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

Biking And Sightseeing Along The Burke-Gilman Trail In Seattle.

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I don't consider myself to be a "cyclist".  I don't owe a team jersey, shave my legs, or ride a 5K bike. I am, what they call, a "bike enthusiast ", a " recreational cyclist ".  For me, biking is not about getting a great work out, being eco-conscious or saving a bunch of money on gas ( well, all that too ). For me biking is a new , great , inexpensive way of traveling , sightseeing and a chance to experience the area I'm visiting at a leisure pace.

As of 2013, for the sixth year in a row, Washington is considered to be the most bike-friendly state in US ( by the League of American Bicyclists ). And why not ? With its numerous bike paths, and designated bike trails, Washington is a great place to explore by bike.

Take , for an example, Burke-Gilman Trail. Almost every WA state tourist's guide book, local biking/outdoors book and magazine has mentioned this bike trail. But not many of those publications mentioned what that trail really represented.

Called "a major transportation corridor ",  the trail is also a major sightseeing route that gives an opportunity to see some of Seattle most iconic sights.

The trail begins in Ballard and follows along the Lake Washington Ship Canal and north along Lake Washington. Along the way it passes numerous points of interest, neighborhoods , local landmarks and offers a variety of other outdoors activities along the way.

Start your trip at The Hiram Chittenden Locks ( Ballard Locks ), where you can roam around Botanical Garden, then cross over the locks and spillway dam to the fish ladder and viewing windows, and before you go home, you can stop by the visitor center and browse through the gift shop. Biking around the historic Scandinavian community of Ballard transports you to another time.

Then head east to Fremont. Sometimes referred to as "The People's Republic of Fremont," "The Center of the Universe" and at one time a "center of the counterculture", Fremont is famous for such cultural landmarks as Statue of Lenin, the Fremont Troll, the outdoor sculpture "Waiting for the Interurban " and an old rocket fuselage. A growing number of technology companies have a presence in Fremont, including Adobe Systems, the Allen Institute for Brain Science, Getty Images, Google, and others. Fremont for cyclist ( especially naked cyclists ) is home to Fremont Solstice Parade.

Next stop -Gas Works Park. The strangest park in Seattle, and may rank among the strangest in the world, the old gasification plant has been reconditioned, painted, and incorporated into a children "play barn" structure. The park offers a panoramic view of the Seattle skyline, Lake Union and snowcapped mountains. It also a very popular put in spot for kayakers. Gas Works Park has been a setting for films, such as "Singles" and " 10 Things I Hate About You" and also on the travel-based television reality show "The Amazing Race".

 Don't just bike by the University of Washington campus. The bridge connecting the BGT with the Husky Stadium, gives you a great chance to padle around the stadium on the campus of the University of Washington. Located directly behind Husky Stadium on Union Bay and the Montlake Cut , The Center for Water Sports offers canoe and rowboat rentals for general public.

Further along the BGT passes a few local beaches -Matthews Beach , Cedar Park, Lake Forest Park.

In one of my posts, I've already wrote about the Magnuson Park, the Mountaineers' new headquarters and a place to learn climbing, backpacking, sailing, and kayaking.

Jump off your bike and straight into seaplane cockpit in Kenmore Air Harbor. Whether your destination is Sun Juan Islands, Olympic Peninsula or just a flight-seeing excursion over Seattle, it will be an experience you'll treasure for a lifetime.

At Blyth Park in Bothell the trail becomes the Sammamish River Trail and continues for 10 miles (16 km) to Marymoor Park, Redmond, on Lake Sammamish. But I'll cover that in my upcoming posts.

Winthrop Balloon Roundup

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Along with Leavenworth, Winthrop is another great theme town to visit in Washington state. Winthrop is a spectacular vacation destination with a Western flair.  Known for the American Old West design of all the buildings in town, this small town offers amazing adventures all year round.

Winthrop is home to the nation's largest cross-country skiing location, with over 120 miles of groomed trails. In winter,  Winthrop is home to an award-winning outdoor ice rink, an alpine ski area, backcoutnry skiing, fat biking, snowshoeing, sledding and world-renowned snowmobiling.

In spring, this town hosts its annual ( now 17th ) three-day Balloon Festival. During the first weekend in March, the skies of Winthrop brighten with the brilliant colors of over a dozen hot air balloons flying over the magnificent Methow Valley.  It's an incredible visual display as the balloons fly over the old western town of Winthrop and with the snow-capped mountains of the North Cascades as a backdrop.

For those wishing to go aloft, Morning Glory Balloon Tours offers flights once a day, approximately one hour after sunrise when the winds are calmest.

Cross Country Skiing And Snowshoeing MTTA ( Mt Tahoma Trails Association )

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Below is the most detailed, first hand, personally provided information on xc ( cross country ) skiing and snowshoeing MTTA in South District to High Hut, Yurt and Bruni's Snow Bowl Hut.

Hut-to-hut skiing is extremely popular in Europe. The most spectacular of hut-to-hut trails, the Haute Route through the French and Swiss Alps, is also spectacularly crowded: Cross-country pilgrims share the circuit with about 200 other skiers each day, then bunk with them at night in huge dorms festooned with sopping garments.

North America has built its own portfolio of equally impressive hut-to-huts in the years since WWII, when at least one veteran who had served as a special ski trooper in Europe returned home and later re-created the famous Alps circuits in his own backyard.

Hut-to-hut backcountry skiing has been on my Bucket List since I found out you don't need to go to Europe to have this unique experience.

A series of snow huts south of Mount Rainier near Ashford offer this amazing adventure. The Mount Tahoma trail and hut system has about 50 miles of trail (20 of it groomed), three huts and a yurt.

My plan was to spend a night at High Hut, and to wake up the next morning to have my breakfast with the view of Mt Rainier ! But unfortunately, due to its popularity, the huts were booked quickly that weekend , so instead, I had one of my epic mini/day adventures.

Here are a few tips I wish I knew before going to MTTA:

  • Do stop at the MTTA office in Ashford to get the latest info on road conditions, and directions to the Snow Park.
Look for 29815 Washington 706, Ashford, WA 98304  The address is for Ashford Fire Station, and MTTA office is located BEHIND it ( there was no sign, and was confusing to find ).

  • MOST IPORTANT -  don't forget to bring BOTH - Discover Pass AND Snow Park permit ( you can also buy both at nearby Whittaker Mountaineering store ( $22 for a day/$42 for annual Snow Park permit ). The MTTA patrollers are Nazis when it comes to writing out tickets for not having either one of the permits.

Directions to the Snow park :
  • Chances are, at MTTA office you'll be given a crappy, confusing map to the snow park. Here is an easier way : when you turn right on Kernahan Road, look for Paradise Estate on your right, stop, and look closely for the sign to the snow park (SF 85). If you continue on HWY 52/Skate Creek Rd, you'll end up on a snowmobile/snowshoeing one way trail ( me and another idiot actually drove our cars on that trail until we realized we were lost ).

The drive to the Snow Park :
  • Honestly, unless you drive 4x4 or you have faith in your vehicle, I wouldn't drive there in winter.
The road is a narrow, two way dirt road that is dotted with potholes. The few days before my visit the area had experienced a heavy snow storm which turned the road to the snow park into a one way, poorly plowed, rails-free death track. Even if you have 4x4, make sure you carry chains at all times as the weather at Mt Rainier is very unpredictable.

All three huts (High Hut, Yurt and Bruni's Snow Bowl Hut) are located in South District, and share the same Snow Park/trail (to certain extent).

The Trail:
  • The first ~1.5 mile the trail is gradually climbing up to the junction. This is the portion of the trail that is wide, groomed and well packed. 
  • This portion of the trail is so packed, that, honestly, you wouldn't even need skis or snowshoes. You can just hike ! It will keep you light and fast ! ( as you can see from the picture on top ).
Also, this portion of the trail is groom and very hard packed, but... there are NO broken tracks for xc (cross country) skiers ( which makes it hard to ski), and because it's hard pack, it really doesn't make sense to use your snowshoes.

The Junction:

  • Here the trail breaks into two directions : to High Hut (on your right), and to Yurt and Bruni's on your left.

From Junction To High Hut:

  • This portion of the trail is "poorly groomed". The tracks for snowshoers are narrow and barely broken. Once again, no tracks for skiers. I ended up hiking this part of the trail also.

The Hut:

  • Honestly I imagined it to be a bit ... roomier. Depending on occupancy, the hut can get pretty crowded. There are a couple of bunk beds on the "first floor", and more floor space on the "second level".

 Snowshoeing/Skiing With Dogs ?

  • Dogs are allowed on MTTA trails, BUT... NOT in the huts.... Also, if you're traveling with your dog(s), PLEASE KEEP THEM ON THE LEASH !

The Atmosphere:

  • Are you a social butterfly ? Do you like spending your nights in the company of complete strangers ? How about listening to their boring pathetic life stories ? Personally, I lasted about 15 minutes before getting the hell out of there, and I was glad I didn't reserve the night in the hut.

But if you're an introvert like me, and do decide to spend a night at the hut, and have your morning breakfast with the killer view of Mt Rainier, consider brining some booze, ear plugs, and your favorite book to survive the night.

Want to get into cross country skiing ?
Buy affordable gear on Amazon !


Shop cross country gear on Amazon

Local Adventures : Game Farm Park, Auburn, WA - Activities For Kids & Families

Want to get out and explore nature right in your own neighborhood?  My advice, simply open your Google maps, and check out your neighborhood.

Just out your doorstep are dozens of unique places that are yours to explore and enjoy. Recreational facilities, hiking trails, historical landmarks, lakes, rivers, natural areas, beaches and forests – they belong to you! Why is that? Because they’re part of our public lands, our unique state parks system.

 There’s no better way to easily connect with nature, get some exercise in the outdoors, learn something new or just relax, than visiting your neighborhood  parks.

Within a few mile where we live, there are dozens of local parks. One of our favorite is Game Farm Park in Auburn.

The park is located in the banks of the Stuck/White River, and covers 88 acres.  Our favorite activities here are: picnicking, hiking, and archery. For more experience and adventurous folks, the river offers great whitewater kayaking and boating.

Game Farm Park is located on the banks of the Stuck River. The park covers 88 acres - See more at: http://auburntourism.com/index.php?c_ref=266#sthash.TICBjCQN.dpuf
Game Farm Park is located on the banks of the Stuck River. The park covers 88 acres - See more at: http://auburntourism.com/index.php?c_ref=266#sthash.TICBjCQN.dpuf

Game Farm Park is located on the banks of the Stuck River. The park covers 88 acres - See more at: http://auburntourism.com/index.php?c_ref=266#sthash.TICBjCQN.dpuf
Game Farm Park is located on the banks of the Stuck River. The park covers 88 acres - See more at: http://auburntourism.com/index.php?c_ref=266#sthash.TICBjCQN.dpuf

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How Do You Celebrate Your Birthday ?

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There are only two major holidays on my calender : my birthday and New Year. For me, both of these dates represent a new beginning, a fresh start, a clean slate. It's time to look back and reflect on my goals and achievements, and time to make new exciting plans for the upcoming year !

It saddens me to know that many people don't really celebrate their birthdays. In my opinion, if you don't celebrate your birthday, you don't celebrate (your) life.

As somebody said : "If we are to appreciate the fruits of life, we must first appreciate the tree that bears the fruit: birth itself."

I've never considered myself to be religious, but I think a birthday is the Greatest Gift of Life, the Miracle, the Once-In-A-Life Time-Occasion that you have a chance to celebrate every year. The same energy that God/Universe/Nature invested in you at birth is present once again. It is our duty to be receptive to that force.

A birthday is a time to celebrate birth itself, the joy of life. It is also an occasion to rethink your life: How great is the disparity between what I have accomplished and what I can accomplish? Am I spending my time properly or am I involved in things that distract me from my higher calling? How can I strengthen the thread that connects my outer life and my inner life?

Celebrating my birthday by going surfing is my way to get in touch with my soul.

You don't have to be a hard core "surfer dude" to enjoy this, I'd say, most spiritual "sport/outdoor activity". And I put it in quotes, cause I can't even call surfing a sport. Yes, surfing has its competitive side, but for most folks, surfing is the way to engage nature in such an intimate way that very few people have access to. I call it Soul Surfing.

In soul surfing, we challenge the ocean, we challenge ourselves, and  not other people. Soul surfing is not about scoring points and winning titles, it's about having fun, it's as much about physical challenge as a spiritual experience. Especially at times of good surf in beautiful surroundings.

Soul surfing is one of the best ways to find your Zen, your inner peace, your "True Self".
The Ocean will clear your mind, get rid of stress, anxiety, and negativity, it will recharge your tired mind, and will strengthen your spirit.

As J.F.K. once said : " "We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch - we are going back from whence we came." 

So your next birthday, I advice you to give soul surfing a try. It doesn't matter if you don't catch a wave, or you won't be able even to get up on a board. It's about the experience, the feeling, the memories you will create for the next year ( OR MAY BE THE REST OF YOUR LIFE ).
                                                         It's all about STOKE !


"Each birthday is a new beginning, full of promise and opportunity and the chance to make dreams come true."

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Exploring Mt St Helens: Camping, Hiking, Caving And Enjoying The Last Days Of Summer

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Labor Day weekend means camping and cookouts for many families. We're no exception. It's become our family tradition to celebrate the official end of summer ( and that's exactly what Labor Day means to us ), with a long road trip to a far away place in search of a new and exciting adventure.

Just pitching a tent, roasting s'mores, and singing campfire songs don't work for us. We crave excitement, adventure, thrills, new experiences and lifelong unforgettable memories !

Last year, it was our first time trying "roughing it up"  a.k.a tent camping. I wanted to  make sure my 5 year old would be cozy and conformable sleeping ( almost) under the stars :) To make things more adventurous, we took a canoe across Little Kachess Lake.

But what could be more adventurous and mysterious than exploring a cave, learning about an exploded volcano, and going on a hike in a lava bed ?! Not to mention the usual camping, lake time, BBQ, and s'mores !

That's why this year, our destination was Mt St Helens area.

Though I've already explored Mt St Helens Ape Caves a few years ago, I couldn't wait to share the excitement of caving with my son !

We were very lucky to snatch a camp site right on the bank of the beautiful Yale Lake. Though the campground had a designated boat launch and a small beach, we had a privilege of swimming just a few steps away from our tent...which later turned out to be a bit ...uncomfortable...Apparently, our new family tradition was to say goodbye to summer by taking the last dip... at 7 am... in freezing morning water :)

Next day we took HWY 83 to Lava Canyon for a short hike. I couldn't believe how excited my son was walking on the rocks where lava flew just a few dozen years ago. He wanted to bring every stone as a souvenir back home.

But the highlight of the trip was, of course, exploring  the famous Ape Caves !


- If you're traveling with little ones ( 6-8 y.o ) make sure to bring warm clothes ( the cave stays cool/cold all year round )
- Bring water... though the lower cave ( the popular/touristy one ) is relatively short, it's still quite a walk for little kids, and they do get thirsty. 
- Don't skimp on little cheap flashlights... Besides the fact that you won't see much, pictures ( even with flash ) will be very low quality.

MOST IMPORTANT : There are two parts of Ape Caves - lower and upper caves.

While the lower part is relatively short, easy and accessible ( it's approximately is .75 miles long
and can be hiked down and back in an hour ), it takes up to 2-2 1/2 hours to finish the upper cave. You will climb over approximately 27 boulder piles and scale an 8-foot high lava fall !

Last time I was there, I promised myself if I would ever bring my kid here , he'd have to be at least 8 y.o and in a good fitness shape.

Many parents being unfit themselves, AND bringing along little kids, create a lot of traffic jams in upper caves, thus preventing other people from truly enjoying this unique experience.


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Flightseeing Around Seattle, WA

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To have your childhood dream realized is a really big deal. At least for me. When I was a kid, I dreamed about becoming a test pilot, and later, just like my childhood role model Yuri Gagarin ( the first man in space ), a cosmonaut. But sometimes life has different plans for us...

Yet, the dream of flying one day is still very much alive. A few years ago, I was looking into getting my pilot license, but once again, I found excuses why I couldn't.

This time, I wanted to see if my son would share the same passion, and just to make his childhood a bit more memorable, I planned a scenic flight that showcased a bird's-eye view of Seattle sights and the surrounding area.

A one hour flight took us high and above our beloved city, we caught a beautiful view of Mt Rainier ( when the Mountain was "out" ), and flew over and all, but into Snoqualmie Falls.

I haven't given up on my childhood dream. One way or another, sooner or later I will fly. And who knows, may be one day, my son will share my passion of flying.

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