Sun Kissed Hiker blog is all about a California girl chasing the sun, one hike at a time. Chelsea Alves started this blog in hopes that she can inspire/motivate people to take their first hike or continue hiking.
Zion National Park is a place of unmistakable, breathtaking beauty. From its red rock walls towering proudly above to its expansive evergreen valleys, this must-see destination attracts over 4 million visitors each year. Due to its remote destination, Zion typically requires somewhat of a road trip. Unless you live in the small town of Kanab, most visitors fly into theMcCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and rent a car.
The road trip from Las Vegas to Zion National Park takes approximately five hours to complete. If you’re anything like me, sitting in a car for anything over two hours can seem like an arduous task. Luckily, there are plenty of stops on the way to Zion that can help liven up your road trip. With a little research and plenty of our own personal knowledge, we’ve rounded up the top five places you have to make a stop at on your road trip from Las Vegas to Zion.
Valley of Fire State Park
Valley of Fire State Park features an extravagant display of multi-colored rocks which appear to be the colors of, you guessed it, fire. It features vibrant arches, unique rock formations, and miles of hiking trails that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Valley of Fire is also the perfect introduction to the red rock you will also see once you reach your final destination, Zion National Park. It’s also the first stop you’ll make on your trek to Zion.
Upon landing in Las Vegas, you’ll drive approximately 58 miles Northeast of the Las Vegas Strip to reach Valley of Fire. You’ll undoubtedly be impressed by this Mojave Desert gem and perhaps the best part of Valley of Fire State Park is you can spend as little or as much time here as you’d like. Whether you decide to spend half a day hiking infamous trails such as the Fire Wave Trail, or make a quick pit stop to see an Elephant shaped rock, Valley of Fire should be the first stop on your road trip from Las Vegas to Zion.
Silver Reef Ghost Town
Here in California, we are no strangers to ghost towns caused by the cessation of mining. Utah too had their own mining glory back in the late 1800s, which is evidenced by Silver Reef ghost town. When an extremely rare discovery of silver in sandstone was found, the mining town rapidly boomed over the next few years. By 1880, Silver Reef was home to a few major mining companies and business began to flourish in the area.
Just as quickly as Silver Reef rose, it also fell equally as fast when the boom came to an end. By 1881, a strike came about due to lowering wages. By the time the strike ceased, over half the work force had left Silver Reef. Today, one of the old mining town’s buildings still stands as well as the town’s original jail for visitors to see. Silver Reef is on the way from St. George to Zion, located about 15 miles northeast of St. George and a mile west of Leeds.
Fort Zion Gift Shop
Fort Zion is an eclectic gift shop you’ll find on the outskirts of Zion National Park. We spotted this unique destination from the side of the highway, it’s old-western-style structures beckoning us to come pay a visit. It’s a stop you’ll definitely spot from miles away, seemingly missed placed along the highway. Aside from its replica of a small western-style town, it also features a petting zoo, restaurant and gift shop.
The best part of the roadside attraction is you can make it a fairly quick stop if you’re in a pinch for time. The store has a vast array of unique souvenirs and food ranging from wild boar to prickly pear. The petting zoo outside the gift shop, at the time of our visit, was filled with animals ranging from goats to alpacas. We also explored the small makeshift town which was an adventure in itself. Overall, I’d recommend stopping off at the Fort Zion Gift Shop just for its sheer strangeness and bringing a souvenir along to commemorate this off-road gem.
Moqui Cave, despite its name isn’t an actual cave but rather a natural history museum near the town of Kanab, Utah. It features an impressive amount of Native American artifacts as well as a collection of dinosaur foot prints. A few of the coolest artifacts I saw were the fluorescent rocks which shine brightly beneath black light in the back cave. In addition to rocks, a decent number of minerals from around the world are also proudly on display.
Moqui Cave is conveniently located just 5.5 miles north of Kanab on scenic Highway 89. The museum and gift shop are open during the popular summer months from 9am. until 7pm Monday through Saturday. Moqui Cave is about a 30-minute drive from Zion, but is right near the town of Kanab, where you may find yourself staying if you are planning toi spend multiple days at Zion.
If you’re searching for solace from the somewhat heavy crowds you’ll find in the main canyon, the Kolob Canyons is a great alternative. This canyon is in the isolated northwestern section of Zion National Park, and is best known for its staggering deep red Navajo sandstone cliffs. The Kolob Canyons also won’t make you venture far to get to them, at just 40 miles of Zion Canyon, right off Interstate 15.
The five-mile drive through the Kolob Canyons will allow you and your hiking crew to take in some of the best views near Zion. With numerous hiking trails, you can take in the panoramic vistas by both foot and car.
It may be worth mentioning Kolob Canyons isn’t exactly on the way to Zion, but it also isn’t too far off the beaten path and is worth the side stop. It is less than an hour drive out of your way and is on the way to Bryce Canyon, should you be looking to extend your adventure further.
Have any stops you’d want to add on this list? Please let us know in the comments below!
Nestled high in the sunny Southern California hills of Encinitas you’ll find a rare, must-see natural gem known as the meditation gardens. These gardens provide visitors with an entirely serene experience with nature. The gardens are part of the Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas which also features a temple, auxiliary chapel, and hermitage.
Whether you practice meditation or not, the gardens offer more than enough natural wonders for an outdoor enthusiast. From a vast array of botany, koi ponds, benches overlooking the Pacific Ocean, nooks dedicated to meditation, and easy to follow trails – there’s something for everyone to experience at the Meditation Gardens.
The Self-Realization Fellowship, founded by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1920, was created to disseminate his teachings worldwide. Born in India in 1893, Yogananda became well known as a preeminent spiritual figure.
He wrote a book titled Autobiography of a Yogi, sharing his spiritual wisdom of India with the world. Today, the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) is dedicated to carrying on Yogananda’s spiritual and humanitarian work. Today, spiritualists come from all over San Diego county and beyond to practice the science of Yoga and methods of meditation.
To reach the gardens, walk from your parking spot to the temple. To your right you’ll likely see a guide and a set of stairs that will lead you up to the gardens. Follow the stairs, passing by your meditation nook on the right. Once you reach the top of the stairs you’ll see a diversity of unique flora species, palms cacti, shrubs, and magnificent trees looming overhead.
You’ll first encounter the koi ponds, with small waterfalls leading into the streams of clear water. To the left of the koi ponds you’ll find a larger meditation area, where many were gathered in silence, practicing their own meditation. Just above the koi ponds, you’ll find stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, with appropriately placed benches where one can sit and meditate or simply admire the breathtaking views ahead.
In total it will take you probably around 30 minutes to walk through the gardens, however I’d allocate more time to take in the views and meditate/pray if that’s your desire. As aforementioned, you don’t have to be spiritual or religious to visit these gardens. If you simply admire nature and the immaculate upkeep of it, then this is a destination you won’t want to miss. That being said, let’s do our part to preserve this location for generations to come to enjoy.
Meditation Gardens Tips
Street parking is free, but is not easy to find right in front of the gate to the temple.
You may find yourself walking a little bit to get to the gardens and while you’re at the gardens, so it’s best to wear a good pair of athletic shoes.
Arrive early in the morning to avoid crowds/children who may disrupt your meditating.
Be mindful of others. Even if you’re not meditating, practice silence to respect those around you that are trying to take advantage of this serene setting.
A stroll through the magnificent Meditation Gardens won’t set you back in terms of cost, in fact it is completely free to pay a visit. Donations are appreciated and accepted at varying drop boxes you’ll find throughout the meditation gardens.
Open Tuesday – Saturday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Sunday 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
From downtown San Diego, take 163-N for 6.2 miles. Use the right 2 lanes to take exit 7A to merge onto I-805 N toward Los Angeles. Merge onto I-5 N. Take exit 39 for Manchester Avenue. Turn right onto Manchester Ave.
In 0.9 miles, continue onto San Elijo Ave. In 0.6 miles turn left onto Chesterfield Drive. Turn right onto S Coast Hwy 101. In 1.4 miles, turn left onto W K St. Look for parking along the street.
Imagine you’re outdoors. The wind is blowing freely through your hair and you can hear the sound of dirt crunching beneath your boots. To your left you’ve you have enviable views of China. To your right your hands are gripping to a handrail for dear life.
This is just one possible scenario you may encounter on the craziest hiking trails found across the world. These trails are death-defying and out of this world. Some might say one would have to be downright crazy to attempt to hike here. Yet thousands of us still travel to these trails to check them off our bucket list each year. Let’s take a closer look at the 10 craziest hikes you’ll ever take.
Mount Pinatubo, Philippines
Hiking up to Mount Pinatubo’s crater lake is a gamble in itself. There’s the off-chance the volcano may erupt at any moment, but that doesn’t stop people from hiking here each day. After 400 years of dormancy, the volcano erupted suddenly in 1991, killing 800 people. It erupted once again in 1992, taking 72 lives this time around. While the hike is easy to complete, adventurers run the risk of a possible, untimely eruption.
The Maze, United States
Remember the movie 127 Hours with James Franco? We can hardly get the image out of our mind of being stuck beneath a rock fall for days on end with little hope. This took place in a desolate region of Canyonlands National Park in a section known as the Maze, a labyrinth where even the best navigators can get easily lost. There are no sources of food or water nearby, and risk of flash floods, falling rocks, and blistering heat are all dangers hiking the Maze presents.
Mount Huashan, China
No absolutely insane hikes list would be complete without mentioning Mount Huashan in China. Mount Huashan is the pinnacle of crazy and considered to be one of the most dangerous hikes in the entire world. The trails up to the tea house feature staircases, vertical ascents, and praying a wood plank trail holds your weight from thousands of feet above ground. Nonetheless, many adventurers take on the challenge and choose to hike Mount Huashan each year.
Maroon Bells a.k.a. “The Deadly Bells”, United States
The Maroon Bells in Colorado offer some of the most gorgeous views in the United States, let alone Colorado. The 6-mile hike to the South Ridge summit is a well sought-after hike, however it is also rife with dangers. From steep ascents, to loose rocks, and twists and turns that will have you scratching your head, this 12-mile roundtrip hike is challenging even for the most experienced hiker. The Maroon Bells are strongly correlated with danger, which is where the nickname “The Deadly Bells” comes from.
Cascade Saddle Trail, New Zealand
There are few places in the world as awe-spring as New Zealand. The vistas are incredible, the national parks are endless, and it’s a true hikers’ paradise if you can afford the cross-continent trek. One of the most beautiful treks in the country is the Cascade Saddle found at Mt. Aspiring National Park on South Island. Over the years several people have lost their lives in the saddle, largely due to slipping when the rock is wet and slippery. If you do hike here, use caution when crossing the saddle or simply avoid it.
Huayana Picchu Trail, Peru
One person wrote “It was a scary experience trying to get up and down that mountain without accident” on Trip Advisor. This is an accurate portrayal of what it’s like to climb to the top of Huayna Picchu in the Cusco region of Peru. The trail is a steep, a hard climb, and all around dangerous to reach the top. For those that have climbed this mountain, they likely have no desire to do it again.
The Mist Trail, United States
Each year, people seek after a highly coveted permit to hike to the top of Half Dome. Despite its inherent risks a hiker assumes while hiking the Mist Trail, most hikers complete the tricky cables section and don’t slip from the wet trail every day. According to the national park’s website, more people die on the Mist Trail than any other trail in Yosemite, largely due to the current. When hikers fall into the water, they find it too strong to overcome. Unless you’re a mermaid, you’ve been warned.
Dolomites Via Ferrata, Italy
Who wouldn’t want to see traces of World War I in a foreign country. The via ferrata is the perfect way to explore the Dolomites and take in the surrounding beauty of the European Alps, all while gaining a bit of history. But all this glory comes at a price. Hikers must traverse across bridges, climb ladders, and use ropes to hike to the Dolomites, a long and crazy hike to say the least.
El Caminito del Rey, Spain
Don’t look down when you’re hiking El Caminito del Rey in Spain. If so, you might find yourself fearing for your life. Hikers must walk across a rusty steel beam at one point that dangles hundreds of feet above a rushing river. While the trail went through a massive restoration process in 2014 to make it safer for tourists, we will all remember the days when rock climbers and adrenaline-seekers alike used to hike to this remote destination to test fate.
Angels Landing, United States
The 5-mile Angels Landing hiking trail found in Zion National Park in Utah, is not for those with a fear of heights. The trail takes hikers along a narrow cliff side where one could fall off either sides. For balance, there are handrails to help guide hikers to arguably the most scenic overlook in the entire world. Since I’ve personally completed this hike, I will confidently say it’s not for the faint of heart.
Think we missed a hike that should be on this craziest hike list? Leave the name of the trail in the comments below!
There were many fond memories and highlights of my recent trip to Iceland, however if I had to pick my favorite place I went it would be the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. Jokulsarlon is unlike anything I’ve seen before, a vast expanse of crystal-blue water filled with seals and ginormous icebergs.
It’s truly breathtaking, a sight that is hard to adequately capture in pictures because it’s beauty must be seen in person to gain a true appreciation. This must-visit destination borders Vatnajökull National Park in southeastern Iceland and is a bit of a drive, but one that’s well worth the effort.
To reach Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, one simply needs to drive on the infamous Ring Road that circles Iceland in its entirety. We stopped at Jokulsarlon after checking out the Sólheimasandur plane crash and Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon was last on our list, but my favorite pit stop we made that day (which is saying a lot because the other two sights were incredible!).
When driving it is nearly impossible to miss the lagoon. The landscape changes dramatically and you’ll be able to see the glacier well before you reach the lagoon. There will also be a number of signs when you get close enough directing you on where to park to visit Jokulsarlon.
Parking is abundant, yet it’s clear this destination is becoming increasingly popular over the years as nearly every parking spot was occupied when we went. After parking our car, we eagerly jumped out of the car and made our way over to the seemingly-endless ice-covered landscape. As you can imagine as two girls from southern California, we had never seen a landscape quite like this in our 30 years of life.
History of Jokulalson Glacier Lagoon
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is at the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, and believe it or not, this eclectic landscape is relatively new and is the result of the glacier beginning to recede from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. When temperatures in Iceland began to rise in 1920 and 1965, the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier tongue quickly began to retreat, which in turn led to the creation of the icebergs we are lucky enough to see in person today. Over time, the lake has grown in its capacity as a result of the glaciers thawing and melting. Even more recently it became Iceland’s deepest lake, at over 248 m (814 ft).
What to Do in Jokulsarlon
You can make as much or as little of your time at Jokulsarlon, depending on how much you want to take in. The first option is to park your car and walk over to the water to get a quick glimpse at the beauty before you. Alternately, visitors can extend their time and make the most of this pit stop by taking a boat tour. This is something we did not do and were sorely disappointed we hadn’t planned for this in advance. While we weren’t able to partake in this adventure, we did see plenty of people get aboard an boats to get transported up close and personal with the icebergs.
Amphibian Boat Tour
Amphibian boats double as transportation for both land and sea, meaning this versatile mode of transportation picks you up on land before plunging into the deep abyss of the lagoon. The overall experience is about 35 minutes, and allows guests to see the glaciers as closely as possible. Luckily, due to the frequency of the tours, you generally don’t have to book an amphibian boat tour in advance however, the planner in me recommends you book prior to your tour date.
Again, I can’t speak to the awesomeness of this tour because we were too pressed for time, but we did enviously watch plenty of people smile with joy as they got a close encounter with an iceberg. At the time of this post, it costs approximately $52 to take an Amphibian boat tour.
Zodiac Boat Tour
If a boat that doubles as both a land and sea creature doesn’t do it for you, you can also opt to take a Zodiac tour instead. A zodiac tour differs from an amphibian tour in that it covers large areas of the glacier lagoon and allows tourists to get a closer look at the glaciers. The company touts its boats go almost all the way up to the glacier as safely as possible. Zodiac tours are also a bit longer and go for about an hour. They run less frequently than Amphibian tours so I would highly recommend booking this in advance if this is the mode of transportation you prefer. At the time of this post, it costs approximately $90 to take a Zodiac Tour.
At Your Own Leisure
Alternately, you can simply walk the shoreline to admire the wonders of Jokulalson glacier lagoon. We only had about an hour to explore the area, so we simply walked up and down the shoreline, taking a plethora of captivating photos along the way. As aforementioned, pictures don’t do this quintessential landmark justice, and it is a stop that truly every tourist should make on their trek around Iceland. Stay the night in Höfn town (47 miles east of the lagoon) for the night after to take in yet another diverse Icelandic small town.
Some of the most photographed and sought after hikes in the United States come at a price. They require spending hours on the phone in hopes of reaching an operator or pure luck of the draw. Because of their exclusivity, it only adds to the allure and draws people from across the world to try to attain a permit. Trail permits are necessary for a number of hikes, but without visiting, it’s difficult to determine if it’s worth the effort. Luckily, we’ve taken the guess work out for you and outlined the top ten hikes in the United States worth the effort of obtaining a trail permit.
The Wave, Utah
The Wave is one of the most sought after destinations in all of Utah, and because of this, foot traffic is limited each day. To see The Wave requires either pure luck, or patience and planning as only 20 daily permits are allotted to see this magnificent sight. If you are lucky to win The Wave’s lottery, you will get the opportunity to see the uniquely shaped rock layers formed by windblown sand to resemble a wave. The hike itself is short at just over 5 miles round trip, but the memories and photos you take will stay with you long after.
Havasupai Falls, Arizona
Havasupai roughly translates to “the people of the blue-green waters”, which is right on point for the beautiful turquoise color of Havasu Creek. Every day trail blazers hike a little over 10 miles to catch a glimpse of the glistening blue-green water, numerous waterfalls, and unique rock formations hidden in the Grand Canyon. Though the hike can be strenuous at times, due to a large incline on the way back out and sweltering Arizona temperatures, it makes my list of top three hikes I’ve ever done in my life. The lottery for Havasupai Falls takes place in February each year and is difficult to attain. Be flexible with your dates and be willing to take what is first available.
Wonderland Trail, Washington
Looking for a hike that is both mentally and physically challenging? Look no further than the Wonderland Trail, an epic quest that covers a total distance of 93 miles, takes approximately 10-14 days to hike, and gains 23,000 feet in elevation. Located in Mount Rainier National Park, this trek gives visitors an all-encompassing view of the wonders of Washington, from lush green forest to staggering peaks. The Park Service accepts applications for this backcountry multi-day trip from March 15th to April 1st. In April, a lottery assigns reservations. The best time to make this journey is from late July to mid-September, when the mountain experiences the least precipitation.
Half Dome, California
Sitting gloriously 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley, Half Dome is one of the most iconic rock formations in the world. You’ve likely seen it in photographs and heard about the grueling 14- to 16-mile trek it takes to reach the summit, yet many apply each year to take on the challenge. Unlike some of the other permit trails we cover, Half Dome allows a few more hikers to summit each day, capping out at a maximum of 300 hikers per day. With flexibility and planning, you too can climb the cables and conquer Yosemite’s greatest feat.
The Narrows, Utah
Located in Zion National Park, The Narrows is one of the most unique slot canyon hikes in the world, where hikers must traverse through the river that cuts the canyon. The water level generally stays at one’s ankles, however there are portions of the trail where the water rises to waist-deep. There are three different ways to access The Narrows, Bottom Up (no permit required), Top Down – one day, or top down –overnight. Technically you could hike The Narrows without a permit, but for the super adventurous seeking to explore a larger portion of the canyon and darkest slot canyons you typically see in photos, a permit will be required.
Mt. Whitney, California
Mt. Whitney is arguably the toughest trail in all of California. With over 6,200 feet of elevation gain and 22-miles round trip, this trail can either be a grueling all-day hike or a multi-day backpacking trip. Yet climbing the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states is one of the most rewarding experiences one can have. However, not just anyone can summit Mount Whitney. Both day and overnight permits require entering a lottery, held February 1 through March 15. For the most pleasant conditions on this challenging yet epic trail, try to get a permit for July through early September months, when the trail is usually snow free.
Pacific Crest Trail, CA to WA
Each year, hundreds of people set out to tackle all 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. While less than half make it all the way, some are able to finish the mentally and physically challenging feat. Those that do complete the Pacific Crest Trail live to say they are among the few strong enough to handle such an extensive hike. However, not just anyone can hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail. If you’re looking to channel your inner Reese Witherspoon in the movie Wild, it will require you to get a permit. The Pacific Crest Trail issues a maximum of 50 permits each day for long-distance hikers starting at or near the Mexican border.
Iceland is every outdoor enthusiast wildest dream. Hiking opportunities are seemingly endless, landscapes are other-worldly, and opportunities for off the beaten path exploration are innumerable. One of the best, and first places, you’ll likely want to explore on a trek to Iceland is Þingvellir National Park. You’ll find this gem about 40 km northeast of the Reykjavík and is the first stop on the Golden Circle.
After exploring the incredible capital of Iceland for a day, we took our rental car and hit the road to find Þingvellir National Park, a historical landmark and increasingly popular tourist destination. It was founded as a national park in 1930, marking the one-thousandth anniversary of Althing and designated as a world Heritage Site in 2004. Þingvellir was once a parliament site, and played an integral role in the founding of Iceland.
Aside from being a pinnacle of historical importance, Þingvellir National Park also offers plenty of hiking opportunities through its beautiful landscape. To start your journey in Þingvellir National Park, you’ll park in the visitor centre parking lot and pay the nominal fee to park here. Walk towards the visitor centre, where you can make a quick pit stop to use the restroom and check out informational placards on the rich history of the area. Admission to the visitor centre is free.
Once you’ve become familiarized with Þingvellir’s history and the nature to be found here, your first stop will be a dramatic overlook at Hakið, where visitors can see much of the gorgeous south Iceland landscape and the Almannagjá fault below. After you’ve taken in sweeping views, follow the footpath down into the Almannagjá fault to get an upclose view of this dramatic rift valley.
Beyond the fault, you’ll find numerous hiking trails that extend over the national park. There isn’t one set trail but rather many that will take you through the vast country side and around Lake Þingvallavatn. Take advantage of traversing this unique terrain as likely this will be your first, and perhaps only time, you’ll be hiking in two continents. You’ll be both between the European and North American tectonic plates.
Be certain to find the abandoned farms of Hrauntún, Skógarkot and Vatnskot and take a stroll near the Þingvellir Church.
If time permits, many people also take advantage of the diving opportunities between two submerged rifts in the national park, Silfra and Davíðsgjá. Silfra is the more popular of the two for its clear visibility and impressive sights. ITs so famous, in fact, that it is often regarded as one of the top five dive sites. You will find Davíðsgjá in the north-eastern part of Lake Þingvallavatn, in the actual lake itself. Keep in mind that divers must have a dry suite certificate or 10 registered dry suit dives in the last two years for safety purposes.
After your visit to Þingvellir National Park, check off two more essential items on your Icelandic bucket list: the breathtaking Gullfoss waterfall and truly unique Geysir Geothermal area. Both are worth a stop on the Golden Circle and are relatively close-by.
There aren’t many places in the world where you can meet a puffin and hike an active volcano in the same day. Such is the case when one visits the Westman Islands, a cluster of 15 islands off the south coast of Iceland. Heimaey is the only inhabited island where about 4,000 people live year round and people such as myself go visit.
The Westman Islands is a nice escape from the overly-touristy areas you’ll run into on Ring Road and is essentially a hidden gem of a place to stay the night. Its natural scenery is stunning, puffins flock to the island, and it is surrounded by islands, volcanoes, and mountains. If you’ve got a day to spare on your itinerary, I’d highly recommend the following as a way to spend a leisurely day exploring the best the Westman Islands has to offer.
After being dropped off by the ferry late the night before on Heimaey, we knew we had to see a live puffin if we were going to be visiting the Westman Islands. Early the next morning, we set out to the Sæheimar Natural History Museum and Aquarium. It may be small in size, but this aquarium boasts but living and stuffed bird species, including the infamous Icelandic puffin!
The puffin we met is Tóti, who happily showed off for us as he waddled close enough for us to touch him. However, unfortunately touching is off limits as he can be territorial. Nonetheless, it made for a highlight of the trip being able to meet Tóti and two other feathery friends up close and personal.
Another plus of visiting the Westman Islands is they are small so its easy to cover a lot of ground in a day. After our visit to the aquarium, we were eager to take a drive and see all the island had to offer (which is a lot). The vistas are absolutely stunning, nearly every direction you turn you’ll see a mixture of mountains, islands looming close in the distance, and cobalt-blue water for miles. We were easily able to find a quaint location with a unique rock pile to sit and enjoy the views while eating lunch.
After enjoying our lunch we continued our drive throughout the island of Heimaey, enjoying the sights and friendly people who live on the island. It’s hard to believe people live here year-round, but is also easy to see why they would. It is easily one of the prettiest places I saw throughout the entirety of my 10-day trip to Iceland.
Hike a Volcano
In the winter of 1973, a volcanic eruption took place on the island of Heimaey without warning. The Eldfell eruption destroyed nearly 400 homes, closed businesses, and almost caused the island to be evacuated permanently. Most of the population left the Iceland by boat, while a few who were unable to travel by boat left by air.
Today, hikers can hike this very volcano that wreaked havoc over 40 years ago. The hike up this 200-meter tall volcano is short, yet it is steep and will get your heart racing. The effort is well worth it for the stunning views of the surrounding islands and town below.
The hike to Heimaklettur makes the steep climb up Eldfell look like child’s play. Heimaklettur is the highest peak in the Westman islands and takes hikers up a seacliff, close to a thousand feet high. The trail will force you to climb vertical ladders uphill to the top of a stunning summit.
How to Get to the Westman Islands
The easiest way to get to the Westman Islands is by ferry. If you have a rental car, you can also transport your car across on the ferry. The main ferry port, Landeyjahöfn is about a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik and takes 35 minutes to get across. At the time of this post, a car costs $35 USD round trip and an adult ticket is $20 USD.
There’s a good reason Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon tops just about every review site’s list of must-see attractions in Iceland. Its unwavering 5-star review on Google reviews and Trip Advisor is yet another small accolade this landmark deserves.
Fjaðrárgljúfur is one of the most photographed and impressive canyon’s in the entire world. It can be found on Iceland’s infamous Ring Road, and can be a quick detour or a half-day hiking trip to explore the truly unique scenery in the area.
Fjaðrárgljúfur is an expansive canyon in south east Iceland that features the Fjaðrá river running through it. As you will see when you visit Fjaðrárgljúfur, the Fjaðrá river is relatively low on water, granting hikers the opportunity to walk along the bedrock on the canyon’s floors to further explore this mystical place. There are some portions of the river which require hikers to wade through, especially if one wishes to reach the waterfalls found further down the canyon. The canyon is approximately 100 meters deep and about two kilometers long.
This canyon is believed to have been created over nine thousand years ago at the end of the last Ice Age. When a large glacier melted, a lake was then formed in the valley behind hard, resistant rock. The run-off from that lake flowed to where Fjaðrárgljúfur sits today.
Glacial rivers ran from the glacer’s edge and carried sediment into the lake and the river. The water dug itself down into the rock and onto the palagonite in front of it. The cascade was large and powerful enough to dig out the canyon, thus creating the Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon we are lucky enough to see today.
Hikers can climb both above Fjaðrárgljúfur to take in views of the canyon in its entirety or they can also walk on the canyon floor. I’d recommend following the trail that leads uphill to see the canyon first before exploring the canyon floor. This way you’ll fully understand the beauty of what you are about to hike down to. After parking in the make-shift, off the beaten road parking lot, you’ll see your first sign for Fjaðrárgljúfur, welcoming visitors to Katla Geopark while providing a brief history of the area.
Continue uphill on the easy to follow dirt pathway. It will take less than 10 minutes to reach the ideal picture destination, one you’ve likely seen sprawled across the internet. Be mindful to stay away from the edge of the canyon walls as they are unstable. They will be roped off to help protect you and the surrounding flora, and you should adhere to the warning.
After you’ve taken in the best views of Fjaðrárgljúfur from above, you can continue walking on the same trail to take in more canyon views, or you may retrace your steps back to the parking area to check out the canyon floor instead. We chose to turn around and made our way down into the canyon to further explore.
Most parts of the canyon floor allow you to walk along the edge of the canyon. There are a few parts where you need to wade to get across, but the water shouldn’t go higher than your knees. Overall, Fjaðrárgljúfur is a must-stop location that can take up as much or as little time as you want on your Icelandic journey.
If driving a small vehicle, use caution. The final stretch of road to the canyon is gravel and small rocks can fly up and chip your windshield if going too fast.
Be careful when viewing the canyon and stay behind the rope. The canyon walls are steep with a sheer drop off.
I recommend wearing waterproof hiking boots. If you’ll be traversing the canyon floor, your feet will likely get wet.
Respect nature. Another reason to not step off the beaten path is to preserve the surrounding flora.
Leave behind only footprints. Iceland is a country that is pristine and well-kept. Keep it that way by packing out what you pack in.
So you’ve mastered the basics of kayaking and you’re keen to take things up a notch. You’ve paddled around the beach for a couple of hours at a time but now you want to take full advantage of the country’s rivers, lakes and coastline and head out for a full day of exploring.
Whether you’re kayaking the Californian coastline or paddling in Pennsylvania, there are several items that will make your life easier. So, before you head out for a day on the yak, take a look at our list of essentials.
What You Need for a Day on the Kayak
When it comes to kayaking, a PFD (personal flotation device) is non-negotiable. Even if you’re a strong swimmer or don’t intend on going into the water, you should still wear one. In the event of an accident, it will keep your head above water and could save your life.
In warm weather, sun cream is also essential. Don’t be fooled by the sea breeze or cool water, your skin will be exposed to the sun for elongated periods of time and the reflection from the water will increase the exposure.
You should also include a basic first aid kit, safety whistle, small knife, head lamp, charged cell phone, kayak repair kit, map of the area and your itinerary in case of emergency.
Leaving a copy of your itinerary with a friend is also wise. In the event that you do not return as intended, they will be able to alert the local authorities.
When you are out exercising for several hours, it stands to reason that you will need plenty of food and water.
Top tip: Pack more food than you think you’ll need. You’re likely to be hungry after paddling for hours. In summer, eat salty foods to replace the salts you would have lost through sweat. Of course, consuming more salt will increase your thirst, so bear that in mind! You could also consider electrolytes to mix in with some of your water. These are a great way of replenishing lost salts after exercising in the heat. Just don’t go overboard (no pun intended!) with the electrolytes. Too much can make your stomach feel bloated and bring about stomach pain.
Your clothing will depend on the weather and time of year. You should be dressed warm enough to be able to fall into the water, stay there for as long as needed to get back into your vessel and still be able to paddle afterwards.
In the peak of summer, you may even find that swimwear plus a PFD will suffice. Rash guards can be added for extra warmth or can also be worn alone for sun protection.
A hat and sunglasses will also make the day more comfortable, especially if you plan on doing a spot of fishing. Make sure whichever hat you choose has a wide brim and is made of breathable material to keep you cool and adequately protect from rays reflecting up from the water.
In cold waters, you will need either a wetsuit or a drysuit. Wetsuits come in various shapes and styles that can work in both cold and warm temperatures. For water temperatures between 45 and 70 degrees, some kind of wetsuit will most likely fit your needs.
Cold shock (and subsequently hypothermia) can occur in waters as warm as 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit so make sure you consider the water temperature before choosing your clothing. For any waters below 45 degrees (or if you don’t want to get wet at all) you will need a drysuit.
Convenience & Recreation
Dry bags or canisters come in extremely handy on long days out on the kayak. They allow you to keep certain things completely dry even if you capsize. This is ideal for storing important items like cell phones, maps, itineraries and warm, spare clothing.
If you fancy a spot of fishing, consider taking a cooler with you to keep your catch fresh. And as an added bonus, you can use the cooler to keep your beverages ice cold. In summer, this will be a welcomed perk!
In summary, dress appropriately for the weather, be sun smart, take plenty of food and water, wear your PFD at all times and enjoy the glorious view.
This is a guest post written by Mark with Kayak Guru. Mark is one of the guys from kayakguru.com, helping beginners to understand the basics of kayaking, and amateurs to improve their skills. Kayak Guru also writes about fishing and stand up paddle boarding.
The Laguna Mountains offer a nice break from typical San Diego trails, a far cry for the typical chaparral and rock covered hills. Instead, the trails on Mount Laguna offer a breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively. They feature dense wood forests, breathtaking meadows, and glimpses of the vast Anza Borrego Dessert in the near-distance. One trail that offers a good introduction to Mount Laguna or can also serve as an add-on hike is the Lightning Ridge Trail, a short, 1.4-mile hike near Horse Heaven Group Camp.
Located about 10 miles north of the I-8 East, the Lightning Ridge Trail picks up at the entrance of Horse Heaven Group Camp. The name of the campground can be misleading seeing as equestrian camping is not permitted here, however this tent-only camping destination can accommodate groups up to 100 people. Campers and hikers alike can stay at Horse Heaven Group Camp any time from Memorial Day until Labor Day. It remains closed for camping the rest of the year, however hiking on the adjacent Pacific Crest Trail or Lightning Ridge Trail is permitted year-round.
After parking, cross Sunrise Highway, and follow the access road to Horse Heaven Group Campground. Soon you’ll reach a fork. Turn right and follow the dirt road to the right. Follow the well-traveled trail as it slowly traverses uphill, where you’ll gain all of your elevation for the hike. Though the trek to the summit is short, you’ll likely feel winded once you reach the Chula Vista Reservoir, a gated water tank. Here is where the most scenic views will present themselves, with miles of woodlands in every direction you turn and Little Laguna Lake gleaming in the distance.
Once you’ve taken in the vistas from above, re-trace your steps back downhill until you reach the fork. Follow the brown wood sign that reads “trail” to traverse down a series of switchbacks. You are now on the official Lightning Ridge Trail, a short yet sweet path that shades hikers with the help of staggering pines above.
At the bottom of the hill, you’ll see another sign that directs you toward Horse Heaven Campground.
Follow the trail toward Horse Heaven Campground, passing picnic tables to your left before you reach a paved road. Continue to walk along the road until it reaches a fork. Follow the road uphill to the left to return back to the access road you started on. Soon you’ll likely begin to hear the sound of cars whizzing by on Sunrise Highway. This is an indication your lightning-fast hike has come to an end. Carefully cross the highway once again to conclude your hike.
Lightning Ridge Trail Tips
The Lightning Ridge Trail is for hikers only. Equestrians and bikers are not permitted.
There are numerous side trails. Be wary to stay on the main, well-traveled path to avoid getting lost.
Don’t cut out the short stretch to the top of the reservoir. The views are most impressive here.
Bring your kids. This hike is easy enough for the whole family to take together.
From downtown San Diego, take CA-163N. Take exit 3A to merge onto I-8 E toward El Centro. In 12.9 miles, keep left at the fork to stay on I-8 E. Follow I-8 E for 29.2 miles and take exit 47 toward Sunrise Highway. Turn left onto County Rte S1/Old Hwy 80.
Follow Sunrise Highway north for approximately 10 miles. Just a little past mile marker 25.5 you’ll see a sign on your right for Horse Heaven Group Camp. If the campground is open (after Memorial Day but before Labor Day) park in the campground to your left. If not, park your car on the right side of the road across from the campground in the dirt turnoff.
Elevation Gain: 500 feet
Dog Friendly: Yes
Total Distance: 1.5 miles
Trailhead Address: Horse Heaven Group, Cleveland, CA, USA, Mt Laguna, CA 91948