30 6 / 2014

16 6 / 2014

THINGS TO DO AROUND SEATTLE - #10 NORTH COAST, OREGON

After Saturday morning at Columbia River Gorge amidst the canyon, river and waterfalls and Saturday night at Portland downtown, it was time to hit the coast on Sunday. As the plan was to head back to Seattle by Sunday night, we did the north coast of Oregon, starting with Cannon Beach, then heading north to Seaside to Astoria, and finally back to Seattle.

Cannon Beach is 1.5 hr drive northwest of Portland, and as you enter, you will be greeted by a cute little downtown, with local restaurants, gift, kite, ice-cream shops, bakeries, cafes, etc…a perfect beach town for the summer. But before hitting the beach or taking a leisurely stroll through the downtown, I’d recommend start with the best thing this place has to offer…the cliff-top Crescent Beach view from Ecola State Park.

 

About 1-2 miles from Cannon Beach downtown, entry into Ecola State Park costs $5 and you can drive right upto the lookout point without having to hike. Although a hike would have made the final end view seem even sweeter, but it is the most spectacular coastal view you will have ever seen…it is what paintings are made of. The view of the uninhabited Crescent beach, the Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, the numerous other rock formations, the blue water, the clear sky, the ocean wind…it is truly picture perfect! Take your best wine to sip while you sit at the bench to enjoy one of the best sights of your life. Next time I go here, I’m probably going to sit here for half a day instead of the measly one-hour we spent.

 

Close to Ecola State Park are Indian Beach, popular among surfers and kayakers and Crescent Beach, favorite among locals, hence largely deserted. The majority of tourists will be at Cannon Beach, with the anchor point being Haystack Rock. It’s a magnificent piece of rock, best seen from close quarters during low tide. It almost feels like a magnet, attracting every visitor’s eyes towards itself. Sun, sand, the rock and some wine made for an afternoon well spent at the beautiful Cannon Beach. Grab a bite somewhere downtown and then head northwards.

 

Our next stop was Seaside, another beach town, but the moment we entered, we knew we wanted to get out.  The street to the beach is like a commercialized street meets amusement park – with slot machines, shopping malls and what not. A big downgrade after Cannon Beach, so my reco is, don’t even bother going here.

 

After a quick 10-min drive through Seaside, we headed to our last stop in Oregon, the town of Astoria. The best attraction here is the 125-foot Astoria column, which can be climbed with 164-step spiral to the top. Another spot I definitely want to visit is Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark ended their westward journey. Unfortunately we did not have enough time for that, so after a dinner at one of the restaurants that offered gorgeous views of the Columbia River, we drove across the 4-mile Astoria bridge, and struck 101 N.

 

It is unbelievable sometimes that every new leg of your journey can be as beautiful as the last one. Just when we thought we were about to leave behind the scenic views, the drive through 101N continued the momentum of our picturesque getaway, making for a perfect ending.

 

Address:

Cannon Beach - ‪Highway 101, Cannon Beach, OR ‪97110

Ecola State Park - 84318 Ecola State Park Rd, Cannon Beach, OR 97110

Cannon Beach Visitor Center - Right in the heart of downtown Cannon Beach at the intersection of 2nd and Spruce. As a best practice, always hit the Visitor Centre at any place to get the local know-how, the must-dos and the quickest routes.

 

Other things to do around:

http://weekend-getaway.tumblr.com/post/88377352899/columbia-river-gorge

 

Other helpful links:

http://www.travelportland.com/article/oregon-coast-overview/

http://www.cannonbeach.org

10 6 / 2014

THINGS TO DO AROUND SEATTLE - #9 COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE, PORTLAND, OREGON

Oregon is beautiful, more beautiful than Washington. Being in Seattle, feel pretty lucky to have so many gorgeous destinations to go to, all within driving distance, making for perfect weekend getaways.

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, one-hour east of Portland and 3-hr drive from Seattle, marked my first visit to Oregon and what a beautiful way to start. The Historic Columbia River Highway is an incredibly scenic drive along the gorge, with breathtaking panoramic views, ample waterfalls and plenty hiking trails.

First stop is Vista House at Crown Point, sit here for a good chunk of time and you still wouldn’t get enough of the breathtaking views of the landscape. As you drive further, the trail of waterfalls begins. First was Latourel Falls, which we enjoyed the most because we could get up, close and personal. A small pathway at the entrance goes to the base of the falls and takes you really close to this water force. Then come the tiered waterfalls, Sheppard’s Dell followed by Bridal Veil. Wahkeena Falls precede the famous Multnomah Falls by a quarter of a mile or so. Multnomah is popular because it is the tallest in North America after Yosemite at 620-ft,  and is visible from I-84 too. The Lodge here, though makes for a good break to grab a bite. The last one for us was Horsetail Falls and then we headed to Portland downtown.

We’re definitely going back here, and going back for more…Kiteboarding at Hood River, more Falls and hikes, 35-mile Fruit Loop that takes you through the farmlands and orchards, enjoy local food at Hood River downtown, wind down at the breweries and wineries, explore Mt.Hood National Forest and the scenic byway. Will need the entire weekend instead of just a day to explore this area completely. 

 

More info and links:

http://www.travelportland.com/article/two-days-columbia-river-gorge/

http://www.columbiarivergorge.info/waterfalls.html

http://traveloregon.com

 

Address:

Vista House at Crown Point will be your starting GPS destination - 40700 E Historic Columbia River Hwy Corbett, OR 97019). Then keep following the signs

26 4 / 2014

THINGS TO DO AROUND SEATTLE - #8 TULIP FESTIVAL, SKAGIT VALLEY, MOUNT VERNON

Everybody in and around Seattle will go to the Tulip Festival once in his or her lifetime…and why not, if you get Holland-like landscape in your backyard for 1 month every year.

Come April / springtime and you will find the weekend traffic headed to one destination, to Mt.Vernon to watch the tulips in bloom. The usual 1-hr drive from Seattle turns into a 3-hr traffic nightmare. And then the endless wait at the Tulip gardens can be discouraging.

So not knowing about the traffic conditions on I-5, we followed the Google Map directions to reach the visitor center at 311 W. Kincaid, which easily took us over 2 hrs. But the volunteer there helped us with an alternate route, to go further north on I-5 upto Exit 230, and then take State Route 20 back to the tulip area. That worked out pretty well, but for anybody going there, I highly recommend avoiding I-5 completely. We actually avoided the popular and over-crowded Tulip Town and Roozengaarde, and instead preferred the smaller and less-crowded tulip fields in the vicinity. I don’t know what I missed by not going to the above 2 gardens, but I found the other tulip farms to be just beautiful and enjoyable. Tulips in red, yellow, purple, pink and then the yellow daffodils, with mountains in the background…beautiful landscape…pretty, pretty sight. I think a good way to overcome the traffic stress would be to ride your bikes once you are in the tulip area – skip the cars, get some workout and enjoy the sun and flowers.

After 2 hrs with the colorful tulips, we headed to Deception Pass, 20 mins drive away, and chilled on the beach in the spring sun. By far, the best way to relax on a Saturday evening. Couldn’t get enough of the sun after all those gloomy days!

On our way back, we stopped at La Conner and dined at the waterfront restaurant, Nell Thorn. Amazziinng food, highly recommend going here. Another popular stop on this route is Snow Goose Produce, well-known for its ice-cream and local farm produce. A good ice-cream would have been the perfect ending to a eventful and a beautiful day, but it was shut by the time we got there. Maybe another time…

 

Address: Farms don’t exactly have a GPS address as flowers don’t get mail, but these are some helpful landmarks –

Roozengarde: 15867 Beaver Marsh Road, Mount Vernon, WA 98273

Visitor Center: I-5 Exit 226, 311 W. Kincaid, Mount Vernon, WA

More on Deception Pass: http://weekend-getaway.tumblr.com/post/69443031584/deception-pass

02 3 / 2014

THINGS TO DO AROUND SEATTLE - #7 DISCOVERY PARK – BALLARD LOCKS

This is not a standard, oft-repeated itinerary but could make for a good daylong outing if you don’t want to go too far from Seattle.

 

Start your day with a hike at Discovery Park, which is supposed to be the largest public park within the city limits, has about 11 mile worth of trails. Take the North Beach trail, or the South Beach or the Loop trail, you’ll enjoy the shade, the meadows and the views of the Sound. It’s a great spot for a sunrise or a sunset hike. Just where the North beach and South beach meet is West Point and also the Lighthouse, which makes for a good photography spot. I hiked the South loop, which made for a nice and easy 2-hr hike. Go to the visitor center if you want maps or more information, or chill out at the beach for a while.

 

10-min drive from Discovery Park is Ballard Locks, a pretty cool thing to watch if you’ve never seen it in action. Locks basically help boats go from one waterway to another, in this case from Sound (saltwater) to Lake Union and Lake Washington (freshwater). The boats enter into that thin area between the two gates; the water fills-up or drains out and out the boats go towards their destination. And while you watch these boats in action, you’ll also have the salmon jumping out of the water every once in a while to give you quick-glimpse company.

Go to the fish ladder window to know why it was built, (to help the spawning fish to swim to the freshwater side) and see the fishes swim by. And then wind down at the botanical garden, and enjoy the scene from a distance.

 

You can also hang out at one of the many restaurants and breweries in Ballard and have a fun end to a fun day.

  

Discovery Park - 3801 Discovery Park Blvd, Seattle, WA 98199

Hiram M. Chittenden Locks - 3015 NW 54th St, Seattle, WA 98107 (Ballard); 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

19 1 / 2014

THINGS TO DO AROUND SEATTLE - #6 POINT DEFIANCE STATE PARK

What happens when you want to make the most of one weekend and have already had a ski trip to Stevens Pass on Saturday? Your mind wants to still go out on Sunday but your body REFUSES to co-operate. Point Defiance State Park could be the perfect place to go to in such a scenario. It’s a great place to go to on any given day, but particularly this one, because apart from the hiking, biking and all other outdoorsy stuff, you can also simply drive through the park and enjoy the sights.

 

An hour drive away from Seattle, this park is located at the tip of Tacoma, and gives you views of the Vashon Island right across. As you approach the park from Pearl Street, you are first greeted with a pond, garden and pagodas, already setting a beautiful stage. Go a little further and you will find the signs of Five Mile Drive, which was our main attraction to visit this park. The Five Mile Drive takes you around the entire stretch of the park, offering amazing views of the water, islands, bridges and the entire landscape. There are many lookout areas where you can stop for a while to enjoy these scenes, benches to sit and picnic at, grassy playgrounds to laze on. Every stop is sooo peaceful, you’ll be amazed you can be transported to another place within an hour’s drive from city life. It is like having the peace of nature transcend upon you while the cityscape is still in your view, and this contrast never struck me so well until now.

 

On the way, you will also find a lot of trails that will take you through the interiors of this 700-acre park, but that was not on our agenda this time, so after a few stops, we headed to Owen beach. The beach itself is small, but offers a long stretch of walk, picnic tables, and kayak rentals in the summer. Its beautiful here, and the summertime is going to be even more beautiful for sure.

Ahead on the drive is Fort Nisqually, which gives you a glimpse into the lives of people who lived here years ago. Visit the museum to get a sneak peek into the history of this place, and then you can decide if you want to spend more time here.

 

We hit the park at 2PM and by the time we finished our Five Mile Drive, it was about 4.30PM and the December sun was already setting on us. You could visit the Zoo, which is known for beautiful holiday lighting, the aquarium, Japanese gardens, the marina, and sync-up with some local festival happenings.

 The only thing I would have changed in this visit, was to have a little bit of more sun! But that is one wish you will have for 5 months of the year, if you’re living in Seattle. Looking forward to revisiting this place in the summer!

 

Address: 5400 N Pearl St, Tacoma, WA 98407

08 12 / 2013

THINGS TO DO AROUND SEATTLE - #5 DECEPTION PASS

A friend recommended a weekend visit to Deception Pass as a place with a bridge connecting 2 islands and beautiful views. Being in Seattle, islands don’t feel that exotic anymore, but the combination of the name ‘Deception Pass’, promise of beautiful views, the islands, waters and hikes still felt like and proved to be an enticing combination.

 

Deception Pass Bridge is located in the Deception Pass State Park at Oak Harbor, around 2-hr drive away from Seattle. It is the same route you take to get to Anacortes for heading to San Juan. We went there in late October as family was visiting that time, so got a good combination of Fall colors on the way and the anticipated winter gloom. But once we reached the Deception Pass Bridge, the breathtaking view blew us away, despite the fog! There is good parking space before and after the bridge. Recommend going in full winter gear if you want to walk across the bridge and linger to enjoy the view and take pictures. And going there, you would want to spend some time on the bridge, soaking the views on both sides.

We parked our car crossing the bridge; we took a small <1mile trail that led us to the Deception Pass beach. The driftwood on the beach, the brief sunlight, the sea-birds (for lack of better word) made marveling the bridge from the bottom more enjoyable. Couldn’t help thinking about the setting in summer and promised to come back in warmer weather. There are other trailheads from there to the amphitheater or the west beach which you could hike through, but we drove to those spots instead as we were short on time.

Hadn’t done much research before heading here, so just drove around to explore the spots and followed the brown and green boards on the road that announced trailheads or beaches. Another detour from the other end of the bridge took us to Rosario Beach if I remember correctly. Some short trails, grassy park, water, boats, the views, some information on tidal pools…sitting on the park bench gave good quiet time!

 

I am sure summer time is busier and I will be more enthusiastic to explore the trails and the waters and even try camping maybe. But all in all, a great one-day outing! Deception Pass has spots to enjoy the views from the top and the bottom, the beaches and the trails, without anything being over-tiring. There are some whale-watching tours and sunset tours that are available from this area. On our way back, we stopped by a pumpkin farm that sold fresh vegetable produce.

 

Address: 5175 N State Hwy 20, Oak Harbor, Whidbey Island, WA 98277

 

Other things to do around:

http://weekend-getaway.tumblr.com/post/56761374840/san-juan-islands

http://weekend-getaway.tumblr.com/post/83932467261/tulip-festival

25 10 / 2013

THINGS TO DO AROUND SEATTLE - #4.3 RUBY BEACH AND QUINAULT RAINFOREST

After Rialto beach in the evening, we started Day 3 with a morning beach experience at Ruby beach. And it was just as beautiful! The sun, the sand and the sea, with the rocks to climb on, driftwood to sit on and the crashing waves…all come together to relax your mind and body. We spent 2 hours here, climbing on the rocks and bathing in the sea, feeling tired…but good tired.

An hour drive from Ruby beach took us to Quinault rainforest…another amazing spot! Luckily it was drizzling a little that day, and the entire place looked surreal! It was soo lush green, and so dewy and humid and so natural, it was like an addictive and heavy dose of nature seeping into your body system forever. There are a lot of trails here, so recommend dropping at the visitor center and get some maps and knowledge on different trails, what each has to offer and then pick as per your inclination. There’s also Lake Quinault. There’s also a 3-hr Rainforest Safari or a tour that happens here at 9am and 1pm, which we clearly missed as we started our day only at 11am and got to Quinault only by 3pm. But it could be worth checking out, because all the information makes the hike more engaging.

We ended our trip on chilling at Lake Quinault and dining at Salmon House restaurant, a great ending to a great trip!

Other things to do around:

http://weekend-getaway.tumblr.com/post/62677870715/olympic-peninsula

http://weekend-getaway.tumblr.com/post/63347928612/olympic-peninsula-day1

http://weekend-getaway.tumblr.com/post/64188673785/olympic-peninsula-day2

16 10 / 2013

THINGS TO DO AROUND SEATTLE - #4.2 HOH RAINFOREST & RIALTO BEACH

Day 2 started with a hearty American breakfast at Granny’s Café and then it was to Hoh Rainforest. I had never visited a real rainforest, just the cheesy ones that some hotels and restaurants try to create, which almost makes you hate it.

But one visit to Hoh and Quinault, and you prolly realize why someone would want to recreate this atmosphere in his or her own space. But then, you can never really recreate it, right? You have to visit the real rainforest, enjoy the natural thing, soak it in and take it with you in memories, experience or pictures. Replicating it just seems fake!

The two trails worth doing here are the Hall of Mosses and Spruce trails – short, easy, give a great snapshot of a rainforest, old growth, large tress – just looks so wild, chaotic, green and out worldly. These places really transport you to a different space. It won’t take more than an hour or two. We also took the 3 mile river trail, upto a waterfall, which wasn’t worth it. If you have hiked enough in northwest, then you will have seen better waterfalls around Seattle. But if you have enough time and you’re out there for hiking and camping, then definitely worth it. As the name suggests, it hugs the Hoh river and gives some beautiful sights too. Consider yourself lucky if it has rained during your visit, because then the place transforms to a whole new level. But don’t forget to simply sit in the rainforest to catch a quiet moment in your life. You can’t get a better setting than this.

After some 4 hrs at Hoh, we headed to Rialto beach, a 1.5 hr drive away. As you get closer to La Push towards Rialto, you will see the boards of Third Beach, then Second Beach and the last one being First beach. We first hit First beach and were amazed at how beautiful it was and couldn’t believe we could switch from a rainforest to a beach in such short time! Just hang out here and enjoy the sea-breeze. After this, we headed to Second beach, and boy, we were enthralled! There’s almost a mile hike to the beach and with all the hikes since morning, we were exhausted and almost going to skip it. But a nudge from a fellow traveller made us stretch ourselves, and it was totally worth it!! Omg, more than worth it. You have to just go here. The rocks, the driftwood, the sea, the crashing waves, the beach campers, the clouds and the sun…it was the perfect moment on the perfect beach.

Next time, we are definitely camping on the beach, but for now, we crashed at Olsons cabins in Forks. Try getting dinner early or carry some food, as Forks, the anchor town in this area does not have many options. Forks also has ‘Twilight’ as claim to fame if that interests you.

Address:

Hoh Rainforest - 18118 Upper Hoh Road, Olympic National Park, WA

Rialto Beach – used Quileute Oceanside Resort, 330 Ocean Dr, La Push, WA 98350 to get to First Beach

Other things to do around:

http://weekend-getaway.tumblr.com/post/62677870715/olympic-peninsula

http://weekend-getaway.tumblr.com/post/63347928612/olympic-peninsula-day1

http://weekend-getaway.tumblr.com/post/65025123785/olympic-peninsula-day-3

06 10 / 2013

THINGS TO DO AROUND SEATTLE - #4.1 PORT ANGELES, SOL-DUC, LAKE CRESCENT, HURRICANE RIDGE

We always plan on starting early for our trips, but somehow fail to hear the alarm on such days! Thank god for our downtown location, despite a delayed start, we managed to hop on the 10.30AM ferry to Bainbridge island from Pier 52. If you manage to start a little early, then plan to have your breakfast at one of the many cute cafes and eateries @ Bainbridge island.

After a 35 minute ferry ride, a drive-thru Subway breakfast and a 2 hr drive, we reached Port Angeles, which wasn’t our destination, but that’s the big town in this area with hotels, restaurants, etc. It served as our anchor point on Day 1 and that’s where we were put up for the night. The plan was to start from the farthest point and then wind back to the hotel in Port Angeles.

First stop was Sol-Duc falls, which is almost an hour-long drive from Port Angeles. The hike to the falls is an easy 0.8 miles and a typical northwest hike with huge trees, mossy way and lush green. On first glance, it looks like one of the innumerable falls around Seattle, but the water flow kind of changes its angle when it falls off the cliff – like a 90 degree  perpendicular turn. Spend some time here, go off the trail and climb down the the rocks to the stream, freshen up in the cool water and the hike will feel worth it.

We left from Sol-Duc at around 3.30 and headed to Lake Crescent, whose glimpse we had caught on our way already. It looked so beautiful on our drive to Sol-Duc that we couldn’t wait to come back and take a dip! We pulled over at one of the spots, laid out our spread of wine, cheese, fruits, sweet goodies and let the sun bake our body and the lake-water cool our skin. The blue-green water, the surrounding mountains and perfect weather almost made us want to camp there for the night.

But we wrapped up by 5.30 to drive to our last destination for the day, the Hurricane Ridge Drive. To be honest, being just back from a Denver trip, the Hurricane Ridge Drive kinda pales, but do not under-estimate the unique view it offers – mountains on one side and the sea on the other. Go to the visitor center, walk the small hikes, don’t forget to carry a warm jacket and enjoy the mountain peace.

Back to Port Angeles for dinner and ready to crash for another beautiful day.

 

Address:

Sol-Duc Falls -  Latitude : 47.9514; Longitude :-123.819

Hurricane Ridge Drive - Olympic National Park, 3002 Mount Angeles Road, Port Angeles, WA 98362

Lake Crescent – you’ll find it on your way to Sol-Duc. It’s huge, serene and beautiful.

Other things to do around:

http://weekend-getaway.tumblr.com/post/62677870715/olympic-peninsula

http://weekend-getaway.tumblr.com/post/64188673785/olympic-peninsula-day2

http://weekend-getaway.tumblr.com/post/65025123785/olympic-peninsula-day-3

29 9 / 2013

THINGS TO DO AROUND SEATTLE - #4.0 OLYMPIC PENINSULA

If there is one place where the mountains, beaches, rainforests, lakes, waterfalls and rivers – all come together to give you a marvelous spectacle of nature and create an unforgettable travel experience, it is THE Olympic Peninsula.

A peninsula, by definition, is land surrounded by water on three sides. The Olympics Peninsula has the Pacific Ocean to the west, Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north and Hood Canal to the east. At the center of it all are the Olympic Mountains. And the wilderness around contains the Hoh and Quinault rainforests, the only temperate rainforests in US.

We chose the Labor Day weekend to complete the Loop over 3 days and had a nice spaced-out itinerary to enjoy each spot to the fullest

Day 1: Sat – Port Angeles, Hurricane Ridge Drive, Sol-duc falls and Lake Crescent

Day 2: Sun – Hoh Rainforest, Rialto beach

Day 3: Mon – Ruby beach, Quinault rainforest, Lake Quinault

The entire drive came to around 450 miles with about $400 per person

My google map here - https://www.google.com/maps/ms?msid=210265333085674525508.0004e3a542b680b5f40e4&msa=0&ll=47.783635,-123.483582&spn=0.920899,2.331848

Detail post links:

http://weekend-getaway.tumblr.com/post/63347928612/olympic-peninsula-day1

http://weekend-getaway.tumblr.com/post/64188673785/olympic-peninsula-day2

http://weekend-getaway.tumblr.com/post/65025123785/olympic-peninsula-day-3

24 8 / 2013

THINGS TO DO AROUND SEATTLE - #3 HIKING - LAKE ANNETTE

The best introduction I got about the outdoors in Seattle was somewhat like this…“Even if you hiked your whole life in this region, you would still not exhaust every trail around”. I didn’t quite understand it until I discovered the world of hiking around Seattle. Coming from mid-west, where the topography is flat, the trees relatively stunted and the trails sparsely populated, hiking was more akin to walking long stretches.

 

Seattle / Pacific North-West hiking was a huge change – there are detailed sites and dedicated meetups for hiking, trails have switchbakcs and elevation gains, everyone has hiking shoes-clothes-poles-bags-food etc. In short, it seems like a serious sport!  But that does not mean hiking is not for everyone. There are tons of hikes for each difficulty level and everyone can graduate to the next level. It is just that if you are not used to the trails here, a difficult hike will take you longer than what it will take a seasoned hiker.

The proximity to nature will transform you - the trees and forest growth is so tall and dense that you feel like you are on a different planet (this happens for the first 2-3 hikes), there are waterfalls all around, rivers and lakes, different terrains… I found it beautiful and challenging at the same time.

 

Coming to Lake Annette, instead of describing everything, a link to wta.org page will suffice as it has all the details with latest updates and reviews - http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/annette-lake

I’ll let the pictures do more talking…and end with just one message ‘Pick a trail every weekend and GO EXPLORE’.

15 8 / 2013

THINGS TO DO AROUND SEATTLE - #2.2 COLORADO – ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK (RMNP)

RMNP is to the north-west of Denver and needless to say, a must-visit for any mountain and nature lover.

 

The drive from our hotel in Westminster to Estes Park was around 50 miles, which took about 1.5 hrs. Estes Park is like the entry point to RMNP. As you enter the area, you will start feeling the mountain air, get greeted by lakes and can almost anticipate all that RMNP is going to be! Our first stop was at the Visitor Center at Estes Park and the most crucial one I’d say. The staff there warned us to target reaching the Denver airport atleast 3 hrs before the flight time given the traffic on our way back, avoiding the toll-highway, the time for car rental return etc, and it was indeed the most useful tip. That gave us a time-window of 5 hrs to make the most of our time at RMNP.

 

The map marked out by the staff at Visitor Center covered the entire loop from Estes Park to Alpine Visitor Center (20 miles) to Grand Lake (another 20 miles) and then back to Denver via Idaho Springs. Given our time constraint, we knew we would not be able to complete the loop. So on starting at 10AM from Estes Park, we decided to drive only till Alpine Visitor Center until 1.30PM, drive the same route back to touch Estes Park by 2.15PM and then a 2-hour drive to the airport exit. Surprisingly, we managed to stick to our schedule to safely catch our flights back home.

 

So what made those 5 hours at RMNP amazing? Spontaneity, tough choices and the desire to enjoy every single minute we spend there. There are a lot of overlooks and stopovers – starting with Beaver Meadows Visitor Centre, Deer Ridge Junction, Hidden Valley, Forest Canyon, Rock Cut, Gore Range Overlook if you take Rt 36 and Fall River Visitor Center, Sheep Lakes, Horseshoe Park, Alluvial Fan, Old Fall River Road if you take Rt 34.

With 3 of us, each picked up 2 spots to stop at with everyone agreeing on doing the small hike to the top at Alpine Visitor Center. Carry a winter jacket or sweater s it can get cold and windy sometimes. We took pit stops on Horseshoe Park on Rt 34, then merged to Rt 36, and stopped at Deer Ridge Junction, Forest Canyon and Gore Range from the mapped ones and then took 2 other pit-stops on a whim wherever we liked the sights. Wish we had more time to go hiking, horse-back riding, camping!

 

The mountain range feels so gigantic and majestic, that it puts a sense of perspective back into your life. The lakes are cozily tucked in between mountains and the views of the valley stretch to eternity. For me, no amount of pictures I click can completely capture the essence of being there amidst the mountains in the summer sun and cool mountain air! And that’s the time I put my camera in the bag and simply soaked in the moment.

What an exciting, power-packed, whirl-wind trip! 

My Google map - https://www.google.com/maps/ms?msid=210265333085674525508.0004e181de1898f0bc991&msa=0

12 8 / 2013

THINGS TO DO AROUND SEATTLE - #2.1 COLORADO - IDAHO SPRINGS

Idaho Springs is around 30 miles west of Denver and totally worth spending a day at.

 

White Water Rafting – 7AM to Noon.

We started at about 6:45AM from our hotel in Westminster for Idaho Springs, which took about 1.5 hrs. The 1st thing we had planned for the day was white water rafting. Can’t explain the thrill and excitement of navigating the rapids, rescuing a fellow member and taking a break in between to jump off a cliff! Once you do this, there is no doubt you will want to do more. There are 3-4 options in this area that offer rafting at Clear Creek. We chose Liquid Descent as they were the only ones with spots available for a morning Intermediate half-day rafting trip. So if you want a particular time, recommend booking a bit in advance. The prep on instructions, wearing wetsuits, travelling to the rafting spot, etc lasted about 1.5 hrs from 8AM to 9.30AM, and then we hit the water. After being in water for little over an hr, we headed back to the main office and enjoyed a slideshow of our funniest expressions! We wound up at about 12-12.30 and lunched at a BBQ joint in Idaho Springs downtown. There are many other options here.

 

Next on the plan was ATV tour. The choice at this time was between having a completely packed day with activities or space it out to visit fewer places but enjoy them peacefully. After reminding ourselves that we were on a vacation and not on a productivity tour, we skipped the ATV tour and instead straightaway headed for the Mt.Evans scenic byway. But if you have more time, exploring the mountains here on ATVs could be very exciting.

 

2PM to 7PM - Mt.Evans scenic drive is around 30 miles and the beauty is simply breath taking! The first stop is Echo lake and the reaction we had was ‘how can something be so serene and beautiful’. We could easily sit there for hours and do nothing. We spent about a little less than an hour at the lake and then stopped for a coffee at Echo lake lodge, which is 2 mins driving distance from the lake. Having hot coffee sitting at the lodge bar with the view of the lake was refreshing.

The next stop was Summit Lake and I solemnly declare that this is my most favorite lake in the world!!! The mountains in the background, the surreal mirage-like lake water, the dancing wildflowers…this place for me was magical. The entire setting created such a strong impression on my mind, I feel I could just go to that spot in my mind whenever I wanted. It sort-of reminded me of a spot in Ladakh, India…giving a sense of remoteness, unharmed beauty, peace, harmony and happiness. 

We easily spent an hour here and then started the drive to the very top. The roads are curvy and scary, but if you have driven in India, this won’t seem bad at all. There is a Visitor’s center at the top and a small hike to go to the very top of the mountain. The views, as expected, are simply awesome. Bring your winter jacket or some warm sweater as it is very cold and windy, even on the best summer day.

Needless to say, the entire drive is so scenic, that we tried to stop to take pictures whenever possible, but the drive gets narrower and steeper as you go up and do not recommend stopping without thinking. You will also spot the mountain sheep, marmots, etc…one or two on any day, and a herd if you’re lucky.

 

Drive back to Westminster will take 2 hrs, so plan your day accordingly. But do not miss the opportunity to drive, stop, hike, photograph, and enjoy nature at this very beautiful place.

 

More details:

Rafting - http://www.coloradorafting.com, $50 / head

ATV Tour - http://www.quadsquadatvtours.com

My Google map - https://www.google.com/maps/ms?msid=210265333085674525508.0004e180e231da21d6b03&msa=0

08 8 / 2013

THINGS TO DO AROUND SEATTLE - #2.0 COLORADO – DENVER, BOULDER, IDAHO SPRINGS, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK…

If you love mountains, you will love CO. If you love nature, you’ll love CO. If you love adventure, you’ll love CO. If you love the outdoors, you’ll love CO. What the heck, you cannot not love CO!!

It seems strange that my 2nd post on things to do around Seattle is not one of the innumerable things you can do around here, but about a visit to another state. But we just happened to plan a quick vacation at a spot that was equidistant from Mid-west and West coast. By far, it turned out to be one of the most spontaneous yet the most memorable weekend-getaway! And the end of it, all of us had the same conclusion…we are definitely coming back for more.

So given the tight schedule, we had to make some hard choices of what to do and what not to do.

 

Friday night - is when we landed and headed to Denver downtown. 16th street is a pedestrian area in downtown full of shops, bars and restaurants. You could take a horse carriage ride if you want to do something romantic or instead drink, eat and chill, as we did. It’s worth spending some time here.

 

Saturday – was at Idaho Springs – the broad agenda being white water rafting, ATV tour and Mt.Evans scenic byway.

 

Sunday – was at Rocky Mountain National Park until 1PM and then drove back to Denver airport, which probably has to be among the worst airports in US. So whatever your flight time is, plan to reach the airport exit atleast 3 hrs in advance – 30- 40 mins to drive once you take the airport exit, atleast 1 hr for rental car return and account for 1 hr for baggage check-in and security check.

 

More details: www.tripadvisor.com, travel in 2 days – approx. 400 miles, spent close to $600 per head excluding the flight tickets.