What’s on My Essential Summer Camping Checklist

With Memorial Day Weekend behind us and the warm summer months stretched out before us, thoughts of crackling campfires and long nights spent under the stars have started to take over as I plan out my weekends. But before I decide to hit the road and pitch a tent in the great outdoors, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s always best to make a list and check it more than twice before leaving the comforts of home behind. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to get stuck without enough blankets, forget utensils to eat dinner with, or worse, run out of wine midway through the trip.

Although your own list may look different depending on your specific needs and preferences, this is the checklist I’ve created to help myself plan and pack for short camping trips in the summer with friends. Feel free to download the checklist, save it to your phone, or even print out a copy for your next summer camping extravaganza.

THE ULTIMATE SUMMER CAMPING CHECKLIST

I hope this list saves you time and comes in handy for you like it has for me in the past! Is there anything I forgot to add? I’d love to hear what essentials you bring on your own warm weather camping trips.

5 Reasons Kauai Belongs at the Top Your Travel Bucket List

Nicknamed “the Garden Isle” due to the tropical rainforest covering much of its surface, Kauai is the perfect outdoor oasis for those who like a dash of adventure mixed in with their beach days. Last summer, my family chose Kauai for our vacation out of the six Hawaiian islands precisely for its lush landscape, laid back atmosphere, and endless exploration opportunities. We were anything but disappointed.

The stunning coastlines, secluded beaches, and small-town friendly atmosphere are just a few of the things that made Kauai stand out in my eyes amongst even the most beautiful islands. And although it’s nearly impossible to capture the magic of Kauai in words (or even pictures), I’ve done my best to describe what made this place so special to me in the short time I was lucky enough to be there. Read on to learn more about what makes Kauai so unique, and why you should book the next flight out to see for yourself!

The Na Pali Coast

Without a doubt, the highlight of our trip to Kauai was seeing the famed Na Pali coast. The vibrant colors, hidden caves, and spectacular cliffs make this coastline almost too beautiful to believe. Whether you hike there, fly over it, or see it from the water – the most important thing is that you get there.

My family chose to see it first from the sky, booking a helicopter ride one of our first days on the island. Although we were a mixture of excitement and nerves going into it, we quickly relaxed once we were up in the air taking it all in. Flying over the Na Pali Coast is like something out of a movie. In fact, we flew over many locations used in the filming of the Jurassic Park movies. To get the most complete views of the sweeping coastline, I’d highly recommend going the helicopter route.

Once we’d seen it from up above, we were itching to get up close and the coast from a different perspective. Going off of a recommendation from a friend, we decided to book a small boat tour with Na Pali Experience. I can’t say enough good things about this company. From the moment we got there, our tour guide Nate (who also happens to be the owner), was completely dedicated to showing us a great time out on the water. Not only did he know a ton about the island from being born and raised there, he was also a skilled captain and a ton of fun to be around.

We spent our day out on the boat taking in the views, motoring in and out of caves, and snorkeling alongside the coastline. At one point, were even surrounded by a pod of dolphins in the water. There’s no other way to describe it other than magic. If you don’t book a small boat tour for the views, at least do it for the pineapple. I’m almost positive it was the freshest I’ll ever have.

The Beaches

Anyone who knows me knows I love going to the beach. What’s not to love about long days filled with salt water, warm sun, and sandy toes. So it was no surprise that I fell in love with Kauai’s stunning beaches. What did surprise me was just how many beaches there were, and how secluded they seemed.

A world away from the crowded beaches of the Jersey shore, Kauai’s beaches had a sort of undiscovered charm to them. At one small beach, we were practically the only ones there. And although there is a beach seemingly anywhere you turn in Kauai (it is an island, after all), we especially liked these three, which we visited during our weeklong stay:

Tunnels Beach – Gorgeous beach with plenty of room to spread out, relax, and enjoy some coconut milk from the vendor on the street. This beach is a little tricky to find, but once you do, you won’t want to leave. Great spot for swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing.

Poipu Beach Park – This was probably my favorite beach we went to during our stay in Kauai. I loved the size of it, and how calm the water was due to the natural rock barrier. We came here later in the afternoon and spent the evening watching the sun set over the water and making friends with the monk seal relaxing in the sand.

Anini Beach – Anini beach was on a whole other level of chill. There was hardly anyone surrounding us, and the beach felt like it went on forever in either direction. Great spot for long walks and photo ops.

The Hiking

It’s no secret that the Garden Isle is home to some of the best hiking trails in the entire state of Hawaii. Ranging from 3,000 ft ridge and cliff trails to treks along the gorgeous Na Pali coastline, there were simple too many trails for us to explore in just seven days. Instead, we chose to take advantage of two vastly different day hikes: one scenic hike to a beach on the Na Pali coast, and one to a hidden waterfall.

Kalalau Trail – All total, the Kalalau Trail is a 22-mile roundtrip hike that requires a permit to complete. However, the first two miles of the hike do not require a permit and make for an incredible day hike to Hanakapi’ai Beach for you, your family, and friends. Be forewarned, the trail does get steep, muddy, and slippery at times. However, the views along the way of the coastline more than make up for it.

Secret Falls (Wailua River State Park) – I will say that the name of this one is misleading, as it seemed to be one of the more popular destinations for tourists while we were in Kauai. Because the trailhead is only accessible by water, we decided to do a guided tour that included kayaking and then hiking to the waterfall. Beware that the trail to the waterfall is extremely slippery and muddy. We had quite a few people in our group (including my younger sister) get hurt along the way. However, the waterfall itself did not disappoint and was especially refreshing after sliding around in the mud all day.

The Sunsets

Everyone knows that Hawaii has some of the best sunsets. However, it’s impossible to imagine how beautiful they really are until you’re on the beach enjoying one for yourself. Every night we felt like we were living in a post card. Two of the best sunsets we caught were at Poipu Beach Park, and the Beach House Restaurant, which also happened to have delicious food.

The People

No description of Kauai would be complete without mentioning the people who live there. The locals breathe life into the island, and their energy was contagious throughout our visit. Whether it was our tour guide Nate, who has lived on the island his whole life and made it his mission to share it with others, or the locals working in gift shops, restaurants, and grocery stores – everyone we came into contact with was warm, welcoming, and friendly towards us throughout our stay.

Are you convinced yet that Kauai should be your next exotic getaway? If not, which Hawaiian island would you most like to visit? I’d like to see them all someday, but I know Kauai will always hold a special place in my heart.

5 Fun Things to Do in Sedona, Arizona

Vacationing in Sedona, Arizona was a change of pace for my family that ended up shifting our taste in travel destinations moving forward. Typically a family that likes to spend our time off exploring foreign cities and tropical beaches, it was out of character for us to chose a desert town on the other side of the country for our next getaway. Nonetheless, I’m forever grateful we did. Sedona reintroduced me to the natural beauty of the country I’ve spent nearly my whole life living in, and gave rise to a newfound passion and curiosity for the outdoors within myself.

If you’ve recently made the wise decision to travel to Sedona, I’m here to tell you that you’re in for a treat. The unmistakable red rocks will act as a stunning backdrop for what’s sure to be a vacation you won’t soon forget. To make planning your trip easier (and help get family member vacation buy-in), I’ve created this list of five fun things to do during your daring Southwest desert adventure.

1. Go for a Hot Air Balloon Ride

Without a doubt, the highlight of our trip to Sedona was the hot air balloon ride. While this is something I’ve always dreamed of doing, I don’t think I could have chosen a better location than the gorgeous Arizona desert. The views from above the red rocks as the sun came up were unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Don’t let fear be an excuse for not crossing this one off your bucket list. Being in the basket of the balloon feels like floating – peaceful and slow, not choppy and chaotic like you might expect.

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My family chose to book our hot air balloon ride with Red Rock Balloon Adventures. The crew was friendly, reassuring, and a ton of fun. They even brought along post-flight mimosas and brunch. Definitely check them out if you can!

2. Take a Hike (or Two)

The first hike I convinced my family to go on was to Devil’s Bridge, a highly popular 4.5 mile out and back trail that leads to a stunning rock formation at the end. Although the hike itself is relatively short, we had to park far from the trailhead which nearly doubled our total time spent hiking. For this reason, I’d suggest bringing twice as much water as you think you need. It was August when my family embarked on this trail, and we were down to our last drops of water by the time we finally reached our car.

The hike to Devil’s Bridge is fairly easy and straightforward. However, it becomes steep and more challenging near the top. There’s a section of narrow, winding steps shortly before you reach the spectacular natural wonder that is Devil’s Bridge. Be sure to use caution when walking out onto the bridge itself. It’s definitely a great photo opportunity, but my family and I stayed away from the most narrow part of the formation due to safety.

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Feeling a bit more confident after our first hike in Arizona, we decided to give the aptly named Cathedral Rock Trail a chance. Although this trail in only 1 mile long, it’s rated as moderate due to a few tricky sections where you must climb steep, slick rock. My mom and younger sister decided to turn back before the rock scrambling sections, but my dad and I pressed on. The view at the top of this trail is most definitely worth the work of hiking up to it. Try to squeeze this one in if you can!

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3. Pay a Visit to Slide Rock State Park

Located just 7 miles north of Sedona in Oak Creek Canyon, Slide Rock State Park gets its name from a natural water slide formed by the slippery bed of Oak Creek. A few locals advised us not to visit the park because it tends to get overrun with tourists in the summer months, but we decided to go anyway despite their well-meaning advice and boy, were we glad we did. This place is a blast.

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Fair warning though: the water will most likely be freezing. We were there in the middle of August, and one trip down the “water slide” was enough to get our adrenaline pumping from just how cold the water was. Luckily, the hot Arizona sun will have you warm and toasty in no time. We spent the majority our day at the park slipping down slide rock, enjoying a picnic by the water, and cliff jumping.

4. Marvel at the Chapel of the Holy Cross

The Chapel of the Holy Cross is one of the most stunning architectural landmarks I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing up close. Situated on top of a hill and nestled comfortably among the red rock landscape, this spiritual work of art is one of the must-see sights in Sedona. It’s also one of Sedona’s earliest landmarks, having been completed in 1956.

Even more impressive than the views from the Chapel is the calming presence I felt upon entering. Whatever your belief system, I’d recommend leaving time to soak in the peaceful energy and atmosphere of the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Entrance into the church is free, and parking is located only a short walk down the cliff side from the Chapel.

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5. Embark on a Pink Jeep Tour

The Sedona Pink Jeep Tour is one of those touristy things you don’t want to do, but are glad to have done once it’s over. If you’re not into hiking, or would like to get some serious sightseeing in at the start of your trip, I’d absolutely recommend this off-road adventure. You get to see all the picture perfect views for only a fraction of the time and effort it would take to hike to them.

Pink Jeep offers a few different tour options in Sedona, but my family and I ultimately decided to go on the Broken Arrow Tour, a 2 hour long rugged ride of our lives. This is Pink Jeep’s most popular tour, and also happens to be the very first tour the company ever gave. Our tour guide was fantastic, stopping at all the right locations along the way and even offering to take fun (and sometimes corny) family photos for us.

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These are the 5 things that stand out most in my memory about our trip to Sedona. Watching the sun set over the red rocks, sharing many wonderful meals with my family, and connecting with nature in a whole new way are just a few of the other moments that made this trip so special. If ever you get the chance to visit Sedona, I hope you find it just as spiritually, mentally, and physically rewarding.

Making the Most of Your Day Trip to the Grand Canyon

For serious backpackers, casual day-trippers, and adventurous families alike, the Grand Canyon is a must-see attraction waiting to be checked off their bucket list. Nearly five million visitors flock to the Grand Canyon each year to marvel at the canyon’s sweeping vistas, learn about its rich history, and explore its many trails.

Because of its size, it can be somewhat tricky to cram everything you want to do at the Grand Canyon into a single day. However, when my family and I recently took a trip to Sedona, I knew I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to see the Grand Canyon, if only for a few hours. Better to have seen it briefly and leaving wanting to go back then to have never seen it at all!

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” -Gandalf the Grey

Much to my delight, my family and I were able to make the most of our day in the park, and experience it in a way that felt fulfilling but not exhausting. To help you do the same, I’ve written three tips to ensure you take full advantage of your time at the Grand Canyon. After all, it is one of the seven wonders of the world, and who knows if you’ll make it back to see it twice!

Take killer photos, but don’t kill yourself for the perfect photo

I can not stress this enough: safety always comes first. I don’t know how many people I saw throughout my trip to the Grand Canyon risking their lives for a selfie. There are many areas of the Grand Canyon that don’t have railings and also offer killer (pun intended) views of the park. While it seems like it would be common sense not to stand too close to the edge, I learned during my visit (and subsequent reading of the book Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon) that numerous people have died this way over the years.

I love a good photo op just as much as anyone else, but I made sure not to put myself in any truly dangerous situations close to the edge. With that said, I do recommend taking ample time at the beginning of your visit to take as many photos as you like. The Grand Canyon is a trip you’ll want to remember for the rest of your life, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to remember what you looked like before hiking all day in the hot Arizona sun.

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Get into it, but make sure you can get back out

If at all possible, I would highly recommend going on a hike during your visit to the Grand Canyon. The sweeping views from up above will take your breath away, but there are some details of the canyon that you simply must go over the edge and into the canyon to fully appreciate.

My family and I decided to hike a portion of the Bright Angel Trail, which is located on the South Rim. The trail is 12.2 miles roundtrip, but we decided to turn around at about the halfway point. Hiking this trail in the summer heat is no joke, and I would highly suggest bringing plenty of water and listening to your body. It’s easy to get caught up in the beautiful scenery on the way down and not realize how taxing it’ll be to climb back up and out of the canyon.

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If you’re looking for a shorter hike, the Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge is 3 miles roundtrip, or Grandview Trail to the first overlook is about 2.5 miles roundtrip, but a bit more rugged. No matter which trail you choose or how far you go, I promise you won’t regret taking the opportunity to see the canyon up close.

Take advantage of park resources

One of my favorite parts of our day in the park ended up being a presentation we saw by one of the park rangers. She taught us all about the California condor, a rare bird sometimes spotted in the canyon. Although we didn’t see one during our trip, my family and I really enjoyed learning all about them from one of the highly knowledgeable park rangers. Be sure to make time during your trip to learn about the park by reading the signs, making a stop at the visitor center, or attending one of the park ranger programs.

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Another unexpected highlight of our trip was the ice cream! Nothing is better after a long hike on a hot August day than grabbing a root beer float from Bright Angel Fountain. It’s located right on the rim of the canyon just a short distance away from the Bright Angel Trail Head. I’d recommend packing a lunch for your day trip to the canyon (food can be expensive in the park) and saving your money for a post-hike ice cream cone instead.

And there you have it! Those are my top three tips for enjoying your limited time at the Grand Canyon. Have you ever been to the park before? What made your time there so special?

Opting Outside and Online in 2017

Two things you need to know about me: I crave new experiences and I’m always planning my next trip. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been bugging my friends and family to go with me to a music festival, plan a day trip down the shore, or book a vacation to somewhere new. When I was 12, I went to Europe on my own to take part in a two week ambassador program. I haven’t slowed down since then.

Although I’ve had the travel bug for quite some time, it wasn’t until a recent trip to Arizona that I discovered my passion for hiking. It’s hard to think of a better place to fall head over heels in love with the great outdoors. While staying in Sedona, my family and I braved the August heat to explore the breathtaking red rocks, and made the trip to see the famed Grand Canyon. Soon after arriving at the historic national park, I was dreaming of seeing the other 58 parks in my lifetime.

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Since then, I’ve made it a point to add hiking to my list of things to do on every vacation. As I anxiously anticipate each trip, I comb the internet to scope out all the best trails (and photo ops) nearby. However, I’ve noticed that there aren’t many resources available for casual hikers and beginners like myself. As a result, I’m often left in the dark until I get to a location and can ask a local about the best hiking spots for someone at my level.

I created this blog to share my experiences and insights with newbie hikers like myself who are looking to get outside, have fun, and explore more. I look forward to writing about day hikes located close to home in the tri-state area, as well as more exotic locations cross-country and overseas whenever I get the chance. Exploring is in my blood, and writing has long been my favorite form of therapy. In 2017, I’ve made it my mission to do more of both.