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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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Wandering Yellowstone

You know when you hear so much about a place that it loses your interest? Well, that’s what I thought about Yellowstone… until I step foot there and let me tell you… it is other worldly!

Yellowstone is America’s First National Park, sitting on top of the world’s most active volcanic platform! As soon as you enter this massive park, it’s not uncommon to have slow traffic due to herds of elk, bison on the road or other wildlife surprises. When the park opens up, you immediately see steam seeping from the ground and it’s hard to make the decision as to which direction to head first.

What I love about this park is that it is very spacious and spread out. There isn’t much of an issue finding parking or hitting any form of traffic like you may in some other National Parks and you can get around very easily. So, don’t stress that you wont have enough time to see the whole park, as you could easily do so in about 3-4 days.

Keep your eyes out and ears open for wildlife at all times. We were fortunate enough to see a National Geographic status bull amongst 100+ elk during the rut season! As well as a bull chasing a female that was something that no one else got to catch, because we stopped and heard the bull’s call.

We also a heard of bison (not uncommon if you look ) and spotted a mountain goat and her two babies, which started a massive crowd of people to come in and observe as well!

On top of wildlife and volcanic action, there are several GORGEOUS waterfalls in this park as well, so if you have the chance to do a short hike to one, don’t hesitate.

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Something I wish we would have paid attention to is what eruptions may happen each day, as some geysers will go off every week, every month, once a year, once every ten years… whatever it is, it’s good to know and try to catch! Old Faithful is popular for it’s consistency, but their are plenty of other AMAZING geysers in the park.

Everywhere you visit in this park is mind boggling, so although you may want to rush towards the most popular Old Faithful and Mammoth Springs, I honestly think these are not the most beautiful in this park. Just take every turn you can to see something and it will not disappoint!


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Top Ten 101 Destination Stops

If you’re planning a 101 coastal road trip, I deeply recommend doing it right. That means starting from the 101 no one thinks about, right off the coastal road.

I’ve done this 101 road trip, and took my sweet time along the process. Not only this but I quiet literally live right off highway 101 in southern Washington, so I know the famous highway well!

Here are the must stop visits while traveling this amazing highway, from north Washington to California.

Hood Canal

This area often goes overlooked, it is not the 101 right next to the ocean, though it is close, this area is beautiful! It is right next to the Olympic Rainforest and some small towns by the bay. The famous Vance Creek Bridge is hidden in this area. A partial amount of this bridge has been torn down now but if your feeling reckless, you may still be able to explore part of it.

This area also is covered with amazing hikes and waterfalls and is one of the only places on the coast where you can harvest your own oysters! Stop at Hama Hama to get the beginning of your seafood experience and enjoy some wine and music by the bay in Hoodsport.

Some of my favorite waterfalls include Rocky Brook Falls, Murhut Falls, Hama Hama Falls and Vincent Creek Falls (High Steel Bridge). Read all about this area here.

Cape Flattery

This area is the northern tip of the U. S but not very popular, which is good for us! The trail is well maintained and the views are gorgeous. Read more about it here.

Ruby Beach

This is the most stunning beach in Washington, right off 101, the drive to this place is covered with spectacular beaches, but this is the one you’ll want to stop at. There’s tide pools to explore and the beach goes on forever. This beach is most famous for it’s large rock on the beach with a hole in the middle that I didn’t manage to get a picture of. You can read more about it in the link above as well.

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Quinault

Quinault is a special, quaint place where you can experience the world’s only temperate rainforest that is completely untouched. There are many nature trails in the area from quarter mile hikes to backpacking trips and waterfalls right along side them. There is also the world’s largest Spruce Tree here as well and the Hoh Rainforest is also close by if you can’t get enough of the luscious greenery.

Fort Stevens State Park

Fort Stevens is located right outside of the beautiful small city of Astoria, OR, most famous for the movie The Goonies. What makes this park so special is the ship wreck of Peter Iredale, where you can see the iron remains of this ancient ship right on the beach, accessible to the public. It’s quiet the site, see more about it here

Canon Beach

I think when people are planning 101 trips, their first destination is Canon Beach, so I hope all the posts above have caught your interest to see before northern Oregon. Canon beach is a small beach town with an open bottle policy, meaning you can drink beer wherever you’d please. Most famous for Haystack rock on it’s beach, where you can climb around it and view the tide pools. It also has a lot of puffins at the top of the rock.

It’s a popular destination spot, but also not incredibly crowded.

Cape Kiwanda

This place was one of my favorite experiences along our 101 travels. Located in the middle of Oregon in the town of Pacific City, Cape Kiwanda is what it means to travel 101. You show up at this beach, to a Haystack Rock way in the distance, you are able to climb a sand hill to your right which leads you to Cape Kiwanda. You can walk all along this Cape and experience amazing views. There are some dangerous areas but they will give you the best Instagram shot! Many wander past the warning signs to get the best photo, but because of the Oregon Beach Bill, I do not believe you can get fined for it.

You can also take the Three Capes Scenic Route before Cape Kiwanda to experience even better views, but we missed the turn, so keep a look out! Devil’s Punchbowl is nearby as well, though we didn’t go there. More on Cape Kiwanda here.

Samuel H. Boardman’s State Scenic Cooridor

This is located in southern Oregon in a small city called Brookings, right before you hit California. It is several different stops off the side of the Highway, all absolutely gorgeous. They meet up with the Oregon Coast Trail, the scenic points that I thought were most amazing was Natural Bridges, where you can hike your way to the top of these magnificent arches and Arch Rock Point.

The Redwood Forest

Of course, the Redwood Forest is a must-see along 101. It is located in northern California and is quiet the enchanting adventure. There is so much to see here, there are several different areas to go, we went to the Jedidiah Forest, which was amazing, but simply driving through these areas is worth the drive.

Big Sur

Unfortunately, we were not able to experience Big Sur, California, as when we went they had an enormous landslide right before Big Sur on Highway 101, but it is still on my bucket list! I recommend stopping at Pfieffer Beach. I’ve heard that the sand turns purple on some sunsets and it is quiet magical!

Simply driving down this highway is spectacular! There are views of the ocean right on the side of the road so pull over as much as you can and enjoy the views! There are of course many more places of interest, but these are my top ten. So pull over as much as you can and maybe spot some whales in Oregon!

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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.