Author: waitingforrain28 (Page 2 of 30)

Mt. Elden Summit Trail: Challenging Hikes in Flagstaff, AZ

If you are looking for challenging hikes in Flagstaff, AZ, Mt. Elden should be on your list. At 9,301 feet (2,835 m) elevation at its peak, and with 2,312 feet (705 m) elevation gain from the main trailhead, this might not be the tallest mountain in Flagstaff, or the longest trek. But Mt. Elden Summit Trail will push all but the most athletic hiker to huffing and puffing. That being said, the struggle is worth it. This mountain offers exceptional views of the surrounding terrain, and the summit trail will guide you through a variety of ecotypes as you travel up in elevation. Furthermore, since it isn’t as long as trying to summit Mt. Humphreys, Mt. Elden is a great training hike. And as one of the Arizona 20-20 summits, you can take in the sights, challenge yourself, and tick off a bucketlist item all at once.

mt elden summit trail

Mt. Elden Summit Trail: Is It Right for You? 

So, how do you know if the Mt. Elden Summit Trail is right for you?

You are looking for a challenge

If you want to challenge yourself physically (and emotionally), this trail might be for you. Now, I wouldn’t say that this is the hardest trail in the world. But for most of us normal people, it will be pushing the limits. That being said, there is something very satisfying about reaching the top. And something even more satisfying when you can back to your car.

mt elden summit trail

(c) ABR 2021

You have some experience and fitness for hiking

Mt. Elden is not Mt. Humphrey’s, but that doesn’t mean that this trail will be fun or doable for beginners. This is among one of the more challenging hikes in Flagstaff, AZ. It is very very steep and not easy to navigate or pass at all times. That means that I think this trail would be very uncomfortable for most beginner hikers. It is a big physical challenge, and for those not used to narrow trails, it could be scary as well. Due to the steepness of this mountain, getting off trail is also dangerous, because you could become trapped on a cliff or fall. Overall, if you are looking for a hike to ease yourself or a friend into hiking, I would look elsewhere.

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Easier Training Hikes in Phoenix, AZ: North Mountain and Shaw Butte

Phoenix has some extremely popular hikes right within city limits. You have probably heard of them – Piestewa Peak and Camelback Peak. But these famous hikes aren’t for everyone. They are very steep and very crowded, and for new hikers, these hikes can really turn you off. I’ve witnessed people really struggling on these trails and getting discouraged that they can’t do them. But hiking is like any other sport, you train to do it. You train to go further, to go on more difficult trails, and even just to keep up your skill levels and fitness. With all that in mind, whether you are a first-time hiker or someone who is just looking to add some variety to their training hikes, I’ve got a couple great options for you here. These are two peaks in the same section of the Phoenix Mountain parks – North Mountain and Shaw Butte.

There are loads of good hikes in this area, and you can adjust the length of your hike to match and track your progress. There is also a mix of paved trails and dirt trails, so for people who are really new to hiking, you can tailor your journey to your needs and comfort level.

These are also great trails to visit if you just haven’t been to them before, so let’s check out these great training hikes in Phoenix, AZ!

Training Hikes in Phoenix, AZ

training hikes in phoenix

(c) ABR 2022

One of the things that has really helped me in my hiking journey is (1) training hikes, and (2) a variety of trails that I can train on. Throughout my life, my fitness level has gone up and down and so has my hiking fitness. So, sometimes, I have to start from the beginning in terms of distance and steepness. Having some good trails in my back pocket makes it much easier to get back out there and build my strength back up. When I am keeping up my fitness, these trails help too. They make it easy to get out during the week or a lazy weekend and just get some miles in.

In particular, I think having trails that you are really familiar with and which represent varying levels of challenge can help you get out and do hikes that are harder or easier depending on your needs that day. I also find that familiar hikes are just easier to get out on when you are feeling down or tired.

With that in mind, Shaw Butte and North Mountain were two of my go-to training hikes in Phoenix, AZ when I lived there. North Mountain is a shorter hike with a nicely paved trail. While the trail up Shaw Butte is a little rougher and longer. There are also loops of 4 and 6 miles that can be done, and several flat trails that you can enjoy in the park.

In short, almost no matter what you are looking for, you can find it in this part of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.

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Visit Tensleep Preserve, WY: Conservation in Action

Ten Sleep Preserve, located in central Wyoming, was my first introduction to Wyoming. It’s a wonderful place to hike, camp, and experience some of the state’s lesser known natural wonders. The preserve is managed by the Nature Conservancy. Thus, it is part of a system of preserves across the United States and beyond that are meant to protect unique and important ecosystems. It’s possible to visit Tensleep Preserve and support the Nature Conservancy’s work all over the world.

This guide will introduce you to the preserve, lay out how you can check it out yourself, and share some pictures of this beautiful place.

About Ten Sleep Preserve

visit Tensleep preserve

(c) ABR 2022

Tensleep Preserve is a Nature Conservancy preserve that is located at the base of the Bighorn Mountains. And it is nestled near the small town of Ten Sleep. It is home to beautiful forests and canyons. And it has exceptional views of the arid lands surrounding the western side of the Bighorn. Visiting Tensleep Preserve presents a quite opportunity to hike and enjoy nature in a protected landscape.

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Hiking at Devil’s Tower National Monument, and Why We Should Stop Calling it Devil’s Tower

Hiking at Devil’s Tower National Monument is the best way to experience this exceptional natural landmark. There are short hikes, paved hikes, and longer treks, so there is a little something for everyone in terms of trails. Exploring on foot will allow you to see the mountain from nearly every angle, to enjoy views of the surrounding valleys, and take in the powerful energy of this sacred place. This guide will speak to a few of the trails that you might consider, and give you some tips for planning your trip out here. This particular national monument is pretty remote, and there are not loads of amenities out in this corner of Wyoming.

Hiking at devils tower national monument

I will also be speaking to the fact that it’s about time we stopped calling this beautiful place “Devil’s Tower.” I will be using that term only for SEO purposes, but otherwise, I will be referring to the Tower as Bear Lodge. Come with me to explore why it’s time to start using a more friendly and appropriate name for this formation.

Hiking at Devil’s Tower National Monument (Bear Lodge)

Need to Know Info

Hiking at devils tower national monument

(c) ABR 2022

In order to go hiking at Devil’s Tower National Monument, it goes without saying that you will need to get to the park and park your vehicle first.

Most likely, you will come from the east or west via the Interstate 90, which runs horizontally across South Dakota and parts of Wyoming to Buffalo, where it then heads north into Montana. From the I-90, you will take the 14 north; there is an east and west entrance to the 14 and both head north. From the 14, you will then take the 24 north again until you come to the large stop lights and signage for the park.

It is $25 for a vehicle to get a 1-7 day visitor pass to the park (as of 2023) and only credit cards can be used to pay now; or you can pre-play or use your Interagency Annual Pass. I would personally suggest planning for a 1-2 day trip unless you are a climber and might be climbing and hiking.

There are bathroom and visitor center facilities on-site, but no restaurants.

The Tower Trail

The Tower Trail is a 1.3 mile hike that travels around the base of Bear Lodge. This is the most popular trail in the park, and provides the best views of the mountain. It comes complete with informational signage, and there are several spots along the way that I would suggest you stop to admire Bear Lodge and share a spiritual moment with the land around you.

Hiking at devils tower national monument

(c) ABR 2022

In terms of hiking at Devil’s Tower National Monument, this is the must-do trail. Yes, it is crowded and parking can be difficult at the visitor’s center, but to experience the namesake of this place fully, this is the trail you want. Generally speaking, there is a little bit of an incline, but I’d consider this trail easy. It isn’t too long or steep. And it is a loop trail, so you will end up finishing right where you began. It’s a great trail to bring kids on as well!

Just please stay on the trail. Remember that Bear Lodge is a sacred place, and generally we can protect the natural environment by staying the trail to keep the impacts of travelers confined to trail areas.

Red Beds Trail

Hiking at devils tower national monument

(c) ABR 2022

Red Beds Trail is the longer and less crowded cousin to the Tower Trail. It is essentially a larger loop around Bear Lodge, and it is about 2.8 miles to do the whole thing. In terms of hiking at Devil’s Tower National Monument, this is also one of the harder trails, because it does have some elevation gain. But aside from this being a quieter trek, I also loved the variety of Red Beds Trail. It really showcases the all-encompassing beauty of Bear Lodge and the surrounding lands.

I took this route clockwise from the visitor center parking lot. When traveling this direction, you will follow the trail through the forest for a time. But don’t expect to have forest coverage for the whole hike. You will be hiking downwards and as you get to lower elevations, you will find yourself in a more arid setting. This is a mix of grasslands and red sands. It can also be a bit hot here in the summer, with little to no shade.

Hiking at devils tower national monument

(c) ABR 2022

Add to this the fact that you will start hiking back up while in this bright and exposed area. Specifically, you can expect to hike up from the junction with the South Side Trail, where you are also closest to the road. Luckily, you will find your way back up into the forest along this route, but it can still be a difficult time. In particular, you will just want to have sufficient water with you and avoid really hot parts of the year/day.

For any hikers, I would highly suggest doing both this trail and the central loop. You get great views of Bear Lodge and the surrounding landscape by doing both.

Tips for the Trail

Hiking at devils tower national monument

(c) ABR 2022

Although this is a relatively small park, compared to some other national park units, you will still want to keep safety in mind. I had a real heck of a time on Red Beds Trail because I didn’t have enough water with me when I did it. So, follow our typical tips and always remember, whether you are hiking at Devil’s Tower National Monument or anywhere else, you need to take care of your safety first. This guide does not guarantee your safety.

In addition to our typical safety tips, check in with the rangers at the visitor center to see if there is anything you need to know before you head out.

Unfortunately, crowding is also an issue all the way out here. For good reason, Bear Lodge is a very popular place for people to visit, but this can impact your experience there. In particular, it can be hard to park at the visitor center. If you can’t park at the visitor center, you can park at the admin building, and use the South Side trail to hike up to Bear Lodge.

Tips for Planning Your Trip to Bear Lodge

Hiking at devils tower national monument

(c) ABR 2022

If you want to go hiking at Devil’s Tower National Monument, you will have to stay somewhere nearby, because it is quite removed (or camp). The interesting thing is that there really aren’t any large towns very close to the park. When I stayed, I got a hotel room in Hulett, which is a very small town north of the park. Luckily, this place had more amenities that some of the towns I have been to in Nevada (towns so small they don’t have gas stations or food). Nonetheless, I almost ran into some trouble.

Because I was traveling around the same time as the Sturgis motorcycle event, things were a little odd. Basically every restaurant in town was booked or closed. And the restaurants closer to Bear Lodge was closed when I visited in the late afternoon. So, I almost had to go without dinner, except that someone at a restaurant in town took pity on me and sold me some leftovers from earlier in the day.

Point being, plan out your food situation when you are in the area. Check in with the restaurants to make sure that they will be open when you need them to be. You really don’t want to go hungry after a day of hiking and driving.

Time to Restore the Name of Devil’s Tower to Bear Lodge

Hiking at devils tower national monument

(c) ABR 2022

The exceptional and unique mountain that is Bear Lodge has been an important fixture for all people living in and crossing the plains for thousands of years, since people arrived in this landscape. Indigenous people had many names for this place, but these days, it is agreed that many of the names are similar to Bear Lodge. This relates to stories about the origins of the mountain, which usually included bears carving the pillars into the lodge.

Unfortunately, the name “Devil’s Tower” is associated with the genocide of indigenous people of the plains. Around the time that the name was changed, the bison that native people relied on for their livelihoods were hunted to near extinction in an effort to support the United States’ settlement of these areas. There are some records that suggest that Euro-Americans mapping this area mistranslated indigenous names for the Lodge, hearing “bad god” instead of “bear.” However, others say that the name change was purposeful. Either way, the name Devil’s Tower is not reflective of original name or indigenous regard for Bear Lodge. And it is now associated with a very dark period of history.

For one Indigenous perspective on this:

To learn more about this history from the National Park Service – check out their page on the subject.

So, for me personally, I am hoping that we will see the more original version of the English name restored to this place someday soon. Although there are many who would disagree with me.

My Stance on Changing the Name

Hiking at devils tower national monument

(c) ABR 2022

My opinion isn’t the super important, but I will just share my stance after the experience that I had at Bear Lodge. I feel like this special place deserves my support.

So, first off, from an uninformed standpoint, I think Bear Lodge is a better name than Devil’s Tower. There is something very powerful about this place, and it isn’t a simple, nice spiritual experience. But that’s the thing about bears, they are beautiful, (very cute), but also an animal deserving of respect and some fear. Bear Lodge sounds both inviting and deserving of some careful trepidation.

When I experienced hiking at Devil’s Tower National Monument, this was exactly the experience that I had. The trails weren’t particularly hard on paper, but it was still a heavy and reverent experience. Many cultures believe that struggle and pain lead to spiritual enlightenment, and that was more of my experience on these trails than the distance and elevation gain might suggest. In fact, by the time I got back to the trailhead, I was about ready to collapse. I was so grateful to be back at my car. Which… I should have been more prepared for the trails, but it was also something speaking to me. This isn’t a big park, but it is powerful.

Bear Lodge is a return to the ancient spirit of this place. It feels like a truer identity. And importantly, I think the indigenous movement to restore Bear Lodge’s name deserves the support of visitors who pilgrimage to this unique place.

Planning a Trip to Wyoming?

If you are planning a trip to Wyoming’s National Park units, give our Guide to Wyoming a peek. I have guides to some easy hikes at Grand Teton National Park, as well as my first impressions of Yellowstone, among other posts on nature and culture in the state.

Want to save this guide for later? Pin it!

First Trip to Yellowstone: First National Park in the World

Yellowstone National Park is a special place for many reasons. It has enchanted the human imagination for tens of thousands of years. And it inspired an entire field of science and environmental policy. It’s the first national park in the world, and its appeal has stood the test of time. My first trip to Yellowstone National Park was in 2022. While I would usually try to put together a guide related to my experience there, this time I am going to be giving you all more of a thought journal and trip log. There is just too much to see and do in Yellowstone. After one trip, I really don’t feel like I have much to offer. But that being said, maybe this exploration of a few days in this magical place will convince any hold-outs among you to give it a chance and plan a visit.

first trip to yellowstone

World’s First National Park

first trip to yellowstone

Avalanche Peak Trail (c) ABR 2022

Besides my new friends and collaborators that lived in Wyoming and Montana, the only things that I knew about Yellowstone before I visited was: (1) that it is an exceptionally beautiful place, and (2) it was the world’s first national park.

I think the first point is probably something that most of us know, or are at least aware of. Yellowstone isn’t a premier (and crowded) destination for no reason. But perhaps some among you will be surprised to know that the park was the first national park in the world.

But first, let’s back up. What exactly is a national park? The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN; it’s a big-wig in conservation, believe me) defines a national park as “a protected area managed mainly for ecosystem protection and recreation.” This essentially means that the goal of the government agencies running these parks is to maintain the quality of the environment but with access for recreation of various sorts. In the US, this recreation is limited in National Parks. This typically includes hiking, camping, horseback riding, and biking (although this varies from park to park).

Inspiring Conservation

first trip to yellowstone

Bison (c) ABR 2022

The creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872 sparked an entirely new way of looking at the land, and trying to conserve biodiversity even as industrial development required more and more natural resources. Now there are more than 100 countries with a national park system, and the US has 63 National Parks. This concept has not only become a staple of conservation, but an essential part of the outdoor recreation industry, and the lives of many many people, including myself.

All other things aside, this makes Yellowstone hallowed ground for a conservation professional like myself. So planning my first trip to Yellowstone felt momentous; I was going to get to see this special place that captured so many people’s hearts and minds.

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Where to Stay Near Yellowstone: Jackson Hole or Cody, WY

Whether you are planning on staying in Yellowstone National Park or using one of the nearby communities as your base camp, it can be a hard decision to pick a Yellowstone gateway community to concentrate on. (Alternatively, you may want to visit them all!). With this in mind, I’m writing this guide to help you explore two majorly cool options – Jackson Hole and Cody, WY. Both will give you very different experiences in themselves, and they give you different access points to Yellowstone. There are other gateway communities around the park (Yellowstone is massive), but when I went, these did not provide easy access to the park due to a 500-year flood that happened in 2022. So, let’s look at Cody and Jackson Hole to see if either of them is for you as you think about where to stay near Yellowstone.

where to stay near yellowstone

Eastern Yellowstone Gateway Community: Cody


Cody has a really unique vibe, and not just because it is an old cowboy town that has never forgotten its roots. It’s located at a lower elevation from most of Yellowstone National Park ( and thus, its environment feels decidedly distinct from the park. When you are in Yellowstone, you will be surrounded by forests and fields, unless you are marveling at geothermal formations that suppress the greenery with their heat, fumes, and toxic materials. But when you drive down to Cody, those trees thin out and are replaced by scrappy shrubs and resilient bushes, the likes of which are shared across the arid Western United States. The soil here too takes on a hue that is different from what you will see in much of Yellowstone. It is more red, tinged by iron.

In this way, if you are looking for a change in scenery, Cody is the place to go.

where to stay near yellowstone

(c) Wikimedia Commons

Attractions and Things To Do

Buffalo Bill Center of the West

As the Yellowstone gateway community, Cody has more than just the world’s first national park to call its own. It is also home to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, which is actually five museums in one! I was a little skeptical when I first read about this place, because I kind of wondered – how can a small town like this be home to such a spectacular, world-class museum?

(c) ABR 2022

Well, I don’t know about that how question, but I can definitely answer the yes/no question there. YES, Cody is home to one of the coolest, biggest museums on the American West that is out there. You can delve into natural history, indigenous culture, and the culture of the cowpokes that have called this place home in more recent history. If you are a museum buff, you could easily spend the entire day here. One ticket gets you into all three museums, and there is SO much to take in in each one.

The Buffalo Bill Center is also my kind of learning institution. They teach via immersive displays and through various means of engagement. The people who put this place together and maintain it on the day to day, really bring the museum A-game. You will have all of your senses engaged here, in each of the three museums. You will be able to learn via your imagination and escape, through touch, sound, and visual delights, and through the in-depth information that you can engage with along the way.

where to stay near yellowstone

(c) ABR 2022

If you did no other museum in all of Wyoming, I would suggest that you do this one. And if you aren’t just coming to Yellowstone to hike and take photos, I would suggest that you at least stop in Cody to take in this amazing place.

Other Notes

In addition to the museum, Cody is home to a variety of hiking options outside of the park as well. So, you can explore the unique environment on foot if you’d like. There are also opportunities to explore via mountain bikes and ATVs out here.

For the additional attractions, I’d give Cody a close look when considering where to stay near Yellowstone.

Other Things to Consider About Cody

where to stay near yellowstone

(c) Wikimedia Commons

Cody has a different feel than Jackson Hole. It is still a substantial community, complete with multiple gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and shops (and a myriad of stop lights). But it isn’t quite as geared towards tourism in the same way that Jackson Hole is. This is still a community where local people can afford to live and thrive. (So, please respect that).

If you are looking for a genuine, small-town Wyoming feel when looking for your Yellowstone gateway community, Cody will have that for you. This is a living, breathing town with all the good and bad. You will find plenty of tourism offerings but not as much of the curation as in Jackson Hole. The suppliers in Cody will also be a bit different, but I think you can find just about anything you need in this town.

Access to Yellowstone

Cody is about 1 hour from the border of Yellowstone National Park. Please check the Yellowstone website to see if there are any road closures.

It will be a drive up into the mountains from Cody to Yellowstone, and a somewhat steep and winding drive out and back to town.

You will have easiest access to parts of the park nearby the eastern exit.

Travel times and the trails you are looking to access should all factor into your consideration of where to stay near Yellowstone.

Southern Yellowstone Gateway Community: Jackson Hole

where to stay near yellowstone

(c) ABR 2022

For my Arizonans out there, Jackson Hole reminds me so much of Sedona, but on a larger scale. It is magical, it is somewhere you want to be. It draws you in in this indescribable way. But at the same time, it is a testament to tourism gone wrong in so many ways. It is has become unaffordable to local people (in 2022 there was only one house in all of town that was selling for under 1 million dollars).

It gets intensely crowded. And the local folks are often outnumbered by visitors. All the same, I can’t say that Jackson Hole isn’t somewhere that I hope to go back to. Taking the bad with the good, it was still somewhere that I understand why so many people flock there and pay big money to stay. So, when thinking about where to stay near Yellowstone, Jackson Hole might still be a good option for you, but it comes with caveats that I will outline for you below.


where to stay near yellowstone

(c) ABR 2022

Everything surrounding Jackson Hole is mountainous beauty. In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful places in the world. When I first got there, it reminded me of New Zealand (one of my all time favorite places). And even the drive up to Jackson Hole from the south was awe-inspiring. Imagine the wide-open spaces of the plains, merged with the wild expanse of wooded, powerful mountains. It’s a place that feels deeply sacred and at the heart of what we have some to call “wilderness.” The town is nested in all of this, and while it isn’t the kind of place where you will be roughing it by any means, it feels like adventure.

There is hiking and other outdoor activities to be done in any direction leading out from Jackson Hole – from national parks to national forests and more. In the winter, there are also ample opportunities to get out on the snow as a skier or snowboarder. If you can afford to stay here, there is a little something for everyone in this Yellowstone gateway community.

Attractions and Things To Do

where to stay near yellowstone

(c) ABR 2022

Besides Yellowstone, the most important (in my humble opinion) attraction near Jackson Hole is Teton National Park. I have a great post about some beginners hikes in this park. Do let the Tetons sway you when you are thinking about where to stay near Yellowstone. They are some of the most exceptional and breathtaking mountains in the entire world. There is tons of hiking, and sightseeing to be done in this park.

The Tetons are also closely linked to Yellowstone, so I think visiting this park is an awesome complement to Yellowstone itself. There are grizzlies, elk, and other large animals that call this place home, and while it lacks the immense geothermal elements of Yellowstone, its craggy peaks make it totally unique.

You could easily spend 1-2 days here alone, or several days if you are looking for backcountry hikes and camping opportunities. Backpacking permits are a bit hard to come by, however, so do you research when planning your trip.

Downtown Jackson Hole is also full of little tourist shops and restaurants. It is a great place to spend a lazy afternoon or morning exploring and looking for the perfect souvenir. I’ve also had some VERY good breakfast in town – from an amazing (but popular) French bistro, to a very fun and tasty bagel house. For those members of the family that aren’t as fond of hiking and the outdoors, this is the place for them.

Other Things to Consider About Jackson Hole

Crowding and Conditions
where to stay near yellowstone

(c) ABR 2022

Jackson Hole might sound like the perfect Yellowstone gateway community so far, and there is a lot to love about it. However, it isn’t all good in this mountain town. Like Sedona, Jackson Hole is a ground zero for “overtourism” in the United States. While you might find some other technical definitions of this word elsewhere, I consider that to mean that tourism has overtaken the local community in importance, leading to local people needing to leave the town in order to survive.

Properties here are far outside of the range that regular people can afford, and vacation homes have become more and more of the norm. Take a peek at Airbnb and you will see luxury homes and condos on offer – none of these affordable to local people as homes or to many travelers as lodging.

The streets are crowded, both with cars and pedestrians, and parking in the surrounding national parks can feel more like a nightmare than your dream vacation.

where to stay near yellowstone

(c) ABR 2022

The prices for hotels in Jackson Hole can also be outrageous. When I stayed here, I got a modest but clean motel-type room that went for $400 a night. Yes, you read that night. And this was in the shoulder season. Now, I did find my lodging a little late and I had limitations on when I could go because this was linked to a work trip, but… I have never stayed in such humble accommodations for that much, ever. And I would never consider $400 a night as an option in all but the most special of cases. My typical range for hotel prices is preferably from $100-$150 a night in the US to balance cost with quality.

I believe if you plan far ahead, you can find better prices than this, but please beware if you are thinking about Jackson Hole as your base camp.

Access To Yellowstone

Jackson Hole is 1.5 hours from the nearest Yellowstone entrance, and it is about 2.5 hours from Old Faithful.

In terms of suppliers, you will have a Target and REI on hand, along with other grocery stores and shops. So, you should have no problem if you forget gear for your trip or need to pick up anything in town.

Planning A Wyoming Trip? 

Where did you pick when considering where to stay near Yellowstone?

Are you looking for other things to do and explore in Wyoming? If so, consider some of the small towns that you will find on your drive between Yellowstone and Denver – Laramie and Saratoga. Escape some of the crowds and get your dose of Wyoming culture and the state’s sweeping landscapes. I will also be building out Nightborn’s Guide to Wyoming in the coming weeks and years, so be sure to give that a look for more travel ideas and information on this wild, western state.

If you’d like to save this post for later, consider pinning it.

Easy Hikes in Grand Teton National Park

I haven’t been to every national park in the United States, but I have been to a fair few. (Including the Cascades, Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone). And I must say, I think that Grand Teton National Park are one of my all-time favorites. When I first caught sight of the rocky peaks, rising up over the valley floor, I couldn’t believe that I was in the US, and not in New Zealand somewhere. The mountains didn’t even look real, but more like something from a fantasy book.

easy hikes in grand teton national park

This place maintains its wildness, while also being a huge tourist draw. It’s crowded, but it’s magical. Besides a landscape that will make your jaw drop, Teton is full of wildlife. Taken together, great hikes, and beautiful views all make even the easy hikes in Grand Teton National Park an adventure.

Come with me now to explore some perfect, beginner’s lake hikes for your first time in Grand Teton National Park.

Easy Hikes in Grand Teton National Park

Hermitage Point Trailhead

easy hikes in grand teton national park

(c) ABR 2022

Hermitage Point Trail leaves from Colter Bay Village, which is right off of the 287/89 and has food, gift shops and information. If you try to make it all the way to the end of the trail and back, it isn’t really a beginners trail (imho). It’s 9 miles long, round trip. But what makes it nice for beginners is that there are so many loops in this area that you can take to make it a shorter trip, or you can turn around at any time. The trail is fairly flat, however, so it’s a great option for a flexible option among the easy hikes in Grand Teton National Park.

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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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