Arizona Trail – Passage 1: Huachuca Mountains

I would like to preface this blog post by stating that I am no longer thru-hiking the Arizona Trail.  After hiking only 34.6 miles, I made the very tough decision to get off the trail and end my thru-hike.  Before leaving Arizona, I decided to spend time exploring the state with friends and family.  I plan to share my adventures along the AZT and journeys throughout the state over the next few weeks in segments.  Here is the story of my first three days on the Arizona Trail:

3 days, 2 nights / 22.5 miles / 3000′+ elevation gain/loss


Looking back towards the Mexico border from the Arizona Trail near Montezuma Pass

Day one:  Montezuma Pass to Mexico border to Bathtub Spring

10 miles / 3000’+ elevation gain

Nervous is the one word I would use to describe the morning of my first thru-hike attempt.  All of the planning and organizing had led up to this moment, and now that it was here, I was petrified!  Scared as hell, yes, but also ready for an adventure.

I woke up before sunrise on the morning of my first day on the Arizona Trail.  I was nervous, but excited knowing I would have my aunt joining me as I hiked the first 50 miles over the next five days.  In many ways she has inspired me to find a love in backpacking, and I was happy to finally share that passion with her.  She and I set out early that morning to catch a shuttle to Montezuma Pass with 3 other hikers I had met online several weeks before starting the trail.  As a group we made plans to try and hike at least the first 120 miles together.  It comforted me knowing that I had connections along the trail, and I was thrilled to be creating new friendships.


Our group ready to start our first day on the Arizona Trail.

After a drive up a long and winding gravel road, we arrived at the Montezuma Pass parking lot in the late morning.  Mile 0 of the Arizona trail starts 1.7 miles from the parking lot and retraces its’ steps back.  Since my aunt did not intend to thru-hike the entire AZT, she kindly opted to stay in the parking area with our backpacks while we hiked the first 3.4 miles to the Mexican border and back.  This was it – we were finally starting this incredible journey!


Signing the National Registry for the Arizona Trail


Sign near the Mexican border on the Arizona Trail


The monument at the Mexican border for the beginning of the Arizona Trail


Our group at the Mexican border at the beginning of the Arizona Trail

The morning was nice with mild temperatures, blue skies and pure sunshine.  The first 1.7 miles of the trail descent down towards the Mexican border, making it a fairly easy hike.  The next 1.7 miles back up towards the parking lot weren’t as easy since we were finally starting our ascent up the Huachuca Mountains.  By the time we reached the parking lot we were parched and happy to take shelter in the shade for lunch.


Hiking back up towards Montezuma Pass from the Mexican border, Arizona Trail


Spring flowers, Arizona Trail


Cactus, Arizona Trail


Looking south towards the Mexico border, Arizona Trail near Montezuma Pass

During our lunch break at Montezuma Pass we had the opportunity to meet the founder of Warrior Expeditions along with three of his warriors kicking of their hike on the Arizona Trail.  I was so excited to be starting my hike surrounded by so many people.  I was energized and ready to throw on my pack and really start this adventure.  My aunt took our first ten steps together side by side grinning from ear to ear.


My aunt and I about to take our first steps on the Arizona Trail

We set out on the Arizona Trail with a goal of making it to Bathtub Spring that evening hiking 6.6 more miles.  Right away the climb up was tough – temperatures were warming and the trail was completely exposed.  All morning my body wasn’t feeling 100%, but I assumed it was just nerves.  As the day progressed I continued to feel uneasy, but was able to slowly hike on.  The next four miles of the trail gain over 3000′ of elevation as it makes its’ way up towards the spine of the Huachuca Mountains.


Looking south towards Montezuma Pass, Arizona Trail


Arizona Trail near Montezuma Pass


Arizona Trail

At some point my aunt and I stopped to rest in a rare shady spot, and one of our hiking partners arrived shortly thereafter.  He notified us that our other hiking partner was feeling ill after hiking a few miles.  She and her daughter decided to take shelter in their tent until feeling well enough to continue hiking on.  We suspected altitude sickness considering we started our hike at 6000′ and would be ending the day at just over 9000′.  We stayed connected using our gps devices communicating about potential camping spots along the way up.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before we all realized that the best decision for our ill hiking partner was to leave the trail as her symptoms continued to worsen.  By the time the three of us reached the highest point of our hike, we were exhausted and still had more miles to go.


Just after reaching our high point for the day on the Huachuca Mountains, Coronado National Forest

As we hiked along the ridgeline of the Huachuca Mountains, the sun was beginning to set which created an urgency to move quicker.  The terrain changed with every turn of a corner, and before we knew it the sun had set and all of that beauty had whizzed by. Thankfully, we stumbled into the area near Bathtub Spring with moments of light to spare.  We were even more grateful that  the warriors were camping in the area and happy to share the very tight quarters with our group.  I have never seen six tents in a smaller area!

With headlamps running, the three of us set up our tents in the dark of night.  Shortly thereafter I puked behind a tree nearby.  My body had finally lost the battle with altitude sickness and I was feeling awful.  It took everything I had to drink water, send out sad messages to my husband on my Garmin about how awful the night was, and try not to fall asleep with dried bananas in my mouth that I was forcing myself to eat.  It was a very crazy first day on the Arizona Trail.

But it wasn’t until the middle of the first night on the trail that things really started to get crazy.  It was very cold with temperatures less than 30°, and as the night progressed a fierce wind storm blew in.  All I could hear is what appeared to be the cracking sounds of trees swaying in the wind around me.  I continued to imagine myself being crushed by a giant tree inside my tiny tent.  As time passed into the early morning hours, the wind storm brought rain, that turned to hail, and eventually turned to snow.

Day two:  Bathtub Spring to Parker Canyon Lake trailhead

12.5 miles / 3000’+ elevation loss

I woke up on the second day in southern Arizona surrounded by a light dusting of snow.  I crawled out of my tent still feeling sick to my stomach with shortness of breath.  I forced myself to eat a hot breakfast and hurriedly packed up for the days’ long hike ahead.  Our goal was to make it to the Parker Canyon Lake trailhead where we would be dry camping for the night.

The morning was beautiful as we hiked along the ridgeline of the Huachuca Mountains heading north.  As we made our way down the western side of the mountain range, the trail switched back and forth descending through diverse terrains.  We started our day with a chill in the air walking through patches of snow, and ended the day in the warm desert.


My friend hiking through patches of snow near Bathtub Spring, Arizona Trail


My aunt hiking down the western side of the Huachuca Mountains, Arizona Trail


A view of Parker Canyon Lake viewed from the Huachuca Mountains, Arizona Trail

As I hiked down into a lower elevation I began to feel much better and was able to hike at a pretty good pace.  The downhill trek was toe-pounding and by the time we reached the base of the mountains my feet were beginning to get pretty sore.  I welcomed the flatter section as we made our way through Sunnyside Canyon.  A small creek flowed, only a trickle at times, alongside the trail for nearly 3 miles.  Near the end of what we believed was our last water source for the day, our group stopped and filtered water.  I carried 6 liters of water for the last 4 miles of the hike, hoping it would be enough until our next water source the following day.  Funny thing was, we continued to see water almost the entire way in intermittent pools along Scotia Canyon.

By the time we reached our destination after hiking more than 12 miles, we were spent.  Well, my aunt and I were spent, but our other hiking partner was an experienced section hiker who was just getting started.  It was at this time my aunt let me know she couldn’t hike any further.  She was planning to hitch a ride from Parker Canyon Lake campground the following morning.

Arriving at our destination with little daylight to spare once again, we hurriedly setup camp and prepared a hot dinner before sunset.  After a certain point in the day, I stopped looking around me, stopped taking pictures, stopped enjoying the moment.  During the sunset on the second evening of my hike on the Arizona Trail I was able to stop and look around me and be in that “Kodak memory moment,” as my aunt would say.

That evening was emotional for me and I had a lot to think about.  Even though I knew my plans would be shifted as soon as I started the trail, I was panicking as it felt like everything was falling apart around me.  What started out as a group of 5 was now down to a group of 2.  My only hiking partner was a skilled section hiker with plans to hike 15+ miles each day; a pace I could never keep up with.  My options at this point were to either continue hiking the trail alone or leave the trail with my aunt and regroup.

On day 3 of my thru-hike attempt on the AZT I decided to get off the trail.  I hoped to reconnect with my original hiking partner and her daughter and get back on the trail soon.  It was a bittersweet moment that morning as we said farewell to our new friend who was continuing his journey along the Arizona Trail alone.  I was so proud of those people that could hike on, but so disappointed in myself for not being able to.


Looking back towards the Huachuca Mountains from the Parker Canyon Lake Trailhead, Arizona Trail


Parker Canyon Lake view from the Arizona Trail

Through the kindness of others and connections we had already made on the trail in only 3 days, my aunt and I found our way back to Patagonia Lake State Park.  It was here where I spent the next two days reconnecting with my original hiking partner and coming up with a new game plan to get back onto the Arizona Trail.  This adventure was not over yet.

Catalina State Park, AZ

Sunset view from Catalina State Park, AZ

This morning I woke up filled with anticipation to finally start making my way towards southern Arizona.  My aunt and I loaded up her RV preparing for our upcoming adventure on the Arizona Trail. The RV will be our base camp until we start our hike on Monday morning.  We left Cottonwood full of excitement for the journey we are about to take. After dropping off two re-supply boxes with a good friend in Phoenix, we arrived at Catalina State Park in the late afternoon.  We couldn’t have asked for a better evening in the Arizona dessert.  Once we had settled into our new temporary home, we took a stroll through the park watching the sunset over the mountains to the west. 

Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park, AZ

Alpenglow on the Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park, AZ

Alpenglow on the Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park, AZ

Alpenglow on the Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park, AZ

Desert tree sunset, Catalina State Park, AZ

Eastside Trail Thru Hike

Silver Falls

Silver Falls along the Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

11 miles / 1000′ elevation gain


Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA


Ohanapecosh River, Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA


Mushroom along the Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA


Waterfall along the Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA


Ohanapecosh River, Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA


Waterfall along the Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA


Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA


Suspension bridge along the Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA


Suspension bridge along the Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA


Ohanapecosh River, Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA


Grove of the Patriarchs, Mount Rainier National Park, WA


Silver Falls, Mount Rainier National Park, WA


Silver Falls, Mount Rainier National Park, WA


Silver Falls, Mount Rainier National Park, WA


Silver Falls, Mount Rainier National Park, WA


Silver Falls, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Hot spring

Standing in a “hot” spring along the Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA


Kuilau Ridge Trail, Kaua’i Day Hike

5.5 miles round trip / 1381′ elevation gain

Kuilau Ridge Trail

Kuilau Ridge Trail, Kaua’i, Hawai’i


Lemon/lime tree along the Kuilau Ridge Trail


A message written on the picnic table along the Kuilau Ridge Trail


Kuilau Ridge Trail, Kaua’i, Hawai’i


Kuilau Ridge Trail, Kaua’i, Hawai’i


View from the Kuilau Ridge Trail


View from the Kuilau Ridge Trail


The end of the Kuilau Ridge Trail


Continuing onto the Moalepe trail


Moalepe trail, Kaua’i, Hawai’i

The Lower Enchantments – Car Camping and Day Hiking: Part 2

After spending one day of hiking in the Enchantments, my husband and I knew we’d be back soon – little did we know it would be the following weekend!  With an extended weekend on the calendar for the Labor Day holiday, we knew it was the perfect time to get out and explore the Alpine Lakes Wilderness further.  We knew there would be challenges with getting a good camping spot during a holiday weekend, but created a plan to beat the crowds.

On Thursday morning I left Seattle on my own at 7:00 am with the car loaded full of camping and backpacking gear.  The plan was for me to go ahead of my husband and find a great camping spot along Icicle Road.  Then, he would take the train to Leavenworth the following day where I’d pick him up.  As planned, I arrived early enough to claim a beautiful camping spot in Lower Johnny Creek Campground just alongside Icicle River.  As I setup camp, the weather threatened rain but luckily it stayed dry throughout the morning.

That afternoon I took a trip into Leavenworth for lunch, grocery shopping, and a stop at the USFS Ranger Station for questions about hiking trails and backpacking permits.  We were hoping to possibly grab one of the first-come, first-serve permits for one night in the Enchantments during our trip.  After discussion with the park ranger, my husband and I decided it wasn’t worth driving back into Leavenworth so early in the morning for a very small chance of getting a permit.

As I headed back to the campground for the evening, dark clouds increasingly filled the sky.  I arrived at camp just soon enough to tie a tarp up over our spot before it began to rain.  After dinner, I spent the evening reading while enjoying the peaceful sound tapping of the rain on the tarp  above me.  As soon as it got dark, I climbed into my tent where I continued to read into the night.  I enjoyed the solitude of solo camping for the second time now.  The sound of the rain lulled me to sleep that night as I lay in my tent alone.

It continued to rain into the following morning.  I stayed in my tent as long as I could stand it, and finally climbed out and hurried to the car.  I decided to spend the day exploring Leavenworth as I waited for my husband to arrive on the train.  As I began my walk around town, I was greeted by  a mountain goat in a fenced area near the Enzian Falls Putting Greens.


Mountain Goat, Leavenworth, WA

I always love exploring new trails, so I couldn’t resist a visit to the Waterfront Park along the Wenatchee River.  I spent part of the day hiking around the trails and reading during dry spouts in the weather.


Bear Warning Sign, Waterfront Park, Leavenworth, WA


Waterfront Park, Leavenworth, WA

After making my way to the end of the park and back taking various trails, I found a great spot in the rocks along the riverside.  I enjoyed watching a family fishing across the river, and noticed several fish jumping in all directions.


Fish jumping in the Wenatchee River, Waterfront Park, Leavenworth, WA


Fish jumping in the Wenatchee River, Waterfront Park, Leavenworth, WA

Of course while I was in Leavenworth I had to have a pretzel and a pint of cider.  I may have also spent a little time shopping at the various stores in town.


Pretzel and a cider, Leavenworth Sausage Garden, Leavenworth, WA

While I certainly enjoyed my time alone, I was happy to pick my husband up at the train station that night.  The two of us stayed in Leavenworth long enough to have dinner before heading to our home in the forest for the next three nights.

The following morning, my husband and I woke up to a beautiful, sunny Saturday excited to go hiking in the Enchantments once again.  Since we hiked to Lake Stuart the previous weekend, we decided to explore a different valley in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  Our destination for the day was Eightmile Lake in hopes of finding a slightly less crowded trail than the more popular areas of the surrounding National Forest.


Eightmile Lake, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

Eightmile Lake:  6.6 miles round trip / 1300′ elevation gain

The trail to Eightmile Lake starts its’ upward climb right away.  This section of the trail is the toughest having the steepest climb, so it was nice to get it out of the way early in the hike.  The sounds of the rushing waters from Eightmile Creek can be heard as the trail snakes along beside it.  After the first mile the trail becomes easier, gradually gaining elevation with the assistance of several long switchbacks.  At times we were surrounded by pink flowers that speckled the forested landscape.


Eightmile Lake Trail, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

Even though the weather was nice in the valley, things changed as we climbed up in elevation towards the mountaintops.  The higher we climbed, rain became less of a threat and more of a reality.  We welcomed the cool rainy mist on our bodies warmed from the hike.  As we neared Little Eightmile Lake it appeared like a small, marshy pond from a distance.  This was a nice little spot to rest as we were lucky enough to have a small break in the rain.


Little Eightmile Lake, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

The last half mile of the trail towards the lake was my favorite.  We picked our way through a large boulder field with the sounds of pika calls in every direction.  We were lucky enough to see a pika, and even pointed it out to a family passing by who were excited to see one for the first time.  Unfortunately, the weather kept me from taking my camera out, so the only picture is in my memory.  As Eightmile Lake finally came into view, the weather tried its’ best to hide it from us.  The weather was only successful in enhancing our experience as we stood beside the lake in the pouring rain watching the clouds dance with the sun.


Eightmile Lake, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

As we rested and enjoyed the views around us, our once warm bodies were now chilled by the rain.  The frigid air urged us to move on not allowing us much time to linger.  After exploring the edges of the lake, the rain continued to increase pushing us to head back down the valley.  We quickly began our journey towards the trail-head.  We left the rain behind us as we neared the parking lot down below.  While the clouds still hugged the mountaintops behind us, the valley was filled with sunshine just as we had left it that morning.

It was nice to return to the comforts of our camp including dry clothes, warm food, and cold beverages.  After dinner, we enjoyed the warmth of a roaring fire and small glimpses of starry skies between passing clouds.  Late in the evening, we climbed into our tent and fell asleep to the sounds of Icicle Creek rushing by.

We awoke to another sun filled sky, excited with the anticipation of hiking to Colchuck Lake.  I was so thrilled to finally see the lake in person that I had only seen in pictures.  We made our way down the familiar forest road climbing up into the valley once more.  Just as expected, cars lined the side of the road over a mile from the trail-head.  This would add two more miles to our already 8 mile hike.


Road to Colchuck Lake parking lot, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

Colchuck Lake:  8 miles round trip / 2280′ elevation gain

The first two miles of the trail were familiar from our hike to Lake Stuart the previous weekend.  We hit unfamiliar territory as we made a left at the trail junction towards Colchuck Lake, climbing up to explore a new valley of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.


Trail sign, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

Just like the day before, the higher we climbed the clouds increased and quickly turned into rain.  I’m not going to lie – this trail tested me!  As soon as it breaks away, the trail crosses Mountaineer Creek.  The log crossing was my first challenge, as it was a bit of a stretch for my short legs to reach.  Once we crossed the creek, the combination of the pouring rain while navigating the talus slope gave me a bit of anxiety.  This was the first time I almost turned around and quit the hike.  After resting in a dry spot under a tree near the creek, I was able to push forward and continue to make my way up towards Colchuck Lake.

At first the trail gradually makes its’ way up, but it wasn’t long before it became more and more steep and the rain continued to increase.  The higher we climbed, the trail became steeper, rockier, and wetter – a combination I am not very fond of.  I questioned my abilities several times during this stretch of the trail, almost turning around again and again.  It seemed like every time I reached what seemed like the final stretch, someone was there to tell me “it’s just a little farther.”  When Colchuck Lake finally came into view, the feelings of anxiety washed away as I took in the surrounding beauty.  I had made it!


Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

The frigid air forced us to move along quickly and once again, we weren’t able to spend much time exploring.  I was mentally and physically exhausted, using the last bit of energy I had to make my way back down the steep, rocky, and wet trail.  Just like the previous day, the closer we got to the parking lot, the lighter the rain became.  By the time we reached the end of our long journey, the valley skies were clear and sunny just as we had left it.  The drive back down towards our campsite was bittersweet, as I knew that was our last adventure in the wilderness for the weekend.

Our last night alongside Icicle Creek was peaceful as we reminisced on the adventures we had just experienced in the Enchantments.  The following day my husband and I left knowing this would not be our last journey into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

As we made our way back over Stevens Pass towards Seattle, we stopped at the Deception Falls National Recreation Area for a picnic lunch and a short hike.  This was a great little spot to stop and stretch our legs while hiking along the Tye River and Deception Creek.

Deception Falls:  <1 mile round trip / 50′ elevation gain


Deception Falls Trail, Deception Falls National Recreation Area, WA


Deception Falls Trail, Deception Falls National Recreation Area, WA


Deception Falls Trail, Deception Falls National Recreation Area, WA


Deception Creek, Deception Falls National Recreation Area, WA


Deception Falls, Deception Falls, National Recreation Area, WA


The Lower Enchantments – Car Camping and Day Hiking: Part 1



Lake Stuart, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

As the summer was nearing its’ end here in the Pacific Northwest, my husband and I were itching to get outdoors a few more times.  Last month we woke up to a beautiful, sunny Saturday in Seattle with no agenda.  We spontaneously threw our camping gear in the car and headed east over Stevens Pass.  Our plan was to head into Leavenworth for a few supplies and go from there.  As we approached Leavenworth, we noticed smoke filling the skies above the city.  A large fire was burning alongside the hills to the northeast of town.  Helicopters were scooping large buckets of water out of the Wenatchee River to dump onto the fire and emergency vehicles were coming into Leavenworth from all directions.

After a brief stop in town for supplies, we stopped at a local coffee shop and asked our barista for camping suggestions.  She led us towards Icicle Road explaining that it was the best camping around.  Without knowing it, she had led us straight into the Enchantments for our very first time!  I have read about The  Enchantments online, and even applied for a backpacking permit in the lottery this year, but didn’t actually know where it was located.  The drive along Icicle Road is breathtaking as it winds its’ way through the valley along Icicle Creek.  Craggy mountain peaks surrounded us in every direction.  Out of curiosity, we stopped at a trail-head parking lot only to find we were at the entrance into the Enchantments via Snow Lakes.  What I have only read about until this point, was now directly in front in me!  I was almost giddy from the excitement of wanting to hike these trails.  I snapped a quick picture of the map at the trail-head before hopping back in the car.


Trail-head Map, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

Our plan was to find a camping spot along Icicle Road and take a short evening hike as the sun set…but unfortunately, things didn’t go exactly as planned.  Every, single camping site was full (with the exception of dispersed camping which we weren’t prepared for.)  We made our way all the way to the end of the road stopping at each campground checking availability.  As we headed into one of the most beautiful areas on one of the most beautiful weekends in the PNW that morning, we were prepared for this.  Our backup plan was to head into Leavenworth and have a local brew and use the breweries’ WiFi to find a hotel to crash in for the night.  Before heading back out of the valley, we stopped at a quite picnic spot to enjoyed dinner beside Icicle Creek.  By the time we arrived back in Leavenworth, the sun had completely disappeared behind the mountains.

It was when we finally arrived back in town that our plan really started to fall apart.  The fire that had starting burning earlier that day had the entire city without cell service and WiFi.  After enjoying a quick pint at Icicle Brewing Company and discovering our latest challenge, my husband and I made our way around town on foot hoping to find cell signal or accommodations.  In one brief moment of cell service, we sadly discovered that every, single hotel room was booked in town.  Our last hope was to see if the KOA had availability or was even open that late at night, as it was nearing 10:00 pm.

We pulled into the KOA full of doubt, but to our surprise the campground was open and had plenty of availability.  There was one minor problem – the campground was on a Level 2 Evacuation because of the fire burning on the hilltops just across the river from the campground.  This meant we would need to be ready to evacuate within 15 minutes if notified at any time during the night.  Preferring not to make the drive back to Seattle at such a late hour, we set up camp and the Leavenworth KOA and called it home for the night.  My husband and I reminisced about our very first camping trip in WA during a vacation over four years ago.  Before calling it a night, we took a short hike down to the Wenatchee River that flows alongside the campground.  Across the river along the tops of the hills, the glow of the fire could be seen against the nights’ sky.

The next morning we woke up safe and sound, and were excited to head back into the Enchantments for a day hike.  After a quick breakfast, we broke camp and made our way into the mountains once again. Now that I knew I was going hiking in the Enchantments, I looked in my WTA backpack and found the hike description for Lake Stuart.  I have seen many pictures of this hike online, and now it was time to see it for myself.  We drove back down Icicle Road this time turning onto Eightmile Road towards the trail-head.   Our car climbed deeper into the mountains along a narrow, dusty forest road.  As we pulled into a mostly full parking lot, we were thankful to have arrived early enough to have access to a space to park our car.

Lake Stuart:  9 miles round trip / 1665′ elevation gain

It was the perfect day for hiking in the PNW!  We were filled with energy as we stepped into this new and unfamiliar territory known as the Enchantments.  The first two miles of trail are shared with hikers headed to Colchuck Lake, a much steeper hike up into a different valley.  We chose to hike to Lake Stuart in hopes that it would be a little less crowded since it is a slightly less popular destination.  The trail was packed with trail runners zipping by as they made they way back towards the parking lot from an unknown distance out of the mountains.  It was not our intention to run this trail, but the excitement of trail runners grinning as they ran by had us pumped to do the same.  We decided right away we would hike up to Lake Start and trail run our way back down.  We continued along the trail slowly climbing into the valley switching back and forth between trees and boulders.  At some point we stopped for a quick snack and watched a squirrel break for lunch as well.


Squirrel, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

It wasn’t long before Lake Stuart came into view and dominated the landscape.  The blue waters reflected the craggy mountain peaks and the bright green grass along the shoreline.  I quickly ran to the edge of the water and took off my socks and shoes.  The cold water felt amazing on my tired feet from the hike up.  As I dug my toes into the sand, I noticed specks of glittery flashes reflecting from the sun.  With further investigation, my husband and I noticed tiny specks of gold like flakes all throughout the sand along lakeside.  I hate to make such a cliche statement, but it truly was an enchanting place!


Lake Stuart, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA



Lake Stuart, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA



Lake Stuart, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

After a quick lunch, I slipped my shoes back on ready to explore the trail along the shoreline of the lake.  Perfect little camping spots were tucked beneath the trees along the edges of the water.  Large boulders jut out into the water creating the perfect viewing spots with mountain peaks in every direction.


My husband enjoying the view of Lake Stuart, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA



A perfect day in The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

We knew at some point we would have to leave the beauty of the lake behind us, but were excited about the adventure of running back towards the trail-head.  With our packs strapped on tightly, we headed down the trail filled with enthusiasm.  Since I had not been trail running on a regular basis, I cautiously picked each step between the rocks and tree  roots that covered the pathway.  As I gained confidence, I picked up my pace as the trail zigged and zagged its’ way through the valley.  Like the runners I had seen earlier in the day, I was now grinning from ear to ear myself – this was my happy place!  Just as I was feeling most confident in my footing, rocks suddenly slid beneath my feet causing me to dive forward onto the ground.  I quickly pulled myself up off the rocks as to avoid embarrassment from the nearby hikers.  I took a short glance at my right elbow and saw a stream of blood pouring down my forearm.  At this point, I thought it’d be best to ignore the pain and just finish the hike at a slightly slower pace.

It wasn’t long before the cars in the parking lot came into view, and our journey in the Enchantments was ending.  My husband doctored the few wounds from my earlier crash including two cuts on my arm, a small gash on my pinky finger, and a little road rash on my knees.  Even with my small injuries, the hike to Lake Stuart was one of my favorites to date!  I knew that was the first of many adventures I was going to have in the Enchantments.  As we headed back to Seattle, we instantly began making plans for the following holiday weekend to return to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Return to Shi Shi Beach Wilderness Backpacking


Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

3 days, 2 nights / 8 miles round trip / 200′ elevation gain

Last month my teenage nephew visited from Texas and I wanted to take him on his first backpacking trip.  I knew that Shi Shi Beach would be the perfect destination for a first timer.  We left Seattle as the sun was rising with hopes of arriving at the coast in the late morning.  As we drove closer to Neah Bay, the weather grew dreary with cloud filled skies.  The beginning of this journey was looking very similar to my first trip to Shi Shi Beach earlier this summer.  When we arrived at the day use parking area, I knew we’d be hiking in the rain once again.  After dropping off my nephew with all of our gear at the trailhead, I parked the car at the nearest private lot and walked back.


My nephew and I at the Shi Shi Beach trailhead, Olympic National Park, WA

We hit the trail in the early afternoon and enjoyed splashing around the muddy puddles along the way.  It wasn’t long before we were done tromping through the mud before we arrived at the section of the trail that heads down towards the beach.  Even though I had hiked this section before, I was nervous about the additional weight I was carrying.  While I usually only carry around 25 pounds, this time I was carrying twice as much!  I powered through the anxiety and cautiously made my way down the trail.  All of my anxieties of the steep trail were washed away instantly as we stepped onto the beach.  The rain had stopped and left the sky filled with clouds.  The two of us hiked along the shoreline of the beach with plans to camp closer to Point of the Arches.  After crossing Petroleum Creek, we looked for a spot to set up camp on the beach close to our water source.

The sunsets at Shi Shi Beach are what called me back to visit once again.  I loved having the opportunity to share the experience with my nephew.  I spent over an hour of that evening attempting to build my first fire on my own.  All of the wood was soaked from the days’ rain, and it wasn’t long before I gave up.  Exhaustion from a day of hiking drove us to  the comfort of our tents early that night.


My nephew watching the sunset on Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA


Point of the Arches sunset, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

The next morning I was wakened by the sun warming my tent.  I let the teenager sleep in while I enjoyed my morning coffee and read a book.  I enjoyed the solitude, but was happy when my nephew finally crawled out of his tent.  I was excited to explore Point of the Arches and farther south down the beach.  After breakfast, we packed a lunch and headed out for a day of beach hiking.


My nephew and I with Point of the Arches, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA


View from beach south of Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA


View from Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA


Peace rocks, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA


View from beach south of Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA


View from beach south of Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA


View from beach south of Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA


Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

After exploring the beach south of Point of the Arches, we headed towards a picnic spot in the shade near an arch.  As we were getting ready to unpack our lunch, we noticed an eagle flying along the beach.  It appeared to be fighting with another bird as it made its’ way along the shoreline.  It landed on a rock and we noticed feathers flying all around it.  That’s when we realised the eagle was preparing its’ lunch as well.  After we enjoyed our picnic, we took off our shoes and explored the tide pools in our bare feet.  The feeling of the cool Pacific Ocean and sand between our toes was welcoming on a hot, sunny day.


Bald eagle, Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

We arrived back at our campsite in the mid afternoon, and we decided to relax beside Petroleum Creek in the shade.  I read a little more of my book while my nephew took a nap by the creekside.  Once he was rested, we played a few games including bocce ball and Pass the Pigs.  We finally peeled ourselves away from the shaded area among the trees and headed back to our sun filled campsite.  After dinner I was determined to make a fire after the previous nights’ failure.  I spent another hour trying to build a fire without success.  I had almost given up, but after one last try – I finally made fire!  As the sunset and the temperatures dropped we enjoyed the warmth of the fire into the late hours of the night.


The first fire I have ever made by myself!  Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA


Sunset in front of a fire, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

We woke on our last morning to a cloudy, misty day.  We decided to wait for breakfast once we got to the tree covered area of the trail, and packed up as quickly as we could.  As we packed, everything was damp and sandy.  Even though I was happy to hike under a cloud filled sky since the previous day had left me slightly sunburned, the rain was not welcomed.


Crossing Petroleum Creek, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA


A doe and two fawn, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA


Looking down the trail back towards Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

We crawled up towards the forested section of the trail, and were happy to have our feet on solid ground.  Two days of hiking on the sandy beach had exhausted certain muscles in my legs.  The last two miles back through the muddy trail seemed to fly by, and in no time we were right back where we had started two days ago.  As we loaded up our gear into the car, the skies were opening up once again.  The drive home along the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of San Juan de Fuca was filled with blue skies and good conversation with my nephew.  I hope this is a trip he will never forget; I know I won’t.

Return to the North Fork Skokomish River Backpacking

3 days, 2 nights / 16 miles / 3900′ elevation gain


Black & White Lakes Trail, Olympic National Park, WA

With another long holiday weekend coming up, my husband and I were looking for another backpacking trip to get away from the fast paced city life.  Even though we had already been to the North Fork Skokomish River before, we knew there were many more trails in the area left to explore.  We were seeking out a location to set up a base camp for a few nights and explore the nearby trails via day hiking, and the North Fork Skokomish was just the place.  With hopes of clear skies and opportunities for night photography, I packed up my DSLR and a few lenses in addition to my normal 25 pound pack.  Just like our last trip, we headed towards the Olympic Peninsula late in the evening after my husband got off work.  We enjoyed our stay at the Glen Ayr Resort during our last trip, so we made reservations once again.  After taking a ferry from Seattle late in the evening on Thursday before the Independence Day holiday weekend, we arrived at our home for the night on the banks of the Hood Canal.

Day 1:  5.5 miles / <500′ elevation gain

We woke early on Friday morning in the comfort of our hotel room and loaded our packs with the last few necessary items for a few nights in the wilderness.  We stopped at a local favorite restaurant, The Tides, for a filling breakfast before heading into the Olympic Mountains.  With the hopes of beating the holiday crowds, my husband took a day off work allowing us to arrive at the Staircase Ranger Station on Friday morning just as it was opening.  With our wilderness permits in hand, we hit the trail along the North Fork Skokomish River with Big Log campsite as our destination.  While the Staircase campground was nearly full as we left the parking lot behind us, we felt instant solitude as soon as we hit the trail.  We were virtually alone in the wilderness and had an instant feeling of peace.

Conditions were perfect for a few nights of camping; mild temperatures, blue skies, and no one else around.  Even with the additional weight of my camera and lenses, we moved swiftly along the easy trail as it meandered alongside the river.


Staircase Trail, Olympic National Park, WA


Bridge over the North Fork Skokomish, Olympic National Park, WA


North Fork Skokomish Trail, Olympic National Park, WA

The trail slowly climbs its’ way into the valley with mountains on both sides of it.  Being surrounded by the enormous trees that made up the surrounding forest made me feel so small.  The miles disappeared so quickly as we continued our trek towards Big Log.  As we hiked along, we only passed a few groups of backpackers heading out towards the trailhead.  It wasn’t very long until we reached Madeline Creek, where trail workers were replacing the log crossing that once led the way.  The trail was diverted to the stock trail down below, where we crossed the creek upon a small log.  As we slogged uphill towards the original trail, we thanked the trail volunteers who were harnessed for safety from falling into the creek below.


Trail workers over Madeline Creek along the North Fork Skokomish, Olympic National Park, WA


Log crossing Madeline Creek, North Fork Skokomish River Trail, Olympic National Park, WA

Not long after the creek crossing, we reached a sign pointing downhill towards Big Log leading us to the campsites.  We were happy to arrive so quickly and so early in the day.  After taking our packs off and a quick rest, we scoped out the area looking for a spot to call home for the next few nights.  Only a few sites were occupied, and it seemed it was the base camp for the nearby trail workers.  We picked a private spot alongside a very large log with a pre-existing fire pit.  As soon as we settled and prepared to eat lunch, we knew right away that mosquitos were going to be a nuisance.  Thankfully, my husband was able to quickly throw together a smoky fire that seemed to keep the insects at bay.

We were all alone!  We enjoyed a lunch by the fireside in solitude.  We setup camp without the sounds of anyone else around.  We spent the afternoon exploring the riverside, gathering firewood, taking pictures, and enjoying only the company of each other and nature.


North Fork Skokomish River, Olympic National Park, WA


North Fork Skokomish River, Olympic National Park, WA


Rock cairn on log over North Fork Skokomish River, Olympic National Park, WA

It was a beautiful day in the Olympic wilderness, which continued into the evening.  The only neighbors we had for the night were the trail workers who were camping nearby.  They must have been exhausted, because not a sound came from their direction once the sun set.  As we laid in our tents preparing for sleep, the only sounds that could be heard were the rushing waters of the North Fork Skokomish River.  That night, I had the best nights’ sleep I have ever had in a sleeping bag, on a sleeping mat upon the cold, hard ground.

Day 2:  5 miles round trip / 2900′ elevation gain

After a restful night’s’ sleep, we climbed out of our tents excited to explore a new area of the park.  We enjoyed breakfast and coffee beside the fire hoping to keep the persistent mosquitos away.  Once again we were all alone at the campground since the trail workers had already left to continue their work over Madeline Creek.  We packed our daypacks and started our journey hiking towards Black and White Lakes.  We decided to take the primitive trail from Big Log towards the lakes in hopes of more solitude in nature.

This trail was tough!  Right away it starts climbing upwards and it never seems to stop.  The trail was difficult to navigate; at times it was comparable to game trails making us feel uncertain of our next steps.  The path never seemed to switch back and forth to gain elevation; instead it headed straight up the mountainside with no end in sight.  We stopped several times under shaded areas of the trail to rest along the way.  As we gained elevation and neared the top, the trees became smaller and at one point we were surrounded by flowers (beargrass.)


Xerophyllum tenax (bear grass,) Black & White Lakes primitive trail, Olympic National Park, WA

After hiking just over 2 miles in more than 3 hours, we finally reached a sign pointing us towards the lakes.  Even though we only had 2/10 of a mile to go, there was still more elevation gain left.  The panoramic views as we made the last push were just the encouragement we needed to keep us going.  As the lakes came into view, we were excited to have finally reached our destination.


Black & White Lakes primitive trail, Olympic National Park, WA


Black & White Lakes primitive trail, Olympic National Park, WA


Black & White Lakes, Olympic National Park, WA

During our hike, we only passed one couple and one solo backpacker – we had found the solitude we were looking for.   After finding the perfect shady picnic spot beside the lake, we were happy to finally rest our aching muscles.  Once our bodies were refueled, it was time to cool off and clean off by taking a dip in the frigid lake waters.  We weren’t in the water long before becoming uncomfortable from the cold temperatures.  We climbed out and sunned ourselves on a log jutting into the lake as our clothes dried on a nearby tree.


Black & White Lakes, Olympic National Park, WA


Black & White Lakes, Olympic National Park, WA

Before heading back down the trail, we explored the area around the lake photographing the surrounding beauty.  It was hard to leave the 360˚ views as we made our way back into the dense forest.


Black & White Lakes, Olympic National Park, WA

Even hiking downhill, this trail was relentless.  I was hoping to make better time during the descent, but as my toes pounded into the front of my shoes we were quickly reduced to a slower pace.  Halfway down the trail, we ran into a couple hiking upwards toward the lakes.  After short discussion, they decided they wouldn’t be able to make it out and back before sunset.  The couple decided to turn around, and the four of us made our way down the trail.  It wasn’t long before the two hikers were out of sight and we we alone on the trail once again.  As we hiked down into the valley, the sounds of the rushing North Fork Skokomish River grew louder until we were home by its’ side for another evening.  We arrived back at Big Log to a completely packed campsite, filled with lots of families.  Our time alone in the wilderness was long gone.

After dinner by the fireside we enjoyed a game of backpackers bocce ball.  We used the last moments of daylight and took turns reading aloud pages from a book together.  As soon as the sun disappeared from the valley, we climbed into our tents.  It wasn’t long before the sounds of the river assisted in our slumber on the forest floor.

Day 3:  5.5 miles / <500′ elevation gain

We woke up early to the sounds of families playing and cooking breakfast all around us.  The sun was making its’ way through the forest trees filling the valley with warm air.  We took our as we had our morning coffee and breakfast near another smokey fire.


Big Log campground, Olympic National Park, WA



Big Log campsite, Olympic National Park, WA

It wasn’t long until all of the surrounding campers were out for the day, leaving us alone in the wilderness once last time.  There was one last item on the agenda before we packed up our gear and headed out. My husband had been talking about jumping into the North Fork Skokomish River since the day we arrived.  With the warm weather and sunshine filling the valley, conditions were perfect for a mid-morning swim.  I watched as my husband examined the perfect spot to jump into, and soon thereafter he was plunging in!  Even the frigid waters of the river couldn’t remove the smile on his face.

With our packs loaded and on our backs, we hit the trail taking lots of memories with us.  We played a game guessing how many day hikers we would see on our way towards the trailhead.  At the end of the day, I won counting 60+ day hikers during the 5.5 mile hike along the river.

We stopped at the junction towards Flapjacks Lake and enjoyed a quick snack.  Two backpackers we had passed a mile back came limping by (one of them wearing flip-flops,) and we struck up a conversation with them.  My husband and I were so excited to meet two fellow Texans!  The brothers were on their first ever backpacking trip and were on the last stretch of a multi-day hike starting at Duckabush.  They mentioned having to hitchhike back to their car left at the trailhead days ago, and we quickly volunteered without question.  We kept our much quicker pace than the two hikers, but agreed to meet in the parking lot.  The last few miles of hiking flew by and the closer we got to the trailhead, the more packed it became with day hikers.  We arrived to an overflowing parking lot full of holiday travellers.  Our new friends arrived shortly thereafter, and we made our way along Lake Cushman and then along the Hood Canal towards Duckabush.  My husband and I enjoyed conversation about a shared passion in backpacking, and were happy to help out fellow adventurers.  The detour was welcomed as it introduced us to new areas of the park.  We dropped off the two brothers and made our way out of the forest one last time, but always knowing we’ll be back soon.

Crescent Lake Camping/Shi Shi Beach Backpacking

IMG_6207For Memorial Day weekend, my friends and I decided to head over to Olympic National Park for a few nights of car camping and one night of wilderness backpacking.  On Thursday, one of our group members headed to Lake Crescent campground to get a head start on the holiday crowd and grab a first-come, first-serve site.  My husband and I joined our friend later that evening and quickly set up camp in the dark, rainy night.

We woke up the following morning to more rain, and hurriedly set up a canopy over our picnic area.  With hopes of things drying out by that afternoon, the three of us headed to the ranger station in Port Angeles to get our wilderness permits for Shi Shi Beach the following day.  After seeing the great weather at Hurricane Ridge from the webcam in the ranger’s station, we decided to drive up the mountain for some day hiking.  It was a great morning to enjoy the views from Hurricane Ridge and watch the wildlife along the trails.


A view of the Olympic Mountains from Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, WA


Friends enjoying a day hike along Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, WA


A marmot enjoying the view from Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, WA


A marmot just before it whistled, Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, WA


Two marmots at Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, WA


A curious ground squirrel along the trail, Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, WA


A deer running alongside the trail, Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, WA


A deer running quickly to get over the snow, Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, WA


A deer checking out the view from Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, WA

After a great morning hike, we headed down to Port Angeles for lunch before making the drive back to our campsite at Lake Crescent.  Once we arrived back at the campground, the weather had not changed since the time we left that morning.  Even though it was still raining, we were happy to see our picnic area had dried under the canopy.  With several hours of daylight left, we decided to explore the hiking trails around the lake.  After a short drive to the end of camp David, Jr. Road, the trailhead to the Spruce Railroad Trail came into view.  Our car was the only one parked at the trailhead that evening, and we were the only people on the trail the entire hike.  The hike is a beautiful trek along the northern shore of Lake Crescent with small sightings of the sun trying to break through the clouds.  A few miles into the hike, we were excited to find a tunnel to explore.


A view of Lake Crescent from the Spruce Railroad Trail, Olympic National Park, WA


Mount Storm King looms over Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park, WA


A tunnel along the Spruce Railroad Trail, Olympic National Park, WA


A tunnel along the Spruce Railroad Trail, Olympic National Park, WA


Exploring a tunnel along the Spruce Railroad Trail, Olympic National Park, WA

Late that evening, the remaining members of our group showed up and set up their tents in the rain just as we had the previous evening.  Once again, it rained all throughout the night as we tried to stay dry and warm inside the comfort of our tents.  We woke up to another rainy morning, where we huddled under the canopy as a group for breakfast.

Two of the members of our group had never been backpacking, and I was so excited to share my passion with them.  When planning this trip, we decided to head out for one night and test out their new gear and experience an evening in the wilderness.  The four of us spent the morning huddled under the canopy trying to keep dry while stuffing our packs with the essential gear for an overnighter on Shi Shi Beach.  We hopped in the car and headed towards the coast in the pouring rain.  When we arrived at Neah Bay to get our permits from the Makah Cultural & Research Center, it was raining harder than it had all weekend.  After the trip, every member of our group admitted at that point we were all secretly hoping the others would back out because of the terrible weather.  Instead of confessing our fears and giving up, we put on our happy faces and hit the trail.  The hike is was very muddy as expected, and it was funny to watch day hikers try to avoid walking in the muddiest parts of the trail.  I felt like a kid again tromping down the trail in the pouring rain.


Shi Shi Beach Trail, Olympic National Park, WA


Shi Shi Beach Trail, Olympic National Park, WA

As we neared the beach, the most difficult part of the hike appeared before me.  As the rain and sweat poured down my face, I feared the steep section of the trail in front of me.  In spite of my slight fear of heights, I made my way down the trail repeating to myself, “I can do this, I can do this, I can do this.”  It wasn’t long until we reached the bottom and I felt a huge sense of relief.  Now it was time to head towards the Point of the Arches and find a suitable camping spot.  We realized quickly that even though we desired a camping spot in the woods seeking protection from the elements, the only spots available were on the beach.  For the first time since we drove into Olympic Mountains days ago, the clouds started to dissipate and the rain disappeared.  We found a great spot amongst the driftwood to set up camp near a small creek to use as a water source.  Life was good.


Point of the Arches viewed from Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA


Delicious, filtered creek water, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA


Dinner on Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA


Shi Shi Beach sunset, Olympic National Park, WA


Shi Shi Beach sunset, Olympic National Park, Wa


My friends enjoying their first evening of backpacking, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

Besides one small rain shower in the early evening hours, the rain never returned.  We slept soundly on the beach and woke up to sunny skies.  After packing up, we were excited to  explore the tides pools surrounding Point of the Arches during low tide.  I have never seen more sea stars and anemones in my life!


Point of the Arches tide pools, Olympic National Park, WA


Point of the Arches tide pools, Olympic National Park, WA


Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA


Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

After a quick lunch among the driftwood on the beach, we made our way back towards the trailhead.  Unlike the day before, we were now protecting ourselves from sunburn!  The part of the hike that pushed my fear of heights the day before, seemed much easier going up (and the fact that it was dry also helped.)  As we hiked along, my friends discussed future backpacking plans and I knew I had given them a great first overnight wilderness experience.

We arrived back at our campsite at Lake Crescent happy to find our area warm and dry.  All of the luxuries of car camping were at our fingertips once again.  We enjoyed the company of good friends by a warm fire stuffing our faces with s’mores and beers.  I slept better that evening than I had the entire trip.  The next morning the sky was still filled with sunshine, allowing us to dry out all of our wet gear before stuffing it into the car.  It’s always a little sad to pack up and leave your camping home away from home, but I knew I had many memories to take me back whenever I needed.