David and I have experienced some pretty stunning fall foliage in New York’s Hudson Valley and the Smoky Mountains of Appalachia, but nothing can quite compare to Colorado, where the yellow aspen trees set the mountains on fire.
Our activities were pretty limited because Biscuits was still recovering from his surgery, but we did manage to venture out on a few road trips up to the mountains. With Biscuits lying on a pillow in my lap, our first couple outings were to Rocky Mountain National Park. Every turn on Trail Ridge Road revealed another mountain lit up in vibrant fall colors. It was also nearing the end of the elk rut, so echoing throughout the park were the bugles of bucks calling out to their herd.
David and I had some family stay with us before continuing their way up to Vail. And after receiving several texts and photos of the foliage along the western slope, we knew a day trip out there was in order. We first wandered out past Nederland to explore Moffat Tunnel, a 6-mile long railroad tunnel that passes under the Continental Divide.
The tunnel was at the end of a dirt road that winds through the valley. We passed the picturesque yellow schoolhouse before the road started following South Boulder Creek. David and I actually rounded the bend right as a train was making its way through. The road ended at the mountain where the tunnel entrance was located. The surrounding area was covered in yellow aspen trees and the ruins of houses where the workers lived during the tunnel’s construction. There were also a few trails that started at the base of the tunnel that we knew we wanted to come back and explore once Biscuits was feeling better.
Our last fall excursion was to Vail, Colorado. Driving west on I-70, the more we gained in elevation, the more vivid the colors became. David and I first stopped in the quaint mountain town of Frisco – dubbed the Main Street of the Rockies due to its close proximity to several ski resorts. It didn’t matter where you were in town; there was always sweeping views of the sparkling lake and the sky-high mountains towering overhead. Even standing in the Safeway parking lot had amazing views.
Vail was absolutely gorgeous. The patches of aspen trees that we’d seen off in the distance along the highway were within arm’s reach along the town’s roads. With Biscuits in tow, we were able to hike around a large aspen grove. It felt like we were in a Dr. Seuss book – it looked too pretty and too perfect to be real.
After grabbing lunch at the Smiling Moose Deli, we decided to drive the small loop down to Leadville and back up to Frisco before heading home. One of our favorite spots along the way was Camp Hale. The U.S. Army used this area as a training facility for mountain climbing, alpine skiing, and cold-weather survival. We sat and watched the clouds cast shadows on the multicolored mountains and wide-open fields.
Although we didn’t make it out to other mountain towns like Aspen, or have the ability to venture out on a few trails, the parts of Colorado that we did see were incredible.
Our first summer in Colorado was both truly amazing and extremely difficult. For a while, every single weekend was dedicated to a new adventure. We tackled several trails throughout the Rocky Mountains, sledded down massive sand dunes, stood in awe at outrageous sunsets, fed & pet giraffes in Colorado Springs, watched shooting stars while camping in the middle of the desert… and that’s just naming a few.
However, halfway through summer everything came to a halt. Our dog Biscuits sustained two injuries back-to-back that took many months of therapy and recovery. Thankfully he is one tough pup and is now doing great!
I created this post as a catch all - full of random summer moments that David and I wanted to remember from our outings and family visits.
Since we moved out to Colorado, I’ve had my eye on the Great Sand Dunes National Park. I’ve always wanted to visit Dubai or Morocco, to experience riding camels through a never-ending ocean of sand. While I hope to one day visit a real desert, the national park in Colorado was our closest option. So when summer began to fade and the ninety-degree days were few and far between, David and I finally made the trip south to the Great Sand Dunes.
We woke up with the sun and made the four-hour trek from Boulder through scenic mountain roads to the park. Our route was on par with our trip west on I-70 through Glenwood Canyon – absolutely beautiful and awe-inspiring. We weaved through the mountains, hitting pockets of high plains with stunning views of the Collegiate Peaks towering over small towns and farmland.
David and I noticed a drastic change in the landscape, so we knew we were getting close. The lush trees and mountainous terrain faded into endless grasslands covered in a blanket of clouds. Soon enough the sand dunes came into view. From a distance it was hard to grasp the vast scale of the dunes, but once we crossed the river and were standing at its base, the enormous size became very apparent. We watched people hike up the impermanent trail, each person getting smaller and smaller until they were just another speck of sand – and they were only halfway up the dunes!
David and I postponed our hike to the top of the high dune to try out the makeshift wooden sled David insisted we rent at the Oasis store. We started off small, sliding down the bunny hills, to learn how to keep control of the sled. We soon moved on to bigger slopes, and found it easier to sled down together. After we had our fill of sledding, David and I made a final push to hike to the top to take some pictures and enjoy the view.
Hiking in the sand is not easy – but reaching what we agreed was ‘our’ top of the dunes made it completely worth it. We had an amazing view. In one direction we saw the surrounding river and endless plains, and in the other the Sangre de Cristo Mountains shrouded in clouds, casting shadows on the sand. After a long rest, rather than hiking back, we mapped out a route and rode our sled back down to the base of the dunes.
The drive back took us through the small town of Alamosa, then back up I-25 through Pueblo where we stopped for a quick bite. One of the best sights was pulling off our exit at sunset to be greeted by Longs Peak welcoming us home.
“It’s only one more mile.” That became the motto of this trip. Our original plan was a fairly easy three-mile roundtrip hike from the Fern Lake Trailhead to a bridge that crossed over The Pool - a rushing water pocket formed by the confluence of Spruce & Fern Creeks and the Big Thompson River. Yet somehow by the end of the day, three miles turned into eight miles and a picnic lunch at Fern Lake.
It didn’t take us long to reach The Pool. The flat trail ran beside the river with ferns and unique wildflowers popping up along the way. We stood on the bridge and met some other hikers talking about Fern Falls. The waterfall was only one more mile, and apparently well worth the additional distance. So since it was still mid-morning we continued on, planning to eat our lunch at the waterfall.
The trail left the creekside and took a rocky and steep turn. After slugging up a few sun-drenched switchbacks, David and I were rewarded with a refreshing mist blowing off of the sixty-foot waterfall. We sat down to take a break. Fern Falls was stunning; an oasis of new growth surrounded by remnants of burnt trees and debris left over from the Fern Lake wildfire. We soon noticed a family sitting across the trail from us. They were on their way home from camping at Fern Lake, and were talking about the amazing scenery and how much fun they had. Now Fern Lake was only one more mile so we thought, "We hiked this far, what’s one more!"
The last mile was brutal. The trail was extremely steep and studded with large rock steps but reaching Fern Lake made it completely worth it. The lake was beautiful. The water was so calm and clear – creating a perfect reflection of the surrounding mountains still patched with snow. We even spotted several trout swimming by the shore’s edge. We found a shady spot by the lake and FINALLY ate our lunch!
Every year national parks across America offer free admission to kick off National Park Week. David and I decided to take advantage of this opportunity by packing a picnic lunch and spending a leisurely day in Rocky Mountain National Park. This was our first time returning to the park since our one-year anniversary trip last year, followed by the devastating flood that happened one month later.
Before reaching Estes Park, we started to see the aftermath of the flood. Debris of trees and household items littered the sides of the road. A long stretch of the once paved highway was now miles of rock and mud. Our hearts sank as we passed by condemned homes now surrounded by the newly formed river. It was a humbling drive, making us thankful for everything we have.
Driving through the Rocky Mountains was beautiful. Biscuits hung his head out the window, wildly sniffing out the shaggy herd of elk that were starting to shed their winter coats. David and I were in awe of the surrounding snow-covered mountains - we have only visited in late summer, so seeing the park covered in snow was a new experience. Trail Ridge Road wasn’t even completely open due to the amount of snow in the higher elevations.
We chose to picnic in Moraine Park, one of the locations where we took our wedding photos. We set up camp on Inspiration Point – a hill that overlooks the entire meadow and the curvy stream meandering through it. It was sunny, warm and incredibly relaxing. I even caught Biscuits with his eyes closed, letting his ears fly in the breeze, sniffing the fresh air. It was a good day.
There was a lot of hype behind a new meteor shower predicted to peak early Saturday morning (5/24/14). NASA released several statements saying it could be the best meteor shower of our time, seeing several hundred an hour. David and I thought the best way to experience this incredible show was to go camping… but it was Memorial Day Weekend and we were doubtful of finding an open spot. I’m not sure exactly how he did it, but David was able to reserve a campsite in Colorado National Monument, located in Grand Junction – a little over an hour across the state line from Moab, Utah.
This was our first trip driving west on I-70, one of many scenic routes in Colorado. It was exciting winding through the Front Range and passing by several old gold rush towns. We knew we were approaching Vail by the looming mountains hovering over the road and the half melted ski runs. After making a pit stop at Vail Pass, we set off down the mountain and entered Glenwood Canyon. The road hugged the Colorado River and traveled through several tunnels carved into the sheer walls. There were also several rest areas to stretch our legs and play with Biscuits while admiring the amazing scenery.
As we got closer to our destination the landscape drastically changed. We left the lush green mountains and entered the dry rocky desert. After being on the road for over four hours we finally reached the Saddlehorn Campground. It was the perfect spot (loop B, site 38) – surrounded by juniper trees with an unobstructed view of the night sky. After roasting hot dogs and s’mores, we set up camp and glued our eyes to the sky. We only saw a handful of shooting stars, but the night sky in itself was well worth the drive. We have never seen so many stars! And for the first time ever we saw the Milky Way!
The next day was dedicated to exploring the Colorado National Monument. It felt like we were venturing through the Wild West. Each hairpin turn of Rim Rock Drive revealed endless desert canyons and giant sandstone rock formations. We also saw the Grand Mesa, the largest flat-topped mountain in the world. We reached the end of the park by early afternoon, and made our way back home. The drive was very bizarre – we went from the dry desert to a towering canyon to an unexpected blizzard in the mountains and back home to summer storms in the plains. We love Colorado!
Since moving to Colorado, friends and strangers have been suggesting things we must see and do. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has come up quite a few times, so David and I knew we had to check it out at some point. But when we found out that you could hand-feed giraffes, it quickly moved up to the top of our list!
We arrived bright and early. The zoo offers free animal encounters, and we wanted to squeeze in as many as we could. But first – the giraffes! David and I made a beeline to the food stand and bought several handfuls of lettuce. As soon as the giraffes saw that we had food, they darted over and stuck their long necks right up to us. It was such an amazing experience. The giraffes were so gentle… and hungry! If you didn’t act fast enough they would stick out their long black tongues to snatch the lettuce right out of your hands!
After nearly going broke buying lettuce to feed the giraffes, we pried ourselves away to see rest of the zoo. While walking around it felt like we were visiting each animal in their natural habitat. The zoo is extremely dedicated to making the animals feel at home. We were also surprised to find free-roaming peacocks and birds scattered along the walking path, along with wallabies playfully hopping around with their friends. Even the reptile exhibit was made to look like an art gallery instead of a stinky swamp.
The animal encounters were unbelievable. David and I were just steps away watching lions, wolves, hippos and bears eating with only a steel gate between us. It was incredible, you really got a feel of how large and powerful these animals are. At the end of the day before we left the zoo, we figured the giraffes needed a late lunch, so we stopped by to feed them one last time.
We traveled into Colorado Springs and grabbed dinner at Front Range Barbeque; southern-styled BBQ that reminded us of home. Leaving full and satisfied, David and I decided on a whim to drive through the Garden of the Gods. This was actually one of many stops on our honeymoon a little over a year ago. We took time to admire the snow-capped Pikes Peak, got spooked by a pack of coyotes passing by and took the iconic photo of the park’s unusual rock formations.
Since moving away from the south, David and I have been on the search for a good southern-style biscuit. We heard of a place in downtown Boulder that serves up gigantic, made-from-scratch buttermilk biscuits for breakfast, so we decided to move it to the top of our breakfast club list.
Lucille’s Creole Café is located in a small yellow Victorian house just a few blocks north of the Pearl Street Mall. They served Creole favorites and New Orleans style beignets, along with the delicious buttermilk biscuits that are the best we’ve had to date.
We decided to burn off some calories by exploring the trails around the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), a sandstone weather research center and museum designed by famous architect I.M. Pei. We took a trail that starts right behind the building and meanders through Bear Canyon. We followed Bear Creek past numerous waterfalls and cascades, maneuvering over several tricky water crossings along the way. We loved hiking through this canyon, being surrounded by the giant boulder walls and taking in the amazing views of the NCAR building with the vast Colorado plains stretching out behind it.
David and I wanted to do something fun and special for our first wedding anniversary. We toyed around with different weekend trips close to home, but we both knew deep down what we really wanted to do... return to the Rockies! Nothing can compare to its alpine paradise.
We explored the majority of Rocky Mountain National Park during our honeymoon last year, so this time around we enjoyed the park at a more leisurely pace. We made sure to fuel up each morning on freshly made donuts from the Donut Haus. We returned to a few of our favorite spots like the Alluvial Fan and Kawuneeche Valley – spotting a few moose along the way!
The trip wouldn’t be complete without hiking, so we headed to the Bear Lake area to do some trails we missed the first time around. The hike to Lake Helene was gorgeous; after making our way through a rock scree, we ended at a peaceful mountain lake that overlooked Lake Odessa. We also hiked to Alberta Falls, a popular hike through groves of aspen trees leading to a 30-foot waterfall rushing down a small gorge on Glacier Creek.
On the day of our wedding anniversary we went back to where it all happened – Upper Beaver Meadows. We were a little anxious on the drive there – a few months earlier there was a wild fire that went through the Moraine Park area, which backs up to our meadow. We were afraid that the fire reached the two tall pine trees that we got married beside. But thankfully the trees were spared! Both were standing tall, side-by-side in the middle of the beautiful grassy meadow. We ended the day with dinner at the Twin Owls Steakhouse, where we ate dinner after our wedding.
David planned the final day of our trip. One thing he kept talking about the entire time was driving the Old Fall River Road, which made me a little nervous. The one-way road was primarily gravel and made up of several switchbacks that made its way through the park’s high country. But I was so glad we did it, it ended up being one of the highlights of the trip. We spent some time at Chasm Falls, climbing around the rocky creek that was fed by the small waterfall. The next section of the road ran beside Willow Park, where we saw more moose! The remaining few miles of the road lead you back up through the alpine tundra and ended at the Alpine Visitor Center. We continued west on Trail Ridge Road, making the trek all the way to Grand Lake where we spent the majority of the afternoon taking in the view from the porch swings at Grand Lake Lodge.
On our way back to Estes, we decided on a whim to stop by Moraine Park. The sun was going down, and we wanted to get some shots of the sunset. We parked near the aspen trees, which is fenced off from animals to restore the surrounding vegetation. Once inside the fenced-in area, we soon noticed that we were surrounded by a huge herd of elk! After taking a few pictures, something spooked them, causing the herd to stampede. The ground literally shook beneath our feet!
We quickly got in our car and drove in the direction of the herd. They ended up near a picnic area by the river. We sat there for hours watching the elk. Some of the younger ones played and splashed in the river, while the others grazed and rested in the meadow. When it was time to move on the buck stomped his feet, causing the rest of the herd to stand up and follow his lead down the park. After bugling down the valley warning any stragglers, and corralling a mother with her feeding calf, they all disappeared into the meadow to find another spot to graze. This was the best national park moment we have ever experienced. It definitely reminded us why we chose this park to get married in.
You can see the details of our trip, including where we ate, slept and hiked, in our itinerary!
The Denver Art Museum offers free admission on the first Saturday of each month, so David and I took advantage of this opportunity over the weekend. We started our day at the Jelly Café in the Capitol Hill District. It was a small corner restaurant decorated with retro cereal boxes hanging on the walls. The food was good and their homemade jelly was a perfect topping on their donuts.
The museum is hard to miss. Its unusual architecture is a piece of art in itself; walking up you immediately see the sharp angles jutting out across the surrounding streets. Inside featured several galleries including its well-known American Indian art collection. We really enjoyed the photography and landscape paintings, reminiscing about the places we have been before and scheming about the places we will go. It was kind of bizarre walking through the Graphic Design Gallery with David pointing out the people he knows and have met throughout his career. We ended our visit by walking around the Civic Center Park, admiring Denver’s state capitol and city buildings.
It was David’s turn to choose our next Breakfast Club location. He took me to eat breakfast at the Chautauqua Dining Hall, a restaurant nestled in Boulder with the Flatirons looming in the background. This place brought us back to our past vacations out west. As soon as you enter, you feel like you’re at a lodge in some national park tucked away in the mountains. The food was delicious, and the ambiance was so cozy we didn’t want to leave. But it was time to move on to part two of our day – the hike!
We didn’t have to travel too far to get to the trailhead. David chose the 1st/2nd Flatiron Trail, which brings you to the very top of those looming Flatiron Mountains. We got off to a fairly slow start. Even after living in Colorado for a little over month, we were still not used to hiking at this elevation. The trail had its challenges. We maneuvered through a rock scree, tried not to slip on some icy patches of the tree-covered trail and climbed up steep boulders. But making it to the top was well worth the hard work. The views were amazing. On one side we had an incredible view of the 3rd Flatiron, and on the other was the snow-capped Rocky Mountains with Longs Peak majestically standing above the rest. It was a difficult hike, but it definitely goes on our list of favorites.
David and I started a weekend ritual that we creatively named The Breakfast Club. We take turns each weekend planning breakfast and a fun activity. For my first weekend, we ate breakfast at a small neighborhood eatery called DJ’s Berkeley Café. It was a cozy restaurant in the up-and-coming Tennyson area of Denver. We then headed south to Red Rocks, which is famously known for its one-of-a-kind amphitheater - but it also happens to offer some great hiking trails. We hiked the Trading Post Trail that leads you around and in between the unusual rock formations that surround the venue. It was a nice, peaceful hike to kick off our club!
After being together for eight years and engaged for almost two, David and I decided it was time to pull the trigger. Realizing no venue in Georgia could compare to the scenery out west, we decided to elope in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. This, however, was not a secret elopement. Both our families and friends were well aware of what was going on. We documented everything by video taping our ceremony and hiring two amazing photographers to shoot it. After our honeymoon of exploring the Rockies, we shared our footage and photos with everyone back home.
We chose Rocky Mountain National Park because it has always been a dream of ours to get married in a national park out west. We flew out to Colorado without knowing where exactly we would have our ceremony. Our wedding was scheduled for the middle of the week, giving us only three days to explore the park and find our ideal spot. We finally settled on Upper Beaver Meadows – a secluded open meadow surrounded by the Rockies. We found two old-growth pine trees standing side-by-side with a perfect view of the surrounding mountains.
I had a slight freak out the morning of our wedding when it started to lightly rain, but it thankfully cleared by early afternoon. After eating donuts and getting dolled up at a nearby salon, we met our minister and photographers at the meadow and hiked to our two trees. The ceremony was simple and perfect. Saying our vows to only each other. Our witnesses were the birds that called our trees home. We took post photos in Moraine Park, and ended the night by eating dinner and a surprise wedding cake (thanks to Dave’s parents) at Twin Owls Steakhouse.
Some of our photos were featured in a few wedding blogs as well as our photographers’ website!
We had been planning our wedding for months, and it was finally time. David and I were eloping in Rocky Mountain National Park. We chose this Colorado park because we knew we wanted to get married in nature, but still have the comforts of a town without roughing it too much on our honeymoon. Rocky Mountain fit the bill perfectly offering numerous hiking trails and beautiful scenery, and its proximity to the small mountain village of Estes Park made it easy to find a comfortable hotel.
The first day we were still acclimating to the altitude so we decided not to push ourselves too hard. We explored the east side of the park, which consisted of Bear Lake Road and Lumpy Ridge. The Bear Lake area had tons of hiking trails spinning off in every direction. We loved the hike to Emerald Lake. You pass two other lakes along the way, ending at a bluff overlooking the emerald-green water surrounded by giant jagged spires. Lumpy Ridge was a completely different environment. Hiking through this region you were surrounded by clusters of aspen trees and unusual rock formations. One of our favorite hikes in this area was to Gem Lake. The lake was surrounded by rocky stone cliffs and a sandy shoreline – a perfect spot for a picnic lunch.
The next day we set out on Trail Ridge Road. As you climb towards the continental divide you can see and feel the elevation change. Once we passed the tree line we began to enter the alpine tundra, which reaches more than 12,000 feet above sea level. It felt like we were driving on another planet. It wasn’t a lush green environment like we were used to, but rather rocky and desolate. The elevation began to drop after passing the Alpine Visitor Center towards the Kawuneeche Valley. This marshy region does not offer many trails, but it’s a terrific area to spot moose!
Finally, our wedding day arrived! We began like every other morning by eating breakfast at the Donut Haus. Then we were off to Loveland to the Aveda Salon for hair and makeup. Panic started to kick in when it began to drizzle on our way there. Thankfully by the time we returned to our hotel to get dressed, the clouds had cleared and the rain stopped. We met our two photographers and minister in Upper Beaver Meadows. Our ceremony was perfect – a remote meadow surrounded by the Rockies, symbolically standing side-by-side next to a pair of old growth pines in the same position.
After our I do’s we took post photos in Moraine Park; a gorgeous valley surrounded by rolling mountains with a trout-filled river meandering through the middle. We ended the night at Twin Owls Steakhouse, where Dave’s parents surprised us with a wedding cake!
The last few days of our trip were spent leisurely exploring the Denver area. We took a stroll through Confluence Park and visited the Aquarium. We drove to the top of two of Colorado’s fourteeners, Mt. Evans and Pikes Peak. We hiked through the red rock formations at Garden of the Gods. And we left Colorado as Mr. & Mrs.
You can see the details of our trip, including where we ate, slept and hiked, in our itinerary!
The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America’s favorite drives, and after borrowing Dave’s parents’ motor home we finally got the opportunity to see why. We started at mile marker 469 in Smoky Mountain National Park, and drove north counting down to mile marker 0 in Virginia. We bought the book “Guide to the Blue Ridge Parkway,” which I used to narrate the entire trip. The book lists every mile marker and explains the history around each overlook, trail and landmark.
There were many well-known attractions along the Parkway. We spent an entire morning wandering around the North Carolina Arboretum (located just outside of Asheville) that showcased beautiful flowers and an amazing bonsai garden. Mabry Mill is probably the most popular destination along the Parkway. It gives you a glimpse of rural life in Appalachia with tours and demonstrations of the gristmill, sawmill & blacksmith shop. After eating breakfast at its café, we made sure to pick up a pack of locally made cornmeal. One of our favorite stops was the Blue Ridge Music Center. After reading about the preservation of Appalachian music, that until recently were only passed down verbally from generation to generation, we actually had the opportunity to watch an elderly farmer perform original folk songs that he had learned growing up.
The Blue Ridge Parkway also offers an abundance of hiking trails. Many of them lead to restored homes and structures once owned by mountain pioneers. Others wind through open pastures or tunnels of rhododendrons ending at stunning long-range vistas of the mountains. One of the hardest and probably most epic trails we hiked was Grandfather Mountain Trail. Before reaching our destination of Macrae Peak, we had to overcome several obstacles: using cables to pull ourselves up vertical rock walls, squeezing in between large boulders and climbing steep (and sketchy-looking) ladders built into the mountain. Once we finally reached the peak, we got a glimpse of the expansive view before the fog rolled in surrounding the rock we stood on. We had to take a longer way back down the mountain due to an unexpected bear encounter. Of course, out of all the national parks we hiked through out West, our first run-in with a bear on a trail is in North Carolina!
By the end of the trip, David and I felt like we explored every inch of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I think we definitely underestimated the Parkway. We went into this trip knowing it would be an adventure with having to camp and cook our own food along the way, but driving home we felt like it was one of the best vacations we have ever taken. Every trail and landmark felt like a hidden gem that you just uncovered. It was such a different experience than any other national park; we now know not to take what's in our own backyard for granted.
You can see the details of our trip in our itinerary!
Last year when we were thinking about places to get married, one of our top contenders was the Inn at Serenbe. I had never seen it in person but one of my photographer friends suggested the location after shooting a wedding there. Her photos of the Inn were stunning, and it felt like a perfect place for a rustic outdoor wedding. But after we decided to elope in Colorado, we never made it out to visit.
A year later, David had to attend a charity golf tournament for his work. Having never really played before, I wanted to help out by getting him a golf lesson that would teach him the basics so he wouldn’t embarrass himself in front of potential clients. I stumbled upon a Groupon for a golf lesson that was actually located near Serenbe, so I planned an afternoon to finally see the town.
It was a small, quiet town where literally everyone knows each other. The main street comprised of boutiques, galleries and a few restaurants. We decided to eat at The Farmhouse for lunch, which serves delicious southern food with ingredients from the restaurant’s own garden. After lunch we explored the Inn, which was absolutely beautiful. It was country elegance – from the gardens to the petting zoo, everything was picture perfect. But… it wasn’t enough to make us regret our decision about eloping in the Rockies.
David is awful at keeping secrets. Seriously. Awful. So during my birthday dinner when I opened up plane tickets to Los Angeles, I was in complete shock. He pulled it off. He planned a long birthday weekend in Los Angeles without me knowing. I was super excited not only to explore the glamorous city of LA, but to also visit my sister who had moved out there about a year ago.
The trip was coming up quick, so I got to work right away researching what Los Angeles had to offer. I wanted a mix of glittering Hollywood and nature. I was actually pretty amazed by how many parks and hiking trails surrounded LA.
With a little resistance from my sister "the local" we did some tourist attractions like the Walk of Fame, Rodeo Drive, The Grove, & Santa Monica Pier. It was truly surreal. It’s everything you see on TV: perfect weather, mouthwatering food and expensive cars parked in front of boutiques that would require a 2nd mortgage to be affordable.
I was looking forward to exposing my sister to our passion of hiking. We hiked to Century Lake, which appeared in Tarzan and Planet of the Apes. We were pulled back into the Wild West walking through Paramount Ranch. And we scouted out the beaches of Point Dume and Leo Carrillo.
This was definitely one of the best birthdays, and I am very proud of Dave for making it happen. You can see the details of our trip in our itinerary!
It is pretty incredible to have one of the most visited national parks in our own backyard. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers more than 850 miles of hiking trails, several beautiful campgrounds and remnants of rural Appalachian life. Whenever I was in the Smokys it was either with David or his family – it was pretty much their second home. The lush, country environment was always a peaceful retreat from everyday life.
For the past few months we have been talking about hiking Mt Leconte, the third highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains. Ideally, we would hike to the top, spend the night at the lodge and hike back down the next day. However, getting reservations is nearly impossible; you are first entered into a lottery, and if not chosen then you’re put on a long waiting list. So if we were ever going to do it, it would have to be the old-fashioned way: hike up and down the 14-mile trail the same day. I decided the perfect time to plan this was for David’s birthday – spending a weekend in the mountains in March when the weather is not blazing hot and buggy.
We woke up super early to get a head start on the trail. We chose the Trillium Gap Trail, the longer but more flat trail that headed up the mountain. Well, I chose this trail for a chance to see the llamas the lodge uses to get supplies up and down the mountain. After about 1.5 miles in, we reached Grotto Falls. In order to continue down the trail, you have to maneuver behind the waterfall. The rest of the trail wanders through old-growth forest and colorful wildflowers. When we finally reached the summit, the first thing we saw was those adorable llamas resting and eating at the lodge. It was a great welcoming sight.
We ate lunch at the lodge and enjoyed our accomplished views. It was so quiet and peaceful sitting on the large porch, it was easy to understand why reservations were so difficult to obtain. Shortly after the llamas began their decent down the mountain, we soon followed. David and I felt pretty good until we started to hear thunder. Of course when I planned this trip the weather forecast was clear and sunny. But as the weekend approached, it called for scattered showers. But this was not just a scattered shower. It was a complete downpour. Luckily we packed rain jackets, but we picked up our pace and scurried down the mountain.
The rest of the weekend was spent exploring Gatlinburg and enjoying the Smoky Mountains. After the torrential downpour the rest of the weekend was perfect. It was actually the ideal time to see wildflowers blooming. And luckily, the lodge we stayed at had a jetted tub – perfect for sitting on the edge with our sore, sore legs dangling in the jets.
David and I decided on a whim to drive to the Georgia Coast the day after Thanksgiving. Even though it was last minute, we had 2 big goals for this trip: the first was to see the city of Savannah. Despite living in Georgia pretty much our entire lives, we’ve never once visited the city. The second was to take Biscuits to experience the ocean. Our dog absolutely loves the water, so we were super eager to see how he would react to the beach.
After spending 5 hours in the car driving to Savannah we jumped at the opportunity to explore the city on foot. Our hotel was centrally located, and since the city is laid out on a perfect grid it was easy to walk aimlessly without worrying about getting lost. I loved exploring the Squares; small parks lined with oak trees draped with Spanish moss, which protect beautiful statues and fountains. On River Street, which runs along the Savannah River, we found bustling restaurants and boutiques that overlooked the water. We decided to eat in City Market, an open-air marketplace in Savannah’s historic center. There were many restaurants that offered outdoor seating, which allowed us to bring Biscuits.
The Georgia Coast was tranquil and infinite. After making a stop at Tybee Island to see its lighthouse and fishing piers, we were off to the main event: the pet-friendly beach at Hunting Island. Biscuits was a little wary walking up to the sand, but as soon as he saw water he made a beeline straight to the ocean. He didn’t get in too deep, and was perfectly content wading & splashing around the shallow waves as they washed up onto the beach.
On our last night in Savannah, we overheard some people talking over dinner about a boat parade with fireworks at the waterfront. It ended up being the Boat Parade of Lights, where over 50 vessels decorated with Christmas lights sailed up and down the river. David shoved Biscuits into his jacket and we braved the cold to see the show. It was a fun and unexpected ending to our pet-friendly vacation.
You can see the details of our trip in our itinerary!
David’s work schedule has been pretty hectic lately, so for his birthday I decided to plan a little weekend getaway. I picked Asheville, NC because it’s a city we had yet to visit, and we had been constantly hearing rave reviews from our family. We spent 2 full days in Asheville: one day dedicated to exploring the city, and the second for touring the Biltmore Estate.
Asheville is a charming city with an East Village vibe. The downtown district contains eccentric boutiques and organic restaurants will keep you wandering around town all day. There are also historic landmarks such as the Basilica of St. Lawrence, a stunning church of Spanish Renaissance architecture, and the Grove Park Inn, a rustic resort that has housed presidents and celebrities.
The Biltmore Estate is one of America’s largest homes. When you are walking up to the house, you can’t help but be in awe by its mere size. The house is over 178,000 square feet, features over 250 rooms and is surrounded by meticulously maintained gardens. One of my favorite parts of the tour, being a Downton Abbey fan, was walking through the servant’s quarters & getting to see first hand what life was like during that era.
Asheville turned out to be a great getaway and Dave assured me he had a fantastic birthday. You can see the details of our trip in our itinerary!
While attending school, David was one of eight people chosen nationwide to intern at a prestigious design firm in New York City for six months. I took advantage of this opportunity by visiting him as many times as I could afford. The first evening we spent together walking around Manhattan I immediately knew we had to live here – to branch out from the country roads of the south and experience the hustle and bustle of this city. So as soon as David graduated we risked it all; with our life in a moving van and as much money as we could save, we drove up to NYC to begin a new chapter in our lives.
Being unemployed for the first three months, we lived on fried rice in a tiny 350 square foot apartment on the Upper East Side. After both of us found amazing jobs, we were finally able to branch out and really experience New York City. The city opened our eyes to so many new things ranging from food to culture. David and I started having tourist days, where we carried around a NYC guidebook and followed its itineraries. We marveled at the city’s iconic tourist attractions, ate some of the best food in the world, snowboarded in up-state New York, drove through the fall foliage of the Hudson Valley, soaked up some sun in the Hamptons and watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in person. Several once-in-a-lifetime opportunities arose due to David’s job – attending a holiday party at the historic New York Library with private performances from Cirque du Soleil and sitting in on several runway shows during New York’s Fashion Week.
We ended up living in NYC for several years, each day pinching ourselves that we were two of millions of people living on this tiny island. When I met David after work each day in Union Square, seeing the Empire State Building towering overhead stopped me in my tracks every time. My favorite part of the year was Christmas time in the city – nothing else is quite like it. The entire city is decorated in lights, ornaments and several feet of snow. It was truly magical.
Our time in New York City was unbelievable. We are so happy to have gathered up the courage to make it happen. Our experiences are unforgettable and will always have an effect in our everyday lives – including never eating fried rice again!
Glacier National Park is truly a magical place. It’s extremely difficult to put into words how vast and awe-inspiring it is. You feel so secluded from the rest of the world. It’s a hiker’s paradise with over 730 miles of trails that explore alpine meadows, rugged mountains & picturesque lakes. Our days were jam-packed, attempting to see as much as we could during our 11 day vacation.
Driving the Going-To-The-Sun Road reveals some of Glacier’s highlights. Each turn of its 50-mile span showcases the stoic mountain range that carves out the park. The road travels over Logan Pass, which stands at over 6,600 ft along the Continental Divide. Wildlife is also frequent; we experienced quite a few traffic jams involving bighorn sheep and mountain goats.
We traveled from west to east, then headed north to Canada. Glacier is actually part of an international peace park with Canada’s Waterton National Park. Waterton offers more hiking trails & countless lakes to explore. And do not miss the view from the Prince of Wales hotel; it displays one of the best sunsets you’ll ever see.
It’s hard to narrow it down, but here are some of our must-sees:
- Apikuni Falls. Get up close to one of the most impressive waterfalls in the park, cascading over 300 ft from the top of the cliff. It will make you feel like the size of an ant.
- Logan Pass. Reynolds and Clements Mountains shape the backdrop of the visitor center. Waves of yellow Glacier Lilies carpet the ground, acting as a giant buffet for ground squirrels.
- No Name Lake. One of the most scenic trails in the park. Bear Grass, Glacier’s beloved wildflower, frequent the trail which ends at a beautiful aqua-green lake that sits under the sheer walls of Pumpelly Pillar & Mt. Helen.
Glacier will always hold a special place in our hearts. Not just for its beauty & wildlife, but because it's where David and I got engaged! It was our last day, our last hike on Hidden Meadow Trail. The trail was so quant with colorful wildflowers, aspen trees and butterflies floating around us. The trail eventually opened up to a serene meadow with deer frolicking around the field, and the faint mountains and lake as its backdrop. There was a giant tree that sprung up in the middle of the meadow, which is where Dave got down on one knee and proposed. I could not have asked for a more perfect ending to our amazing trip.
You can see the details of our trip, including where we ate, slept and hiked, in our itinerary!
David had the opportunity to attend a work related convention in Las Vegas. Neither of us had ever been to Vegas, so I tagged along to explore the city of sin together. Since this trip was pretty abrupt we didn’t have a preplanned budget, so I took to the Internet to research low cost or free things Las Vegas had to offer. Surprisingly, there were plenty of free attractions to fill up our entire weekend!
Almost every hotel offers some sort of free show or attraction. From the synchronized fountains at the Bellagio to the volcano eruption at the Mirage, we made sure to see it all. And let’s not forget, just walking around the city itself at night with the radiant lights and lavish buildings is mesmerizing.
You can see the details of our trip in our itinerary!
What you hear about California is all true. Perfect weather. Laid back atmosphere. Gorgeous beaches. Feels like you’re on a constant vacation. In our case, we were indeed on vacation, with a goal of driving the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Big Sur. David and I were ready to escape Manhattan’s east coast hustle and bustle to soak up some California sun… but not until lathering on A LOT of sunscreen.
Since this trip involved being in a car half the time, David insisted on renting a BMW to make the drive more fun. We started by sightseeing in San Francisco, visiting its major attractions like the adorable and bumbly seals at Pier 39, climbing up the nearly vertical street to Coit Tower and of course driving across the Golden Gate Bridge. We also explored a little north of San Fran, making our way to the towering forest of Muir Woods and the pet-friendly Muir Beach.
When it was time to head south, our next destination was Monterey. Most of the drive was spent admiring the views and pulling over at low tide to examine tide pools full of colorful urchins, crabs and sea stars. We also made sure to stop at major landmarks like the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and Point Lobos State Reserve. When we reached the Monterey Peninsula, we ended the day by driving the 17-Mile Drive, a scenic road that leads you through Pebble Beach and the Pacific Grove.
The next day before making our way south to Big Sur, we stopped at the Tuck Box in Carmel for its famous waffle, which definitely lived up to its reputation. After breakfast we toured Carmel’s fairy tale cottages; each whimsical house looked as though they were picked right off the pages of childhood fairytale books we grew up reading. Crossing the Bixby Bridge, we finally made our way to Big Sur. Its scenery was absolutely stunning. We hiked to the iconic McWay Falls, strolled along the shores of the secluded Pfeiffer Beach and watched a couple of sea otters playfully float in the ocean.
On the flight back home to New York City, we knew we weren’t going to call it home for very long. This trip to California reminded us how much we missed being outdoors, and how hard it was to escape NYC. But for the time being, we had our sunburns and jet lag to remind us of California’s alluring coast.
You can see the details of our trip in our itinerary!
Our local college threw a unique community block party to celebrate Halloween. From delicious street food to local vendors selling their one-of-a-kind items, there was a lot to take in. But the main event was a football stadium filled with over 20 different hot air balloons on display. Some balloons offered tethered rides, while others handed out candy to trick-or-treaters. We did not get a chance to ride in a balloon, but simply walking through the field being surrounded by them was in itself an amazing experience!
It was time for another western adventure with David’s family. This time it was to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons. I was super excited about this trip because I have seen a preview of what was out there. When you walk into David’s family home you are greeted by an entire wall full of photos, most of which are from their past trips to Yellowstone. I was really looking forward to getting to see and experience it all in person.
The Grand Teton Mountains are the most majestic and picturesque mountain range I’ve ever seen. I immediately knew why this was a favorite destination for David’s family. The Teton Range provided the perfect backdrop for some of the sites we visited like the John Moulton Barn and the Chapel of the Transfiguration. There were also many gorgeous lakes surrounding the Tetons. Walking around Jenny Lake was calming with its sparkling rich blue color and still waters. We also enjoyed taking a lake cruise across Jackson Lake over to Elk Island to eat breakfast in front of the massive mountains.
Yellowstone National Park was a completely different environment. It was pretty surreal standing in the middle of the Yellowstone Caldera watching its many pools and geysers spraying into the air. There were more hiking trails in this park as well, like the famous Uncle Tom’s Trail which took you 328 steps closer to the Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon. Or hiking up a small mountain to get a better aerial view of the vivid Prismatic Pool. We also carefully explored Hayden Valley, trying not to disturb the bison scattered around us. I was in awe of all the animals we encountered: bears playing in open fields, moose resting in shady spots by the water, elk and bison grazing pretty much everywhere, a bald eagle majestically perched at the top of a tree and even a lone wolf trying to find some food in our campground!
My love for the west and its national parks grew even more after this trip. It was just as wild as our Canada vacation, but with the unusual geothermal features of Yellowstone and the jagged mountains of the Tetons. I am so thankful that Dave’s family invited me to tag along once again, and very happy to now be included in their wall of photos.
David and I had completely different childhoods. His family vacations consisted of camping and venturing out west to explore its many national parks. My family vacations consisted of being beach bums along the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean. Shortly after David and I started dating, I tagged along on one of his family’s western adventures. Our destination was Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta, Canada – the trip that triggered my obsession with national parks.
We drove the length of the Icefields Parkway, which connected the two parks together. Below are some highlights of what we saw along the way:
Lake Louise – A beautiful crystal-clear lake surrounded by mountains, glaciers and the iconic Fairmont Chateau. We causally hiked around the lake watching the people in canoes bob in the water.
Moraine Lake – A glacier-fed lake known for its distinct shade of blue. We climbed a rock scree to get the perfect view of the lake and its frozen waterfalls.
Spirit Island – A tiny island in Maligne Lake that’s one of the most famous views of the Canadian Rockies. We took a boat across the lake to see the island and to do some hiking.
Athabasca Glacier – The most accessible glacier in the Columbia Icefields. We took a Snowcoach tour out to the glacier where we were allowed to walk around and drink the glacial water.
Peyto Lake – After climbing a short distance to the overlook, we were greeted with one of our favorite views in Canada – a postcard perfect lake in the shape of a wolf!
After finally graduating college, I was on the hunt for a much-needed vacation. David suggested Isla Mujeres, a small island off the coast of Cancún, Mexico. He and his family have vacationed there several times, and browsing through their photos it looked like the perfect tropical get-away.
There were a lot of firsts on this vacation. This was the first major trip David and I had taken together. The first time traveling to a non-english speaking country. The first time having to use a motor scooter as my only means of transportation. The first time I’ve ever been snorkeling in the open ocean. The first time I swam with dolphins. And the first time I saw wild iguanas basking in the sun. This vacation was definitely a huge learning experience, forcing me to get out of my comfort zone. It was an adventure that we will never forget.
David and I are fascinated with anything that has to do with space. We fight back sleep to watch meteor showers. We set alarms in the middle of the night just to run outside and watch the ISS fly overhead. We follow NASA on social media so we are up-to-date on new explorations and findings. When NASA announced they were discontinuing the space shuttle program, we knew there were only a couple more chances to see a launch in person. So we decided to make the 600-mile drive down to Florida to be a part of history.
David’s parents let us use some of their Disney points to stay at a resort in Vero Beach, about an hour south of the shuttle launch. We had everything planned. The day of the launch we would take a chartered boat out to an open, unobstructed viewing area in the middle of the Banana River, eat lunch and watch the shuttle take off. However we did not plan for the weather to be uncooperative. The shuttle launch ended up being delayed to a later date due to unexpected weather conditions. We were disappointed because we had to head back home the next day – but this did not deter us from seeing the shuttle. We changed course and headed to the Kennedy Space Center for a closer view!
We took an amazing tour of the KSC that included walking through museums of retired shuttles and rockets, driving around to different NASA facilities and getting a closer look at the delayed Endeavour shuttle. We were geeking out the entire day. Even though we had to watch the shuttle launch on TV ten days later, it was still pretty cool to think that we saw it in person on the launch pad waiting for lift off.
Every year Washington D.C. hosts the National Cherry Blossom Festival when its thousands of cherry trees are in full bloom and sprinkling the parks with flower petals. When David and I were living in Manhattan and were within driving distance, we decided to plan a day trip to see it. Walking around the tree-lined Tidal Basin, all we saw for miles were billowing shades of pink and white. We spent all day wandering through different museums and monuments, soaking up the history. Looking back I’m so glad we had a chance to visit our nation’s capitol before we moved out west.