Fortunately for us, Utah is full of cheap Airbnbs, and we were able to snag a room that night for only $25!

Their cutie little front garden!

Would I stay there again? Definitely!! Melissa, the host, was very sweet and welcoming. The private room was comfortable, clean, and large! Melissa and her family were doing a little bit of construction on their home, and I’m sure it looks amazing now. It was close to I-15, close to UVU and BYU, and, most importantly, close to Thai Evergreen, which had the best orange chicken and Pad See Ew that we had ever had. I would highly recommend staying the night at Melissa’s Airbnb!

Nights 13 & 14 Dispersed Camping Outside of Bryce Canyon National Park

How did we get there? After our luck with dispersed camping outside of Yellowstone a few nights prior, we were very interested in checking out some more (free) dispersed sites for the rest of our trip! A google search during our time at our Airbnb the night before told me that there were a ton of spots right outside of Bryce Canyon National Park. Upon arriving at Bryce Canyon, we decided to see if we could get a spot before entering the park, and find a spot we did. The turnout for the dispersed camping is literally right in front of the national park sign, and there were so many different spots!! We grabbed the first one we saw, pitched our tent, and were off for the rest of the day!

Would I stay there again? Absolutely. Honestly, if you can handle no bathrooms/water, I would recommend staying here over the campgrounds in the park. It was located literally RIGHT NEXT to the entrance – you couldn’t get any closer even if you wanted to. Being able to camp for free was much more important to us at this point than any amenities that a campground could provide. Even though our site was right next to the dirt road, it was super quiet and we were left alone the entire time (other than a deer and her two babies!). Our second day at Bryce Canyon was spent pretty much at the campsite all day – we were so exhausted from traveling! We hung up the hammock and spent the day reading and drinking beers… it was the perfect place to rest up before our last leg of the trip.

Nights 15 & 16: Dispersed Camping Outside of Grand Canyon National Park

How did we get there? So, I knew going into this road trip that we would likely find some bomb ass dispersed camping spots outside of the Grand Canyon. I went to college in Northern Arizona (go Lumberjacks!), and we often would drive down forest service roads to find established free spots when the weather allowed. That day, I found a forest service road online as we grabbed lunch in Tusayan, and that night, we drove down the bumpy dirt road (in the rain!) until we found a spot. There were HUNDREDS of spots, and much to my surprise, they were almost all labeled! We were essentially in a free, ridiculously spread-out campground! We pitched our tent for the next two days and had a great time! The next night, as we laid in our tent on the last night of our summer adventure, we were treated to the sounds of a distant mid-summer Arizona thunderstorm and a pack of coyotes howling in the wind. It was honestly a night that I will never ever forget, and a great end to our road trip.

Would I stay there again? YES. Like Bryce Canyon, if you can deal without bathrooms or water, I would recommend dispersed camping over campgrounds near the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Each site was super spread out and we rarely saw anybody else. The only visitors we had were migrating cows and a few quick deer. It was a quick 10-minute drive to the south rim, and an even quicker drive to Tusayan. Next time you go to the Grand Canyon, save your money for an extra souvenir, and go dispersed!


WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY

It is kind of funny to think whether I would do anything differently if we had the chance… because we had such an amazing adventure! But alas, yes, there are just a few things that I would change if I were to go on the same 17-day road trip:

  • Research just a teensy bit more – I know, I know, the whole point of the trip was to NOT research. But little bit of research would have gone a long way, especially once we realized how much our wallets loved dispersed camping. I think I would have researched the dispersed camping rules in all of the places that we went to – but especially Northern California and Oregon. When I asked Matt whether he would have done anything differently, he agreed that a little research would have been nice, as there were a few nights when we thought, “Oh, shit, where are we going to stay??” before finding our spot.
  • Bring a bigger car – We took this road trip in my sexy Chevy Cruze. Although I LOVE my car, a bigger car (one that we could have slept in!) would have been very nice to have. Northern California and Oregon had tons of rest stops, and each allowed sleeping in your car for up to 8 hours. It would have saved us a few headaches and campground fees had we been able to pull into a rest stop and sleep in the back of a truck or van.

Honestly, those two are really the only things that I would change if given the chance! The opportunity to pick where you are headed that morning gives me such a strong feeling of freedom, and I really love it! We had such a great time, and I think about our trip all of the time.

If you have any questions about our trip or any of these campgrounds, please let me know! Happy trails!

A Weekend in Boulder City, Nevada

It might be hard to imagine Southern Nevada as anything but neon signs and blackjack tables, but in reality, it is an outdoor-lover’s mecca. In May 2019, Matt and I got the opportunity to spend a weekend in Boulder City, Nevada, and of course, we couldn’t say no!

It all started a few months ago, when I was mindlessly perusing Instagram and came across an amazing giveaway from Travel Nevada. Now, ya girl very rarely passes up an opportunity to enter a giveaway, and this one was no exception! The giveaway included a two-night stay at a Boulder City hotel, a zipline tour, a rail-bike tour, two gift cards to local restaurants and a bunch of Southern Nevada/Boulder City gear! Obviously, I had to enter.

A week later, I received a surprising DM – I had won the trip!! “Excited” was an understatement. We quickly scheduled our trip for early May – the perfect time to visit Boulder City!


QUICK STATS:

LOCATION: Southern Nevada, about 20 miles southeast of the Las Vegas Strip

SIZE: 208 square miles

POPULATION: 16,000

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Like most desert cities, the average temperature in Boulder City varies drastically. In the summer, the average temperature stay well over 100 degrees; however, in the winter, the temperature usually sits around 40 – 60 degrees. The best time to visit Boulder City really depends on what you want to do – if you are trying to spend all day on the lake, you’ll want to visit in the summer (obvi); however, if you are trying enjoy the city and the (non-aquatic) sights, you’ll likely want to visit when it is a little cooler out – spring and fall would be perfect!!

GETTING THERE: Unless you are driving in from Arizona, you’ll likely have to drive through Las Vegas to get to Boulder City. Even driving in from Los Angeles, we drove through Los Angeles instead of driving through Searchlight on US-95. (PRO TIP: If you are coming from Los Angeles, take US-95 through Searchlight on the way home – it’ll let you avoid the inevitable traffic going into Primm when I-15 goes from 3 to 2 lanes! It shaved off a good hour from our drive!). If you aren’t in a place to drive to Boulder City, the closest commercial airport is McCarren International Airport in Las Vegas, about 20 miles away.


DAY 1: ARRIVAL

Our trip began on Friday night after we both got off work. Although you could easily fly into Las Vegas and drive to Boulder City, we decided to save a little bit of money and drove from Los Angeles. As expected, we hit quite a bit of weekend traffic driving to Las Vegas, and didn’t arrive at our hotel until after midnight.

Hoover Dam Lodge

Our hotel for the weekend was the Hoover Dam Lodge! The Hoover Dam Lodge is actually located a few miles outside of Boulder City, along US-93 on the way to Hoover Dam. Surrounded by red rocks and lake views, the Hoover Dam Lodge had the perfect location to take advantage of all of the activities that the area had to offer. Only four miles from Hoover Dam, 3.5 miles from Lake Mead Marina, and 4.5 miles from the “downtown” area in Boulder City, you really can’t go wrong by staying here.

Not only did I love the location, but I really loved the hotel itself! The Hoover Dam Lodge takes a lot of pride in the history of Boulder City and the construction of the Hoover Dam. They had a ton of different exhibits, photographs, and sculptures depicting that history, and as a complete history buff myself, it was such an awesome touch!

Fun fact: gambling is actually prohibited in the city limits of Boulder City, making Boulder City one of only two locations in Nevada that does not allow gambling! Fortunately for any gamblers out there, the Hoover Dam Lodge does not reside inside of the city limits, so the first floor of the hotel is a casino. I was a little bummed that they only had video gaming machines (rather than live tables), but that didn’t stop us from blowing through a few bills when we arrive on Friday night!

The rooms were big, and from what I could tell, every room had a pretty great view of the surrounding area. Other amenities at the hotel include multiple restaurants, a gym, a pool and spa, an arcade, and plentiful boat parking! Most important of all though, is that there is a trailhead on the northeast side of the hotel’s parking lot to the Historic Railroad Tunnel trail (discussed below)! We used the trailhead on Sunday morning to get down to the tunnels, and the connector trail was in really great condition.


DAY 2: BOATING ON LAKE MOHAVE AND EXPLORING BOULDER CITY

Lake Mohave

On Saturday, we woke up bright and early to go boating on Lake Mohave! Lake Mohave is a reservoir on the Colorado River, located about an hour south of Boulder City. Although much smaller than Lake Mead, Lake Mohave boasts an impressive 237 miles of shoreline. With terrain ranging from sheer cliffs to sandy beaches, Lake Mohave has no shortage of secluded places to explore!

There are two full-service resorts on Lake Mohave: Katherine Landing in Arizona and Cottonwood Cove in Nevada. Both resorts offer lodging, RV parks, campgrounds, restaurants, and marinas. Fortunately for us, my sister and her husband live in Las Vegas and have a pretty sweet speedboat, so they met us out there with their boat! If you do not have a boat, both Cottonwood Cove and Katherine Landing offer boat rentals.

Not only was the lake perfect for high-speed boating, but it had HUNDREDS of different little coves to explore. We ended up exploring this cove that had the greenest water I’ve ever seen! Because we were there in early May, the temperature of Lake Mohave was still kind of chilly, but since the cove was much more shallow than the lake, the water in the cove was the perfect temperature for swimming. Although it was shallower in the cove, it was still pretty deep, and the vertical walls would have been perfect for cliff-jumping – we just couldn’t find a way up. From the cove, we also spotted a herd of bighorn sheep up on the sheer cliffs!

Boulder Dam Brewing Co.

After a long day at the lake, we were starved! We decided to head up to the “downtown” area of Boulder City to explore a little bit. We obviously couldn’t pass up stopping at Boulder Dam Brewing Co. for dinner… and it was only icing on the cake that we had a gift certificate for the brewery from the giveaway!

Not only did Boulder Dam Brewing Co. have an impressive beer list, but they had a full menu as well. We both had burgers – bleu cheese for me – and it was absolutely delicious! Matt decided to get a pint of the High Scaler Pilsner, while I elected to get a beer flight. It was a great way to taste all of the Boulder Dam brews!

Boulder Dam Brewing Co. had an awesome outdoor patio, and in early May, the weather was perfect. Warm enough to sit outside all night, which ended up being completely ideal, because they had live music! The brewery often has live music and events – check out their website for the full schedule.

Boulder City at Night

After our dinner at Boulder City Brewing Co., we decided to take a quick walk around town. Like the Hoover Dam Lodge, the city of Boulder City takes a lot of pride in their history. Boulder City was actually created for the sole purpose of housing 5,000 of the men who built the Hoover Dam in the 1920s and 30s, and the city very much reflects that.

I didn’t want to talk much about Vegas in this post, but it really was fascinating to see how quiet and quaint Boulder City was, especially considering that Las Vegas is only about 20 minutes to the west. If you are ever in the Las Vegas area, I highly suggest that you take a quick trip to Boulder City – even if just for the day. It truly is a breath of fresh air.

Although Boulder City ultimately radiates dam history, it also has a funky, extraterrestrial side to it. The Flying Saucer, one of the most prominent storefronts in Boulder City, is dedicated to to aliens and UFOs, and is owned by a family of ghost hunters and psychic mediums! Other souvenir stores boast selling extraterrestrial merchandise and dead cows… but most of all, I hear they have “alien beer” and “alien tequila.” If any of y’all try some, be sure to report back!


DAY 3: HIKING, ZIP-LINING, AND VISITING THE HOOVER DAM

Hiking the Historic Railroad Trail

As I mentioned above, there is a trailhead to the Historic Railroad Trail straight from the parking lot of the Hoover Dam Lodge! But, if you aren’t staying at the hotel, the trail starts from the Lake Mead Visitor Center.

This flat and easy trail travels through five old railroad tunnels, originally used from the 1930s to the 1960s. From the Hoover Dam Lodge, it is about a half of a mile to the first tunnel; if you are starting from the Visitor’s Center, you’ll have about a mile before you hit it.

The trail is flat, level, and smooth. We saw other hikers, runners, and even bicyclists on the trail! The tunnels are super unique, in that all five tunnels are exactly 300 feet in length and 25 feet in diameter. The tunnels were originally created to transport equipment to the Hoover Dam. Quite some time after the dam was completed, the railroad tracks were removed, and the old track was turned into a hiking trail!

Not only does the trail highlight the old railroad path, but it also offers panoramic views of Lake Mead! Created by the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead is 112 miles long, has a depth of 532 feet at its deepest point, and has a capacity of 26.12 MILLION acre feet of water. The Lake Mead Marina offers boat rentals, scenic boat tours to the dam, and one of the hungriest catfish populations in the world (probably). I couldn’t even count how many lake days I’ve spent at Lake Mead in my day – to see it from above on the Historic Railroad Trail was such a treat!

Ziplining with Flightlinez Bootleg Canyon

The next adventure of the day was a zipline tour with Flightlinez Bootleg Canyon. The tour starts with an indoor safety and instruction class, where you will also get fitted with your harness. After everyone is fitted and understands how to work the ziplines, you will all pile onto the bus to take you to the top of Red Mountain. Our group had thirteen zipliners and 6 guides.

The drive up to Red Mountain is a bumpy, (slightly) hair-raising, 20-minute ride up a windy, single-lane, dirt road through Bootleg Canyon. And it is awesome. The tour guides keep you entertained for the whole ride, spouting off different facts (and jokes!) about the area. Aside from being the #1 area in Boulder City to go zip-lining, Bootleg Canyon is also a world-renowned mountain bike park! It was SO COOL to watch the mountain bikers zip across the trails!

Once you get to the top of Red Mountain, everyone piles off the bus and begins a short hike to the first platform. The views up here are BEAUTIFUL. Not only can you see Boulder City, but you are also treated to views of Lake Mead, Las Vegas, and the surrounding mountains. I could have stayed up there all day!

Unfortunately for us, once we got off the bus, the guides became a little nervous as to how windy it was. We began the short hike, however, within a few minutes, they had us all stop and wait for a guide to go take measurements of the wind at the platform to see if we could fly. While we were waiting, Matt and I started chatting up one of the guides who had stayed down, and he mentioned that if it was too windy, you’ll either get stuck on the ziplines due to a headwind, or you won’t be able to break because of a tailwind. The ziplines are designed for you to fly at speeds up to 60 mph, and if you add a 40 mph tailwind… well, you get the picture.

Las Vegas in the distance

Within a few minutes, the guide taking the wind measurements reappeared and had to break the bad news… Winds at the top platform were exceeding 45 mph. We could not fly. Before we started heading back to the bus, he asked two other guides to accompany him to help out the tour that had started an hour before us… apparently that tour was experiencing crazy headwinds, and every single person who “flew” needed rescuing from the middle of the zipline, as no one could make it down to the platform on their own. Although I was bummed that we couldn’t take our tour, getting stuck on every zipline didn’t exactly sound like a blast, so I didn’t mind that the tour was canceled. Upon arriving back at the storefront, everyone was given the option of a refund or a raincheck. We decided on a raincheck!

If you decide to go ziplining with Flightlinez Bootleg Canyon on your next trip to Boulder City, just be flexible. One of the guides mentioned to us that they had lost 25% of their business last year due to winds – the desert gets windy!

Visiting the Hoover Dam

What trip to Boulder City would be complete without a trip to the Hoover Dam? Considering the fact that Boulder City was created for the sole purpose of housing many of the Hoover Dam workers, we had to make a quick trip to gawk in her grandeur.

Finished in 1936, the Hoover Dam is the highest concrete dam in the Western Hemisphere. It stands 725 feet above the Colorado River on one side, and is strong enough to hold up to 26.12 million acre feet of water on the other.

In 2010, another grand architectural feat was completed – the Mike O’ Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. Connecting Nevada to Arizona (and letting travelers on US-93 avoid the traffic on the dam), it stands over 900 feet over the Colorado River!! Visitors can park and walk over the entire bridge – while we didn’t walk across the bridge this time, we have done it in the past, and it truly is a spectacular view.

If you visit the Hoover Dam on your next trip to Boulder City, I would highly recommend parking on the Arizona side and walking over the dam to the visitor center and restaurant, in order to avoid the $10 parking fee! This walk also lets you check out the emergency spillways! Last used in 1983, the emergency spillways surely are a sight to see – they just look like GAPING, building-sized holes in the surrounding rock. It is incredible that they allow water to travel all the way down to the Colorado River below!

We didn’t have a lot of time to spend at the dam, but if you have a bit more time, consider taking a tour! The one-hour Hoover Dam tour takes you down into the powerplant and passageways, and (as of the date of this blog) is only $30 per person!


NEXT TIME

Even before we began our trip, we knew that we were going to come back in the fall. One of the gift certificates that we won was for a Rail-bike Tour with Rail Explorers Las Vegas, and unfortunately, those tours don’t run during the summer. And now, we have another reason to visit in the fall – to retake our zipline tour! We can’t wait!

We had SUCH an amazing trip to Boulder City. A HUGE thank you to Travel Nevada for getting us out there and encouraging us to explore Southern Nevada. We really can’t wait for our next trip next fall!

If you have any questions about anything that I did on my trip to Boulder City, please feel free to leave a comment below or email me at meghikes1@gmail.com. And if you visit BC (as the locals call it), let me know how your trip went!

Happy Trails!