Tag Archives: Hiking

Packing Guide for Winter Day Hikes in the Pacific Northwest

Hiking in the Pacific Northwest in Winter - USA Travel

This last year I had the chance to do a lot of day hikes around the Pacific Northwest. I found myself chasing waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, exploring mountainous landscapes at Mt. Rainier National Park, and even adventuring around the epic scenery to be found on Vancouver Island. Although a lot of these hikes were during spring and summer, the great majority of the hikes I did in Oregon were in the midst of winter.

I used the beautiful nature that was anywhere from 1-3 hours outside of Portland to get rid of any lingering winter blues. The Pacific Northwest is notorious for gloomy, rainy, and wet weather. It does snow occasionally too. Basically, if you’re hiking during the winter, you should be prepared for any kind of weather. The weather can also change multiple times throughout the course of a day.

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5 Must-See Stops in Yellowstone National Park

5 Must-See Stops in Yellowstone National Park - Mammoth Hot Springs

One of my favorite trips from this year was to Yellowstone National Park. I knew it would be impressive, it is the oldest national park in the world after all, but I was even more taken aback by its beauty once I saw it in person.

There is a lot of variety in the park, from geothermal attractions, to vast amounts of wildlife, deep canyons, waterfalls, and everything in between. I also didn’t realize just how big of a park it would be, sometimes taking me over 2 hours to get to the other side of Yellowstone. The park itself is mainly in Wyoming but also covers parts of Idaho and Montana, to give you an idea of its size.

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Postcard from Waitomo

While I was in Waitomo, besides exploring the enchanting glowworm caves, I took the time to go hiking on my own. With so much untouched nature around me in the small Kiwi country town, I thought it was only appropriate to take the time to appreciate it.

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After finishing up with the caves, I wandered off to explore a few different trails just outside of town. I ended up getting myself a tad lost and I had to hitchhike back to my hostel, but the mental space and beauty I found on the walk was well worth it.

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For once, I took a break from my iPod and instead took in everything around me. As opposed to my usual “walkabouts” which tend to include a rumination about a subject in particular, I used this walk to get lost in nature and clear my mind of fleeting thoughts.

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The result: a graceful day in the countryside.

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Te Ahumairangi Hill, a close rival to the best view in Wellington

It’s incredible how much you come across when you’re walking around Wellington city, it reminds me of why I tend to love small, manageable cities that you can lose yourself in.

Losing yourself in nature - the odd things you come across in Wellington
Losing yourself in nature – the odd things you come across in Wellington

I’ve already talked about my love for Mt. Vic, and the fact that it’s a very popular place for tourists and movie mania folks alike, but I also kept hearing about another lookout on the other side of the harbor that was supposedly Mt. Vic’s rival for the best view in Wellington – Te Ahumairangi Hill.

Mt. Vic Lookout
Mt. Vic Lookout 
Te Ahumairangi Hill Lookout
Te Ahumairangi Hill Lookout

I had to check it out for myself to see if this was better than the spot I just named as my favorite place in Wellington.

These shoes were made for walking
These shoes were made for walking

We set off from the middle of the city and had a beautiful 45 minutes or so of walking through all sorts of settings to find the lookout.

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There were a lot of stairs and hills involved, a rose garden, a hiking trail, and plenty of native wildlife to lead the way.

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Well that's one way down a big hill...
Well that’s one way down a big hill…

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We traipsed through back alleyways, car parks, a memorial tomb and small graveyard, and plenty of places I’ve never been to before even though I’ve been living in Wellington since April.

Seddon Memorial
The memorial for the man who, even though personally against women’s suffrage, let it pass while he was in power for the betterment of the country – and made history as New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the vote.
Seddon Memorial
Seddon Memorial

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In terms of comparing it to the Mt. Vic lookout, I can see why some people like Te Ahumairangi better. It’s on a higher hill, it gives a different perspective of the harbor, and it’s much quieter with no tourists in sight.

Te Ahumairangi Lookout
Te Ahumairangi Lookout 

With that said, Mt. Vic still takes the cake for me. The aspect I really love about the Mt. Vic lookout is that it gives a 360 degree view of the city, something that Te Ahumairangi is lacking.

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The positives to checking out Te Ahumairangi is the chance to see more native wildlife because it’s in a quieter and less populated area – I finally was able to see my first Tui bird! It’s also apparently a great place to watch the sunrise, although we were there during midday.

Tui!
Tui! 
Watching the Bluebridge Ferry coming into the harbor
Watching the Bluebridge Ferry coming into the harbor 

Similar to Mt. Vic, Te Ahumairangi is located on the town belt, and is at the edge of a good few hiking trails, one of which we took down to get back to the city.

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Tree chair
Tree chair

My final consensus: If you’re short on time and you want a good view of the city, I would still recommend Mt. Vic over any other place in Wellington, but Te Ahumairangi is still worth checking out if you’re here for long enough.

I mean, is any day a waste when there’s a good lookout involved?

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Beersies in Thorndon on the way back to the city
Beersies in Thorndon on the way back to the city

6 free things to do in Santa Cruz, CA

6 Free Things to Do in Santa Cruz, California

Okay, so maybe Santa Cruz doesn’t have as much going on as Los Angeles, San Francisco, or San Diego, and maybe I’m a little biased being that I was born and raised here, but I do believe that Santa Cruz is a place that you should visit at least once in your life. Sure, it’s a small beach town like many that exist on the West Coast, but Santa Cruz has its own little unique charm that I have yet to come across anywhere else.

I love that there are plenty of beaches within walking distance, yet also hiking trails through the beautiful redwoods right there as well. I love that there are so many locally owned stores and coffee shops, organic produce, hippies and street musicians. I love that I can get decent food in pretty much any cuisine even though it’s a relatively small town. I love that we’re so close to the big cities in the Bay Area for concerts or weekend getaways, but still tucked away in our own little community. I love that I grew up going on field trips to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. As much as I sometimes resent the fact that everything closes up by 9, I really do love Santa Cruz. As a local, here are some of my favorite free things to do, other than spending your money at the Beach Boardwalk (my first job at 16!) or the Mystery Spot, which is what most tourists do.

1. Watch the surfers from West Cliff and drive along East Cliff

West Cliff is one of my favorite places to go in Santa Cruz, it’s an absolutely gorgeous place to walk or just sit and watch the ocean. In my opinion, this is the best place to watch the sunset and the surfers down below the cliffs. It’s also a pretty drive at night, listening to good music with the windows rolled down (or heater full blast depending on the season) with the twinkling lights across the bay as your background. East cliff is also worth checking out, it’s less popular than West Cliff and thus less touristy, but it has beautiful views of the ocean as well.

2. Window Shop on Pacific Avenue

I love just walking down Pacific Avenue, basically the street that makes up most of our downtown. There are so many locally owned boutiques and coffee shops that I spend whole afternoons browsing through Bookshop Santa Cruz, finding eclectic pieces of jewelry at Bunny’s, or sipping a cappuccino at Santa Cruz Coffee Roasters. The coffee in Santa Cruz is some of the best I’ve tasted in my life, try as many of the locally owned coffee shops as you can, they all have their own vibe and delicious coffee.

Best places to grab food on Pacific Avenue: El Palomar, Chocolate, Taqueria Vallarta, Hoffman’s Bistro

3. Hike the DeLaveaga trails 

A great place to go on a light or strenuous hike, there are so many different trails you can go on. Also, a great place to walk your dog or have a nice morning jog with just you and the beautiful redwoods. Some of the trails overlook the disc golf course if you want to check out the game and maybe find some frisbees. Find a spot called “The Top of the World”, if you can, the view will be worth the hike, but you’ll probably come across some of the local stoners at the top since it’s a popular spot to smoke. Every time I explore more of the DeLaveaga trails, I fall a little more in love with the beauty of my hometown. For more hiking spots, check out the UC Santa Cruz trails. They offer some of the best views of Santa Cruz, and you may even come across the famous limestone kilns. Henry Cowell State Park is great place to come up and close with the giant redwood trees, but it also has a $10 entrance fee.

4. Sunny Cove Beach

One of the local secret spots that the tourists haven’t taken over yet. It’s a small beach and a little hidden and hard to get to, but it’s one of only beaches that isn’t overrun in the summer, and it’s a perfect place to lay on the beach and feel like a local. If you’re traveling with a dog, 20th Ave beach is a great dog beach with friendly owners that will strike up an easy conversation with you.

5. Walk along the Santa Cruz Wharf

Compared to a lot of wharfs I’ve visited in California, the Santa Cruz Wharf doesn’t have much to it, but if you walk to the end you get a great view of the skyline of the Beach Boardwalk and you get to see and hear the seals up close. If you’re feeling like a nice seafood dinner, go to Rivas on the Wharf, it’s one of my favorite restaurants in Santa Cruz and allows you to sit alongside huge windows overlooking the ocean.

6. Natural Bridges and the Monarch Butterflies 

If you want to see the beautiful Monarch butterflies up close, visit the Natural Bridges State Park. If you don’t park your car in their lot, there’s free parking on the street and free butterfly tours. The butterflies arrive in October and migrate in February. The best time to come is in November when thousands of butterflies call the Eucalyptus trees at Natural Bridges their home.

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Other notable places to visit:

  • For live music, go to a concert at the Kuumbwa Jazz center
  • Attend a Shakespeare Santa Cruz production. The season occurs at the end of summer, from July to August, and you get to watch Shakespeare plays in the middle of the forest up at UC Santa Cruz. It’s beautiful, the acting is phenomenal, and it’s definitely worth the $20-$40 ticket price. Make sure to bring warm clothes, blankets and a picnic since it’s outside.
  • And if you’re in the area, make the short drive to Monterey to check out the world famous aquarium and a beautiful city on the bay.