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Visiting Central Colorado

When I first visited Colorado, I honestly had no idea what to expect. Landing in Denver, I didn’t expect this area of CO to be so abundant in wildlife and adventure. To anyone who plans to visit, even for a small time such as an overnight layover, there is much to see in this area of the state. None of which have any park fees (that as a Washingtonian, I was very used to.)

Here are the ones that I experienced and that I highly recommend. Though I shall caution you to not overdo yourself, as you can get easily winded due to the high elevation gain in the mile high city.

1. Red Rock Park + Amphitheater

This park is a short 30 minutes from Denver and an easy, yet beautiful exploration for a long layover that will not disappoint. There are a few different ways to explore this park, you can head up to the amphitheater and get a view of the whole park or you can use the loop trail that is about 1.5 miles roundtrip and mostly flat.

I recommend you try both to get the best experience, as it is not very difficult. Through the loop, you are walking through all the rock formations and also get some history along the way.

I was fortunate enough to see mule deer, plenty of birds in the brush and also a bobcat!

2. Garden of the Gods

This beautiful park is highly popular, so expect large crowds… but it’s for good reason that you must see for yourself. This park is located in west Colorado Springs, about an hour and 20 minutes from Denver. Simply driving into this park is nothing short of magnificent.

There are several parking areas here, so don’t feel pressured to wait around for parking at the first entrance, as this is the busiest. All parking areas allow access to all the trails. Take your time to soak in all the enormous rock formations and I recommend strolling down every trail, as they all have different things to see and other angles. Once you part from the beginning of the trail, you’ll find much less people on the back trails.

If you here during any season besides winter, beware of rattle snakes (at any park in Colorado). You can also spot prairie hawks at the tops of the rocks here. The hike itself is very easy, almost the entire loop is a wide paved walkway, although I recommend climbing up towards the tops as well.

Don’t forget to drive around the entire park! On the opposite side of the main lot is a beautiful view of all the rock formations and allows you to see them all at a new angle.

3. Rock Rock Canyon Open Space

I didn’t expect much from this place, but it over delivered by far! This area is way less touristy and truly is open wilderness. You can choose to stay on the path or crawl up into the rocks in a way that allows you to experience the rocks of Colorado in the best way you can.

This is located in west Colorado Springs as well and can be easily missed if you don’t pay attention.

There is a loop trail that allows you to see a lake in the middle that unfortunately I didn’t get to do but I highly recommend. I was able to see mule deer here as well as owls and a tremendous view of the Garden of the Gods from afar.

4. Palmer Park

My friend showed me this place to watch the sunrise and I highly recommend you do the same, as this area can have crowds during the day and it supplies the best views without the direct sunlight. Palmer Park is in Colorado Springs as well.

There are many ways to explore this area, you can go straight to the top and wander around or find a trail somewhere and experience as much of the area as you’d like.

This area has a variety of rock formations that are mostly grey with some red as well and has a great view of the city of Colorado Springs. Great place for bird watching, morning meditations and of course… watching the sun rise.

5. Pikes Peak

Now, I did not get to experience this hike, as it is for the advanced locals that are already acclimated to the high altitude. But you can see the peak of this mountain everywhere in Colorado Springs, there is apparently many ways to experience it, but the elevation gain is about 7400 feet! Depending on how you decide to hike this trail, it’s about 5 miles each way. You can also drive it or take a railway!

6. Devil’s Head Lookout

Unfortunately it was far too snowy for us to hike this area, but Devil’s Head is a Colorado staple. About an hour from Denver, this hike goes through tree lines on a simple 3 mile round trip hike. At the end, you climb up some stairs to the lookout house, where you can see amazing views of Denver and rock formations.

This hike does close on account of snow sometimes in the winter, so be sure to check if it’s open.

I now can see why so many love Colorado. There is such beauty to experience all around you while also being within a big city that has it all. All these trails were remarkably clean and the city reminded me of the PNW in it’s design and it’s people. I hope you visit soon and give these trails a try. 🙂

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Exploring Glacier National Park

Glacier has become quiet a popular and Instagrammable area! And guys, it’s with good reason! This spot gets packed by like 11AM every single day and it was worth waiting around 4 hours to get inside.

Glacier National Park is also known as the ‘Crown of the Continent’, located in beautiful Montana at the top of the U. S and on into Canada. This area is also the second most populated area for grizzly bears, right after Alaska!

It is known for it’s mountains, glaciers, amazing hikes and incredibly blue water. The most popular attraction here is the ‘Going To The Sun Road.’ This road goes WAY UP into the mountain tops, a road that seems impossible to even exist and brings you to insane scenic views of valleys, glaciers, mountains and wildlife.

Going To The Sun Road

You can spot bighorn sheep, grizzly’s and mountain goats, amongst other animals of course, in this area. We were fortunate enough to see a grizzly, just 80 yards or so from us, right off of a short trail located near the summit of the ‘Going To The Sun Road!’

Lake McDonald is one of Glacier’s most Instagrammed locations and is one of the first beautiful sites right inside the west entrance to the park. It is known for it’s bright blue waters and colorful rocks. You can also kayak in this lake!

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If you plan on heading here, I would highly recommend planning ahead for hiking. Many of the hikes are very long, including several backpacking trips to see some amazing locations, such as Iceberg Lake. Many hikes lead to the iconic blue waters tucked in a valley of mountains.

There are some shorter hikes as well. I highly recommend Avalanche Lake, this leads to the same iconic view of Glacier, with only a 5 mile round trip hike. Avalanche Lake is absolutely breath taking and being in the middle of massive mountains, with giant waterfalls running through them is a feeling you have to experience.

Avalanche Lake

Glacier has a few easy turn offs as well, such as a few waterfalls, scenic viewpoints, blue pools and wild life viewing areas. But anywhere you can marvel at it’s massive mountains, it just makes you feel so expansive!

As I said before, plan ahead. This park is open 24/7, but camp grounds and hotels nearby sell out FAST. I recommend getting into the park no later than 9AM. To keep nature thriving, there is minimal parking in this incredible place, and entrances after McDonald Lodge often get shut down sooner due to parking.

Glacier is definitely all it’s worked up to be, so get there and get there soon!! 🙂

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Grifford Pinchot National Forest

This is among the most beautiful places to explore nature in Washington. Filled with gorgeous mountains, inactive volcanoes and luscious forests. This place is worth a long camping trip in the summer, or even the long drive to see some of it’s wonders in a day trip. The hikes and waterfalls in this area are endless because of all the mountains in the area.

Here are some of this forests best sites.

Mount Saint Helens Area

This inactive volcano is famous for it’s incredible destruction in 1980, you can see incredible views of this volcano and the effects of it’s eruption and learn more about it. It’s pretty amazing.

Ape Caves

The ape caves are truly unique, make sure to bring a flash light and warm clothing, because it is pitch dark! It’s quiet the adventure to work you way through this two and half mile lava tube, the longest continuous cave in the U. S!

Lava Canyon

This is a round trip, five mile hike, so not too bad. It leads to some spectacular views and Lava Falls.

Windy Ridge Viewpoint

This is the easiest viewpoint to see Mount St. Helens, it’s a stunning view where you can also see Spirit Lake. There is also a hike along Windy Ridge called Loowit trail, a 28 mile round-trip hike that has gorgeous waterfall along the way. Make sure to research required permits for hikes such as this in the area.

Mt. Adams Area

This area is particularly known for climbing Mt. Adams, it is a a 10 mile, round trip hike with a 4500 ft elevation gain, and leads to some amazing views!

Waterfalls

With the Columbia River Gorge being on the opposite site of this area, it has no shortage of gorgeous waterfalls, some of my favorite in the state are in this area!

Lower Lewis Falls

I believe this to be the most beautiful waterfall in Washington, it flows so perfectly and is wide, and it is easy to get to the bottom of the falls for amazing views and a swim 🙂 The long drive is beautiful and it is a short quarter mile hike that allows every viewpoint.

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Panther Creek Falls

This waterfall is simply magical, it trickles down a long wall of rock and you can even explore the river before it falls as well. There is access to the bottom of the falls as well.

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Spirit Falls

This waterfall is a gem, bright blue with a tremendous fall. It’s a little hike, about a mile and can be quiet muddy. All the more of an amazing nature experience!

Falls Creek Falls

There are plenty of views during the 4 mile round trip hike to this waterfall, including a suspension bridge and a partial hike along the river.

This forest is one of Washington’s best, so if you’re looking for a place to explore within the state, you can get the best of both world’s in this green forest between three mountains.

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Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake is an absolute must-see location in the Pacific Northwest and one of my favorites! When I first saw Crater Lake with my own eyes, I could only describe it as heaven on Earth. This could have very well been because of the timing of which I was there, which I recommend to anyone wanting to visit there. I was in Crater Lake in July, early in the morning, with a blue sky and clouds within it. The water was incredibly still and the water was a beautiful reflection of the snow of the crater and the sky above it, so perfectly that it was difficult to tell where the water began and the sky started.

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Crater Lake was once a volcano, called Mount Mazama. This volcano’s eruption was so enormous, that it caused the volcano to collapse into itself, leaving a giant crater, almost 2,000 feet deep. This crater filled with water through rainfall and melted snow, making it insanely clean and therefore a gorgeous, bright blue.

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There are many different areas to view the crater and there is one area that you can actually get into the water, this place is called Cleetwood Cove and is about a 20 foot cliff. This jump is a must do! Seeing the snow-covered crater from the crystal clear water is like pure magic and the water isn’t as cold as you would expect. You have to hike about a mile downhill to reach this area, the hike down is wonderful and the hike up can be a little difficult, but well worth it.

The main area of Crater Lake has a lot of information to learn everything about the area, as well as buy souvenirs and some fancy food, which wasn’t as expensive as I expected, with the view that we had.

It is, till this day, the most beautiful place I have ever seen, if you are anywhere in the Pacific Northwest, this is a place that you must see, and I recommend it in the early morning in good weather, and to stay throughout the day.

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Best Places To Travel In The PNW

So many times, I’ve heard of people wanting to travel outside of the U. S, before exploring the wonders of this very country. I was once that person, but I have discovered that there is so much beauty so close to our homes.

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and never realized that it is a prized area to live until I chose to explore it. Here are my favorite places I would recommend to anyone wanting to explore the outdoors of the PNW.

Washington:

Olympic National Park:

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The Olympic National Park is a broad place to mention, but every waterfall and every trail at this park is unlike any other in Washington state. There are waterfalls every 10 miles or less (my favorite is Rocky Brook Falls), it is full of temperate rainforests and located so close to the beautiful salt waters of Washington.

Vance Creek Bridge:

This 422 feet long famous railroad hovers 347 feet over Vance Creek and is located right outside the Olympic National Forest. It is the second highest railway in the U. S. Directions to this cannot be found on Google maps, possibly because it is considered trespassing on land owned by a logging company and there are many ways they have tried to keep hikers out, like signs, knocked down trees and gates.

The bridge is in Shelton, you’ll take NF-1700 for a while before turning onto NF-23, where it is right off to the right. You’ll see lots of knocked down trees and a gate near the entrance. Many of the articles I read made it seem like it was dangerous to go and you could be arrested, but I did not run into any cops, any logging trucks or security of any sort. The hike is about a mile long, but not difficult and well worth it! The bridge is spectacular, surrounded by trees and covered in art by the last rebel hikers. It’s an adrenaline rush to walk on this massive abandoned railroad, surrounded by trees. The beginning portion of the bridge has been taken down, though you can still reach the wooden part of the bridge if your brave enough! I recommend anyone to see this bridge before it is totally demolished.

Lower Lewis Falls:

Unfortunately, I am yet to see this amazing waterfall, but it is next on my to-do list. It is a wide, gorgeous waterfall located in the south/east portion of Mt. Rainier National Forest.

Palouse Falls:

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This waterfall is one of Washington’s largest. Located in Lacrosse, in west eastern, WA. You can get a stunning view of the enormous waterfall before taking the hike down towards the waterfall that can be difficult at times and has many alternate routes. You’ll see another waterfall before reaching an overlook of Palouse. There is a small trail down to the bottom of the falls, leading into a small lake as well.

Rattlesnake Ridge:

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This is a wondrous two hike located in North Bend. It starts off at Rattlesnake lake and you hike to the top of a wide ledge, where you can see the bright blue lake from above. It is quiet the site!

Cape Flattery:

Another natural wonder I have yet to see, but will be soon! Cape flattery has to be one, if not the most beautiful, cape in Washington state. This cape is located on the very top of the state, on the western edge.

Oregon:

Cape Kiwanda:

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I shall admit, the entire route down 101 south through Oregon is absolutely stunning and a must-do summer trip! There is a route right outside of Tillamook, called Three Capes Scenic Route. Unfortunately, I had missed the turn to this route and missed the other two capes, but Cape Kiwanda is quiet possibly Oregon’s most beautiful cape.

It is located in Pacific City, it starts off as a popular beach and you walk up the sandy hills to stand on the cape. There are many signs and gates that tell you that beyond this gate is dangerous, but it is important to keep in mind that Oregon’s Beach Bill states that the people may still roam wherever the please, as the beaches belong to the people.

Tamolich Blue Pool:

This is one of my favorite locations in the PNW! The tamolich blue pool used to be a waterfall, but after a volcanic eruption, the waterfall was covered with lava rock. The water now seems from the bottom of the rocks and slows the water down enough to create a clear, still pool that is the most brilliant blue you’ll ever see. It is spectacular!

The blue pool is located off of the Mckenzie Highway and was a little difficult to find, as there are no signs off the highway. You’ll turn on NF-730, which leads to the trailhead, it is a two mile hike and not difficult. You can walk all around the water and there are several places to cliff jump into the frigid water, though you can also walk around to get right into the water.

Crater Lake:

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This magnificent location shares a special place in my heart. Crater lake is in central Oregon and is one the top places to see the in the Pacific Northwest. This lake lies in the Cascade Range, it used to be a volcano named Mount Mazama. This volcano had a massive eruption that caused the mountain to implode on itself, forming a giant crater that filled with rain and snowfall. It is also a magnificent blue and surrounded by gorgeous mountains.

I recommend coming to this place in the early morning. We showed up around 7am, when the water was still and there were some clouds in the sky. The reflection of the mountains and the sky coming off of the lake was like pure magic, it took a few moments of staring to really understand where the water started. It was absolutely stunning, like nothing I’ve ever seen before. You can hike many trails at Crater Lake National Park and drive around the entire crater.

There is one area that you can hike a mile down to cliff jump into 2000 feet deep beautiful water, called Cleetwood Cove and it is an absolute must!

Toketee Falls:

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This waterfall is not far from Crater Lake, when leaving the north entrance, it is off highway 138. The hike is about 1.5 miles and not very difficult. There is a viewpoint that allows you to see the waterfall, but viewpoints are never quiet good enough… So there is a rope next to the main viewpoint area and a sign telling you not to go down to the waterfall, but many have done it anyways. The rope is absolutely necessary, as it is very steep getting down to the falls, but well worth it. The water is the perfect place to swim, but very cold!

Proxy Falls:

One of my favorite Oregon waterfalls! It is about 226 feet tall and flows beautifully, close to the rock wall. The hike is almost two miles and not difficult.

Samuel Boardman Scenic Corridor:

This is several different pull offs off 101 south in Brookings, OR. Each pull off is so gorgeous, full of capes and natural arches that you can hike to. It coordinates with the gorgeous Oregon coast trail.

Painted Hills:

An absolutely magical place, where the desert hills are decorated in vivid color, in central/eastern Oregon. It is an absolute must see and should be a wonder of the world!

California:

Redwood Forest:

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This forest is located in many places in northwest California; the tallest trees on Earth, reaching over 300 feet tall! All the forest areas are full of wonder and are a must see right next to the coast! Some trees were at least ten feet in width!

McArthur Burney Falls:

This waterfall is one of Earth’s ten wonders of the world and located in northern California near Burney, CA. It spans 250 feet wide with numerous falls, surrounded by luscious forest.

MossBrae Falls:

Another stunning waterfall with a wide span, this waterfall trickles against a rock wall, covered in bright green moss. It is a very unique waterfall and I love the way that it flows! It’s located in Dunsmuir, CA.

Lassen Volcanic National Park:

This park is covered in colorful desert and also bright blue waters, which makes a gorgeous combination. Full of clear, blue lakes, waterfalls and mountains.

Many people do not consider southern California as the Pacific Northwest, but if it were, I would mention Yosemite National Park and Joshua Tree Park. Both unique and stunning locations.

It is difficult not to mention even more places within the PNW, but the area is covered in natural wonders.

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Blessed To Live In The Pacific Northwest

Every state we’ve explored has been so different from the last, and each one is beautiful in it’s own unique way. But traveling further south through the hot, empty and beautiful roads of Nevada and to Idaho, I can proudly say that I am happy to live in the Pacific Northwest.

Once we entered southern California, towards Nevada, it was like a fight against the heat. The water really didn’t taste the same and the water crisis was even more severe.

We begged for a river, a beach, lake, anything to cool ourselves down, but all around us were dried up creeks and salt flats.

I am grateful to have experienced these areas, especially to drive all the way up Nevada on 93N with absolutely nothing but rocks, wildlife and mountains around us. It was our most peaceful drive yet.

The central Nevada area is hot during the day, but rains and storms with rapid lighting and thunder all night, it’s really quiet beautiful.

The heat may have caused us to flee from entering Arizona, but we shall be back in the future.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from these travels, it’s that nothing goes as planned no matter how much you plan it. But that’s what makes it exciting, that’s what allows you learn.

It’s not about reaching a destination, because there will never be one. It’s about realizing the beauty of the moment with you now. We could have turned off the road every five miles and explored something amazing because this Earth is truly magic wherever you turn.

But for once, I’m grateful for the rain. I’m thankful to lay on cold, green grass and be surrounded by evergreen trees and mountains. I now know for myself that I am so blessed to live in the Pacific Northwest.

We are coming back to you Washington. We can’t wait to swim in your lakes, be in your mountains and cool breezes.

Yet there is no end to our travels, they’ve only just begun. I cannot wait to plan our next adventure and to continue to explore the beauty around me every single day. I’ve realized that I thrive off of it, the journey and the beauty, to discover something wondrous. And letting go of one single destination has allowed me to appreciate every beautiful moment.