What’s better than going to a national park? Getting in free! 3 free days left in 2018.

Mark your calendar and start planning your next adventure! Take advantage of these free entrance days:

  • April 21: First day of National Park Week
  • September 22: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day

Pick a park, any of the 400 parks.

Here are some other freebies & deals that you may not be aware of :

  • Free Annual Pass for active U.S. Military
  • Free Annual 4th Grade Pass (How cool for kids!)
  • Senior Pass ($80 Lifetime pass or $20 Annual pass for U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over.) Get it in person at your closest Federal Recreation Area or you’ll have to pay an additional $10 for processing the application online or by mail.)

Did you know that an annual pass for $80 will get you into all kinds of cool territory, including:

(National park entrance fees run from $3-$30 a shot so the annual pass makes sense after you add up a couple of visits.)

So tell me, what explorations do you have in store for 2018?  Happy trails!

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Yosemite NP: Chilnualna Falls

We rolled into Yosemite a bit late in the day with only an hour and a half of sunlight left. We were set on an overnighter and consulted with the rangers at the Wawona Visitor Center to get their recommendations. We decided on the Chilnualna Falls Trail. We figured we could cover the  4.2 miles  and set up our sleeping bags by nightfall.

The trails climbs steadily, but fairly moderately (lots of switchbacks) with mostly easy terrain. We hadn’t gone 1,000 feet when we were assaulted by hordes of face flies. They form a pesky cloud around your face. Swiping at them with both hands as I hiked, I gave up and tried blowing them out of my face. Laughable as I later learned that they love the carbon dioxide that you exhale. Arrgh! It was absolutely miserable -so bad that a couple who had started ahead of us turned back after about a quarter mile. We soldiered on, but I was thinking if it’s like tonight, it won’t make for a pleasant slumber.

Just when we’d had enough, they vanished. (Later learned, they don’t survive over 6 thousand feet elevation.) Phew! I’ve added this little, lightweight headnet to my backpack so I will never endure that misery again. To think for just $2.50 I could have spared myself that misery. (I’ll let you know if it holds up to use.) Even if it works once, it’s worth it.

In addition to the face flies, there was an acrid odor in the air and the sky was a bit hazy. (Later learned that the only fire in Yosemite was just East of the falls.) Odd that the rangers didn’t mention the face flies or the fire.  Their way of hazing late season campers or what? We woke with our sleeping bags salt and peppered with ashes. Can only imagine how great inhaling all the particles was for our lungs. Anyhoo, how was the play aside from the blight of the face flies and ashy air? Fantastic! It was late season, so nature’s infinity’s pools down from the falls were the major draw for us. Wish we’d arrived earlier, would have been splendid to luxuriate in the pools in the heat of the day. A bit chilly at sunset, but that didn’t stop me.

So we laid out our sleeping bags above the pools, had some snacks, and got ready for bed. It was a long drive from LA and enduring the face flies and smokey stench had made us both tired and a bit irritable. I asked my boyfriend, Ken, to put his Gatorade in the bear canister and put the canister at least 100 yards downwind from us. He gave me some gruff about how he didn’t think it was really necessary and how he didn’t think there were really that many bears around… We got into a little spat as I insisted on it.

It was our first night sleeping out in a while so it took us a while to get into doze mode. Finally, just as I was drifting off, I hear Ken’s panicked voice “Did you hear that?” “What?” SSSSSSSSShhhh! I think there’s something out there.” This time I heard the brush crunching and cracking near us. He shined the headlamp in the direction of the noise and light bounced off the large animal eyes – a healthy, strong buck who stared back and then sauntered off casually. “I thought it was a bear.” Yup, I don’t think I’ll get much gruff next time I insist on putting food and beverage items into the bear canister and placing it 100 yards away.

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Scenery: Great!                                                                                                                        Distance:  8.4 miles (13.5 km) round trip                                                                        Trailhead Elevation:  4,200 feet (1,280 meters)
Elevation Gain:  2,300 feet (700 meters)

Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous, depending on your fitness level

Notes: Be prepared for face flies! Bring your bathing suit for the falls or nature’s infinity pools.

Lake McDonald, West entrance Glacier National Park teaser

You know it’s off-season at Glacier National Park when there’s no one manning the front gate. Drive in just 10 miles and stop by the Lake McDonald Lodge and take in lake. Inhale the last vestiges of the damp, crisp, leave-scented air and enjoy the solitude. It’s clear, we’re on the cusp of winter. It would be great to cuddle up by the fire at the lodge with a hot toddy and your hottie, watching as the rain skips and scatters across the lake. But you can’t because it closes at the end of September. (Rats, or ravens for that mater – saw the one below the size of a duck.)

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I’ve seen lots of GNP pictures, but had no idea there was a lake of this size here, or that were so many lakes here  – 765 to be exact. Lake McDonald pictured at the top of the page is the largest lake in the park, covering an area of ~10 miles.

Yellowstone quickie: Biscuit Basin, Mystic Falls & overlook hike

Wonderful to be in Yellowstone without the crowds. Unfortunately, only had time for a short hike so opted for Mystic Falls – that way I could take in the geological wonders at Biscuit Basin first with the added  bonus of a waterfall and vista of the Upper Geyser Basin.

Silex Spring, the photo at the top of the page, was one of the most spectacular geothermal pools, but there were many contenders. It was mesmerizing to watch what seemed to be sporadic eruptions from pool to pool. After  a while, you notice that the eruptions are actually sequential with the water draining from one pool and filling the next.

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Avalanche Creek Trail to the Lake, Glacier National Park

The Going to the Sun Road was closed at Avalanche for the season so hiking options were a bit limited. Started at the Trail of the Cedars, where a wooden walkway leads through dense old growth.forest, the ground plush with almost iridescent green moss and a spectacular view of roaring avalanche creek. All this in a half mile or so and wheelchair friendly.

The rest of the Trail of the Cedars was closed, but I continued up along Avalanche Creek to Avalanche Lake. This easy, couple mile trail (4.5 miles roundtrip with 730 feet elevation gain) winds along Avalanche Creek and then up to the lake, and is one of the most popular in the park. One of the advantages of hiking in the off-season, and in the rain, is having it almost all to yourself.