The ranger in the visitor center video said that he used think about the national parks out west when he thought of rocks, such as Arches National Park, the Grand Canyon, and so on. But he soon discovered that Acadia, this national park of the East, is very rocky as well. As did we! The trails were all made up of rocks; rocks that pounded the bottom of our feet and made them ache after miles of hiking; rocks that threatened to twist our ankles as we bounded among them; rocks that were tricky to climb up and even trickier on the way down.
The rocks tore a little hole in the side of my running shoes, and now the hole has gotten so big that my sock sticks through when I wear them. I gave in and finally ordered a new pair of shoes online!
Just remember, when going up…
You will need to come back down!
And sometimes coming back down is harder and scarier than going up! The hiking trails in Acadia were some of the best we’ve ever hiked, and we’ve been on quite a few. 🙂
Go to the visitor’s center first! That’s our mantra whenever we go to a national park. We actually stop by the visitor’s center throughout our visits. The rangers are wonderful resources, and we always ask them questions about what trails to hike.
When we were in Acadia National Park this past June, we watched a video introduction to the park. In the video, ladder trails were mentioned, so of course, Lily and Emmy were determined to find one! However, it was already late afternoon, so we decided to take a short hike on a carriage road. We were able to see some nice views of the island and the ocean, which only made us more eager to explore in the week to come. (Did you know Acadia is on an island in Maine? I didn’t realize it until I actually started planning this trip!)
The first full day that we spent in Acadia, however, was hiking the famous Cadillac Mountain, which is where the sun first touches the Northern Hemisphere at certain times of the year. Many people hike up to see the sun rise on Cadillac Mountain. We were not those people. It is an easy hike, since you drive most of the way up, park, and then hike up a short trail to the top. The views are spectacular!
Just looking at my pictures again makes me want to go back! Acadia National Park is an amazing place to visit.
After seeing bear scat on the trail to the natural bridge in Yellowstone, we decided to rent some bear spray for our morning hike up Mount Washburn. Bears scare me, and for good reason. We looked into buying bear spray at the park, but it was $50, and renting it was much more reasonable. All four of us watched a video about how to use bear spray, and Ed and I practiced pulling the trigger with an empty can of bear spray.
And we were off to climb Mount Washburn! It is one of the more popular trails in Yellowstone, but since we got an early start, there weren’t that many people on the trail yet. We were basically going to climb three miles up at about a 10 percent incline, and then come back down. Ed and the girls, of course, were faster than I was. Even with all my training for the 2 day breast cancer walk, and working out at the gym, I still felt woefully out of shape. However, I think because I had been exercising, when we rested after a steep climb I recovered faster, and walking on the treadmill at an incline strengthened my ankles, so I felt strong as I was climbing.
We ran into another group stopped at a logical resting place, and started chatting with them. One of the fun things about being a tourist is meeting new people from different places, although if I remember correctly, they were also from Illinois! The daughter was working at Yellowstone for the summer, so her family came to visit her and she was showing them around. She took the picture up above.
At the top of Mount Washburn is a fire lookout tower. We got warm while we were climbing, but then at the top the wind was blowing and it was really cold!
Before we headed back down the mountain we warmed up inside the lookout tower and used the bathroom. (I was so happy there was one up there!) We saw some bighorn sheep in the distance, and also a little yellow-bellied marmot. We spent some time looking at them through our binoculars.
On the way down the mountain, we ran into a number of people walking up the mountain. The day was getting warmer, the path was getting busier, and I was glad that we had started so early that morning! Unfortunately for me, however, we still had a lot of time to explore Yellowstone. I’ll tell you what we did next tomorrow.
Ed and I made a conscious decision not to bring our laptop on our road trip. It wasn’t that we were intending to go “off the grid.” Instead, we knew wifi access would be limited. We both had our phones, after all. And since we were moving from hotel to hotel, we wanted to travel as light as we could. Our goal was to move from car to hotel room with only one trip, and most of the time, with the girls carrying their own backpacks and rolling their suitcases, we were able to do just that.
I checked my email a couple of times, but when I really wanted to send someone a reply about some volunteer work I’m doing at my church, I was in the middle of Wyoming, I didn’t have cell or data service, and couldn’t get a signal for a long time. I was so frustrated, and I decided that yes, I was going to go off the grid. When I finally did get a signal, I replied that I was on vacation. And then I really did disconnect. And you know what? I didn’t miss the internet at all! (I was surprised!)
I even decided to write a journal the old fashioned way. I brought one of my favorite notebooks, and started writing in it the first night. My journal writing skills were a little rusty. Typing blog posts is so much easier and faster for me. My first entry was just bullet points of what we did that first day, which was mostly driving. My journal entries became longer as the days went by, however, and, as cheesy as it sounds, I remembered the joy of putting pen to paper.
Even though I get car sick easily, I have also become pretty good at looking at maps and navigating. I helped navigate us through Death Valley a couple of years ago and on this trip I navigated us through the Badlands. Now we were going through Wyoming to Yellowstone, with a pit stop in Cody. Even though a major highway doesn’t go to Cody, it was still easier than driving my girls by myself through rural Michigan in the middle of the night!
Just outside of Cody is the Buffalo Bill dam. We stopped to take a look and visit the Visitor’s Center. It is a little bit of a walk from the Visitor’s Center to the parking lot, but there were a couple of guys taking tourists back and forth in golf carts. We didn’t really need a ride, but we took one just for fun!
In about an hour, driving through gorgeous scenery, we finally made it to the West Entrance of Yellowstone National Park!
There’s just something special about entering those gates to a national park. We couldn’t wait to see everything, so we stopped at every view point. Time seems to slow down, and driving to your destination doesn’t seem as important as just looking at what’s around you. And you don’t even want to go inside for a second! We ate our first picnic in Yellowstone at Gull Point, overlooking Yellowstone Lake.
We walked our first trail, the Natural Bridge Trail, and saw bear scat on our way. Grizzlies freak me out, so Ed and I were keeping a watchful eye the entire time, and making lots of noise! I had made the girls bear bells when we went to Alaska, and Emmy was especially faithful about wearing hers during our hikes. Those bears (and other hikers!) knew we were coming!
We also stopped at the West Thumb Geyser Basin, and the girls soon had their first taste of what soon became their favorite part of Yellowstone; thermal features! Steamy, smelly, and a little scary, (Just this spring, a tourist walked off the boardwalk, fell into a hot spring, and died a horrible death–I don’t even want to think about it!) thermal features are scattered all over Yellowstone. They are easy to spot since the heat kills the trees and plants, but the thermal features and hot springs are also always changing places and moving around. Yellowstone has hundreds of small earthquakes happening every month. We saw spots in parking lots that were blocked off because a hole had collapsed and now steam was coming out of the ground. Geysers that were once active will lay dormant, while a hot spring will suddenly become a geyser. All sorts of interesting things happen in Yellowstone! We were never tempted to step off those boardwalks.
That night, we slept in a little yellow cabin by the historic Lake Hotel. We had a whole week to explore!
It looked like we had just stepped into a Western movie. All those vast, rugged spaces around us.
To us Northern Illinois flatlanders, there was not a bad view anywhere. I’ve been going through my pictures, trying to decide which ones to show you, and there’s just too many! Even Ed was taking pictures with his phone, and he is usually not a picture taker.
The next stop on our road trip was Wind Cave National Park, also in South Dakota. Instead of going back up to the highway, we decided we wanted to see as much of the Badlands as we could, and that meant traveling for several miles along a gravel road. We didn’t get very far before we stumbled upon our first bison herd. Or perhaps the bison stumbled upon us? They wanted to cross the road, so we let them have the right of way.
After we saw the bison, the badlands had given way to rolling prairie. We were driving through Buffalo Gap National Grassland and Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. There was no place to stop, and when we did get to a small town, it looked more like a ghost town than a place to stop. Most of the buildings were falling apart and disintegrating out in the middle of nowhere. By the time we reached the White River Visitor Center, we had been driving for quite a while on the gravel road. I accidentally overheard one of the park rangers complaining (while Ed was in the bathroom) that all the tourists wanted to do when they came to the visitor center was use the bathroom. I think he was probably right. We did talk with the ranger about Wind Cave until the phone rang and he excused himself to answer it. I hope we appeased him a little bit. We didn’t stop there just to use the bathroom!
(Okay, we totally did.)
Wind Cave is perhaps one of the most overlooked national parks. It is really close to Mount Rushmore, which everyone has heard about and is extremely popular, and yet Wind Cave doesn’t even come close to getting the same amount of visitors. In fact, we weren’t planning on even going to Wind Cave until Ed saw it on the map and decided we had to stop there. It was definitely worth the visit!
Wind Cave has one natural entrance, and yet it is a large and intricate cave. There have been estimates that only about 5% of the cave has actually been discovered and explored. One ranger described the cave tunnels as though a bowl of spaghetti had been dumped over under the ground. That’s exactly how the map of the cave looks.
The cave has most of the world’s boxwork formations…yes, that’s right, I wrote world’s. This is not your typical cave!
The tour we took was amazing, but as you can imagine, my pictures did not turn out very well. It’s dark down in the cave! During one point of the tour, the ranger turns off all of the lights. All of them. It is really, really dark! I even started to get dizzy, and literally couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. Fortunately, the lights came back on again!
Next time you visit South Dakota, I highly recommend a cave tour!
After our tour, we were off to our next stop. Not a national park, but instead a national memorial. Mount Rushmore!