A Visit to Crater Lake, Oregon

A Visit to Crater Lake, Oregon

Winters affect on Crater Lake

Note: this post contains affiliate links to products we love and have purchased ourselves on Amazon. Clicking these links doesn’t cost you any extra money, and you’re supporting us by doing so. You can view my disclosure page for additional details.

When I strapped on borrowed snow shoes at Crater Lake National Park, I laughed out loud at how much difficulty I’d have with this simplistic adventure.  With multiple layers of clothing on and too-large-for-me snow pants, two steps in and I was teetering over… fortunately onto 15 feet of snow.  Luckily, the winter weather doesn’t harm the forested surroundings of Crater Lake National Park as much as it hindered my ability to walk.  Inhaling a deep calming breath of crisp air, our national park guide directed through our first (successful) steps on top of the snow into the wilderness surrounding America’s most beautiful lake.

The snow crunching underneath our feet was a rhythm in itself as we snow shoed single file behind our park ranger through a mixture of tall and small pine trees.  He huddled us into a circle for the first of four stops to discuss the winters season impact on Crater Lake.  One of the snowiest places in America, it averages over 40 feet of snow annually.  A burning question of whether this wintery weather is a blessing or a burden to the area was one our guide happily explained throughout our snow shoe trek.

1. Evolution at its finest:

One of the hikers with us was asked to grab the top of a small pine tree and pull it to the ground. Surprisingly, the tree was pliable enough to bend all the way over like a slinkie.  Throughout time trees that are more pliant have survived the mass snowfall.  The flexibility allows them to bend to the heavy snowfall without breaking.  This progression has allowed the trees to be protected by the snow instead of harmed by it.

2. The annual snow covering

The snow protects the flora from drought and in turn from fire.  So, it keeps everything safe like a big blanket.

 

3. Seasonal animals

Surprisngly animals can thrive in this environment. Shrews, voles and pikas tunnel deep beneath the ground with the snow covering adding an extra layer of warmth overtop of them.

4. Melting Snow

As the snow melts in the warmer months it flows downstream supporting local farmers, wildlife and cities.

5. Crater Lake itself

Probably the most important, the caldera that is Crater Lake exists because of this annual snowfall. No streams or rivers feed into the lake, which is what makes it so clear and blue– zero pollution!

Finishing our snow shoe hike, behind us are the tree covered slopes, in front stunning vistas of Crater Lake.  After a massive eruption almost 8,000 years ago, what used to be the Mount Mazema volcano collapsed and is now home to the cleanest body of water in the world.  The deep blue waters that fill Crater Lake are the deepest, bluest, most clean and clear in the world.

Check out more images from Crater Lake, Oregon by scrolling through the pictures below!

Top TIPS for visiting Crater Lake, Oregon-

  • Snow shoeing is a free activity offered in the winter months; dress warm!!
  • If snow shoeing, bring some extra cash to ‘tip’ the guide; it goes back into the national parks fund
  • Winter months are often dreary so be prepared for a less than stellar view (we just happened to be lucky to visit on a clear day)
  • Only one road is kept open during the winter months due to the difficulty of plowing with high levels of snowfall.  Summer months you can drive around the entire lake.
  • Hiking & skiing can be done here!  Plan ahead for the weather.

You can find some of the winter gear I use here:

Grey Beanie Pom hat: I love this hat because the inside is so soft & fluffy, plus it looks cute with almost any of my other winter gear.  The exact hat is not longer available but I found a few similar items:

Womens Winter Knit Hat

Thick Cable Knit Fuzzy Beanie

Women’s Winter Soft Knitted Beanie

North Face Backpack: I’ve had this backpack for years!  Its very comfortable to wear on your shoulders & I love how it’s cushioned so I feel comfortable traveling with delicate items in it.  It’s also durable for outdoor activities.  It doesn’t look like this color pattern is available anymore but here is the style:

North Face Classic Backpack

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The Perfect Weekend Getaway in Maui

The Perfect Weekend Getaway in Maui

What to see & do in Maui in three days

    What started as an impulsive decision to purchase flight tickets to Maui turned into an endearing love with the island and culture of Hawaii as a whole.  Laid back vibes, wholesome people, humble living, amazing food and incredible landscapes are all a part of what you’ll experience here.  Living on the west coast allows for an easy opportunity to travel to Hawaii for a weekend getaway; it is similar in flight time back to the east coast (fly back towards unpredictable weather OR fly to island heaven?  In my opinion, the choice will almost always be the islands!).

     Travelers could spend much more time than a long weekend in Maui, however if you are prepared for a quick retreat to the island here are the

Top things to see & do in Maui in a weekend

Snorkel with the ‘fishies’

        Experience snorkeling areas on a weekend getaway in Maui without having to jump on a boat and drive out to sea.  Rent equipment locally and swim with coronet fish, yellow tang and various pufferfish (among many other species!).  Here are some of the top snorkeling beaches in Maui:

  • Ka’anapali Beach, West Maui: go to the north end near Black Rock
  • Honolua Bay, West Maui: called the ‘crown jewel’ of Maui
  • Wailea, South Maui: we loved Ulua Beach for snorkeling
  • Makena Landing, South Maui: not for beginners as the area is rocky but great wildlife

Treat yourself to a fancy dinner and great food

       There are many restaurant options in Maui, so allow yourself to be picky when it comes to eating out.  Most places source their ingredients locally (which may also have to do with the fact that importing can be very expensive) and many support a sustainable farming lifestyle.

  • Lahaina neighborhood has many choices, with Kimos Restaurant having a delicious vegetarian plate and a wonderful ocean view
  • Paia Fish Market: there are multiple locations on the island, and are known for fast service (order at the counter, hunt down a seat at a shared table and listen for your number to be called).  Their menu changes depending on what fisherman catch that day, so fresh is an expectation here.
  • Enjoy vegan coconut ice cream from a handmade hut on the Road to Hana at Coconut Glens.  Trust me when I suggest trying the lilikoi (passionfruit) flavor.
  • Mama’s Fish House: this is the nicest restaurant on the island.    Deliciously crafted cocktails, excellent service and the most enjoyable, fresh food.  Eating here will have you quoting ‘treat yo’ self’ from the show Parks and Rec.  *Make a reservation before you arrive to Maui.
  • Other foods to make sure to enjoy:

        -Maui golden pineapples: they are much less acidic so better for your mouth and stomach

        -Banana Bread baked by the Four Sisters (although really any fresh baked bread on the island is delicious)

The Road to Hana

        The Road to Hana requires an entire day, if not two days.  Check out my guide to The Road to Hana here.

Visit Haleakala State Park

        Towards the end of the Road to Hana, Haleakala State Park has two stunning outdoor locations that are a must do:

  • O’heo Gulch Pools (Seven Sacred Pools)
  • Kipahulu Waterfall Hike

*both of these are discussed in my Road to Hana Guide

Enjoy a relaxing morning or afternoon on a calm beach

        Adventurous exploring is always great, but Hawaii is most well thought of as a beach getaway, so be sure to plan at least half a day lounging with your toes in the water and booty in the sand.  Don’t forget to bring your reef-safe sunscreen (a review of different reef-safe sunscreen brands is in the works!) and your beach friendly supplies to ensure a blissful few hours under the sun.  Here are Maui beaches that were recommended to us by both locals and prior visitors:

 

  • Na’apili Beach: street parking is fairly easy to find here
  • Maluaka, South Maui
  • Big Beach, South Maui
  • Makena area, South Maui
  • Kihei area, South Maui: you can see beaches from the road, so stop where you want (also a great area for surf lessons)
  • Ka’anapali, West Maui: Maui’s most popular & well-known beach

Explore Paia Town

 Many call Paia a hippie town, whereas I consider it a historic neighborhood with a casual vibe and colorful buildings.  Take a half a day here and be sure to load up on vegetarian and vegan lunch options from the Mana Grocery Store in town.

Top TIPS for visiting Maui:

  • Getting from beach to beach isn’t as easy as driving down the road and parking.  Many beaches are on resort properties, so you have to find parking elsewhere and walk.  Make sure to incorporate that into your schedule
  • It is now required to book reservations to watch the sunrise at the Haleakalā crater.  These book fast, so plan ahead!
  • Rent a car if you’re not planning on staying at a resort
  • Mana Grocery store in Paia was a perfect place to purchase local goods to bring home; hot sauces, coffee, etc.

Things I want to do on our next visit to Maui:

  • Snorkel and/or scuba dive at Molokini Crater
  • Camp overnite at Wa’ainapanapa State Park
  • Go to the Ali’I Lavender Farm
  • Catch sunrise at the top of Haleakalā crater

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Guide to the Road to Hana, Maui

Guide to the Road to Hana, Maui

The best stops and all of my tips to make the most out of your day!

Note: this post contains affiliate links to products we love and have purchased ourselves on Amazon. Clicking these links doesn’t cost you any extra money, and you’re supporting us by doing so. You can view our disclosure page for additional details.

The Road to Hana is an adventure that any traveler should be prepped for physically… and well, mentally too.  Containing so many stunningly beautiful parts of the island and hidden gems, the Road to Hana is an all-day road trip through a lush garden and vistas around every corner.  While everyone says, ‘you have to do the Road to Hana’ and how gorgeous the stop offs are, few tell you how immaculate the drive can be and how to do it to make the most out of your day.  This is a guide for the best stop offs if you only have one day for this adventure.

Preparing for the Road to Hana

The Road to Hana is just that – a road that takes you the town of Hana.  Its uniqueness is that it is a series of over 600 of curves on a single lane, 64-mile road with various stop offs.  If the beaches, waterfalls and hikes were not enough of a reason to visit, successfully driving this roller coaster road is!  Travelers can choose to rent a car and do the drive themselves or go with a tour group. Many drive through with an extensive checklist of places they want to photograph, while those more prepared will have a select few stops to have time to enjoy.  Doing the latter will require a rental car so that stops can be done when and where you please.

Be sure to dress and pack appropriately for what you want to do, whether it be hiking, swimming through waterfalls or lounging on a beach.  One of the best tools to have at the ready is an app called the Gypsy Guide. It follows through your gps to provide notice for upcoming turns into sightseeing spots, highlights each stop you can make, suggests which is best to stop at and history of Maui.

While there are over 20+ talked about stops on the Road to Hana, here are the stops that we felt encapsulated a unique day of adventure and relaxation… and of course food.  Please note that we left stops for the drive back so the order we chose may not be the same you choose/your most ideal.

The Best Stops on the Road to Hana

Wa’ainapanapa State Park

Wa’ainapanapa is the black sand beach that Maui is infamous for.  It truly is as stunning as everyone’s pictures make it look, and one of the main reasons leaving early in the morning is ideal.  Getting here early will mean less of a crowd to enjoy the calm beauty of the beach. The guide talks about the parks lava tubes which we had difficulty finding because they were at another entrance.  Be sure to make the first left turn to get to them. *Camping is an option here!

Haleakala National Park

Haleakala is great because it contains two amazing places to see- the O’heo Gulch Pools (also known as the Seven Sacred Pools) and the Kipahulu Waterfall.

  1. The O’heo Gulch Pools are a series of pools and waterfalls that you can swim in (however they were closed for swimming due to rockslides; be sure to check ahead).
  2. The Kipahulu Waterfall is a four mile round-trip hike (from the parking lot) that leads you through a bamboo forest and ends with a beautiful waterfall.  The hike took us about two hours to complete which includes eating a packed lunch and stopping for pictures.

If you want to explore Haleakala State Park be sure to think about how much time you want to allot there as you could spend half a day there in itself. *$20 entrance fee

Hamoa Beach

On our way back towards Paia I really wanted to enjoy a nice beach, as we spent the first half of the day hiking.  Hamoa beach was perfect. A pristine sand beach with calm, warm, teal blue water. The best part about this beach is that it is difficult to reach as it’s so far into the Road to Hana experience so the crowds don’t exist (these pictures are from a Saturday afternoon) and you feel as if you have earned your privilege to relax on the beach having worked so hard to get here.

Support local food stands

As reviewed on the ‘Perfect Weekend Getaway in Maui’ here are some delicious items to keep an eye out for while driving-

-Coconut Glens Vegan Ice Cream; try the lilikoi flavor

-Maui Golden Pineapple; they are much less acidic than typical pineapples

-Baked breads

Ke’anae Arboretum

A somewhat long pull off on the road, this place has a lot of history (Thanks Gypsy Guide!) and a great look out with sharp, volcanic black rocks bursting along the coastline with powerful waves crashing alongside them.

Twin Falls

One of the first stop offs, we did this midday our second day and it wasn’t too crowded as most people seem to stop there as their first morning location.  Bring water shoes if you want to get into the water as it is rocky.

Garden of Eden

Another must see location, the Garden of Eden did not disappoint (especially as my expectations for a botanical garden are fairly high after visiting so many).  The land is privately owned and maintained, so your entrance fee helps preserve the grounds. There are so many beautiful flora species to see, as well as ocean and waterfall vistas, and what may have been the favorite is feeding the ducks and peacocks that live on the property (*be warned, these guys come hungry and with the tactfulness of a child digging into his Halloween candy).  Plan at least an hour here; better yet, as it’s close to the start of the Road to Hana you could visit this on a separate day.

Whether you’re a thrill seeker or a resort lover, the Road to Hana is a bucket list item that should not be missed.  Taking a day to drive through this adventure will provide a greater sense of what the Hawaiian islands have to offer beyond the beaches at the resorts.  Hopefully this guide will provide insight into planning a great day!

Top Tips for the Road to Hana, Maui:

  • The Gypsy Guide costs $5.  There are CDs and maps you can purchase as well, but when you are driving on a road with so many winds and turns, looking at a map can be dangerous.
  • Depending on where you are staying leave early.  Staying in or near Paia was great as we were basically already staying on the Road to Hana, whereas people staying in west or south Maui had to make a 30-45-minute drive just to get to Paia.
  • When renting a car, please consider the tight corners and that parts are unpaved.  It seems many tourists rent convertible mustangs which may be the least reasonable car for this adventure, yet you also do not need a full-sized sedan (don’t let the car rentals upsell you!)
  • Be a cautious, calm and polite driver; Hawaiians will tail you because they know the road better than you.  When possible, pull to the side and let them go around you
  • Do NOT stop on or along the road unless there is a proper pull off or lot
  • Pack your own food, especially if you’re leaving early in the morning as most stands won’t be open until midday
  • Paia town is considered a Road to Hana stop, however we stayed in Paia and feel it should be done separately as it’s a cute town and there is so much to experience further on the road
  • Don’t expect excellent (or any) cell service
  • The road received its name for the town Hana, there isn’t much of a reason to stop in the town, so if pressed for time, feel free to drive past
  • You can drive past Haleakala State Park but the road turns into hairpin turns and dirt paths.  In fact, many rental companies say your contract is void if you drive past this area

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Where to stay in Maui, Hawaii

Where to stay in Maui, Hawaii

Details about each area of Maui & travel styles they match

One of the most difficult parts of planning a weekend getaway is making sure your lodging is the best location for your ideal type of trip.  Maui may be an island but there is so much to experience with each neighborhood bringing its own unique perks with it. When you visit Maui consider the kind of vacation you are looking for; total beach relaxation, hiking and exploring, historic towns, or water adventures.  This will help you decide which area to book lodging with.

Note: this post contains affiliate links to products we love and have purchased ourselves on Amazon. Clicking these links doesn’t cost you any extra money, and you’re supporting us by doing so. You can view our disclosure page for additional details.

There are four areas to Maui, each with its own set of unique landscapes and lodgings.

I found this image from Pinterest in 2015 and have not been able to find the original owner, if you know who created this image please let me know

North Shore/Upcountry

Probably the largest area and most lush.  This is where authentic Hawaiian lifestyle lives.  The beaches will be windier (great for kite & wind surfing) and Paia Town is a great starting point if you want to do the Road to Hana (you want to do the road to Hana; read my guide to the Road to Hana here!).  Further upcountry will get you better views.

*We stayed in the perfect bungalow of an AirBnB – this place was a studio and walking distance to the cutest grocery store.  Big plus was that it is already ten minutes onto the Road to Hana, so visitors beat a ton of the crowds leaving from here.

Use this link to get $40 off of your first stay using AirBnb!

West Maui

West Maui is the most popular area to stay and where the original resorts are located.  There is a lot of dining options as well as the old whaling village, Lahaina. The beaches are sunny and dry and is one of the prettiest parts of Maui as you’ll have the West Maui mountains as your backdrop.  Something to consider is that with popularity comes tourist traps, tacky shops and lower quality service. It is also a farther drive from other parts of Maui

South Maui

South Maui is less crowded than West Maui with the most sunshine access on the island.  There are great beaches in South Maui such as Kihei, Makena and Molokini. It is closest to the airport and I’ve been told it can feel ‘spring-breaky’, so know what type of experience you want based on where you are staying.

East Maui

East Maui is the most remote side of the island and reached by the Road to Hana.  If you are looking for an authentic Hawaiian experience than this would be the place; lots of hiking, waterfalls and outdoors to explore.  Just remember that getting here will take time, so consider that when looking at flight arrival times. I found that visiting East Maui for a day trip or even for an overnight excursion would suffice for a weekend trip to Maui.

While the Hawaiian Islands are similar to one another, each has an individuality to them and Maui is a favorite among many.  Knowing ahead of time what type of a trip you are seeking and matching lodging to that will help make sure you have a fantastic time.  If you have questions regarding Maui comment below and I’ll connect with you directly.

Mahalo!

Top TIPS for where to stay in Maui

  • Take into consideration driving time; there are only a handful of main roads and traffic backs up during peak times (afternoons around 2-5pm)

  • As stated at the beginning of this post, know your vacation type (especially if you are only visiting for a weekend) so that you can take advantage of all of your time here

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Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico Facts & Tips

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico Facts & Tips

Everything you need to know & the best tips!

You can travel almost anywhere in the world these days, yet there is something special about being able to be able to have visited a National Park.  Want to feel patriotic?  Visit a National park.  Eager to connect with the beauty of nature?  Visit a National park.  Seeking to be visually inspired?  Visit a National Park.  Anyone can navigate a city or snap a picture of an interesting looking place, yet it is an altogether different experience to enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature.

        My expectation for Carlsbad Caverns was similar to visiting White Sands National Park.  Thinking ‘so, this cavern should take about 20 minutes to walk through…’ once again proved incorrect for ambiguous New Mexico.  At Carlsbad Caverns be prepared for a massive plunge into the earth.

        While driving towards the mountain that balances a border for New Mexico and Texas a sense of nostalgia runs through you as the small towns and frequented gas stations showcase small town life nearby this mammoth sized underground site.  Winding roads through undulating bare boned bluffs bring you far away from civilization and has me wondering how anyone discovered this place way out here.  At the top is the main entrance with a spectacular view of your desert surroundings.  Looking towards the Guadalupe Mountains, all that is seen is desert and desolation and I was left day dreaming of western cowboys kicking their spurs and somehow surviving this seemingly isolated land.

        Within the Chihuahuan Desert, hidden deep under the surface are over 100 fragile limestone caves bursting with diversity and beauty.  Fragile because they are susceptible to human activities; any remaining garbage, stepping on unsolicited walking areas, oily hands touching cave walls and formations can all negatively impact Carlsbad Caverns (really any cave for that matter).

        Opting to take the natural entrance, we zig zagged through the stunning opening that narrows down.  Once through the shadowy entry and with eyes adjusting to the light to dark transition the extensive size of this place wows each first timer.

        Hours can be spent examining each stalagmite, small pool of water and colossal ‘rooms’.  Don’t be fooled by the desolate desert outside as Carlsbad Caverns holds secrets from earth’s beginning.  Here is another example where feelings of a second rate destination transformed into awe and humility.

        Understanding now that any place can have its hidden gem and surprise you, I’m looking forward to visiting New Mexico again.  Have you ever visited a place with little confidence and been enthusiastically surprised at its unexpected beauty?

Fun Facts about Carlsbad Caverns

  • A 16 year old discovered this place in 1898!  Talk about fulfilling a childhood dream.  I don’t know about you, but I definitely considered a career as a treasure hunter after watching National Treasure, so stumbling upon this place must’ve been incredible!
  • There is a deadly fungus called “White-nose Syndrome” that can kill Brazilian free-tailed bats.  Carlsbad Caverns is host to the highest number of these critters so protecting their home is vital!
  • President Obama came here once for a Fathers day weekend trip with the First Family

 

TIPS for visiting Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

  • If you have a camera that can withstand darkness with a flash that won’t hurt the quality of the photo- bring it!  My iPhone did okay and my professional camera needed custom Manual settings and my flash still didn’t withstand it
  • Dress in layers; it’s windy at the buildings entrance and chilly inside of the caves but your body temperature will adjust
  • Include in your arrival time the drive from the entrance to the parking lot.  It’s about a 20 minute drive through winding roads once you pass the entrance to get to the parking lot
  • The parking lot is easily accessible and free!
  • The Visitor Center opens at 8:00am, with the Natural Entrance opening at 8:30am,.  I’d arrive before then to be towards the front of the line to purchase tickets.  Then allow the first round of visitors to enter so that you can take pictures with few other visitors in the way.
  • Take the Natural Entrance in, and the elevator out.  The winding entrance is a stunning way to enter and shouldn’t be missed.
  • Passes are $10/person.  There are options for ranger guided tours to add on to your ticket
  • The rented audio devices are okay.  Quite frankly, listening to it all became excessive fairly quickly.  I’d suggest reading the general information beforehand to learn about it
  • Arrive before it opens, but don’t go in until most the early crowd goes; this way you can take pictures with the entrance with less people in them (see my images above)

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Visit White Sands National Monument

Visit White Sands National Monument

A New Mexican Gem- what to expect & how to plan your visit

If you ever find yourself on a road trip that takes you through New Mexico- GO to White Sands National Monument.  Beautiful & serene, it was a stunning place hidden in the desert.

        As an east coast girl, I knew little to nothing about New Mexico prior to my visit… apart from Walter White’s fictional take over and an assumption that there must be tumbleweeds everywhere.  So, when I ventured there for a family visit with my boyfriend I was intrigued as to what he would have planned for us.

        Marcus had been talking about White Sands to me A LOT.  At first I thought he was doing this as a way to convince me to go to a state that in my mind didn’t have much to offer.  In reality, this place truly surprised me. After an evening in Las Cruces and Old Mesilla, we woke up early to reach one of the world’s great natural wonders.  Driving through the desert was stunning for sunrise; with little vegetation and vast open lands there isn’t much to hide the sun peaking over the horizon of the mountains west of Alamogordo.  As the terrain began to be hilly towards the end our drive we were able to see the tops of the white sand dunes in the distance. This sneak peek filled both of us with excitement as the hype for this visit had been going on for over a year.

       Upon pulling into the parking lot you’ll find a visitor center with a small shop and museum displaying the importance of desert life and its wildlife.  Opening at 8:00am with only a $5 entrance fee, I would suggest getting there in the early morning when it opens or the evening for sunset.  Remember, it’s in a desert, so midday will be extremely hot.

        As tempted as you might be to park at the first available spot within the park drive as far back as you can to find solitude away from the other visitors, then get out of your car and walk around.  Not only will you enjoy the scenic drive of the glistening white cascading dunes, but you’ll also more easily be able to secure an area for solitude.  When we went in the morning, I was able to walk around barefoot and loved it!  The sand was cool to the touch and much easier to walk along then a coastal beach sand.  This is because the sand is made of gypsum that’s eroded from the nearby San Andres and Sacramento mountains.

FUN FACT: gypsum is water soluble, so typically would runoff to the ocean from rainfall, but White Sands is situated in a basin with no access to leave, hence its build up.

Top Tips for visiting White Sands National Monument

  • Go early in the morning or at sunset; it’s in the desert, so the sun will be beaming.  Best to avoid high afternoon sun
  • DON’T leave trash behind
  • Wear whatever!
  • Bring your own sled to slide down the dunes. (*we thought a broken down box would work…. It didn’t.) Or you can rent sleds at the guest center

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