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What to Bring on a Hike: 11 Essentials

What to bring on a hike is an important question. Hiking should always be taken seriously, whether it’s a 2-mile jaunt or a 12-mile haul. In warm-weather areas, like Arizona, it’s common for folks to need rescue simply because they weren’t prepared with enough water. In colder, more mountainous areas folks often need rescue on “easy hikes” after taking a wrong turn or not having the right layers for unexpected weather.

We recognize that hiking is one of those activities that should be easily accessible to everyone, despite whether you own fancy gear or not. Below we’ve put together a list of twelve items that we believe are essential for your hike. Don’t worry though, most of this you can build from what you already have at home. Save money and slowly build up your fancy-gear-collection over time!

Hiking through the woods in Wyoming

1. Small backpack

If you plan to keep your hikes under a few miles, and in temperate weather, a 15 Liter pack will do. If you want to be out for more than a few hours and weather is a factor (it almost always is) then we recommend a 30 or 45 Liter backpack

Thrifty tip: Use an old school backpack! I know you’ve got one deep in your childhood closet.

2. Hydration bladder or lightweight water bottle

A hydration bladder is a great companion to a backpack designed to hold the bladder and allow the nozzle to come out towards the front, like a CamelBak. Otherwise, Nalgenes are a team favorite as they are lightweight and affordable. 

Thrifty tip: Don’t go out and buy a hiking specific water bottle, just bring what you’ve already got at home! 

Filling up a water bottle.

3. Plenty of food

People are always surprised how hungry they’ll become while hiking. Well, of course, you’re burning calories! Bring plenty of snacks that are high in protein like nuts or jerky.

Thrifty tip: A classic peanut butter & jelly sandwich is one of the best trail meals because it’s affordable and offers lots of the macronutrients.  

4. Good trail shoes

Owning a pair of trail-specific shoes is not necessary, but it’s a nice luxury! A pair of good trail shoes or hiking boots will offer more support than a regular sneaker. Some boots can be waterproof and some have sticky rubber soles to prevent slipping on rocks. 

Thrifty tip: If you really want a pair of trail shoes or hiking boots, try shopping at an outdoor consignment shop or from somewhere like the REI Outlet for discounted gear.

5. Small first-aid kit

Pre-assembled first-aid kits are affordable and usually include everything you’ll need for a small injury like a blister or a scrape. Adjust your first-aid kit based on the time you’ll be out and how many people will be with you. 

Thrifty tip: The most common hiking injuries are blisters, sprains, cuts, and bug bites. Look through your medicine cabinet and bring items to prevent or treat those ailments such as Moleskin, an elastic bandage, band-aids, and bug spray or hydrocortisone cream. 

6. Knife or Multi-tool

A pocket knife is an essential item for hiking trips. They can be helpful in many situations such as first-aid, gear repair, food preparation, and more. Bring along a simple pocket knife with a single blade, or a complex multitool with screwdrivers and can openers. 

Thrifty tip: There are some really great, but still very affordable pocket knives out there for anyone who doesn’t already own one. 

7. Trekking poles

Trekking poles may not seem like an essential item to all, but they should be. If you want to still be hiking comfortably in your elder years, we recommend using trekking poles when there is any sort of elevation on a hike.  

Thrifty tip: No trekking poles? Find a sturdy hiking stick to help relieve some pressure from your knees on steep downhills!

8. Moisture-wicking clothes and layers 

Good hiking layers are important, but the good thing is that you probably already have some clothes like this at home. Cotton is not the best material for hiking, as it doesn’t breathe well, isn’t quick-drying, and doesn’t insulate heat. Wool or moisture-wicking materials like polyester are best. 

Thrifty tip: Got a pair of yoga pants, basketball shorts, or a workout shirt at home? That’s perfect! 

Hiker wearing moisture-wicking layers

9. Headlamp

Even if your hike isn’t supposed to go into the night, we always recommend packing a headlamp. You never know what could happen, and you may end up staying later than you expect. 

Thrifty tip: If you’re not ready to invest in a headlamp, try picking up a cheap flashlight at your local hardware store. 

10. Some sort of map or GPS

A map of the area you’ll be hiking in is arguably the second most important item on this list, after water! Even on popular trails, folks often take a wrong turn, or sometimes the trail has become less clear after a storm and folks lose their way. Bring a physical map, invest in a GPS device, or pay a subscription fee to a GPS app on your phone. 

Thrifty tip: Instead of buying a specific hiking GPS or paying for an app, just find the map online or at the trailhead and take a picture of it on your phone. Physical topo maps are sold at most local outdoor gear shops as well. 

11. Sun protection 

Sunshine, complete cloud-cover, or snow—it’s all bright to our eyes! Sunglasses are key (polarized are best), but a hat and sunscreen are great to throw in your pack as well!

Thrifty tip: Most of us already have one of these three at home, so bring what you can!

Looking to go camping, but not sure what to bring? Check out our “Camping for Beginners” article here!




Alternatives to 10 of America’s Most Popular National Parks

Some of America’s most wonderful and spectacular places are public lands designated as national parks. National parks have become increasingly popular over the past few decades, with the most popular parks receiving millions of visitors each year. For many people, national parks have become bucket list vacation destinations. While there’s no substitute for visiting America’s most-loved national parks, we’ve come up with a list of national park alternatives worth checking out, especially if you’re looking for less crowded places. Some of these national park alternatives are lesser-visited (but still amazing) national parks!

Yellowstone National Park

Alternatives: Lassen Volcanic National Park, Custer State Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park

If you’re most interested in the hydrothermal features at Yellowstone, you’ll likely be intrigued by Lassen Volcanic National Park, which also has a number of hydrothermal areas. The largest and most popular hydrothermal area in Lassen Volcanic National Park is Bumpass Hell. Other notable hydrothermal areas in the park include Devils Kitchen and Terminal Geyser. 

Lassen Volcanic National Park | Photo credit: Priya Karkare

Custer State Park

Yellowstone is known for its massive bison herd. If wildlife is what you’re looking for, South Dakota’s Custer State Park is a great alternative to Yellowstone National Park. Driving Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park, you’re sure to see some bison and other wildlife. Custer State Park also has a couple other scenic drives and plenty of hiking trails.

Want to explore Yellowstone National Park and Custer State Park? Check out this itinerary

Custer State Park


Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Alternative: Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

As one reviewer put is, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park  (CGNHP) has “everything the Smokies has minus the crowds.” From the Pinnacle Overlook at CGNHP, you’ll see Cumberland Gap, a pass in the Cumberland Mountains which are a section of the Appalachian Mountains. This scenic overlook offers a view of three different states—Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee. 

Gap Cave is another really neat area of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. In addition to its fascinating geology, the cave also has some intriguing history related to the Civil War. 

Another great thing about Cumberland Gap National Historical Park? It’s pet friendly!

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park | Photo credit: Dale Pete, NPS Natural Resources


Yosemite National Park

Alternative: Wind River Mountains

Wind River Mountains

Yosemite National Park is known for its towering granite rock formations (El Capitan, Half Dome, etc.). Another place with some astounding granite formations is the Wind River Mountain Range. The Wind River Range, located in west-central Wyoming, encompasses 2.25 million acres. This vastness makes for incredible opportunities for backpacking, hiking, and climbing. A few notable places in the Wind Rivers are Cirque of the Towers and Squaretop Mountain. 

The hundreds of miles of trails in the Wind River Mountains make it relatively easy to find places off the beaten path. 

Wind River Mountains | Photo credit: David Rule


Grand Canyon National Park

Alternatives: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Sometimes referred to as ‘Colorado’s Grand Canyon,’ Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park boasts a landscape nearly as dramatic as the Grand Canyon. Although it’s not as deep or wide as the Grand Canyon, looking down into the Black Canyon may be even more breathtaking because of the steepness and narrowness. The narrowest part of the Black Canyon is 40 feet. At its narrowest, the Grand Canyon is 600 feet wide. 

A couple scenic drives and a variety of hiking trails give visitors some stunning views of the canyon. If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, try exploring the inner canyon

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Located on Navajo tribal lands, Canyon de Chelly National Monument offers incredibly scenic views and rich history and culture. Today, Navajo families still live in the canyons, and the best way to truly experience Canyon de Chelly is to do a tour with a Navajo guide. 

Canyon de Chelly National Monument | Photo credit: Romain Guy – Flickr


Rocky Mountain National Park

Alternative: Sawatch Mountains

Sawatch Mountains

The Sawatch Mountain Range in central Colorado is part of the Rocky Mountains. It includes eight of the twenty highest peaks in the Rocky Mountains. This makes the mountain range especially popular with climbers seeking to conquer 14ers. The Sawatch Range can be explored via a number of hiking trails. The Top of the Rockies Byway is another great way to see the area.  

Sawatch Mountains, near Independence Pass | Photo credit: Sam Dellaporta


Zion National Park

Alternatives: Capitol Reef National Park, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area

Capitol Reef National Park

Of Utah’s five national parks, Capitol Reef National Park is one of the least visited. It usually sees only about a quarter of the number of annual visitors that Zion National Park does. Capitol Reef has stunning red rock formations that are on full display as you drive through the park. To really connect with the park and its past, visit the Fruita Historic District. In addition to hiking and biking, canyoneering and rock climbing are also becoming popular activities in Capitol Reef.

Red Cliffs National Conservation Area

Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (RCNCA) lies just outside St. George, UT. It’s only about an hour away from Zion National Park. The scenery at RCNCA is similar to some  of the scenery in Zion National Park. As the name indicates, visitors will find beautiful views of red rock cliffs. The area has over 100 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and other activities. 

Red Cliffs National Conservation Area | Photo credit: Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management


Acadia National Park

Alternative: Tettegouche State Park

Tettegouche State Park

On the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota, Tettegouche State Park has scenery that rivals that of a national park. Its rocky shoreline dotted with trees resembles the Atlantic shoreline along Acadia National Park. Three waterfalls and four inland lakes lie within Tettegouche State Park, and those are just a few of the many picturesque places in the area. About 12 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail can also be accessed via this state park. 

Tettegouche State Park | Photo credit: Conner Bowe


Grand Teton National Park

Alternative: Sawtooth Mountains

Sawtooth Mountains

Grand Teton National Park is known for the iconic peaks of the Teton Mountain Range. Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountain Range also has plenty of rugged peaks. One place in particular in the Sawtooth Mountains that bears a resemblance to Grand Teton National Park is Redfish Lake. This lake is nestled at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains. It’s beautiful setting is similar to Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park. The Sawtooth Mountains and Sawtooth National Forest provide a huge variety of recreational opportunities including backpacking, kayaking, fishing, and climbing. 

Sawtooth National Forest / Redfish Lake | Photo credit: Nate Lowe, US Forest Service


Glacier National Park

Alternative: North Cascades National Park 

Glacier National Park’s scenery includes turquoise lakes, snowcapped mountain peaks, and, of course, glaciers. Another national park with very similar scenery is North Cascades National Park. And, it happens to be one of the least-visited national parks in the country. North Cascades actually has more glaciers than any U.S. park outside of Alaska, including Glacier National Park. 


Olympic National Park

Alternative: Tongass National Forest

Tongass National Forest

Olympic National Park’s rainforest landscape is among its most notable features. Tongass National Forest in Alaska is the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world. It’s also the largest national forest in the United States. The diverse landscape in Tongass National Forest includes scenic coastline, snowcapped mountains, waterfalls, glaciers, and ferns and mosses. There’s plenty of hiking, wildlife watching, kayaking, and other things to do in this vast and beautiful area.




Camping for Beginners: Gear & More

As social distancing becomes the new norm, camping is becoming more popular than ever before. It’s the perfect activity to make folks feel like they’re going on a vacation, without having to travel too far from home, or be around large crowds.

Sleeping outside isn’t for everyone, but if you’re willing to give it a shot and not sure where to start, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to camping for beginners. For starters, know that you don’t need all of the best gear to start out with, you just need the basics.

Camping for Beginners

Views from the tent!

The Basics (Gear)

We don’t recommend going out and buying a bunch of new gear for your first camping trip. First of all, that’s not very eco-friendly, and secondly, it’s going to be very expensive. Buying used or second-hand gear is the best way to get into camping. After that, you can figure out what type of gear you like best and slowly purchase quality, made-to-last items.

  • Tent: Practice setting this up at home before you go out. There can always be a chance of bad weather, and you want to make sure you’re prepared.
  • Sleeping bag: Sleeping bags are nice to have as they provide more warmth, but if you don’t have the budget for one, simply bringing blankets from home can work as well.
  • Sleeping pad or cot: Sleeping pads like Thermarests are meant to provide insulation and comfort from the cold and hard ground. There are many inexpensive sleeping pads out there, but we recommend a lightweight inflatable pad if you’re willing to invest.
  • Headlamp: Headlamps are the best source of light for camping because the light follows you and you’re able to go hands-free while cooking, setting up the tent, etc. However, lanterns, campfire light, and flashlights all work great as well. Make sure you check fire regulations at the campsite before making a fire.
  • Cooking Stove: A simple two-burner cooking stove will work best. The Coleman Classic is our favorite. Two burners are great in the morning so you can cook your breakfast and make your coffee at the same time. Make sure the stove is working at home before you take it out. If you can’t afford to spend money on a stove, just bring cold foods or foods you can cook over a campfire grill like hotdogs and burgers. Again, check fire regulations.
  • Cooler: To us, coolers are essential if you plan to bring any drinks or cold foods. Soft coolers bags are great for saving space in the car.
  • Kitchen items: Depending on what your meal plan looks like, you’ll want to make sure you have kitchen items to eat and cook off of like plates, bowls, utensils, pot, pan, spatula, cutting board, etc. If you don’t own camping-specific kitchen items, just bring plastic and metal items from your own kitchen. Don’t forget a dish scrubber, biodegradable soap, and a towel to clean your dishes. We think it’s best to keep your camping kitchen gear in a bin that you bring everytime you go out, so that you don’t forget essentials like olive oil and salt.

The basics gear

Top left: sleeping bag and pad. Bottom left: headlamp. Right: Tent and rain fly.

Gear You Won’t Want to Forget, but Likely Already Own

  • Pillow: Seriously, this is a must if you want to get any sleep! Just bring the pillow from your bedroom, there’s always room in the car to squeeze that in.
  • Lighter: If you plan on cooking with your stove or making a fire, you’ll definitely need a lighter. We recommend always having at least two lighters with you, because they’re easy to lose.
  • Fuel for your camp stove: Duh! You know that.
  • Coffee for the morning: Duh! You definitely know that one.
  • Dessert: For some of us, there’s no way we’d forget the S’mores, but when there’s a lot to pack, this one can be hard to remember. You’ll thank us later.
  • Camp chairs: These are optional, as many campsites have picnic tables with benches, but camp chairs are nice for sitting around the fire or drinking your coffee in the morning sun.
  • Water: Many established campgrounds have water spickets available, but always check before you go out. If not, bring a large water jug and fill it with water to keep reusing.

Water - Camping for beginners

If you’re car camping, bring a large water jug as shown on the left. If you’re camping in the backcountry, you need to have some form of a water filtration system, like the pump shown on the right.

Where to Go Camping

We recommend reserving a campsite at an established campground to make it easiest on yourself. Check to make sure the site offers facilities like bathrooms and water. Recreation.gov is a great website to help you find and reserve campsites in America. Finding good campsites can be an adventure, and one you’ll definitely get better at the more you go.

Clothing

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” Be prepared for unexpected weather! Even if rain isn’t in the forecast, bring a rain jacket. If you’re in the desert and it’s hot during the day, it will likely be cold at night.

  • Rain jacket
  • Extra underwear and socks
  • Fleece or wool layers for warmth
  • Hiking shoes & camp shoes (Crocs are the best camp shoes, fact!)
  • Gloves and warm hat
  • Sun hat
  • Hiking clothes

Layering up with clothing while camping

Even if the forecast shows warm temperatures, bring lots of layers like a hat, wool socks, gloves, jacket, etc. Weather can be unpredictable sometimes!

Toiletries

You may not be showering for a few days, but you can still manage to keep your hygiene in fair condition. Just bring the basics!

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Face wash & small towel for drying face
  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen
  • First aid kit
  • Optional: biodegradable shampoo

toothbrush

Don’t forget to bring all the necessary hygiene items to keep yourself clean and happy out there!




How To: Poop in the Woods (With Minimal Impact)

Let’s be honest, we’ve all been there. You ate an early breakfast and hit the trail. You’re a few hours in (far away from any trailhead bathroom) when nature begins to call…you’ve got to go. Well, what do you do?
We know it can be a gross or uncomfortable topic, but the truth is that some people really don’t know what to do when there’s no bathroom in sight and they have to go “number two.” Do you hate seeing piles of human waste on the side of the trail, with crumpled, discolored toilet paper flying towards you in the wind? Now that’s gross! So, here’s how to poop in the woods.

Step 1: Walk Far Away From Any Trail, Water Source, Or Human With a Sense of Smell 

It’s important to be aware of the rules in the area that you’re traveling as some places, like narrow river canyons or well-traveled routes, require folks to pack out their own waste. 
If that’s not the case where you are, then make sure you step far off the trail and find a spot at least 200 feet from any water source (approximately 70 adult paces). 

Step 2: Dig a Hole

If you don’t have a small shovel with you, look for a sharp rock or a stick to dig with. Dig a hole at least 6 to 8 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches wide. Try to find a spot with dark-looking rich soil—organic soil will help decompose the feces.

Step 3: Do Your Thing!

Popular techniques include:

“The Squat”

Get those leg muscles activated and get into your deepest squat!
how to poop in the woods

“The Tree Rest”

Face your body towards a tree and grab onto it with your arms, squat and lean back away from the tree.
poop in the woods technique

“The Overhanging Rock”

Find a good rock to sit on with your bum hanging off the back. Just be sure that it’s hanging off pretty far. **This is an advanced technique for professionals only.**
the overhanging rock

Step 4: Put Your Toilet Paper in a Sealable Bag

Hopefully you carried a baggie with you to pack out your used toilet paper. If not, maybe you have an old snack bag that you could use. If you have nothing, bury the toilet paper along with your waste. Leave No Trace recommends using plain, white, non-perfumed brands of toilet paper if thoroughly burying.  

Step 5: Fill in the Hole, Sanitize Your Hands, and Return to the Trail with Your Bag

Fill in the hole with the dirt you took out, and then disguise it with native materials such as large rocks, sticks, or leaves. Sanitize your hands and return to the trail. Keep your sealed toilet paper in your backpack and dispose of it properly when you get home. 
Check out our instructional video about how to poop in the woods below!

For more camping and trail tips, click here!




How To Find the Best Camping Spots on a Road Trip

After a successful day of adventuring, one of the best things to do is to find a perfect camping spot, cook a delicious meal and sit by the fire. But, sometimes it can be difficult to find the ideal place to pitch your tent or park your adventure rig.
Are you the type of person that seeks out secluded campsites with epic scenery? Do you sometimes drive around for hours trying to find the perfect camping spot? Or maybe you go out of your way to avoid campgrounds where the neighboring campers are basically only an arm’s length away? If so, here are some tips on how to find the best camping spots on your next road trip.

PHOTO CREDIT: Keenan Barber

CAMP ON PUBLIC LANDS

FOREST SERVICE & BLM CAMPGROUNDS

For those that prefer an established campground, US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campgrounds are excellent options. These campgrounds are usually located in incredibly scenic areas, and are sometimes quite close to national parks. Of course, most national parks have campgrounds too, but many of them can be quite busy and may require reservations months in advance to get a spot.
Some of my favorite campsites have been at Forest Service and BLM campgrounds. The sites at these campgrounds are often quite spacious, giving you some privacy. Plus, it’s usually very affordable to camp at BLM and Forest Service campgrounds—sometimes less than $10 per night! Now that’s money well spent. These campsites usually have basic amenities including vault toilets, fire rings, and potable water.
Reservations are NOT accepted at some of these campgrounds, and campsites are available on a first come first served basis. This can be a good thing if you’re on a road trip and haven’t planned exactly where you’ll be each day and made reservations ahead of time.

PHOTO CREDIT: Bob Wick – Bureau of Land Management

DISPERSED CAMPING

Once you try dispersed camping, you may never go back to a developed campground ever again. Sure, sometimes the amenities at those campgrounds are nice. But, does it compare to the incredible experience of having a campsite with spectacular views and no other people in sight?
If you’re not familiar, ‘dispersed camping’ is camping on public lands outside of established campground areas. This type of camping is available on both US Forest Service and BLM land. It’s a fantastic option for those seeking secluded camping experiences.
So, how do you find dispersed sites? For US Forest Service land, the motor vehicle use maps are one of the best ways to find out where the dispersed camping areas are. Apps can also be a helpful tool. You’ll find more details on those methods later in this article. On BLM land, you can camp in most areas that are not posted as ‘closed to camping.’ The dispersed sites may not be marked, but are located along most secondary roads.
Whether on US Forest Service or BLM land, use pre-existing campsites when possible. Look for signs (flattened/disturbed area, fire pit, etc.) someone has camped in that spot before. As always, we encourage you to respect these amazing public lands. Don’t leave trash or disturb the wildlife, be responsible with campfires, and follow any rules and guidelines provided by the organizations that manage the land.

PHOTO CREDIT: Tobey Schmidt

USE MAPS FOR FINDING THE BEST CAMPING SPOTS

This might seem obvious, but sometimes maps are a very underutilized tool for finding the best camping spots. Here are a few tips for how to use maps when looking for places to camp. 

Forest Service Motor Vehicle Use Maps

The US Forest Service provides motor vehicle use maps, and they are an incredibly useful resource in finding secluded areas in beautiful places that are suitable for camping. These maps show forest service roads where public motorized vehicle use is allowed. Dispersed camping areas, Forest Service campgrounds, picnic areas, and motorized trailheads are also indicated on these maps.
You can find links to motor vehicle use maps for specific national forests (sorted by state) on this page of the US Forest Service website. For some helpful information about using these maps, check out their MVUM FAQ page.

Google Maps Satellite View and Google Earth

If you’ve never used Google Maps in satellite mode or Google Earth, you should. Especially when it comes to choosing the best camping spots. If you know the general vicinity of where you might want to camp, do a little exploring via these Google tools. You’ll get a pretty good idea of what the surroundings of a particular camping area might be—the topography, how many trees there are, and what other structures might be nearby.
A couple other really cool features of Google Earth that might be beneficial as you search for places to camp:

  • Enable photos—in the Google Earth settings, you can enable photos which displays photos of specific locations from other users. This can give you a better feel for the area and its surroundings.
  • ‘Street View’ mode—even for some remote locations you can do ‘street view’ by dragging the person icon onto the map. This is an awesome way to digitally explore and immerse yourself. Check out this Google Earth screenshot from the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming to see this feature in action.

Use Google Maps satellite mode and/or Google Earth in conjunction with motor vehicle use maps and information you get from apps or other sources. If you find the GPS coordinates for a potential camping spot and do a search with these Google tools, you can see if it looks like the type of place you’d like to camp.

PHOTO CREDIT: Derek Johnson

USE APPS TO FIND THE BEST CAMPING SPOTS

A quick search of the app store for ‘camping’ brings up several results. Many of these apps are designed to make it easier to  find and/or reserve campsites. I have an entire folder full of camping apps on my phone and I’ve tried most of them. These are a few of my favorites:

Recreation.gov

This app is a database of campgrounds and other unique lodging options compiled from their partners including Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, US Forest Service and others. If you want to find more information (availability, amenities, etc.) or reserve a campsite at a developed campground managed by the US Forest Service, BLM or National Park Service, this is the app for that.

Ultimate CG

This is the camping app I use most frequently. While this may not be the most visually appealing app you’ve ever used, it’s certainly very functional. With Ultimate CG, you can find campgrounds managed by a variety of organizations including US Forest Service, BLM, National Park, State, City and many more. One of the reasons I find this app so useful is the filtering capability. Some of the filtering options include:

  • Amenities
  • Activities
  • Elevation
  • Reservations
  • Water availability
  • Fees
  • Open year round
  • Type of campground (tent, RV, dispersed, formal, etc.)

Other helpful information provided for camping areas includes GPS coordinates, number of sites (for developed campgrounds), Forest Service road number (for dispersed camping), months the camping area is open, and road maintenance level.

Allstays Camp & RV

The Allstays Camp & RV app is geared toward people with trailer campers and RVs. In addition to camping areas, you can also find RV-related businesses and services, free parking areas (stores, rest areas, etc.), road grade information, and runaway ramps. Another potentially handy option with this app is to display low clearance areas. So, if you’re driving a really big rig, you can see certain places you may need to avoid.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jeremy Bishop

ASK LOCALS ABOUT THE BEST CAMPING SPOTS

Even with all the apps and other internet tools we have these days, sometimes the best way to find out about cool places to camp is to ask a real person. Maybe check with someone working at the local outdoor sports store or coffee shop. Or, stop at a ranger station or visitor center and ask.
However you find it, we hope you discover the perfect camping spot so amazing you want to keep it all to yourself. Want more camping hacks? Check out this article for some of our best eco camping tips!




Beat the Heat: 5 Unexpected Places to Cool Off This Summer

Is it just us, or do summers feel like they got hotter and hotter every year? Beat the heat this year and take a road trip to get your mind off the sweaty shirt sticking to your back. Whether you’re looking for somewhere with less humidity, cooler temperatures, or just more water to jump in, we’ve put together this list of places that are perfect for summer travel!

#1 Door County, Wisconsin

Door County is on a peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, making the temperatures cooler and the breezes more frequent than most places in the summer. Door County boasts 300 miles of shoreline and 19 unique communities. Think sunsets over the water, cherry pie, local beer, lighthouses, canoes, live music, and most importantlyperfect temperatures! 

Best things to do:

https://www.instagram.com/p/B8rxKWiltV4/

#2 Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

The average summer high temperature in Wyoming tends to be between 75°F and 90°F. Paradise, right? Wyoming is not only popular in the summer because of its fair weather, but also because there’s so much to do and seefrom wildlife viewing in the parks to alpine fly-fishing. Yellowstone National Park is the epicenter of a Wyoming vacation and it’s close to Grand Teton National Park, which is also a must-see park.

Best things to do:

yellowstone falls

#3 Lake Tahoe, California

Lake Tahoe is the epitome of a water-filled summer vacationnorth or south. The massive lake embodies 72 miles of shoreline. Plus, the area sits at about 6,000 feet above sea level, giving surrounding towns cool temperatures and consistent breezes from the water. 

Best things to do:

https://www.instagram.com/p/CCbBZ4inBjo/

#4 Denali National Park, Alaska

Well, go big or go home, right? Talk about trying to beat the heat! If you’re looking for somewhere wild and unlike any summer vacation you’ve ever been on, then Denali National Park in Alaska is for you. It’s far and can sometimes be a difficult place to get to.  Oftentimes visitors have to fly into Seattle and then on to Alaska, or they could opt to take a ferry or cruise to the Last Frontier. 

Best things to do:

denali float plane

#5 Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park is a huge area on Maine’s Mount Desert Island. Imagine ocean beaches, deep forests, and granite peaks that are perfect for hiking overlooks. Visitors often stay in the bayside town of Bar Harbor for their getaway summer or fall vacation. 

Best things to do:

https://www.instagram.com/p/CCb2rdHlH4v/

Whether you choose to go big in Alaska or keep it modest in Door County, we hope you get a chance to beat the heat this summer and enjoy being outside in nature!




Maple Pass Loop: One of the Best North Cascades Hikes

The fact that North Cascades National Park is one of the least visited US national parks is surprising, to say the least. The Cascade Mountains are stunning, and anyone planning a trip to or through Washington should be sure to take time to appreciate this area. A great way to see the beauty of the North Cascades is to take a hike. One of the best North Cascades hikes is Maple Pass Loop. This hike has breathtaking views of snowcapped mountains, lakes, waterfalls, glaciers,  and wildflowers. Plus, it’s a loop, so you get new scenery every step of the way.

Getting There

To access the Maple Pass Loop hike, use the Rainy Pass Trailhead, located just off North Cascades Highway. This is the highway that goes through North Cascades National Park. You should definitely at least drive through the national park, even if you don’t have too much time. One of the places that’s a quick and easy stop on the way through North Cascades National Park is the Diablo Lake Overlook. The lake’s beautiful turquoise water with surrounding mountain peaks make it a wonderful photo op.

From the Diablo Lake Overlook, continue on North Cascades Highway for about 20 more miles and you’ll see signs for Rainy Pass Trailhead. The trailhead is located in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and has a large parking lot with a few vault toilets and picnic tables.

Hiking Maple Pass Loop

Because the trail is a loop, you have a choice which direction to hike it—clockwise or counterclockwise. For those that prefer a more gradual descent to spare some stress on the joints, doing the hike clockwise is recommended. Some claim hiking the trail counterclockwise offers slightly more dramatic views. But really, the views will be stunning no matter which direction you choose to hike Maple Pass loop.

When doing the hike clockwise, one of the first large clearings you come upon offers a view of Rainy Lake and the winding North Cascades Highway. If you’re up for more adventure, you can take the branch of the trail that leads to Rainy Lake.

The views of Rainy Lake with trickling waterfalls continue as you make your way up the trail. This will help distract you from the workout you’ll likely be getting from the elevation gain during the ascent.

After a while, you’ll reach the series of switchbacks that leads to the trail’s summit. Wildflowers dot the hillside and snowcapped peaks appear closer and closer, motivating you to continue the climb to the top.

Upon reaching the summit at just under 7,000 feet elevation, you’re greeted with incredible views of mountain peaks and glacial features. This is the perfect place to stop for a rest, have a snack, and take plenty of photos.

From there, it’s basically all downhill. Well, at least in terms of elevation. The scenery certainly doesn’t go downhill, as you continue to have gorgeous views of alpine lakes and towering mountains. Watch for a beautiful turquoise lake that’s visible through a clearing (pictured below). This is Lewis Lake with Black Peak behind it. The allure of this little lake is something else. If you can’t resist exploring that area, look for the less-established trails going to Lewis Lake, Wing Lake, and Black Peak. You can access those trails in the Heather Pass area. However, these trails are slightly more difficult to navigate so be prepared.

As you continue on the trail, a little while later you’ll get a great view of another lake, Lake Ann. Wildflowers are also abundant in this area, especially in mid-July. If you have time and energy, the branch trail to Lake Ann is a fun detour.

As you continue on the trail, you’ll go through a more treed area. Then eventually you’ll reach the Rainy Pass Trailhead and parking lot. After finishing, you’ll likely feel a deep sense of satisfaction from experiencing one of the best hikes of your life. This hike just about has it all—mountains, lakes, wildflowers, and glaciers. And, it’s a decent workout, but not unreasonably strenuous. Be sure to add Maple Pass Loop to your list of must-do North Cascades hikes!

Tips & More Things to Know

If you’re planning to hike the Maple Pass Loop, here are a few tips and things to know:

  • Due to the elevation, it’s not uncommon to encounter patches of snow on the trail, even in July. You may want to bring hiking poles or some sort of traction system for your footwear, depending on the time of year you’re doing the hike.
  • To spare your joints while descending, do the hike clockwise.
  • Wear sunscreen⁠—always a good reminder especially at higher elevations!
  • Bring bug spray because there are some places along the trail where bugs will find you pretty quickly if you stop moving.
  • Although bear sightings are not common along Maple Pass Loop, carrying bear spray is a good idea since there are bears in the area.
  • Dogs are allowed on this trail, but should be kept on a leash.

Want to do even more exploring in the North Cascades area? Check out our Cascade Loop itinerary! It even has a few more suggestions for North Cascades hikes.




Here’s Why Responsible Tourism is the Way of the Future

Life got turned upside down for everybody in 2020. The global pandemic has hurt a lot of industries, and tourism is one of them. From lost jobs to damaged economies, the current health crisis has shown why responsible tourism is so important to our future. 

Overtourism & Crowding Is A Problem… Enough Said.

The term “overtourism” is a phrase that’s been used often within the last five years, even before social distancing was a thing. If you’ve ever hiked Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park or been to Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park, you’ve probably experienced crowds of people. Overtourism can be a problem for many reasons—damaging environments or landmarks, pushing out wildlife, increasing the property market for residents, and more. Easy spreading of infectious viruses? Add it to the list. 

Crowds at Yellowstone National Park

Crowds on a boardwalk in Yellowstone National Park.

What We Can Do About It

Luckily, overtourism is an issue that we can all make direct choices to fix. Travel to a destination in the off-season or shoulder-season. Avoid the “instagrammable” spots and find a hike on your own. Support true local businesses or hire a local guide. Stay in one spot longer rather than cramming everything into a few days. 

Protect Public Outdoor LandsThey’re Good For Our Mental Health

Being stuck in quarantine these past few months has highlighted how important it is to spend time outside for our mental health. In many places, local trail and park usage have increased since the coronavirus pandemic began. People are realizing just how much they love to be outside, and we’re hoping the love sticks. 

hiking in dead horse point state park

A hiker enjoying Deadhorse Point State Park in Utah.

What We Can Do About It

When you’re spending time outside, whether it be on a trail or at your local park, always follow the Leave No Trace principles. In addition to practicing good outdoor ethics, you can always volunteer to clean up trash or help build better trails and infrastructure. Use your right to vote in your local elections to keep public lands public and open to the people. 

Local Businesses Are Fragile & Important

With all non-essential businesses, like restaurants, being forced to close their doors, it’s become apparent how important it is to spend our dollars locally. Local businesses depend on tourism, but they also depend on their own community members. They might not be necessary, but they are essential to us. 

live music at the dillon farmer's market

Folks enjoying live music at the Farmer’s Market in Dillon, Colorado.

What We Can Do About It

Once travel is back to normal, try to really pay attention to where you are putting your money. Seek out local artists or family-owned restaurants. Tip your food servers well to thank them for the experience you get to have. When you’re at home, buy from your hardware store rather than from Amazon. 

We Need More Than A Virtual Connection Between People & Culture 

Part of responsible tourism is respecting the local culture and connecting with people on a deeper level than just a selfie. Recently, we’ve all been craving more human connection than we’re getting right now. Protecting natural and cultural heritage will allow us to make those connections in the future and maintain an enjoyable experience for travelers.

Navajo petroglyph

A petroglyph found alongside the San Juan River on Navajo lands in Utah.

What We Can Do About It

When you travel, take time to learn about the history of the place and the people there. Find out if there is a natural history or cultural museum in the area to visit. Stay for a while, and make friends with the locals. Listen to their stories. Understand the social and environmental issues from the perspective of a local. 

Responsible Tourism Is the Answer

No matter where you come from or what your beliefs are, we can all agree on one thing: we love a good vacation. Responsible tourism aims to better the experience for the traveler and the community members. Being a good steward of these guidelines will ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy the same experience for years to come. 

responsible tourism shown through electric bikes

Visitors can rent electric bikes in Shasta Cascade, California to get around.




Check Out These Towns from Your Home!

We found some great tools to aid your daydreaming as you follow the recommendation to “dream now, visit later.” Get a taste of these great towns by checking out their impressive virtual tours.

Start by strolling through Stockton, California. The virtual tour is easy to use, and it starts with an overview of town and then moves from one point of interest to the next under your direction. As you cover the sidewalks and streets between locations throughout town, you start to develop an understanding of the city. You can even enter some buildings to preview those experiences.

Stockton, California virtual tour

Museums, Art & Architecture

Downtown in your PJs pin

While you’re “in” Stockton, stop in at a couple museums. Start by checking out the Haggin Museum. The art and local history museum is open for virtual browsing inside and out.

Haggis Museum virtual tour

Next stop is suitable for the whole family: the Children’s Museum of Stockton. Zip through the colorful exhibits and and educational displays.

Children's Museum of Stockton virtual tour

Finally, walk through the Cambodian Buddhist Temple and the temple grounds. The enormous, colorful statues surrounding the building are impressive, even through a screen.

Cambodian Buddhist Temple virtual tour in Stockton CA

For a change of educational scenery, you’ll jet over to Wyoming. There are four museums in Wind River Country with brand-new 360-degree tours on Google Maps. Take some time to scroll through the exhibits at each, and spark inspiration for your visit.

Wyoming's Wind River Country museums virtual tours

 

If you’re missing the West Coast, we have you covered. Jet back, this time to Redding, California. First stop: the Turtle Bay Exploration Park. This place boasts 300 acres of educational and entertaining activities including a museum, forestry and wildlife center, interactive exhibits for all ages, an underground aquarium and the state’s largest Northern American butterfly house.

 

Your next stop in Redding is to check out some art at Old City Hall and the Art League. Enjoy the 360-degree tour through multiple galleries and see if you can spot a souvenir you’ll be bringing home from your future trip.

Time for some fresh air! Head over to the famous Sundial Bridge bridge of Redding and enjoy the area surrounding it, as well. You’ll even get to watch the bridge light up after dark.

Window Shopping Virtually

All that learning will probably have you ready for a cup of coffee. Since you’re already “in” Redding, take a moment to check out all the choices you have. Pour a cup for yourself while you’re safe at home, and set out for some downtown virtual retail therapy.

Sample the dining & beverages

If you haven’t worked up an appetite yet, take another lap and learn more about the places that were most appealing to you. After all, the next phase of “dream now, visit later” is to start planning for your later visit!

But if you are ready for a meal, the Redding Cultural District awaits:

And don’t forget, Stockton is a wonderfully diverse destination with all kinds of cuisine.

Top off your exploration with a sampling of wine or beer. Of course, sipping is a little difficult through the screen, but you can get a sense of place in the Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Tasting Room. Click on the 360-degree virtual tour of the vineyard or watch the 360-degree video of breweries in downtown Redding below to give yourself one last place to dream about now and visit later.

 




Wildlife Watching, No Binoculars Necessary

Though your travel plans have been delayed, the wildlife of the world are going about their routines as usual, and probably enjoying a little extra personal space! We live in an amazing world where your connection to wildlife doesn’t have to be cut off any more than your connection with your human loved ones. It may not be a Zoom family dinner or a birthday party parade, but you can still go wildlife watching online, no binoculars necessary.

Here are some of our favorites:

Cascades Raptor Center

The Cascades Raptor Center in Willamette Valley, Oregon, hosts live Facebook chats with their on-staff experts and feathered residents. Tune in to hear from the Center staff and see raptors of all varieties living at the Center. Ask questions about owls and hawks, or just enjoy a peaceful moment with a nesting eagle and her eggs. Give them a like to get advance notice about upcoming Facebook live events.

wildlife watching on the Cascades Raptor Center Facebook page

Osprey Cam

Not far from the Cascades Raptor Center is a family willing to let you drop by anytime: the stars of the Live Osprey Nest feed. Settle into your couch with a cup of tea or glass of wine and practice living in the moment.

Sea Otter Cam

The best way to prepare for this feed is to settle into a recliner with a bowl full of ice cream on your stomach. Then tune in and join the sea otters of the Monterey Bay Aquarium as they hang out on their backs and snack. After getting your dose of adorable for the day, learn a bit about otters and the work the Monterey Bay Aquarium does to help sea otters of all ages.

Sea otter cam for wildlife viewing online

Inspired to visit places like this someday? Learn more about the Willamette Valley and check out our National Parks and Southwest itinerary.