Rogers Pass + Leaf Peeping

Fall is in full swing here in Colorado so my husband and I ventured up to the mountains to go on a hike and do some leaf peeping along the way as well. We settled on Rogers Pass, a 5-mile out-and-back hike located just 45 minutes outside of Winter Park. With less than 1000 feet of elevation gain, this hike is very moderate and great for hikers of all experience levels.

The trailhead for Rogers Pass is located along CR-80, a very rough road with lots of rocks and holes. We made it up just fine in our Subaru Outback, but make sure you drive slow and watch where you’re going! The drive up was beautiful thanks to all the aspens that were changing colors. One really cool feature about this hike is the historic train trestle located at the trailhead.

The hike begins with a gradual ascent up through the forest before soon emerging above the treeline. Along the way, you’ll be treated to beautiful views of Winter Park and Fraser. The rest of the hike consists of several meandering switchbacks up a grassy ridge which eventually gives way to stunning views of James Peak.

At 2.5 miles, you’ll reach the end of the trail, though you could continue on to James Peak if you wanted to. We explored for a bit at the top, which was incredibly windy, before making our way back down the trail to the car.

This hike is not very popular so you won’t have to worry about battling crowds – we were the only ones there when we arrived around 9am on a Saturday! I think the Rogers Pass hike is super underrated, and it’s one of my favorite easy hikes in the state.

Black Balsam Knob – North Carolina

Black Balsam Knob is a beautiful mountain bald located along the Art Loeb Trail in North Carolina. At just 1.5 miles round trip and less than 400 feet of elevation gain, it’s an easy and scenic hike perfect for hikers of all experience levels.

The trailhead to Black Balsam Knob is located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, by milepost 420. The hike begins with a gradual ascent through the forest, which quickly gives way to a more rocky and exposed landscape. You’ll find yourself atop the first of several mountain balds that offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains (when the weather is clear, unlike the day we visited unfortunately).

Continue along a gentle saddle up to the next bald, which is Black Balsam Knob. You’ll reach the summit at about 3/4 of a mile. Take your time enjoying the beautiful views before turning around and heading back down the trail to the parking area.

The hike to Black Balsam Knob is short and sweet, making it a great option for beginner hikers or folks visiting from out of town. What’s your favorite hike in North Carolina?

Review: Get Out Gear Down Puffy Blanket

Make sure to watch my video review here.

I was recently contacted by the company Get Out Gear about sending me one of their Down Puffy Blankets to test out and review. Get Out Gear is a California-based company that specializes in puffy blankets meant to “bring happiness, comfort and joy as you experience the great outdoors.” I love how inclusive their mission statement is, and I was really excited to receive the blanket and check it out for myself.

Their Down Puffy Blanket, officially called the Bouffi Blanket, is a lightweight and durable camping blanket perfect for backyard adventures or backpacking treks. At only 17 ounces, the blanket is a very light addition to your camping setup, and the whole blanket (77″ x 50″) conveniently fits into a compact 5″ x 12″ stuff sack. I opted for their teal color which is beautiful in person, but the blanket is also offered in olive, black, blue, gray, and orange.

I was immediately impressed with the quality of the material and just how lightweight and compact the blanket was. Once unfolded, the blanket is the perfect size to cozy up in by myself or spread out to share with a partner. When paired with your camping sleep system, the Bouffi Blanket also adds 10-15 degrees of warmth, which is pretty impressive!

Two of my favorite features about the Bouffi Blanket are the snaps that turn the blanket into a poncho, and the water and stain-resistant material the blanket is made of. The snaps are a great way to go hands-free while still keeping warm as you hang out around camp. Meanwhile, the water and stain-resistant material is especially handy for folks like myself who are prone to spills!

All in all, I was super impressed with Get Out Gear’s Down Puffy Blanket. At $70, the blanket is also very reasonably priced considering how warm and lightweight it is. Get Out Gear also offers a synthetic puffy blanket which is just a touch heavier (24 ounces) but more cost-effective at $58.75.

Huge thanks to Get Out Gear for sending me the blanket – I can’t wait to try it out on my next backpacking trip!

Mount Democrat – Colorado 14er

My husband and I recently had some friends in town and one of their goals was to summit a 14er during their visit. We were ready for a challenge, so I suggested checking out the DeCaLiBron Loop, a well-known trail in Colorado that covers four 14ers in one hike! The loop leads you up and over Mount Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross (though the official summit of Bross is technically on private property and closed to hikers). I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do the entire loop this time around, but I set a goal for myself to do at least one of the 14ers, which ended up being Mount Democrat.

We arrived at the trailhead around 6am, which many in the Colorado hiking community would probably consider a late start. Thankfully, we scored the very last parking spot in the lot so we didn’t have to park along the road. There is a $5 fee to park and you will get a ticket if you choose not to pay, so don’t skip out!

Technically, you can hike the DeCaLiBron Loop either clockwise (starting with Democrat and ending with Bross) or counterclockwise (starting with Bross and ending with Democrat). I read mixed opinions on which way is easier – many commented that the descent from Bross (or ascent, if you begin with that 14er) is very rough as it mostly consists of gravel and loose rock. With that in mind, we decided to start with Democrat.

The trail to Mount Democrat (the leftmost peak)

The trail to Mount Democrat begins at Kite Lake Trailhead, which sits at 12,000′ in elevation, and meanders upward as you near the base of Democrat. You start gaining elevation almost as soon as you leave the trailhead, so don’t expect much of a warmup for this hike! You’ll eventually reach a saddle between Mount Democrat and Mount Cameron, which is a good place to catch your breath.

Views from the saddle between Mount Democrat and Cameron

From the saddle, the trail turns into rocky switchbacks as you begin the final ascent up to the summit. There is a false summit before a short stretch of relatively flat trail that leads you up the last 100′ or so to the actual summit of Mount Democrat. From here, you’ll be rewarded with incredible sweeping views of the surrounding mountains.

The summit of Mount Democrat

I decided to head back to the car after Democrat while the rest of my group pushed on to complete the full loop. On the way down, I encountered a family of mountain goats which was a real treat to see! In total, the hike from Kite Lake Trailhead to Mount Democrat ended up being about four miles in length with over 2,000′ of elevation gain. The hike was tough but relatively short and sweet, and I’m so glad we all got to summit together.

Mountain goats and a view of Kite Lake

I’m super proud that the rest of my group pushed on and completed the DeCaLiBron Loop. Their pictures looked amazing and they all had a blast, but they did agree the descent off Bross was pretty brutal and unpleasant. I can’t wait to return and finish the loop for myself by summiting Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross!

Mirror Lake and Crater Lake – Indian Peaks Wilderness

When I first heard of the Cascade Creek Trail to Mirror Lake and Crater Lake hike, I knew it was a challenge I wanted to take on in 2022. The scenery looked so surreal and picturesque that I set a goal to experience this hike for myself before the summer was over! The hike to Crater Lake is about 7.5 miles one-way, and most people opt to camp overnight before making the return trip. Unfortunately, all of the camping permits were booked up for days I was free to camp, so I decided to take on the additional challenge of doing the entire 15 miles in one day (and I dragged my husband and dog along as well). With around 2300′ of elevation gain in total, I figured the hike would be challenging but doable if we got an early enough start – and it ended up being quite the adventure!

We decided to car camp at the Monarch Lake Trailhead the night before so we could get a full night’s rest and a super early start. Monarch Lake Trailhead is located in Indian Peaks Wilderness, and you will need to purchase a parking pass in advance or at the trailhead itself. Our dog, Willie Nelson, kept us up part of the night so we didn’t get as much sleep as we were hoping for, but we still managed to hit the trail around 6am.

The first 1.5-2 miles are relatively flat and a great warmup for the rest of the trail. You’ll meander through forests as you skirt around Monarch Lake before the trail gradually begins to ascend switchbacks as it follows Cascade Creek. There are a number of river crossings and waterfalls along the trail which made the entire journey super scenic – and our pup loved the constant supply of water!

At around 4.5 miles you’ll encounter Cascade Falls, an especially impressive waterfall that is a great place for a quick break. The last 3 miles or so of the trail are a bit more challenging as you alternate hiking through forests and meadows. The last mile to Mirror and Crater Lakes is steep, but so worth it as the lakes and Lone Eagle Peak come into view. The jagged mountains and crystal clear water were so unreal to see in person. There’s even fishing allowed at the lakes, and my husband managed to snag a small trout at Crater Lake!

We made really good time on the hike to Crater Lake, averaging 25-30 minutes per mile. After an hour-long rest at the lake we refueled wth snacks and water, reapplied sunscreen and bug spray (a definite must) and began the journey back. We continued to make great time for the first 5 miles or so on the way back to the car, but the last 3 miles really dragged on because the sun was beating down on us and our feet (and Willie’s paws) were starting to get sore. The last push around the edge of Monarch Lake seemed neverending, and we rejoiced once we finally stumbled upon the trailhead.

All in all, this hike was definitely a challenge, but so worth it. I haven’t done a day hike of this length in several years, so I was really happy that we made such great time. The elevation gain is challenging in some sections of the trail, but overall fairly moderate. I would have definitely loved to experience camping at Crater Lake, but this hike is very popular and permits tend to book up pretty far in advance. If you haven’t checked out Cascade Creek Trail to Mirror Lake and Crater Lake, I highly recommend paying it a visit!

Review: RightOnTrek Backpacking Meals

Today I’m really excited to be sharing a review of some RightOnTrek backpacking meals! RightOnTrek was kind enough to reach out to me and send over some of their meals for me to taste-test and review. I got to try the vegan shepherd’s stew, mac and cheese, backcountry chili, and high country pad thai, and I was really impressed wih all of them!

RightOnTrek was founded in 2018 by a group of backpackers after they completed the 200+ mile long John Muir Trail in California. The company is based in Montana and specializes in making the backcountry more accessible for hikers and backpackers. For being a relatively small company, they have an impressive variety of backpacking meal options, with plenty of allergy-friendly meals as well!

The first meal I tried was their mac and cheese, which was actually rated the #1 mac and cheese by Backpacker Magazine! I can definitely see why – the mac and cheese was super creamy and flavorful, and very filling as well.

Next up, I tried their vegan shepherd’s stew meal. I was really happy to see that RightOnTrek offers vegetarian/vegan meals, as many backpacking meal companies aren’t so accommodating. The vegan shepherd’s stew was really hearty and comforting, and my fully carnivore husband enjoyed it too!

The next meal I tried was their backcountry chili. Chili is definitely a staple when it comes to backpacking meals, and RightOnTrek’s version was a great option. Like the other meals, the chili was delicious and filling, especially with the addition of the corn biscuits that came as an optional mix-in.

Finally, I sampled the high country pad thai. I actually didn’t realize the pad thai was vegetarian, and what I thought was chicken was really soy curls! The pad thai was super rich and flavorful, and definitely one of my favorites from the meals I tried. I especiaally enjoyed it with the addition of the peanut butter, sriracha, and salted cashews that RightOnTrek provided.

All in all, I was really impressed with all the RightOnTrek meals I tried. I definitely plan on stocking up next time I embark on a backpacking trip! Thanks again to RightOnTrek for sending over some meals. Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever heard of RightOnTrek, and if you’ll be trying some of their meals for yourself!

Flatirons Loop – Boulder, CO

The Flatirons Loop, also known as the Bluebell, Royal Arch, Flatiron, Bluebell-Baird and Meadow Trail Loop, is a short and scenic hike in the town of Boulder, CO. The hike is just 2.4 miles in total with an elevation gain of around 730′. This short and sweet hike offers beautiful views of the First and Second Flatiron, as well as the town of Boulder and the surrounding mountains. This hike is fairly moderate making it a great choice for visitors of all experience levels.

The hike begins at the parking lot for the Chautauqua Ranger Cottage. We opted to do the hike counter-clockwise which I believe is the most common route. The trail begins with a moderate incline along a wide gravel path as you make your way up to the Flatirons. Meadows surrounding the trail are home to beautiful flowers and cacti, and you’ll likely spot some deer along the way.

As you enter the treeline, the path gets a bit rockier and narrower until you pass a marked detour to Royal Arch and reach the First and Second Flatiron at about 0.8 miles. We watched a few hikers beginnning their ascent of the Second Flatiron which was really cool to see. The highest point of the hike is about 1.15 miles in, where you’ll reach a spur that takes you to the Third Flatiron.

Continuing along the loop, you’ll begin to head downhill as you pass over a scree field. The trail is very well-marked as you descend into the meadows and eventually make your way back to the parking area.

This hike is very popular on weekends, so try to visit during the week and early in the morning or later in the evening when possible.

Summit Lake to Mount Evans – Colorado 14er

This past weekend I decided, a bit spontaneously, to take on the challenge of summiting a 14er, which is a mountain with a summit at 14,000+ feet in elevation. I’ve already completed three other Colorado 14ers (Mount Sherman, Mount Bierstadt, and Pikes Peak) and wanted to check off another: Mount Evans. While there’s actually a paved road leading all the way to the top of Mount Evans, there are also a variety of routes you can take to hike to the summit. I opted for the Summit Lake to Mount Evans route which is considered a moderate hike, but fairly easy compared to other Colorado 14ers. At around 5.5 miles roundtrip with 2,000′ of elevation gain, the hike is challenging but relatively beginner-friendly. This hike is also rated Class 2 out of 5, meaning it has minimal exposure/risk. Some hikers will argue that you only properly summit a 14er if the route has at least 3,000+ feet of elevation gain, but I say: hike your own hike and be proud of yourself regardless!

The trail begins at Summit Lake in Mount Evans Wilderness. You will need to purchase a $2 timed-entry reservation to park here, but if you arrive before 8am you can just display the printed reservation in your windshield, regardless of what time slot it’s for. There is also a $5/vehicle fee which you self-pay at the parking area, unless you are an interagency pass holder in which case you only have to worry about the reservation fee (display your pass in the windshield as well). More info can be found at Recreation.gov. I arrived around 6:15am and the main parking lot was already full, so I had to park in an overflow spot along the road. Mount Evans is an incredibly popular hike so if you visit on a weekend, plan to arrive as early as possible.

Summit Lake

From the parking area, you’ll begin on a marked trail that leads you around the lake and up to the summit of Mount Spalding, which has an elevation of 13,840′. The initial ascent out of the parking lot is almost entirely uphill, and you’ll gain around 1,000′ of elevation in about a mile. This portion of the trail is well-marked with cairns, and I had no issues sticking to the route. After around 45 minutes I made it to the summit of Mount Spalding where I stopped for a quick snack. From here, you’ll have fantastic views of Mount Evans and the surrounding mountains.

Views from Mount Spalding

The next portion of the trail leads you down and over a saddle that will connect you with the ridge that eventually leads to the summit of Mount Evans. As of June 18 there was still a little bit of snow on the trail, but nothing too serious. The saddle is a welcome break from the ascent to Mount Spalding, and the trail is very easy to follow.

Views from the rocky ridgeline

Once you reach the rocky ridgeline, your pace will likely slow down significantly as you have to step carefully in certain areas and keep a sharp eye out for cairns. I didn’t have any issues sticking to the trail, but I really took my time and didn’t rush through this section. My main priority was to prevent altitude sickness and keep a steady pace. There is a bit of a false summit that you’ll hike around, and the trail stays below the ridgeline for the last mile or so. Eventually, the road and summit complex will come into view and you’ll finish the ascent on some moderate switchbacks that lead you to the summit.

Views of the trail, summit complex, survey marker, and an obligatory summit photo!

After snacking on a sandwich and grabbing some photos at the summit, I began the descent. I would say heading back down the trail almost felt rougher than going up. Going downhill on such rocky terrain was uncomfortable on my knees, and I did stray off-trail once or twice. I believe there are a few routes along the rocky ridgeline and I managed to get off of the main one, which is the easiest. I’ll also note that my watch ended up tracking the hike as closer to 6.75 miles in total. All in all, I was back at my car by 11:30, so I wrapped up the hike in almost exactly 5 hours. I felt totally fine during the hike but was hit with some altitude sickness once I made it back to the car. I definitely recommend staying well-hydrated and bringing plenty of snacks to combat this as much as possible. If you’re visiting from out of town, it’s also important to let yourself acclimate to the elevation before attempting this hike.

If you squint you can spot a marmot!

I thoroughly enjoyed the hike from Summit Lake to Mount Evans. It was sufficiently challenging that I felt I was pushing myself, but not so hard that I questioned my ability to summit. For locals, I’m sure this hike is a walk in the park! I would definitely recommend this hike if you’re visiting from out of town or looking for a beginner-friendly 14er.

Skyline Trail – Mt. Rainier National Park

With summer quickly approaching, I want to highlight one of my favoite hikes in Mount Rainier National Park: Skyline Tail. Skyline Trail, also know as Skyline Loop Trail, is a 5.5-mile-long loop in the Paradise area of the park. Skyline Trail is a challenging hike, but along the way you’ll experience some of the best features that Mount Rainier National Park has to offer, from glaciers to alpine meadows and waterfalls. If you only have time for one hike in Mount Rainier National Park, and you’re up for the challenge, I highly recommend the Skyline Trail.

The Skyline Trail begins at the Jackson Visitor Center in Paradise. If you choose to hike the loop clockwise, as most do, you’ll immediately begin gaining elevation as you make your way to Panorama Point. Panorama Point is an amazing viewpoint, and some even choose to turn back here after stopping to rest and enjoy the views. It was actually along this section of the trail that we encountered a bear, which was my first ever run-in with a wild bear!

If you choose to continue your hike past Panorama Point, you’ll head east on the Skyline Trail. You’ll soon come across the junction with Golden Gate Trail, which can be used to shorten the hike. To complete the full loop, continue heading east and you’ll eventually reach the Stevens-Van Trump Memorial. You’ll begin to descend into Paradise Valley, with a brief uphill portion taking you Myrtle Falls, before finally arriving back at the Jackson Visitor Center.

All in all, Skyline Trail is an amazing hike that highlights some of the most beautiful natural features of Mount Rainier National Park. I highly recommend adding this hike to your summer bucketlist, and I would do it again in a heartbeat! Let me know in the comments what your favorite hike is in Mount Rainier National Park.

Woody Gap to Preachers Rock

Preachers Rock is a beautiful summit in Georgia located along the Appalachian Trail. There are several options to hike to the viewpoint, but one of the most popular begins at Woody Gap. This 2 mile out-and-back hike is short and relatively easy, making it a great day hike for hikers of all experience levels.

The hike to Preachers Rock begins at the Woody Gap parking area off GA Hwy 60, just outside the town of Dahlonega. White blazes mark the route to Preachers Rock along the Appalachian Trail, which heads northeast through the woods. Spring is a beautiful time to do this hike, as plants will be blooming and conditions won’t be as humid as they become in the summer months. The trail is very easygoing for the first 3/4 mile with minimal elevation change as you make your way to Preachers Rock.

The last 1/4 mile or so is the most challenging part of the hike to Preachers Rock. You’ll begin to head uphill as you approach the summit, and there are a number of switchbacks and stone steps along the trail. It isn’t long before you arrive to Preachers Rock, a rocky viewpoint that overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Make sure to take your time appreciating the beautiful views from Preachers Rock. This is a great spot to kick back for awhile and enjoy a snack or some lunch (make sure to leave no trace and pack out all your trash). The hike back to the Woody Gap parking area is very easy aand straightforward, though you will want to watch your step on the steeper sections to ensure you don’t trip.

Preachers Rock is one of my favorite hikes along the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail. It’s also a great hike for beginners, and I’ve taken several friends up it as their first official hike. Have you done this hike before? Let me know in the comments!