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Grand Canyon Winter Hiking

Grand Canyon Winter Hiking – Rim to Rim to Rim

Most people don’t know this, but I have a personal history with the Grand Canyon. My parents took me and my sister for the first time when I was 10 years old. Back then I had the National Parks Passport, though before this we’d spent most of our family vacations at Disney.

By the time we left, the Canyon had implanted me with a travel bug. I can honestly say it was that trip that inspired me to start exploring.

But despite living in San Diego for almost 12 years, I hadn’t been back to hike the Canyon since. So when we first considered going for a trip in December, I wasn’t even sure Grand Canyon winter hiking was a possibility. It had been summer when I was there the first time– but I was desperate to see it blanketed in snow.

At over 7,000 feet of altitude, I knew things got cold at the South Rim, and I remember hearing that the park closes the North Rim to visitors each winter. I immediately assumed that meant the iconic Rim-to-Rim hike would be completely out of the question. What. A. Bummer. That hike has been at the top of our backpacking list for ages!

Luckily, after a bit of research, I came across an obvious solution to our problem. With no services open on the North Rim, we’d just have to turn around and hike back out to the South Rim! Instead of Rim-to-Rim, we’d hike Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (before you get excited, they don’t make stickers for this one).

Now, Annelise, a warm-blooded California native, was not nearly as enthusiastic about my Grand Canyon Winter backpacking proposal. So I promised that Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim would not only be spectacular, but that it wouldn’t be THAT cold. And after she gave a reluctant go-ahead, we faxed in a last-minute backcountry permit request to the Grand Canyon backcountry office.

It’s worth noting here that while I love being spontaneous, I might have gotten lucky on this one. It’s usually recommended that you plan your trip and fax your requests in about four months in advance.

Fortunately we were able to get email confirmation within two days. They had approved our second route option and our earlier set of dates, which meant we only had a little time to gear up!

Grand Canyon Winter Hiking Gear

I can’t stress enough the importance of reliable gear on a thru-hike, especially a cold one, and we’ve talked in depth about gear in past posts, from our experiences hiking Torres Del Paine and backpacking the Trans-Catalina Trail. But with the notable elevation changes hiking in and out of the canyon, I strongly recommend using trekking poles.

Even if you’re able-bodied, poles distribute the brunt of the impact on your joints on both the ascent and descent. And with days in which you lose (or gain and lose) 4,000 plus feet of elevation, it’s worth sparing your knees a bit.

Having called the ranger station to double-check conditions, I knew they’d hardly seen any snow yet this season. Still, we took the precaution of ordering YakTrax microspikesjust in case. They’re reasonably priced and lightweight enough to carry in case things got a little icy.

Grand Canyon Winter Hiking Conditions

Along with the basic gear, like our sleeping bags (Annelise has a great one from Mountain Hardware), hats, jackets, pants, and gloves, we also purchased new wool base layerswhich are designed to keep you warm and dry in both cold and hot conditions, so we figured we’d get good use out of them no matter what.

Grand Canyon Winter Backpacking Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim Route

Gear sorted, we drove straight from San Diego to the park and stayed at a hotel just a mile from the Grand Canyon entrance. It’s about an eight hour drive, and we broke it up with a solid lunch at the Iron Horse Grill and Restaurant in Salome (64638 US-60, Salome, AZ 85348).

Needless to say, we were still relieved when we arrived at the hotel. Our room had patio access to an indoor courtyard with a jacuzzi and lounge with enough foliage that it almost felt like we were outside.

Good thing we weren’t, because when we left at 7:30 the next morning it had snowed a few inches overnight! I was stoked because I had secretly been hoping we’d get to see the Canyon in snow. However, I had to de-ice the car windshield with a surf wax comb. Pro-tip: Always carry an ice scraper!

DAY ONE

After entering the National Park with time to spare, we parked outside the Bright Angel Lodge, walked around the snowy canyon, and went inside for a coffee. Then we packed our bags and headed to the bus stop for the Hiker’s Express, which runs from Bright Angel Lodge at 8 and 9 AM.

Grand Canyon Winter Backpacking

The last stop is the South Kaibab Trailhead, which would be our starting point for Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim– though you can also hike down Bright Angel Trail. Since we decided we wanted to hike up the Bright Angel Trail on the way out (because it’s a bit longer but less steep), we decided to hike down the South Kaibab Trail to switch it up.

Also the South Kaibab Trail is more exposed to direct sun than the Bright Angel Trail, so if snow is an issue, it is generally thought that it will melt on the South Kaibab Trail first. That said, the climb down was an unrelenting 7.5 miles with a loss of 4,720 feet in elevation. Did I mention that trekking poles are so helpful with a full pack?

Still, the first day was filled with wind gusts, spectacular vistas, mule trains, and a history lesson in geology as the rock formations and colors changed at every new angle. After a four-hour downhill hike, we arrived at Bright Angel Campground. For a downhill day, it was admittedly more taxing than we anticipated.

DAY TWO

On day two, we left for Cottonwood Campground at about 9:30 AM. Over a drastically different seven miles, we only gained about 1,600 feet of elevation. While I’d imagine the shade of the canyon walls along Bright Angel Creek would be very welcome during warmer months, we spent most of the morning trying to warm up.

On the upside, and probably one of my favorite things about hiking Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim during the winter, the crowds got smaller and smaller the closer we got to the North Rim. There’s something special about finding yourself in a place like the Grand Canyon and not seeing another soul.

At Cottonwood, we found a nice flat site (number three, if memory serves) close to the creek and still in the sun. We soaked up all we could before it tucked behind the Canyon around 4:30 PM.

DAY THREE

Day three, or Big D3 as Annelise affectionately called it, was the one we had been preparing for mentally because it would cover 14 plus miles gaining and then losing 4400 feet. But because we’d return to camp at Cottonwood, we left our tent setup and hiked out early with lighter packs. We left right at sunrise, around 7:30, to ensure we’d make it back to camp before the early winter sunset.

The hike from Cottonwood to the North Rim was as awe-inspiring as it was difficult. We filled our water at Manzanita Rest Area, about two miles from Cottonwood, because the water spigots at other areas of the North Rim are closed in the winter months.

From there, we cruised straight past Roaring Springs, passing only one guided group on the way. The climb to the Supai Tunnel and the Coconino Overlook was narrow and icy in some parts, but there was very little wind. It’s worth noting that you can’t be too careful here, as this was easily the scariest portion of the trail, situated along fairly sheer cliffs (another reason for poles).

Toward the top, the snow returned, but not enough to warrant our microspikes. Although the view from the top was not quite as striking as the view from the South Rim, we were still elated to have made it. Yet harsher wind and its accompanying chill drove us back down the hill to find some sun.

We hiked back down the .6 miles to the Coconino Overlook, where the view was both spectacular and drenched in sun. Grateful for the reprieve, we stayed here for an hour to have lunch in the sun all by ourselves. And after the refuel, we hiked the seven miles back to Cottonwood, arriving by 3:45 and with enough time to enjoy more sun.

Grand Canyon Winter Hiking North Rim

DAY FOUR

On Sunday, Christmas Eve, we left the Cottonwood Campground around 9:30 to get back to Bright Angel Campground. We had initially planned to fill our easy seven-mile, moderate downhill day with a detour to Ribbon Falls, but some signs made us concerned the bridge was closed.

Going backwards from Day Two, the easy downhill slope was covered mostly in shade. We pushed on until we found a nice sunny spot by the creek for lunch. From there it was just a few miles back to Bright Angel Campground, where we arrived by 2:00 PM, greeted by mule deer.

We set up camp in site number 10, next to the creek, and went back to the canteen to play cards outside. After I beat Annelise at Rummy 500, we celebrated with a couple of Bright Angel IPAs inside the canteen before it closed for dinner prep at 4:00 PM. And, because it was Christmas Eve, we were treated by my family to a family-style steak dinner at Phantom Ranch right at 5:00 PM.

Phantom Ranch Grand Canyon Winter Hiking

They also serve stew to a later crew at 6:30 PM and re-open between eight and ten for the night owls. We spent most evenings confined to our tent to stay warm, but when the sun set we were thrilled to see several people had put up lights to get in the Christmas spirit.

DAY FIVE

With more people nearby, we woke early Monday morning and packed up camp by 8:30 AM. We filled our waters once more, knowing there wouldn’t be more until 4.5 miles up at Indian Garden Campground, and hiked up past the River Rest House.

We crossed back over the Colorado River and dawdled a bit soaking up the incredible views.

Colorado River Grand Canyon Winter HIking

The Devil’s Corkscrew (an intense series of switchbacks) starts shortly after, and slowly but surely we started crossing paths with more people. We continued on past Plateau Point and went straight to Indian Garden Campground, the only other place water was on on the south rim, to have lunch.

Rim to Rim to Rim Grand Canyon Winter Hiking

Eager to complete our journey, we trekked another 4.5 miles from there to the top of the canyon, where we arrived by 2:00 PM. We had made a reservation at the Bright Angel Lodge–and were so glad we did. We checked in early, had showers and caught the last half of the holiday football game before having dinner.

And even though we couldn’t find R2R2R stickers, we’d recommend it anyway.

For the sake of clarity, our backcountry permit request looked like this:

Day 1 – Bright Angel Campground

Day 2 – Cottonwood Campground

Day 3 – Cottonwood Campground

Day 4 – Bright Angel Campground

Day 5 – Out

Please also note that hiking in the Grand Canyon can be extremely dangerous in both winter and summer. Always make sure you consult the park and bring adequate supplies. Every step you take into the canyon is a step you have to take out, and neither shade nor running water is always guaranteed.

If you have any questions about our route, what we packed, what we ate, or what we saw, feel free to write us here.

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Tampa Bay beaches

Tampa Bay’s Best Beaches

Florida is known as the Sunshine State, and for good reason. But the best way to soak in those rays is on one of the world-class beaches that line the shore along the Gulf Coast. Millions visit Florida annually, the majority of them looking for vacation property to rent, to buy or even deciding to sell timeshare property so they can stay as close to the beach as possible.

For those sun worshipers, there is really only one region in Florida to consider- the beaches of the Tampa Bay area.

Award-Winning Tampa Bay Beaches

Home to spectacular beach destinations such as Clearwater Beach, St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island, this 35 mile stretch of sand is continually highlighted by such leading outlets as TripAdvisor and USA Today. In fact, TripAdvisor’s 2017 Travelers’ Choice Awards named St. Pete Beach number 3 and Clearwater Beach number 4 as the best beaches in the entire United States.

The sugary white sand and warm Gulf waters combine for a wonderful beach experience. Accommodations range from holiday home rentals to 4-star resorts from major brands such as Hilton and Wyndham. There is just about every type of hotel and motel in-between, certainly enough options to fit anyone’s budget.

While these are the primary attractions, there are some beach spots in the area that are not as well known, but just as impressive.

Pass-A-Grille Beach

With history going back to the beginning of the 1900s, this charming locale is a taste of old Florida in the shadows of the legendary Don Cesar Hotel. Located at the southern tip of the St. Pete Beach coastline, you won’t find any high-rise hotels but plenty of hospitality, restaurants, shops and traditional holiday units that harken back to a more laid-back time.

Pass a Grille Beach Tampa Bay Beach

The sunsets are breathtaking and can be seen from anywhere along this strip. Some prefer to watch from the beach, others from the comfort of their holiday unit, and still others from the bars and restaurants that line the location.

Fort De Soto Park

Honored as Parents Magazine’s top beach in the U.S., the North Beach at this historic site is perfect for families with children. Protected by a sandbar which creates a lagoon-like swimming option, this spot can combine a terrific beach experience with a history lesson as this fort was originally built for the Spanish-American war.

Tampa Bay Beaches

Fort De Soto Park

Campsites provide options for tents and RVs, and there are food and beverage concessions plus canoe and kayak rentals.

For those traveling with their favorite four-legged family members, Fort De Soto Park offers a dog beach on the southern side of the park which looks out onto the entrance to Tampa Bay. While the park provides a great natural beach location, there is not much shade so you will want to bring your own umbrella, tent or beach canopy. Dogs must be on a leash but there is a separate fenced dog park area where they can run free.

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Road Trips Best Done by Bike

Three U.S. Road Trips Best Done by Bike

Most people dread the driving aspect of a road trip, especially if you’re riding solo. But that completely changes when you’re taking the road via motorcycle. The adventure hones in on the ride itself, and the destination becomes an afterthought.

We’re reminded of this fantastic quote in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, one of our favorite books about travel and philosophy:

“In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.  On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”

Here are three road trips best done by bike:

Tail of the Dragon

Some of the greatest adventures on the open road can be found in the United States. First and foremost, we must talk about the Tail of the Dragon. The name in itself is enough to offer a great deal of excitement and anticipation. This road is more than an enticing name, though. The Tail of the Dragon offers 318 curves over 11 miles of Robbinsville, North Carolina. While this road is a great sight and perfectly suited for an adventure on the back of your bike, it is not for the faint of heart. Even advanced riders should prepare themselves with reliable motorcycle gear and accessories. That being said, If you’re up for a challenge, then this is the route for you.

San Juan Mountain Skyway

Next up we head to Colorado, specifically the San Juan Mountain Skyway. One of the most interesting things about this route is that it is a loop. This is a road equipped perfectly for the biker seeking to take in beautiful scenery and simply enjoy the ride. Because of the loop shape, you can technically hop onto this route anywhere, head either direction, and end up where you started again! Of course, it wouldn’t be Colorado if you didn’t spot some of the nation’s most breathtaking mountains throughout this amazing 225 mile ride.

Highway 1

Lastly, we go back to the beach. The world-renowned Pacific Coast Highway nestled in beautiful and sunny California. The beauty of the Pacific Coast Cruise is not only in its physical scenery and views, but also in its simplicity. It is one road that stretches all the way up and down the coast and overlooks beautiful oceans from southern to northern California.  It stretches from the beautiful beaches of Malibu to the foggy hills of Big Sur to the spectacular Redwoods of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. What a phenomenal way to spend a summer day!

These road trips all provide bucket-list views that prove the adventure is in the journey itself. If you’ve been inspired to hop on the back of a bike, we’d love to hear about your adventures and tips you may have for other riders.

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Baseball Fenway Roadtrip

JustFly Chronicles The Best Places To Check Out America’s Pastime

As North America gets closer to escaping the last grasps of Winter, the boys of Summer are getting ready to play ball. Baseball season is about to enter full swing which means sitting in the sun, enjoying a drink, and taking in some live baseball if you find yourself in the United States or Toronto, Ontario, Canada. While baseball gets a bit of a rep as a boring game, it is something you should definitely take the time out of your trip to see according to JustFly. JustFly is an online travel agency based out of North America that knows how to have fun from coast to coast. We asked them to identify some of baseballs best ball parks. They were happy to provide us with a list of the game’s best and most historic venues.

Camden Yards – Baltimore, Maryland

The first stop according to JustFly’s review is Baltimore to visit Camden Yards and the Baltimore Orioles. Opened in 1992, Camden Yards is easily the newest field on this list. But, what it lacks in age it makes up for in modern baseball beauty and one of the best spectator experiences in all of baseball. Designed to have a “retro” look and feel, Camden Yards receives high marks from fans and players across the league who appreciate its respect for baseball’s treasured history in the United States.

Baseball Roadtrip to Wrigley Field

Baseball Roadtrip to Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field – Chicago, Illinois

Built originally in 1914, Wrigley Field is as much a museum as it is a baseball field. Long revered for its ivy covered outfield walls, Wrigley Field is famous for a curse that has contributed, potentially, to a famous championship losing streak. In a story that is simply outrageous, the curse goes that the team will not win a World Series thanks to team staff removing a goat from the field. The owner then declared the team would never win again. Amazingly, the team has not made it to the World Series since 1945, the year the goat was removed from the stadium. The team hasn’t actually won a World Series since 1902.

Fenway Park – Boston, Massachusetts

The oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball, Fenway Park is famous for being home to the Green Monster. While you may think this has something to do with Boston’s heavy Irish heritage, it’s actually in reference to the massive wall that occupies left field. While the wall has swallowed up many would home run balls over its time, the fields awkward dimensions has have been both a burden and a benefit for the players who have had the fortune to play at Fenway since its opening in 1912.  No visitor would go wrong taking in a classic battle between the Red Sox and their famous rivals from New York.

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Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Alternate Black Friday Activities

Ahhh, Thanksgiving. It can be such a bittersweet time of year. Namely because it signals a number of things, including the start of the holidays and the end of the year, which are both exciting and, let’s face it, a little bit scary. The day before the holiday itself has long been dubbed the busiest travel day of the year. So before you ever get to cut into a slice of dark meat, you have to brave crowded airports and hour-long traffic delays – yikes!

Then, once the pie has been served, gears begin their not-so-subtle shift into Christmastime. Black Friday shoppers line up one after another, waiting for doors to open like kids on Christmas morning. Meanwhile, I personally do my best to avoid any semblance of shopping despite the overwhelming draw to every sale sign.

Here’s how you can skip the shopping this holiday:

Luckily, some companies are supporting my protest this year by offering alternate Black Friday activities and making it easier to travel somewhere slightly more fun than the local shopping mall. REI, for example, is encouraging its customers, like always, to Opt Outside. The retailer is giving their employees a paid day off and closing all brick and mortar locations so that everyone remotely related to REI can spend an extended Thanksgiving holiday with their families outdoors.

I, for one, love this idea. It brings back the connectedness to the holiday – plus, I could certainly stand a little outdoor activity following the self-induced food coma from Thursday. As if this initiative wasn’t exciting enough all on its own, several state park services have since joined in, offering free admission and waiving camp fees on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

State Parks throughout California, Minnesota, Missouri and Oregon have all opted in. Or out, depending on your perspective. Even if your home state hasn’t followed suit, don’t be discouraged! Day-use park fees are often only a handful of dollars, and the prices pale in comparison to the value of spending quality time with your favorite folks.

Whatever way you choose to spend it, we hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday!

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