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Backyard Discoveries: Indiana Medical History Museum

Well, hello! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I haven’t forgotten about Backyard Discoveries, dear readers, even if this particular discovery is a little belated (by say, oh, maybe three months or so).

I visited Indiana in October, and one of the places I found on a list of must-sees was the Indiana Medical History Museum. I enjoy the weird and the historical, so this seemed like a perfect place to stop on a soon-to-be-rainy afternoon.

Indiana Medical History Museum

Things to Know Before You Go:

  • The museum is only about three miles west of downtown Indianapolis – stop by on your way to or from downtown!

  • If you visit, it’s through guided tour only. Which you’ll want anyway, because how else would you learn about the building and its history? Our docent was an absolute delight and firecracker. They were super knowledgeable about the museum, and also about the medical field – being a former nurse and current nursing professor.
    • No need to reserve a tour (unless you’re a larger group or perhaps need special accommodations),  as you can just show up. Tours are given every hour, on the hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays.
    • Admission is per person, but only $10 for adults and less for seniors and students. Might I also remind you that the museum is a non-profit and these fees help with funding (and so do donations, so feel free to give more if you feel so inclined).
  • Lastly and importantly, in case it wasn’t clear, this is a MEDICAL history museum. There are specimens. There is talk of cadavers. There is an autopsy table (pictured below). This building also was once part of the larger campus of a psychiatric hospital. If the thought of any of these things makes you or anyone in your party uncomfortable, do yourself and them a kindness and perhaps check out another Indianapolis attraction like the canal walk downtown instead!

The guided tour delves into the museum’s history, from the building’s inauguration in 1896 to its use as a place to study mental illness as a part of the former Central State Hospital.

You’ll get to see and learn about each room in this former pathological department, from a lecture amphitheater, to labs and even a photography room.

Not to be missed is the relics of their studies – slides, specimens and more. If you’re looking to see a slice of brain in a box or perhaps a full skeleton, this is the place for you.

That’s a wrap for this installment of Backyard Discoveries. And hopefully, it’s given you another idea of how to cure your little travel bug. See you next time!

Just what the doctor ordered,
Katie

Tips for A Unique LA Itinerary

LA itinerary

I grew up in Phoenix, AZ so I have been to Los Angeles more times than I can count. The last time that I visited, however, I forced my friends to come with me to some of the tourist spots that the city is famous for. My husband tried to warn me away from some of them, particularly the Walk of Fame, but let’s just say… sometimes I just need to see how bad something is before I can believe the stories. Luckily for me, it’s easy to go back to LA to discover the good about the city. Not everyone has that opportunity, so I’ve written up this detailed guide to some of the major attractions that you should and should not visit on your LA itinerary.

Famous Locations to Make Time For

Griffith Observatory

LA itinerary

(c) ABR 2018

I’m going to be honest here and admit that I had no idea that the Griffith Observatory existed until I saw La La Land. So, the last time that I visited Los Angeles I wanted to give it a try and I ended up loving it. Whether you are a nature lover, fan of beautiful architecture, or just looking to snap a good picture of the Hollywood sign, this place belongs on your “what to do in LA” list.

The Observatory itself has a beautiful astronomy museum inside the building that is free to visit. There are talks and educational events throughout the day for all visitors as well. When I was there, I caught two talks, one about the iconic Foucault Pendulum in the entry rotunda and another about the mysterious Gottlieb Transit Corridor outside. In either case, it was a lot of fun to learn how these tools work and what we can learn from them. Adults and kids will enjoy the museum and it’s well worth an hour or more of your time.

LA itinerary

(c) ABR 2018

Of course, you should also take some time to explore the outside grounds, because you will not only get a great view of the entire city from the Observatory vantage point, but the Hollywood sign is perched nearby. It’s a great place to indulge your inner tourist and snap a few pictures with the sign in the background.

Finally, if you are looking for a half-day experience, you might consider parking at the base of the mountain and then hiking up to the observatory. This will take you through a hilly, wooded area and give you a chance to escape the crowds for a bit.

LA itinerary

(c) ABR 2018

The Observatory itself is free, however parking is not. If you’d prefer to save some money or aren’t comfortable parallel parking, there is a bus that you can take up. The DASH Observatory bus will get you up the mountain from the Vermont/Sunset Metro Red Line.

Disneyland

southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

Personally, as a Disney fan, I don’t think any LA itinerary would be complete without a trip to Disneyland. Even on the most crowded day, I just enjoy being in the park and taking in all the beautiful environments that have been created there. There’s really nowhere else in the world that you can wander from the Old West to a busy African marketplace in a matter a minutes.

Of course, Disneyland is a great place for families as well, although it is the most expensive attraction here by far. Some of my best memories as a kid were made in Disneyland, and of course, this is the best place to get great pictures with all of your favorite Disney, Marvel and Star Wars characters.

LA itinerary

(c) ABR 2018

Besides the great rides, I enjoy trying all of the great foods in the park (something they have really upped their game on in the past couple years). If you want to keep updated on all the food news in Disneyland, I would suggest checking out the Wonderful World of Food Youtube Channel.

All that being said, Disney recently increased their prices and last I read we are up to $150 a day during peak season and $104 otherwise. Parking is $25 per day on theme park grounds, so if you can, try to stay in one of the hotels that are within walking distance or have a shuttle. There are a few that aren’t overly expensive, surprisingly.

LA itinerary

(c) ABR 2018

Lesser Known Locations that you MUST Visit

Little Tokyo

LA Itinerary

(c) ABR 2011

We have an entire post on Little Tokyo, so I always consider this in my “what to do in LA” lists. It isn’t a large area, but we never fail to spend a few hours there. In particular, if you have been to Japan, Little Tokyo will be a nice reminder of that beautiful country across the sea.

For a lovely afternoon in Little Tokyo, I would suggest going around lunch and planning to get dinner there as well. There is a lot of good food in this area, and they serve things that you really can’t get easily in other places. After lunch, take some time to visit the Japanese-American National Museum. This is a great place to learn about the history and vibrant lives of Japanese-Americans, from the shameful parts of our history to the beautifully unique art and culture that has resulted from the mixing of American and Japanese heritage. It is $12 dollars to get in for adults.

LA Interinary

(c) ABR 2011

After spending some time in the museum, taking in all the history and art, take time for a tasty snack or dessert and then enjoy the shopping in Little Tokyo. There is a ton of stuff that you would find in Japan, but also shops with unique items that mix Japanese and American culture with the unique character of the shop owners. It is a really great place to find a unique souvenir. Top the night off with some delicious Japanese food, or a downtown LA restaurant if you want to mix it up.

Parking in downtown LA is not free, so budget for parking; there is a big parking structure right next to Little Tokyo if you prefer to avoid street parking.

Santa Monica National Recreation Area

southern california road trip

(c) ABR 2018

This is a massive national park unit, and there are definitely trails in the park that you will probably see in top ten lists here and there. But I would highly suggest getting out of the city a little bit to really explore this majestic slice of urban nature in your LA itinerary.

Solstice Canyon is a must-do. The trail there is not difficult or long, but the canyon is beautiful and ends at the ruins of a mansion. The nature and architecture tell a story unique to Los Angeles, so it is a great place to find a mix of my two favorite things, culture and nature. There is also a lovely picnic spot at the trailhead that’s the perfect place to eat lunch with the family.

For those of you looking for a harder hike, head up into the mountains to summit the tallest peak in the range, Sandstone Peak. It’s only a little over 3,000 feet, so it’s not extremely challenging but there are unparalleled views from the top. The ocean will be on one side and the city on the other, sandwiched in the middle will be you and the wilds of the mountains.

Best of all, this park is free, so you can wander at your leisure.

What to Avoid in your LA Itinerary

Walk of Fame

LA itinerary

(c) ABR 2018

The Walk of Fame is my least favorite thing that I have ever done in LA, and I insisted on going the last time because I see it on so many “what to do in LA” lists! I just wanted to do the tourist thing and experience this place, but I ended up just absolutely hating it. Parking was extremely expensive compared to everywhere else in the city, and as soon as we walked out onto the street it was impossible not to notice how dirty the street was. The stores were little better for the most part.

Like any tourist trap, basically everything that you want to do here, besides just walking around will cost you something. And I just got a very predatory feel while I was there. I doubt that this is an area that many local people go to, so coming to the Walk of Fame just slaps a TOURIST sign on you. I’ve never liked that feeling and a few pictures of the Chinese Theater and the stars just don’t make the experience worth it.

LA itinerary

(c) ABR 2018

The worst part of the whole thing was the people wandering around in costumes. Unless you want to pay to take a picture with one of them, stay far, far away. They like to fluster people with handshakes and then pull you in for a picture. One of them even grabbed a friend of mine in a very inappropriate way. It was very uncomfortable. As far as I know, none of these people are actually sanctioned to be there as those characters either. As an example, you might get manhandled by a Mickey or Chewbacca, and it’s not something that Disney would ever allow.

I’m sure there are people out there who have had a good experience on the Walk of Fame, but in my opinion, it just really isn’t worth your time. Save your money and go elsewhere. You can get great Hollywood pictures from Griffith Observatory, and there are plenty of unique spots in LA that you can go without the tourist scams and people trying to pull you into pictures with them for a buck.

Downtown LA in general

LA itinerary

From Wikimedia Commons

Besides Little Tokyo, I find downtown LA to be one of the worst downtowns that I have ever been to (and I’m from Phoenix). There is some really good food here, which is still worth the trip, but I would never spend the day walking around in the city like I would elsewhere. The streets are just dirty, and there isn’t a lot to see when you are walking around.

That being said, I feel a lot more ambivalent about this than the Walk of Fame. I think people that really love the city could keep this on their LA itinerary and have a good time. There are certainly some cool museums in the city and instagrammable spots, so it wouldn’t be impossible to enjoy an afternoon there. However, it certainly won’t be the best downtown experience that you have, and if you have limited time, this is definitely something that you can skip.

If you like this post, you might also enjoy:

LA intinerary

(c) ABR 2018

The Ultimate Southern California Road Trip for Hikers and National Park Enthusiasts

Escape the City in 5 LA National Parks

Nightborn Travel’s Guide to the California Channel Islands

LA Itinerary

LA Itinerary

The Ultimate Southern California Road Trip for Hikers and National Park Enthusiasts

Southern California is an absolutely wonderful place for hikers and national park enthusiasts. There are deserts, beaches, mountains, and cities with attractions that I think any nature lover will enjoy. If you are like me, and love getting as much out of your vacation time as possible, this intense itinerary for a Southern California road trip is for you.

BEFORE YOU LEAVE

(1) Set up your trip to the Channel Islands with Island Packers in advance, and buy necessary permits from the National Park Service.

(2) If camping, be sure to have all of your permits squared away.

(3) Reserve your hotels/hostels/etc. and your rental car. If possible, rent an off-road vehicle.

(4) Bring all necessary safety equipment and hiking gear. Make sure a friend and/or family member has a detailed itinerary including the trails that you are planning on hiking.

DAY ZERO: STARTING IN LOS ANGELES

Los Angeles is a great starting place for this Southern California road trip, because it is the definitive capital of life in Southern California. There are tons of flights into the city and some of them are a great deal. That being said, there are some things about Los Angeles that make it a little difficult as well. LAX is a massive airport and can have issues with delays and construction, and the city itself is a warren of highways and crowded streets. I would suggest doing your best to time any drives through the city around traffic hour because it can literally take 2-3 hours to get across the city without lots of traffic jams.

DAY ONE: MT. BALDY

southern california road trip

(c) ABR 2016

Mt. Baldy is the tallest mountain in the San Gabriel Mountains that hem in the city from the east, and the trail to the summit is no joke. With about 3,900 feet of elevation gain and 11.3 miles from start to finish, the trek up this mountain is a challenge for all but the most seasoned of hikers. If hiking is something you enjoy, however, and you don’t mind the challenge, I highly recommend this hike. It took me about half a day to complete it, and to this day is probably one of the more difficult summits that I have completed.

The trail itself is really beautiful, and has some unique sections. The Devil’s Backbone was one of my favorites, where you follow the ridge of the mountain with major drop-offs on either side of you. There are also stretches of forest with tiny waterfalls, and of course the view from the top of the mountain may be one of the most amazing for this Southern California road trip.

southern california road trip

(c) ABR 2016

If hiking isn’t your thing, not to worry, there is a ski lift that you can take up to the lodge part of the way up the mountain during the weekends. You can also enjoy the trails lower down on the mountain for nice day excursions.

If you’d like to go for the summit, however, park just past the Mather Flats Campground and hike towards San Antonio Falls. Just past the falls, you will find yourself at a fork in the trail. The trail to the right will take a more gradual (but long) route up the mountain to the ski hunt, and the other trail is a steeper, more direct route to the top. I would personally suggest taking the steeper route up, which I think will allow you to appreciate Devil’s Backbone and Baldy Bowl more, and you won’t destroy your legs with a steep downhill.

DETAILS
southern california road trip

(c) ABR 2016

For more detailed information on this hike, see Hikespeak’s post, which I used to plan my own trip. Note that you will need to purchase a pass for the national forest, and these can be picked up at the nearby gas stations on the road into the mountains.

STAY: Los Angeles Area, potentially near the Santa Monica Mountains if you’d like to avoid driving more the next day.

DAY TWO: THE SANTA MONICA NATIONAL RECREATION AREA

southern california road trip

(c) ABR 2018

The Santa Monica Mountains are partially managed by the National Park service, and they offer some really varied hiking as well as ocean views. I would suggest warming up in the morning in the foothills so that you can experience some of the rolling grasslands that are so characteristic of coastal southern California, then moving onto a visitor center to grab a park stamp and speak with the rangers. From there, I did the Solstice Canyon trail, which is pretty gradual and relaxing, and has the perfect picnic area for lunch.

For hikers, my next stop would be Sandstone peak, the high point in the Santa Monica Mountains, where you can get some amazing views of not only the city and the ocean, but the backbones of the mountain range itself.

In case you don’t want to do more hiking that day, you can also head out from Solstice Canyon and spend the day exploring Malibu and enjoying the beach.

DETAILS
southern california road trip

(c) ABR 2018

Hiking in Santa Monica is free in National Park lands.

For more information on the Santa Monica Mountains see our guide to the best hikes in the park.

Note that the Woolsey Fire damaged this area in 2018, so I would suggest checking with the park website and/or rangers to get the latest information on what’s open at the time that you visit.

STAY: Ventura, CA

DAY THREE: THE CHANNEL ISLANDS

southern California road trip

Santa Rosa (c) ABR 2018

There are an endless number of trips that you could plan for the Channel Islands, and I would suggest looking through our guide to help you decide. If you only have a day to spare on your Southern California road trip, I would suggest taking a day trip to Anacapa or Santa Cruz. But if you have more time, consider camping on Santa Cruz or Santa Rosa where you can explore the unique landscape of the islands more thoroughly on the trails and sea (if you like kayaking/snorkeling). If water-based activities are more your thing, Anacapa can also be a great place to camp, because there is a ton of kayaking and out-of-this-world kelp beds there.

DETAILS
southern California road trip

Santa Rosa (c) ABR 2018

Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you have reservations with Island Packers before you leave for your trip, because without that, you won’t have access to the islands. If you are camping, you will also need a reservation with the park service. Prices will vary with the location that you choose and the length of the trip you decide to devote to these beautiful islands.

STAY: Ventura, CA

DAY FOUR-FIVE: SEQUOIA AND KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK

southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

It’s about a 4-hour drive from Ventura to Sequoia, so get an early start. Once you reach the foothills, consider enjoying a picnic near Lake Kaweah or grabbing food in one of the small cafés in the Three Rivers Area. Then work your way up into the mountains through Sequoia. Of course, the stars of this park are the redwoods, which you will start to see in the higher reaches of the mountains. On the way up, stop by Hospital Rock, the Crystal Cave (summer only), and the Giant Forest Museum. But of course, make sure that you leave plenty of time for the redwood forest. The General Sherman Tree is a must-see and there are lots of lovely trails among the giants to explore.

On day two, continue exploring the forest landscape in Kings Canyon (if you go during the summer). Enjoy the beautiful views of the canyon, and enjoy some mild hiking (unless you still have tons of energy). Note that the road through this park is closed during the winter.

DETAILS
southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

The $35.00 vehicle pass covers both parks and lasts for 1-7 days.

There are lots of road closures in both parks during the winter as well as strict rules about chains and four-wheel drive when there is snow. You can rent chains in the Three Rivers area on your way up if you need to, just keep your eyes open while passing through the small towns.

STAY: If you can, I would highly suggest trying to get a room in one of the lodges in the parks. If that isn’t possible, stay in one of the small towns in the mountains.

DAY FIVE-SIX: DEATH VALLEY

southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

It is about 5.5 hours from Sequoia National Park and Death Valley National Park, so I would plan a quiet day driving to some of the main spots in the park. Mesquite Flat Dunes, the Badwater Salt Flats, Artist’s Palette, and consider Dante’s View for sunset are some of the main things that you could consider checking out to get your lay of the park.

On day two in Death Valley I would pull my hiking boots back on. We have a detailed list of my favorite hikes in the park, but there are so many trails in Death Valley. There really is something for everyone. In order to see the most while you are there, I would suggest a mix of short trails and more moderate length trails and a nice mix of the different aspects of this unique desert landscape. If you want to do a major summit hike, Death Valley also has options like Wildrose Peak (8 miles) and Telescope Peak (14 miles).

DETAILS
southern California road trip

Road trip rental car in Death Valley (c) ABR 2018

The park entrance fee is $30 per vehicle for 7 days.

STAY: There aren’t a lot of places to stay near the park, so if you can afford it, I would try to stay in Furnace Creek.

DAY SEVEN: MOJAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE

southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

Mojave National Preserve is one of the lesser known spots on this epic Southern California road trip, but this desert is full of unique landscapes and hikes. It is a great place for hikers and nature lovers to escape the crowds and see a place that mixes some of the best aspects of Death Valley and Joshua Tree.

We have a detailed description of hikes in this National Park unit here, but I would highly suggest the Teutonia Peak and Hole-In-The-Wall trails. These aren’t too hard but offer some amazing views of the park, as well as some very fun trail experiences. There is also a historic landmark in the park, the Kelso Depot, and access to Mitchell Caverns State Park ($10 entrance fee and $10 for a cave tour- get reservations ahead of time here).

DETAILS
southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

The Mojave National Preserve has no entrance fee.

It is about 2 hours from Death Valley National Park to Baker, CA just outside of Mojave; it is then 1.5 hours from Kelso to Twentynine Palms.

STAY: Twentynine Palms area

DAY EIGHT: JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK

southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

Joshua Tree National Park has become extremely well known in the past couple years for its climbing, fascinating rock structures, and its chill vibe. For hikers, and road trippers, this national park has a huge variety of stops and trails. Hidden Valley is my personal favorite spot in the park and is suitable for people of all hiking abilities. Ryan Mountain offers a more difficult trek, although it is relatively short, and for those looking for a big summit challenge, consider the Pinto Summit (details here). Other spots to see in the park include Keys Views and Cottonwood Spring, although if you have time I would give all of the big points in the park a stop. For more details.

DETAILS

$30 vehicle entrance fee

STAY: Palm Springs

DAY NINE: PALM SPRINGS

southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

By this point, I would be pretty tuckered out, so the next few days will give you time to rest and ready yourself for the journey home at the end of your Southern California road trip.

First stop for this rejuvenation is Palm Springs. This small city is known for its mid-century modernist architecture, adorable downtown stretch, and characteristic palm springs. If you are interested in seeing some of the architecture, look here for details. If you still have the energy to hike, this guide will give you the details about hikes to some of the desert oases that this city is named for.

southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

I would highly recommend the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for any kind of traveler. It is about $26 dollars to ride, and the views from the tram and top of the mountain are absolutely beautiful. There are also hikes and nice walks at the top so you could make this into a whole day if you wanted, or a half day trip.

STAY: Palm Springs or Los Angeles

DAY TEN: LOS ANGELES

southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

After all your hiking and exploring, it is time for the last day of the Southern California road trip before you head home.

If you are a Disney fan, treat yourself to a day in Disneyland/California Adventure.

If you want to get a taste of Los Angeles before you leave, I would suggest visiting the Griffith Observatory, which is free, and Little Tokyo in the downtown area. The Observatory has some more hiking, if you are a real champ, but there is plenty to see there even without a trek. There is a small museum in the observatory which is free (although you will need to pay for parking), and this is a great place to take pictures of the Hollywood sign and the city.

southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

Little Tokyo is also free to visit, but you will need to pay for parking. There is TONS of Japanese food in this area as well as great shopping. I usually spend 3-5 hours here shopping, eating and visiting the Japanese American National Museum ($12).

STAY: Los Angeles

NEXT DAY: HEAD HOME

southern California road trip

southern California road trip

Escape the City in 5 LA National Parks

Sometimes urban life gets the best of us, and our spirits need some time in nature to recoup and heal. Los Angeles is one of the world’s biggest cities, and it can make a person feel like they’re trapped in an endless urban landscape full of unending traffic jams. It does for me, anyway.

But LA also is a great city for nature lovers, because it is surrounded by some spectacular national parks that make for a wonderful weekend getaway or an epic tour of Southern California’s varied landscapes. For either one, this is your comprehensive guide to the LA National Parks. For a brief run down of the parks, see below:

LA National Parks

The Santa Monica Mountains (c) ABR 2018

(1) Joshua Tree National Park: Unique rock formations, plenty of trails, climbing opportunities

(2) Santa Monica: Coastal mountains, urban landscapes, plenty of trails

(3) Sequoia National Park: Giant redwoods, varied landscapes, small mountain towns, plenty of trails

(4) Death Valley National Park: Extreme desert ecosystem, plenty of trails

(5) Mojave: Varied desert landscapes, plenty of trails

Remember to always hike prepared. Bring proper clothing, sturdy shoes, and water/snacks. Bring maps, and when appropriate, let rangers know where you are going. You are always responsible for your own safety while exploring.

Joshua Tree National Park

LA National Parks

Official Website

Distance from LA: 3 hours (132 miles)

Distance from Phoenix: 3.5 hours (222 miles)

Best Seasons: Early spring, late fall, winter

Cost: $30 per vehicle

LA National Parks

Joshua Trees (c) ABR 2018

Joshua Tree is probably the most popular of the LA National Parks, particularly in recent years. The park is named for the unique plants that dot that landscape, the illustrious Joshua trees, but I’d say that the rock formations of the park are the big draw for me. It is a famous climbing location, but there is plenty to do here for people with all kinds of interests. For those of you who aren’t big on hiking, there is a beautiful road that you can drive down and see all of the sights. This goes from Yucca Valley in the north to the I-10 in the south, so keep in mind that this is not a loop road in the park, but it can be made into one if you enter from one direction and then head out from the other.

LA National Parks

(c) ABR 2018

I will list three of my favorite hikes in the park below, but some other spots that you really should check out on your drive are Keys View, White Tank, and the Cholla Cactus Garden. Keys will bring you up high enough in the mountains to see Palm Springs, and it is a great view of the surrounding mountains, as well. Arch Rock is amid some lovely rock formations where you can stop for a leisurely lunch and stroll. For those of you that have never seen a Cholla, the cactus garden is for you, but please, please stay on the trails here. Stepping on the roots of cholla over and over can hurt them, and they are also dangerous for you (so spiny!). Keep a respectful distance.

FAVORITE HIKES

Cottonwood Spring Trails

LA National Parks

(c) ABR 2018

These trails will give you a pretty easy stroll through the ecosystem that Palm Springs is named for; wild springs with massive, wild palms growing around them. There are also some mining remnants that have left a lasting impact on both the landscape and history of the area. There is some incline on these trails, but not much, and there is a large spring near the trailhead. So, this is a great place to stop whether you are a hiking enthusiast or not.

Ryan Mountain

LA National Parks

(c) ABR 2018

If you are looking to gain some elevation without committing to a big hike for a summit in the valley, Ryan Mountain is a great trail. It is only 3 miles (out and back) but you will pack on about 1,050 feet, so it is a great workout. The mountain is also located in the center of the valley so the views from the trek up and  at the top are absolutely amazing- you can just about see the whole park from up there.

Hidden Valley

LA National Parks

(c) ABR 2018

The Hidden Valley loop is a MUST-DO trail for any one that can make the walk. It is a short 1-mile loop, and it will take you through a narrow passage of massive rock formations into another world. Hidden Valley will make you forget that there is a larger valley surrounding you and the city will be the furthest thing from your mind while you are there. This place was once used by ranchers as a nature pen for cattle, but now it is a peaceful place for visitors of all kinds. That being said, Hidden Valley is easily accessible from the road, so this is one of the most crowded trails.

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Official Website

Distance from LA: 1.5 hours (39.1 miles)

Distance from Phoenix: 6.5 hours (418 miles)

Best Seasons: All

Cost: Free

LA National Parks

(c) ABR 2018

WOOLSEY FIRE: Currently, some big patches of the SMNRA are closed due to the Woolsey Fire. Please consult with the National Park website for up-to-date information on what is open.

The Santa Monica Mountains are a wall of stone and wilderness between LA and the coast to the west. So, they are a great place to escape the stress of the city, and view the ocean from above. I also love exploring them in order to understand more about what this place looked like before people came and changed everything. This is really a great place for hikers, despite the closeness of the park to the city. For long distance hikers, the Backbone trail is 67 miles through the mountains.

FAVORITE HIKES

Solstice Canyon Trail

LA National Parks

(c) ABR 2018

This trails follows a canyon up into the mountains toward the historic Roberts Ranch. When I was here, not only was there water running in the canyon, but there were parrots playing in the boughs and whizzing through the air. This is a great hike for anyone that can deal with some incline and wants to explore the interior of the Santa Monica Mountains. This is just a 2.1-mile round trip (out and back), but there are plenty of other trails in the area to explore if you need to stretch your legs more.

Sandstone Peak Area

LA National Parks

(c) ABR 2018

Sandstone Peak is the high point of the Santa Monica Mountains, and there are miles and miles of great trails in this area. This hike is a bit more difficult, so as much as I love the views up there, I would not suggest this area for people that aren’t comfortable with heights, steep inclines, and rough terrain. We did a loop in this area and ended up hiking for about 6 miles. You could go for longer, or summit and then turn around for a shorter hike. This is honestly the best place to get a sweeping view of the mountains in all directions.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

Official Website

Distance from LA: 4 hours (210 miles)

Distance from Phoenix: 9 hours (574 miles)

Best Seasons: Late spring, summer, early fall (Chains required with snow)

Cost: $35 per car

LA National Parks

(c) ABR 2018

Unfortunately for me, I did not have the opportunity to explore Kings Canyon when I visited the LA National Parks, due to snow, but Sequoia is a wonderful place to visit. As its name implies, there is a beautiful forest of giant redwoods here, but there is so much more, as well. At the entrance of the park, there are sweeping landscapes of grasslands and rolling hills that are in stark contrast to the forests that the road will begin to climb up through after you pass through the small town at the base of the park. (Be sure to stop here for food, or consider staying in one of the small lodges). After that, the road follows the canyon until it begins weaving its way up into the mountains that are crowned by the redwood forest. Be aware that several roads in this area are closed during the winter, so you may want to avoid it during this time. If you do visit when there is snow, you need have either four-wheel drive or chains.

LA National Parks

(c) ABR 2018

Be sure to check out hospital rock with its beautiful petroglyphs, and of course, the  stunning redwoods. The General Sherman tree area is a particularly great place to experience the majesty of redwoods on foot. Be on the lookout for signs asking you to keep your distance from some of the trees to protect their roots. Remember that these ancient trees are more important than your photo (you can always edit a photo to make it look more dramatic without hurting any trees).

Death Valley National Park

Official Website

Distance from LA: 4 hours (215 miles)

Distance from Phoenix: 6.5 hours (402 miles)

Best Seasons: Early spring, late fall, winter

Cost: $30 per vehicle for 7 days

LA National Parks

(c) ABR 2018

Death Valley is many things, including the hottest, driest, and lowest national park in the United States, but don’t let its name and these things scare you off. Death Valley is an absolutely breathtaking LA National Park with desert landscapes that are as unreal as they are harsh. I grew up and live in a desert, but I have never seen somewhere as stark at Death Valley. In fact, this might be one of my favorite national parks with the power to pull me back just like the Grand Canyon, and the Channel Islands.

LA National Parks

Artists Drive (c) ABR 2018

There is just something about the painted, dead mountains and cracked, salty bottom of the valley that speaks to both the majesty and danger of nature. When you drive through, be sure to stop at the Mesquite Flat Dunes near Stovepipe Wells Village, take Artists Drive through the Artists Palette, stop at the salt flats of Badwater Basin, and make time to spend sunset at Dante’s View. If you are a hardcore hiker/enjoy four-wheeling, I would also suggest trying to come with a 4-wheel drive vehicle, as there are many dirt roads in the park. It should go without saying, but be extra careful about having enough water in this park while exploring, and watch your car’s gas levels and monitor any issues with overheating. This place is no joke.

FAVORITE HIKES

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

LA National Parks

(c) ABR 2018

You can easily view the Mesquite Sand Dunes from your car or from the parking lot, but I really enjoyed trekking out into the sand towards the largest dune in sight. Of course, there was a fair amount of sand to be poured out from my shoes on a regular basis, but I think that there is no better way to experience the dunes than by immersing yourself in them. There isn’t really a trail here, so you can wander where you’d like and for as long as you’d like.

Ubehebe Crater

LA National Parks

(c) ABR 2018

Again, you can just view the crater from the parking lot, but I think you will get a lot more out of the 1.5-mile trail that loops around the crater. Not only will you get to view this beautiful place from all angles, but you will get some wonderful views of the surrounding landscape, too. This is one of the northernmost places that you can easily access with all vehicle types in the park. You might also be ambitious enough to hike down into the crater, but be forewarned, it is quite steep.

Golden Canyon

LA National Parks

(c) ABR 2018

The entire time that I was in Death Valley, I was enchanted by the canyons that snaked away into the skeletal mountains of the valley – these places that seemed utterly without life. Golden Canyon Trail, which links to a variety of trails, was a great way to get a taste of the heart of the most characteristic mountains of the valley. The canyon itself could be home on any dead and rocky planet like Mars, and the vibrant colors of the rock make it seem even more otherworldly. There are also breathtaking sandstone formations on the trail such as the Red Cathedral and the Manly Beacon. When we did this hike, we made a loop of Golden Canyon and the Gower Gulch, which was around 3 miles in length.

Mojave National Preserve

Official Website

Distance from LA: 4 hours (177 miles)

Distance from Phoenix: 4.5 hours (252 miles)

Best Seasons: Early spring, late fall, winter

Cost: Free

LA National Parks

(c) ABR 2018

The Mojave National Preserve is one of the more secluded parks on this list. Although it is not quite as far from the city as some of the other LA National Parks, it is far less visited. That being said, it has an amazing variety of landscapes and offers some of the same draws as the other places on this list, including Joshua Trees and a huge stretch of sand dunes. The Mojave National Preserve is also home to some completely unique places, and the historic Kelso train depot, making it well worth visiting in its own right.

FAVORITE HIKES

Teutonia Peak Trail

LA National Parks

(c) ABR 2018

This short, 3-mile out and back trail will introduce you to the unique desert of Mojave. This is especially striking if you have seen Joshua Tree NP recently, as there are Joshua Trees here but they are markedly different than those of the other park. As you approach Teutonia Peak, you will have the opportunity to walk through a forest of these unique plants, and you will also be rewarded with a sweeping view of the Cima dome on your way up the mountain. Unfortunately, the end of the trail was unclear to us when we visited, so I can’t say much for the summit itself. Even so, I think this was a great place to get a taste of why this national preserve is so special, while also getting a sense for what connects it to the other places in this list.

Hole in the Wall and the Rings Trail 

LA National Parks

(c) ABR 2018

I loved this trail because of the beautiful rock formation that you get to explore while taking it, and also because of its unique character. At the beginning or end of the trail (depending on which way you start) you will be required to climb down steep stone passageways by clinging onto large metal rings that form ladders in the rock. As you can imagine, this wouldn’t be a great activity for people with a fear of heights, or at any time when the metal might get hot in the sun. However, if you’d like to avoid the rings but still see the rock formations, you can hike in from the other direction and just stop as soon as the rings appear.

Why You Need an Arizona Christmas Vacation in Phoenix: Lights in the Desert Part Two

If you live somewhere cold, and you’re feeling like you need some fresh air and sunshine, Phoenix, Arizona might be the destination for you. The capital of Arizona is no longer a characterless surburbia. There are museums the likes of which you will find no where else. It has a unique climate perfect for getting some winter vitamin D. There are tons of desert trails to explore. And Phoenix has a growing foodie scene. However, that is not what I want to talk to you about today, because Phoenix is also the annual home to some beautiful Christmas light events that make it the perfect spot for an Arizona Christmas vacation. For families, this is a great time to visit, and experience the wonder of the holiday season without the freezing temperatures and threat of blizzards.

Zoolights

Zoolights has basically become a yearly holiday tradition with family and friends. Who doesn’t love strolling around the Phoenix Zoo when it’s decked out in thousands of holiday plant and animal-shaped lights while sipping a cup of hot chocolate?

Zoolights lights up the night typically from the third week of November through the second week of January. If you can swing it, we recommend going on a weekday instead of weekend because the zoo can get PACKED (plus, parking can get kinda hairy on busier days). Plus, if you go on their value nights, admission is about five bucks less! Check their website for the value night dates and full admission info.

If you’re hoping to see animals during your Zoolights experience, it’s going to be pretty limited.  The animal enclosures are dark and most of them have turned in for the night. However, you CAN visit their Stingray Bay for a chance to pet some stingrays – basically my favorite thing (which was included in admission this year, although we didn’t go 🙁 ). Alternatively, maybe you can make a zoo day out of the trip and see the animals during the day and the lights in the evening.

The Phoenix Zoo is located in the heart of Papago Park, and also conveniently located next to our other holiday lights attraction, the Phoenix Desert Botanical Gardens.

Electric Desert and the Luminaries at the Desert Botanical Gardens

The Phoenix Desert Botanical Gardens is a must-see for any first time visitors. It is set in the beautiful Papago Park, and features desert plants from Arizona and around the world. Many have adapted so well to the desert that they have taken on exotic and beautiful forms. Even people with little interest in plants will enjoy seeing these unique little lifeforms. Strolling through the Botanical Gardens is enjoyable either way, particularly in the cool weather of the winter.

Arizona Christmas Vacation

Cacti in the night (c) ABR 2018

During the holiday season, the Phoenix Botanical Gardens plays host to a variety of events that cater to both local and visitor interests. During October, they celebrate the Day of the Dead with ofrenda installations designed by local artists (October 26, 2018 – November 7, 2018). And every Christmas they do a beautiful luminary display (Dec. 1 – 23 & 26 – 31, 2018). However, the Desert Botanical Gardens has also supported a variety of unique lights-in-the-night art events. A few years ago, they had a park-wide Chihuly installation that they lit up at night. This year they are hosting Electric Desert. This event melds music and light to create immersive experiences that accentuate and highlight the organic shapes of the garden plants.

Desert Botanical Gardens Logistics

Arizona Christmas Vacation

Electric Desert (c) ABR 2018

While Electric Desert is only here until May 2019 (October 12, 2018 – May 12, 2019), if you plan your Arizona Christmas Vacation for 2019, the Desert Botanical Gardens is worth a visit. I find that the Desert Botanical Gardens is great for adults spending the night out. It is has some class and tranquility that really sets it apart.

You can visit the Desert Botanical Gardens during the day (8a-4p) for $24.95, and the Electric Desert/Luminaries costs $34.95 – $39.95 for the night. I believe that you can also purchase a joint ticket, but I didn’t see this on the website. If you go for a joint ticket plan on spending at least 3 hours in the park. You might also want to enjoy the surprisingly amazing food at Gertrude’s, the park restaurant.

Arizona Christmas Vacation

Electric Desert (c) ABR 2018

CURRENT Hours For Las Noches de las Luminarias and Electric Desert
8 a.m. – 4 p.m.  (Daytime admission)
The Garden is open for Las Noches de las Luminarias and Electric Desert ticket holders from 5:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. nightly.

Christmas Lights: Christmas at the Princess

Arizona Christmas Vacation

Christmas at the Princess (c) Stephanie Snedeker 2018.

We would be remiss if we discussed any Arizona Christmas vacation (or staycation) without mentioning that Phoenix has many opportunities to enjoy traditional Christmas lights in the less than frigged air. My old family tradition was to drive through the neighborhoods with cultures of spectacular lights. For the sake of responsible travel, let’s leave those places for local families. Not to worry though! There are events throughout the city to enjoy so you will not be for want of Christmas lights.

Arizona Christmas vacation

Christmas at the Princess (c) Stephanie Snedeker 2018

One such event is Christmas at the Princess, where you can enjoy a mix of light draped trees and whimsical light animals, boats, Christmas characters and more. The Princess also does a variety of Christmas-themed activities that you can pay extra to enjoy, such as a skating rink, train rides, Build-a-Bear workshops and more. Probably not our cheapest option with all the add-ons. But you can keep your eyes open for Groupons to this event. (If you love these pictures of Christmas at the Princess, be sure to check out the rest of Stephanie’s photography on Instagram!)

If you have rented a car, another great option is to skip town and drive two hours north of Phoenix to Prescott. Some call this small town the Christmas capital of Arizona, and I think that the name is fitting. The downtown square of Prescott is decked with lights and Christmas decorations every year. There are a variety of great restaurants to enjoy along with the night of celebration and small-town charm. This event is free, but it has been getting more press. So I would suggest arriving earlier in the day so you can find a place to park. It is likely that you will need to pay to park as well, unless you decide to go the extra mile and reserve a hotel there for the night.

Arizona Christmas Vacation

Arizona Christmas Vacation

Holiday Lights Phoenix: Lights in the Desert Part One

I’ve never really thought of Phoenix as a good place for holiday experiences, but this year I have become very aware of the fact that this city comes alive with lights in the winter. Whether you are here right after the summer heat ebbs in October, or through the Christmas and New Years, there are fantastical events featuring art, sharing culture, and giving us moments to celebrate those who have left us and hopes for the future. If any of that sounds interesting, stay tuned for our guide to Holiday Lights Phoenix. 

The Lights Fest

The Lights Fest is a paper lantern lighting festival out in Florence, AZ (a town southeast of Phoenix). The festival usually takes place in the beginning of November, but be sure to double check their website because the date can move around due to availability of the festival grounds, weather, etc.

For about $25 per person (sign up for their mailing list to get early ticket access), you can take part in the unique experience of lighting your own paper lantern. Watching it float amidst hundreds of other lanterns against the dark night sky more than makes up for the longer trek out to the field.

The lanterns aren’t launched until the sun has set and the fire department give them the okay to let lanterns go, so be prepared to keep yourselves entertained (though they usually have live performances and music playing). It’s a good idea to bring chairs to sit on, and if the event is in the fall, blankets and warm clothing, too.  If you want to make a picnic out of it, you can bring your own food and drinks – just no alcohol. They also typically have food trucks on-site, but the lines are usually pretty long.

It’s a pretty laid-back event, so if you want to enjoy a relaxing afternoon/evening and enjoy a beautiful display of floating lanterns, this is a great little festival to attend.

Moonviewing Festival in the Japanese Friendship Garden

Holiday Lights Phoenix

The beautiful Japanese Friendship garden of Phoenix celebrates the coming of the Fall (and the break of the hellish summer heat) by holding a Moonviewing Festival (Otsukimi in Japanese). By nature, this is a Phoenix holiday lights experience, because the moon is involved, but the friendship garden also decorates the grounds with luminaries, paper lanterns, and soothingly illuminated Japanese art pieces. They also bring in food vendors, and open up their tea garden to visitors.

Holiday Lights Phoenix

You can enjoy delicious Japanese foods while listening to traditional, live music. Then head over to the teahouse to learn about the Japanese tea ceremony and traditional instruments. When you need some solitude, you can wander the grounds of the gardens. Be soothed by the rushing waterfall and lapping pond, while the sounds of the festival ebb and flow in the background. Of course, you have to also marvel at the majesty of the moon. You can attend this event for $25-$30 dollars beforehand or at the door respectively; this price does not include food. (Late October)

Scottsdale Canal Convergence  

Holiday Lights Phoenix

The Scottsdale Canal Convergence is a yearly event that brings together interactive art, educational and hand-on activities, and the beauty of Old Town Scottsdale. The best time to visit, particularly if you want to enjoy the art in its element, is after dark. Although the event opens in the late afternoon. Most of the installations are meant to dazzle your senses by melding light and sound into a totally unique experience that you can often also touch and feel.

Holiday Lights Phoenix

This year, I got to watch metal lotuses floating in the canal fire multi-colored flames into the air. I got to watch children laughing as they spun a massive, shifting rainbow of empty water bottles. I climbed into a glowing hamster wheel and rowed with my husband until the pictures lining the inside spun into an animated blur. There were giant pieces of lace floating over the water, glowing chalk paintings, and a crystal of endless fractal depths. There were also student art pieces to explore and marvel at. Every year has different art, so I can’t guarantee what you will find here. But I suspect this will continue to be a great place to visit as long as it continues. The best part about this Phoenix holiday lights event? It’s completely free! (Early-mid November).

Holiday Lights Phoenix

If you are in Phoenix for the winter and missed any of these events, there is no lack of other great winter attractions to visit. And come back in a couple weeks to learn about more opportunities to see beautiful lights in the city.

Anacapa Island: Gateway to the Channel Islands

Anacapa Island as a Gateway to the National Park

Anacapa Island

From wikimedia commons.

Anacapa Island is the first Channel Island that I ever visited, and it captured my heart and made me fall in love with the entire island chain. I first glimpsed Anacapa from Ventura, CA while I was on a trip with my family. At first, I wasn’t sure that the mountainous shadows on the horizon were real, a figment of my imagination, or some play of light off of the ocean. After a bit of investigation, I discovered that what I was seeing was very real. There were islands out there; the mystery was too much for me. I had to see them. So I booked a day trip with the Island Packers to Anacapa, the smallest of the islands.

As a young girl, I was enchanted by the treacherous looking steel ladder and stairs that led up the island’s cliffs from the bobbing boat. I loved that I could stand in the middle of the island and see the ocean in all directions. I loved hearing the birds arguing with one another as they nested and lived their busy lives. And there was nothing more picturesque than the lighthouse perched on the eastern end of the rocky crag in the sea. Since that day, I have always been called back to the Channel Islands. I have camped on Anacapa Island twice, camped on Santa Cruz twice and done a day trip to the Nature Conservancy side, spent a weekend on Santa Rosa, and volunteered with Channel Island Restoration on San Nicolas in order to give back to the islands I love.

Birding and Sunsets

Anacapa Island

From Wikimedia Commons.

Anacapa Island, much like Santa Cruz, is managed by both the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy. Of the three smaller islands that make it up, only one is readily accessible to visitors. There you can spend the day enjoying views from out of this world, or camp among the birds.

For those who camp, they will be delighted by Anacapa’s Inspiration point, which is situated on the western end of the NPS island. Perched on a little bench, you can watch the sun set over the other two islands, and on a clear day, see Santa Cruz just beyond. Once you’ve been there and seen it yourself, I can tell you, it is something that you will never forget and no picture will ever do it justice. Nonetheless, there are many paintings and photos of this beautiful viewpoint to be found in shops all over Ventura.

Anacapa Island

Inspiration Point during the day from Wikimedia Commons.

Bird lovers will also find Anacapa Island to be a dream-come-true. Not only do rare sea birds nest on the island, but if you come during the right season, you can camp (very carefully) in the midst of breeding sea gulls. I can’t think of a cuter memory than waking up to gull chicks playing under the flap of my tent before returning to the nest for food. That being said, this island really belongs to the birds, and one memorable downside to Anacapa is the quite pungent smell that decades of bird-living has created.

Kayaking and the Underwater World

Anacapa Island

Garibaldi fish from Wikimedia Commons

While Anacapa island itself is quite small, particularly the part of it where you can camp and hike, there is a whole watery world to explore in relation to this beautiful place. If you are a snorkeler (I imagine that diving is difficult due the whole metal ladder situation, but feel free to correct me if I am wrong), you will be delighted by the otherworldly kelp forests that are easily accessible from the eastern island. There are tons of flashy, orange garibaldi and brilliant purple urchins under the waves.

Kayakers can also spend the day out on the water, exploring the sea caves (very carefully!) and checking out the small pebbly coves that you can find along the island here and there. Be sure to keep your eyes open for sea lions and birds out there. We found a couple gulls tangled in fishing wire once and helped the rangers set them free. We were also chased down the beach and back into our boat by a sea lion once. We landed on an empty cove, ate our lunch, and then this guy just decided we were on his turf. He came right up out of the ocean and barked us away from his little beach paradise. It was scary at the time, but pretty funny in retrospect.

Tips and Safety for Anacapa

Anacapa Island

Shared by Connar L’Ecuyer

Climbing up the ladder up the cliffs from the boat landing to the island is actually quite dangerous. In 2013, a very experienced NPS volunteer tragically fell to his death while boarding a boat. So, please be careful while coming and going.

Cliffs are dangerous and no picture is worth your life. Keep your distance.

There are almost no ways out of the water and onto the island outside of the boat landing. So, always be prepared with food, water, and safety equipment while snorkeling and kayaking.

Remember that you are only a visitor to Anacapa Island. Respect the animals that call this place home and keep your distance from them. If you run into some of the situations we did here’s what I would suggest. (1) A baby seagull comes close to your tent door; stay quiet and still and let the little guy leave in his own time. If you scare him, he might get lost and other sea gulls might not be so welcoming to the little beb. (2) A sea lion or seal gets out on the beach and approaches you. As long as you can do so safely, retreat and give them the space that they need.

Anacapa Island

From Wikimedia Commons

Overall, remember that your safety is always your responsibility. Be sure to check in with the rangers when you arrive. They will help you assess any other safety needs you may need to consider.

For transportation to the island see the Island Packers.

For permits and national park info, reference the NPS website.

To read more about all the wonderful adventures that you can have on the Channel Islands, check out our guide.

Santa Cruz Island Camping and Hiking Adventure

King of the Channel Islands National Park

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2016

Santa Cruz is the largest of the Channel Islands, and it is one of the most accessible islands, with both day-trips and overnight trip options. There are miles and miles of trails open to visitors, making this bit of California the perfect destination for hikers looking for some quiet places to explore. The island is also home to some of the world’s most beautiful sea caves, which can be viewed by kayakers, and some lucky people will also get to check out the Painted Cave from an Island Packers boat (they sometimes stop there on the way back from Santa Rosa or San Miguel). In any case, Santa Cruz Island camping is the best way to enjoy the many things that the island has to offer.

Scorpion Anchorage

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2011

Scorpion Anchorage is going to be your primary landing for Santa Cruz Island camping, kayaking, and hiking. This has the best access to the parts of the island that is open to National Park users, and thus it is the perfect spot for explorers that are looking to freely wander the trails of Santa Cruz.

When you land here, you will come upon a pebbly beach, and campers will need to lug their gear up the trail from the landing, past the beautiful, green roofed ranch homes that the NPS currently uses for its personnel. The campground is past here, tucked away in a calm canyon that is still lined by the massive eucalyptus trees that were brought to the island by ranchers. Unlike Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz is a much less windy place to camp, making this verdant camping place a serene location to relax and pitch your tent.

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2011

From here, if you rent a kayak or bring your own, you can walk back out to the beach and explore the coast of the island. There are beautiful sea caves on Santa Cruz and some of them are accessible to sea kayakers. You should check with local rangers for details about this, and follow all safety precautions. Remember, your safety is your responsibility.

Santa Cruz Island camping will also allow visitors to spend more time on the trails and explore deeper into the interior of the island. Since Santa Cruz is so large, there are some varied landscapes that you are sure to find if you hike for long enough, but expect rolling hills and rounded mountains covered in grasslands similar to those found on the mainland nearby.

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2011

Prisoner’s Harbor

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2016

Prisoner’s Harbor is a small landing where you can access part of the Nature Conservancy’s claim to Santa Cruz when accompanied by a guide. This is one of the most special places for Santa Cruz Island hiking, and worth the trip for any fan of the Channel Islands.

There is a small wetland here that is close to the landing, and which is a great place for island fox and bird watching. From here, the trail into TNC’s land curls up a steep hill to the west and then starts a tiring but enchanting hiking in and out of several washes that run out from the island to the sea. Larger trees fill the areas where water funnels to the ocean, and the more dry-adapted giant coreopsis crown many of the hills. So, while you are huffing and puffing, you get a great sample of the island’s flora.

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2011

The end of the trail leads out to a beautiful beach, where you can relax for a while, and gather your strength back for the trek back to Prisoner’s Harbor.

Tips for Visiting

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2011

You will need to book a boat ride with Island Packers.

To learn about camping permits, be sure to read through the National Park Service’s info page.

And if you are curious about the other Channel Islands, look through our guide!

Camping on Santa Rosa Island

camping on santa rosa

(c) ABR 2017

Santa Rosa is the second largest of the Channel Islands, and it’s perched right between Santa Cruz and San Miguel. It’s pretty flat aside from a low-lying mountain range running down the island’s center, and has a resultantly dry climate. You can get vastly different levels of green, however, depending on what time of the year you visit. Don’t let that fool you though. This island is one of the most unique places in the world. Let me prove to you why you should go camping on Santa Rosa.

Why You Should Go

camping on santa rosa

(c) ABR 2017

(1) This island is home to a small Torrey Pines forest, which is actually almost all that’s left of an ancient forest that spanned southern California during the last ice age. The only other place that you can see Torrey Pines in the whole world is in Torrey Pines State Park near San Diego. So, if you wanted to envision yourself in ice age California, Santa Rosa is the place to do it.

(2) You want to see the most adorable foxes in the world? Santa Rosa has got them! The Channel Islands fox can be found on all six of the larger islands in the chain, but here’s the thing, each island has its own subspecies. So, really, the foxes on Santa Rosa can’t be seen anywhere else on the planet. More importantly, they are extremely adorable. (Just don’t feed them).

camping on santa rosa

(c) ABR 2017

(3) Santa Rosa has some stunning white sand beaches, and it’s the only place in the Channel Islands National Park where you can set up a tent on one. This makes camping on Santa Rosa pretty special (although there is a camp site as well).

(4) The views on this island are some of the best in the Channel Islands, and the landscape is extremely variable. From beaches, to oceanside cliffs, to verdant canyons carved through the sandstone, to rolling mountains, forests, and deserts. It’s all packed into a relatively small island. It’s the perfect place to explore.

What To Do (Day Hikes)

camping on santa rosa

Lobo Canyon (c) ABR 2017

(1) Hike out to the west to see the Torrey Pines and the sand spit Skunk Point (check the NPS page for beach closures- linked below in the Logistics section).

(2) Hike to Lobo Canyon and follow the canyon out to the sea for some beautiful views of the ocean.

camping on santa rosa

Lobo Canyon Trail (c) ABR 2017

(3) Hike to the interior of the island and consider trying for the summit of the island’s tallest mountain, Black Mountain.

All of these hikes are 5+ miles roundtrip, so be sure to bring plenty of water and food. Wear good shoes and be prepared for emergencies. Remember, you are responsible for your own safety and you should consult with rangers about the exact length of your planned hike and trail conditions.

Tips for a Good Time 

camping on santa rosa

These trees have been shaped by the relentless wind (c) ABR 2017

While camping on Santa Rosa is something that I would suggest for any outdoor-lover, there are a few things that you need to know about this place to keep safe and comfortable

(1) Santa Rosa is a very windy place. If you camp in the campground, you will see just how windy when you realize that the wooden lean-tos here are meant to give you enough protection so that you can actually pitch your tent and not risk it flying away. The wind will also be at you while you hike, so come prepared for this incessant element of the environment.

camping on santa rosa

(c) ABR 2017

(2) There are ticks on Santa Rosa. As far as I know, there has not been a report of Lyme disease there yet, but it’s a possibility. So, dress to avoid ticks when you hike (skin covered, especially around your ankles and legs for the long grass) and consider bug spray as well. When you get back to camp after the day, check yourself over for any ticks that might have hitched a ride.

How to Protect Her 

camping on santa rosa

(c) ABR 2017

Like all of the Channel Islands, Santa Rosa is a very special place but its unique environment is also vulnerable. There are a few things you can do to help protect this amazing place if you visit or go camping on Santa Rosa.

(1) Follow the Leave No Trace philosophy. Make sure that you pack all of your trash off the island. Stay on trails. And take nothing from the island (this is also illegal since Santa Rosa is part of the National Park).

camping on santa rosa

(c) ABR 2017

(2) Wash your hiking boots off before you leave home for your trip. Often times we carry little tiny seeds around with us on our boots, in the mud and dirt in the tread and when seeds get stuck in the mesh of your shoes. We don’t want to introduce any new plant species to Santa Rosa that might compete for resources with the native plants that live there.

(3) If you plan on swimming, consider buying an ocean-safe sunscreen that doesn’t have chemicals that are bad for ocean creatures.

Logistics

camping on santa rosa

(c) ABR 2017

To get to Santa Rosa, the Island Packers is your go-to for most of the Channel Islands. You can buy tickets online, and I would definitely suggest reading up on the season for the island here. Get your transportation tickets ahead of time! Here is the schedule for Santa Rosa: http://islandpackers.com/santa-rosa-island-2/

You will need to have a camping reservation and/or permit for your camping on Santa Rosa adventure. This National Park page will give you all of the details.

For more information on the Channel Islands, click here to read about all the great activities on this beautiful island chain.

camping on santa rosa

camping on santa rosa

Food Finds: Arizona Mead Company

Happy Monday! We’re here to help you kick off the week with another segment of Food Finds – leading you to tasty food and beverages one post at a time. And on this occasion, our tastebuds led us to the…

Arizona Mead Company 

Mead is an alcoholic beverage, that’s not quite a beer and not quite a wine, and made from fermented honey and water. You don’t see it very often on a restaurant menu and it might be pretty hard to find in your local grocery store, BUT don’t fret! Because right here in Chandler, Arizona, the Arizona Mead Company makes their very own craft mead.

They have a variety of different meads to choose from, and if you can’t make up your mind, try the flight – you get a sample of four. Check their website to see what they have on tap currently.

If you want to give mead a chance, you better put it down on your calendar because Arizona Mead Company has pretty exclusive hours: open Fridays 5-9 p.m. and Saturdays 3-9 p.m.

Their tap room is small, so if you’re worried about not fitting in (literally), you might want to visit earlier rather than later. Or if it is full, you could always take a bottle home with you instead!

And if you’re not sure WHERE the tap room is, just look out for this sign:

And this door:

That’s it for Food Finds! If you’re looking for other recommendations, check out our first Food Finds post here. Also, if you’re absolutely terrible at directions like me, there’s a handy map for the Arizona Mead Company below.

Thanks for visiting!

xo,
Katie

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