Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sky-Bear Valley Loop at Point Reyes National Seashore

Hike: Sky-Bear Valley Loop
Hike Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult (only due to distance)
Hike Distance (Round Trip): 10.5 miles
Time (Round Trip): 4-5 hours

Back in July (yes, I am very behind on updating the blog with all our summer adventures!), we spent the afternoon at Point Reyes National Seashore in Sonoma County. It was shortly after we moved back and was such a perfect reminder of why we love it here and want to live here.

We started out our afternoon with lunch at Station House Cafe in Point Reyes Station. We had a delicious lunch in their very pleasant outdoor seating space, before heading the additional 10 minutes or so to Bear Valley Visitor Center.

There is A TON of hiking to do in Point Reyes National Seashore area and many of the hikes start in other places. However, we wanted to hike the 10 1/2 mile Sky-Bear Valley Loop that starts right at the end of the parking lot at the visitor center. The national seashore website provides one option (and a couple of side trips) for the loop route. We spoke with a ranger who recommended a slightly different route, and that's the one I'll describe here.

We started at the Bear Valley trailhead at the very end of the parking lot. The Bear Valley trail is a wide, very well maintained and pleasant trail. Before spraining my ankle again, I had thought this trail would be a really good one for trail running.

After 0.8 miles on Bear Valley Trail, we turned right on Meadow Trail. Supposedly, this is a more pleasant hike over to Sky Trail than Mt. Wittenberg trail. Meadow Trail and Sky Trail were my favorite parts of the hike. Talk about magical.


After 1.6 miles on Meadow Trail, we turned left on Sky Trail and quickly came upon the most enchanting part of the hike. The fog was coming back in, the trees were towering above us, and it was like a dream. 

We hiked 3.6 miles along Sky Trail, eventually seeing views of the coastline although they were limited by the high fog. This loop hike is already 10 1/2 miles. Although the park website suggested a side trip to Arch Rock, we decided it was time to head back to our car. We turned left on Bear Valley Trail to complete the loop. 

 Fields of Crocosmia

 Sweet Peas will always remind me of our wedding day!

Spiderweb Art

Muted coastline

When we arrived back in the visitor center parking lot, we were startled to see this guy "blending in" with the U-Haul truck. Is he the biggest heron you've ever seen?!

A week after this hike, we headed back out this way to check something off our bucket lists: a bioluminescence kayaking tour on Tomales Bay! I didn't take any pictures, but oh my goodness! It was incredible. I highly recommend making reservations with Blue Waters Kayaking for a night time paddle to experience the bioluminescence. 

I still have two posts left about our cross country hiking adventures, but I needed a break from that to focus on where we live now! Feeling so fortunate to be here and feel like we are finally settling in. Plus, we are heading back out to Point Reyes this weekend with a good friend, so I had it on my mind!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Figure 8 Loop (Queens Garden, Peek-A-Boo, and Navajo Trails) at Bryce Canyon National Park

Hike: Queens Garden/Peek-A-Boo/Navajo (Figure 8) Loop
Hike Difficulty: Strenuous
Hike Distance (Round Trip): 6.5 miles
Elevation Change: 3570 feet total gain; 3574 feet total loss (starting at about 8,000 feet)

If you are in Bryce Canyon for one day and want to go on one spectacular hike that gives you a sense of all the park has to offer, this is your hike! We arrived on a Sunday afternoon, so we were worried that the trails were going to be a bit crowded. And the Queens Garden and Navajo portions of this hike were (for good reason!), but the good thing is you get to soak in the Peek-A-Boo Loop with very little company. 

The park's brochure shares a pretty clear message: wear shoes with good traction (i.e. hiking boots). We only had our running shoes, and it is true that the dirt is pretty slippery. I saw people on the Navajo Trail with straight tennis shoes with zero traction behaving completely insane. I highly recommend decent shoes (and steering clear of the crazy not-so-experienced hikers!)

We didn't really do this trail as a Figure 8. We just did the loop counter-clockwise. To begin, we started at Sunset Point and walked toward Sunrise Point along the Rim Trail until we found the sign for Queens Garden Trail and began our descent. (Tip: There were lots of people sitting around the sign, so look carefully or you may miss it!)

Obviously, we had plenty of sunscreen and wore hats because that sun was strong! But I really enjoyed the contrast between the orange/red rock and the blue, blue sky in the middle of the day.

At the bottom of the canyon, we reached a junction that was rather confusing for us (lots of people and multiple trail signs). I believe there are three options. We went left to head toward Peek-A-Boo Trail (straight or right take you on the Navajo Loop). 

At Peek-A-Boo Loop, we took the left trail and went clockwise. I think more people take the trail the other way (for a true figure 8), so we felt like we had the trail to ourselves for a good portion of it. I can't imagine the other way would offer more views and/or be any easier, so I guess it's up to you!

Peek-A-Boo Loop is 3 miles long and climbs and descends a lot (exact numbers on various websites/blogs are conflicting because people start in different places and include different trails in their hike. Just trust me....lots of climbing on this one!)

A peek at the Wall of Windows

When I came around the corner to this view, I literally gasped. I don't know that I've ever had that reaction hiking before. This spot literally (and yes, I'm using this word correctly) took my breath away. I can't even begin to describe how incredibly grand the wall of windows is. Please go check it out for yourself because my pictures don't come close to doing it justice.

Once we completed the Peek-A-Boo Loop, we headed back on the trail towards Navajo and Queens Garden. At the same junction as earlier, we took a left towards Wall Street. I completely understand why the Navajo Loop/Wall Street is a popular hike at the park. It is incredible. However, the massive crowds and irresponsible hikers really detracted from my experience. I definitely still enjoyed it, but it certainly wasn't the spiritual experience I had 45 minutes before on Peek-A-Boo Loop.

I believe these are Douglas Fir trees.

Where's Waldo?

I realize my pictures make the trail look not crowded. I do this on purpose so I can appreciate what is meant to be beautiful. But trust me, there were people in slippery tennis shoes pushing their way up the 28 switchbacks. 

The switchbacks are steep. And with as many people as there were, I highly recommend doing this loop the way we did it, and finishing the loop going up these switchbacks. Seems more enjoyable and safer to me. 

After the hike, we headed back to our campsite at Sunset Campground, but went back to Sunset Point to "watch the sunset". I use quotes because you are not looking west, in the direction of the sun setting. However, it was still beautiful to watch the sky change and the sun shine on the Bryce Amphitheater in all its glory. A perfect end to a near perfect day!