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Showing posts with label Best getaways. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Best getaways. Show all posts

Driving Along The Palouse Scenic Byway To Palouse Falls State Park

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The Palouse Scenic Byway, located in the heart of the Palouse region in southeastern Washington, combines 208 miles of rolling hills and farmland with rich history, small town charm, spectacular scenic vistas and outstanding recreational opportunities.

My first destination was Palouse Falls State Park.

The first time I saw the picture of the Palouse Falls, I was absolutely blown away by its beauty, and I knew that the only way to really appreciate it, was to visit it and see it with my own eyes...
Now I think that some things just look better on a (professionally taken) picture...

The park itself is pretty small, with a few campsites. There are many trails that wind around the canyon, but after my sudden encounter with a rattlesnake, I decided to stay withing the park's boundaries.

One of my biggest (secret) desires was to paddle my SUP to the falls, I thought it would truly be an unforgettable experience ! Though it looked like there was a trail that lead to the falls' pool, there was no way I could bring my SUP down there.

Well, I guess not everybody can experience the falls like Tyler Bradt ( by plunging his kayak into it )

But overall, just driving along The Palouse Scenic Byway was absolutely amazing experience !

Eastern Washington is often ignored for the western side of the state. To many people Eastern Washington is a treeless desert. But, if you look closer you can see so much beauty here !

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Seattle Is Gorgeous !

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...despite of all this rain, all the depression it gives me, the infamous "Seattle Freeze", I absolutely love my "Black and White" city !

Emerald City - A Scenic Short Film from Kwokman2 on Vimeo.

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Camping With KOA In Leavenworth

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I've never been a big fan of camping. The idea of paying to sleep in the dirt, and "interacting" with other "happy campers" has always been a huge turn off for me. For somebody like me ( ADHD/Bipolar ), "social aspect" of camping is probably #1 reason why I hate camping so much.

But recently, I had to force myself to check into one of America's most popular campgrounds - KOA ...and, to my surprise, I had a great time !

My kid has been talking about the whole "camping experience" ( tent+fun+s'mores ) for quite some time, and I really wanted his first time "in the wild" to be memorable. To do that, I had to make sure that he would be comfortable , and it'd be fun.

To make it comfortable, I was thinking of staying either at a cabin or a yurt. And to make it fun, I had to come up with a location with enough things to do to keep him busy for a day and a half. Staring at the map of Washington, I couldn't think of a better location than Leavenworth !

KOA is located just 5 minutes away from downtown Leavenworth. I figured if there would be nothing to do at the camp, at least, I could always rely on my favorite adventure town.

But lucky for me, I didn't have to worry about things to do at KOA!

Upon our arrival we were blessed with warm sunny weather, and as soon as my son saw a swimming pool, I knew we would kill at least half of the day :)

Being very ( XHyperActive )(like farther, like son) swimming wasn't enough for him. The campground has a few awesome bikes for rent, and though, you can only ride around the territory, 45 minutes of uphill/downhiill biking wore him out a bit, and really whetted his appetite.

A quick ride to downtown, and after a bratwurst and some chocolate fudge, he was ready for more fun.

Waterfront Park is the place to take your kids no matter what time of the year it is. The trails are flat and wind along the Wenatchee River and through quiet riverbank forests. Throughout the park there are small beach inlets that are perfect for kids to play and for the parents to sit down and relax.

Back to the camp, and it was still early for camp fire. The Wenatchee River curves along the campground, and was just a short hike from our cabin. Its rocky beach became his next playground until it got dark.

Campfire and s'mores (!) became the highlight of his camping experience. Running around the camp with a flashlight looking for monsters was another...

Though, he was absolutely stoked to sleep in his own bunk-bed, he couldn't figure out why there was no bedding or pillows.

NOTE: Either bring your own bedding, or, at least, a sleeping bag and a camp pillow. There is a heater inside, so you'll be warm and comfortable.

Also, there is NO toilet in the cabins (so, you'll be lucky if your cabin is close to the public restroom like ours was).

All in all, we had an unbelievable experience. I just hope that next time, tent camping won't be a huge disappointment for him, and camping in general will become a big part of his childhood.

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Cenote Diving In The Yucatan Peninsula

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A cenote is a natural phenomenon, a sinkhole in the Earth’s surface. Nearly everyone who visits the Yucatan Peninsula soon learns of this rather unique feature of the local landscape.

National Geographic listed "Dive Caves in the Yucatan" a must-do trip of their Ultimate Adventure Bucket List 2012

After my Cancun's Underwater Museum dive, cavern/cenote diving was next on my Bucket List.


Cave diving and cavern ( cenote ) diving are two different things. In short, you need the proper training and equipment for cave diving.
But for cenote diving all you need is an open water certificate.

The Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico has an estimated 7,000 cenotes, but only a dozen of them are open to recreational divers. There are a few companies and several dive stores that offer exciting excursions to some of the most beautiful cenotes close to Cancun and Playa del Carmen. My choice was The Reef Marina Dive Shop

One of the more popular in the area (due to proximity to Playa del Carmen), Chac Mool cenote has something for everyone from speolotherms galore and airdomes on the cavern tour to long penetration cave dives in both directions. But most important, it's a perfect beginner dive site !

I'm not even going to try to describe all the beauty and excitement of cenote diving ! You have to experience it for yourself. So far, this has been my ultimate diving experience ! Such a novelty can only be experienced; pictures and descriptions don't do it justice. Cenote diving is a mind blowing adventure, and I guarantee you, you'll come up to the surface speechless !



Though, in a cavern, you are always within sight of natural daylight, there are certain areas where you feel your mind playing tricks on you. Sometimes the closed in cave-like atmosphere can give those with claustrophobia real problems and the overhead restrictions of cavern diving demand good buoyancy control.

Also,Chac-Mool is one of the caverns which has a Halocline - his is where salt and fresh water come together creating "fascinating" visual effects. It gets blurry, so don't freak out, you're not loosing your mind :)

But all in all, diving in a cenote is very different from ocean diving and must truly be experienced to be fully appreciated. Divers who have floated through this amazing world will remember it forever !

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Scuba Diving The Underwater Museum in Cancun

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Since the first time I heard about Cancun's Underwater Museum, I knew I absolutely had to do that ! So, I made "Scuba Diving The Underwater Museum in Cancun" my Bucket List goal. And if you know me, you know that if I set a goal, sooner or later I always achieve it !

That was my very first dive in the Yucatan Peninsula, and though, I heard and read some negative feedback about the museum dive, for me it was an awesome dive.

Unlike in Washington, diving in the crystal-clear Caribbean waters was warm enough even without a wet suit. Visibility was amazing ! The museum is a short boat ride from Cancun and near of Isla Mujeres ( another local landmark and a popular tourist destination ).

The sculptures sit on the seafloor in water that’s only 28-feet deep. Though the museum is ideal for divers and snorkelers alike ( there is a shallow portion just for snorkelers ), I doubt the experience would be the same.

Depending on which operator you go with, prices for certified divers average between $45 and $65 USD for one-tank dives ( all gear and the boat ride included; you might have to ask for a wet suit if you think you might get cold ).

PLEASE NOTE: The sculptures were designed to become artificial reefs and were constructed from special materials which promote marine life and create areas for corals to flourish and marine creatures to breed and take refuge. The appearance of the sculptures have changed over time as the coral had grown and marine life had colonized the structures.

So don't be disappointed if you can't clearly see every single detail of every single structure.

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Mexico Travel Tips : The Yucatan Peninsula

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According to Wiki:
Mexico is one of the most popular tourist countries on earth. Much of the tourist industry is centered around the beach resorts as well as the altiplano in the central part of the country. American tourists tend to predominate on the Baja peninsula and the more modernized beach resorts (CancĂșn, Puerto Vallarta)...
Visiting Mexico has been on my Bucket List for quite some time, and as soon as I got my new passport, I decided to make this dream come true !

For the last two years, there has been a lot of negative talk about traveling to Mexico. This spring, U.S. issued widest travel warning to Mexico since 2006. The U.S. State Department advised that United States citizens should avoid all "non essential" travel to 14 of 31 Mexican states.

Though the General Consul of Mexico, Roberto Rodriguez Hernandez, called the new U.S. warning an exaggeration, traveling to Mexico ( even it's traditional tourist destinations along the Mayan Riviera ) should not be taken lightly.

Here are a few tips I'd like to share that, hopefully, will make your trip safer and more enjoyable:

1 - Go All Inclusive.

Personally, it's not my style of traveling. I can hardly spend a few hours on the beach doing nothing. But if you're traveling to the Yucatan Peninsula, staying at one of those all inclusive resorts might be one of your best options. Here is why : Though "Mexican law" says that nobody can own a beach in this country, this is just a bunch of BS.

The whole Zona Hotelera in Cancun and Playa Del Carmen is dotted with resorts which closely guard their territory against "intruders". They don't have visitor parking, you can't buy shit at their bars and restaurants, and God forbids if you use one of their lounge chairs ( there are guards every 100 feet which makes you feel like you're in a very luxury prison ).

When you're staying at an all inclusive resort, all ( or most ) drinks, food, activities, rentals are included in the price. Resort staff speaks decent English, can get you a cab, or recommend a restaurant or an activity ( just remember, they DO get paid commission, so it's in THEIR best interest to recommend you that restaurant, club or a company ).

2- Don't even think about renting a car

I'll write another post about my misadventure with renting and driving in Mexico, but in short, renting a car in the Yucatan Peninsula is just a waste of money.


If you do decide to rent a car, you'd better be comfortable with bribing a government official. Believe me, it's quite an experience !

3 - Agree on the price before getting into a taxi

Set taxi fares before getting in. If you have a problem, take his number off the car & report it to your hotel. Have smaller bills ( pesos, of course ! ).

4 - Find best deals on tours and activities online

There are so many things to do and to see in the Yucatan Peninsula, that when I was planning me trip I was overwhelmed with the choices. But keep in mind that many of the same trips are "advertised" by many different "local independent travel reps". You'll see a lot of "travel tour booths" everywhere, and some of those "agents" are very annoying. They deliver no value, quite useless, and speak poor English. Usually, the prices are about 10-30% more than what you'd normally pay. One of the sites I found useful is Cancun Discounts.

5 - Using pesos is your best bet

I was advised against exchanging money at banks, yet I found banks that pay the most pesos for your buck. The only disadvantage is that you have to produce your passport ( unlike exchange houses ). Most ATMs at resorts give you American dollars, BUT ! I withdrew $200 , and the "commission' was ...$36 ! Street ATMs give you pesos. Credit cards are widely accepted, with Visa, MasterCard, and American Express being the most popular.

6 - Crossing a street in Mexico is not a privilege, it's a challenge.

YOU DO NOT have the right of way even in a cross walk or at a red light. Be on the defensive. Taxi & bus drivers do not have any education and think that the road holds 3 things; 1) Their vehicle, 2) Their garbage & 3) Their right of way. So RUN when crossing the street.

7- Don't worry, they "speak" English

Honestly, I didn't try to "communicate" with locals, but whenever I needed to buy something, or to be exact, whenever they tried to sell me some crap or to scam a few lousy pesos out of me, they spoke decent English.


You know the rule of thumbs - not to drink in Mexico, but I'd also avoid eating "authentic/street food". Not because it gives you monster diarrhea, but simply because you're not used to this type of food. Elote ( or Esquites ) at Mexico street stands is one of those things you must eat in Mexico ( I almost gagged the first time I saw it, but it turned out to be quit delicious ! )

9 - No free WI-FI for you, amigo

Seriously McDonald's, WTF is my free WI-FI ? You brought your shitty corporation to this country, but too cheap to give this poor people free internet ? Shame on you !

10 - Use sunscreen even on an overcast day.

I came back from my trip looking like a fried chicken, with my skin peeling from all that Cancun sun tanning. If you plan to spend an extensive period in the sun, ease your way into it over a week, use plenty of sunscreen, and avoid using any lotions or creams that contain alcohol.

The final and the most important tip that I'd like to share - remember, you are going to another country. Don't expect the world to fall at your feet. You can have an amazing cultural experience if you give a little, and in return you'll get a lot! Smile!

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Surfing Neah Bay : Part II

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Skiing and surfing on the same day can be a rare experience. While there are some locations across the world where you could ski and surf on the same day like Chile and New Zealand, I wanted to put our state on the map of " World's Best Adventure Travel Destinations" by exploring the Olympic Peninsula.

The Olympic Peninsula is a place where surfing and skiing can be just a few hours from one another. You can start out early morning on the snow-capped mountains of the Hurricane Ridge, and finish the day off taking on waves along the coast.

For my surfing part of the trip I went to Neah Bay, a small town on the Makah Indian Reservation located in the north-westernmost point of the continental United States. It was my first time visiting this corner of our state, and the experience was amazing !

Driving along State Route 122 ( named the Strait of Juan de Fuca Highway ) was like driving along Big Sur ( in California )- beautiful views, amazing pieces of history and unique places to visit !

While in town, I couldn't resist the temptation to have my picture taken at the north-westernmost point of the contiguous United States ( with Tatoosh Island in the background ). A land of dramatic headlands, sea stacks, and deep narrow coves, Cape Flattery exhibits sheer rugged beauty.

After a short hike and a few pictures, I headed down to Hobuck Beach, an exposed beach break that has small, but quite consistent surf and can work ( mostly ) at any time of the year. The access to the beach ( that I found ) was through "gated" Hobuck Beach Resort. Though a day pass is $15, I was happily waived the fee ( you still have to pay $10 for your recreation pass to park anywhere on the reservation ). There are a few cabins and a dozen or so tent and RV spaces ( $20 a night ).

Just like La Push, Hobuck Beach is an average beachbreak that has some good days and a lot of bad days. It's a beautiful spot, however, and the drive here is well worth it, even if the surf sucks.

That day I was blessed with beautiful spring weather, light breeze, and lots of sunshine. But the slopes of Hurricane Ridge were waiting for me, and I still had 2 hour drive ahead of me.

Skiing the Hurricane Ridge: Part III

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After spending a glorious morning surfing at Hobuck Beach I headed out to the Hurricane Ridge ski area. Though I visited Hurricane Ridge a couple years ago, I didn't have a chance to do anything other than just taking a few pictures. And that's what most people would do - drive for 17 miles from Port Angeles just to take a few pics, go for a short stroll in the snow, have lunch, and head back out.

If you're visiting the area, and all you have is just a few hours, I highly recommend to make a trip to the Hurricane Ridge ! It's so beautiful there !

Skiing at every ski area in Washington state has been on my Bucket List for the past couple years, and I really hoped to add Hurricane Ridge to my list this year. Unfortunately, due to weather conditions ( the road had been closed for a couple weeks ) and my schedule I was a week late.

Instead, I went "ski/alpine touring".

I haven't had a chance to write about my new "hobby" yet, but in short - for alpine touring you use your "regular" downhill skis with specially designed binding set-up ( AT/randonee bindings ) that allows the heel to free up for climbing and accessing backcountry. Then, the heel can "lock in", and the skis can be skied as normal alpine gear. To "walk uphill" on your skis, you use skins - removable pieces of nylon fabric whose nap runs at an oblique angle, allowing the ski to glide forward, but not back.

Avalanche danger was very high at the time of my visit, and I didn't want just "to wonder into backcountry".

As my trusted and favorite source I used " Snowshoe Routes Washington " , a great book for all skill levels, from beginner to experienced mountaineer.

I chose a relatively easy, yet very rewarding " Hurricane Hill " hike. It starts right behind the lodge, the trail is very used and thus easy to follow. I have to mention that for some ( inexperienced ) snowshoers the trail might get a bit tricky. Exposed ridgeline, two avalanche chutes, and knife-edged ridge crest might be more than you bargained for.

Even if the top isn't reached, the views are spectacular all along the trail. At the top you're rewarded with 360 degree spectacular views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Canada's Vancouver Island, upper Puget Sound, with Mount Baker rearing its icy head beyond, Olympus and Mt Angeles.

The way down was a breeze, and I was back to my car before closing time.

I wish I could just pass out in my car, but one thing that sucks about the Hurricane Ridge is that they close at dusk ( also, keep in mind that they open the gate at 8 am, and the lodge at 9 am, so it doesn't make sense to go there very early in the morning ).

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Ski and Surf the Olympic Peninsula: Part I

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How many places in the WORLD do you know where you can surf and ski in the same day ?

Skiing magazine knows 6. I can add 2 more : Iceland and ....Washington !

I've always thought of our state as one of the world's premier adventure travel destinations, and if you've been following my blog, you know we have it all : from world class mountaineering to the best cold water scuba diving, easily accessible hiking trails to one of the finest mountain biking playgrounds in the world. 

So when Ski Magazine failed to mention Washington state as one of the world's best places to ski and surf in the same day, I decided to go on an adventure of my own. 

The Spectacular Olympic Peninsula is known as one of the most photographed, and one of the most desired places to visit in our state. People from all across the globe come to experience the thrill of this Natures' Paradise.

This wasn't my first time visiting this corner of our state, but this time I had more time to actually do something fun !

I've already surfed at one of the popular spots on the Olympic Peninsula - La Push.

This time, I decided to explore another popular surf location and surf at  Hobuck Beach at the Makah Indian Reservation.

After spending half of the day surfing, I headed back towards Port Angeles to ski at the Hurricane Ridge.

What was suppose to be a day trip of surfing and skiing, turned into a weekend of unforgettable fun !

....to be continued...

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Snowshoeing Mt Rainier With EverGreen Escapes

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Snowshoeing at Mt Rainier is #1 on the list of "10 Ways To Experience Mt. Rainier This Winter" suggested by the official website for Mt. Rainier travel and vacations.

With more than 16 trails of various length and difficulty, it might be a bit overwhelming to decide where to go, especially if you're new to the area ( or snowshoeing in general ).

After my last snowshoe trip , I finally decided to pull the plug on this hobby, sold my snowshoes, and was getting ready to switch to ski touring. Skiing up to Camp Muir and then down to Paradise has been on my Bucket List for a while. But after our "failed" attempt to reach Paradise in December, I was a bit freaked out to drive there and almost gave up to ever see Mt Rainier in winter.

Before, I mentioned that there were a few ways to visit the park...but mostly in summer. If you're visiting our state ( or like me, hate driving ) in winter you're pretty much limited to : driving with a friend, renting a car, or joining EverGreen Escapes on their Full-Day Mt. Rainier Snowshoe Tour

Unlike big tour buses, their small (but luxury ) Mercedes van provides intimate atmosphere and a chance to get to know people you're traveling with. We made our first stop at Kautz Creek trail head to stretch our legs, get a cup of coffee with some pastries, and to snap a "preview of the Mountain".

At Paradise, we strapped on our snowshoes, and after a short briefing were on our way to explore the park's winter trails.

Another thing I loved about the tour was "the freedom to roam". Unlike many "organized trips" I've been on before, the atmosphere during this trip was very casual.

Though, you are expected to stay with the group, you can still keep up your own pace. If during the summer months you would have to stick to the trail, in winter you can chose to use the existing trails, or feel free to forge your own path !

My only concern was about a few people, who might have underestimated "the Mountain". I can't stress enough the importance of being prepared in the outdoors, and especially in the mountains.
Weather in the park is notoriously quick to change, and sudden storms can appear with little or no warning...
Though it was a picture perfect bluebird day, the wind was reaching 25-30 MPH with the temperatures in the low 30's. A couple people were not wearing any headgear, gloves, another person was wearing very light hiking shoes...Our guide mentioned that a week before they had to hike in complete white-out conditions.

Remember, surviving in the mountains is not just challenging, it's also expensive :

Lost Mt. Rainier Snowshoer Burned Money to Stay Alive

Absolutley No Sledding At Summit West

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In my post about our trip to Tubing Center at Snoqualmie , I mentioned that they really don't allow any forms of tubes, sleds, or toboggans anywhere around ski area, and I meant ANY AREA : whether it's Central, East, West, or Alpental ( "Personal sledding devices are not allowed for liability reasons").

I personally think this rule blows; it's a huge mountain, and prohibiting such a popular winter activity is just plain wrong.

But you know me, if there is a will, there is always a way...

There are a few "official/unofficial sledding areas" around Summit East, but if you don't feel like driving or paying ( one of the areas - the Hyak Sno-Park requires a Washington State Sno-Park Permit which is $20 (!) a day ), you can just park at Summit West, cross the road and head out to PCT parking lot

If you've ever gone hiking/snowshoeing there, you know that the road to the parking lot goes uphill, and is steep enough for a few good runs.

But this time, we decided to combine hiking/snowshoeing/sledding in one, and took our sled for a mile+ hike along PCP trail

With the recent snow fall, relatively warm weather, and away from the crowded ski area, we had a great trip that gave us a chance to try our new Yamaha Snowmobile, as well as challenge my son's riding skills

Ski Washington - Mission Ridge

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I got my "Bucket List" idea to ski at every ski area in Washington when I got a job at Summit at Snoqualmie 3 years ago. Since then I've visited 6 out of 12 Washington ski areas...

Just a week before New Year, I added another one to my list - Mission Ridge.

I was really looking forward to this trip. I read/heard a lot about great powder snow conditions and "300 Days of Sunshine"...

With its motto of "Family Fun in the Powder and Sun", my visit to Mission Ridge ski area was...kinda disappointing.

Snow/weather conditions were absolutely horrible ! If you've ever heard the expression "Cascade Concrete" ( bad/icy snow conditions ) that's what I got during my visit.

You can't really blame the weather, but the least the resort could do was to mention the bad snow conditions on their Facebook page. But I guess they don't really care about their customers, many of whom are, just like me, out of town visitors who take time to drive for 12 mile to visit their resort.

Proximity to downtown Wenatchee is the only advantage this Washington ski area has...

Well, ( I have to admit ) that and the stunning views from the top...

Planning Your Wenatchee/Leavenworth Winter Escape

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Celebrating Christmas or New Year has been a long family tradition for us, and Leavenworth is the perfect place to capture the magic of the Christmas season.

Unfortunately, this time of the year is also the craziest to visit this town. During holidays tens of thousands of people visit Leavenworth every year. For a small town it gets pretty crowded. Even finding a reasonably priced hotel becomes a hassle.

That's why this year, we decided to stay in Wenatchee ( which is about 30 minutes from Leavenworth ).

North Central Washington has long been one of my favorite regions in Washington State.

Leavenworth, Cashimier, Wenatchee, Chelan, Winthrop are great little adventure hubs with numerous outdoor opportunities for hiking, biking, skiing, snowshoesing and more.

This year will be our first year visiting Wenatchee in winter. I'm super stoked to go skiing at Mission Ridge for the first time ! I've also checked out Wenatchee Visitors Bureau web site, but unfortunately didn't find any useful up-to-date information.

Just hope to catch at least one of those "300 Days of Sunshine" :)

What To Do at Longmire, Mt Rainier in Winter

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"Mt Rainier...within an easy drive from Seattle..."

The drive to Mt Rainier can be pretty exhausting...2-3 hours along HWY 7 or 161 is a torture ( for me )...But with the right company it's a breeze

Fee-free weekend over this Veterans Day was the first time I decided to take my 4 year old to see "the Mountain". Weather forecast for Saturday looked very promising ( snow accumulation of 4-12 inches ).

We were planning to visit Paradise for some fun snow time and may be go for a short hike...
Between November 1 and May 1, all vehicles traveling in Mount Rainier National Park are required to carry tire chains. This requirement applies to all vehicle types in all weather and road conditions...Weather in the park is notoriously quick to change, and sudden storms can appear with little or no warning.Link
It was snowing hard ! Half way up I decided to turn around.

Before, the only time I visited Longmire was to pick up a climbing permit. When we pulled over and got out of the car we had no idea what to do.

During summer time this area is famous for great hiking with trails like Eagle Peak, Rampart Ridge Trail, and of course, the famous Narada Falls. But in winter there is not a whole lot to do.

The first ( and the most obvious ) choice is the Longmire Museum. It's small, but very cozy with lot's of pics and stuffed animals.

A ranger at the museum suggested that we should check out the Trail of the Shadows across the road from the museum. It's only 0.7 mile and leads to a homestead cabin built in 1888 by James Longmire who discovered mineral hot springs here, and later built a resort.

While crossing the street I saw the sign for the Wonderland Trail, and momentarily thought about taking my son for a "short" 93 mile hike...But then settled for a picture and a short hike up the trail...

I'm still planning to hike the entire length of the Wonderland Trail next summer, so at least now I know a good spot to begin...

But the highlight of the trip was...

...they instantly became best friends...