Category Archives: National and State Parks

Kenai Fjord Tour in Seward, Alaska

This is, sadly, the last post in our Off to Alaska tour. There are two things we think you absolutely must do while in Alaska: one, take a bus tour through Denali National Park and two, take a boat tour through Kenai Fjords National Park.

We took a 9-hour tour, starting from the harbor heading about 75 miles to a glacier and back through Kenai Fjords National Park with Kenai Fjords Tours. The tour is $184 per person, including breakfast and lunch (surprisingly good), and was well worth the price. The captain was extremely knowledgeable, giving information throughout the tour, and I don’t know it if it was just luck, but we saw plenty of wild life, though my camera wasn’t that great at capturing it.

Pod of orcas on Kenai Fjord Tour
A pod of orcas – my best wildlife capture of the day!

Views on Kenai Fjord Tour

Glacier
Glacier with some seals out yonder
Whale tail
Whale tail!
Fjords from a boat
Goodbye fjords!

Hopefully the pictures speak for themselves. All in all, we highly recommended the Kenai Fjords Tour if you’re not used to seeing fjords, whales, sea lions, orcas, glaciers and puffins… which I think is many of us.

If you’d like to catch up on the rest of our trip to Alaska, you can read about our time in Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Denali National Park. It was an amazing 2-week trip!

Denali National Park – Caribou, mountains and bears, oh my!

We had been planning on visiting Denali National Park once we made it to Anchorage, since it was an hour closer than Fairbanks. But, the dismal weather in Fairbanks had us itching for a change of scenery. On a whim, we decided to drive out and see what sort of magic Alaska had in store for us.

It turns out, it had a lot.

On our first visit to Denali, we took a hike on a couple of the trails near the Wilderness Access Center and the Visitor’s Center, and we scheduled a bus tour for the next day.

Before we left the park for the day, we heard there was going to be a demonstration of the Denali sled dogs given by the rangers, so we visited the kennels. There were husky puppies and we got to see the dogs pull a sled around in front of us! Such cute! Wow.

The next day, we got up around 3am to get to Denali National Park for our 6:15am, 11 hour bus tour. We managed to catch some aurora displays on the way (sorry for the crappy iPhone pics of it, but we didn’t have time to stop for pictures).

Needless to say, the views in the park were breathtaking. We highly recommend taking a tour farther into the park than you’re allowed to drive yourself because the mountain ranges become more spectacular with each mile. We saw tons of wildlife and had a great time!

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

I’ve visited Pittsburgh maybe 25 times in my life. I can’t say that Pittsburgh is in the forefront of my mind when it comes to planning a trip but my mom lives there, so we visit pretty often.

Mandy and Jessy when they were young
Me and my sister when we were teens getting ready to go snow tubing!

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Our Road Trip from Florida to the Grand Canyon

With Detours to Ruby Falls, The Meteor Crater, Painted Desert and Petrified Forest

The road trip from Orlando, Florida to the Grand Canyon that we took from September 26, 2011 to October 2, 2011 is something that we’ve mentioned in one of our first posts, and is still probably one of the most epic, fun, adventurous road trips that John and I have taken.

The Grand Canyon was actually never on either of our ‘lists of places to see’. A big hole in the ground didn’t really intrigued us. But road trips did. And a road trip out west really intrigued me.

We had a week of vacation coming up with no real plans and the Grand Canyon popped into my head. I looked up how long it would take to drive — 1 day and 8 hours. It would be a crazy road trip. We would have to drive almost straight through just to have a couple of days to explore the park. We’d have to sleep in the car! It would be epic, like those coming-of-age movies where friends have crazy road trips! (At least, that’s what I thought anyway.)

So on the morning of September 26, 2011, we set out with adventure on our mind.

Continue reading Our Road Trip from Florida to the Grand Canyon

Crater Lake and the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway

So, if you can’t tell from our last posts, Oregon is super pretty.

Mountain view
View off of Highway 230 (Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway)

Like, super-duper pretty.

View point off of Highway 230 (Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway)
View point off of Highway 230 (Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway)

The last time that Mandy and I were on the Pacific Coast, we had really wanted to check out Crater Lake but because of the season, most of the roads were closed down and covered in snow. We decided to hang a little closer to where we were staying, which at that point was San Fransisco, and do some sight-seeing there.

Continue reading Crater Lake and the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Until we purchased Fodor’s The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West (Full-color Travel Guide), we had never really thought of visiting a volcanic site. We figured the areas would be considered dangerous, off-limits, and we never actually considered that there would be any in the US.

Our main attraction to northern California was the redwoods, but we noticed as we were planning that Lassen Volcanic National Park wasn’t too far. We decided to stay near Mount Shasta and take a day trip out to Lassen Volcanic National Park while we were there.

We only spent about four hours at the park, but it seemed like you could spend a few days. The park was huge and offered scenic drives, hikes, and some awesome geothermal activity.

A ring of volcanic rock from the explosion of Lassen Peak in 1915
A ring of volcanic rock from the explosion of Lassen Peak in 1915

Continue reading Lassen Volcanic National Park

The Redwoods Along the Pacific Coast Highway

As I had posted in my personal blog last year, I had always wanted to see the redwoods in California. I remember flipping through this old travel book my parents had; I was always amazed at the pictures of tiny people next to massive, living, towering trees.

Having been born in California while my parents were in the Navy, I’d actually been to see the redwoods when I was a little baby. My mom always talked about them fondly, saying they were amazing and bigger than you can imagine.

When people say things are more than you can imagine, you still try to imagine them. You might even think that you’ve successfully imagined the awe inspiring feeling you’d get from looking at the redwoods… but you haven’t.

We drove from Crescent City down to San Francisco in November of 2013 on Highway 101. It was a 6.5 hour drive. Honestly, a bit short by our normal standards of driving 12+ hours per day. We even stayed in Fort Bragg for a couple nights in the middle of the drive. This gave us plenty of time to see the northern Californian coast.

The redwoods thrive and are able to grow so tall because of the fog on the west coast. John and I had never seen fog quite so thick or expansive. If I remember correctly, we were either driving through, towards, or around fog for 2-3 hours of our morning drive.

The smallest redwoods we saw were at least 2 times the size of the largest pine trees we’ve seen in Florida. In areas with older groves that weren’t bothered by loggers, looking up towards the top of the trees reminded me of looking up at the buildings in New York City. Nothing has ever made me feel smaller or more in awe of our planet.

Endert’s Beach Overlook

This was a little park near Crescent City. It has hiking trails and we took a short 30 minute hike that reminded us of something from Jurassic Park.

Bridge and ferns

Moss

Coastal hike near Crescent City

It was extremely foggy and wet, but we got to experience some coastal hiking and even saw one of those huge banana slugs.

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Banana slug for scale
A banana slug for scale

The overlook was nice even if we couldn’t see much. We had initially stopped there in hopes of seeing a whale but we could barely see the water below.

Fog at Endert's Beach Overlook

Fog at Endert's Beach Overlook

Cathedral Trees Trail

We stopped at the Cathedral Trees Trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. This park had one of the first really large redwoods we had the opportunity to stand next to.

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Meet the Big Tree:

John in front of the Big Tree in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
John in front of the Big Tree in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

John looking up at the

This was a really lovely hike. I noticed that everywhere that we hiked in California, it was very quiet. Maybe it was the time of year (mid-November), but everything seemed very peaceful.

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Lady Bird Johnson Grove

The Lady Bird Johnson Grove was a really short hike on a lot of boardwalks. We were here around 2pm and the sun came through the trees beautifully. I guess all of the moisture in the air gives the light a lot to play off of.

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Fern Canyon

Fern Canyon was a really fun and easy hike in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. We got a little wet walking in the creek between the fern walls and saw so many different types of mushrooms.

Driving to Fern Canyon
The drive through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park to Fern Canyon was lovely, dark and deep.
Elk
We saw elk – for real
John in Fern Canyon
John taking a picture of me taking a picture of him
Fern Canyon
Playing in the canyon
Shallow waters
Shallow water
Fern Canyon
Leveling up those climbing skills
Fern Canyon
Tight roping in Fern Canyon
mushrooms
Mushrooms galore
Mushrooms galore
Like I said…
Fern Canyon, California
Fern Canyon
Mushrooms
I enjoy taking pictures of mushrooms
Mandy and John at Fern Canyon
A little hippy took a picture of us
Mandy at Fern Canyon
Everything just seems to dwarf me… but that’s nothing new
Fern Canyon
John on the path towards/away from Fern Canyon
mushrooms
One more for good measure

 

Avenue of the Giants

Before we started driving through the Avenue of the Giants, I had it in my head that it couldn’t possibly be that great to drive through the redwoods. We had been driving through the redwoods along 101 all day, so what could be so different?

Amazing redwoods – Avenue of the Giants

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The Avenue of the Giants
Our redwoods will blot out the sun!

The redwoods along the Avenue of the Giants are bigger, better, and some are so close to the road you feel like you want to fold in the side-view mirrors to keep them from flying off.

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The only problem is that because the trees are so enormous and not a lot of light gets through to the road, I couldn’t take good photos without stopping the car.

I often wondered if people who live near the redwoods get used to seeing them on the side of the road. I was just in awe for the entire drive, especially on the Avenue of the Giants, gasping every 10-20 minutes as we passed by another tree trunk that was at least 6 feet in diameter.

The redwoods are something everyone should see at least once in their life. Standing next to one is so humbling.