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Camping and Visiting Rainbow Springs State Park

Rainbow springs is a gorgeous state park on the western side of the Florida peninsula. It first caught my eye when I was browsing state parks in Florida that would be a good weekend camping trip. The crystal clear blue water surrounded by mossy live oaks and palmetto trees looked unreal. When I saw an opening on a Friday this spring I jumped on it! I sent a text to my boyfriend and told him the plan. We were going to spend one night at the campground, visit the springs, and then spend the next day in Saint Augustine, Florida. This ended up being the perfect amount of time at both places and made an incredible weekend getaway for us.

Rainbow Springs State Park

The Area

There aren’t many large towns nearby Rainbow Springs State Park but the closest is Dunnellon, Florida. It’s a tiny little town with some shops, grocery stores, a few restaurants and bars to it’s name. There are ranches full of cattle and horses all over the area and it gives it a quiet pastoral vibe. Most people come here to visit the springs or the Rainbow River which is extremely popular for floating, stand up paddle boarding, and kayaking. Rainbow Springs has been a draw for people for over ten thousand years. Native Americans used to visit the springs. In the 1930’s the area was a theme park. You can actually still see remnants of the park when you walk around. There are multiple waterfalls and ruins of a small zoo left. The waterfalls make some really pretty pictures so I am glad they survived so long. The Head springs and the Campground are in two far away places so walking from one to the other while possible isn’t recommended. You’ll need a car.

Visiting the Park

The Headsprings is where you will want to go if you are interested in swimming or walking the grounds. You can also kayaks here if you want to explore the Rainbow River. The spring produces 490 gallons of crystal clear water daily, so this is probably one of the cleanest rivers you could explore. Tubes are not allowed in the Headsprings area, but there is tubing entrance in the park at S.W. 180th Avenue Rd, Dunnellon, FL 34432. Tubes are available for rent there for the admission fee plus the $20 tube rental fee.

  • Admission is $2 per person
  • Children under 6 are FREE
  • Open 8 am to Sunset, 365 days a year

There is a gift shop, bathrooms, a snack bar, picnic tables, and pavilions. There is plenty of room to stretch out on a blanket on the grass between swims if you want. Miles of trails to hike are available as well. The paths are landscaped with lots of ornamental and native plants. You will see the waterfalls along these paths. We had a lot of fun just walking around for a few hours. We decided not to swim since the spring water is only seventy two degrees year round. That’s a little brisk for my taste. The swimming area is roped off for safety reasons I’m sure. There is a little floating dock you can get in and out on. The water did look super inviting (just like a pool) as you can see in the picture below.

Swimming in Rainbow Springs is 72 degrees year round

Visiting Rainbow Springs Campground

Rainbow Springs Campground is compact. The cost to camp for one night is $40. There are RV and tent sites. All of them have water and power hook ups. There are multiple bath houses which was nice. Our tent site was #60 which is as far back into the woods as you can possibly be. It was plenty spacious! I had more than enough room for my Nemo Dagger 3P, chairs, Platypus GravityWorks water filter (I brought it for taste more than purification this time), and cooler. There is a fire pit, grill, a clothes line, and a picnic table. Unfortunately there isn’t much space between tent sites so you can pretty much see your neighbors and you can really hear them.

SIDE NOTE: I really liked our site but we had one group of neighbors who really didn’t feel like respecting the 11 pm quiet time rule. They stayed up with their kids and dogs until 1:30 in the morning speaking incredibly loudly and didn’t shut up even after they were asked by other campers. I do not blame the rangers or campground for those campers. The rangers we spoke with before and after were incredibly nice and helpful. I mentioned the disruptive people to the front desk ranger when we left and she was very concerned about it. Her reaction meant more to me than anything else. You could tell she really loved her job and didn’t want people coming away with a bad experience. There is a number you can call if something like that happens to you. A ranger lives on site.

Launch site at Rainbow Springs Campground

We checked in around 3 pm. We went to the springs first to kill time which probably wasn’t the best plan since we could’ve had free admission if we had gone after we checked in. It’s only $2 if you want to visit the springs first or if you’re short on time like we were. After pitching our tent and setting up camp we decided to head to the Rainbow River and launch site at the campground. It is a pretty short walk. In mid-March it was still too early and they weren’t offering kayak rentals at the time. We settled for watching boaters and stand up paddle boarders go by. You can swim in this area but it is full of grass and really didn’t look appealing. The swampy green area didn’t deter two young campers though! This was one of the best places in the campground to catch a breeze. Other families joined us there and it almost seemed like a neighborhood block party with people in camp chairs chatting it up. After about thirty minutes we were getting pretty hungry. We skipped lunch to make good time.

Dinner was a medley of ramen noodles, tortilla chips and local salsa that we picked up at the Winn-Dixie close by. This was my first time trying out my new Camp Chef Stryker stove. I was really impressed at how well it did! It brought the water to a boil extremely fast and had room to cook two whole packs of ramen at once without worrying about boiling over. The whole system packed up very easily. The only downside is the stove system and pot is a bit bulky and heavy compared to the super lightweight models on the market if you were to take it backpacking. It was perfect for a quick car camping trip! I also got two super cute insulated mugs before the trip which doubled as our cups and bowls. After dinner we cleaned up and headed to the nature trails on the campsite. It is a pretty short trail that runs along some power lines and pine trees. It made a nice quick walk but it is by no means a hike.

Milkweed the sole host for Monarch butterflies grows wild at the Rainbow Springs Campground

The bath houses nearest the tent sites is a single room for each sex. The shower, toilet and sink are all in one room. They seemed clean and decent for a camp shower. There are some plugs if you need to use a blow dryer or charge your phone while you shower. The sink has an odd faucet though and you have to push it from the bottom to get water flowing. I have never seen that before. It makes brushing your teeth a tedious process. MAKE SURE you bring flip flops or shower shoes, and a towel. I had a little trouble balancing all of my bath products on the shower bar. If you have a tote it would be helpful. I had plenty of hot water for my shower that night, but my boyfriend had no hot water on two attempts. He even got up the minute quiet time was over to try and get a hot shower with no luck. I’m not sure if it was just the men’s bathroom or what. If that bath house is taken there are other bathrooms at the back of the main office, a short walk away.

Now I already commented on the rowdy neighbors at camp that made sleep difficult, but once they shut up the animals got brave. You are definitely in the wilderness here just remember that! We had a very persistent raccoon that kept trying to break into our cooler. We chased it off three times, and it came back every time! Eventually it got it open and realized there were no goodies inside. Just some canned drinks. If you have any food please just put it in your car. If you have a cooler you should probably put it in the car at night too. After the raccoon a skunk came close to our tent, and a pack of coyotes was howling nearby. The humidity, heat and noise were too much for us to get a decent night’s sleep. If we had been in an RV the whole experience would’ve been totally different. I think for Florida unless you are visiting in the depths of winter tent camping tends to be a hot buggy affair.

One tip from my cousin who camps and hikes constantly is to download a white noise app on your phone to block out the animal noises. If nothing else it will keep you from freaking out at every squirrel who passes your tent at night.

In the morning we got up at first light, packed up and checked out with the front desk. We were off to Saint Augustine. We stopped at Breakfast Station on the way out of town for a ton of coffee and some delicious cinnamon swirl pancakes. The service was great and the price was extremely affordable!

……Now if we had been able to stay for two nights I would have tried going tubing or kayaking in the river on the second day. March had pleasant weather so it’s a good time to visit. If you go a little later in the year the brisk spring water might be a little more alluring. A good day trip would be Devils Den in Williston if you want to venture a bit further. It is a prehistoric spring which is great for diving.

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Best Ways to Get Around in Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon is a beautiful hilly city, but those hills can make getting around extra tiring if you aren’t prepared. Thankfully there are a lot of ways to get around in Lisbon. My best advice is using a combination of transportation that way you get to see the most of Lisbon with your time there.

Getting from the Airport

Lisbon’s airport is located 20 minutes by car from the center of town. You can take an Uber, Taxi, or public transportation to get there. Each method of transportation has it’s pros and cons. It’s up to you and your schedule to decide what will work best.

Uber

Uber was what I used most. I used it for getting from the airport and getting around to areas further out. From the airport the 20 min ride cost me about €8. I walked the majority of the time, so when I was tired I would just Uber back to the Airbnb. I didn’t use one often maybe once a day so it was affordable for me. I didn’t have a lot of time, and I didn’t want to waste it waiting. Lisbon is pretty compact and it’s easy to see most of it on foot. Uber is great when you don’t speak the language since everything is booked online. The rate is set and it’s harder to be taken advantage of. Portugal also has A LOT of hybrid or electric Uber vehicles, so you can get Uber Green here.

Lisbon Metro

Lisbon’s metro might be one of your best choices for getting to and from the airport. Since you can transfer lines without paying extra it is cheaper than using the bus system. A ride from the airport to Baxia-Chiado station is
1.50 euros and takes only 30 minutes. Just watch out for pickpockets. There are warnings in the stations in English and Portuguese to mind your belongings. You can look up routes and rates here. If you are wanting to purchase a 24 hour transportation pass you should get it while you are in the metro station. These all day passes cost €6.30.

Bus

If you are getting a day or multiple day bus pass then taking the bus from the airport might be a good option for you. The bus is affordable but you must zap your card every time you switch buses. Unless you are taking a direct line with no transfers then it will be more expensive than the metro. A single ride one way on the bus is €1.85. If you are already paying for a full day however it doesn’t matter how many transfers you make. Day passes are €6.30 and allow unlimited travel over a twenty four hour period on buses, trams, and metros.

Private Transfer

If you like the idea of a personal driver picking you up from the airport this is your best option. No dealing with taxis, tickets, or route maps. The driver will be waiting to greet you when you arrive. Most of these companies use luxury cars. For two people from the airport to the city center it costs about €105-116. Large groups may consider hiring a large van or bus, but you will need to call for pricing and availability.

Getting Around the City

The bus, Uber, and the metro lines are still the best options for getting around once you’re in Lisbon. They are super convenient, and pretty easy to navigate if you have a smart phone and a map app. Google maps will tell you exactly which lines or bus you need to get on. It will also tell you how much an Uber should cost and how long it will take you to reach the destination. If you are planning on getting around on the public transportation the majority of the time you are there you may want to get a prepaid card for the amount of days you are in the city. The Lisbon Card is also a great idea if you are also planning on visiting most of the museums it includes in the price. If you are walking or only taking a bus like twice a day you are probably better off just paying as you go.

Walking

Walking is my absolute favorite way to get around a new city. You see more when you are walking. You can stop and take pictures, you can wander down alleyways, and it’s free! Even when the weather isn’t great I just carry an umbrella, rain jacket and waterproof shoes with me. No big deal! The other great thing about walking a city is you don’t have to feel guilty about overindulging on all the amazing food there. I typically put in about seven miles a day everyday on vacation. I also LOVE to just pick a direction, and wander as far as I can. Once I get tired I just get an Uber to take me back to the room. I have found the most incredible spots doing this, so try it!

Trams

The bright yellow Lisbon trams are famous. While they are helpful for getting up hills they tend to be quite crowded. I know a lot of people recommend taking one when you are in Lisbon, but I opted out. When you see the line for tram 28, the most famous one, you’ll probably reconsider going on it too. I went in February which is the off season and they were always busy. The thing is there are tons of other options that are less crowded! Putting yourself in a crowded place invites pickpockets, and I avoid that as much as possible. NOW if you have always dreamed of taking a tram in Lisbon by all means DO! You do you! A single ticket purchased on-board the tram costs €2.90. The trams are included in the all day public transportation ticket, so you can use those.

Tuk Tuk

Just like the ones in Asia these odd little vehicles are great for zipping around a city. You will see them parked in the main squares and streets. They are great for sightseeing. Expect to pay €40-70 for an hour ride. Most Tuk Tuks can hold up to six people. You can make reservations ahead of time if you want to book a sightseeing tour.

Hop on Hop off Bus Tours

If you want a tour, but still want a lot of flexibility to get off and spend time in certain places a hop on and off bus tour may be a good choice. These buses allow you to get on and off at preset locations around the city. Typically these spots are the most popular sights. You can just ride the bus around the city if you don’t feel like getting out and walking. These bus tours start at around €24 per day. You can also get passes for two days or more.

Hiring a driver

This is your most pricey option, but it is certainly the most enjoyable. You can hire a personal driver and your own private tour guide to take you around the city. You tell them exactly where you want to go and they help make a route for you. No driving, no parking, no headaches. If you just want to relax the whole time it is worth the money. Since Lisbon is cheaper than a lot of major European cities it might be one of the most affordable to hire a driver. Just make sure you look up the credentials of the company first and make sure the vehicles are up to par. You will want to book this well in advance to ensure you get a knowledgeable English speaking driver. Half day tours cost around €400, and Full day tours cost about €475.

Moped

Want a little more freedom to move around the city or make day trips to places like Sintra? Renting a vehicle might be worth it to you. Mopeds are your best bet if you only have one other person travelling with you, the weather is good, and you are experienced with driving one. They have the benefit of being easy to park. Once you get to Lisbon you’ll realize parking is a luxury. Mopeds are easier to squeeze into the odd places cars can’t. Mopeds are also pretty fun to drive! They will run you about €30-80 per day depending on which kind you rent.

Rental Car

If you are with a large group of people and still want to rent a vehicle, then a car might be best for you. It is also a better idea when the weather isn’t good like in the winter. The streets of Lisbon are narrow like most old cities, and they are not the easiest to park on with a car. Most hotels will not include parking either. They may just say street parking is available. Places like Sintra are even harder to park in. There are so many people there for day visits that you will be circling for awhile most likely. I would personally only rent a car for the days you are actually travelling. dealing with parking in the city center is a huge pain. A rental car will start around $12 per day and go up from there. If you can only drive automatic cars you will have to pay a little more in Europe since they aren’t as common. I would recommend booking them ahead of your trip so you can reserve the car you want especially if you can’t drive a manual.

I hope this guide helps you decide which method of transportation works for you and your travel style. I think the best way to explore is by using multiple methods. This isn’t every option possible, but it is a list of the most popular methods. Please keep in mind the time of day you are traveling makes a difference in availability and pricing. Trips to the airport in the middle of the night cost more than in the day. Bus routes might not run 24/7. Just make sure you look at actual routes on the official websites before you make reservations.

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The Best Places to Stay in Lisbon Portugal

You have decided to visit Lisbon (YAY!), and now you’re wondering where is the best place to stay. There is no “BEST” place but there is a best place for YOU. Each area and neighborhood has a totally unique vibe. Considering that you should decide where to stay based on:

  • Price– What can you afford for the time you’re there. If you are only there a few days then maybe you want to go all out, but if you are there for awhile you might want something a little cheaper. Luckily Lisbon is affordable for a European country so you get decent bang for your buck.
  • What you want to do – Are you interested in the historic side of Lisbon, or are you there to go out at night? You always want to put your hotel room near the attractions you’re most interested in. This makes the most of your precious time on vacation.
  • What kind of feel you want – Do you want to be immersed in a really authentic Portuguese neighborhood where people are out living their daily lives, or are you wanting to be in the touristy area where things are catered towards you? Yes you are a tourist, and no, touristy doesn’t necessarily equal bad. You need to be honest about what you want to be around.
Santa Justa Lift in the Baixa neighborhood of Lisbon

Baixa

Baixa is the most central neighborhood. This part of the city was completely rebuilt in the 1700’s after a massive earthquake. This is where most of the touristy things to do are. Most of the restaurants, clubs and shops are here. It is also the busiest, and the priciest area. Some of the attractions located here are: The Santa Justa Lift,
Avenida da Liberdade, and many emblematic squares where you can find locals and tourists.

You will like Baixa if you:

  • You really want to be in the thick of the action
  • You want to go shopping a lot
  • You want to go to the nicest restaurants
  • You want to go out to the clubs at night
  • Noise and traffic don’t bother you
  • You don’t want to walk far to see the sights
  • You don’t mind spending extra on accommodations

Chiado

Chiado is the most elegant neighborhood in Lisbon. It has stately buildings from the 1700’s, but many of them were restored in the 1990’s after a devastating fire in 1988. This neighborhood is very trendy with it’s stores, cafes, and restaurants. This area has a very cosmopolitan vibe. Located next to Baixa and Bairro Alto.

You will like Chiado if :

  • You love shopping at high end international brands
  • want to spend your day in cafes
  • You enjoy strolling the promenades
  • You want to see beautiful architecture
  • You want to visit the trendiest places
  • You like museums
  • You don’t mind spending a little extra
Azulejo tiled homes in Lisbon Portugal

Bairro Alto

This neighborhood is a shabby chic mix of sleepy authentic neighborhood by day and party area at night. This is where the bars spill out on to the streets. It is an authentic neighborhood close to the city center. You will find street art and laundry hanging in windows. Stay here if you want the most hipster happening place. Just realize the Portuguese stay out LATE so if you are a light sleeper this might not be the place for you.

You will like Bairro Alto if:

  • You are really into art and all things hipster
  • You love going out at night
  • You sleep like the dead
  • You want to experience an authentic neighborhood
  • You don’t need a super polished experience
  • You are looking for LGBT friendly places
  • You want to save a little money
Overlooking the Alfama neighborhood in Lisbon Portugal

Alfama

Alfama is one of the oldest neighborhoods is all of Europe. It is a Medieval area that was spared by the 1755 earthquake. Full of narrow streets and alleys. This is the most authentic and in my opinion interesting neighborhood in Lisbon. It has been through many phases. Once the Moorish and Jewish district, followed by an area inhabited by fisherman families. It still holds to it’s past. It is the best place to wander in the city and see what you can discover. It is one of the best areas to experience Fado, the music style of melancholic singing that originated in bars and pubs in the area.

You will like Alfama if:

  • You want to experience the soul of Lisbon
  • You want to see old historic buildings
  • You want to see the best examples of Azulejo Tiles
  • You want to experience Fado music
  • Your ideal day is spent wandering the streets
  • You want to be away from the hustle and bustle
Belem Tower in the Belem neighborhood of Lisbon

Belem

Belem is the museum area of Lisbon. This is where you will find monuments dedicated to the Portuguese explorers, the Tower of Belem, and tons of museums. The famous
Pastéis de Belém originated here and you can find it all over the place. This neighborhood has beautiful waterfront views and promenades to walk on. It is also home to the Royal Palace and the Botanical Gardens.

You will like Belem if:

  • You love visiting museums and monuments
  • You are obsessed with history
  • You love pastry
  • You don’t want to be in the city center, but still want lots to do
  • You aren’t terribly interested in going out at night
  • You love gardens
  • You want to visit the Royal palace

Park of the Nations

Created in 1998 for the Lisbon World Exposition this area has a more modern feel. The area is easy to navigate and is great if you have children. This is where you will find the second largest Aquarium in Europe, The Oceanário de Lisboa. The Water Garden is a wonderful attraction especially for kids. You will find modern shopping malls, lots of restaurants, parks, and pedestrian areas. The Vasco da Gama Tower is where you can get a great view of Lisbon. If you plan of visiting lots of other areas in Portugal this area is great. Home to the beautiful Oriente train station it is connected to regional and local trains, metros, and buses. It is pretty far for walking to the other parts of Lisbon but if you have a city pass you are well connected via public transportation.

You will like Park of the Nations if:

  • You want to be in a modern area of the city
  • You want to be able to travel to other parts of Portugal easily
  • You want to get around via public transportation
  • You are getting the Lisboa Card
  • You want the most modern hotels and accommodations
  • You like spending time in parks and pedestrian areas
  • You are travelling with children

There are other neighborhoods in Lisbon, but these are my favorites for tourists. You will find the most to see and do in these places. Most of the hotels and Airbnb‘s are in these neighborhoods as well. Staying further out may save you money, but keep in mind your time is more valuable. If you spend your whole day travelling to and from your hotel you aren’t going to get to experience as much. I hope this helps you pick your best neighborhood.

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The 15 Most Romantic Places to Propose in Charleston

Charleston is my hometown, and I have so much love for my city! In my opinion Charleston is the most romantic town in the South and quite possibly the whole country! Celebrities who could afford to get married anywhere in the world choose Charleston! Its also one of the top wedding destinations in the United States. It’s not just for weddings though! Charleston makes an amazing backdrop for getting engaged! If you are considering popping the question, then here are my top locations in the city.

Waterfront Park

This park is has the best options for night time engagements. There are swings, a dock, secluded benches, and of course the fountains. With the fountains illuminated at night it makes an incredible background. The pineapple fountain as a symbol of the city so why not make it a symbol of your love too!

The Battery / White point Garden

While cannons may not be romantic the view from the Battery cannot be beat! Have a picnic here and pop the question overlooking the river or take a stroll and ask in the gazebo under the oaks. Either option would be wonderful. This park is surrounded by some of the most beautiful and historic homes in the city. You could’nt ask for a more “Charleston experience “.

Champagne on the Marsh. Photo credit to Kristina Phipps.

A Harbor Sunset Cruise

If you can spring for it this option is an amazing choice! We get epic sunsets here like crazy amounts of color. Imagine that as your backdrop as you ask for their hand. Champagne and chocolate strawberries go along way too! You can charter a sailboat or a cabin cruiser for this one. If you are low on cash there are public harbor cruises you can go on. You could always have a friend with a nicer boat take you out, and have them do you a favor. Just be sure to invite that friend to the wedding!

Private Carriage Ride

Yes carriage rides are a little cheesy BUT it is still what little girls dream of! If your significant other loves horses or thinks of themselves as a princess they’ll love this! Seriously it’s very romantic when you’re cuddled up in the carriage watching the city go by.

Pitt Street Bridge

This is a bit of an odd ball but it has a beautiful view. In Old Village Mt Pleasant overlooking Sullivan’s island this historic bridge turned park has the marsh on both sides lined with palmetto trees. Take them for a walk and have your photographer waiting. They will get some amazing shots of you when you get down on one knee.

Middleton Place in the spring. Photo credit to Kristina Phipps.

Middleton Place

The grounds of Middleton Place are my favorite of all the plantations in the area. The have gorgeous river views and when the azaleas are in bloom…. there is nothing prettier! The bushes around the pond will be glowing pink. There are tons of beautiful buildings, paths and areas to choose from. There are wine walks in the spring too so you could start with that and then sneak off to present your ring after you have some liquid courage. This would be a great place to have a photographer following you around without being noticeable.

Magnolia Plantation

This is my winter pick. In the winter the gardens of Magnolia Plantation come alive. They have one of the largest collections of camillias in the country! There are thousands of varieties all in bloom all winter. In the spring the azaleas are in full bloom. You can see them all around the property and the most stunning locations would be along the oak alley and near the foot bridges. This is a popular location for engagement photos for a reason!

Horseback Riding on the Beach

My suggestion is stay out in the Sanctuary at Kiawah Island. I highly recommend their Sunday brunch at the Jasmine Porch. After brunch head over to Seabrook Island Equestrian Center for a private ride on the beach. If they love horses this is the ultimate romantic gesture. The horses on Seabrook are well trained and are great for beginners. The view alone will make them say YES!

Morris Island Lighthouse

Folly beach is known for being the fun beach. Typically it’s crowded and boisterous but there are pockets of serenity. If you go past the washout all the way down through the park you can get the best views of Morris Island Lighthouse from Folly Beach. This secluded area must be walked to. It is a lovely spot to see dolphins as well. If they love the beach this would be my suggestion.

Morris Island Lighthouse from Folly Beach. Photo Credit to Kristina Phipps.

Wentworth Mansion

Built in 1886 this glorious inn is the symbol of Charleston’s gilded age. It’s lavish decor of the Wentworth Mansion are ridiculously romantic. A stay here is often something people donon their honeymoon but it would be a wonderful choice for an engagement. They have a lovely restaurant on site and a garden out back. It is located close to Colonial Lake which is a great place to take your love on a stroll since it was revamped last year.

Pounce Cat Cafe

If you both love cats this may be the place for you. This cafe is really awesome! They have the sweetest rescue kitties. They have a bar with wine and beer, cold brew coffee on tap, and hot drinks. The people who work here are more than willing to help you out with a proposal. They even offer romance packages during Valentine’s day. It would be something creative for a pair of true animal lovers!

Cypress Gardens

Cypress gardens in Monks Corner took a serious hit recently, but they are supposed to reopen in April of this year (2019). This area is so beautiful that scenes from The Notebook were filmed amongst their bald cypress trees. A boat ride along the trees and under the bridges would be an excellent place to pop the question. The grounds also have animals, and a butterfly house so you have quite a few options!

Cypress Gardens in Monks Corner South Carolina

Angel Oak

There aren’t many trees in the world more iconic or impressive that Angel Oak in Johns Island. Asking someone to marry you under the boughs of a five hundred year old oak tree would be a testament to your lasting love. Just make sure you go when it isn’t too busy otherwise you might have kids running around as you ask and that could take away from the experience. The area around the tree isn’t that spacious.

Angel Oak photo credit to Kristina Phipps

A Rooftop Restaurant or Bar

My suggestion for one of the best hotel rooftops in Charleston is at The Dewberry on Marion Square. You can only go to the roof if you are a guest or if you get a pass. Since it is more exclusive you won’t have a bunch of drunk partiers nearby when you ask. It has sweeping views of Marion Square and Meeting Street. Two more options would be Pavilion Rooftop Bar or The Rooftop at Vendue. Both have wonderful views as well they just tend to be more crowded.

Sullivan’s Island

Sullivan’s is probably the top beach in Charleston. It has wide stretches of sand and is more quiet than some of the others. Going on a sunset stroll and popping the question in front of the Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse would make some stunning photos! Plus coming back every year for vacation here would make it even more special.

These are my top choices in no particular order. Charleston is full of incredible sights. Even if you choose a random alley downtown it will look amazing. Just choose what sounds most like the person you’re proposing to would choose and you’ll be golden. I wish you the very best luck with your engagement!

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A Winter Weekend in Denver Colorado

Last December what started as a whim turned into a blissful winter wonderland getaway. Me and my friends went on a weekend vacation to Denver, Colorado. Frontier Airlines now offers direct flights from Charleston to Denver, so now it is super convenient to visit the Mile High City.

We arrived in the afternoon. Got our huge four-wheel drive extra large SUV and headed off to our Airbnb with tons of luggage crammed in the back. We were staying in the super convenient area of Highland. Close to LoDo across the Highland Park bridge. This area was full of high end apartments, coffee shops and quaint restaurants. It was a great area minus the lack of convenient parking for a larger vehicle. After a toast in our bar area, we were off in an Uber for our first meal in Denver. We went to meet some friends at Tables, a higher end casual American restaurant with some pretty amazing food. We had tons of plates to share as most of our party had worked in the restaurant previously. tuna tartar, sweet breads, duck, scallops, steak and bison dishes covered the table the whole night. Bottles of wine were flowing and cocktails were sipped. After hours of feasting the every single dessert was brought to our table. Our rather large party left feeling full and happy. New friends were made over all that excellent food.

The next day we had big plans in Winter Park Colorado. We were going snowmobiling! Early in the morning me and my boyfriend got up early to get some surprise coffee for everyone. We headed around the corner to Metropolis Coffee a cute little shop with some great drinks. We walked back enjoying the cold weather. Once we got back and surprised our friends with their morning coffee we were headed to the mountains! On the way we stopped at Bonfire Burritos in Golden, Colorado for some breakfast. The wait is long but totally worth it!

Winter Park is a ski town home to ski resorts and any winter sport you could want, but we were there for snowmobiling. The company we used was Grand Adventures. The trails they use go through the Arapahoe National Forest. Miles and miles of gorgeous woods covered in deep snow. We had a chance to get out and take pictures and play in the snow. We even got to see the Continental Divide! It was a great experience and I’m so glad I finally got to drive a snowmobile. I can absolutely recommend the Grand Adventures company. They were totally professional, the snowmobiles were in great condition, and they really made sure everyone was having a good safe time. We were all beginners and they made us feel totally comfortable driving our snowmobiles. My hands were really cold at one point and our guide Cody showed me how to warm my hands up near the exhaust while we were stopped. They do provide you with coveralls, helmets, boots, and some other gear but the one thing I would recommend to bring from home is a neck gaiter. It absolutely saved my nose and face from freezing! My friends didn’t have one and they were really jealous by the end. Be sure to dress super warm or you won’t have much fun!

We got lunch at Randi’s Grill and Pub, an Irish pub where we got some local beer and Irish fare. Shepard’s pie always hits the spot when it’s cold out. The food was pretty good nothing incredible. It was nice taking a break though. The place was crowded so it must be popular with the weekend visitors.

After our ride in the woods it was time to warm up! We headed over to Indian Hot Springs in Idaho Springs, Colorado. There are outdoor Jacuzzi’s to soak in, geothermal caves, and mineral water pools to swim in. It is an awesome place to relax after a long day in the cold. If you got beat up on the slopes trying to ski or snowboard I couldn’t recommend a better place to go on the way back to Denver. Prices are reasonable just don’t forget to pack your bathing suit!

We headed back to our Airbnb to shower and get ready for a very fancy dinner in downtown Denver. We ate at Tavernetta an Italian eatery in the Union Station neighborhood. The service was exquisite. We sat in an upscale lounge area with an open fireplace nearby. It gave a relaxed casualness to an upscale menu. Our dinner consisted of many plates which we shared. Insalada di Fungi, Spaghetti al Limone, Beef Carpaccio, Steak, Pasta, white and black truffles sprinkled upon some of our dishes, and of course some wonderful Italian wine! My friend is a sommelier so she had free reign when picking the wine each night. The chef came out and spoke with us about our experience and presented us with a sort of pancake/large cracker dish which I wish I remembered the name of! Overall a wonderful dinner.

After dinner we went to Union Station to the upstairs bar, Cooper Lounge for champagne and aperitifs. It provided us with a lovely view above all the little restaurants downstairs and huge windows to gaze out upon the city. It started snowing once we were seated and we were able to watch the flurries come down as we drank. The furniture and decor was very comfortable. The lounge is decorated much like an nice apartment would be with tufted fabric couches and lounge chairs, area rugs, and mid-century modern tables and lamps. It all flowed very well with the architecture of the historic train station. After such a lot of rich food and drinks we were done for the night by around eleven. We headed back to the room and went to bed.

Heading into Downtown Denver

In the morning me and my boyfriend decided to go explore downtown Denver before breakfast. We walked into the city on the Highland Park Bridge after grabbing our morning coffee. We just kept walking straight along with the people heading to work so early in the morning. As we walked we stopped in boutiques and high end shops. We joked about buying fur lined western gear to bring back home. We didn’t buy anything though. It was just nice to stroll around not spending any money and taking in the sights.

Pancake Flight at Snooze

By noon we headed back to the room where our friends were finally up and ready to head to brunch. We headed off to Snooze, the breakfast place with a cult following. I will say our food was awesome! Those pancakes were delicious! If you can’t tell we really like to eat! After everyone was full we went and met our friend who recently moved to Boulder so that she could show us around.

Now as much as I liked Denver, I LOVED BOULDER! Seriously that more hippy mountain town vibe is what I prefer. I am not a city person. I love the more outdoorsy natural areas. Boulder is like a nice college town that loves being outside. You feel it in the buildings, the shopping areas, and in the people who live there. It is very eco-conscious which I also love! So after we arrived she drove us up to Boulder Canyon to check out Boulder Falls and to see Flagstaff Mountain Overlook. Both are worth the drive if you are visiting the Boulder area. These would be great places in summer too!

We went to Pearl Street Mall after our ride through the mountains. When we parked and walked to Pearl Street I actually stopped dead in my tracks. It looks EXACTLY like Burlington, Vermont! Little storefronts along a pedestrian walkway isn’t a new concept but at night it really surprised me how similar they looked. We stopped in a cooking store called Peppercorn for at least a full hour. Everyone found something they wanted to bring home from cookbooks to hot sauce to candy. They have anything a chef would want. They also had the streets ready for Christmas so everything looked magical out. We did visit a few other shops along the way. I would absolutely come back the next time I visit.

Our friend went home to feed her dog and get ready for dinner which gave the rest of us the chance to visit the best brewery I’ve ever been to. I am not much of a beer drinker but I have been to a ton of breweries all over the country. My boyfriend and one of our friends are total beer lovers and they wouldn’t stop gushing on this place! They LOVED Avery Brewing! The beer was amazingly good! We actually bought a bunch to take home with us! If you like beer at all stop at Avery!

For dinner we went to my favorite restaurant we visited on the whole trip, Blackbelly. It is a meat-centric restaurant in Boulder that focuses on farm to table. They have their own butcher shop on site where they butcher quality animals and try to use all the parts. The food was out of this world delicious! We started with the crispy pig ear with pepper jelly which sounds odd I know but it was like pork rinds. We also ordered beef tartar, the naturally raised pork, lamb and beef dishes. We also got some roasted vegetables, and sauteed mushrooms to even us all out. The cocktails were on point. I ordered the Howlin’ for you a few times! This was our last night there and honestly it was the best night we had! Great company, amazing food, a warm atmosphere… what more could you ask for?! The chef did come out and speak with us but that was because he is our friend’s husband. It is really nice having friends in the food and bev business! After hugs and sad goodbyes we all headed back home for our last night in Colorado.

The next morning we got up early and headed to the airport. Denver has a strange airport with a lot of odd theories about it. The crazy murals absolutely have something to do with it! Security went decently fast allowing us enough time to head to Timberline Steaks & Grille restaurant for a free breakfast. We have a Priority Pass which normally allows you into the airport lounges but some of the airports also have partnered restaurants. It gives you $28 per guest (the card holder and one guest) to use on food and drinks in the restaurant. No takeaway allowed. They open at 6 am and close at 9 pm, located in Concourse C. It was decent breakfast food and it held us over until we got back to Charleston.

Breakfast at Timberline Steaks and Grille

I will absolutely be visiting Colorado again soon. There are plenty of things we didn’t get to see and do there. I would love to do some hiking in the summer and some brewery tours. I think it would be worth visiting more towns too. If you haven’t been it has something for everyone all year round so get on it!

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A weekend Trip to Phoenix Arizona

Phoenix is an interesting mix of artsy hipness and retirement community. Everything is beige but there are plenty of street art to spice up the place. The new and oldness of Phoenix makes it a great place to visit no matter what your age is. Here is my personal itinerary for spending a quick weekend there with a friend or family member like I did.

Day 1

When you get to Phoenix you will most likely need a car. If you are getting your rental from the airport you must take an airport shuttle like a mile away to where all of the car rental places are. It is just outside of baggage and people will help direct you if you have trouble finding the sign. There are a ton of different places to rent from. My favorite way to rent a car is through Costco Travel. You can get a really great rate and a second driver for free in the U.S.

I’m not sure how public transportation runs here, but depending on the time of the year I personally wouldn’t want to be waiting at bus stops. Everything is pretty spread out. Parts of downtown are walk-able, but some of the more interesting things are further out. Uber and Lyft are both great options if you are going out or just don’t feel like driving or parking.

Once you are all good to go with your vehicle situation it is time for breakfast! Head on over to Welcome Chicken and Doughnuts for some really amazing flavors! We did not try the chicken but honestly we probably should’ve! It looked delicious! We did end up getting two doughnuts each and my cousin got a PBR. Yeah this was after a long through hike so the guilt wasn’t really there. Not at all the healthiest option obviously, but local doughnut shops tend to have some of the most unique breakfast foods in a new place. This is kind of a tradition with me and my cousin now without even realizing it. If you are looking for something healthier there are plenty of other options in the next location.

Pistachio, rose and chocolate (left) and Maple Bacon praline doughnuts (right)

After your hipster breakfast it’s time to head downtown to the Art District. Specifically head to Roosevelt for First Fridays (if you are there on a Friday like we were). Park your car on the street and walk. This is an opportunity to see all the cool art galleries open to the public. There are street vendors, food trucks, arts and crafts booths for the kids and kids at heart. I ended up buying a really cool cyanotype art print by a local artist. We went in quite a few interesting shops that sold everything from Japanese snacks and kawaii stuff to one that sold crystals and blessings. There was even a guy selling poems. It’s a very interesting way to blow a couple of hours.

Once you have your fill of art and artists I would suggest checking out a local brewery nearby and getting lunch if you haven’t already. This area has quite a few options. We checked out State 48 Brewery on W Van Buren St. It’s a pretty short walk away from Roosevelt so no need to move your car. State 48 has a great selection of beer on tap, and some good food as well. We were meeting friends, so it served as a nice place to hang out and catch up.

We then headed to Scottsdale for a more Western vibe and some shopping. It was funny when we would ask people leading up to the trip where we should go in Phoenix they all said Scottsdale. I think that’s a bit unfair but I do see why people would suggest going there. It is a lot cuter than Phoenix if that’s what you’re looking for. When you think of a Western town this is probably what they think of. There are even saloon doors on some of the bars. There are tons of shops, bars and restaurants here. You could wander around for hours.

Once it is getting close to sunset head on up to Scorpion Gulch at South Mountain Park. You will be rewarded by a beautiful sweeping views of the city and a gorgeous Southwestern sunset. There are some cool old buildings here to take pictures next to, Ponderosa Stables where you can ride horses, and some trails you can hike during the day. It was free for us to get in near sunset.

Photo credit: @kristina_explores on Instagram

By now if you haven’t checked into your hotel or Airbnb it might be a good idea. We needed to change since the temperature dropped quite a bit once the sun went down. We stayed in South Phoenix near South Mountain. It was a gorgeous area filled with really nice homes our Airbnb was phenomenal! Probably the best one I’ve stayed in the United States. You can find a link to it here. If you have never used Airbnb and want to save some money on your first stay just use my referral link here.

Pool at our Airbnb

Our next location was to the Desert Botanical Garden for the Electric Desert light show. This is an event where they illuminate the cacti and rocks in the garden for a spectacular experience. I was interested in seeing the botanical garden in the day too but I’m so glad I did it at night. The lights are paired with music and it makes all the plants look totally otherworldly. It’s a little trippy being there. Everyone seemed to love it though especially the kids! It’s about $30 for adults, and $13 to $16 for kids under 17 to get in. The Electric Desert is going from October 12, 2018 to May 12, 2019.

For dinner we ended up going to a really great restaurant and bar. It had a great outdoor seating area with fire pit tables that kept us warm. We were meeting another friend here and it was his favorite place in town. We spent quite a few hours here enjoying the awesome weather and great food! After dinner it was time for bed and an early start the next day.

Day 2:

Get up early for a beautiful hike in one of the parks around Phoenix. My suggestion would be Papago Park for the Double Butte Loop and Hole in the Rock Trail. It’s 2.3 miles. If you are looking for a real challenge try the Echo Canyon trail on Camelback Mountain. It’s a difficult 2.4 miles. Today you aren’t going to want doughnuts you’re going to want something healthy, so head to a grocery store for a protein shake, juice, or maybe some fresh fruit. Pick up some trail snacks while you’re there and make sure your water bottle is full. Hiking in the morning is great for getting you going, beating the heat mid-day, and getting the perfect light for pictures!

If you chose Papago Park you have the option of heading to the zoo directly. They are both in the same area and your workout gear is perfect for strolling around the zoo anyway. After your hike head back to your hotel or Airbnb to clean up and change for the rest of your day.

Head over to the Melrose Curve. It is a one mile stretch on seventh avenue between Indian School and Camelback Roads. A great place to go thrift and antique shopping this area is part of what makes Phoenix unique. You can find really cool stores offering one of a kind items. Those are the best right? Totally a great way to spend the rest of your morning.

Once lunch time rolls around go ahead and pick one of those adorable restaurants nearby! Want something super unique to the Southwest? My recommendation would be Fry Bread House. This place serves up sweet and savory Native American fry bread. We got a taste of it when hiking Havasupai Reservation and loved it! If you are still wanting to be healthy no worries there is a really popular Thai place called Thai Long-an nearby where you can get something light.

If you are an art lover and you didn’t get your fill yesterday head on over to the Phoenix Art Museum for Renaissance to contemporary displays. The cost is $18-$23 for adults. If you are interested in Native American art and culture the Heard Museum is your best bet. The cost is $18 for adults. Both museums are highly rated and would be a great way to spend your afternoon especially if it’s hot out.

If you are a beer lover go on a self guided brewery tour. There are a ton of great Breweries in Phoenix. If you pick a few that are grouped together you can easily walk or Uber to each one. I always get flights so I can taste the most of what each place has to offer. This is a great way to cool off in the hot afternoon after a long day.

For Dinner head to Gen Korean BBQ House for all you can eat Korean food. Be warned you will be stuffed by the time you leave! If you have never been to a Korean BBQ before you have to cook your own food at your table. The restaurant provides the meat and vegetables. It’s a fun way to spend your last evening in Phoenix, and it’s a fair price.

Head back to your room for your last night. In the morning check out, return your rental car, and fly home. There are plenty of other things to do in Phoenix but these are my personal recommendations. I hope you have a spectacular trip!

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How to get to the Havasupai Reservation from Phoenix, Las Vegas, or Flagstaff

Getting to Havasupai Reservation isn’t difficult, but there are a few things to know. The closest major airports are in Phoenix, Arizona, Flagstaff, Arizona, and Las Vegas, Nevada. I flew into Phoenix because I had friends there and I had never been before. Either choice is fine but if you want to spend a day in the location you’re flying in and out of you might want to consider which place you’d like to explore.

You will need a vehicle to get there. If you are getting a rental car you need to factor in the time it takes to pick it up and the cost. You don’t need four wheel drive the roads are in good shape. Pretty much any car will do as long as it has room for you and your luggage.

Driving on Indian Road 18

Getting there from Las Vegas

Las Vegas is 3.5 hours from the Hualapai Hilltop. When you land you will need to get a rental car from the airport or nearby. Decide if you are staying in Las Vegas for the night or if you are renting somewhere closer to the trail for an early start. I recommend getting an Airbnb outside of town so you have free parking at the very least if you aren’t driving straight to the trail.

Driving Directions:

  • This is the google maps result going from the Las Vegas Airport to the Trailhead
  • Take US-93 South from Las Vegas and follow it for 102 miles
  • At Kingman, merge onto I-40 E/US-93 S toward Flagstaff/Phoenix and stay on for 4 miles.
  • Take the Andy Devine Avenue exit (Exit 53) toward AZ-66 E / Kingman Airport
  • Turn left onto US-93 Bus S (E Andy Devine Avenue) and continue to follow E Andy Devine Ave
  • E Andy Devine Ave becomes E Highway 66/AZ-66, and follow this for approximately 50 miles
  • Peach Springs is your last place to stop if you need more food, snacks, or need to fill up your water bladder/bottles. It’s not a bad idea to take a bathroom break here too.
  • Watch for Indian Road 18 on your left.
  • Follow Indian Road 18 for approximately 60 miles, where the road ends at Hilltop (the Hualapai trail head) This road is long with not much on it don’t worry just keep going. Once you start seeing cars parked along the canyon walls you are getting close to the parking lot.
  • Even if there are cars parked way out there may be closer spots so definitely make a loop first.
  • Once you get out of your car make sure your bags are packed properly, you have all your gear, water, and your car keys! You can check in at the little shed near the top of the trail.

Getting there from Phoenix

Phoenix is 4.5 hours away from the Hilltop. If you are arriving in Phoenix I would absolutely recommend staying somewhere closer to the trail head the night before. It is the furthest airport from the trail. We arrived around 3 pm and made a few quick stops around Phoenix before we went on to our Airbnb near Prescott. We visited REI and got some energy gummies, and our fuel for our camp stove. We also went to happy hour for an early dinner before we headed on. I cannot imagine driving straight to the trail head after flying all day.

Hualapai Hilltop

Driving Directions:

  • Google map directions
  • Drive north on I-17 and exit onto AZ-69 N at Exit 262 toward Prescott
  • After 21 miles merge onto AZ-89 toward Chino Valley
  • Continue on AZ-89 to I-40 and go west on I-40
  • Take the I-40 Business Exit, Exit 123, toward AZ-66 / Seligman / Peach Springs
  • Stop in Seligman on the way to the trail for gas, a bathroom break and to load up on water and snacks. The gas station we stopped at had a ton of stuff like hats, gloves, blankets, and things you might have forgotten. The people here are used to hikers and are super friendly!
  • Keep your eye out for Indian Road 18 heading to the right (north), and turn onto it.
  • Follow Indian Road 18 for approximately 60 miles, where the road ends at Hilltop (the Hualapai trail head) This road is long with not much on it don’t worry just keep going. Once you start seeing cars parked along the canyon walls you are getting close to the parking lot.
  • Even if there are cars parked way out there may be closer spots so definitely make a loop first.
  • Once you get out of your car make sure your bags are packed properly, you have all your gear, water, and your car keys! You can check in at the little shed near the top of the trail.

Getting there from Flagstaff

Flagstaff is 3 hours from the Hilltop making it a great choice. Since it is the closest to the trail this is your best bet if you can’t fly in the day before. If you are wanting to do more hiking after your trip to Havasu Falls this might be the best choice. It is close to the Grand Canyon National Parks and the Coconino National Forest.

Driving Directions:

  • Google Maps directions from Flagstaff
  • Drive west on I-40
  • Take the I-40 Business Exit, Exit 123, toward AZ-66/Seligman/Peach Springs
  • Stop in Seligman on the way to the trail for gas, a bathroom break, and to load up on water and snacks. The gas station we stopped at had a ton of stuff like hats, gloves, blankets, and things you might have forgotten. The people here are used to hikers and are super friendly!
  • Keep a look out for Indian Road 18 heading to the right (north), and turn onto it.
  • Follow Indian Road 18 for approximately 60 miles, where the road ends at Hilltop (the Hualapai trail head) This road is long with not much on it don’t worry just keep going. Once you start seeing cars parked along the canyon walls you are getting close to the parking lot.
  • Even if there are cars parked way out there may be closer spots so definitely make a loop first.
  • Once you get out of your car make sure your bags are packed properly, you have all your gear, water, and your car keys! You can check in at the little shed near the top of the trail.
Phoenix Botanical Gardens at night

So that’s it! The arrival place should be geared towards your interests. This is your vacation even if it’s a little further you should make the most of all parts of it! We spent time in Phoenix after we got back. I made sure we had an amazing Airbnb that looked like a resort, where we could rest and relax. We went downtown, hit up breweries, went to the botanical gardens at night for the light show, and visited Scottsdale. Here is a link to what to see and do on a weekend trip to Phoenix. Partying in Las Vegas or Hiking more around Flagstaff would have been great choices too!

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How to train for hiking Havasu Falls

You’ve got your permits, you’ve got your gear, but now you need to get in shape. How do you train for a hike when you don’t hike often? If you’re like me I live in a very flat area with no mountains for hundreds of miles! I workout pretty often but I’m no triathlete. Here are the things you can do to get into shape before your hike. This will take time, so at least give yourself a few months to train.

1. Start hiking if you do have mountains or trails nearby. Even if you don’t have the elevation most of your hiking is along the flattish bottom of a canyon. You will be doing eight full miles or more. The best way to train for that is just working up to that kind of distance at home. There are some areas with elevation changes, but the majority of what you need to build up is endurance. Walk, run, or hike as much as you can! I made it a point to walk at least a few miles a day even on gym days. This may require you to change your schedule like getting up early to run or biking to work instead of driving. Endurance is going to be the most important thing you need to improve before hiking so don’t take this lightly. Do test runs with your bag fully loaded and boots on. This will allow you to make sure everything fits properly.

2. Stairs are your friend! Skip the elevator when you can. You need to strengthen your legs as much as possible. If you have a gym membership make friends with the stair climber and leg machines. I would do 45 min on the stair-climber and 20 on the circuit equipment with a cool down on the elliptical. A barre class is also a great choice. If you don’t have a gym available to you run up public stairs like bleachers at a high school or maybe a public building like Rocky. I also did squats and lunges whenever I had a free moment. Anytime I got up to stretch I was getting those squats in. Those little efforts make a huge difference at the end of the day. You are training for the switchbacks at the beginning and ending of the trail. That last mile is the hardest when heading to the Hualapai Hilltop.

3. Your back, shoulders and core need to be strong enough to hold your pack. You shouldn’t be overloading your bag, but you need to be able to take it on and off multiple times a day without struggling. Gym equipment is great for this obviously. If you don’t have a gym, planks, push-ups, and crunches will definitely do the trick.

4. Strengthen your ankles. Doing small exercises like lifting up on your toes repeatedly, balancing on one leg and rotating the opposite ankle in a circle one way and then the other are great ways to lessen your risk of ankle injury on the trail. Loose gravel isn’t friendly to your feet so this is important even when you’re wearing taller boots.

5. Your arms need a little love too. You need to get that heavy pack off the ground right!? Free weights are great for toning your arms so even if you don’t frequent that side of the gym give it a try! Push ups and planks are great too.

6. If possible try and train in similar temperatures as the time you’ll be hiking. If you’re going in winter this isn’t too much of a concern but…. If you are going in summer spend as much time in the heat as you can to get acclimated. Even if you’re super fit if you aren’t used to the heat it can really mess you up! Saunas might be a good choice. Just remember to be safe about it! Stay hydrated and don’t put your health at risk.

Looking for other great hiking photos checkout @Kristina_explores on Instagram
Photo credit: @Kristina_explores

If you do train leading up to this then you will have a much better time hiking Havasu Canyon! You’ll look better for all those photos too! Just remember go at your own pace. Even beginners can master this trail you just have to work at it.

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The Most Instagrammable Spots in the Havasupai Reservation

You’ve finally made it to the Havasupai Indian Reservation for an epic adventure, and you want the best pictures to show your friends back home. Where do you go to get those Instagram worthy shots of a lifetime? I have compiled a list of the most scenic areas to take pictures at near Havasu Falls. These locations are listed in the order you will come across them.

Trailhead at Hualapai Hilltop

1. Near the Sign at the Trailhead. This location makes some of the best before and after shots you will get on your hike. Be sure to get a group photo if you are hiking with multiple people.

Rock Formations along Havasu Canyon Trail

2. In the amazing nooks and crannies along the trail on the way to Supai. You can get some amazing shots of the rock formations here with or without you in it! Get creative with the poses if you do decide to step into one of the alcoves.

Flowers near Supai Village

3. The grove area just past the sign to Supai. This is the first place you’ll see the Havasu creek. Depending on the time of the year there may be a field of wild flowers growing amongst the trees.

Stone House Supai, Arizona

4. The abandoned stone house just after the foot bridge before Supai Village. Don’t disturb the stones or the structure but it would make a really cool backdrop.

5. The area near Fifty Foot Falls. It can be a little crowded due to the other hikers stopping here to swim and take a break but from a distance you can get some great shots.

The first glance at Havasu Falls

6. The first place you see Havasu Falls. It is up on a ridge and you can sit and pose on boulders along the path. You will be smiling like crazy so this will be one of the most natural photos you’ll take all day. Your hard work has paid off with this view. Pro tip: make sure you take off your pack if you want to take a picture of yourself sitting. The waist strap makes some unflattering belly bulges.

Havasu Falls

7. The area in front of Havasu falls with picnic tables. This has some really great angles of the falls and the people below trying to swim.

At the base of Havasu Falls playing around credit to my cousin Kristina. For tons of hiking and outdoor shots follow her on Instagram @Kristina_explores

8. The base of Havasu falls. Yes another one of the same waterfall, but it’s the most famous for a reason. Don’t go for the typical poses. Get creative with intersecting the waterfall with your pose.

Havasupai Campground

9. The areas around camp. There are incredible shots of the Havasu Creek throughout the campground. It all looks like a fairy glen. I took more photos here than anywhere else on the reservation.

10. The top of Mooney Falls while facing the waterfall. The best shot is up at the top before your decent. Your camera will stay dry up here unlike in our next spot.

11. The base of Mooney Falls. There are some logs to stand on and take some really cool photos, but be aware that the mist from the falls will get your lense wet so be quick. This is also a good place to find other people to take a group photo.

12. Turn around when you are at the base of Mooney and you will see two golden opportunity shots. The first is the old helicopter stretcher/ basket. This actually makes some funny pictures if you’re in the mood after that scary climb down. The second opportunity is the continuation of the creek making some beautiful areas around the trees. You will spot a lot of really pretty areas along the creek as you make your way to Beaver Falls.

The Jungle Havasu Canyon

13. The Jungle. You’ll know it when you see it. This place is just a valley filled with wild grapevines. It looks straight out of Jerassic Park.

14. A smaller waterfall on the way to Beaver Falls with a Rope Swing. If you want some great action shots or just a few timelapse shots with no people hanging around this is a great place for it.

The only palm in Havasu Canyon

15. The only palm tree in the canyon. Looking for some tropical vibes? This is the best place for them!

Beaver Falls overlook

16. The overlook over Beaver Falls. This is right before you head down the ladder to get to the falls. The best shots are taken near the picnic table. Down by the falls it can get crowded and the light isn’t as good.

17. The confluence of the Colorado River. I didn’t make it this far but I have seen some pictures. You won’t have nearly as many people hanging around since it is such a hike.

18. Your last photo after getting back to the Hilltop. After all your hard work you will be exhausted but that after photo is priceless even if it is only for you.

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Havasu Falls Permits – What’s new for 2019

Havasu Falls Permit Information for 2019

It is almost time to get your permits for Havasu Falls for 2019! Are you ready? A few things have changed from last year. Here is a list of the new rules for Havasupai Indian Reservation:

  1. You can only apply online – gone are the days of calling over and over to get through. Now you must apply for permits online here.
  2. You’ll need to make an online account -You should set up your account on the Havasupai Reservation website BEFORE February 1st so you are ready to apply right when it opens at 8 am Arizona time.
  3. No more tours – You can no longer hire a guide for the trail. The tribe made a decision this year not to allow outfitters to guide tours.
  4. More competition – The competition for permits is even more fierce this year. The Havasupai tribe estimates it gets between 30,000 and 40,000 visitors between February and November.
  5. You have to stay 3 nights – Last year you only had to stay one, as day hiking was not allowed. Now you will have to reserve at least three nights. Not that this is a bad thing but if you were short on time for your vacation you’ll need to consider this.
  6. Prices have changed – Monday to Thursday costs $100 a night per person, and Friday to Sunday costs $125 per person.

What has stayed the same:

  • No drugs or alcohol
  • No drones
  • All permits must be paid upfront
  • The person who made the reservation must be present at check in
  • Permits are non-refundable or transferable
  • Max group number for a reservation is 10 people
  • Permit applications start February first at 8 am
  • Pack mule reservations must be made online before arrival. $400 round trip cost. Price is per mule, each can carry up to 4 bags. Max weight is 32 lbs per bag. Max bag size is 36″ x 19″ x 19″ with nothing hanging over. The limits are strictly enforced.
  • The campground spots are all open so you don’t have a reserved spot
  • Air West Helicopter rides are arranged the day you intend on using them. You must get on the waiting list as early as possible starting at 6 am. The tribe gets first dibs, and any hikers have to wait. This can greatly delay your time getting out of the canyon. The helicopter doesn’t run everyday so plan accordingly. I do not recommend it unless you really need it.
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What to bring to Havasu Falls – a Complete Packing Guide

Equipment:
To Hike Havasu Canyon you will need quite a few items of equipment. To have the best experience with backpacking you may need to splurge more on certain items and go cheap on others. Here is a list of what I brought to Havasupai and why.

Pack:

This is one of the most important things you will be bringing on your trip. There are tons of companies out there offering hiking packs of all shapes and sizes. I chose Osprey for their lifetime guarantee and having quite a few friends that swear by their equipment even for airline travel. My pack was an Osprey Aura AG 50. The male version of this pack is the Osprey Atmos. They both come in a 50 liter size and a 65 liter size. The size will depend on how much stuff you are taking and weather or not you are hiking alone. Two people can split equipment more effectively than one person hauling everything for camp. I chose the 50 liter size because I never go on solo hikes and I typically go on shorter trips. My cousin who joined me carries the Osprey Ariel AG 65 because she goes on solo hikes frequently. If you go on long excursions regularly you should opt for the larger pack. Be sure to get fitted in an actual brick and mortar store before choosing your size. You will also want to see how the pack fits and feels on your back before you make a decision. A place like REI will allow you to try on any pack and walk around the store with it fully loaded. DO NOT SKIP THIS. The male and female packs have physical differences not just color ones. Each is made to fit that particular sex which is nice. The women’s packs distribute the weight to the hips which is the strongest point on a woman. The male pack distributes the weight to the back and shoulders which is typically their strongest point. Your pack may or may not come with a detachable day pack so you may need to bring a collapsible one for day hikes like this Flash 22 day pack from REI.

Boots:

Your boots are one of your most important pieces of equipment for the entire trip. Your feet need to be as comfortable and supported as possible. If you are buying a new pair of boots before the hike BREAK THEM IN FIRST! Hike in them whenever you can up until the trip because if you throw on a new pair on the trail you are going to get blisters most likely. When buying a pair try them on in the store and wear them around for a good ten to twenty minutes. Make sure they aren’t rubbing anywhere on the toes, heel, or ankle. Go up and down stairs if you can and if they have a loaded pack for you to wear EVEN BETTER! I went boot shopping at least four times. I spent countless hours searching online for models I thought would work best for my feet. You may need to bring insoles or opt for trail runners and gaiters instead! You have to choose what you think will work best for you. The trail is very dusty, and has lots of loose rock and gravel, but it is dry so waterproofing isn’t necessary. When you do creek crossings I recommend bringing some water shoes or sandals to switch into. Tevas work well or these cheap look alikes from Amazon.

REI co-op Half Dome Tent at our camp in the Havasupai Campground

Tent:

You will want a tent that is light, packable, and large enough for you and your equipment. For two people the REI co-op Half Dome 2 Plus tent was great. We had room for two tall women, our inflatable sleeping pads, and our packs. The rain fly also provided a little foyer area to keep our boots. There was also a door on each side of the tent which was awesome for keeping us from bothering each other when we had to get up in the middle of the night. It weighs 4 lbs 14 oz and measures 7 x 20.5 inches. I personally have a Nemo 3P Dagger that is lighter and packs smaller than the dome but it was also more expensive. Both I can recommend highly!

Sleeping gear:

If you want a good night’s sleep I recommend you do not skimp on you sleeping gear. A loud crinkly sleeping bag that isn’t warm enough is going to ruin your night. I am a side sleeper so I chose a sleeping bag and pad that fit my needs. I also made sure the r-value on both would keep me warm in freezing weather. I went with the Nemo Rave 30 Long sleeping bag. It has a unique spoon shape that allows you to move your legs and sleep on your side easily. The fabric was insanely soft and quiet. The down kept me really nice and warm and the flip out/ tuck in comforter piece near the neck made it feel like real covers and not a sleeping bag. I am 5’7″ so I went with the long size. I would have barely fit in the regular length. Keep the length in mind when you are buying a sleeping bag. My cousin brought her Mountain Hardwear Laminina Z Spark Sleeping Bag – Women’s Long. If you already have a sleeping bag that isn’t warm enough you should consider getting a liner which will help. My cousin’s bag was only rated to 35 degrees so she used a liner for November’s 30 degree temps.

For my sleeping pad I chose the Nemo tensor 25L insulated sleeping pad  It has an r-value of 25 keeping your back warm and off of the cold ground. Being inflatable it allowed me to sleep on my side without my hip and shoulder digging into the ground. It was nice and quiet so I wasn’t waking up my cousin when I was turning over at night.

My pillow was a Nemo Luxury Fillo Pillow. It fit perfectly inside my Nemo sleeping bag so that I didn’t lose it in the middle of the night. It is a heavier pillow so if you are trying to cut weight you might not bother bringing one and just stuffing clothes in the hood of your sleeping bag.

Nemo Rave 30 and Mountain Hardwear Laminina Z Sleeping Bags
Platypus Gravity Works Water Filtration System

Water:

You will need a lot of water while hiking in Arizona (even in the winter) so make sure your bladders or water bottles hold enough for your needs. My thought on the matter was I will buy the biggest bladder available for my pack and only fill it half way if I don’t need that much. I bought the Platypus Hoser 3 liter water bladder This method worked wonders for me. It made hauling water easier from the spring at the beginning of camp which I used for cooking and cleaning. I also brought a Platypus gravity works water filtration system which allowed me 4 liters of water at a time and came with a great handle which allowed easy carrying from the water source and allowed me to hang it on a tree at camp. The water is just fine at the spring so it didn’t need filtering, but the extra water “on tap” at camp was awesome!

Trekking Poles:

My trekking poles were highly rated on Outdoor Gear Lab‘s website for being good starter poles. I have to say for $20 these BAFX Trekking Poles did the job! My only complaint is they could have better hand grips. After miles and miles of hiking with these they did start rubbing my palms and felt like eventually they would cause a blister. If you are looking for something lighter maybe opt for a carbon fiber model, and if you want something more packable maybe get a collapsible version. These did fit in my pack with all of my gear flying from Charleston to Arizona.

Clothes:

For clothing I recommend bringing layers. Even in summer temperatures at night can drop into the 50’s so you will need warm and cool clothes. Since you’re layering you can strip them as you hike once things warm up in the day and put them back on later. This was the same story in winter. We had 70 degree days in November and 30 degree nights. I really love wool clothing for hikes because they don’t hold odor the way synthetic fibers do. You won’t feel gross wearing them multiple days in a row.

  • A light jacket, or puffer jacket, or both depending on weather (I brought a half zip Icebreaker pullover and a puffer jacket in November)
  • Long Hiking pants (zip off kind might work best if you don’t want to bring shorts too)
  • Running shorts for creek crossing while hiking and for warmer temperature hikes
  • Bathing suit
  • At least three pairs of wool socks (one pair is dedicated for sleeping until the last day) I prefer Darn Tough socks
  • Wool Leggings (in winter) great for sleeping in and cold mornings
  • Three shirts (a tank and two tees worked great for me)
  • A pair of underwear a day (I wouldn’t suggest trying to wash them in the creek) I really like the Icebreaker kind or exofficio
  • A sports bra (if you need it)
  • Hat (for the sun and/or beanie)
  • Sunglasses
  • Gloves (for winter)
  • Microfiber towel for drying off after swimming, for use around camp, cooling off during hikes as a wet neck wrap, and for drying off after creek crossings.
  • Your water shoes or sandals work great for camp shoes. They’ll give your feet a break from your boots. They also are easier to put on in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.
  • Boots or Trail runners

Light:

A headlamp is a must for camping at the Havasupai campground! At the very least you will use it for middle of the night bathroom breaks, but it is useful for much more. If you get an early start on your hike like in the summer to get ahead of the heat you will want a good headlamp to light your way. When you are breaking down your tent early in the morning a headlamp is a God send. You can even use it to light up your tent at night by putting it in a pocket or hanging it from your ceiling. Either way get one and make sure it fits well.

A small battery powered lantern would also be great to have if you plan on staying up later with friends at camp. There are picnic tables at each site for playing cards or eating. It gets dark in the canyon earlier than somewhere in the open so keep that in mind. It might be worth the extra weight for you. This is a luxury item though.

Food:

Food is a bit of a tricky category. You want items that are light, very packable, and calorie dense. Since you will be carrying every food item on your back (unless you head to the shop in Supai) you want the most bang for your buck. Canned items are incredibly heavy compared to ramen noodles. You will also need about double what you normally eat. I thought I was going to have one pack of ramen for dinner every night and I was totally wrong! I am so glad I brought extra just in case. I was so ravenous by dinner two packs was just enough to satisfy me. You are burning so many calories during your hike you don’t have to feel guilty about eating more than normal! Here are some great options for dry meals that work well on the trail:

  • Top Ramen noodles
  • Instant oatmeal or overnight oats (if you want to leave them in a plastic jar overnight)
  • Protein bars
  • MREs
  • Pop tarts
  • Instant mashed potatoes
  • Knorr Sides (rice sides, pasta sides, etc.)
  • *Tuna packets if you don’t mind dealing with very smelly trash (remember NO TRASHCANS)

You may want some extra caffeine supplements in the form of energy bars, gummies, gels, or drink powders. I happened to bring caffeinated Clif bars, energy gummies, and instant coffee of course. Here are some great snack items:

  • Granola bars
  • Trail mix
  • Veggie Pops (my absolute favorite)
  • Protein bars
  • Jerky
  • Dried Fruit
  • Freeze dried veggies
  • Nut butter packs
  • Pretzels (mine were chocolate covered!)
  • Nuts

You could opt out of bringing a camp stove if you want to save weight. For those that just want to go the cold food route that’s totally fine and may even be preferable in the summer heat. I just really enjoyed having something warm to start and end my day. Lunch was always a casual affair of snacks and bars.

Please please please don’t forget to pack plastic zip lock bags to keep your trash in! You are not supposed to dump your camp trash in the village’s trash cans and the ones in the bathrooms are for very specific kinds of trash not your Pringles cans! Remember you are a guest in the Havasupai Tribe’s home. All of their trash has to be hauled out by horses or a helicopter. You are perfectly capable of being responsible for your garbage for a few days!

Personal Items:

These are more luxury items but they will make your trip better and more comfortable. Here’s what I recommend:

  • Baby wipes – perfect for keeping yourself clean since you can’t shower. You will want to have at least two per day for a “tent bath” and more if you want them for cleaning your hands.
  • Hot hands – if you’re hiking in the cold these really make you feel a million times better. Nobody is happy when their fingers or toes are freezing.
  • Plastic zip lock bags – You have to have these to keep trash compacted and odor free. I brought one for my used wet wipes and one for the food wrappers.
  • Deodorant – Your friends and the other hikers will thank you
  • Sunscreen – The last thing you want to be is sunburnt while hiking. If your shoulders got burnt where your pack straps go…. I can only imagine the pain. Try to use zinc based sunscreen if you are going swimming.
  • Makeup – definitely a luxury but if you came here for the instagram shots of a lifetime I understand. Just keep it to the absolute bare minimum. Mine was eyeliner, and an under eye concealer. Sunglasses work great though.
  • A compact hairbrush preferably with a small mirror. The mirror isn’t just for vanity. You may get something in your eye, or need to signal for help with it.
  • Nail clippers – I never leave home without them.
  • Extra toilet paper – You never know when you’ll need it and you shouldn’t count on the bathrooms always being stocked.
  • Packing cubes – This helped me stay organized with all of my stuff. My clothes were easy to find even when I didn’t have much light or when I was rifling through my pack. They also compact your clothes.
  • Cooking gear:
    • Camp stove with fuel
    • Cooking pot
    • Utensils
    • Cup/bowls
  • External battery – You will want to keep your phone charged to take pictures. You won’t get much reception though, so don’t plan on sharing them until you get back to the city.
  • Cellphone and Charger – For emergencies and for pictures of course
  • Camera – If you are an actual photography buff and don’t mind the weight a camera is an excellent idea. These are some of the most stunning landscapes I’ve seen in my life and my phone camera just couldn’t do it justice.
  • Cash – If you want to eat at the fry bread stands or buy stuff from the store
  • Hammock – You may want to lounge around camp a bit and there are plenty of trees to set up. You may even want to just sleep in a hammock instead of the typical tent set up. It would save you quite a bit of space and weight if you went this route!

I hope this helps you figure out what you need, and don’t need for your hike in the Havasu Canyon. Have an amazing time and be safe!

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A Beginner’s guide to Hiking Havasu Falls

In November 2018 I did something crazy. I went on my first overnight backpacking trip to Havasu Canyon Trail. You may have heard of Havasupai, or you may have seen pictures of an insanely beautiful waterfall out in Arizona somewhere. It makes a lot of appearances on social media. In fact my decision to go was really just a gut reaction. I was asked to go by my cousin who happens to be my best friend and hiking buddy. It took about five minutes of googling pictures to decide I HAD TO SEE THIS PLACE!

That was just the beginning though. So much more went into the actual preparation for our hike to the falls. I had absolutely no gear. I live in Charleston, South Carolina one of the flattest places in the United States. How the hell was I going to train for this? All of those thoughts of doubt flooded my mind pretty quickly once I actually started doing the real research. Havasu Canyon trail is no joke. This is not some place you can hike in a day and go home. This is a strenuous ten mile hike to the campground with a very full pack. Arizona being Arizona gets HOT so in the summer temperatures can get up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit! Luckily we went in November so temperatures were ranging from the low seventies during the day to the high thirties at night. Having done this hike in pleasant weather I would never go in the summer. I really don’t suggest this hike unless you have time to train or are very fit and active. Be honest with yourself before you pay for your permits.

Let’s start with the basics:

The Havasupai Indian Reservation is located in the Northwest corner of Arizona. You must buy a permit from their official website starting February 1. You must create your account before February first though! The application period starts at 8 am MST. No day hiking is allowed. The tribe is now requiring three nights minimum, so the least you can pay per person is $300 ($100 per night)

The prices including taxes and fees as of 2019 are:

  • Monday to Thursday: $100 per person per night
  • Friday to Sunday: $125 per person per night
  • Minimum One Person, 3 weekday nights: $300
  • Maximum One Person, 3 weekend nights: $375
  • If you are going with a group the max number of people is 10.
  • The person who made the reservation must be there for check-in.
  • Reservations are non-transferable and non-refundable.
  • Payment is due when you make the reservation

The nearest airports are:

Phoenix, Arizona (PHX) which is about a four hour drive (230 miles) or

Las Vegas, Nevada (LAS) which is 3 hours and 21 min (194 miles).

You may want to stay in a nearby town the day you fly in so that you can get an early start on your hike. We found a really cheap Airbnb about 45 minutes from the Hilltop.

When figuring out how many days you will need off you’ll probably want a day before your hike for travel, the four days of hiking, and a day for travel home. That is a full six days with no time to explore where you flew in really. If you want a day in Phoenix or Las Vegas then you should just take off a full week.

Starting your hike:

a blog and guide to Havasu Canyon Trail

The Hualapai Hilltop is where you park your car and start your hike from there it is eight miles to the town of Supai. The town has a few little stores where you can get drinks, food, and even some fry bread. There is nothing but a check in point, and a few portable toilets at Hualapai Hilltop. If you need gas, water, or snacks for the hike to Supai you should load up in the nearest town of Peach Springs.

At the Hualapai Trailhead

Once you have parked, packed, and peed go ahead and check in. DO NOT FORGET YOUR KEYS! Be sure to take a picture by the sign at the beginning! It makes a great before and after photo. The first leg of your hike is a mile of switchbacks. They aren’t bad going down but on the way back it will feel like the longest mile of your life so enjoy the scenery now. I recommend getting a very early to stay as cool as possible. If it’s the summer this may require hiking with headlamps. The switchbacks are also where you will want your trekking poles to ease the pressure on your knees. If you aren’t used to hiking with a heavy pack then I would highly recommend getting a pair! Mine were BAFX Anti Shock Trekking Poles ($21) After you make it past the switchbacks you will be in a dry riverbed. The trail will veer to your right. The canyon walls will start growing around you getting taller and taller. Be sure to take frequent breaks to hydrate and rest. There is some really cool plant life along the trail so be sure to take it all in. If you ever get lost or unsure of where you’re going just look for the horse poop seriously! The tribe runs pack horses and mules along the path daily transporting bags (yes you can pay for this) along with mail (the only mail delivery brought by horses in the US) and food. Please make room for them when they come by! The horses and people riding them will thank you.

Once get about four miles in there are some really nice places to rest and eat a snack in the rock formations that make up the canyon. Be sure to stretch and adjust anything that is pinching or hurting. I ended up with some serious blisters because I ignored the rubbing on my toes from my new boots. Be sure to bring moleskin for that purpose as well! Remember to take your time. It’s not a race.

There will be a sign eventually along the path that will direct you to Supai village. This sign is pretty much right before you first see Havasu creek. When we went in November the area just around the creek was bursting with beautiful yellow flowers! You are getting close to town and that change of scenery really helps get you re-motivated. We did have a bit of trouble navagating in this area. Don’t worry you can’t get really lost but I think after the floods in 2018 the trail became a little less clear. We ended up following a few wrong paths. You will cross the creek via a bridge, and see an old stone house on the way.

Once you reach Supai you’ll see houses, horses and dogs galore. The town is small and a little worn but the people there are friendly as long as you’re polite. I saw some reviews saying that the locals were rude and honestly I can only imagine what poor behavior those people displayed to receive that treatment. You can stop and buy some cold drinks or some snacks. You can take your pack off and sit out on the picnic tables with the other hikers while you rest. This is also were the helicopter lands to take bags up to Hualapai Hilltop or drop off bags. A little further there is an office where you will need to check in and get your wristbands. This is a great place to fill up your water bottle as well. It is clearly marked so you won’t miss it. You will continue through town and along the road.

Eventually once you are out of town you will see Fifty Foot Falls to your left. You have the option to stop and cool off with the other hikers here. There is a bit of a “beach” area you can lounge at. We continued on so we could get a good campsite. A little further and still on your left you will go by Navajo Falls. After the flooding that took place last summer these falls look different than the photos we had seen. It was a little hard to figure out which was which. Either way that whole stretch is gorgeous! I stopped and took quite a few pictures along the way. Once you pass the Cemetery you’re getting close to Havasu Falls, and some of the fry bread stands.

Fry bread is exactly what it sounds like. They offer lots of different toppings like re-fried beans, cheese, salsa and some condiments you can add yourself. Some options are sweet some savory. There are hot dogs as well so if fry bread isn’t your thing don’t worry. They have soda, water, and Gatorade too. There are picnic tables so you can sit in the shade of the tent and enjoy your lunch. Remember to bring cash for this if you want to try it! I ordered a bean and cheese fry bread and my cousin got a hot dog served on fry bread. Both were delicious! It’s a good place to talk to some of the other hikers if you haven’t along the trail already. If you miss the stand coming down you can always walk back later. It isn’t far from camp just be mindful of the open and closed signs.

Now that you’re all full and rested continue on until you hear the roar of water. You are almost to the iconic Havasu Falls! As you wind your way around some rocks you will finally see it to your right. There are some rocks you can sit on and take a picture of the falls behind you right as you come around. There are other photo ops closer to the falls but this one is the best by far! We were so happy once we finally got to this point. Just huge smiles on both of our faces. It’s all just so much more beautiful than the photos.

After a million photos you will make your way down to an area in front of the falls there are some picnic tables here to take pictures or you can climb down to the water if you want. Here is my list of the most Instagrammable spots to take photos. I would suggest coming back if you want to swim. Just keep going to the campsite for now. As you reach the beginning of the campsite you will see an area they tie up horses, walk through that, and there will be the first bathroom to your right. They toilets are two story vault compost toilets. There are NO SHOWERS. There are instructions on how to use the compost toilets in the bathroom. Remember the first toilets are the most frequented in case you want to camp near here. That means longer lines, higher chance of no toilet paper and slightly dirtier bathrooms. Just keep that in mind. There are three bathrooms in the campsite evenly spaced.

There are signs near here that direct you to the spring to fill up all your water bladders and bottles. Do it now before you get to camp. Some of the campsites are a half mile from the spring. I carried a 3 L Platypus Hoser Reservoir water bladder ($27) in my bag and a 4 L Platypus Gravity Works water filtration system ($120). I filled both the dirty water portion and the pack bladder while I was here. The water tastes absolutely fine straight from the tap but some people don’t like the extra minerals, so if that’s you go ahead and bring a filter. I really liked having the 4 L system for camp. It was super convenient to hang the bag and have a ton of water on tap for cooking, cleaning, and drinking as needed.

There are hundreds of campsites along the Havasu Creek. There are picnic tables marking most of them. Some are right along the creek, others are along the canyon walls, some you have to cross little bridges to get to. We chose an area near the third bathroom, across two bridges and near Mooney Falls. It was slightly isolated, we had a picnic table, a 5 gallon bucket with a lid to keep our food safe from ground squirrels, and trees to hang the water bladders, our clothes along a clothes line, and a hammock. For two people we had a deluxe camp for sure. There was also a bench we used to sit and drink our morning instant coffee right in front of our camp along the creek.

There are no campfires allowed so remember to bring a butane stove if you want hot food or drinks! We used a screw on camp stove from Amazon along with some Coleman cookware. If you are flying into Phoenix or Las Vegas you can’t take fuel canisters with you so you will need to stop on your way to pick one up. We hit up the REI in Phoenix the day we arrived.

Once we pitched our tent (ours was an REI Co-op Half Dome 2 Plus $230.00), and got the campsite situated we headed back to Havasu Falls for some more photos at the base of the falls. Since it is in a canyon and this was winter around 4 o’clock it was already getting pretty dark and chilly. We headed back to camp and cooked some Top Ramen and drank some electrolyte mix drinks. We were in bed by six p.m. every night mainly due to being absolutely exhausted, and partly from lack of light. For the night you will definitely need a headlamp, and some camp shoes. Preferably some that can double as water shoes for river crossings while heading to Beaver Falls. The shoes will give your feet a chance to breathe after hiking in boots all day, and will be convenient when you get up to pee in the middle of the night. I brought LEYU Men’s Sandals Slippers ($14) They were cheap and looked like Tevas except lighter! You should also bring a pair of clothes for bed unless you want your tent and sleeping bag FILLED with dust. I also recommend bringing baby wipes to clean yourself before you change for the night. These are super handy whenever you go camping so get a small pack. Just don’t forget plastic zip lock bags to keep your trash in. You must pack everything in and out! To sleep in I brought Icebreaker wool leggings and a long sleeve shirt with extra wool socks for sleeping in November. I was plenty warm in my Nemo Rave 30 degree Long sleeping bag ($280) with Nemo Fillo Luxury Pillow ($50). Both were really cozy and having the insulated Nemo Tensor 25 Insulated Sleeping Pad ($130) kept me from getting chilled on my back. I was super thrilled with the Nemo brand stuff. It was recommended to me by a local outdoor store since I sleep on my side and their sleeping bags come in a really cool spoon shape that allows you to move your legs unlike mummy bags. We slept for TWELVE hours a night which may seem ridiculous but you are going to be so exhausted and sore you need all the rest you can get.

At six am we got up, made our instant coffee, our instant oatmeal, and got dressed for the day. My Osprey Aura AG 50 L Pack didn’t have a day pack brain like my cousin’s Aria AG 65 does which I didn’t know ahead of time, so I had to get creative. I took the detachable brain and clipped the clips together then I took some clothes line I found around camp and made a sling pack. This worked well for carrying my water bladder, snacks, and sandals. It did like to swing around when I was climbing which was a pain but it still did the job! I will say I loved everything else about my pack I just wasn’t expecting that I needed a separate day pack too. Be sure to fill up your water containers before you head down Mooney Falls.

It is a three mile trip from Mooney (at the base of the campground) to Beaver falls. If you are at the beginning of the campground that is a 3.5 mile journey. If you want to head to the confluence of the Colorado river that is an eight mile journey from Mooney. There are no places to fill up your water in this area so please make sure you bring enough! You’ll be doing 7-16 miles round trip.

The first part of the hike from the campground to Beaver Fall requires a test of faith. You will be climbing down a cave tunnel along ladders with chains. Not to mention the whole thing is slippery because of the mist off of Mooney falls. You will probably be scared and some people can’t handle it. Just take your time. Make sure you have sure footing and hand holds as you descend. Please don’t try this in flip flops! There are occasional traffic jams where you have to make room for people coming up but just be patient. The day we hiked in a girl actually fell and had to be helicoptered out to the hospital. There is an old helicopter gurney at the base of the falls almost as a warning.

Decent to Mooney Falls
Mooney Falls

Once you’re down you will be in awe of how spectacular this waterfall really is! I honestly loved it way more than Havasu Falls. Maybe it was the fact I had to work for it. Either way be sure to take some pictures of you and your groups in front of the falls. You can get another hiker to take a few shots. Now we got lost a lot on our way to Beaver falls. You have to cross the creek at least three times but I think we crossed more than that. All part of the adventure! I switched from my hiking boots to my sandals each time. Don’t forget to bring a small microfiber towel so you can dry your feet. It’s a bit of a pain but I really didn’t want to hike the whole time in sandals. Going barefoot through the creek is another option the creek bed is grippy but it is rough on your feet too. You can’t stray too far so don’t worry about that. If you feel like you’re going the wrong way just turn around. The canyon is pretty narrow so you won’t be turned around for long.

You will go through a really cool area called “The Jungle” it’s a valley FILLED with wild grapevines. It really looked like something out of Jurassic Park.

There are lots of littler waterfall areas before Beaver Falls so feel free to take a break in any of them along the way. Once had a really cool swing.

Be on the lookout for the only palm tree in the entire canyon. When you see it you’ll instantly have thoughts of a desert oasis or a tropical paradise. It makes some really cool pictures too.

The only palm tree in Havasu Canyon

Beaver Falls itself is well marked and is really big. There is an area right above the decent down to Beaver that was the PERFECT place to eat our lunch and take a picture. Down by the falls it was harder to get a good shot. Some guys were climbing up into the pools formed by the waterfall. I am not sure how safe that is but I certainly wasn’t going to try it!

If you are heading to the confluence you still have five more miles to go. I did speak with some other hikers who were returning and they said it was worth the hike. We were pretty tired and sore from the day before so we decided Beaver was enough which is what most hikers do. If you want to head back to any of the other falls like we did you might want to stop your hike here and head back as well. The trip back was slightly less confusing and we made better time.

The rest of the day we went to Havasu Falls. Our first trip was short so this gave us an opportunity to take some pictures with better light and just relax. This is the only area I found near camp that had some cell phone reception so we also sent some texts and read emails for a bit. You pretty much have to actively seek reception here so if you are looking for a break from technology this is a great place for it.

During our last night we really tried to absorb those last quiet moments in sitting in our little grove. Everything in Havasu Canyon looks magical. You look around and it looks otherworldly like fairies are going to pop out of the trees. I kept telling my cousin it looked like a video game rendition of a perfect place. The water is so blue, the rocks are a beautiful red, the trees were changing color. Maybe I’m romanticizing it a bit but for real this is what it felt like. I have been camping more times than I could count but this was the perfect camping trip for me. I don’t know if I will ever be able to top it, but I will definitely try.

By 5 pm we were back making dinner for ourselves and getting things together for our hike back the next morning. We had ramen noodles again and packed what we could. By 6 am we were up packing everything by headlamp. Breakfast was a bit hurried but we took our time sipping our coffee while we watched a pair of ducks in the creek. Once the tent was down everything moved quickly. We got our last refills of water from the spring and we were off.

We did debate using the helicopters but something about that other than just cost kept us from it. Using a helicopter or a mule train seemed like cheating. It also slows you down since you have to wait FOREVER to get a spot. I wanted that sense of accomplishment at the hilltop. I wanted to say that I HAD MADE IT! We had good spirits the whole way back, we took breaks but there was more urgency this time. We wanted to make it back to Phoenix before dark. So we played music, we joked and hummed. We did anything we could to keep each other motivated.

Once we reached the switchbacks we were tired plain and simple. Our knees and backs were feeling it. We had already stripped off most of our outer layers and had eaten the rest of our snacks. We knew this was the real challenge. It took us forever to get up those switchbacks. We were playing a workout playlist just to give us a little more motivation. By the very last couple of yards we were on the brink of wanting to throw up.

When we made it to the sign at the top I was in tears. I barely held it together for our after photo. I was overwhelmed with pride and it seems silly, but even now it makes my eyes water. This was my very first backpacking trip. I had trained for months so that I could do this journey and I never gave up. It was one of the most fulfilling, and beautiful experiences of my life. I’m so grateful I was able to do this with my best friend and cousin Kristina. Experiences like these bring people infinitely closer.

We ended up eating a late lunch in Seligman, Arizona in the Roadkill Cafe. We ate like kings with our greasy diner food and zero guilt. I even got a piece of lemon meringue pie. Something about being on Route 66 made me think of The Grapes of Wrath. Like we had been on a long tired journey West. This pie was a bit of solace in a desolate world. Everything about it was just so quintessentially American. Turns out Seligman was the inspiration for Radiator Springs in the movie “Cars”. I knew there was something extremely familiar about the town. We didn’t get to stick around too long as we had a nice comfy bed waiting for us in Phoenix.