Hiking in Zion National Park: Angels Landing and the Narrows

Last summer, Drew and I made a spur of the moment trip to Zion National Park to hike Angels Landing and the Narrows. Because we were booking last minute, we lucked out and scored a cancellation room at the only in-park accommodation, Zion Lodge. This made our trip even better because we were able to spend more time in the park without having to fight traffic in and out of the park each day.

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Angels Landing

Drew was most excited for Angels Landing. I’m not a huge fan of heights, so I was a little apprehensive about the hike. The hike is 5 miles round trip with an elevation change of 1500 feet. When we went, temperatures were in the 100s, so we got an early start to try and beat the heat. The hike starts along a river and slowly works its way up a canyon wall through a number of switchbacks. Then you hit a second group of switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles. There are 21 short switchbacks here where you gain elevation quickly.

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Tackling Water’s Wiggles.

At the top you’ll reach Scout Lookout which has a great view of the park. From here, follow the trail along the ridge to Angels Landing, using chains for assistance. Truth be told, I started the last half mile out to Angels Landing, but my fear of heights made me a shaky mess and I decided to turn back and wait for Drew at Scout’s Landing. While I’m disappointed I didn’t finish the last bit of the hike to Angels Landing overlook, the thousand foot dropoffs on both sides of the trail intimidated me.

Regardless of completion, we both really enjoyed the hike and would recommend it to anyone who wants to truly experience Zion.

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The Narrows

To prepare for the Narrows hike, we rented canyoneering boots, neoprene socks, and a wooden walking stick from Zion Outfitter. We opted to do the bottom-up out-and-back hike and got an early start to ensure we had ample daylight and to avoid crowds.

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The Narrows hike can vary depending on how far you want to go. We opted to do ~10 miles (5 miles in and 5 miles back). The water was cold, but it felt refreshing since it was over 100 degrees in Zion.

Though Drew and I are avid hikers, we found that the Narrows hike was drastically different than any hike we’ve ever encountered. As much as we enjoyed hiking through the water, we also realized it required use of stabilizing muscles and a bit more endurance than we anticipated. Be mindful that the farther you go into the Narrows, the farther you will have to walk back and that your body will be a bit more tired on the return hike.

Additionally, the water can reach heights as high as your waist, chest, or chin. We went as deep as our waists and came across a section near the end of our hike that would have been at Drew’s chest and possibly at my chin and decided we weren’t up for getting that wet and turned around.

To this day, the Narrows hike is my favorite hike that I’ve ever done. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it and I can’t wait to go back and do it all over again.

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Zion Hiking Tips

  • Hydrate. We went in summer and it was a scorcher with temperatures in the 100s each day. We made sure to hydrate before hikes (including sipping Pedialyte to ensure we had enough electrolytes) and brought more water than we normally would for our hikes.
  • Bring snacks. Angels Landing took ~4 hours round trip and we spent 5-6 hours hiking the Narrows. We had hearty meals for breakfast and dinner, but supplemented our hikes with salty snacks like granola bars, almonds, and cashews.
  • Start early. The early bird catches the worm…or at least beats the crowds and has the trails to themselves. Not only will you get to enjoy the trails in solitude, but you’ll also beat the heat.
  • Bring a dry bag. As mentioned, there are parts of the Narrows hike that were waist or chest deep. If you have a dry bag, you won’t have to worry about your camera, phone, car keys, etc. getting wet. It’s good peace of mind if you happen to slip and fall in, too.
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Tips for attending the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

This past weekend we flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico to attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Not only is the fiesta the largest balloon event in the world, it’s also the most photographed event in the world–and once you go, you’ll understand why!

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So, what is there to do at the Fiesta? There are activities in the morning and at night, with a break in the day when the thermals make it challenging for the balloons to fly. Our favorite events were:

Dawn Patrol
First thing in the morning, before the sun has risen, a handful of hot air balloons inflate and take to the skies to check weather conditions. It’s beautiful to watch as they lift into the air and you can still spot them in the dark as they light their burners, often in synchronicity.

Mass Ascension
The mass ascension is not to be missed! During the mass ascension, all balloons participating in the fiesta launch, with dozens of balloons taking flight simultaneously. Balloons start to launch at 7 a.m. (weather permitting), led by a balloon flying the American flag. Over the next few hours, roughly 600 balloons will fly over the event space. It’s an incredible sight to see!

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Evening Glow
Once the sun sets, balloonists begin inflating their hot air balloons to participate in the Evening Glow. After all of the participating balloons have been inflated, “all burn” is called where all balloons fire their burners at once creating a truly magical moment–photos don’t do this one justice.

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Having never been to New Mexico or the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta before, Drew and I had a lot of learning to do to ensure we maximized our time there. Here are a few tips and tricks that we hope will help make your Balloon Fiesta an awesome experience:

Tips

  • Get there early. The first morning we left our hotel at 5 a.m. to make the 20 minute drive to the balloon park. On the way, we hit insane traffic and didn’t roll into the parking lot until 7:30 a.m. We learned our lesson and on the second morning we set our alarm for 3:30 a.m., departed the hotel at 4:00 a.m., and rolled into our parking spot at the balloon park at 4:35 a.m. Gates opened at 4:30 a.m., so we got in early, grabbed a hot chocolate, and got to really soak in all the festivities before the 6:00 a.m. dawn patrol and mass ascension at 7:00 a.m.
  • Use the Park and Ride. Parking at the balloon park isn’t for the faint of heart–you will endure tons of traffic and pay $15 to do so. I recommend looking into the Balloon Fiesta Park and Ride service, which is $15 including the price of admission to the fiesta (typically $10).
  • Dress warmly. It’s chilly at night during the glows after the sun sets, but it’s even colder in the morning. Dress in layers and be sure to wear warm, closed-toe shoes with good socks as the balloon park grass is damp and covered in frost early in the morning.
  • Plan to attend a few days. If you have the time, I recommend planning to attend at least two mornings and one night. Since flight is dependent on weather, there are days when the mass ascension doesn’t take place due to wind. Give yourself a couple days as a contingency plan so you don’t miss out!
  • Bring snacks. Our hotel was awesome and provided to-go breakfasts in paper bags every morning. Having granola bars, muffins, an apple, and a bottle of water was super clutch as we had something to nibble on throughout the morning, but were able to go get a real breakfast (with green chile!) outside the park after the mass ascension around 9 a.m.

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Lower Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend

Over 4th of July, Drew and I flew to Phoenix to catch an Arizona Diamondbacks game, visit Sedona, and explore the great outdoors. It was hot as hell (109°), but we made the most of our long holiday weekend in Arizona.

Lower Antelope Canyon

To visit Lower Antelope Canyon, you will need to go with a guide. A friend recommended Ken’s Tours, but they were completely booked the date we wanted to go, so we ended up going with Dixie Ellis’ Lower Antelope Canyon Tours. We were advised to arrive 30 minutes before our tour, but that was completely unnecessary as they were super behind schedule and we ended up having to wait over an hour past our tour start time. Once our group was called, we walked 100 yards or so above the canyon to the staircase entry to Lower Antelope Canyon.

The canyon was a welcome reprieve after standing in the heat for so long–it was much cooler down there and it was great to escape the sun. Our guide slowly led us through the 1 mile lower canyon, assisting with photos and teaching us how to best capture the light and color on our digital cameras and phones. Before going down, I was concerned that we would be rushed through the canyon and wouldn’t get to enjoy the experience and capture the images we wanted. However, I never felt rushed. Our guide was very knowledgeable and shared history and highlights of the Lower Antelope Canyon, while giving us ample time to take photos and enjoy the canyon’s natural beauty.

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Overall, we enjoyed our time at Lower Antelope Canyon and we would recommend visiting and using Dixie Ellis’ Lower Antelope Canyon Tours. Be sure to dress appropriately (since we went in summer, moisture-wicking materials and good sneakers were clutch), eat beforehand (Lower Antelope Canyon has very limited food options nearby), and to hydrate (we each filled our Camelbak bladders to the brim and we crushed them.)

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Horseshoe Bend

If you’re visiting Lower Antelope Canyon, then you definitely need to check out Horseshoe Bend, too. Horseshoe Bend is a quick 15 minute drive from Lower Antelope Canyon and it’s truly a breathtaking sight. It’s also great because it is a stunning location that’s accessible to people of all hiking levels.

Park in the Horseshoe Bend parking lot and make the half mile walk out to the overlook. Since the hike is short and easily accessible, don’t expect to have the overlook to yourself. However, there are plenty of vantage points where you can walk over to the edge to stare in awe and get tourist-free photos.

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If you’re in Arizona or southern Utah, I implore you to visit Lower Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. Drew and I loved this day and were so glad we planned to see both locations while in Arizona. If you go, let me know what you think–I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Labor Day Weekend in New York: Yankees, Mets, and the U.S. Open

For those of you who don’t know me, not only do I love travel, but I absolutely love traveling for sporting events. There’s nothing better than exploring a new city by day and attending an exciting sporting event by night. This past Labor Day weekend, Drew and I visited New York City for the long weekend where we had the pleasure of attending Red Sox v Yankees at Yankee Stadium (Go Sox!), Phillies v Mets at Citi Field, and watched Federer v Kohlschreiber in Arthur Ashe Stadium at the U.S. Open–and all of it was amazing!

Red Sox v Yankees at Yankee Stadium

As a lifelong Red Sox fan, it was a real treat to see a Red Sox v Yankees game. Drew and I visited Yankee Stadium back in 2015, so it wasn’t our first time at the ballpark. Compared to Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium is absolutely massive–and on this day, it was completely packed. We waited in a wicked long line to enter the park, but once we were inside it was pretty easy to find our seats and enjoy the game. Yankee Stadium offers the typical ballpark food, nothing special and a little overpriced. The in-game entertainment and music selections have a dated, nostalgic feeling. Overall, we had a good experience at Yankee Stadium, though I wish the Red Sox could have pulled out a win.

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Phillies v Mets at Citi Field

Citi Field may be the best ballpark I have visited. Opened in 2009, it still looks super new and the layout is really fan-friendly. A friend told us to go hungry to Citi Field because the food is amazing…and they weren’t lying! There are so many great options and a lot of diversity. Drew and I split some Arancini Bros. risotto balls,  a chicken parmesan sandwich from Nicoletta, and cookie dough from –all were delicious! And while we loved the food, we enjoyed the game and the ballpark even more.

Roger Federer v Phil Kohlschreiber at the U.S. Open

We’re fortunate that we’ve both attended the U.S. Open Tennis Championships before, but that didn’t make our excitement any less. We were thrilled to score last minute tickets to the Federer v Kohlschreiber. Federer won in straight sets, but it was still cool to see a tennis great at his best. This was our first U.S. Open with the new retractable roof. Though the roof was open, the perimeter of the roof provided nice shade before the sun started setting. If you are considering attending the U.S. Open, I highly recommend it–tennis is such a fun sport to watch live and the New York crowds make it even better.

Memorial Day Weekend in Yosemite National Park

This year I spent Memorial Day Weekend in Yosemite National Park. With the snow finally melting, Memorial Day is a great time of the year to visit Yosemite to see the raging waterfalls and beautiful views…if you can handle the crowds.

For Memorial Day Weekend 2017, Yosemite National Park estimated about 100,000 park visitors. Fortunately for us, we had booked a VRBO property that was located inside the park, eliminating a lot of driving time. Below are the highlights from our trip:

Sunset at Glacier Point

An amazing overlook with a view of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, and Yosemite Falls. On the evening we went for the sunset, the valley was covered in clouds, but the panoramic view was amazing even when cloudy.

Tip: During the summer, Yosemite park rangers hold sunset talks at Glacier Point. Lots of great information and stories–don’t miss it!

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Yosemite Valley Loop Trail

In order to get our bearings within the park, we hiked the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail on our first day. We started at Bridalveil Falls and then caught the loop around the valley. This is a great hike because you get to see all of the Valley highlights (El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Cathedral Rocks) while hiking along the Merced River.

Tip: The best part about this hike is you can make it as long or as short as you want, as you’re able to catch the park bus along the route. We ended up grinding out 14 miles on the trail in total and it was totally worth it.

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Mist Trail

One of the coolest hikes I’ve ever done–highly recommend! On the Mist Trail, you get to hike up nature’s staircase right next to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. Bring a raincoat and waterproof boots because you will get wet.

Sadly, I was recovering from a hospital stint with viral meningitis, so we took the John Muir Trail after reaching the top of Vernal Falls. Others in our group continued up to Nevada Falls.

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Sunrise hike at Sentinel Dome

For a 360 degree view of Yosemite Valley, head to Sentinel Dome. We went for a sunrise hike and had the trail to ourselves. From Sentinel Dome, you can see El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Nevada Falls.

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Tunnel View

For those of you who prefer not to hike, but want to experience an amazing view, head to Tunnel View. From here you can see El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls within Yosemite Valley, and Half Dome in the background.

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Unfortunately, Mariposa Grove was closed during our visit, so we didn’t get to see some of the most famous trees in the world. We did visit the Tuolumne Grove and got our Giant Sequoia fill, but I plan to go back to visit Mariposa Grove sometime in the coming years.

You are in for a treat no matter when you visit Yosemite National Park. The scenery is breathtaking and the hikes will also take your breath away…from exertion.

Best Hikes in Banff National Park

Banff National Park is a place I dreamed about traveling to for years before I finally had the chance to visit. After seeing pictures of the glacial lakes and beautiful mountains, it quickly moved to the top of my “must visit” list. During the summer of 2015, Drew and I visited and experienced the trip of a lifetime. Banff National Park offers so many incredible ways to connect with nature, including some amazing hikes. If you’re looking for some of the best hikes in Banff, lace up your boots and strap on your pack and hit the trails below.

Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House

This hike is a doozie, but totally worth it! Starting at Lake Louise by the Fairmont, you walk the perimeter of Lake Louise on the lakeshore trail into the mountains in the distance and ultimately into the woods where you’ll find the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.

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The trail is ~7 miles round trip with a 1200 foot elevation gain. Along the trail you will see Lake Louise from the mountains, several glaciers, and great alpine scenery.

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The tea house offers basic food and drink which are helicoptered out to the tea house at the beginning of the season and supplemented by horses and hikers throughout the season. The tea house doesn’t have any running water or electricity, but does offer a nice place to rest before completing your hike. Even though the hike was a little challenging, we really enjoyed it and I felt like a champ afterward (and finished wearing substantially less clothing since it was hot hot hot.)

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Johnston Canyon

This was Drew’s favorite hike on our trip and it’s one of the most popular day hikes in all of Banff–get an early start. Seriously. If you can start hiking between 6 and 7 a.m., you will be able to beat the crowds and truly enjoy the canyon.

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Inside the canyon, the trail is comprised of raised walkways and bridges with safety rails that hug the wall and overlook the river. There are two major waterfalls (Upper Falls and Lower Falls) along the path before you hit a dirt path that takes you to a meadow at the top of the canyon. In the meadow, there are numerous ink pots–bubbling water in turquoise pools.

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If you start early, you should be able to make it to the ink pots quickly and without running into too many other hikers. By the time you turn around, you’ll likely run into mass crowds at Upper Falls that will stay with you the entire walk back through Johnston Canyon to the parking lot.\Canada6.jpg

Lake O’Hara

While Lake O’Hara is technically located in Yoho National Park, if you’re in Banff, it’s definitely worth visiting as it’s just a stone’s throw away.

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The best way to enter Lake O’Hara is by making a bus reservation through Parks Canada. Reservations open in April and fill up pretty quickly, so plan accordingly. Otherwise, your only other option is to hike the 7 mile access road into Lake O’Hara…I definitely recommend the bus!

Since Lake O’Hara essentially requires reservations to access the park, there are typically only a couple hundred people hiking within the park at any given time, making this a nice, intimate experience.

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Take the Lake O’Hara trail to the Oesa Lake trail for picturesque views of both lakes and the surrounding mountains.

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Moraine Lake

I know this list is supposed to be the best hikes in Banff–and what I’ve listed so far shouldn’t be missed. However, I’m going to switch things up and recommend you get off the beaten path and hit the water at Moraine Lake. While there are plenty of trails around Moraine Lake, the true beauty of the lake can be best appreciated from a canoe.

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Check in at the dock and rent a canoe for 60-90 minutes. If you’ve never canoed before, fear not! It’s pretty easy to figure out and the water is super calm on the lake.

Wandering Kathleen

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I hope you enjoy exploring Banff National Park and the surrounding areas as much as we did. It’s so stunning there that sometimes it doesn’t seem real. We’re already trying to figure out when we can go back because we loved it so much. If there’s something you think we need to try next time we’re in Alberta and British Columbia, let me know in the comments!