Hike McAfee Knob

If you want to see more of our outdoor adventure posts, click here! And if you’re interested, you can learn more about my experience volunteering on the Appalachian Trail.

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McAfee Knob is one of the most photographed views on the Appalachian Trail. From McAfee Knob, you’ll see a nearly 270-degree panorama of Catawba Valley, North Mountain, Tinker Cliffs and the Roanoke Valley. I hiked McAfee’s as a day hike, but there are numerous shelters and campsites along the trail. If you plan it right, you can catch sunrise or sunset on the knob, which would make for some incredible images.

In my opinion, McAfee Knob is the perfect day hike. You get a big payoff for only a slightly strenuous hike 8.8 round trip hike and there’s an option to make it a loop. You’ll climb about 1,700 feet in elevation over 4.4 miles. I wore these sneakers and my feet were more than happy. On a clear day, the views are said to be the best in the Southern Shenandoah Valley. Pack a hammock and a lunch or a single beer like we did, and hang out at the top for a long while.

This hike is about twenty minutes outside of Roanoke. Park in the McAfee’s Knob parking area. Though the trail is well worn and populated, snap a photo of the map on the information board before crossing the road and beginning the hike. Follow the white A.T. (Appalachian Trail) blazes as the trail winds its way upwards. You’ll pass a couple shelters and campsites along the way. Eventually, you’ll cross an old fire road and a power line clearing. The blazes pick up again on the other side of the clearing and after only a quarter mile more you’ll see the first good view of Catawba Valley. Another half mile up the trail and you’ll see the McAfee Knob Spur Trail. Turn left and almost immediately you’ll see amazing views.

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McAfee Knob extends noticeably beyond the rest of the cliffs and there’s no way you can miss the line of people taking photos there. We walked past the crowds and explored the cliffs a little further until we found a comfortable rock bench from which to sit, chill and enjoy the view. If you have the time (and the snacks) stay until sunset. On the way back take the fire road for a much easier path down to the parking lot. You’ll also skim about a half mile off the adventure that way.

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What to pack :

  • Water – I only saw one spring on the trail. Pre-hydrate by drinking about a liter of water before the hike as well.
  • Camera
  • Hammock + straps
  • Headlamp
  • Camera
  • Snacks

 

Rules on rules :

  • No camping or campfires on McAfee Knob or Tinker Cliffs
  • Leave No Trace
  • Leashed Dogs Allowed (although we saw a few off-leash, which is always nice)
  • No alcohol
  • No drones
  • Max group hike size : 25
  • Max backpacking group size : 10
  • If camping : There are only 7 designated camping areas. Know before you go!

 

McAfee Knob is a very popular hike. I’m sure we bumped into nearly 50-75 other hikers along the trail and at the vista. That being said, the viewpoint and rock outcroppings are immense and there was room for everyone at the top. I noticed folks being really courteous about moving out of the way for photographs as well. I was also pleased to see that the trail and knob were mostly free of litter. Please remember to follow Leave No Trace hiking etiquette here and everywhere else.

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Colorado Roadtrip : Pagosa to Ouray

You can find more of our Colorado adventures here, and if you like travel posts, we have a lot! We took this road trip in our *new* van (can’t wait to tell you more about it); this post gives you a little overview of what we pack in the van. And here are some of our basic tips for camping with kids.

Yesterday I shared a glimpse of our 36 hours in Great Sand Dunes, today I’m sharing from the rest of our trip as we visited Pagosa, Ouray, and the scenic highways in between!

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First up, the most breathtaking pit-stop that we made for a certain 4 y.o. that had to go. Look at those cliffs! This is somewhere east of Pagosa along US route 160. I stayed neared the van where Luc was sleeping while Alex and Calder took a short walk to stretch their legs. Can you see them in the first pic? They’re just little dots holding hands and being careful not to lose each other down the cliff.

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Colorado Roadtrip : Great Sand Dunes

You can find more of our Colorado adventures here, and if you like travel posts, we have a lot! We took this road trip in our *new* van (can’t wait to tell you more about it); this post gives you a little overview of what we pack in the van. And here are some of our basic tips for camping with kids.

Earlier this month, we went on a five-day road trip to south west Colorado. It’s a part of the state we haven’t explored, but had heard great things about. We set out excited to experience the beautiful San Juan mountain range. Let me spill the beans right now: this trip was awesome (I’m writing this about a week after the trip, and we’re still talking about it). We loved the scenery, the hot springs, and the towns we visited.

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This is going to be a two-post report. In this post I’m going to share photos and from the first bit of our trip that was spent in Great Sand Dunes National Park, and in the second post I’ll share photos from our visits to Pagosa Springs and Ouray.

We left after work on Tuesday and drove until we reached Great Sand Dunes (it was sometime after midnight). Rather than head straight to the park, we took the rocky and bUMpY 20 minute ride to Zapata Falls, camping there for the night. When we woke up in the morning, the view was breathtaking! From high on the hill, you could look down and see the sand dunes with the mountains in the background. Don’t you love waking up to a surprise like that? roadtrip2

We were so excited to get to the dunes that we had breakfast, stretched our legs, and then got back in the car and headed into the park. Sadly, we didn’t take the time to hike to the actual falls at Zapata Falls. That’ll have to wait for our next visit!

Campground

But, our timing was perfect, because we drove into the park, took a quick stop at the visitor’s center, and then took a drive through the unreserved campground and were able to snag a spot as someone was checking out! I definitely think timing was on our side, there seemed to be daily-turnover in the park midweek, but then as we were checking out Thursday morning, it seemed like everyone coming in had plans to stay through the weekend.
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The Dunes

After securing the spot, we drove straight over to the sand dunes. We knew we wanted to hike on them, and everyone warns that it’s best done either earlier in the morning or later in the evening – times when the sun isn’t shining as bright and the dunes are cooler.

As you can see in the photo above, we came early enough in the season so that the water (from snowmelt) was still flowing through the park. This creek dries up by late June, and I’m sure that would create a much different (hotter/dryer/dustier) visit. I’ll share a few more pics of our time near the water later in the post. First, we just crossed it on our way to the dunes.

And those dunes are spectacular. It’s such a mind-bending experience to see these large (largest in North America!) dunes at the base of the granite mountains. From some angles you could see the mountains, and from others you just saw sand and blue skies.

If you look closely in the photo below, you can see people hiking off in the distance, and it helps to give you some perspective of the size of the dunes. roadtrip5 roadtrip6 roadtrip7 roadtrip8

We set out on our walk not having high expectations for how far we’d get (that’s the best mindset you can have with two little guys in two)… but I secretly think that both Calder and I were hoping we’d make it to the top!

We were prepared with both a larger hiking pack to hold the big kid and the ergo to hold the smaller kid. There were times when the boys were in their packs and there were times when they were out, and step by step we made progress until we made it to the top!

It was hard work, guys. About 2 hours of hard work. Every step you took involved some sinking into the sand and sliding slightly backwards.  roadtrip9 roadtrip10 roadtrip11

As you can see in the photo above, we carried along cardboard in the hopes of sledding down the dunes. Many friends told us that this worked for them. It definitely didn’t work for us. I’m not sure what went wrong, but we had the most success just sitting on our bums and doing a slow slide down the steeper sides of the dunes.

Dune Shoes : And, as mentioned above, the dunes do get hot. I wore sneakers, while Alex and Calder both had slip-on summer shoes. I saw lots of other hikers with sandals and flipflops. Honestly, I’m not sure what kind of shoe is best. The boys had trouble with sand getting into their shoes, and so did I! I didn’t expect it with my sneakers, but sand was sneaking in through the mesh fabric of the shoes. It even got stuck between the layers of fabric, and for about a week, it would slowly weasel its way out as I wore the shoes. But the sandals and flipflops also seem like don’t offer enough protection from the hot sand. Who knows, you just have to pick your poison. roadtrip12

After our hike, we were worn out and starving, so we headed back to the campsite for an easy ramen and eggs lunch, and then naps (for everyone!).

The Water

Post naps, we headed back over to the dunes, and spent a couple of hours near the water. The boys had a great time play in the sand and wading in the water while C and I had a chance to relax and enjoy the view.

Can you spot the deer in the photo below?! roadtrip13 roadtrip14 roadtrip15

Then it was back to the campsite for marshmallows, stories, and an early bedtime.
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Etc.

Just a few additional observations and hearsay about Great Sand Dunes :

  • sledding down the dunes : As I mentioned, many people told us to pack cardboard for sledding. That didn’t work at all for us. Maybe it will for you? We also saw people sledding and “surfing” on boards rented in the park. They look like fun, but you have to want to carry them up the dunes.
  • mosquitoes : We had no trouble with mosquitoes, but have heard from others that they can be overwhelming in June.
  • hiking : In addition to the dunes, there are many other hiking trails. We didn’t venture out on any, but would love to on a future visit.
  • campground store : There’s a nice little campground store that carries a wide variety of items. We stopped in one night for ice and firewood and saw that they also carried ice cream and avocados. Great store!
  • shade tents : many families brought shade tents to the water area, and that looked like a great idea if you planned to stay all day (it seemed like many people treated it like a beach day).
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Why You Should Volunteer

I’ve been volunteering my time quite a bit lately and as always, it feels wonderful. I’m republishing this post in hopes that you’ll research a new volunteering opportunity in your area and field of interest. If you have any experience volunteering or suggestions for others, throw them in the comments. 

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Happy Monday!  Over a year ago, when Katie and I started this blog, we had intended for our Mondays to be inspiring.  We thought, what better to read on a Monday morning than something that will amp you up for the rest of the week or at the very least, make your Monday a bit better.  We’ve strayed a little bit from that scheduling because we realized we have so much to share in all spheres, but today we’re going back to our roots and inspiring you to help out a little. You know, volunteer a few hours or a few days, whatever you can. Today I’m sharing my two cents on why you should volunteer followed by a recap of my recent volunteer experience on the Appalachian Trail that includes a remembrance of our dear hiking friend.

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Winter (Van) Camping

We like to get outside every chance we get, whether it’s a quick run, a day-long hike, or a weekend camping trip. You can see all of our outdoor adventures here, and more of our Colorado hikes here.

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Last weekend we packed up the van and headed into Rocky Mountain National Park for an overnight adventure! Since winter camping is not a common past time, especially if you have little kids, I thought I’d share some details about our adventure, and hopefully encourage you to take off into the snowy mountains for a weekend of fun.

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Like Haiyaha Hike

We like a good hike, and every once in a while we have the chance to hike slow, take pictures, and share the adventure with you. You can check out some of our previous Colorado hikes here.

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These are photos from a hike that we took a few months ago, and I just happened to find them here in an unpublished post. I was so sure that I wrote about this hike, but a few searches finally convinced me that I’m crazy.

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Winter Break Snapshots

What a winter break we’ve had! We have one more day left tomorrow, and we’re going to do what we’ve been doing the past couple of weeks – spend it outside. It seems like we’ve really hit our stride this year when it comes to embracing the winter. Of course, it’s all about good clothes, a good spirit, and just doing it, but I’ll talk about that in another post. Today, I’m sharing just a glimpse of what we’ve been up to these past few weeks.

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We started our break in Steamboat Springs, CO (one of our favorite ski towns in the state!). We arrived at the start of a snowstorm that lasted well into the next day and maybe the day after? I can’t remember. But we still had a great time skiing and snowshoeing all over the mountain.

On our third, and final, day in town, we visited Strawberry Park Hot Springs before driving home. We had been here once last winter, and it was just as magical as I remembered.

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We arrived home the same day that Sarah and our family flew into town, and then every pitched in and helped us prepare to host a big party for C’s office. There was definitely a moment of “what are we doing?!” the night before, but in the end, the party was awesome, the food delicious, the company amazing, and the music pumping.
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The party was followed by a day of rest and then it was off to the mountains to ride the Georgetown Loop Railroad with Santa! We did this last year and I was really excited to do it again. When you arrive at the station, there’s hot chocolate and roasted chestnuts to munch on. Then you board the train and start riding with the excitement of knowing that Santa’s going to come and sit with you to say hi. It’s such a nice way to visit Santa, because there are no lines – you just wait in your seat on the train until Santa gets to you, meanwhile, the train’s moving through the beautiful Colorado mountains.
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Back in Boulder, we did more hiking. christmas_break2016_12

And snowball throwing. christmas_break2016_13 christmas_break2016_14

And then it was off to the mountains again for more skiing and snowshoeing!
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Home for more hiking…christmas_break2016_24 christmas_break2016_25

And here we are, relaxing, making our list of resolutions, and preparing for one more day on the slopes before we’re back to a regularly scheduled week.

I hope your break was full of warmth, family, food, and all of that holiday magic. xo

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Happy Mountain Day!

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Sup mountaineers! Did you know that yesterday was International Mountain Day? In 2003, the United Nations designated 12/11 as International Mountain Day. A day meant to encourage the international community to organize events at all levels in order to highlight the importance of sustainable mountain development. Of course, with all the crazy going on this month, we missed it. We missed national letter writing day too, but I’ll fill you in on that another day. Anyway, this year’s theme is Mountain Cultures: Celebrating diversity and strengthening identity. From hiking the Blue Mountains in Jamaica, to climbing Mt. Agung under the stars, to trekking the Annapurna Circuit, I’ve experienced enough mountain magic to be hook. Mountain spaces are sacred, enchanting and come with an immense feeling of satisfying insignificance like I’ve never experienced elsewhere.

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If you’ve ever wandered high up into the mountains, you will have noticed that remote mountain villages are home to ancient cultures and traditions. These traditional lifestyles are largely determined and linked to sustaining a living in harsh and remote mountain landscapes. Isolation helped to create and maintain immense diversity between villages and allowed these cultures to stay intact. Of course, as decades pass, mountain populations experience change and culture loss through migration and urbanization.

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Whenever I experience remote mountain life, I’m captivated by the use of land, for farming, raising animals and capturing fresh water. Mountain people are so in tune with their unique environment and how to properly respect it while gaining what they need to prosper. Mountain people’s deep respect and attachment to the land quite often has religious ties. Mountains have commonly been revered as the home of deities throughout history because of their fresh water sources and their seemingly close proximity to the sun. It’s no coincidence that you often see crosses, pilgrimage sites and places of worship high on mountain tops.

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Obviously I’m quite conscious of my place while visiting mountains. I’m always a guest, a traveler, an ambassador of society at large and therefore I take my role very seriously. As much as possible, I strive to find community-based tourism that I can support. Tourism that will help maintain the culture, not parade it around and inevitably degrade it. I also distribute my dollars broadly to local people. Spending a little bit here and there, not a bunch in one place. Lastly, I ensure everything I hike in with also comes back out and of course I respect the ecosystem by not wandering off trail. As a visitor to these spaces, I have a big responsibility in ensuring these ancient cultures continue for future generations to experience. Hiking into mountain villages is like stepping back in time. It’s absolutely breathtaking and there’s no way I can aptly describe it, but maybe these images from the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal will help a bit.  10-14-15-web-muktinah-3310-09-15-web-upper-pissang-77 10-09-15-web-upper-pissang-88 10-09-15-web-upper-pissang-10110-11-15-web-manang-57 10-11-15-web-manang-62 10-11-15-web-manang-8010-13-15-web-new-phedi-82

I’m planning a trip to Nepal for October & November of 2017. Want to join me on a trek?

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Mitchell Lake Trail

We like a good hike, and every once in a while we have the chance to hike slow, take pictures, and share the adventure with you. You can check out some of our previous Colorado hikes here.

For the past two weekends, we’ve visited Brainard Lake Recreation Area and set out from the Mitchell Lake Trailhead. On our first trip, we did a short hike to Mitchell Lake, took a rest to have some hot chocolate, and then turned around. Yesterday we set out with the goal to make it all the way to Blue Lake, and we did!

As in the tradition of our previous hike posts, I wanted to share some photos and a brief overview of the trail. These photos are from both trips and in no particular order, but they give you a great sense of what the trail is like during mid October.

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Trail Location

The trail starts within the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, but quickly leaves that area and continues on into the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area.

Brainard Lake Recreation Area is open to vehicles from June – October, but the exact opening and closing dates vary each year based on the weather. The entrance fee is on a sliding scale from $1 if you’re walking to $10/car, BUT you can access this area for free with a Nation Parks annual pass. When the area is closed during the winter, you can still park at a lot near the entrance and then enter the area by foot/ski/bike.

During the summer months, you can drive into the area and park at a number of lots. There’s a day-use lot near the main lake that often has spaces, and then there are two smaller lots near the Long Lake and Mitchell Lake trailheads, but in our experience, both of these fill up fairly early and remain packed throughout the day.

If possible, park at the Mitchell Lakes Trailhead and you’ll be able to quickly access the trail, if the lot is full, you’ll have to park in one of the other lots and walk over to the trailhead.

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Trail Overview

The hike to Mitchell Lake is just under a mile, and it’s another 1.6 miles to reach Blue Lake. These are both out-and-back destinations, making the round-trip hike to Mitchell approximately 1.8 miles and the hike to Blue Lake five miles. The altitude at the trailhead is approximately 10,500 ft, with a gradual climb of just 200 ft to Mitchell Lake and then reaching a final altitude of 11,300 ft at Blue Lake.

This is a popular, well-worn trail that is easily visible when there isn’t much snow on the ground. I’m not sure what it’s like when covered with snow, and while there were some markers in the trees, I didn’t pay close enough attention to notice how well-marked it was.

Near the base of the trail, hiking is relatively easy with that slow, gradual climb to Mitchell Lake. There is one large stream crossing over a short wooden bridge, and then another crossing over a wider stream with fall logs used as the bridge. In other segments, planks are used to keep hikers out of boggy areas. There are some steep areas where climbing the rocks is similar to climbing a steep set of stairs, with an increase in the portion of steep climbs as you approach Blue Lake.

During our first visit, there was some snow on the trail that had been tramped down and turned to ice, making some areas slick, but the following weekend this ice had melted, making hiking much easier. It was a nice reminder of how quickly weather and trail can change at that altitude.

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Hiking with Kids

Young kids (4 to 8 year olds) should be able to hike to Mitchell Lake with minimal help but would likely need help making the full trek to Blue Lake. Older kids 8+ should have no trouble with the full hike. *** Having only 3.5 and 1.5 year olds, I may have to go back and revise those numbers as we continue to test the trail, but this is based upon the kids we saw out on the trails as we hiked.

We ended up carrying both of our kids during both hikes. The first weekend it was because they were a bit under the weather, and the second weekend it was because we set out with the goal of the longer hike.

And I don’t know about your kiddos, but anytime we pull out a thermos of hot chocolate during a rest, they are happy hikers and totally oblivious to any chill in the air (pro-tip there)!

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Dressing for the Trail

At this time of year (and almost any time!), it was really helpful to dress in light layers. I wore spandex on my bottom and then a tank, wool thermal, and a light down jacket on top. Calder did something similar. The boys wore lined pants, shirts, and hoodies. They could have been dressed a bit warmer, but we also used our down jackets to bundle around them when they were cold in the packs, which worked out well because it was often when we were hot from hiking and carrying them. We all wore wool hats that we put on and off all day.

It was particularly cold and windy at Blue Lake, but since we weren’t staying there long, it didn’t make sense to carry along extra layers just for that rest stop.

And don’t forget sunscreen! While there are some segments with plenty of shade, there is a lot of sun shining on much of the trail.

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mitchell_lake5By now, Calder and I both know that we live in a beautiful state, but even so, we couldn’t stop gushing about these two weekends spent hiking the same trail. We’re so glad we explored and now we’re anxious to hike it when the wildflowers are at their peak next summer. We’re also excited to have this hike at the ready the next time we have adventurous visitors in town.

If you’re in the Boulder area, this hike and the whole Indian Peaks area is definitely worth your time. Just know that everyone else loves the area too, so try to get there early before the lots fill up. Good luck!
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Visit Arches National Park & Moab, Utah

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It’s Wednesday, you’re half way through the week that means you deserve to procrastinate by looking at pretty pictures of Moab, Utah. I’ve only visited Moab once, but I have not stopped thinking about it since. People are shocked by my profound love of Utah, but if you’ve never been, you need to stop yappin’ and start packing. After all, a few of the most scenic national parks are located there.

The following photos were taken at Arches National Park. Standing in the midst of such vibrant colossal rock formations was surely grounding. Upon entering the park, I read the history of Arches then spent the next several days trying to imagine the landscape as it changed throughout the ages. I believe connecting with the landscape and witnessing earth’s transformation is a powerful conservation tool for current and future generations. Getting to know and appreciate the natural beauty in the world will surely encourage you and others to be an active participant in securing these spaces for future generations. If you haven’t visited Arches yet, call a few buddies or load the family into the car and experience history, geology and immense beauty this year.  Continue reading

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