The vast majority of the people who kayak the Wailua River are there to hike to the least-secret Secret Falls we know. Being ourselves, we couldn’t limit our activities to the things on the beaten path.
We don’t know who put up the rope swing, but we’ll bet it wasn’t a tourist. Tourists just don’t carry around enough rope. Nor are they very motivated to leave behind something fun for the next person. Read more
This is an excellent, fairly easy hike and it surprised us that we waited so long to discover it. The hike is mostly shady except for one section and there are several easy stream crossings that only require stepping across rocks. This a great family hike. Read more
The Altadena Crest Trail is not very well known, which makes it a great place to hike, mostly free of mountain bikers or horses. The trail winds through excellent chaparral in the low foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.
It has steep sections and switchbacks to climb out of the small canyons but the views at each outside turn make it work the minor effort. Read more
Driving north from our overnight at America’s Worst Value Inn was a great break from a bad experience. Just north of Bath, the traveler needs to make a choice between the freeway and the coastal road. Speed versus charm. It was an easy choice.
Traffic was light on a Sunday morning and we quickly made our way through the gorgeous communities like Rockland, Thomaston, Belfast, Searsport and Bucksport. Each town was a remarkably well preserved picture of coastal New England and if not for our goal of Acadia National Park, we could have spent a day in any one of those places.
By the time we finally made the turn toward Acadia in the town of Ellsworth, we were already planning our weeks-long trip up the coast for some future date. Read more
We’re very fortunate to live so close to Eaton Canyon. Only blocks from our home, we hike there several times each week and it has been our preparation spot for bigger hikes like Mt Whitney, Mt Shuksan and even the Himalaya of Nepal. One of the greatest adventures in our own back yard is canyoneering down Lower Eaton Canyon and its myriad of large and small waterfalls.
People who never venture out of the city don’t realize how natural and ‘alive’ the canyons are just above their city.
Before you read further, please know the following: This is one of the best day adventures in the San Gabriel mountains but ONLY for those with climbing skills and the right equipment. This should also NOT be confused with attempting to climb the sketchy trails that go up the canyon (that often end in rescues and have resulted in deaths).
You should have, as a minimum, the following gear:
Sometimes the most amazing adventures are found really close to home. If you live in LA, there are few more beautiful places to visit as close by as Santa Barbera County Wine Country. And there are few better ways to see it than by motorcycle. Santa Barbara is just a couple of hours away but is a world apart from very busy Los Angeles.
We loaded up the bike in our truck (we don’t ride on freeways) to take it first to Jalama Beach, an amazing Santa Barbara County park on the sea just south of Vandenburg Air Force Base, the site of most missile launches on the West Coast. What makes Jalama special is its isolation. It sits at the end of a beautifully winding 22.5 km (15 miles) road that keeps away the traffic, as the only destination for anyone traveling this stretch is one of the few farm houses or the park itself. Read more
Mt San Gorgonio in the San Bernardino Mountains is more than the highest peak in Southern California at 3506 m (11,503 ft)…it is also also the 18th most prominent mountain in the United States. The peak is visible from great distances and nicknamed “Old Greyback.” It has the strange distinction of claiming the lives of Frank Sinatra’s mother and the son of Dean Martin in separate plane crashes.
While there is camping along the trail at the campsites listed below, we chose to climb Mt San Gorgonio in a single day. Even though we chose the shortest path to the summit, it made for a very long hike of 29 km (18 miles) round trip.
We started off at 7am on an unusually cold but sunny day for the end of May. The trail started as a gravel road that continued from the parking lot along the bank of an enormous and rocky wash. After turning at the second “Trail” sign (there are actually two…don’t take the first one). We made our way across to the forest on the other side and the start of what we called, “The Big Wall.”
Don’t be too alarmed by the first section of the trail. It is the steepest and climbs an enormous wall on the north side of the wash. It has a southwest exposure and as such, has the chaparral and loose rock typical of this exposure in Southern California. Once at the top, the trail levels out and begins to follow Vivian Creek in a cool, shaded valley.The difference from the first section is so stark that it makes the Vivian Creek watershed seem even more lush.
To High Creek
After following Vivian Creek for a couple of kilometers, the trail leaves the stream and begins to climb over a ridge to the next watershed, High Creek. There are now enormous pine trees and rock formations that are reminiscent of hiking in Yosemite or Kings Canyon in the Sierra Nevadas. Adding to our enjoyment, the temperatures rose during the day but we also increased our elevation at a rate that kept the temperatures consistently cool and pleasant.
High Creek is a beautiful camp site and the final place to find water before the summit. It is our recommendation that anyone leaving this spot for the top should have a minimum of three liters of water. We were in good shape so we continued upward and began the climb to the ridge that accesses the summit.
Some of the first great views of the day start at the beginning of this ridge. The trees approaching the ridge began to thin until the ridge itself, where the vegetation became low and eventually disappeared entirely as we crossed above the treeline. The ridge was one of the steeper sections of the climb, but with the summit approaching, our energy made it easier to summon the strength. The air was noticeably thinner at this point as well. At the top of the ridge, we made the right turn toward the summit, clearly visible in the distance.
The summit is one of the best views from any mountain top. It is a 360 degree panorama of Southern California that’s hard to find anywhere else.
We were fortunate to be among the first to arrive for the day and had the summit mostly to ourselves for the first few minutes. That changed as large groups arrived behind us, but the view more than made up for the relative crowds.
Any hike of this length needs a warning that the summit is only ‘halfway there.’ Mt San Gorgonio by Vivian Creek is a very long day, and while every hiker is energized by standing on the top, the very long walk down is the most dangerous and difficult part of the day. We were exhausted and sore by the time we reached the bottom of the The Wall as it entered the rocky wash.
This is an excellent hike, but shouldn’t be done in one day unless you have experience hiking such distances and elevations.
Keep in mind this is the second most popular trail for reaching the summit of Mt San Gorgonio. It can be busy with day hikers, overnight backpackers, and even casual hikers walking up from the picnic area. Camping on the trail can be accomplished in the following areas:
Vivian Creek at 2 km (1.2 miles ) and 2164 m (7100 ft). This is a very wooded camp.
Halfway Camp at 5 km (3 miles) and 2469 m (8100 ft). This is also a wooded campsite.
High Creek at 8.5 km (5.3 miles) and 2804 m (9200 ft) and last water. High Creek is in tall pines but less wooded than the lower campsites.
Click here to download the GPX file from our hike (right click and choose ‘save as’):
Before you start, you’ll need to either plan ahead for a day or overnight permit (permits are required for day hiking or overnight camping). Passes can be faxed back to you, mailed (if you have 3-7 days for deliver) or can be picked up in the office or in a small box by the door when the Mill Creek Work Site isn’t open. Their phone number is 909-382-2882 and their official site is found here.
Mt San Gorgonio’s Vivian Creek is one of the easier trailheads to reach. From the Mill Creek Work Site, continue to follow Highway 38 to Forest Falls Road. Turn right and follow Forest Falls until it ends at a picnic area (which is obviously a former campground). The trail starts immediately off the end of the parking lot and initially follows the left bank of the rocky stream bed that you’ve been following since turning on Forest Falls.
What do you think of when you hear “Birmingham, Alabama?” Do you think of the Old South and Steel Industry or do you instead see a city of rolling hills and great restaurants being remade in the model of New South? Birmingham is a surprise for those who haven’t been there. If you look around, you can find decaying symbols of a southern past but there are also many more signs that this city is one of many across the South that are on the rise.
Our adventure started as soon as the business meetings ended. We spent our first evening dining in the Five Points area, and specifically at Chez Fonfon, a French-themed restaurant in a trendy part of the city known for great food.
With one of us from France and the other having spent a great deal of time there, we are tough critics of restaurants that dare call themselves French. Chez Fonfon is undoubtedly the best we’ve encountered outside of France. The charcuterie entrée (the actual French word for appetizer), moule frites, swordfish with beurre blanc and strawberries and cream dessert were fantastic. The Sauternes digestif we chose with the meal was the perfect compliment to our choices. Day one ended with one of the best meals we’ve ever had.
Saturday morning started with the Pepper Place Market, an open-air farmers market not too far from downtown Birmingham. It was obviously very busy as we approached and parking took a few minutes. Our first encounter was with Steven Febres-Cordero, “The Spoon Man” who managed to sell us a tropical hardwood replacement for the wooden spoon we destroyed in the blender just a week ago. Hopefully the harder wood will survive our poor utensil practices.
We continued through the vendor stalls to find the Chilton County peaches recommended by a friend from that famous peach-growing place. We also picked up fresh plums and perfectly ripe strawberries to take on a hike planned for later that day. There were plenty of dogs, a bluegrass band and even a nut vendor dressed in a giant peanut outfit. Though the sun was strong, the day was not very humid and it was the perfect place to be that morning.
Once stocked up for our hike, we made our way to the outskirts of the city to Ruffner Mountain, the first of a series of ridges that mark the beginning of the Appalachian Mountains. We grabbed a map at the gorgeously architected Visitors Center before striking out on the network of trails that covered the ridge top. We made our way through the quiet forests and along old quarries and easily forgot that we were only a few miles from a city.
The high point of day, literally, was a rock outcrop that gave us a great view of rolling hills to the north and Birmingham’s Downtown to the south.
Cleaned up and energized, we spent the afternoon at a crawfish boil hosted by two families that brought in 150 pounds of live crawfish from Baton Rouge, LA. Both were LSU alumni that stuck close to their roots in Cajun country by having the annual event that brought together many friends to enjoy steaming piles of gradually spicier crawfish, corn, mushrooms and sausages. We were warned about the mushrooms’ ability to soak up the spices, but were surprised to find that the corn on the cob actually was a strong competitor for ‘hottest item.’
We arrived with few expectations and left with a series of great memories of a weekend spent enjoying a historic Old South city. If you get the opportunity to spend time in Birmingham, let us know and we’ll be happy to give you our recommendations for how to get the most out of it.