Tag Archives: hiking

Things to do, see, & eat in colorado springs

Colorado is gaining popularity as both an ideal place to live as well as an Instagram worthy travel destination. Not only is Colorado absolutely gorgeous (I mean come on- it inspired the song “America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates) but it also has something for outdoor enthusiasts, shoppers, and foodies alike. This summer I was lucky enough to go on a road trip through Colorado and stopped in Colorado Springs, Denver, and Boulder. Since Colorado Springs was my personal favorite and first stop, this guide will focus on what this scenic, vibrant city has to offer. Keep reading for some major travel inspiration and tips.

Things to Do & See

Hike at Garden of the Gods

Photo by Courtney Smith

Garden of the Gods is home to stunning sandstone formations and boasts an array of activities from hiking to Jeep tours. While there is no wrong way to explore this famous national landmark, hiking it is a truly special experience. Upon entering the park are some of the tallest formations that create impressive views both up close and far away as you venture onto different trails. The Perkins Center Garden Trail begins at the main parking lot and is an easy 1 ½ mile round trip journey that is paved and accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. If you don’t have time for much exploring at least do that trail to get up close and personal with some beautiful formations. Other great trails to take include the Palmer Trail (3 miles and away from traffic) as well as the Buckskin Charlie Trail (dramatic distance views). The park is free admission and parking so on top of being a classic Colorado Springs activity it’s easy on the wallet.

Visit the Manitou Cliff Dwellings 

Photo by Courtney Smith

Manitou Springs is located across the highway from Colorado Springs and is an adorable, culturally rich mountain town. It’s also home to Native American architecture known as the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. You are allowed to go inside the dwellings as well as touch them which makes it a really unique and interactive place to visit. Unless you’re a total history junkie the Cliff Dwellings are a pretty quick place to visit and go through which makes this an easy thing to fit into your trip. The cost is only $10 for adults and is free to those in wheelchairs.

Shop in Downtown/Historic Manitou Springs

Photo by Courtney Smith

Downtown Manitou Springs is home to many interesting shops that both locals and tourists can enjoy. Parking is not too hard to find and everything is quite close together which makes this an easy thing to do to fill up a morning or afternoon. The storefronts range from new to old and have a ton of character so it’s never difficult to find a picture-worthy spot or a fascinating store. Mixed in amongst the unique shops are souvenir shops that also allow you to pick up any souvenirs you want or promised to others. The Penny Arcade is a fun stop where you can play old fashioned arcade games for low prices and for all ages.

Drive to the Pikes Peak Summit

Photo by Courtney Smith

Pikes Peak has an elevation of a little over 14,000 feet and has been a Colorado travel staple for years. The drive to the summit includes breathtaking views, places to stop and shop/eat, photo opportunities, and hiking trails. It is extremely chilly at the top (it was 32 degrees when I went in June) so be sure to bring a jacket and dress in layers. Right now there is some construction so there is a park and shuttle system that is explained as you make your way to the top. This is an absolute must while in Colorado Springs and costs $15 per adult.

Challenge Yourself and Hike the Manitou Incline

Photo by Courtney Smith

The Manitou Incline is rated as “difficult” and isn’t for the faint of heart. With 2,744 steps and a 2,000 foot incline in slightly less than a mile, it takes some serious grit. Reaching the summit depends on fitness level and crowdedness on the incline but usually takes around an hour. It can get very steep so if you’re short (like me) or want some extra stability, I recommend hiking poles and good shoes. There are places along the incline to pull off to rest, refuel, and take pictures. The views are incredible and you definitely feel accomplished after reaching the top. After you climb the steps you follow the famous Barr Trail down to the parking lot for about 4 ½ miles. Plan on taking plenty of water, snacks, and a charged phone. There is a shuttle system to take you from Hiawatha Gardens building parking lot to the base of the incline for free. I did this and it was easier than finding a meter. Admission to the incline is also free. Good luck!

Places to Eat

Garden of the Gods Market & Cafe

Photo by Courtney Smith

Not only is this the perfect stop on the way to the park itself but it has an incredibly nice aesthetic inside. If you’ve ever been to Magnolia Table in Waco, Texas, this cafe has a similar feel. It’s light, airy, and perfect for brunch. The menu has a lot of tasty options and includes things like a daily quiche (my selection), hash, pancakes, french toast- basically all of your brunch essentials. Pricing is definitely moderate (about $13 per plate) but the quality and quantity of the food is well worth it. 

Urban Steam

Photo by Courtney Smith

Okay…maybe I’m brunch obsessed, but maybe Colorado Springs has an awesome brunch scene. Urban steam describes itself as selling “espresso, waffles, whiskey, [and] good times.” While it isn’t in the heart of downtown and you will need to drive or Uber it still packs a major brunch punch. The waffles were some of the best I have ever had and the coffee was smooth and delicious. With menu item names like “monkey-wrench” and “greasy granny” you know it’s going to be good. My waffles came with Nutella, bananas, whipped cream, walnuts, caramel sauce, and chocolate sauce. Needless to say it was an easy 10/10. Urban Steam also offers plenty of other items and cocktails to make it worth your while.

Sahara Cafe

Photo by Courtney Smith

Located in Manitou Springs, Sahara Cafe serves up tasty Middle Eastern cuisine. They feature all of the classic items you’d expect such as falafel, gyro, delicious salads, hummus plates, and chicken/beef shawarma. Pricing is really affordable here- make any sandwich a combo for $10.99 including a drink and a side. Portions are great for fueling your day or for sharing. It’s conveniently located near all of the shopping and sightseeing to do downtown as well.

Josh & John’s Ice Cream

Photo by Courtney Smith

What’s better than ice cream that’s slow churned with high quality ingredients? Nothing. Literally nothing. Josh & John’s Ice Cream is full of satisfying, dense flavor- but be prepared to wait if you go at a peak time. Locals love this place and once you have their Colorado Cookies and Cream or other signature flavor, you’ll be hooked too. 

Colorado Springs is a perfect destination for those looking to beat the Texas heat, get out in nature, do a little shopping, or explore a tasty local food scene. While Colorado is the perfect road trip destination, flight costs aren’t bad either, making it a solid choice for spring or summer travel on a college budget.

Top 6 Things to Bring on a Hiking Trip

This summer I went on a weeklong hiking excursion in Yosemite National Park. Its breathtaking views are something I will never forget and it was such a fun adventure.

I really believe being prepared for the trip was a key part of why I enjoyed myself so much despite having to hike mountains everyday. Here are the 7 things that I would recommend bringing to Yosemite National Park to make your trip more fun:

GAIA GPS

When you’re deep in the valley or on a forest trail, chances are you don’t have cellular connection or WiFi. I relied on GAIA GPS all the time to know where I was on trails. This app is free to download and shows all national park trails.

LifeStraw Water bottle

Yosemite park rangers recommend that every hiker carry at least 2 liters of water with them when they embark on a trail. The heat of summer and the high altitudes will make any athlete thirstier and more fatigued, so it’s important to stay hydrated. However, packs filled with heavy water bottles make hiking much less enjoyable and can put strain on your body. So, how do we stay hydrated while keeping a lighter backpack?

Through my experience, I found that Yosemite during the summer has naturally occurring water everywhere. Using my LifeStraw water bottle I can drink filtered, refreshing ice-cold water from natural springs, waterfalls, and rivers along the Yosemite trails. This water bottle reduced the amount of water I had to carry up mountains while giving me the opportunity to stay hydrated.

Photo by Kara Fields

Download a Playlist

As you drive into Yosemite Valley, you’ll hear your car radio go snap, crackle, and pop as you lose connection because of the mountains. Welcome to the wilderness. If you want to chill out and listen to music on your hike, don’t depend on cellular connection. I would recommend downloading a playlist onto your phone before embarking on your nature adventure. Don’t know what to play? Check out Burnt X’s Nature Trails Playlist on Spotify:

Hiking Shoes

If you’re going on a long hike, it’s important that you wear comfy, closed toed shoes that will give you good traction so you don’t slip off the edge of a cliff. Hiking shoes are excellent and can be bought second hand at places like REI for a more affordable price. Athletic shoes may also work, but make sure that they’re comfortable and will dry off quickly if they get wet.

Photo by Kara Fields

Go Pro Camera

Photo by Kara Fields

Now, you don’t need to bring this, but you can capture some incredible images and videos on this camera. This product has a stabilizer, time lapse modes, and is water resistant, making it the perfect adventure camera.

Snacks!

Photo from Unsplash

Bring lots and lots of snacks! You’ll be surprised by how much your body craves food during these long inclines and steep switchbacks. Make sure to also bring a Ziplock bag to keep wrappers or any food ruminants in to avoid being sniffed out by a bear.

First-Aid Kit

Photo from Unsplash

Now I honestly didn’t think we would need a first aid kit for these trails, but after my brother’s leg got sliced open by running into a sharp tree branch, it was a relief that we had Band-Aids and Neosporin on hand.

Trail guide to yosemite national park

This summer I finally crossed off an item on my bucket list of adventure trips: Hiking Yosemite National Park. My father and I have been planning this trip for what seemed like forever and were like two excited kids who were pumped for Disneyland. Much to the dismay of the rest of my glamping side of the family, we decided that we would go big or go home, only doing the most strenuous and the best hikes Yosemite had to offer.

The Adventure Dad. All photos courtesy of Kara Fields

There was one problem: None of us are experienced hikers. At all. My cardio regimen had disappeared altogether during my Freshman year of college and I don’t even think I could last 30mins on a Stair-master. Nevertheless, we were determined to do the most and to hike the equivalent of pretty much being on a Stair-master for at least 8 hours straight per day.

As you’ve probably guessed, I survived my trip and it’s not my ghost typing up my tale of adventure. Hiking in Yosemite was definitely a workout, but it was a lot easier than I thought it would be and the views were out of this world.

For the inexperienced hiker, these are the trails that I went on and what I really thought of them:

Upper Yosemite Falls

Mileage: 7.6 mile hike

Elevation: 6,936ft

Looking back, I’m glad that this was the first hike on my list because I would’ve ached way too much later in the week to attempt this strenuous hike. Yosemite Falls is by far the most iconic waterfall in Yosemite Valley and is the tallest waterfall in the park, measuring an impressive 2,425ft from summit to base.

If you’re thinking of hiking in Yosemite, you have to do this trail. The views of the valley get more and more impressive the higher you go and honestly the whole scene looks like a painting. You’ll be really proud of yourself once you reach the top.

The hike is mostly a series of steep switchbacks and I would recommend taking at least 2 liters of water with you or perhaps a LifeStraw so you can filter natural spring water that you find along the trail. You’re going to get thirsty. And on that note, also make sure to use the restroom before embarking on this trail because it’s a narrow mountain pass with basically nowhere to hide and pop-a-squat until you reach the top.

Upper Yosemite Falls is gorgeous and you can hear it roaring before you see it. You can feel the cool air coming off of the falls from quite a distance (a relief if you’re feeling hot’n sweaty).

Master Oogway Pro Tip: Slow and steady wins the race. There were these two ancient looking old ladies who slowly hiked their way to the top of this waterfall and were on their way back before we even reached the top. Why did they get there before all the youngsters with working knees? Because they weren’t sprinting up the side of the mountain and taking many breaks like we were. If you take it slow and steady, you’ll most likely reach the top faster and with minimal effort.

Mist Trail

Mileage: 7 mile hike

Elevation: 4,000ft

When they say that you get “mist” on this trail, it’s a gross understatement. This trail is freaking Splash Mountain. The spray and icy wind coming off of that mammoth of a waterfall will soak you on this trail, so be sure to bring extra socks and wear something water proof. Although the icy blast may sometimes feel as if you are on the sinking Titanic, this was definitely my favorite trail because of how beautiful it was. The spray from the waterfall combined with streaks of sunlight streaming from the forest above us meant that there were constant rainbows that could be seen throughout the ascent. The trail was so green and so misty that it looked like something out of Lord of the Rings. The trail opens onto a clearing at the top of the waterfall where you can lay back, have a snack, and let the sun dry you while you take in the views.

Pro tip: The stairs that are cut into the mountain leading up to the waterfall are slippery so I would not recommend going down the trail the same way you came up. Instead, take the John Muir trail back to the valley floor. It’s an easy downhill trail and you won’t get wet.

Taft Point

Mileage: 2.2miles

Elevation: 7,700ft

This was the hike that made me army-crawl down a massive granite slab. Not everyone did this – in fact no one did this -just me…because I have recently discovered that I have a crippling fear of accidentally yeeting my body off of a cliff.

Taft point is a place where you can stand at the edge of a 7,500ft cliff, one of the highest uninterrupted drop-off points in the park. The hike to the point itself is really easy and you go through some beautiful fairytale looking woods with snow still on the ground in late June. Then the forest abruptly ends, and you’re standing on a terrifying cliff with fissures that lead straight down to your death if you accidentally fall into one. It’s not actually as bad as I’m describing. There were young children running around on this cliff, guys lying on their bellies and peering over the edges, and lots of prairie dogs are daredevil squirrels that were just running along the gaping chasm. But me? Nuh-uh. Not today Satan. After stepping up onto Taft Point for an obligatory photo, I scooted on my butt past fearless young children and crawled my way to the edge of the forest for safety, leaving my family to their own devices.

Sentinel Dome

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

Mileage: 2.2 mile hike

Elevation: 8,100ft

Sentinel dome is probably the easiest hike for the greatest reward. It’s definitely not as high and nowhere as difficult as climbing the iconic Half Dome. However, I think this trail is very underrated because it carries some of the most impressive views the park has to offer. From the top of the dome, you have a complete panoramic view of the valley and can clearly see Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and El Capitan. The top of the dome still had lots of soft snow which many kids were sliding around in or having snowball fights.

Glacier point

Mileage: 1 mile hike or a twisty mountain drive

Elevation: 7,200ft

This point is extremely tourist heavy during midday because of its iconicity. There are bathrooms, a gift shop, and an amphitheater. You can either drive up to or hike up to this point. The views, as always, are very impressive and you can see a lot of the valley.

Moon rising

We went up here in the evening and stayed for nightfall so that I could try and get some long exposure shots of the sky. On a good night you can see the milky way, but unfortunately we chose a full moon night so there was too much light to be clearly seen. However, the moon rising was gorgeous and you could see Half Dome eerily lit by the moon in the quiet of night and see the lights of climbers strapped to the side of El Capitan.

Mirror Lake

Mileage: 5 miles (loop trail)

Elevation: 100ft

So this looks like a lake, but it’s actually just a really wide part of a river that will eventually lead to waterfalls and crazy rapids, so if you decide to swim just be mindful. Mirror Lake is a popular swimming destination, but honestly I don’t really think it’s all that impressive. Swimming at Barton Springs or Lady Bird Lake is just as great.

A lot of families just stop once they reach the lake, go swimming, and then turn back around. But not us. We’re a whole lot of extra. Instead, we hiked a trail that would loop us back around to the entrance. For the most part, the trail was easy or at least was meant to be easy, but there was a landslide that covered a large part of it so we had to climb and wiggle our way through that mess. We saw a lot of wildlife and I almost stepped on a rattlesnake, so watch out.

I wouldn’t do this hike again, but if you have young children, want an easy trail, and want to swim in ice water, then this is the spot for you.

Half Dome

Moon rise over half dome

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do this one because we hadn’t booked far enough in advance. Make sure to register for this hike about a year in advance or take part in the nightly raffle (12:00AM) to secure a spot. If all else fails, be one of the first to stand outside of the Wilderness center and perhaps receive the permit to hike up Half Dome from someone who cancelled last minute.