A Study in Hiking Shoes

A few weeks ago, my sweet friend, Claire, texted me asking what kind of hiking shoes I would recommend. I held back sending her a full dissertation, but rather sent her links to my two favorite shoes and provided the reasons why I wear each of them. Now, I’m pretty obsessed with both pairs, so I figured I would put together a little hybrid gear review/opinion piece on why I choose to wear the two different shoes for different adventures!


The Boot: La Sportiva FC ECO 3.2 GTX Hiking Boot

I first purchased my La Sportiva FC ECO 3.2 GTX hiking boots (how’s that for a mouthful?) in May 2015, weeks before my 17-day trek on the John Muir Trail. I went on one (1) overnight trip and a handful of day hikes to break them in… In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have purchased new boots so close to such a long trek, but it ended up working out totally fine and the boots were great from day 1! (Although, I did work through some pretty annoying blister problems, but I wholeheartedly attribute that to the socks).

My boots have since traveled to and hiked through California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, and Canada. They supported me over my 221-mile JMT hike, got absolutely caked in mud during a wet backpacking trip in the PNW, and acted as pseudo-snow boots in Denver when we got snowed out of our trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. These babies have supported me on hundreds of trails (and probably close to a thousand miles!), and I’ve honestly never owned a better hiking boot.

That being said, La Sportiva has since stopped making this specific boot (womp womp). They have, however, released a few similar pairs that also get rave reviews! The most similar pair that I could find is the La Sportiva FC 4.1 GTX hiking boots, which is similar in looks, weight, and price tag. These bad boys are on sale at REI though, so I would take that as a hint that they might be discontinued soon as well. If you want to jump on them, jump soon (and for half off? Can’t beat it!!). Other similar La Sportiva hiking boots include the La Sportiva Pyramid GTX hiking boot and the La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX hiking boot (this one looks especially cool!! A hiking boot/trail runner hybrid of sorts).

Now, I’m obsessed with my hiking boots for a number of reasons, but the number one reason is because how comfortable they are. I don’t necessarily have abnorally thin feet, but they definitely aren’t wide, and the thin body of the La Sportiva boots give me support like I’ve never had before in a hiking boot. Most hiking boots feel extremely clunky to me, but these just feel like normal running shoes. They are super lightweight and waterproof, and are surprisingly breathable for a hiking boot! Although you can’t get my specific boot anymore, I’d be extremely surprised if all of the La Sportiva boots weren’t made relatively the same.

Despite being absolutely obsessed with my boots, I don’t wear them on every hike. I primarily wear them on backpacking trips, extremely long dayhikes (think 10+ miles), and hikes where I know my feet might get wet or cold. Even though I just told you all how lightweight they are, they aren’t as lightweight as a trail runner, and on shorter hikes where I’m not carrying a lot of weight on my back, trail runners are much more comfortable. Which brings me to…


The Trail Runner: Salomon X-Mission 3 Trail-Running Shoes

Similar to my hiking boots, I bought my running shoes on a whim, entirely too close to a big event that I was participating in. This time, however, I was participating in the Florida Keys Ragnar Relay, in which I was to run roughly 17 miles, in three legs, over the course of 24 hours. My longest leg topped out just above 10 miles, and during my training, I was experiencing killer knee pain. After speaking to a friend’s grandfather, who had been a high school track coach for 40 years, I realized that my old running shoes had over 700 miles on them, and the support had likely started to dissipate, which might have been causing my knee pain. About three days before I was to fly to Florida for my race, I decided to buy a new pair of running shoes. This proved to be especially difficult, as I was living in Mammoth Lakes during ski season, and the three stores that sold running shoes had a very limited selection (again, it was ski season). I was basically forced to pick the only pair that fit me, and ended up with the Salomon X-Mission 3 Trail-Running Shoes!

Despite choosing to run 17 miles in brand new running shoes, I experienced no problems at all! In fact, much like my hiking boots, these trail runners offered me much more support that I had ever had in a running shoe! I’m not sure if it is because they are technically trail-running shoes, but something about them seemed a bit different than the Nikes that I had always bought before. I ran those shoes into the ground, and when I needed a new pair two years later, I bought the exact same shoe!

These shoes have accompanied me on day hikes, half marathons, and short runs – most recently on the Cherry Blossom 10-mile race in Washington D.C.! They are also extremely lightweight and comfortable, and they dry almost instantaneously if they get wet. They are basically made out of mesh, so my feet never get too hot while hiking or running in them. They also have the quicklace system, so you never have to tie your shoes and can lace up in about .6 seconds (not that I’ve ever needed to lace my shoes in .6 seconds, but it’s a cool feature). The Salomon website really says it all – “The Salomon X-Mission 3 trail-running shoes are ideal for intrepid runners who demand a versatile shoe that can handle everything from pavement to gravel to pine-needle-strewn singletrack.” These babies handle themselves extremely well, no matter if they are on pavement or a trail. When my current pair need replacing, I’ll probably just buy the exact same shoes for a third time.

It is also important to note that some hikers (thru-hikers in particular) decide to wear trail runners on backpacking trips as well. All five most common shoes worn on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018 were trail runners. While this obviously works for a lot of hikers, I haven’t tried out trail runners on a backpacking trip yet. I really like the support that my hiking boots give me, especially in the ankles. That being said, I’m definitely open to the idea of using them on backpacking trips, especially as I slowly transition to ultralite gear!


Have any questions as to why I like my hiking shoes/why I chose to utilize them for different adventures? Leave a comment below or email me at meghikes1@gmail.com! Happy Trails!!

Gear Review: Bear Feet Co. Hiking Socks

Let me paint you a picture:  I’m two weeks out from my 17-day trek on the John Muir Trail.  I’m backpacking to Iva Bell Hot Springs, primarily to test out the gear that I’ll be using on the JMT.  About two miles in, I start to feel a hot spot on each of my outer heels.   I do my best to ignore it and keep hiking.  Finally, after 12 miles of hiking, we arrive at the hot springs and I am BEAT.  Over the last few miles, my speed has averaged about 1 mile per hour.

Upon arriving to camp, I immediately tore off my hiking boots… and there they were.  Two two-inch by one-inch blisters spanning the length of my outer foot.  I’ll spare you all the gory details, but just know this: the next two days were absolute hell for me.  We had planned on staying at Iva Bell for a full day and exploring the area, but with the 12 miles back ahead of us and my decreasing ability to even walk, we decided to split the days into two and head home the very next day.  By the time that we got back to the car two days later, I was in more pain than I have ever been in my life.  I was reduced to tears so many times over those two days – if I couldn’t hike 12 miles without getting atrocious blisters, how in the hell was I going to hike 211 miles over the course of two-and-a-half weeks??

The next two weeks were spent researching every avenue that I could possibly use to avoid blisters during my JMT hike.  Eventually, it was decided.  I was going to wear sock liners underneath my hiking socks, and stop multiple times a day to cool down in creeks and rivers.  It ended up working – I was able to avoid crippling blisters – but let me tell you, those extra steps were a pain in the ass, and I was still rocking a few small blisters here and there.

IMG_1252
Me, about 2 miles in on the JMT, probably already whimpering about said hot spots

So, you are probably wondering, why are you telling me about your gross blisters and overwhelming feelings of defeat before you even started the JMT? Well, moral of the story: I honestly thought that I just had horrible luck with blisters, and it would be something that I would always have to deal with on backpacking trips. Yes, I understand that there are far worse problems to have in life, but for someone whose passion in life is hiking and backpacking, it was a shitty problem to have.

Fast forward four years and I had basically given up on finding a good hiking sock.  I’m really not trying to be dramatic, but I honestly just came to terms with the idea that I walked weirdly and it was just an inevitable part of hiking for me.  It was then that I stumbled upon Bear Feet Co…

After checking out their instagram and website, I decided to order a pair on a whim (honestly just because they were super cute – I had no expectations that they were going to cure my blister problems).  A few weeks after getting my first pair, I went on a late season backpacking trip to Big Pine Lakes in the Eastern Sierra.  By the time we got to camp, almost five miles and 2000 feet later, I had ZERO blisters. ZERO. ZE. RO.  It was truly a miracle.

img_6426

I had a brief moment of doubt that it was just too good to be true, but after scrambling all night up at Big Pine Lakes and hiking down the next day, my feet were still as comfortable and blister-free as could be! In addition, it dipped down to below freezing that night with winds up to 30-40 mph.  My feet stayed warm and toasty, even when I was outside the tent during dinner.  I was so excited that I literally got home and ordered their wool sock bundle that night!

During the last weekend of January, I really put my Bear Feet Co. socks to the test and took them snowshoeing.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think to bring gaiters, and my shoes were soaked by the end of the day (think walking in puddles for the last 4 miles of our hike).  I expected the worst when I got to the car and changed into dry shoes, but even though they were soaked, not a single blister was to be had on either of my feet!  I was legit in shock.  How many socks do you know that don’t rub blisters when they become wet? Huh?

img_7474

Anyway, enough blister talk.  Aside from being scientifically-proven not to rub blisters, they are also super soft, padded on the bottom of the sock, and have a reinforced toe and heel! The wool insulates the foot to keep it warm during cold temperatures and cool when it is hot outside.  Perfect sock conditions for any pleasurable hike.  Bonus: each purchase comes with a cutie free sticker!

img_7532

Not only do Bear Feet Co. make hiking socks, but they recently started selling ski socks as well!  Of course, I had to try out a pair, and as soon as I got home from my ski trip, I ordered two more!  Now, I’m going to be honest here… there is one (1) thing I look for in a ski sock: the ability to peel my ski boots over said ski sock in less than 10 seconds.  Well, lo and behold, I got my boots on in less than FIVE, which, to me, is the ultimate PR of getting ski boots on.  The fact that they also didn’t make my calves feel like they were suffocating was just icing on the cake at that point.  I was sold before I even started skiing.

 

If you are interested in trying out a pair of Bear Feet Co. socks for yourself, head over to their website.  They are priced extremely well for such a durable and dependable sock.  As a thank you for checking out this gear review, use my code MEGHIKES for an additional 20% off of your order!*

*Disclaimer: Although I’ve recently partnered up with Bear Feet Co. and am able to give you guys a discount, it in NO WAY affects my review of this product.  My opinion now is the exact same as it was after my first time using these socks.  I literally bought five pairs of these socks (at full price! *gasp*!) before becoming an Ambassador to Bear Feet Co.  In writing this gear review and offering you 20% off, it is my hope that you’ll love these socks just as much as I do!

If you have any questions about Bear Feet Co. hiking socks (or if you purchase a pair and love them!), let me know in the comments below or by emailing me at meghikes1@gmail.com!

A Rainy Weekend in Yosemite National Park

aka The Trip That Didn’t Want to Happen

You know those trips that the universe just doesn’t want to happen? Where literally everything seems to go wrong up until the moment that your trip starts? Yeah, this was one of those trips.

I began planning a surprise weekend trip to Yosemite for my boyfriend about three months out. We were going to drive up from Los Angeles on Friday after work, stay in Oakhurst that night, and then stay in a heated canvas tent in Half Dome Village on the Saturday night. I was beyond excited.

Enter scene: first setback. About four weeks before our trip, an insane winter storm descended upon the valley, dropping three feet of snow, causing hundreds of trees to fall, and destroying most of the canvas tents. The storm ended up displacing about 150 park employees, so I waited about a week for Yosemite to deal with the more pressing issues before calling about my reservation. The reservation specialist said that he hadn’t heard when Half Dome Village was supposed to open, but my reservation had not been canceled yet. I had no idea just how bad the destruction actually was, so I thought, great! We’d still be able to stay in the tents! Yeah… no.

About two weeks out, I received a call about my reservation. It had been canceled – Half Dome Village was not opening any time soon. Major bummer. I frantically made reservations at a hotel about 12 miles outside of the valley (which ended up being amazing! see below), and I thought that was the end of our troubles.

Enter scene: second setback. Now, I get it. This one is partially my fault. Anyone who plans a trip to the Sierras for the first week in March has to understand that the weather in the mountains is unpredictable. So, when I started seeing signs of rain on the weather forecast during the week before, I can’t say I was surprised, but I was a little bummed. I checked back every day to see if the weather had changed, and it definitely had, but not in the way that I was expecting. By the time we left Los Angeles, the valley was expecting drenching rain all weekend and had issued a severe winter storm watch. Alrighty then. We made sure to pack lots of waterproof clothes…

Enter scene: third setback. Yeah, those waterproof clothes that I packed? Did not come in handy. Not because we didn’t get drenching rain all weekend (we did), but because upon arrival in Oakhurst, I popped my trunk to realize that I FORGOT MY ENTIRE SUITCASE AT HOME. Five hours away. Sitting on my bed. After the initial shock of “how the hell did that happen” wore off, I couldn’t help but laugh. This trip absolutely refused to happen… and I absolutely refused to let it refuse to happen!!

Enter scene: Yosemite magic. They say bad things happen in threes, right? Well after the third setback happened, it was smooth sailing from there. Fortunately, the rain kept the crowds at bay, and we got to experience an empty park.. which is pretty unheard of. Our back-up hotel ended up being absolutely amazing. And I got some pretty sweet new clothes from the clearance rack at Big 5 (aka the only store in Oakhurst that sells clothing). All in all, we couldn’t have asked for a better weekend in Yosemite.


Tunnel View

Since we drove in from Los Angeles, we took Highway 140 from Fresno into the valley. No trip to Yosemite, especially those starting from Highway 140, is completely without stopping at the famous Tunnel View: your first glimpse of the valley floor. When we first arrived at Tunnel View, the valley was shrouded in clouds. You could barely make out the outlines of El Cap and Bridalveil Fall. But within minutes, in pure Yosemite-magic fashion, the clouds slowly melted away and the valley came into view!

El Cap and Bridalveil Fall looked absolutely stunning in front of a dark, cloudy backdrop. The rain made all of the waterfalls cascading into the valley completely swollen, and new “mini-waterfalls” were spouting off of the granite walls as far as the eye could see. The valley was experiencing a bit of cloud inversion, in which clouds form below the tops of the granite walls, which made it all the more mysterious and spooky.


Bridalveil Fall

The first turn-off on Highway 140 after Tunnel View is the trail to the base of Bridalveil Fall. Although the hike in is only a quarter of a mile each way, the ice and steep grade made it a little tough! We were slipping and sliding all over the place. In the summer months, the trail to the base of the waterfall is paved, but still tends to be slippery – the mist coming off of Bridalveil Fall can sometimes fly a quarter of a mile away! Despite this, however, the trail is very easy, which makes it one of the more popular trails in Yosemite. We hung around the viewing platform for a few minutes before getting out of the spray and making the short trek back. Although the “hike” to Bridalveil Fall is short, it is beyond sweet, and offers a big reward for not much effort. A must-see!


Half Dome Village

We decided to take a drive to Half Dome Village to see if we could peep the tents that we were originally supposed to stay at. Considering Half Dome Village was closed due to destruction, we were surprised to see that the road was still open to the public. There were a bunch of signs telling people not to approach any of the buildings… and for good reason! While some of the tents were still standing, the majority had been crushed by falling trees and debris. It was a pretty crazy sight to see! I have no idea whether Yosemite has a projected opening date for Half Dome Village, but considering the damage that we saw, I have a feeling that it isn’t going to be open for a while. Definitely a bummer, but just a part of developing in the mountains!


Lunch at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel Dining Room

By far, the highlight of our trip was having lunch at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel Dining Room. We actually kind of happened upon the Dining Room by mistake… The only food options in the valley that I know of were in Half Dome Village which, if you remember, had been partially destroyed in a snowstorm about a month ago. We were visiting the Village Store when we happened upon a digital map (for lack of better term) and tried looking for places to grab a drink and some lunch. On the digital map, we could see that there was the Mountain Room Restaurant and Mountain Room Lounge somewhere in the park, which sounded right up our alley. Every time that we clicked on the map to see where they were located, however, it kept on showing us our location at the store, so we figured the map was broken or they were located outside of the valley. In retrospect, we found the Mountain Room Restaurant and Lounge the next day at the Yosemite Valley Lodge the next day, about a quarter of a mile from where the map was, so I’m thinking that it was actually showing where it was, but we didn’t realize it was so close. Oops.

Anyway, the only other dining option that we were seeing was the Lounge and Dining Room at the Yosemite Grand Lodge (previously the Ahwahnee Hotel), so we decided to head there! When we got there, we originally put our name in for the Lounge, but it really only had bar food, so we decided to put our name in at the Dining Room. We ended up having to wait for about 30 minutes, so we grabbed a drink from the Lounge and waited in the Great Lodge next to the fireplace for our names to be called!

Soon enough, our names were called, and we entered the Dining Room. Both of our breaths were instantly taken away… the Dining Room is absolutely BEAUTIFUL.

Built in 1927, the Majestic Yosemite Hotel Dining Room boasts 30-foot tall ceilings, beautiful stonework, and floor-to-ceiling windows. The hotel was declared a historical landmark in 1987, and for good reason.

As we walked towards the tables, I noticed a table for two right next to one of the floor-to-ceiling windows. I thought for sure that they weren’t going to seat us there, but lo and behold, we got the window seat! As soon as they sat us down, we immediately looked at each other with such excitement… I swear, we felt like we were two kids at Disneyland for the first time!

Our lunch view!

For lunch, I had the pulled pork sandwich and Matt had a burger. They were both extremely delicious! Since we were celebrating his birthday, we indulged in the apple cheesecake… my LORD. So good. 10/10 recommend. The food prices were surprisingly moderate, considering how fancy the dining room felt! I’m sure in the summertime, you’ll need to make a reservation to grab a table, but we were able to put our name in and get seated within about a half an hour. We ended up being the last two people in the Dining Room… we wanted to stay forever! The Dining Room is an absolute must-see if you are heading to Yosemite!

Bonus… If you are a fan of Santa Ynez/Santa Rita Hills wines, they have a FABULOUS by-the-glass wine list. Andrew Murray syrah and Zaca Mesa cuvee? Okayyy then.


Lower Yosemite Falls

After lunch, we decided to hike the 1-mile loop trail to the bottom of Lower Yosemite Falls. Yosemite Falls, with a total drop of 2,425 feet, is the largest waterfall in the United States. Although you can only see Lower Yosemite Falls from viewing platform, the trail itself gives you plentiful views of both the upper and lower falls together, where you can take in just how large the entire drop is! In the summer, the trail is a flat, paved walkway that winds through the forest, traversing over Yosemite Creek by footbridge. In the winter, however, the trail is almost completely covered in snow.

The trail to Lower Yosemite Falls is one of the most popular trails in the valley, so despite all of the snow, it was still very easy to navigate. Because we were dealing with both snow and rain, the trail was extremely slippery, which made out hike pretty slow-going! Be sure to take it carefully if you hike to the falls in the winter.

We did the loop counter-clockwise. For the first half mile, the trail winds through the old-growth upper montane forest, giving you beautiful views of the surrounding ponderosa pines, live oak, and incense cedars. It isn’t long before you begin skirting the granite walls of the valley and, with a careful eye, are able to spot climbing bolts making their way up the granite. Soon enough, you’ll arrive at the Lower Yosemite Falls viewing platform, where you can truly take in the grandeur of the 320-foot drop.

Once you are at the viewing platform, be sure to turn around as well! The view of Yosemite Creek and the granite walls rising from the opposite side of the valley is just as beautiful as the falls themselves.

If you choose to leave the viewing platform and scramble across the boulders for a better view, just make sure to be careful! The mist coming off the falls is no joke, and the boulders tend to be extremely slippery year round.


Yosemite View Lodge

Due to our original Half Dome Village reservation being canceled about a month out from our trip, we needed to find a new place to stay – and fast. I desperately wanted to stay in the valley, but the prices at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel were just too expensive, and the Yosemite Valley Lodge was full. I did a quick Google search for the closest next option and happened upon the Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal, 12 miles west of the valley floor.

Now, if I’m being completely honest, I wasn’t expecting much. The price was too good for me not to expect that there was some catch involved. But lo and behold, as soon as we arrived, it blew our expectations out of the water!! We had a room right on the raging Merced River, a large patio with a table and chairs, a full kitchenette (complete with a two-burner stove!), the biggest jacuzzi bathtub you ever did see, and a mounted flat-screen TV right in front of the california king bed! The hotel was definitely old, but they did a really great job of keeping it clean and functional! If given the option, I would literally move in in a heartbeat!

Shoutout to Yosemite Valley Cellars!

I had picked up a bottle of Yosemite Cellars Rim Fire Red at the Valley Store earlier that day, so before dinner, we enjoyed the bottle outside on our patio, listening to the rain and the swollen Merced River. It was lovely! We could have stayed there all night.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with El Portal (me before this trip), the “town” of El Portal is basically just the Yosemite View Lodge. We had anticipated it being more of a town, so we didn’t plan for dinner or the next morning’s breakfast well. Fortunately, they have a restaurant at the hotel! Albeit being a little expensive, dinner was delicious – and there were a ton of different options on the menu! I would highly recommend the restaurant for dinner. Breakfast.. not so much. We went to the restaurant for breakfast not knowing what to expect, and the only option was a less-than-ideal breakfast buffet for $17.95 each. Yikes. We decided to hightail it back to the valley, and ended up finally stumbling upon the Mountain Room Restaurant that we had been searching for the day before! Much better of a deal than the breakfast buffet.

Sans breakfast buffet, the hotel really was amazing and I would highly recommend it to any Yosemite visitor. The amenities were stellar for the price point (at least in early March), and the location was perfect to get to-and-from the valley floor. Being right on the Merced River was incredible, and I would highly recommend asking for a river-view room when you check in.


Yosemite Valley Visitor Center

We had originally tried to go to Yosemite Valley Visitor Center on Saturday, but the walk from the parking lot to the Village is about 10 minutes, and the rain was relentless that day. On Sunday morning, we decided to try and check it out once more before heading home, and we were so glad that we did! The Visitor Center is super cool, offering multiple museums and restaurants, a bookstore, and the Ansel Adams Gallery. I would personally describe it as more of a “village” than a “Visitor Center,” just because there were so many different buildings and things to see.

We really enjoyed walking around the Miwok Village of the Ahwahnee, which showcases a reconstructed native village in the exact spot that it existed in the 1870s. The cabins and bark homes were fascinating to see, especially considering that we got to experience it during a severe winter storm watch – you could really see just how protective these shelters were, even in the elements. There is also a ceremonial roundhouse that is still used for ceremonial activities by a local native community! I really loved seeing the crossover between the history of the native population in the valley with modern-day usage, as well as the celebration of a community in the valley that was ultimately evicted from its home and almost forgotten.


All in all, a great weekend to Yosemite! It is always fun to experience your favorite places in new elements, and this was no exception. I can’t wait to visit the park in the winter again… except this time maybe in a heated tent… and DEFINITELY with my suitcase!

My 10 Favorite National Park Dayhikes (so far)

In August of 2017, I took a road-trip to Banff and Glacier with a friend.  On a whim, we decided to hike the Highline Trail.  Within the first mile, I told her, “This has got to be the coolest hike in all of our national parks!!” She agreed.

Seven months later, on a trip to Zion during March of 2018, I found myself at the top of Observation Point, drinking in the views after just hiking up 4000 feet of elevation gain.  Despite barely being able to breathe, once again, I enthusiastically told my friends, “I think this is my favorite national park hike of them all!” Anyone seeing a pattern here?

It seems like every time I visit a new national park, I find my new favorite hike.  I figured it would be fun to reminisce on some of my old trips and make a list of my 10 favorite national park dayhikes for you all! Please keep in mind that this is a running list, and I fully expect it to grow every time I visit a new national park.  You have been warned.

And without further ado, Meg Hikes’ Favorite National Park Dayhikes (so far)!!

1) Highline Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana

img_9976

And the winner is… the Highline Trail at Glacier National Park in Montana! (Yes, I understand that there isn’t as much suspense when you start with your #1 favorite first, but the Highline Trail deserves to be listed first… it’s just that great).

I visited Glacier National Park for the first time on a 10-day roadtrip with a friend.  Much like many of my trips to National Parks, I didn’t do as much research as I probably should have, and we completely winged it.  As we were driving up the Going-to-the-Sun Road and neared Logan Pass, we saw a sign for the Highline Trail and figured we’d stop to stretch our legs.  We packed up our bags and hit the trail.  I think within the first mile I told her, “This is my favorite trail I have ever been on.”  And it only got better and better.

img_9963

Almost immediately, you are hiking along a cliff-face so sheer that the park installed cables for you to hold onto.  I personally thought that the trail was wide enough that it didn’t make me nervous, but I could imagine holding on for dear life if you were afraid of heights or happened to hike the trail on a windy day! You are instantaneously treated to birds-eye views of the park, as the trail starts at Logan Pass and maintains its high elevation while the road descends into the valley below.

img_9989

The most insane part of this trail is just the mechanics of it.  It stays high above the park on the Garden Wall for miles upon miles.  I’ve never been on a trail that skirts so precariously along a cliffside for so long – it feels like you are being treated to a birds-eye view of the entire park!  To be honest, I feel like nothing that I could put in words would ever accurately describe the feeling of being there, perched on that ledge.  This is absolutely one of those bucket-list trails that you just have to experience for yourself.

img_9982

We really didn’t know how far we were going to go when we started hiking; however, the grandeur of the trail pulled us in, and we quickly decided to hike the whole 13 mile loop!  Around 7 miles in, you’ll encounter a side trail – the Garden Wall Trail.  This trail, while only 9/10ths of a mile, gains just over 900 feet in elevation and puts hikers at the top of the Garden Wall and Continental Divide.  DO THE SIDE TRAIL.  IT WAS AMAZING.  From the overlook, you got to see down to Upper Grinnell Lake and Grinnell Glacier.  It was also just an incredible feeling to know that you were on top of the Continental Divide.  It was brutal hiking up, but you absolutely can’t miss it.

img_0009

Once you get back to the loop, you’ll continue on and hit the Granite Park Chalet.  We stopped here for a quick bathroom break, and then continued on down to the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  Here, you will hit your elevation loss, losing about 2000 feet in 4 miles.  Be sure to bring bear spray, as this section is heavily wooded and provides the perfect berry-picking environment for an unsuspecting grizzly!  You’ll arrive at a shuttle stop on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, where you can hop on a free shuttle to take you back to your car at Logan Pass!  Pro tip: grab a few beers, dinner supplies, and somewhere behind the visitor’s center at Logan Pass for some post-hike yoga!  I don’t think I’ve ever felt so relaxed in my life… until I had to get up and walk back to the car!

img_0047

2) Observation Point, Zion National Park, Utah

img_2092

In March of 2018, I visited Zion with two friends.  We had planned a week-long roadtrip across the Southwest and were looking to put some big miles in.  I had no particular desire to hike Angel’s Landing, and because one of my friends had just done it a few months prior, we decided to hike Observation Point instead.  It ended up working out really well though, because the day we arrived, Angel’s Landing was shut down to fix a broken handrail.  We couldn’t have done Angel’s Landing even if we had wanted to!

img_2044

The trail to Observation Point is undoubtedly tough.  You gain 2120 feet in 4 miles, and 745 feet of that in the first mile.  We got to the trailhead early, so the first mile was completely in the shade of the canyon walls, but I could imagine it being pretty unbearable if you got started later in the morning on a hot and/or sunny day.  There was literally no shade to be found, so if you get started a little later, prepare for the heat!

As you work your way up the switchbacks of the first mile, you’ll watch yourself get further and further above Angel’s Landing, the Big Bend of the Virgin River, and the canyon floor.  It really is remarkable how quickly you gain elevation during this first mile.  For as steep as the trail was, I loved watching us get higher and higher above the famous Zion landmarks.  It made every break to catch my breath that much more worth it! Ha..

 

 

After the first mile, you’ll start to skirt around Echo Canyon, and the trail eventually enters the canyon itself! The trail kind of takes on the shape of a slot canyon before dumping you out on the east side of the park.  Once here, you’ll really start to feel like you’ve entered the Zion backcountry, even though you’ve only been hiking for a little over a mile and a half!  Take in the views of the east side of the park – the environment truly is completely different and much more forested than the Valley floor.

img_2073

Eventually, you’ll summit the plateau and skirt around the top of the canyon walls as you make your way over the Observation Point.  Once you arrive, you are treated to Valley views as far as the eye can see.  Let yourself gaze upon Angel’s Landing, the Virgin River, and the beginning of the Narrows.  The views really are endless – I honestly think it is probably one of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen.  We stayed up there for probably an hour taking it all in!

img_2095

I think that another reason that I loved the trail to Observation Point so much was the diversity of it all.  In four miles, you are treated to such starkly different environments; it honestly feels like you’ve walked on 5 different trails by the time you reach Observation Point.  It is incredible how diverse Zion is, and only made me want to go back for more! I’ve heard that Observation Point often gets overlooked to Angel’s Landing, but if you only have time for one hike in Zion, I would absolutely recommend Observation Point!

3) Grinnell Glacier Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana

img_0072

We hiked up to Grinnell Glacier the day after we did the Highline Trail.  We had a few hikes in mind for that day, but the second that we saw Grinnell Glacier from the overlook on the Garden Wall, we simultaneously said to each other, “We have to hike that tomorrow.”  It was decided.  And oh, it did not disappoint.

img_0140

If you are staying on the westside of the park, the ride to get to the trailhead is a bit of a haul.  You have to drive the entire Going-to-the-Sun Road to the east side of the park, actually leave the park, and then drive north to Babb, Montana to entire the park once again.  The entire journey will probably take you 2.5 hours, depending on traffic.  It is totally worth it, but if you are looking to get to the trailhead by a certain time, don’t forget to budget for the long ride.

img_0112

The hike up to Grinnell Glacier is about 9.7 miles roundtrip, with a total of 2040 feet of elevation gain.  Upper Grinnell Lake was quite possibly one of the most peaceful places that I have ever been.  After we explored the lake a little, we sat down for a snack and a summit beer, and I ended up falling asleep for about an hour! I can honestly say that I have never taken a nap on a hike before or after my hike to Grinnell Glacier.  It was incredible.

Another reason why this is one of my top favorite hikes is because we could see the lookout on Garden Wall that we had hiked to the day before.  It was so cool to have arrived from the other side of the park to see the exact location that we had hiked to from a completely different vantage point.  Also, while the view of Upper Grinnell Lake and Grinnell Glacier from the Garden Wall Lookout was beyond beautiful, it was just as fascinating to see it up close in person.

img_0061

Grinnell Lake was just as beautiful and milky as Upper Grinnell Lake, but was a much deeper turquoise.  Despite the high mileage and elevation gain, you have plenty of views to take your mind off of it.  Once you hike past Josephine Lake, the trail starts ascending up to Upper Grinnell, and you are treated to views for as long as the eye can see.  If you aren’t up for such a long hike, however, there is a water taxi that will take you the length of Josephine Lake and back, shaving a little over 3 miles off of your hike!

img_0130

One last hot tip: if you do decide to hike to Grinnell Glacier, do yourself a favor and stop at the Two Sisters Cafe in Babb for some huckleberry pie on your way home.  Trust me on this one.

4) Four-Mile Trail to Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, California

img_2817

Picture this: it is your first time in Yosemite, you have done zero research on hiking in the park, and you have absolutely no idea what to expect.  You and your friend (ironically, the same friend who you spontaneously hopped on the Highline Trail with… could there be a pattern emerging?) see a sign for a “Four-Mile Trail” and figure, sounds pretty moderate.  Within a tenth of a mile, the trial starts climbing up towards the top of the valley, and 4.8 miles later, unbeknownst to you, you arrive at Glacier Point after climbing 3200 feet.  Sounds like a good time, right?

img_2828

It was an amazing time!! The trail gives you spectacular, ever-changing views of the entire valley, where you can gaze upon Yosemite Village, El Cap, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls from above.  The switchbacks are moderately steep, but are still gentle on the knees.  And yes, you can drive to Glacier Point, but isn’t it so much more rewarding know that you HIKED there from the VALLEY FLOOR? Answer: yes, yes it is.

img_2813

Please keep in mind though that this hike, albeit absolutely beautiful, is an absolute beast.  The numbers say it all – 3200 ft. in 4.8 miles is no joke.  When my friend and I hiked it, we were on our way home from a Ragnar Relay (hence me turning into a walking Ragnar Relay billboard, pictured above) and were in great shape – and it still kicked our asses.  If you are planning on doing this hike, please come prepared.  What comes up must come down, and there are no midway exit routes if you decide to bail out halfway up the trail.  There were a few water sources along the way, but they seemed a bit unreliable if you hike in late season, so pack enough water the entire day (water available at Glacier Point in the summer only).  Keep in mind that there are no free shuttles from the top of Glacier Point down to the Valley; there are only three guided tour buses a day that can take you back down to the Valley for a fee (if they aren’t already full).  Unless you plan ahead and park a car at the top or arrange someone to pick you up, you’ll likely have to hike back down the way you came, making the Four-Mile Trail into a 9.6 mile trail.

5) The Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah

img_2014

The Narrows had been on my list for a long, long time before I was able to hike them on my March southwest roadtrip.  We did the Narrows the day before tackling Observation Point, and it quickly became one of my favorite hikes ever!  To get to the Narrows, you have to first hike the easily-accessible, mile-long Riverside Trail.  At the end of the Riverside Trail, the trail vanishes, and your hike through the slot canyons of the Virgin River begins!

img_2023

Since we did the Narrows in March, the water was still pretty cold.  We elected to rent the full Dry Bib package from Zion Outfitters, so there was no chance of us getting wet.  Because we were so early in the season, we pretty much had the river to ourselves.  It was incredibly peaceful and was such a unique experience!  The Narrows go on for 10 miles, so you can hike in as far as time allows.  As you go deeper and deeper, the slot canyons get more and more narrow.  By the time we turned around, the river was only about 6-7 feet across!  For lack of better terms, it was honestly just so cool to be back there.

img_1979

Hiking upstream took us a lot longer than expected.  Not only are you battling the current, but you have to take your steps a lot slower to make sure that you have proper footing on the riverbed.  Hiking downstream was a breeze, though.  I think it took us about 2 hours to hike 3 miles in against the current, and less than an hour to hike back downstream! It felt like we flew!!

img_2040

If you choose to hike the Narrows (which you should all do if you are visiting Zion), be sure to watch the weather.  If there is any chance of rain, don’t hike them.  The canyon walls are extremely steep, and if a flash flood were to rage down the canyon, you’d have no choice but to be swept up in it.  Many people have lost their lives to flash floods in the Narrows – be smart and know your (and the weather’s!) limits.  Also, if the snowmelt is too high during Spring, the park can close the trail to hikers.  Remember that this is for your safety, and always abide by the rules and regulations that the park enforces.

img_2031

6) Peak-a-Boo Loop, Bryce National Park, Utah

DSC_0075

Okay, everybody. Repeat after me: If I go to Bryce Canyon, I will hike the Peek-a-Boo Loop.  Regardless of if you have 3 hours or 3 days at Bryce Canyon NP, the 5.5 mile Peek-a-Boo Loop trail is a can’t-miss.  CAN’T.  MISS.

DSC_0115

I think the reason why I loved the Peek-a-Boo Loop so much was that it really showed off the diversity of the park.  The trail starts on the canyon rim, so you begin by looking down at the Hoodoos.  As soon as the trail begins, however, you rapidly descend down into the Hoodoos and are soon at eye-level with the tops of the Hoodoos in the amphitheater.  This is an incredibly unique perspective, but one that you really can’t appreciate until you actually experience it for yourself.

img_5328

Once you’ve taken a moment to appreciate how unique it is to be eye-level with the Hoodoos (or stopped for long enough to think to yourself, “Why was meghikes rambling on about how special this is??” – either or, really), you start descending below the Hoodoos.  You get up-close and personal with the Hoodoos, and it allows you to truly take in how intricate these rock formations are.  The trail descends down into slot canyons and through tunnels, and its hard to discern which are manmade compared to those that are completely natural.

DSC_0126

The environment of Bryce Canyon is absolutely fascinating, in that it feels like it is constantly changing around every bend. This hike will take you from the top to the bottom of the canyon, through red Hoodoos and whitewashed walls, on top of tye-dye sand mounds, and among ponderosa pines.  One minute you’ll feel like you are in the middle of the desert, and the next, you’ll be surrounded by an alpine forest.  Next time you find yourself in Bryce Canyon, remember your promise and hike the Peek-a-Boo Loop trail!!

img_5350

7) Ryan Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park, California

img_1144

You guys. You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but I’m going to tell you anyway.  JOSHUA TREE NP IS SO COOL. LIKE SO COOL.  Now, I’m a desert lover as is, but I’d honestly be surprised to find anyone who has visited Joshua Tree NP and not thought it was cool.  Like so cool.

img_1131

For those of you who have not been to Joshua Tree, you might be asking, but why is it cool? Like so cool? WELL LET ME TELL YOU. There are JOSHUA TREES everywhere, which makes you truly feel like you are on the moon, if the moon had Joshua Trees. Regardless, the trees dotting the barren landscape really does feel otherworldly.  Where the landscape isn’t barren, it’s filled with huge rocks, making the park into a rock climber’s dream.

img_1147

The hike to Ryan Mountain, the second tallest peak in the park, is only 1.5 miles each way.  Don’t be fooled by its low mileage though; the trail gains 1200 feet of elevation in those 1.5 miles, and you are in for quite the climb.

img_1141

The cool thing about Ryan Mountain is that it is located pretty much smack-dab in the middle of the park.  It’s the highest peak in the immediate vicinity, so you truly are treated to 360 degree views of the entire park.  It is amazing to see just how many Joshua Trees dot the desert floor beneath you, and to see how small they look from 5457 feet up!  The view from the summit also shows you just how remote Joshua Tree NP is – it was crazy to see just how much of the park was inaccessible by car.  I loved seeing just how protected the land really is!

8) Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

img_8926

In May of 2017, two of my friends and I decided to go to Colorado for a girls trip.  We planned to stay at a campground in Rocky Mountain National Park and spend all five days of our trip hiking.  Now, I’m not sure if we were just talking to the wrong people, but not a single person told any of us this golden tip that I’m about to tell you now: Maybe don’t go to Colorado in mid-May.  Okay, okay.  Let me start over… Colorado in mid-May is beautiful – I mean, Colorado any time of the year is beautiful.  But mid-May is also very much between seasons, which shows on the trails and in the weather.

img_8922

Our first full day in Colorado was absolutely beautiful; a perfect Spring day.  We heard rumors of a snowstorm moving in, but the skies stayed so clear that it was hard to believe.  As we left the campground on the morning of our second day, however, a ranger stopped our car to tell us that a storm was moving in, they were expecting about 2-3 feet, and if we chose to stay in the campground that night, the plow probably couldn’t get to us for a few days.  Our campsite was about 2 miles down a dirt road, and, as much as we hated the idea of cutting our trip to RMNP short, the thought of getting stuck down a dirt road for a few days wasn’t too enticing either.  We ended up packing up camp, moving camp down to a park in Denver, and still waking up to about 4 inches of snow in town!  The park got their promised three feet, and we were very thankful for the ranger that encouraged us to pack up.  Moral of the story: if you plan a trip to Colorado in mid-May, have a back-up plan prepared. Trust me.

img_8902

Anyway! This blog post is not about failed trips to beautiful national parks – it is about my favorite dayhikes! On our first day in Rocky Mountain National Park, we hiked up to Emerald Lake.  Considering it was mid-May, the trails were still covered in snow.  None of us had microspikes, so it took us longer than normal to hike the 3.6 miles to Emerald Lake and back.

img_8936

If you are looking for a shorter, easily accessible trail in RMNP, look no further!  In only 1.8 miles, this trail takes you past three alpine lakes (Nymph, Dream, and Emerald), and all the way up to over 10,000 ft.!  The trailhead begins at Bear Lake at 9475 feet, and Emerald Lake sits at 10,110 feet, so the elevation gain is pretty mild.  Once you get to Emerald Lake, you’ll be surrounded by 12,000 foot granite peaks and inviting glacial water.  Of course, we went in mid-May, so the lake was still frozen over.  Still absolutely beautiful, and a great introduction to snow-hiking!

img_8911

9) Hidden Lake Lookout, Glacier National Park, Montana

Now, you might be thinking, a third hike in Glacier National Park?  Yes, a third hike. Glacier is just that beautiful.  And the trail to Hidden Lake Lookout is no exception!

img_4351

The trail to the Hidden Lake Lookout also starts at Logan Pass, behind the visitor’s center.  While the hike is always beautiful, it is exceptionally perfect if you don’t have a lot of time to spend hiking that day or if you are bringing children.  The hike itself is only 2.7 miles roundtrip, and virtually the whole trail is on elevated boardwalks.

img_4286

If you choose to hike to the Hidden Lake Lookout, keep in mind that this one of the most popular trails in the park, likely due to its low mileage and easy accessibility.  Don’t be fooled by the picture above – we shared the boardwalk with no less than 1,000,000 other hikers that day.  If you are looking for solitude, I would highly advise finding another trail.

img_4306

That being said, Hidden Lake Lookout is an absolutely beautiful trail.  In the summer, the trail is surrounded by wildflowers, and you are able to see many of the peaks up-close and personal.  This area is also very popular with wildlife, so you’ll likely encounter a few mountain goats on your quick jaunt up to the overlook!  The view from the overlook is magnificent as well – after hiking only 1.4 miles, you truly feel like you are in the backcountry of Glacier! The lake is massive, and Bearhat Mountain rises up and out of it so dramatically.  You can even see Lake McDonald from the overlook!

img_4277

Once you get to the overlook, even if you aren’t planning on hiking down to the lake itself (another 1.4 miles), continue along the trail for a bit of solitude.  Our final destination was the overlook, but we wanted to eat lunch with a view of Hidden Lake.  We continued down the trail for probably a tenth of a mile, and were so surprised to see that basically EVERYBODY stopped at the overlook itself.  We had a nice lunch spot all to ourselves, where we were able to appreciate the peaks and lakes around us.

img_4332

10) Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

img_5033

I was a little hesitant to put this one on the list, since it technically isn’t a “hike” per se, but rather a long walk on a boardwalk.  But the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces are just as cool as every other hike on this list (and might possibly be the most unique!).

img_5034

The boardwalk covers about 1.75 miles and has about a total of 300 feet in elevation gain.  We visited the Terraces with a looming thunderstorm threatening to break out at any second.  Fortunately for us, we only got sprinkled on a few times, and were able to take some amazing pictures with the extreme weather! It made the whites, reds, grays, and blacks of the hot springs even more vibrant.  The two pictures above were taken in the exact same spot, only seconds apart; one was taken directly to my right, and the other directly to my left.  The weather was no joke!

img_5042

Even if you visit the Terraces without extreme and inclement weather, you are in for a treat!  The travertine formations are SO UNIQUE, and each one takes on a life and form of its own.  The formations range from the purest of white to the deepest of black, with almost every other earthy color you can think of in between! Bright red, rusty orange, vibrant yellow, pale blue, chocolate brown… the colors of the hot springs are just as impressive as the intricate formations themselves.

img_5038

We walked along the entire boardwalk on our visit; no board was left unturned! We parked at the lower parking lot, and started out by going counter-clockwise and up the hill.  We (read: I) thought that the boardwalk made a loop, but it dead-ends at the top of the hill at Angel Terrace.  We doubled back, but took a different boardwalk back down to our car, finishing the loop on the lower terraces.

img_5050

Regardless of whichever parking lot you park in, or which boardwalk you start on, you really can’t go wrong as long as you make sure to visit every spring.  Each of the formations were completely different, and each warranted a visit.  Aside from the hot springs, you are treated to expansive views of the surrounding valleys and Mt. Everts.  Although the boardwalk is only 1.75 miles, we were up there for over an hour because we stopped so much.  If you find yourself in Yellowstone, you can’t miss taking a walk along the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces!

 

Backpacking Basics: Picking a Campsite

img_6363

Lately, it seems like I’ve been inundated with pictures on Instagram of girls in tents, perched on an exposed ridgeline, looking out over a majestic mountain range right at sunrise. While these pictures are, no doubt, absolutely beautiful, every time I see one, I think to myself, “There is literally no way that they actually camped there.”

Now, I know that there has been a TON of talk on social media about the dangers of posting the “perfect picture,” for your thousands of followers to attempt to recreate.  And while I disagree with a lot of the discourse around the topic (I personally have enough faith in humanity to believe that the majority of people aren’t going to recreate a dangerous situation or violate the Leave No Trace principles solely for the purpose of getting a good picture), I do actually think that these campsite pictures create a false expectation of the perfect campsite, which can get a beginner backpacker into actual trouble.  While beautiful, campsites along exposed ridgelines or above the treeline can place campers in precarious situations. In reality, the campsites that afford the most expansive and beautiful views are, frankly, infeasible and unsafe. Let’s be real – the perfect campsites aren’t instagrammable.

That being said, I thought I would put together a list of the most important things that I look for in picking a campsite, in the hopes that some beginner backpackers would have a more realistic expectation of a good campsite when going into the backcountry.

IMG_1316.jpg

One of the best things that was instilled in me as a young backpacker was to always take your time looking for a good campsite.  It sucks, I know. The thought of FINALLY getting to your destination, only to have to continue to hike around looking for a good spot instead of taking off your hiking boots and cracking open a cold beer that you lugged all the way up here – it really, really sucks. But trust me when I say, it is completely worth it.

The first thing that I look for when choosing a campsite is relative seclusion.  Do yourself and your fellow hikers a favor and get off the beaten path! Once you get to your overnight destination, drop your pack near the trail and go exploring! I always leave my pack behind – no use lugging it around when it might take you awhile and a bit of backtracking to find a spot. Look for use-trails or bunches of trees to get you started. No joke, I tend to usually take about 20 minutes to find a good spot – you won’t regret taking your time once you’ve come upon your campsite.  My personal motto is – the further away from the trail, the better!

IMG_1267.JPG

One of the most important things to keep in mind when scouting out a campsite is to look for an area that has already been established as a campsite.  Picking out a previously impacted spot is relatively easy to spot – look for shaded and flat areas, usually surrounded by trees. Avoid pitching your tent on top of plants and meadows – look for bare ground!

Quick tip: If you arrive at a seemingly perfect, previously-impacted campsite, but there are a few buried rocks sticking out of the area in which the tent would lie perfectly in, move on to the next site.  The rocks are placed there intentionally by the forest service and trail crews to deter overuse from campers trying to camp at that location. The rocks are intentionally buried like icebergs so that they cannot be easily removed.  If you happen upon this, just move onto the next site – I promise, there will be more!

IMG_1361.JPG

The next thing that I look for in a good campsite is adequate tree coverage.  Weather in high mountain ranges tends to be extremely unpredictable. I don’t care which mountain range or state you’re in – you (or your tent!) don’t want to be caught as the tallest thing around in a thunder and lightning storm. Make sure to place your tent underneath a few tall trees if feasible, and enjoy the protection that they offer!

As you are scoping out spots under trees, however, be sure that the immediate area above your tent is free from any dead trees.  I’m sure there are plenty of different terms for dead trees, but I was taught to have your campsite free of snags (stand-alone dead trees) or widow-makers (trees that have begun to fall, but have gotten caught on another tree or boulder, etc.).  Both of these kinds of dead trees are subject to fall at any moment, and you want to make sure that your tent is nowhere near any line of fall. During my most recent trip to Big Pine Lakes, the wind picked up in the middle of the night, swirling in 30-40 mph gusts around us.  It’s times like these that remind me just how important it is to make sure that there are no dead trees anywhere around your site!

img_6768

While you want to be close to a water source, be sure to camp at least 200 feet from it.  This will greatly reduce the amount of human impact that will make itself into the water. Recently, the forest service has been advocating for camping only 100 feet from water, but as a rule, I always make sure to be at least 200 feet. Might as well reduce our impact even more if we can feasibly do so!

Once you’ve picked your spot, establish a kitchen at least 200 feet from your tent.  Wildlife tend to be attracted to the scents and smells that you produce while you cook, so, as a general rule, keep that stuff away from where you’ll be sleeping!

Well, there you have it, folks! The things that I prioritize when I look for a campsite in the backcountry.  I guess I should end on this note – while these are the things that I prioritize and look for while searching for a campsite, I’m sure there are plenty of other words of advice that you can take heed of.  I would consider myself quite experienced in backpacking, but in no way am I the perfect backpacker.  If you have more tips and tricks that would be helpful for a beginner backpacker, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

img_8952

Happy trails!

Dispersed Camping Outside of Yellowstone/Big Sky

Looking for some free camping near Big Sky, Montana and the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park?  Have I got the spot for you!

img_4940

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.”  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!

Each national forest has their own rules for dispersed camping, but they tend to be pretty lax.  I believe this spot was in the Custer Gallatin National Forest (please let me know if I’m wrong!), but the rules were all the same in the surrounding national forests.  We quickly 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 16 days, but then must move at least 5 miles down the road, and you cannot come back to your original campsite for 7 days.  If you wanted to have a fire, you had to use an existing fire ring, and you had to store your food properly from bears.

Now… on to the actual site! We found this 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.

We started 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! (Kicking myself for not getting a picture of the trailhead sign…).

img_4945

We turned onto the road to the trailhead and had to drive about a quarter of a mile down a dirt road before we actually reached the trailhead.  There were 4 RVs and one tent already camped out.  We quickly asked the lone tent camper if she knew the rules of the area, and she said it was fine to camp there.  She had done so last night and had really enjoyed it!

img_4944

img_4947

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.  Be sure to check out the information board near the actual trail.  If there are any notices for the area, they will be posted here!  For my horse-loving readers out there, there were public horse stables, and when we left on Sunday morning, a horse trailer with three horses was pulling up!  Perfect spot for a Sunday morning ride.

img_4948

This was grizzly country, but we never felt unsafe.  Coming from Southern California, we have ZERO experience with grizzlies, so the posted grizzly sign (below) made us a little nervous.  Just be sure to educate yourself in grizzly safety before you arrive! Know the difference between grizzlies and black bears, the differences in encountering each of them, and storing your food safely.  We did not have bear spray when we camped, but bought some the next day.  We both agreed afterwards that we would have felt safer had we had the bear spray while camping.

img_4942

The surrounding area was absolutely BEAUTIFUL.  Plentiful forests and gorgeous rock formations!  The trailhead was pretty close to the road, but it wasn’t a problem at all.  Still felt very quiet and secluded.

img_4943

Near our specific site, there was already a fire ring and a TON of free wood/kindling near the ring (Montana, I love you). We ended up having a fire that night, enjoyed getting to know our campmate over a few (hah) beers, and welcomed two more campers (AND THEIR PUPPY) from Bozeman! It was an awesome night!  We both agreed that it was probably our favorite night camping during the entire trip!

img_4946

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 at the Sage Creek trailhead, please comment here or email me at meghikes1@gmail.com!  More than happy to help!

Happy Trails!