Best Fall Hikes in Georgia

While fall is slowly turning into winter out here in Colorado, the season is still in full swing down in Georgia and other areas of the Southeast. As a born-and-raised Georgia peach I’ve gone on many fall hikes throughout the state, and these are some of the best for leaf-peeping and enjoying the season!

Blood Mountain

Blood Mountain isn’t just one of the best fall hikes in Georgia, it’s also one of my favorite hikes of all time! The most common route to the summit begins on the Byron Reece Trail before connecting with the Appalachian Trail. You’ll reach the summit after about 2.2 miles of hiking and will be treated to sweeping views of the Appalachian Mountains. Fun fact: Blood Mountain is the highest point of the AT in Georgia!

Raven Cliff Falls

Raven Cliff Falls is a great Georgia fall hike if you’re looking for something that doesn’t involve a lot of elevation gain. The hike is a bit longer than Blood Mountain at almost 6 miles roundtrip, but it’s definitely worth the extra distance. You’ll meander through the forest alongside a creek until reaching the waterfall that the trail is named for. Be careful exploring because the rocks will be slippery!

Appalachian Approach Trail

For those seeking an overnight fall hiking adventure, the Appalachian Approach Trail is the perfect option. This trail kills two birds with one stone, as you’ll get to experience the beautiful Amicalola Falls as well as the summit of Springer Mountain. This hike is about 18 miles out-and-back so while you could do it in a day, it’s much more enjoyable as an overnight backpacking trip.

Mount Yonah

Mount Yonah is one of the more challenging hikes on this list of the best Georgia fall hikes, though it’s definitely worth the effort. Mount Yonah is popular for not only hiking but also rock-climbing, and the entire mountain is incredibly picturesque when the leaves are changing. This is another fall hike in Georgia that offers spectacular views from the summit, which you’ll reach after about 2.2 miles of hiking.

Rabun Bald

Rabun Bald is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated hikes in Georgia. At only 3.5 miles roundtrip, this hike is relatively short but still decently challenging with over 1000′ of elevation gain. This is one of the few Georgia hikes that offers 360-degree views from the summit, and they are simply breathtaking.

What are your favorite fall hikes in Georgia? Let me know in the comments!

Top 5 U.S. National Parks (Plus 3 On My Bucket List)

Over the years, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to visit 11 of the 63 National Parks that can be found throughout the U.S. While all were unique and interesting in their own way, there were definitely some I loved more than others. This is my ranking of the Top 5 U.S. National Parks that I’ve visited so far. As a bonus, I’m also sharing the top 3 National Parks on my travel bucket list that I haven’t yet been to!

Top 5 U.S. National Parks

5. Badlands

Fun fact: I actually used to live in South Dakota as a kid! I have a lot of family there and still love going back to visit because I think South Dakota is a super underrated state. Similarly, I don’t see too many people talking about Badlands National Park, even though it’s one of my favorites. The landscape is super unique and looks like something you might find on another planet. Plus, the park is full of wildlife ranging from bison and bighorn sheep to prairie dogs.

4. Yellowstone

I would actually love to return to Yellowstone National Park and explore some more because my husband and I only got to spend one day in the park when we visited. Still, Yellowstone is such a classic that I highly recommend everyone take a visit. There’s a huge variety of wildlife and landscapes, and it’s unreal to see the massive hot springs and geysers in person. There’s a reason Yellowstone is one of the most popular National Parks!

3. Olympic

Olympic National Park is one of those places you have to see for yourself to believe. I mean, where else in the U.S. can you spend a day exploring rocky beaches, snow-capped mountains, glacial rivers, and thick rainforests? Olympic National Park is full of biodiversity that makes every visit unique from the last.

2. Grand Teton

In my humble opinion, Grand Teton National Park is probably one of the prettiest areas in the entire country. The mountains look absolutely unreal in person, and the whole park feels wild and rugged. Grand Teton is another park I’d love to return to and spend more time exploring because there’s so much to see and do!

1. Mount Rainier

Of all the National Parks I’ve gotten to visit so far, Mount Rainier National Park is undoubtedly my favorite. Seeing Mount Rainier up close and personal is an amazing experience, and you truly can’t fathom its grandeur until you’re seeing it with your own eyes. Plus, Mount Rainier National Park is where I saw my first wild bear! The whole park feels so magical and is absolutely stunning year-round.

Top 3 U.S. National Parks Bucket List

3. Glacier

Glacier National Park in Montana is one National Park I’ve been wanting to visit for years. The mountains look insanely dramatic and I’ve heard the park is absolutely full of wildlife. Plus, I’d love to pay a visit to RightOnTrek’s EDGE Backpacking Gear Rental Facility that just opened this year. I love that RightOnTrek works to make the outdoors accessible for as many people as possible. And, they make delicious backpacking meals!

2. Yosemite

As someone who loves both hiking and rock-climbing, Yosemite National Park sounds like an absolute dream. I’ve seen so many documentaries about Yosemite and I would love to pay the park a visit in the next couple years. I’ve actually never been to California, so I hope to make a trip out of it and explore a few different areas throughout the state!

1. Gates of the Arctic

Image courtesy of Travel Alaska

Alaska seems to be one of the last truly wild places left in the U.S., and I would absolutely love to spend some time exploring Gates of the Arctic National Park. The wilderness of Alaska looks intimidating but also incredibly beautiful, and I definitely plan on taking a trip to the state – hopefully, sooner rather than later!

What’s your favorite U.S. National Park, and which one would you like to visit next? Let me know in the comments!

Crater Lake – Maroon Bells

Maroon Bells is an iconic wilderness area in Colorado that is home to some of the most photographed mountains in North America. I’ve wanted to visit Maroon Bells since moving to Colorado in 2020, and my husband and I finally got the chance to go the second weekend of October.

From May to October, peak season at Maroon Bells, you need a reservation to enter the wilderness area. You can either get a reservation to drive into Maroon Bells and park there yourself, or a reservation to park in Aspen and take the shuttle. We weren’t able to snag a parking reservation but we did book a spot on an 11am Saturday shuttle.

Maroon Bells is about 3.5-4 hours from Colorado Springs, so we got up bright and early to make our way to Aspen. We arrived in Aspen early enough to spend about an hour grabbing coffee and exploring the town a bit. There was a farmer’s market going on which we strolled through, and we also popped into a couple shops. We ended up parking in the garage at Aspen Highlands Village which was pretty expensive but very convenient. The shuttle system was very straightforward, and soon we were pulling up to one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen in person.

We decided to take the less than 4 mile out-and-back trail to Crater Lake. The trail begins gradually ascending through a gorgeous aspen grove before heading into a forested area. The trail gets pretty rocky for the last half mile or so to the lake, but is fairly easy with less than 700′ of elevation gain in total.

Crater Lake was very low when we visited given the time of year, but the views were absolutely stunning. We stopped to eat some PB&J’s before heading back down the trail to the visitor’s center. We had to wait for the return shuttle for about 10 minutes which wasn’t bad at all.

I’m so glad we took the time to visit Maroon Bells, and I’d love to return and explore it even more. Have you visited this beautiful wilderness area yet?

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?

How to Spend a Weekend in Asheville

Over Labor Day weekend, my husband and I traveled down to Asheville, NC to visit some friends who live in the area. I had been to Asheville a handful of times before but my husband had never been, so we were really excited to explore the city together! Here are my top recommendations for how to spend a weekend in Asheville.

Grab a Drink at Sierra Nevada Brewery

Our first night in town our friends took us to Sierra Nevada Brewery, technically in the nearby town of Fletcher. The taproom is absolutely massive, featuring an indoor dining room, outdoor kitchen/bar, garden, and an outdoor stage for live music. The whole space was really laidback and fun to explore, and even though it was busy, the property was large enough that it never felt crowded. I tried an Oktoberfest beer which was delicious! Asheville is definitely known for its breweries, and Sierra Nevada is one of the best.

Hike to Black Balsam Knob

Our first full morning in Asheville we set off for the Blue Ridge Parkway to hike up to Black Balsam Knob. The weather was very chilly, windy, and rainy – which we weren’t super prepared for – but we still had a blast! The hike follows the Art Loeb Trail up to Black Balsam Knob, a beautiful mountain bald with 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains. The hike is short, sweet, and scenic, perfect for visitors from out of town! I plan to write up a whole blog post with more info about this hike, so stay tuned.

Enjoy Some Amazing Food

Asheville has a surprisingly amazing food scene, and we definitely ate good on our trip. Even though I didn’t take many pictures of the meals we enjoyed, every single one of them was delicious! For breakfast, we enjoyed some biscuits at Biscuit Head, a super popular spot that offers all kinds of biscuit platters and sandwiches. Lunch one day was at Laughing Seed Cafe, a delicious vegetarian-friendly spot in downtown Asheville where I got some amazing (albeit a bit ugly) loaded fries. Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack was also a great lunch spot that even offers vegan chicken! Finally, we also enjoyed some tasty tacos from White Duck Taco Shop, which features fun menu items like Greek and Korean-inspired tacos.

Spend an Evening Bar-Hopping

Though Asheville is better known for its breweries, the downtown area is also home to some awesome and unique bars. The first stop on our evening of bar-hopping was Citizen Vinyl, a record store/cafe/bar that also prints its own records! I got a gin and citrus cocktail which was delicious and I thoroughly enjoyed the art deco-inspired interior.

Next up was Top of the Monk, an intimate rooftop bar with a casual, unfussy vibe. I tried a tropical drink with toasted coconut (which was lit on fire right in front me!) and even though it wasn’t my favorite drink of the night, the fun, laidback atmosphere more than made up for it.

Our last stop was Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar, a small cocktail bar situated inside a bookstore! This was definitely my favorite bar of the night, and the sangria I ordered was absolutely delicious. We all had fun sipping on champagne and wine and browsing the extensive collection of books.

Visit Biltmore

One of the most popular attractions in Asheville is the Biltmore Estate, the largest home in the country which was built by the legendary Vanderbilt family. I have actually toured Biltmore before but Solomon had never been, so we wanted to at least stop by for him to see the property. We didn’t go inside the house this time, but we did get to explore the gardens and conservatory which were beautiful. There is a lot to see and do on the Biltmore property, and it’s definitely worth a trip if you’ve never been.

Explore the River Arts District

Last, but certainly not least, was the River Arts District (RAD), a super artsy and quirky neighborhood of Asheville. RAD is full of art galleries, studios, vintage shops, and some great food and drink spots. We grabbed a beer at Wedge Brewery before checking out some thrift stores and then ended our visit with a trip to Summit Coffee, where I got a delicious iced maple latte.

Asheville is an amazing weekend destination in the Southeast. With amazing food, drinks, hiking, shopping, and so much more, there’s really something for everyone to enjoy. Huge thanks to Grant and Callan for hosting us and showing us around this awesome city!

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.