Climate Change and the National Parks System

Climate change is affecting our national parks and if you visit the national parks system. Last week, a group of scientists released a report on climate change and it’s effect on the parks. Climate change affected the parks disproportionately, the report said.

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Picture of brochure I picked up in Alaska. Publication date is October 2016.

When we went on our national parks road trip last year, there was literature on climate change’s effect on the parks at the parks we visited, from Mesa Verde to Glacier. In fact, the effects of climate change in Glacier is very striking. The lobby of Many Glacier hotel are lined with photos of the glaciers going back over 100 years. You can see how much the glaciers have receded in the park. Scientists predict by 2030, there will be no more glaciers at Glacier National park. Years ago, people would hike up to Grinnell Glacier and walk on the glacier. Now, it’s a hike to a view area of the glacier. There’s a pool of icy water in front of it and you can’t walk onto it anymore.

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At the end of Grinnell Glacier trail. Rangers used to take hikers out onto the glacier, now it’s more of a viewing area since you can’t walk out onto it anymore.

When we went to Glacier Bay National Park this summer in Alaska, a ranger talked about climate change. It’s true that glaciers naturally recede and grow, but currently they are receding at a faster rate than they are growing. There are charts that show the park’s glaciers and which glaciers are receding and which are growing. When we went on our boat trip, there was a lady with us that had taken the same trip in 2015. She had photos from that trip. You could see the difference in her photos with the glaciers we saw only three years later. Where once was beautiful blue ice we could see what looked like “dirty” ice and you could see on the sides where rock was beginning to show.

This was not new information. I know climate change is real, but seeing the impacts first hand in such a dramatic way put it all in perspective. Besides the impact this will have on us and our way of life, it’s also sad to look at our parks and realize how we take them for granted. I used to assume they will be there for my children, but now I realize how that may not be true. Or they will be different than how we experience them now. That’s why every hike I take in the parks with my kids is special.

But the ranger talk also sparked my curiosity about the direction of the parks under the current administration. I went up to the ranger asked about the talk. With the current administration’s view on climate change, has there been any pressure to change the talking points. (I’m guessing the displays I read on climate change in summer of 2017 in the parks were from the previous administration. The pamphlet on climate change in the parks was published in 2016).

The ranger told me that the direction from their boss in Alaska was to speak about climate change in very specific ways. So they use a lot of data, charts, etc. to take specifically what’s happening in their parks. It was clear that park staff and scientists wanted to continue to talk to people on the impacts of climate change but were being cautious on how they presented it. I spoke to only one ranger specifically about this but throughout my trips, rangers talked about both conservation in general, as well as climate change.

I hope the rangers keep talking to people about climate change, and I hope people continue to visit the parks. It’s only by knowing what we have to lose, will we have the urgency to try and save it.

 

How Hard is that Hike?

Even though my family and I have gone hiking to many different parks, I still have a hard time deciphering how difficult a trail might be to hike. My guess is that this is a common conundrum.

Guidebooks and brochures usually divide hiking trails into three categories, easy, moderate and difficult. Those terms are subjective and it’s often difficult to determine whether a trail is doable or if we should pick another option.

Why does this matter? Because, sometimes the payoff of doing a more difficult trail is immense. My favorite National Park guidebook lists Highline Trail as difficult (strenuous). It doesn’t matter how much of this 20 mile trail you walk, it is the most breathe taking scenery I have ever seen. Everyone should try and walk at least some of this trail for a truly spiritual experience.

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On the Highline Trail. Teenager and young son holding onto a rope on the trail. We didn’t hike the entire 20 miles. Instead, we walked 30 minutes down the trail and 30 minutes back.

On the other hand, if you go on a hike, especially one that is guided, and it’s too difficult for you and/or your children, you’ll end up disappointed and frustrated. It is especially true if you are signing up for a paid guided tour, like a cave tour in Wind Cave or a cliff dwelling tour at Mesa Verde National Park. You can’t just leave the tours (unlike a ranger led hike). You might have to cajole a preschooler through a tour that’s too long and difficult for them.

Our family includes fit teenagers to a tenacious young elementary school child, plus two almost middle-aged parents. I’m not an elite athlete, but I’ve hiked enough and I have the endurance to go on pretty long hikes, though I’m slow. My teenager is a lot faster than us, but he also likes to take photos. If it’s a busy trail, I’ll let him go on ahead of us (as long as he stays on the trail). He usually stops along the way to take nature photos and we’ll catch up.

Our youngest is the most challenging. He gets tired and/or bored. Sometimes, a trail that is easy for me, is just plain boring for him and he won’t want to go any further. A difficult  trail, like the one at Lost Maples State Park in Texas, is easier to take him on because he enjoys scrambling up the rocks.

Here are my tips for deciding if a hike is right for you:

  1. Talk to a ranger about the trail: What makes the trail strenuous? Sometimes, a trail isn’t too long but requires you to climb stairs or a ladder. If that’s the case, how many steps is it? An uphill trail might have a lot of switchbacks or be steep. That might be a problem if you have knee issues. Also ask if it’s rocky or flat. An uphill climb can be even more difficult if the path is rocky instead of smooth. You know what your issues are, so the more info you get, the better decision you can make.
  2. Watch a video. I dreamed of doing the Grinnell Glacier trail. It was listed in my guidebook as moderate, so I wasn’t sure if I could do it with my kids. There are Youtube videos of the hike. Seeing it helped me decide. I ended up taking my two older kids, while my husband took the younger one on a shorter hike. It was definitely more challenging than I would have thought, but I also knew what was coming up and new there wouldn’t be anything too crazy.
  3. Go on message boards, blogs, guidebooks. Just like talking to a ranger, these resources will give you added information. Message boards and blogs also give you other people’s experiences, especially hiking on trails with kids. But remember, every child is different. Your child might not have the same tolerance as someone else’s child.
  4. Don’t hike the entire trail. Remember, you can always turn around. If you get to a part that seems too difficult, then don’t go any further. Sometimes, you think you can do a 6 mile hike, but then realize, you can’t. We didn’t do all of the Highline Trail, but we loved the parts we did do.
  5. Take the proper tools: If you carry too much, you’ll get really tired. These tips are for “short” hikes, not overnight hikes. I would take a light pack to carry water, a snack and poncho. Hats are good. Walking sticks for the entire family can really be a lifesaver (knee-saver). Finally, please invest in proper footwear. My biggest pet peeve is seeing improper footwear on trails!
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A magnificent view walking the trail to Grinnell Glacier.

For me, hiking is all about enjoying the scenery and company during the journey as well as an interesting/ spectacular destination! Sometimes, you have to push yourself a little to achieve that. You also don’t want to risk injury or a full blown tantrum five miles away from your car (been there). Hopefully, these tips will help you decide your next hiking trip.

Gateway Arch: A Pleasant Surprise

St. Louis’s Gateway Arch isn’t a place I would have planned to visit on my own, but a trip to this city and the park ended up being quite enjoyable to spend a long weekend.

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View from below!

We drove up to St. Louis this summer over Fourth of July weekend to attend a family event. In addition to the event, we had time to visit the city and it ended up being a very enjoyable trip.

We visited the Arch on a Friday afternoon after our event was done. Unlike most of my visits to national parks areas, this was spur of the moment and pretty much unplanned. This year, the museum had reopened after being closed for several years for a redesign.

One thing I never knew is that people can actually ride up to the top of the arch. Once at the top, you can take in the view from the top. Unfortunately, because the park had just reopened, it seems that the entire city of St. Louis was visiting the arch and tickets were sold out. My youngest was the most disappointed.

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BUT… Where there is a national park, there’s a junior ranger badge. So while, we were not able to buy tickets to the tram up to the arch, ($13 for adults currently, $10 for kids. If you have a National Park pass, adults tickets are knocked down to $10) we were able to visit the museum which is free.

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The idea of the arch is kinda overrated. It’s another, “if we build it, they will come,” attraction/ploy. I guess Mt. Rushmore is kind of like that too. BUT…. the museum is really cool. It explores westward expansion and the exhibits are really interesting and well done. If you have seen exhibits at the Smithsonian, its similar to that, yet it’s not too big. You can go through it in a couple of hours in the afternoon.

It was an enjoyable afternoon. My little one was still pouting about the arch but was happy to add to his collection of junior ranger badges. Speaking of the Arch, the museum includes an exhibit on the engineering of the arch and how they defined the cars that go up the structure. That was cool and made us wish we had been able to get tickets.

Across from the Arch, also a part of the park, is the Old Courthouse, which is famous for the Dred Scott decision. We didn’t get a chance to go in there, but that would be another interesting building to visit and learn about an important part of U.S. history.

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I want to mention that leading up to the trip, my teenage son did not want to accompany us. He felt that a trip to St. Louis would be boring and begged us to leave him home with his grandparents. By the end of the weekend, he said he really enjoyed the city.  In addition to the Arch, he visited the Blues Museum and a bird sanctuary.

We also visited the city’s Forest Park (which is larger than New York’s Central Park and is home to a number of the city’s museums, all free).

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You can rent canoes and paddleboats at the park. We rented a couple of canoes and really enjoyed it.

We drove by Washington University and ate at a restaurant off of Delmar Blvd. We also enjoyed root beer floats at Fitz’s as well. We had one full day, so we didn’t have time to visit the City Museum, which is also supposed to be a great place to visit.

When, we left the city, we all agreed that St. Louis was a great city to visit and we enjoyed the little time we spent there.

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a float from Fitz’s was a perfect way to end the day. These things are huge, so you can ask them to split them. This is only one half of a float!

Banff and Lake Louise

When I was in junior high, my family took a family trip to Banff National park. Ever since that trip, I concluded that Banff was the most beautiful place on earth.

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Lake Louise, June, 2018

After our Alaska adventure this summer, we made a pitstop in Canada to visit family before coming home. We had one day to sightsee and I already knew I wanted to spend it  in Banff.

It had been over 20 years since I visited Banff National Park. Since my trip to Banff, I’ve visited other places. Glacier National Park reminded me of the beauty of Banff. Would I feel differently about the place now that I’ve been to other equally beautiful places. Definitely not.

Banff and the surrounding areas are still exquisite. Even with the crowds, it is was an enjoyable visit. The day started out raining and we were worried we’d be stuck with thunderstorms the entire day.

We drove to Banff from Calgary. I wanted to leave our hotel at 6:30, but we ended up leaving closer to 7:30 am. Since it was raining, the crowds at the park were still thin when we arrived closer to 9am.

We drove straight to the gondola that takes visitors up Sulphur Mountain. This little ride was nostalgic for me. I have a vivid memory of going up Sulphur Mountain as a child. It wasn’t an ideal day for the gondola ride because of the cloud cover.

gondola

This is the only day we’d be here and I felt the experience would still be fun for the kids. On the plus side, there was no wait and we got special early bird pricing. Despite the clouds, the ride up was beautiful.  The visitor center was fascinating and we took the walk on the boardwalk up to the weather tower.

It was chilly on the mountain but we really enjoyed it. On a clear day, the views are expansive and amazing, but it’s not too shabby on the cloudy day either.

Afterwards, we warmed up with hot chocolate in the visitor center.

It was still drizzling, so we decided to take a scenic drive on Tunnel Mountain Road and pull up to the Hoodoos Lookout. We spent just a few minutes at the lookout, snapped a few photos and got back into the car and drove to Lake Louise.

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By the time we got to Lake Louise, the sky had cleared up and the crowds had built up. Despite the crowds, Lake Louise was magnificent.

We decided to make the hike up to Lake Agnes Tea House. The trail up to the tea house is a little over 3km. The trail is smooth but its steep. It was nothing for the kids, but it took us for awhile. They ended waiting for us at the top.

Once we got to the top, it was worth it. The tea house was crowded, but we found some tables. Luckily, we knew ahead of time that it was cash only and had brought money with us. It was chilly on the top and we enjoyed a hot pot of tea and sandwiches.

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After lunch, we took some pictures around the lake and walked back down the trail. We then drove back to Banff. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the town and ate dinner at pizza place before heading back to Calgary.

I would love to go back to Banff and spend more time there as well as Jasper. It’s on my bucket list.

Glacier Bay National Park: Day 3 Tide Pools

Our last day at Glacier Bay was pretty relaxing. We slept in and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. Our goal today was to check out tide pools during low tide.

Bartlett Cove

The schedule for high and low tides is available at the ranger station. For our final morning at the park, the low tide would be in the afternoon, after the shuttle would be leaving for the ferry dock.

We visited the beach before the tide was at it lowest. We still had a great time looking at the tide pools.

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We saw several sea stars in the pools. It was definitely very cool.

The day was clear and as we looked across Bartlett Cove, we could see Mount Fairweather.  As the shuttle drove to the ferry dock, we saw a bear in the forest. The shuttle drive pulled over for a minute so we could all watch the animal.

Unlike the ferry ride up to Glacier Bay, it was sunny and a bit warm on the ride back to Juneau. We spent almost the entire ride on the deck. We spotted some whales and porpoises as well as more sea otters. I think they might be my new favorite animals.

Back at Juneau, we had reservations at the Hangar On the Warf. We also took the opportunity to buy some smoked salmon for friends back home.

Our trip to Alaska was probably one of my favorites. We met some wonderful people. The pace was slower than parks we’ve visited in the lower 48. It’s a real special place and I definitely want to come back.

In addition to the parks I wrote about in these posts, we also visited Glacier Gardens, SEAlaska Heritage Institute, and DIPAC Salmon Hatchery in Juneau. We enjoyed all of these excursions.

 

Glacier Bay National Park: Boat Tour

The highlight of our visit to Glacier Bay National Park was a boat tour.  The full day tour leaves Bartlett Cove and travels 130 miles through Glacier Bay.  A National Park Ranger is   onboard to help spot wildlife, provide commentary and programs to help passengers understand and appreciate Glacier Bay National Park.

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Picture of tour boat. Picture by NPS.

We woke up early and ate our breakfast at the lodge before going down to the dock for the boat tour. They’ll start checking people into the tour around 7:00-7:15 am. Two suggestions. Breakfast at the lodge opens at 6am. We got there a little early and were first in line and soon others began lining up behind us. Service at the restaurant is great but slow. Many people opt for the breakfast buffet, so they can eat quickly and leave. Since we were one of the first people seated, we opted to order a la carte and had enough time to eat our food before making our way down to the dock.

Once we boarded the boat, we found some nice window seats on the second level of the boat. My oldest ended up spending the entire boat ride on the top deck. The younger two split their time, spending time inside and out. The boat came with binoculars for people to use. Even with warm clothes, hats and gloves, the wind can make standing outside for longer periods of time uncomfortable. Luckily, with the window seats, we could enjoy the views from inside.

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View from inside the boat.

Because everyone is so excited about wildlife, our fellow passengers were very nice about letting others hover on their side of the boat when they saw something interesting.

The ranger on our boat, Cate, was amazing! She did a great job narrating and answering everyone’s questions, she kept the kids engaged. Also, if a fellow passenger spotted something, she would announce it on the loudspeaker so others could hear.

We were blessed with great weather during our boat tour.  As we passed by marble island, we saw sea lions, puffins, and sea otters. As the ranger was giving a talk on birds, we saw whales!

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Picture of sea lions as we passed Marble Island.

Later, we saw a wolf walking along the coast. This was especially exciting for us. Last year, we spent a bit of time looking for wolves in Yellowstone, but didn’t have any luck spotting one there. The skinny wolf walked down the coast for a long time, looking for food.

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Wolf walking along coast. Ranger said he should fatten up once salmon come in.

The tour boat also serves chowder mid-morning, then lunch. Around lunchtime, the boat reaches tidewater glaciers. We saw eagles sitting on some ice floating in the water nearby.

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We passed by a number of eagles.

From the boat you can catch a glimpse of Grand Pacific Glacier. The boat took us Margerie Glacier. There we floated for a while. The glacier was magnificent. It is one of the few glaciers in the park that isn’t considered receding, but that might be different now. On the side, you can see where the glacier has darkened. One of our fellow passengers had photos from 2015 trip and the change was obvious.

glacier picture

The boat also took us to see John Hopkins Glacier, Lamplugh Glacier and Reid Glacier. The ranger talked about the effects of climate change on the glaciers.

On the way back, some people took the opportunity to relax, but many folks stayed on the deck, still scouring the coast for wildlife. The kids participated in junior ranger program and got the junior ranger badges. The crew brought out cookies for the passengers to enjoy.

The boat is also used to drop off kayakers. On this particular day, it dropped off a father and son who we’re spending a few days kayaking and camping in the park.

We arrived back at the dock at 3pm. The seven hours had just flown by so quickly.

We walked the Tlingit trail, a short one way trail from the dock along the shoreline. We saw a porcupine walking along the forest by the beach.

porcupine

We also saw park displays including a traditional Tlingit canoe, a complete whale skeleton. We also visited the Huna Tribal House.

Houma house

Here, we attending a ranger program. The park ranger, who is also a member of Tlingit tribe, told us the story of the tribal house. It was fascinating and we left adding an appreciation of what the land meant to the tribes that called the area home as well as their resilience.

We had a 6pm dinner reservation (You’ll need to make reservations for dinner at the lodge; don’t forget since that’s the only restaurant in the park). With an hour to go until dinner, we hiked the Forest Trail. This short, easy trail takes you through the temperate forest. The hike is easy but the views are spectacular! We even saw a moose by the pond!

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Moose sighting by the pond.

After the hike, we enjoyed dinner at the lodge. Afterwards, we looked around at the park visitor center, which is upstairs in the lodge and attended the ranger talk. The ranger spoke about home and how she found her home at Glacier Bay National Park and the animals and plants that also make their home there.

Writing about it now, I’m amazed how much we did in one day. It was an amazing day!

Glacier Bay National Park

People who set foot on Glacier Bay National Park come here with purpose.  No one just ends up here, our kayak guide said.

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Glacier Bay National Park, view from our tour boat

It’s true. Getting to Glacier Bay National Park takes some planning. There are a few large cruise lines that come to the park, but the stay in the bay, and people don’t disembark. There are some small boat cruises that dock at the park, but for the most part, if you want to step foot in the park, you’ll have to the the Alaska Marine Highway ferry or fly in.

In fact only two percent of visitors to the park step foot on the land. This results in a certain vibe in the park that sets it apart from the crowded parks we visited in the lower 48 last year or even Mendenhall Glacier.

The park was quieter than other parks I visited, but it was also more laid back. We all came to take in Glacier Bay National Park.

Our family took the Alaska Marine Highway ferry. We really enjoyed it, but it took some planning. The ferry schedule on the website looked a bit like a bus schedule. Though I figured it out, I didn’t feel comfortable purchasing the tickets online. I called the customer service line. The lady on the phone was very helpful and I felt confident that I was purchasing the correct tickets.

The ferry to Gustavus (the closest town to the park) only leaves twice a week, Monday and Wednesday. Because of our schedule, we went on a Monday and came back to Juneau on a Wednesday. Taking a flight gives you more flexibility. We chose not to fly because of the cost. It actually worked out in our favor. Because of fog during the week, a lot of the flights were delayed.

The ferry ride was quite pleasant. The employees were very friendly and the ship was clean. It’s a four hour ferry ride. We had time to walk around the boat, go outside and take pictures. We spotted wildlife such as whales and sea otters. The boat has a cafeteria and dining room. We also chatted with some other travelers.

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View from the ferry pulling away from Juneau. Credit: NPS

Finally, we made it to Gustavus. We were staying the Glacier Bay Lodge, the only lodge within the park. It’s operated by Aramark. There’s a shuttle from the ferry to the lodge.

Once we got there, my husband and you younger kids went fishing with a guide in Gustavus. My eldest and I took an afternoon guided kayak trip.

Guided kayak trips from the lodge are through a third party company, Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks. While it was cold on the ferry, by the time we met our guide and got ready for the kayak trip, the sky cleared up and the weather warmed up.

Kayaking along Bartlett Cove was amazing. We saw sea otters and eagles. We saw schools of feeder fish swimming under our boat. We saw harbor porpoise as well. We saw different types of kelp floating in the water.

Our guide was amazing. He was friendly and laid back, but knowledgable as well. While the wildlife viewing was great, even if I hadn’t seen a single animal, the view and the tranquility that came from kayaking along the coast alone would have made the trip worth it.

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My view from the kayak. Sure beats the view from my office.

After our trip we came back and waiting for my husband and younger two kids to return from their fishing trip.

We enjoyed a lovely dinner at the lodge. We were exhausted by the end of the day. We fell asleep quickly, which was good because we had to wake up early the next day to go on the boat tour.

Tongass National Forest/Mendenhall Glacier

Our trip to Alaska began in Juneau, the capital. We spent one full day touring the city. The highlight of the day was a visit Mendenhall Glacier in the Tongass National Forest.

The Tongass National Forest is largest national forest in the United States covering most of Southeast Alaska.

We took the Juneau city bus from our hotel to the visitor. The bus stop was right in front of our hotel. Tickets were $2 for adults and $1 per child. The bus stop to the visitor center is actually about 1.5 mile away from the visitor center, but it’s a pleasant and scenic walk.

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Entrance to the forest.

The Tongass is a temperate rain forest. The moss covered trees turn the forest into a magical storybook scene. There are steams and ponds dotting the path and sometimes you can see black bears, though we didn’t see any on our visit.

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The view of the forest from the trail.
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The trail from bus stop to visitor center is pleasant, but 1.5 mile. Keep that in mind when planning your day.

The best part of the walk to the visitor center was catching the first glimpse of the glacier. Despite it’s massive size, the glacier seems to just pop out.

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The first glimpse of the glacier.

The visitor center has informative exhibits, ranger talks and a movie about the glacier. There’s even a junior ranger program. There are great views and spots to take pictures.

In addition to the Photo Point trail, we also hiked the Nugget Falls trail. The trail ends at a waterfall.

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The view from the end of Nugget Falls trail.
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View of Mendenhall Glacier

My only other experience with Glaciers was at Glacier National Park. Mendenhall was different, The glacier was more intense. Up against the forest, the view was majestic and surreal.

Other things to know

The bus is the most economical way to get to the glacier’s visitor center, but you can also take a taxi or your own car. You can also come through a tour group.

In addition to seeing the glacier, there are a number of trails around the visitor center. These are great for viewing wildlife.

There’s no food for sale at the visitor center, so be sure to pack snacks.

Enchanted Rock

The website warns you that it’s crowded. Even then, I was unprepared for the number of visitors at Enchanted Rock.

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Enchanted Rock

Enchanted Rock is a state natural area. It’s in Fredericksburg, Texas. The park isn’t very large in size, compared to a lot of other parks. It’s main attraction is this large pink granite hill.

During the last weekend of Spring Break, we took the kids to Enchanted Rock. I had gone there as a college student, but had not gone since then. My husband had never been. I remembered that the park fills to capacity, so we drove up from Houston the night before and stayed at a nearby hotel.

We pulled up to the park at 8am and there was already a line of cars parked to get in. I expected that, but was surprised at how long the line was. It stretched on for more than a mile. We waited in our car for an hour as cars slowly pulled up, paid the entrance fee and parked. By the time our car pulled in, the parking lot was already full and the park was closed.

BUT.. once the parking lot fills, the park staff gives the next 200 cars a pass that assures them entrance to the park anytime after 1pm. You still have to pay the entrance fee, but you know you won’t be turned away.

After 1pm, we came back to the park along with the 199 other cars that had a ticket. Without a ticket, rangers weren’t letting anyone else into the park that day. We waited less than an hour to get in. I recommend bringing cash. If you have cash, you can pay the ranger as to pull in. Otherwise, you have to park and go inside the office to pay.

Luckily, we got to the park in time to attend ranger led hike on the Summit trail. I’ve hiked this trail multiple times. In fact, it’s probably the only trail I’ve hiked in the park since it goes all the way to the top, but this was my first time doing a ranger led hike.

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I love ranger led hikes. They’re educational, and whether state or national park, we’ve always found that the rangers we’ve met have been engaging with the kids. We learned about how Enchanted Rock came to be and about the fairy shrimp in the pools at the top of rock.

It was a lot easier climbing Enchanted Rock when I was in my 20s! But the hike isn’t too hard. The hike is steep and smooth granite.  To save your ankles you might want to make your own switchbacks and walk in a zig zag line. The length makes up for the incline.  It’s short so you can take your time. For those reasons, I would describe it as more moderately strenuous, rather than strenuous. We saw a lot of families on this trail. Mostly kids running up the hill and parents taking their time.

The views from the top are amazing. You can definitely take your time and snap photos along the way. My eldest liked taking photos. My two younger ones liked scampering up and down, climbing rocks.

There are also flat trails in the park, at the bottom of the rock. On a clear night, the sky fills up with stars. We didn’t stay that long, but I’ve always wanted to camp at Enchanted Rock for that reason. Not surprising, the park is also a favorite place for rock climbers.

We spent only a couple of hours at the park. When the park ranger asked us where we were from and we said Houston. She said, oh I hope you didn’t come all the way up here just for the park.

We did and we didn’t. I wanted to take my kids here, but you can definitely fill the rest of your trip visiting other parts of the hill country like Fredericksburg, or farther out to San Antonio or even Austin. Spring time is especially nice with wildflowers growing everywhere.

 

Summer in Alaska

 

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I’ve always dreamed of going to Alaska. In high school, I had a mural of magazine photos depicting beautiful places around the world and many of them were from Alaska. Over the years, we made plans to to visit Alaska but never followed through.

This summer, we finally made it to Alaska! It was different than I imagined but in many ways it was even better.

Not only have I wanted to visit Alaska, but I had my own Alaska bucket list. it included a visit to Denali National Park, train rides, Glacier National Park, wildlife viewing, etc.

Unlike last year’s trip, we didn’t have time to take three weeks off to tour the state. The different parts of Alaska I wanted to see aren’t connected by roads either. That means travel by boat or airplane.

After some research, I decided that I should pick either Denali National Park or Glacier Bay National Park and plan a trip around one of those parks.

I’ve always wanted to see Glacier Bay, but both parks would be amazing, so I asked my teenager. He said Glacier Bay, so that’s where we headed!

The next decision was whether or not to take a cruise to Alaska or travel independently. Only two percent of Glacier Bay visitors actually step foot in the park. The other 98 percent are cruise boat travelers. There are a few large cruise ship lines that have Glacier Bay on their itinerary. Only a couple of boats are allowed in the park a day.

There are also some small cruise ships that come in. These do dock at the park. These tours are considerably more expensive than regular cruises.

In the end, we decided to travel independently. This isn’t the best option for everyone, but we absolutely loved it. Not only did we get a chance to really enjoy the park, we felt like we got to meet a lot of Alaska residents and see a side of the state most people don’t get to.