Two Small Towns to Visit in Southern Wyoming: Laramie and Saratoga

Wyoming is home to many small towns, and while I can’t say that I have been to even the majority of them, the few I have had the opportunity to visit so far all have their own character and charm. In southern Wyoming, there are two small towns that are close to my heart that I’d like to encourage you to consider visiting and/or learning more about – Laramie and Saratoga.

Laramie is home to the University of Wyoming and next door to some exceptional hiking. And Saratoga is a very small town that is home to a beautiful hot springs. Taken together, these southern Wyoming towns have a little something for everyone – trails, history, and relaxation. So, think about these small towns to visit in southern Wyoming when planning your next trip!

Laramie and the University of Wyoming

I knew of Laramie before my first forays into Wyoming for one thing – the boy scouts. Of course, that’s a little ironic, because as a woman, I couldn’t be part of the boy scouts when I was little, so I never got to go. But the stories of the adventures to be had there were legendary among my family and my friends who were boy scouts.

small towns to visit in southern Wyoming

(c) ABR 2022

Now, I live a short drive away from the town of Laramie, and I am a mini University of Wyoming student. So, I’ve grown a certain appreciation for the town, and do see it as a gateway to adventures in the wider Wyoming landscape.

As for the town itself, it is very small. And actually, after all the stories I had heard about Wyoming and Laramie itself, I was surprised to find that it is nested in a relatively flat area. There is no easily accessible hiking right in town. But with the University at its heart and a vibrant old town, Laramie is still a very cool place to check out when considering small towns to visit in southern Wyoming.

Downtown Laramie

small towns to visit in southern Wyoming

(c) ABR 2022

The downtown area of Laramie is not large by any means. You could easily shop it thoroughly in a few short hours. But that being said, it is full of nice shops (some of our favorites have Laramie-made adventure gear and University of Wyoming apparel), restaurants and coffee shops. You could easily make a leisurely partial day there by relaxing in a few food related places, shopping, and then eating lunch.

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Two (Relatively) Easy Lake Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is rightfully known for its challenging and potentially dangerous treks through the mountain range for which the park is named. But not every beautiful trail through this park is a high adventure track for experiencing hikers only. And for those lovers of water among us, there are also beautiful trails that features montane lakes of exceptional beauty. In particular, I’d like to give you a glimpse into two easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Both are great for folks of all abilities and can be very family friendly as well. Gem Lake is a more challenging, upwards trek through the forest to a small, mountain lake. And Lily Lake is a short, flat hike that will take your around the body of water, with plenty of breathtaking views to be had on your stroll.

Let’s open the door to RMNP and see if these hikes are right for you.

Picking Your Easy Lake Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

At a glance, these two hikes are pretty different from one another, so it shouldn’t be all that hard to pick which one fits your needs. Alternatively, we did both in one afternoon and if you have the stamina for that, it’s a great day out in the park.

easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Lily Lake (c) ABR 2022

Lily Lake is the shorter and easier of these hikes. There isn’t much elevation change, and you will have an easy stroll around the water. This is a busier area, however, with a smaller parking lot that is partially shared with trailheads across the highway. This can make parking a challenge and we had to cross the highway from our car, which I am not fond of. That being said, this is the better trail for an easy family hike, or for those friends among you who aren’t looking for a huff and puff up a mountain. This is a very accessible in terms of hiking skill level.

Gem Lake is a bit longer of a trek and it is more challenging of these two easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park because there is some elevation change from the trailhead to the lake itself. In fact, while this trail isn’t horribly hard, it is a pretty steady upwards hike. This is a wilder feeling area, and it has a pretty substantial parking lot that is more out of the way than Lily Lake. There is a bathroom here and when we visited, there were also volunteers at the trailhead. This is a doable family hike for families with kids that are used to hiking upwards.

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Foot Trails and Food in Fort Collins, CO: Pineridge, Riverbend Ponds, and Arapaho Natural Areas

Fort Collins in northern Colorado is a small(ish) college town that is known for being home to Colorado State University. And it is now home to Nightborn Travel. So, while this town might not be the #1 tourist spot in Colorado (which is not a bad thing), I will be exploring the trails and restaurants in Fort Collins (or FOCO) as thoroughly as I can.

We’ve got an amazing array of trails up here, managed by the city, county, and state, and it’s my goal to visit them all, big or small.

The restaurant scene here is also pretty small, but I am convinced that there are some gems out here.

Whether you are a long term local, a transplant like me, or a visitor to the area, join me now as I start to explore and appreciate my new home. If you are wondering about hiking in Fort Collins or food in Fort Collins, this is the guide for you.

Foot-trails and Hiking in Fort Collins

Tips and Safety Note for Hiking

hiking in fort collins

Viewpoint Trail at Pineridge (c) ABR 2022

Before heading out, check out the COTrex App for trail conditions. FOCO is very careful about closing trails when they are wet and prone to damage by use or potentially dangerous. Please don’t disobey trail closures while hiking in Fort Collins or elsewhere.

But remember, ANY time you go out hiking or traveling, your safety is your responsibility. This guide and any other guide is no guarantee of your safety. Check the weather. Wear the right clothes. Let people know where you are going. Bring snacks and water. ETC! Do your own research and be prepared.

As a final tip, many of these trails are near water which means that you need to exercise extra caution with yourself, your kids, and your pets. All water is dangerous, even if it looks calm.

Pineridge Natural Area

hiking in fort collins

Pineridge (c) ABR 2022

Pineridge Natural Area has a special place in my heart, because these are the first trails that I ever tried out for hiking in Fort Collins. In fact, I think it was only my second or third day after having moved into town that I visited. Not only that, but Pineridge helped me ease back into hiking after taking several months off due to plantar fasciitis.

This natural area is nestled between the foothills and a large city park called Spring Canyon. There is parking on both sides, and luckily, bathrooms to the south and north as well. But the amenities on either side are different. Near Spring Canyon Park, you can easily access Pineridge, but you can also access a dog park, skatepark, and traditional park. You can also park next to the Dixon Reservoir, and from there you can launch a small boat into the lake. On the flat plateau between the ridge and the lake you might catch sight of the local prairie dogs.

hiking in fort collins

(c) ABR 2022

From the Spring Canyon side of the natural area, you will take the Foothills Trail up the small ridge from the park. Then you can cross the top of the ridge and walk down to the lake, which you can circle using the Reservoir Loop Trail. From the lake side, you can more easily get to the lake, as well as a couple of short, uphill trails – the Veiwpoint Spur and Timber Trail.

All of these trails are pretty short, but you can make up different combinations of various lengths and level of challenge.

Need to Know Information
hiking in fort collins

(c) ABR 2022

Land manager: City of Fort Collins

Entrance fee: None

Bathroom available at trailhead: Yes

4WD needed to access: No

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Hiking in Indiana North to South: Two Parks Showcasing the Variety of Indiana Landscapes

We don’t really know the Midwest for its hiking, but I’ve found exceptional trails in every central US state that I’ve been too. (For example, did you know that there is cool hiking in Kansas?). And Indiana is no exception! While I will admit that I am no expert on the trails here, I can say that if you don’t go anywhere else to experience nature, Turkey Run State Park and the Indiana Dunes will not disappoint. All in all, hiking in Indiana shouldn’t be missed.

Hiking in Indiana Thanks To Cool Geology

One thing I’ve learned as I’ve traveled through the Midwest over the years is that it isn’t the flat land it’s made out to be. Sure, the Midwest states don’t have the Rocky Mountains or the Appalachians, but powerful geological forces shaped the Great Plains just as well as anywhere else.

In the case of Indiana, the big, geological force that created the land that we see today was glaciers. They slowly scraped across the land, leaving behind the fertile place that feeds millions today. They also left behind magnificent fossils from the Ice Age. And they created the unimaginably large Great Lakes.

hiking in Indiana

Turkey Run State Park (c) ABR 2022

North Indiana is notable for the series of dunes that stretch south from Lake Michigan. There are seven, in fact, and the series furthest from the lake is the oldest. This is an area where you can explore all kinds of ecosystems. Different plants colonize the sand and pave the way for more established species.

The middle of the state, which likely looks the way that you’d expect Indiana to, the plains seem to stretch on forever. And they are carpeted with oceans of agriculture. This was all scooped out by the glaciers that survive on as Lake Michigan now.

Continue traveling south, into the vicinity of Indianapolis, and you will see the land change again. Here, in the south, the plains give way to undulating hills covered in forests. They hint at the gorges and caves of Kentucky, with their own twisting rivers and narrow, stone canyons.

And you can explore it all by hiking in Indiana.

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Experience History and Culture in Indianapolis

Indianapolis is a hub for culture and history in the eastern Midwest. Whether you are passing through or you are interested in staying, it is worth taking the time to explore. There are many good museums and delicious foods to indulge in as you learn more about Indiana history and culture in Indianapolis.

culture in indianapolis

Unique Spots for History and Culture in Indianapolis

Indiana State Museum 

culture in indianapolis

(c) ABR 2022

If you are like me and you enjoy museums that encapsulate the natural and human history of a place, then the Indiana State Museum is the place for you. Even better that this museum has invested in a variety of immersive and hands-on exhibits. It is so fun to explore. And honestly, if you live in Indiana, I think it would take multiple visits to absorb all the information in there. I really enjoyed myself while visiting.

Tickets are $16 per adult (2022), and you can get underground parking validated for $4. They are closed Mondays and Tuesdays, and their typical hours are 10a-5p.

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Part One of Things to Do In Denver, CO

As with any large city, there are so many cool things to do, that it’s hard to pick just a few. For those of you visiting Denver, CO, I will be compiling my thoughts on various activities and food locations across the city to help you pick the best options for you and the length of your stay. For those who live in and around Denver, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these spots. But for now, in this first installment I’d like to share my impressions of Denver’s Meow Wolf installation, Belmar Park – a nice spot for history and a stroll, and a couple takeaways for African cuisine in the city and drinks at Death and Co.

TL:DR Go to Meow Wolf. Skip Death and Co. And explore the suburbs for good food and a unique park.

About Me and How I Travel – Is This Guide for You?

(c) ABR 2022

The blogs that I get most excited about are those written by people who have a similar travel style to me, and who are looking for similar things.

Relevant to this urban guide – I’d like to briefly describe what it is that I look for while visiting cities, so you can tell if this guide is for you.

First, when it comes to museums and art, I am a huge fan of immersive installations. I like being able to explore, touch, climb, and experience history and art.

I’m also a HUGE nerd, so give me fantasy and sci-fi and I will be happy.

And finally, when it comes to hiking, I am not a purist. I consider most trails to count as hiking and when it comes to exploring new places, I enjoy strolling parks of all sizes and difficulties.

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Hiking Mount Falcon: Western Loop Trail Near Denver, CO

There is many a trail near Denver, CO. I’d go so far as to say that the city is world renowned for its hiking and outdoor recreation opportunities. A lot of the big, famous hikes are outside of the city, however, nestled in the Rocky Mountains. There are some amazing hiking opportunities within 45 min of the city center, and Mount Falcon is one of them.

In particular, the Western Loop Trail is a relatively easy-moderate trail that is great for families. This short trek also features several different, historic points of interest which include the cornerstone of a once-imagined, Summer White House (yes, for the president of the United States). Hiking Mount Falcon is a great way to learn more about Colorado’s history and experience the amazing scenery of the lower elevation Rocky Mountains.

hiking mount falcon

Walker Home Ruins (c) ABR 2022

Hiking Mount Falcon

If I were to describe the shape of this trail, I would say it’s a mix between a lollipop and an out and back trail. The loop is actually in the middle of your journey, and it offers the opportunity to turn your outing on this trail near Denver, CO into a shorter hike.

hiking mount falcon

(c) ABR 2022

From the trailhead, follow the track down towards the bathrooms and the Castle Trail (past the branch for Parmalee Trail). This is a very wide section of trail that feels a bit developed, but it makes passing and hiking with the crowds more comfortable. Eventually you will come to the junction between Castle Trail and the Tower Trail and you will have your first route decision on your hands. Castle trail is much flatter, and leads to the Walker Home Ruins. The Tower Trail leads to Mount Falcon, so it has more elevation gain. If you’d like to start with the more challenging hike, start with the Tower Trail. If you want to make sure you see the ruins, start with the Castle Trail.

Castle Trail and the Ruins

hiking mount falcon

Walker Home Ruins (c) ABR 2022

While hiking Mount Falcon, we took the Castle Trail first, and went straight to the Walker Home Ruins. This section of the trek is flat and meanders through the forest. It’s a bit well-loved, but the trail stays wide, so the crowding isn’t too bad. The Walker Home Ruins are the remains of a 1910s home that once belonged to the wealthy entrepreneur that bought the mountain. What remains are the stone walls of the home, and anything your imagination can conjure up.

hiking mount falcon

White House Summer Home (c) ABR 2022

From the short spur to see the ruins, we continued east on the Castle Trail on the longest spur of the hike. This took us past the junction at Two Dog Trail and past a picnic spot with amazing views of the city. Up the mountain on Walker’s Dream Trail is a bizarre historic relic, a marble block at the corner of Walker’s “Summer White House” site. If the idea of kids donating their money to a wealthy landowner so he could build a summer home for the United States president sounds odd to you… well, it is. The summer home was never built, but we now get to enjoy what remains of the fanciful idea.

Mount Falcon and the Tower

hiking mount falcon

Meadow Trail (c) ABR 2022

From the Summer White House site, turn around and head back to the junction with the Meadow Trail. This is near where you turned off for the Walker Home Ruins; take the Meadow Trail. Predictably, this trail will take you through an impressive meadow. It’s still relatively flat here. Be sure to enjoy the unique plants and flowers in this sunny part of the mountains, free from the shading crown of the trees.

The easy part of the trail will end, however, when you start to hike up towards Mount Falcon itself. You will notice a pretty big difference when you turn off of Meadow Trail onto Tower Trail. From here, you will hike up, up, up to aforementioned “Tower.” This is a raised platform where you can enjoy the heights and take pictures of the mountains.

hiking mount falcon

Eagle Eye Shelter (c) ABR 2022

The good news is that from here you will mostly be hiking down. And on your way off the mountain you will pass by another fascinating ruin – the Eagle Eye Shelter. This is what remains of a family home built on the side of the mountain, complete with marble accents from the old, abandoned Walker home. You will follow Tower Trail back to Castle Trail and then go back the way you came to the trailhead to complete your hike.

Need To Know Information

Trailhead Map

Trail length:

Trail difficulty: Easy to moderate

Restrooms available? Yes!

Entrance fee:

4WD needed to access? No

Other suggestions: The trailhead is small at Mount Falcon, so be sure to have a plan B if you go and the lot is full. You might also consider waiting a bit if you get to the trailhead and the lot is full. Like anywhere, trails have waves of users throughout the day.

How To Get There

(c) Google Maps

The best way to access the Western Loop trail near Denver, CO is to park at the Mt. Falcon Park- West Trailhead. Otherwise, you will be doing quite a bit more hiking than you might be planning.

You can put the West Trailhead into Google and get to the parking lot, but if you’d like to check your route, keep reading.

From Denver, you will need to take the 285 west, into the mountains. When you hit the town of Indian Hills, turn off of the freeway onto Parmalee Gulch (the 120) and head north. Past Parmalee Gulch Park and St. Anne’s in the Hills, you will turn right onto Picutis Rd. Take an immediate right to stay on this road as it loops up through the forest. Then take a very hard right onto Nambe Rd and follow this until it turns into Mt Falcon Road.

You can then follow this road to its end, where it turns into a parking lot/trailhead for hiking Mount Falcon.

Strange History

hiking mount falcon

View from the Summer White House (c) ABR 2022

Mount Falcon’s human history goes back thousands of years, but the ruins that dot the park these days are linked to a man named John Brisbane Walker. He bought the mountain in the late 1800s. He then built a mansion on the mountain, which looked down at the growing city of Denver. I guess this view really made him dream big, because from there, he started planning the Summer White House. John really loved that view enough that he felt Mount Falcon was worthy of the US president living on its shoulders for the summer. The marble cornerstone that is still onsite was laid in 1911.

Now, if you visit Mount Falcon, you will definitely feel the love for this place. It is beautiful. But what I thought was most interesting, is that Mr. Rich Man Walker was planning on asking the school children of the United States to contribute their “pennies” to the project. Mhm.

hiking mount falcon

Sketches of the Summer Home

While I would love to be able to visit a marble wonder in the mountains of Colorado (because… the sketches for the Summer White House were beautiful), I am happy that this guy’s dream didn’t come to fruition. The mountains are more peaceful now and the views that John loved so much have been preserved.

As for his original mansion, it was burned down by a fire in 1918. The story of the land afterwards is somewhat evident in the Eagle Eye Shelter. This crazy platform on the edge of the mountain is what remains of a private home. When you walk up to it, you will note the unique marble slabs on walk up. This marble was taken by the family from the old Walker mansion and reused.

Eventually, Jefferson County Open Space acquired the land of Mount Falcon for the public in 1974. Thanks to those hard-working folks who make places like this open for exploration and enjoyment.

Trail Thoughts

hiking mount falcon

(c) ABR 2022

Access to nature is important. Sounds silly to say, but Mount Falcon is a testament to how much work it can be to create and maintain “open spaces” or natural spaces for people to explore and experience.

For me, the natural world is a place where I can meditate, and open my mind. It can be a huge challenge, physical and mental. Or it can be a stroll through the woods along a creek. I’ve learned to mourn and celebrate change through nature. And I’ve learned about the unique beauty of the world, from the celebrated landscapes to more humble places that many consider to not be worth their time.

Nature is everything to me. Those spaces where I can find peace and experience things not created by humans.

hiking mount falcon

(c) ABR 2022

But there are so many people who would like to do those things, and would benefit as much as me or more, who can’t get out on the trail. They might not live in a city like Phoenix or Denver where trails are nearby. Or they might have physical or monetary limitations that make even those places hard to get to.

What’s been so joyful to me has been working with the people who are focused every day on expanding parks, taking care of the ones we already have, and improving access in so many different ways. If you can, give your Parks Department some extra love. Whether they are behind-the-scenes folks or rangers, these folks make nature accessible.

Safety

Remember, your safety in the wild is up to you. This guide is not a promise of safety.

Follow the tips above (they are not comprehensive), and do your own research on safety. Check the weather, travel when it is safe to do so, and don’t risk yourself for a hike.

Land Acknowledgement

The land that we know today as Colorado is the territory of the Apache, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Pueblo, Shoshone, and Ute tribes. The Southern Ute Tribe and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe a currently federally recognized Indian Tribes of Colorado.

For a historically in-depth land acknowledgement, check out the American Library Association’s Indigenous Tribes of Colorado.

Exploring More of Colorado

There will be more Colorado guides coming to Nightborn Travel soon! We moved here in 2022, and have just started exploring this beautiful state.

Want to save this for later? Consider pinning it!

Visiting San Miguel in Channel Islands National Park

Off the mountainous coast of southern California, 26 miles from the mainland, is a low-lying island who’s indigenous name was Tuqan, and which is now known as San Miguel of Channel Islands National Park. Windswept, shadeless, and a 5-6 hour boat ride from Ventura, California, San Miguel is the most difficult island of the National Park to access.

Without a dock, the only landings that can be made are via a small skiff, which can’t drop off or pick up passengers in bad weather. Camping is the only accommodation, and visitors must carry all of their own water and gear up more than 500 ft of canyon from the beach to the campsite. Tuqan isn’t a destination for every traveler, so this post will serve as both a guide to visiting San Miguel in Channel Island National Park and a digest about the island for anyone interested in learning more about it, regardless of their intent to visit.

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

(Please note that I will be using both the “Western” name for San Miguel as well as the traditional, Chumash name as per the information that I could find, Tuqan).

Why I Was Interested in Visiting San Miguel in Channel Islands National Park 

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

(c) ABR 2022

I first started going to the Channel Islands in California when I was a kid. I was visiting Oxnard with my family, and I saw Anacapa off the shore. It enchanted me. All I wanted was to go and see it. It was like the island was calling to me. And my parents obliged me. My dad and I called a company called Island Packers and in a couple days, we were on the boat to Anacapa.

We climbed up the crazy ladder from the sea to the top of the island… and I was surrounded by the ocean, in what felt like another world. I was hooked. Hooked on the Channel Islands and in love with islands.

Over the years, my dad and I went back again and again. We kayaked on Anacapa, camped on Santa Cruz, and hiked through the mountains of Santa Rosa. We kept visiting the islands together until there was just one left (besides Santa Barbara, which has no dock atm) – San Miguel.

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

(c) ABR 2022

So, visiting San Miguel in Channel Islands National Park was fulfilling a dream. It was another adventure with my dad (and maybe the biggest to this point).

I was scared, because sometimes people can’t get picked up from San Miguel, and when I went to San Nicolas with a bunch of Channel Island fanatics (like myself) they told me most people went by plane. It felt like this impossible thing, and a huge unknown.

But it turned out that, yes, it was hard to get to. But everything was ok.

Planning an Expedition

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

(c) ABR 2022

In order to get to San Miguel, there are a few different things that you need to get in order, and there can be stiff competition, depending on the weekend that you want to go.

First, you will need to get your reservations on an Island Packers boat to the island. I suggest doing this as soon as the tickets go on sale. I bought mine early in the 2022 for a trip in October. The year before, I was unable to get tickets because they were full.

After you get your boat tickets, then keep an eye on Recreation.gov for when reservations for a campsite open up. Like the boat tickets, I would suggest trying to hop on and get reservations as soon as they open.

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

Beach drop of equipment on San Miguel (c) ABR 2022

HOWEVER, for both your boat reservations and camping reservations, PLEASE if you decide not to go, cancel ASAP. There are people who really want to go camping and hiking on San Miguel and they can’t if we all get reservations that we don’t keep. A lot of hard-to-get outdoor places get booked up and then a high proportion of people never even go.

There are also rare day trips that Island Packers does. So, if you want to visit, but you don’t want to camp, keep your eyes out for those!

For the hikers among us though, I would definitely encourage visiting San Miguel in Channel Islands National Park for at least two nights.

How to Get to San Miguel Island

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

Getting off the skiff onto the boat home (c) ABR 2022

As I mention above, the main way for us normal folks to get to San Miguel is to book a trip with Island Packers. It is about a 5 hour trip from Ventura, CA to Tuqan, and sometimes a bit longer. It kind of depends on how many stops Island Packers has on their itinerary for the day.

For us, they stopped at both Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa on the way over. On the way home they also stopped in the Rainbow Cave as well. So, I think it took about 6 hours.

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

The hike up from the beach to the campground (c) ABR 2022

If you get seasick, definitely arm yourself with Dramamine, eat before your trip and lightly while on the water, and avoid sitting somewhere on the boat without fresh air or a view of the horizon.

Previously, you could also charter flights to San Miguel, but I don’t think that is possible anymore. The company that used to do that, no longer does. And folks with their own boats can also moor off the island, but I have no idea what kinds of permissions you need from the National Parks to land. You are not allowed to do solo hiking on San Miguel, so I doubt you can land without permission/permits. Visiting San Miguel in Channel Islands National Park is no easy feat.

Hiking on San Miguel Island

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

(c) ABR 2022

It’s no surprise that one of the things I was most looking forward to when visiting San Miguel in Channel Islands National Park was the trails. And hiking on San Miguel is a bit different from your standard hiking experience. Mostly because you are not allow to hike by yourself except from the beach up to the campground, and over to the ranger station.

That’s because the Navy used to bomb San Miguel, and there may still be unexploded ordinance on the island. So, hikers need to travel with National Park rangers or volunteers. Luckily, when you are on the island, there will be someone else there with you to offer hikes and opportunities to explore.

When I was there, we were hosted by a volunteer who had worked for the National Parks before he retired. He took us on a hike everyday, and he was a wealth of knowledge about the natural and human history of Tuqan.

Point Bennett

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

Looking up at San Miguel Hill, the high point of the island (c) ABR 2022

The hike to Point Bennett is the premier trek of San Miguel and it is not a joke of a day hike. It is 14 miles round trip and involves hiking up and down the high point of the island twice, and traversing the rolling hills. A few different blogs that I had read before going said it was a flat hike, but I would beg to differ. It might not have massive elevation gain, but that doesn’t mean this is an easy hike.

I think most folks can do it, but go in with realistic expectations. You will be dealing with elevation gain, and 14 miles is quite a distance for one day.

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

Pinnapeds at Point Bennett (c) ABR 2022

But the pay-off for this hike is getting to experience the full landscapes of San Miguel. And you get to visit the beach with hundreds to thousands of seals and sea lions. I never knew how lively these fellas could be while on the beach until I saw so many of them. In particular, the babies were really active, running around in the sand, playing with one another.

Harris/Lester Point

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

(c) ABR 2022

On our third day on Tuqan, we lucked out, and our volunteer offered to take the group out to Lester Point. No one but us wanted to go because everyone else partied all night. So the three of us set out on the 6 mile hike.

Out in this direction, the plant assemblage is a little different than anything we had seen the day before. But this was the trail where we really saw evidence for the long history of people on this island. We crossed many middens, and walked through areas that people have been using for thousands of years.

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

Caliche formations on the way to Harris Pt. (c) ABR 2022

We also were able to see the graves of the Lester family, the last people to live on San Miguel as ranchers.

And at the end of the 3 mile trek out, we enjoyed breathtaking views of the sea. I realized while I was there that the point where we stood and looked out over the ocean, was likely a place where people had been enjoying the views for thousands of years. I haven’t connected like this with a place in the past. So it was eye opening to really feel how the concept “wilderness” has changed the landscape in novel ways… by removing people from it.

San Miguel is a People Place

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

(c) ABR 2022

Today, when you are visiting San Miguel in Channel Islands National Park, you are likely to be one of only 20 people or so on the island (maybe less). It feels like “wilderness,” somewhere meant to be empty of people. Sometimes the weather and wild character of the island even makes it feel inhospitable to people. But Tuqan has been home to people for more than 11,000 years. So, people have populated this wild and beautiful place for thousands of years before recorded history. In fact, I might go so far as to say that the island misses those who once called it home. The empty place that we see now isn’t San Miguel as it has been for thousands of years.

When Europeans first came to San Miguel, the Chumash people called Tuqan home. And there are thousands of years of evidence for their time there. To anyone who is visiting San Miguel Island in Channel Islands National Park now, there are hints of many many years of people everywhere. “Middens” with layers and layers of abalone shells from the people who fished them from the sea and enjoyed them on the rolling hills of San Miguel.

This all changed when Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo arrived in 1542, signaling the arrival of Europeans. With them came disease, and struggles for Chumash freedom. Unfortunately, the indigenous people of Tuqan were forceably removed to missions on the mainland in the 1820s.

visiting san miguel island in channel islands

(c) ABR 2022

After that, sheep ranching took place on San Miguel for about 100 years from the 1850s-1950s. This led to overgrazing, and intense erosion due to the lack of plant coverage across the island. The last ranchers on the island were the Lester family.

In 1948, the Navy reclaimed the island and removed the last ranchers. They used San Miguel for target practice during this time. It wasn’t until 1978 that the National Park started offering opportunities to visit the island again. Although, to this day the island is technically owned by the Navy.

Land Acknowledgement

San Miguel Island or Tuqan is the traditional territory of the Chumash people.

You can learn more about them at the Chumash Indian Museum.

As well as through the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians and the Tejon Indian Tribe of California websites. 

More on the Channel Islands

If you are interested in learning more about the Channel Islands, visit my guide for insight into the other islands of the chain, both in the National Park and outside of it.

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Barnhardt Trail: Hiking the Beeline Highway Part 2

The Barnhardt Trail, located between Phoenix and Pay on the Beeline Highway of Arizona, is one of my all-time favorite trails. It traverses one of the state’s most beautiful mountains, and showcases a waterfall. It’s also perfectly placed for a relatively short drive into the wilderness. This isn’t a particularly quiet trail, but its distance from the city also means that it isn’t horribly crowded. It is also easily combined with a visit to Payson, Arizona for a perfect day away from Phoenix. Whether you are an Arizona local or a hiker visiting the state, the Barnhardt Trail is a trail not to be missed (unless its unsafe!). Continue reading to plan your trip to this beautiful trail.

barnhardt trail

Why Barnhardt Trail is One of My Favorite Trails in Arizona

When I first visited the Barnhardt Trail, I was blown away. It was a special time, and without being able to visit the trail regularly, I am not sure if this was just a hiccup in terms of the general conditions of the route. However, when I visited that first spring, the snow melt created waterfalls up and down the entire trail. And the beautiful red stone of the Mazatzal Mountains were accented by the crystalline white of snow that had yet to melt. The higher you hike, the greener the trail becomes as well.

barnhardt trail

(c) ABR 2020

Any time of year, one of the coolest things about this particular trek is that you will be climbing up from the drier, lower elevation, up into the forests of the mountain. This is one of the most accessible “sky island” experiences that I have had the opportunity to experience. I wouldn’t say that this trail is easy, by any means, but the elevation gain is more steady and gradual than many other trails that take you from the base of mountains as impressive as these, to the top.

This is really just one of the most beautiful trails that I have been on in Arizona. And it blows me away no matter what season I visit in.

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Ballantine Trail: Hiking on the Beeline Highway Part 1

If you have ever driven from Phoenix to Payson in Arizona, you’ve had the chance to enjoy the beauty of the Beeline Highway. This road will take you up from the low-land Sonoran Desert to the temperate forests of Payson, and past exceptional mountain ranges to match. It is one of my favorite drive in the state, and so it stands that you might wonder what trails might give you some extra exploration of the landscape. There are several, in fact, but two of my favorites are the Ballantine Trail and Barnhardt Trails. This Part 1 post about hiking on the Beeline Highway will cover Ballantine Trail.

This is the perfect desert trail for exploring the transition from the desert to the higher elevation grasslands. There are exceptional stone formations along the way, and awesome views of the Beeline itself. If you are looking for a little bit of a challenge, and want to explore a diverse part of the Sonoran Desert landscape, this is the trail for you.

5 Reasons Ballantine Trail is for You

ballantine trail

(c) ABR 2019

If you don’t have a lot of time, or you’ve got a lot of trails on your bucketlist, here are 5 reasons that you might want to pick this particular path.

  1. You are looking for a biodiverse Sonoran Desert experience.
  2. You are looking for a winter, early spring, or late fall hike that isn’t too crowded or far out of town.
  3. You enjoy unique geology.
  4. You would like to explore more of the area between Phoenix and Payson along the beautiful Beeline Highway.
  5. You are looking to learn more about the impacts of fire on the Sonoran Desert.

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