Seattle: An Urban Hiker’s Paradise

Seattle, the home of 90’s grunge, Starbucks Coffee, ‘flying’ fish and plenty of rain, has become a booming metropolis that hits the top of travelers lists year after year. And how can you blame them? Seattle offers a bit of everything—from high end seafood to museums, breweries and easy access to some of the country’s highest peaks, travelers can create an itinerary guaranteed for a trip of a lifetime.

So where do you start when planning a visit to Seattle? For hikers, I advise splitting your time between the city and the nearby national parks, but make sure to hit the following spots in the city.

13680878_10207029275190417_6992865006516277410_n

Pike’s Market Inventory

Pike’s Place Market

You’ve seen the videos of fishmongers tossing large fish across their booth in front of large crowds, but seeing the spectacle first hand is wildly different. Even for the travelers who try to avoid big tourist traps, it’s hard to find an excuse to skip Pike’s. With fruit stands selling Rainier cherries and fish markets wafting that amazing ‘freshly caught’ scent, you don’t have to buy anything to get the full experience (although we recommend saving Pike’s for a lunch stop, just to buy up some of the pre-made goodies). Head to the far end towards the docks for gift shopping, with handmade jewelry and t-shirts for everyone on your list. And don’t forget to visit the original Starbucks location across the street.

BONUS STOP: If you’re an art nerd like us, be sure to visit the Seattle Art Museum. With a vast collection of Pacific Northwest totems and other sculptures, it’s a brilliant way to escape the inevitable rain of the city and learn a little about the culture of the area. If the sun is shining, take a detour over to the art museum’s satellite Olympic Sculpture Park for a more modern experience.

IMG_1764

Despite Seattle’s reputation as a rainy city, July through October is a perfect time to catch blue skies.

Space Needle

Another bucket list item that travelers shouldn’t miss when visiting Seattle, this iconic and extraterrestrial looking tower has become a symbol of the city (Although, first timers may expect a much larger and more prominent structure that can be seen from every point of the city. That is actually more true to Mt. Rainier in the distance.). For photographers, skip the long and expensive line up to the top of the Space Needle and instead head up to the Sky View Observatory. Or, experience the landmark from the ground, walking through the Space Needle Park complex, which includes stops at the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, the Museum of Pop Culture (which includes memorabilia from Nirvana and other Seattle musicians) and the Seattle Children’s Museum.

 

13654234_10207029193108365_2006862401638707629_n

Gas Works Park looking east.

Gas Works Park

 

If it’s parks with great views you’re looking for, be sure to add the Gas Works Park to your list. Located across Lake Union, this former site of the Seattle Gas Light Company offers spectacular views of the city with a steampunk-esque gas plant in the foreground. It’s a great spot for a picnic or some wandering, and lets you enjoy the city without stress of crowded streets.

Capitol Hill

Like many cities, Seattle boasts an array of neighborhoods surrounding the city center, each with their own charm. One of the more popular neighborhoods is Capitol Hill, east of downtown, at the tip of Lake Union. This area is perfect for those looking for some nightlife entertainment, with plenty of restaurants, bars, and a vibrant LGBTQ scene. Make a stop over to Volunteer Park and climb the historic water tower for more breathtaking views of the city.

13631635_10207029193908385_4742183975004129040_n

The Fremont Troll is a must-see when visiting Seattle

Fremont

Seattle is a bit quirky, and there’s no better example of such quirks than in the northern neighborhood of Fremont. Here you can see popular public art like the controversial sculpture of Vladimir Lenin, or take a photo with the Fremont Troll, an 18-foot tall sculpture of a troll under the bridge. Enjoy shopping and dining in the neighborhood center, or watch the ships go by on the canal.

Ballard

Northwest of Fremont is another quirky section of Seattle. Ballard, a fishing community, boasts its Scandinavian roots at the Nordic Heritage Museum, which tells the story of the community. And if you’re looking for some beach time, head down to the coast and relax at the Golden Gardens Park.

13438928_10207029190388297_2990456145498210397_n

Ballard Docks

21751907_10210453410231653_9215921306167184756_n

Hikers break in Olympic National Park

Get Outside

While you can easily spend a week exploring everything that Seattle has to offer, we recommend taking some time to rent a car and drive out to one of the many National Parks. Whether you’re looking for a day hike, or a multi-day backpacking trek, you’ll easily be able to find everything you need in a few hours drive. From the city, you can see the snowcapped peaks of Mt. Rainier to the south, or Mt. Baker to the north, which can both be easily reached in a day trip. Or, take a drive east to explore the North Cascades, or take the ferry west to the Olympic peninsula and spend a few days at Olympic National Park. We guarantee by the time your vacation is up, you’ll be eagerly planning another visit.

Advertisements

48 Hours in Milan

Milan is a very livable city. While it may not be as packed with landmarks as Italy’s Florence or Rome, it provides travelers with a nice getaway filled with Italian charm, while also catering to the day to day lives of locals. With ample shopping and charming streets, Milan is perfect for urban hikers who love to people watch. On our last visit, we had 48 hours to take in as much of the city as possible, making time for some must-see attractions, and plenty of gelato.

IMG_8007

Milan’s Duomo lights up the streets at night.

Duomo di Milano

Dedicated to St. Mary of the Nativity, this breathtaking cathedral is a must-see when you visit. As you wander into the heart of Milan’s old city, you will catch glimpses of the Duomo’s pinnacles and spires, typical to Gothic style. The best view of the cathedral itself is from the piazza that surrounds it, but to really get a full experience, we recommend heading straight up to the roof, where you can walk among the spires and gaze out at the surrounding city. Tickets cost 9 euros to walk, or 13 euros to take the lift (NOTE: It is actually faster to wait in line for the lift instead of climbing the stairs) and you have to purchase tickets ahead of time either online or at the ticket center to the right of the cathedral’s façade. You can also buy tickets to enter the cathedral and visit the museum.

IMG_7975

View of Milan from the Duomo Rooftop.

 

The Last Supper

Art history lovers flock to Milan for this painting. Located in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, this 15th century painting by Leonardo da Vinci shows the story of Jesus and his Disciples breaking bread the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. It is da Vinci’s second most famous painting, only behind the Mona Lisa, and is slowly deteriorating due to the painter’s methods and environmental factors. Only a small number of people are allowed to view the painting daily, so you need to book tickets far in advance, or book through a tour group (we recommend booking through Walks of Italy, which includes a guided tour and tickets to the Duomo roof).

IMG_7981

Take a break at Sempione Park, located just behind the Castello Sforzeco. In the distance you can view one of Napoleon’s many triumphal arches. 

Castello Sforzesco

This former castle for the Duke of Milan is now home to a complex of Milan’s best museums. The highlight is of course a visit to see Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pieta, but you can also explore museums dedicated to Ancient Art, Musical Instruments, Archaeology, and more. Entry to the castle is free, but you will need to pay to visit the museums. If it’s a nice day out, we recommend also walking through the castle and into Sempione Park (and be sure to grab some gelato on your trek!)

Urban Hiking

Milan’s layout stretches far beyond the old city’s walls, but when planning your trip, try to book a hotel close to the center. This way, you can spend your evenings eating in one of Milan’s many charming pizzas and people watch in front of the Duomo. If you’re an early riser like me, take some time in the morning to wander Milan’s narrow Italian streets, where you will encounter pockets of old world Italy molded into the modern feel.

If shopping is your thing, Milan offers plenty of opportunity to pop into stores on your walk. Visit the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (with its famous gold and glass roof) and browse top designer stores, or wander outside of the city center for more affordable fashions, food, and more. And if it’s food you’re looking for, keep an eye out for cheese and charcuterie shops to sample some of the best in the region!

IMG_7993

Even on a rainy day, Como has plenty to offer for travelers. 

Day Trip out to Lake Como

If you are in Milan for a weekend and want a change of scenery for day two, you can easily venture to one of the many towns surrounding the picturesque Lake Como. Como, the village at the southwest corner of the wishbone-shaped lake, is only an hour by train from Milan and has plenty to see in one afternoon. On a sunny day, take a ferry tour out onto the lake or rent a paddleboat, and even if it is raining, be sure to take the funicular up into the hills for a view of the Lake and its surrounding villages. On a clear day, you may even be able to see the Italian Alps in the distance. If it’s glitz and glamour you’re looking for, head a little farther by train to Bellagio, which has played as a backdrop for films including Casino Royale and Star Wars.

Chartres Blue

IMG_6338The sun had just started to reach it peak when they opened the doors. It’s amazing to see the lines of modern-day pilgrims line up outside the cathedral, waiting patiently for visiting hours to start. Some were there to pray, others to marvel at the architecture, and some because a guidebook made a compelling enough case to spend a day outside of Paris.

I first heard about the cathedral in Chartres from a professor at my university. It was the way she described the stained glass that caught my attention, how the design of the structure allowed space for larger than usual windows, how the deep sapphire blue of its windows compliment the white interior. It’s a marvel to see on a slide show, so in person you’ll be left awe struck.

My hope was to arrive early to beat the crowds, unfortunately I arrived a little too early—doors were closed to the public until 11 a.m., leaving me plenty of time to wander ahead of time. Chartres is a perfect place to experience that small French town charm, without having to travel too far outside of Paris (it’s only about an hour by train, and trains run so frequently that you can easily make this a half day trip and return to Paris for more sight-seeing later in the day). Once you arrive, it’s easy to spot the cathedral towering over the other buildings, so use this as a marker if you find yourself getting lost.

IMG_6397

Wandering the streets of Chartres

From the train station, follow signs to the cathedral, passing a town square that celebrates its name in the same fashion as Amsterdam (perfect for Instagram!). Rounding the street corners, you’ll come to a small green park in front of the cathedral façade, with its contrasting Gothic and Romanesque spires casting a shadow over visitors. The square is surrounded only by a few shops and cafes, all of which remain closed until late morning. Since my particular trip was so early, I headed left of the cathedral, taking in the detail of the structure. Behind the cathedral lies the entrance to the Museum of Fine Arts and the Jardins de l’Eveche, a small green space that includes foot labyrinths and overlooks the L’Eure River. This area offered ample seating in the sun, but still eager to explore, I headed back towards the Stained Glass Museum and back to the cathedral.

IMG_6391

Mythologeny, seen in Chartres

To the right of the cathedral is the more vibrant areas of the town, with businesses, shops, and cafes. As I wandered, it felt in part like I was taking a step back in time, until by chance I encountered some exquisite graffiti art. It’s fairly obvious that Europe’s embrace of graffiti in certain cities has resulted in some amazing and thought provoking works. In Chartres, I particularly loved Noty Aroz’s Mythologeny series, which depicts modern comic book heroes and sci-fi characters in the form of mythological gods, similar to the traditions in Mexico, Greece, etc.

Of course, the highlight of a visit to Chartres lies in the cathedral itself. Even for the non-religious, this landmark is a wonder worth seeing. It is an UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the best depictions of French Gothic architecture at its prime. No natural light enters the building, only through the 176 stained glass windows. As you walk through, take time to gaze up at these windows, as the trademark ‘Chartres Blue’ illuminates the white walls around the nave.

IMG_6375

Chartres Cathedral is famous for its blue rose windows.

For travelers heading to Paris, this is a great way to escape the city for a few hours without having to brave the crowds at Versailles. I recommend arriving between 10 and 11 a.m., taking time to wander the cathedral first, then stopping for lunch before exploring the city. If it’s warm out, enjoy a leisurely lunch at Le café serpent, with a perfect view of the cathedral.

Sun, Sand, and Seals: The Best of San Diego

A cold day in San Diego is any temperature below 65 degrees. This nearly perfect location on the southwest coast of the United States doesn’t always garner as much attention as California’s other metropolitan giants (LA and San Francisco), but it does offer an adventure for all types of vacationers. For art lovers, San Diego’s Balboa Park has a complex of modern and classic museums, while the pristine coastline beaches give the more relaxed traveler a perfect view. And for the urban hikers, San Diego’s diverse neighborhoods offers us a challenge of fitting as much as we can into one trip.

 

IMG_3522

Balboa Park is a must-see when visiting San Diego.

Balboa Park: When you fly into San Diego’s airport, try to catch a glimpse of the iconic California Tower, a Spanish-style spire that marks the entrance to one of San Diego’s main attractions. Travelers can easily spend a full day exploring Balboa Park, visiting museums including the Museum of Man, the San Diego Museum of Art, or the Museum of Natural History. For the nature lovers, take a stroll through the Botanical Gardens, or pack a picnic lunch and find a shaded spot in the Japanese Friendship Garden.

 

San Diego Zoo: Just north of Balboa Park is the world-famous San Diego Zoo, which is home to over 3,500 animals. If you are traveling with kids, this is a must-see destination.

Coronado Island: Half military base, half vacation destination, this island is famous for its red-roofed luxury hotel. While prices may be steep, this is a great destination to visit for a drink or meal, followed by a sunset stroll along the beach.

IMG_3559

Be sure to stop at the marina to view a larger than life statue of the famed WW2 kiss.

Gaslamp District/ Downtown San Diego: If you are looking for evening plans, look no further than the Gaslamp District in San Diego’s downtown. Located across from the Marina and Convention Center, this strip has shops, restaurants, and bars, perfect for a casual dinner, a stop before catching a baseball game at Petco Park, or a rowdy night of bar hopping (you’ll see plenty of bachelor/bachelorette parties in the area). Start your walk at the marina, stopping in to the USS Midway Museum and wander through the Seaport Village. Here, you’ll get stunning views of Coronado Island and the Naval base, and then head on over to the Gaslamp District (looked for the arched entryway over the street).

Pacific Beach: If you’re looking for a 1970s surfing vibe, look no farther than Pacific Beach. While a little modernized, the boardwalk still gives you an authentic Californian coastline, with fishing piers, surf shops, and plenty of people watching. Take a stroll along the board walk, or venture onto the sand and put your feet in the Pacific Ocean.

IMG_7781

Are those rocks? Nope, just very lazy seal pups.

La Jolla: North of San Diego city is the posh neighborhood of La Jolla (for those of you like me who love to point out places you’ve visited when watching TV, this is where ‘Grace and Frankie’ takes place). Here, you’ll find yoga studios, swanky shops, glorious vacation homes, and seaside restaurants, but the best part is of course taking some time to visit the seals and sea lions. Start at La Jolla Cove, you’ll know you’re close to the action because you can smell the sea lions as soon as you exit your car. (A note—keep your distance from all animals. While you can walk onto the rocks, these creatures will bite if provoked, and can carry some nasty bacteria with them.) Head south along the pathway until you reach Children’s Pool. Once a swimming spot for San Diego’s children, this man-made cove was quickly overrun by seals (Amazingly, the seals and sea lions have their own designated areas, but rarely mix). The best time to visit is in the spring, as starting in March the seals and sea lions start to have babies, so you can spend your time watching the moms teach their pups how to swim! When you’ve had your fill of adorable animals, take a stroll up to the La Jolla Village for lunch.

IMG_3193

Gliderport daredevils.

Torrey Pines Gliderport: Feeling adventurous? Right by UCSD’s campus (and the architectural wonder that is the Salk Institute), you can take a leap off the cliffs and slowly glide down to safety. Or, if you’re like me, just grab a coffee and watch these daredevils soar to the Pacific. There are hiking trails along the cliffs that will bring you down to the beach (WARNING: Bring proper shoes as the path is steep, and be aware that the beach below is a legal nude beach), or you can walk into the university campus (be sure to visit the library!).

Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial: Touring San Diego, you come to realize one important thing very quickly—it’s big. So, to get your bearings and to see a great view of the entire city, take a drive up to the Mt. Soledad Veteran Memorial, high above the coastline. It’s worth the quick stop.

Let’s Go to the (National) Mall: 24 Hours in Washington DC

Washington D.C. typically requires a long weekend to visit properly. However, when given a time constraint, it’s helpful to have a plan in place. Luckily, most of my trips to D.C. occur over a short period, giving me a maximum of about 24 hours to fit as much as I can into the day. So, if you’re looking for a classic walk through D.C., here’s what I recommend:

19424494_10209769113404660_4999474512496128198_nCapitol Building: If you have enough time, start the day with a guided tour of the United States Capitol Building, but be sure to book ahead. D.C. in the early hours is wonderful, especially before the crowds hit the major sites, and since this building functions as both a tourist attraction and government hub it’s best to make this your first stop. Many Congressional offices offer their own guided tour, so you can either book through your Representative, Senator, or on your own. You can find more information through the U.S. Capitol Building’s visitor center.

Memorials: The highlight of any visit to Washington D.C. Whether you are new to the history of America, or a seasoned fun-fact nerd, it’s essential to take some time to visit these iconic memorials. And for us urban hikers, this is the ideal city walk, complete with shaded parks, water features, and plenty of stairs. In total the loop is about five miles if you start at the Capitol Building and head west towards the Washington Monument. The full loop includes stops at the World War II Memorial, walking along the Reflecting Pool to the Vietnam Memorial, up to the Lincoln Memorial, over to the Korean War Memorial and across the street (be careful of cars, this is a busy crossing!) to the MLK, FDR and Jefferson Memorials, all bordering the Tidal Basin.

14612520_10207714447639300_4832467180119069638_o

Quiet mornings on the National Mall. 

This loop is by far one of my favorites to do either first thing in the morning, or at sunset when the crowds are low. Most of the monuments are open 24/7 (minus the gift shops), so you can enjoy them at your leisure.

 

14591684_10209769165605965_8097505636856818681_n

Look Up: The National Museum of African American History and Culture has stunning detail outside the building.

Museums: The other highlight of this area is of course the array of museums lining the National Mall. I tend to visit DC in the summer months when by 10 a.m. the sun has already warmed the city sidewalks to unbearable temperatures, which makes walking during the daytime difficult. So, a perfect escape from the heat is to pop into any one of these museums (all National museums are free), where you can learn more about America’s history from the comfort of an air-conditioned space. While it’s nearly impossible to see everything in a day, here’s some of our favorites:

 

  • National Gallery of Art. An underground corridor connects the more traditional West Building to the modern East Building, with highlights from Van Gogh, Degas, David, Vermeer, and Da Vinci. It’s a wonderful museum for art history lovers, as well as for architecture fans looking to explore the space.
  • National Air and Space Museum. This one is perfect for travelers with kids (or kids at heart!). Here you can explore the wonders of aviation and space travel, and see how this has evolved over the years and helped us learn more about the world outside our own.
  • National Museum of American History. Explore Julia Child’s kitchen, U.S. President memorabilia, First Lady dresses and more in this museum dedicated to the life and innovation of Americans. If you want to feel proud of all we’ve accomplished, this is the place to go.
  • National Museum of African American History and Culture. Opened in September 2016, this is the newest museum added to the National Mall. Getting tickets is difficult the day of (unless you arrive and wait in line), so we recommend booking tickets ahead of time. If you can’t get in, we at least suggest taking some time to observe the detail on the building (it is one of the most intricate and beautiful).

Around the Corner: If you haven’t gotten your share of museums yet, you can stray a few blocks outside the National Mall to tour some of the *other* museums in the country. There seems to be theme to each, but here are our favorites:

  • National Archives Museum. The main attraction here is of course the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. You’ll have to wait in line to get up there since they only allow a certain number of people in each day, but if historical documents are your thing then this is worth the visit.
  • United States Holocaust Museum. I’ve visited this museum many times, and each time I am brought to tears. A well-curated museum, you are transported through the history of the Holocaust, from the start of World War II through the aftermath. You will read stories about survivors, heroes, and those lost, and leave with a reminder of why we must never let something like this happen again. Be sure to take a moment of silence in the room of shoes as well.
  • Newseum. Another favorite for me, this museum chronicles the history of journalism, with special exhibits for different beats, as well as permanent exhibits about 9/11 news coverage, photo galleries, and the outdoor terrace overlooking Washing D.C. (ok not exactly an exhibit, but on a nice day this is a great view!).

Honorable Mention: Arlington Cemetery: Just across the Potomac is the Arlington Cemetery, which welcomes tourists during the day to pay respects at the final resting place of many of America’s military men and women, as well as John F. Kennedy and his family. If you have family buried here, use the cemetery’s website to locate a grave, or reach out to their customer service for help. And remember, this is a burial ground, so be respectful when walking through.

Boston Wanderings: Your Guide to Our Favorite Spots Off the Freedom Trail

IMG_4692

Heading west through the Boston Common.

Corner any local in Boston and ask them what you should do on your visit to this city, we guarantee 9 out of 10 times the Freedom Trail will be a part of their answer. That’s because when it comes to Boston, the city has made a name for itself in walking tours. But for those visitors who want to get a nice walk in with a little less history, we’ve put together a route that hits all the best spots.

 

TIP: Boston’s streets are old, so there are two things to remember when you hike. First, when it comes to shoes, choose function over fashion—you’ll be walking along stone, brick, and cobbled streets, so a comfortable pair of shoes will get you a lot farther (I’ve lost a few good pairs to these streets before). And second, make sure you have a map and/or GPS on your phone—Boston streets are winding and can get confusing at times, so without some guidance you might end up walking in circles.

North End: We start our non-Freedom Trail walk on the Freedom Trail (ok, yes we admit that is a bit confusing). While this historic neighborhood is home to some of the top Revolutionary sites in the city, it is also home to some of the most delicious food. Take a moment to wander through the Old North Church, and onto Hanover Street, where you can pick up some snacks for later—cheese, charcuterie, cannoli, they’ve got it all! (Note: This is home to the famed Mike’s Pastry. We try to get there early to beat the lines, but you can stop by at any time to get your Italian bakery fix if you’re ok waiting in line.)

Faneuil Hall and the North End Park: Over the years, Boston has made more of an effort to increase its green spaces in the city. One such example is the North End Park, which has become a staple for both locals and visitors in the summer months. Here, you can lay out a blanket and have a picnic (stop by the Boston Public Market for other food options), play in the water fountains, or sit at one of the tables and read before continuing on. Just south of the park you’ll find one of Boston’s top attractions—Faneuil Hall. Here, you can shop, eat, grab a snack, or just wander through and catch a street performance.

IMG_4330

The Massachusetts State House lights up at night.

The Boston Common: Climb the stairs past Boston’s concrete City Hall (a product of 1960’s geometric design and often described as one of the ‘Ugliest Buildings in America’), and turn left onto Tremont street. Follow the curve until you reach a large open green space. This spot, known as Boston’s Common, has existed since colonial times and was once grazing land for Boston’s livestock. Look north to spot the gold-domed State House, the hub of Massachusetts’ government, and continue west past the Frog Pond, which in summer months is a swimming spot for children, and in the winter transforms into a fun ice skating rink.

TIP: Before you walk through here, read up on the famously obese squirrels—they are adorable!

 

IMG_3962

Beacon Hill: North of the Common, one of our favorite areas to walk is Beacon Hill. Here, you’ll see the true historic beauty of Boston’s architecture, with brick streets and brownstone homes lit by picturesque street lamps—you feel like you’re taking a step back in time. Wandering through here doesn’t take long, but it’s a must-see for architecture and history nerds.

 

Boston Public Garden: From Beacon Hill, turn left onto Charles Street heading back towards the Public Garden. One of our favorite stops is the Make Way for Ducklings statue, commemorating the 1941 illustrated book by Robert McCloskey about a family of ducks that trekked through the city in the most adorable way. If you’re looking for real ducks, head over to the pond and watch the swans and ducks swim around, or if it’s the right season, take a ride around the pond on one of Boston’s swan boats.

Newbury Street and Copley Square: By now you’ve walked a few miles through historic Boston, so you’ll be in need of some refreshments. Wander down Newbury Street for a taste of high end shopping plus a selection of restaurants. One street over is Boylston, which brings you to the heart of Copley Square and some of our favorite Boston Landmarks—Trinity Church, Boston Public Library, the Prudential Center—there’s plenty to do in that space.

TIP: When on Boylston Street, be sure to look for the Boston Marathon Finish Line (in front of Marathon Sports), but be careful of cars when snapping photos!

Day Trip: Joshua Tree National Park

By mid- to late- February those of us who live in the northern hemisphere tend to get a little antsy. Cold, frigid temperatures combined with regular and unpredictable snow and sleet tend to force us indoors for most of the season. While yes, there are winter adventures we can participate in, those tend to rely heavily on the weather for safety reasons. As such, us outdoorsy-types tend to go a little crazy this time of year.

Winter, however, can be an ideal time for day trips (and some overnights) if you head south. A favorite spot is Joshua Tree National Park, a desert haven for hikers, climbers, and bikers. While during usual tourist season this park can reach temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the winter months can be quite pleasant (we do always advise that before heading out to these parks, you check the weather and other important information on the NPS website).

IMG_3377

For views like this, be sure to make time for a longer hike (and note the ruins of a former house to the left).

For this particular guide, you can hit most of the major spots in the park in a day trip by car. It’s a three-hour drive to Joshua Tree from San Diego or LA, so plan for a long day if you are returning to one of those cities afterwards, pack food and lots of water, and be sure your gas tank is full. We start our tour at the West Entrance Station, heading southeast into the heart of the National Park.

img_3284.jpg

Reminds us of Breaking Bad…

1. Viewpoints. Before you read on, a warning: BE SURE YOU CAN SEE YOUR CAR AT ALL TIMES. As you drive through the park, you’ll notice that coming in from the west entrance the desert is filled with the towering trees that give the park its name. Many visitors will pull over at designated picnic spots and small parking lots, where you can access shorter trails, hike, and take a few photos. This is a great way to get acquainted with the park, but be sure to not wander too far. While yes, the terrain is fairly flat and open, it’s important to be safe when you explore.

2. Hidden Valley. One of my favorite parts about Joshua Tree is that as you travel along, there are moments when you look out to the horizon and focus on a steep rock formation, and upon a closer look realize that there is a person at the top. It’s no surprise that Joshua Tree has become a mecca of sorts for rock climbers, and winter is prime season for groups to camp out and spend a few days challenging their skills. Hidden Valley, which is a part campground, part hiking trail loop through former cattle rustler hideouts, is a great spot to stop and watch the climbers (or try it out yourself!). For those who aren’t into climbing, the one-mile loop hike is fairly easy, and lets you explore inside some of the rock formations without having to strap on a harness.

FullSizeRender

Keep an eye out for climbers in high places.

3. Barker Dam. Continuing past Hidden Valley, this hike is friendly for all levels. It takes you on a one-mile loop past an old dam, which was once used for cattle and now acts as reservoir for wildlife within the park. You’ll also have a chance to see a few etchings in the rock from past inhabitants before this park became a park.

4. Ryan Mountain. With the summit at 5,458 ft overlooking the Lost Horse and Pleasant Valleys, this three-mile out-and-back hike is ideal for the hiker looking for more of a challenge. Be sure to bring lots of water for this trek, as even in the winter you’ll feel that desert dryness.

5. Skull Rock. Park Boulevard eventually splits to a north-south intersection. For our day trip, we turned north to head back to Route 62, which created a nice loop for our drive and had us back in San Diego by dinner time. On the way, you’ll notice sections where tourists have pulled over to crowd into certain spots for photos. One such location is Skull Rock, which at certain angles appears to be pulled right from a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. It’s worth checking out, even for just a few minutes before you head back into civilization.

6. Star Gazing. Ok, so a day trip wouldn’t include this part, but if you have the chance, book a campsite and spend the night in the park. Joshua Tree National Park is famous for its night sky views. Don’t believe us? A quick image search will convince you.

 

IMG_3396

Dead men tell no tale…