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It’s no secret that the iconic landscape of Zion National Park draws visitors from all over the world. However, some might be surprised to learn just how popular it has become: in 2017, Zion was the third most heavily visited national park in the country, beating out both Yosemite and Yellowstone with an impressive total of 4.5 million guests. The oldest of Utah’s  national parks and the closest of the five to Los Angeles features a deep gorge cut by the Virgin River where serene woodlands of pines and cottonwoods lie beneath imposing red and white cliffs, making for an instantly recognizable backdrop.  This edition of “Beyond L.A.” focuses on the Pa’rus Trail, an easy hike that offers a sampling of the park’s serious eye candy.

TIPS FOR L.A. HIKERS

Getting to Zion National Park: Zion National Park’s south entrance is a little over 400 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Without traffic, expect a 7-8 hour drive (and note that Utah is one hour ahead, in the Mountain time zone). The park is about 160 miles and a 2.5 hour drive from Las Vegas. St. George Express offers shuttle service from Las Vegas, Mesquite, NV, anywhere in St. George, UT and other options. St. George Airport (SGU) is about an hour’s drive from the park. For information on flights from LAX to SGU, click here. The park entrance fee is $30 per vehicle (good for one week). Annual passes are $50 and the America the Beautiful pass ($80 per year) is also accepted. The Pa’rus Trail is one of the first trails in the park after the entrance station but if the park is crowded (peak season is May – September, with an average of 300,00 monthly visitors) parking may not be available, requiring visitors to park in the town of Springdale and take the Zion shuttle.

Staying at or near Zion National Park: The two campgrounds closest to the trail are the South Campground ($16 per night, first come first serve) and the Watchman Campground ($16-20 per night, reservations accepted). For more information about staying at these campgrounds or elsewhere in or near Zion National Park, click here. Other articles with tips on camping in or staying near Zion are here and here.

Weather: Temperatures in nearby Springdale range from average lows of 28 degrees in January to average highs of 99 degrees in July. Average annual precipitation is comparable to L.A. at 15 inches.

Cell phone reception: Good

Dogs: Allowed on leash but exercise caution on warm days (for tips on hiking safely with dogs, click here). Watch out for cyclists. Note that pets are NOT allowed on Zion shuttle buses.

The hike:

Approximately 3.2 miles round trip, 100 feet elevation gain; allow 2 hours

The Pa’rus (pronounced PIE-roos; from the Paiute  word for “bubbling water”) Trail is the easiest and one of the most popular trails in Zion National Park. While experienced hikers and backpackers will doubtlessly want to venture deeper into the park for more ambitious and adventurous hikes such as Angel’s Landing and the Subway, the Pa’rus Trail is ideal for cyclists (it’s the only bike-friendly trail in the park), families with young kids and dogs (it is the only dog-friendly trail in Zion and one of the few dog-friendly trails in any national park), providing a taste of Zion’s unique and spectacular scenery.

The official access point is by the Watchman Campground entrance, just past the south entry point. However, during the park’s peak season, you may have to find alternate parking at the overflow for the South Campground or where allowed along Highway 9. Access to the trail from these other points is easy and obvious.

Assuming you start from the south end, begin by crossing the Virgin River Bridge and picking up the signed Pa’rus Trail. The paved pathway curves around the campground and begins heading north, paralleling the Virgin River. Soon you get your first look at one of Zion’s signature landscapes: the lush, cottonwood-filled valley framed by towering red cliffs. The trail crosses a service road and a small footbridge, continuing north. The vegetation includes cottonwood trees, pines, cacti and willows. A few use trails head down to the river. Traffic noise is noticeable but not too obtrusive.

The trail crosses several footbridges, passes a small check dam which results in a cascade and finally crosses under Highway 9 to reach its terminus, by stop #3 on the Zion shuttle.

More information: trip descriptions here, here, here, here and here

Start of the Pa’rus Trail View of the cliffs from near the beginning of the trail View of Zion Canyon from near the campground Cottonwoods shading the Pa’rus Trail Virgin River Cascade from the diversion dam on the Virgin River One of several footbridges Cottonwoods on the Pa’rus Trail Confluence of the Virgin River and Pine Creek Red cliffs above the Pa’rus Trail Looking west..
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For those who are about to take a walk in the mountains there are several aspects to consider in order to help avoid running into bad surprises:

–       Physical training

–       Analysis of the route

–      Check weather forecasts before departure

Physical training is fundamental. In mountain ascents, descents and bumps, the back and knees are constantly subjected to significant stress. It is always advisable to maintain a certain level of training, but for those who are first starting out with hiking or because of the winter season or too many commitments, start again after a few months of inactivity, it is best to start with lighter activities. The difficulty level can then increase gradually but always without exaggeration and skip the steps!

Once you have chosen your trip, it must be analyzed and you must have all the elements to be able to follow it safely. Do you have a map? Are the trails reliably marked or will you have to navigate? Are there shelters or places where you can put up for the night? Are there reliable water sources?

Another thing to consider is the meteorological forecast. Many hikers have encountered trouble on destinations such as Mt. Whitney because they are unprepared for severe and dramatic changes in the weather.

In addition to these there are “ten essentials” that are always have in your backpack. The list of Ten Essentials was assembled by the Mountaneers for the first time in the 30s, as a list of objects that participants in their courses mountaineering had to always have with them during the course sessions. The passing of the years and the evolution of techniques and technologies have led to a modern list of 10 Essentials. This infographic (which originally appeared on 10silove.it) represents the 10 Essentials.

Author bio: Jen Starr is a freelance travel writer for some of the top travel websites around the world, writing about everything from hidden gems to luxury hangouts.

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Here’s a hike that offers the outstanding scenery of Bryce Canyon National Park in a free, less crowded and dog friendly package. This five mile loop in the Dixie National Forest is a perfect introduction to the area’s famous landscapes, notably the “hoodoo” formations – the bizarre rock towers characteristic of the desert. Other highlights include wide-ranging mountain vistas, bristlecone pine woodlands and an optional spur to an overlook that may test the nerves of even veteran hikers.

TIPS FOR L.A. HIKERS

Getting to Dixie National Forest: This hike originates from the Golden Wall Trailhead on Utah Highway 12, in the western end of the Powell Ranger District of the Dixie National Forest. The trailhead is a little over 500 miles from downtown Los Angeles. The drive is 7 hours, not including breaks or traffic. (Note too that Utah is one hour ahead of L.A. in the Mountain time zone). The trail head is about halfway between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas (250 miles, 3.5 hours driving from either). The nearest airport with regular service from L.A. is in Cedar City (CDC), about an hour and fifteen minutes drive from the trailhead. Bryce Canyon has an airport (BCE) but flight options are very limited.

Staying in or near Dixie National Forest: The loop passes by the Red Canyon Campground, which is open from May to September and costs $20 per night. (The campground, when open, serves as an alternate trail head). The towns of Panguitch and Hatch are respectively about 10 miles north and south of the trail head and both offer several options for accommodation as well as gas and groceries.

Weather: At 7,000+ feet, this hike is in a mountain climate with temperatures ranging from an average low of 9 degrees in January to an average high of 78 degrees in July. The average precipitation is 16.4 inches annually, comparable to Los Angeles. However, snow and ice can present a serious hazard on this hike, especially on the knife-edge spur leading to Buckhorn Point.

Cell phone reception: None for most of the route. The nearest reliable cell phone reception is in Panguitch and even then it is somewhat weak.

Dogs: Allowed but exercise caution on warm days (even if the temperature is low, the trail is largely exposed). Some dogs may have difficulty on the loose and steep terrain.

THE HIKE

Approximately 5 miles with 1,000 feet of elevation gain; allow 3 hours

This write-up assumes that you will be starting from the Golden Wall Trailhead on Utah Highway 12. By going clockwise, you can get the least interesting (but still enjoyable) part of the hike out of the way first: 0.7 mile on a bike path that runs parallel to the highway. While you will hear and see plenty of traffic, you also get a taste of the scenery to come with the hoodoos on the opposite side of the road. The gradual climb – just over 100 feet – is a good way to acclimate to the high altitude.

Enter Red Canyon Campground (bypass the gate if it is closed) and walk to the eastern end, where the signed Buckhorn Trail starts next to site #24. The trail ascends steadily, picking up 350 feet in 0.7 mile, mainly along pine-shaded switchbacks. A few benches allow you to stop and enjoy the scenery. At 1.6 miles from the start, you reach the top of a ridge where you enjoy views to the south. At this point, the Golden Wall Trail heads downhill while the Buckhorn Trail makes a 0.2 detour. If conditions are good and you don’t have a fear of heights (or want to work on overcoming it) take the detour, which traverses a knife-edge before making a final climb to an overlook beneath a large hoodoo. The best vistas of the hike can be found from this spot, including the Sevier River Valley to the west and Red Canyon to the north.

After enjoying the view and cautiously returning along the ridge (the loose terrain can be quite unnerving), pick up the Golden Wall Trail and make your descent. The trail drops around the southeast side of the Golden Wall, a long and narrow formation of several hoodoos that have been fused together. You dip into a forest of mixed pines and junipers and then make a steep ascent up a ridge, including a small staircase, to a vista point beneath a hoodoo formation. Here you can enjoy more views similar to those from Buckhorn Point. The trail then makes another descent into the pines, passes an arch rock known as “Alpaca Rock” and makes its way around the south end of the Golden Wall.

After curving around to head back north, the trail reaches another ridge point with views of Red Canyon. On the descent, the trail makes a few sharp switchbacks, some of which can be easy to miss, and reaches a junction with the Castle Bridge Trail (3.9 miles from the start). The Castle Bridge Trail climbs up to get a closer look at the hoodoos and also passes its namesake feature, a small natural bridge, while the Golden Wall Trail continues its descent, entering a wash where the route may be a little vague at times. (The Castle Trail adds 0.2 mile and 100 feet of elevation gain). The trails merge half a mile from the parking lot, making a pleasant descent through pines before returning to the starting point.

If you were wondering how a national forest in Utah is known as “Dixie” the name comes from Utah’s Dixie, a nickname for the southwestern corner of the state. With a warmer climate than the rest of Utah, the area allowed growing of cotton, grapes and other crops similar to those grown in the Deep South.

More information: Trip descriptions here, here, here, here, here and here; Dixie National Forest homepage here; video about the hike here

Start of the hike on the bike path Start of the Buckhorn Trail The spur to Buckhorn Point Hoodoo at Buckhorn Point View of the Sevier River Valley from Buckhorn Point Looking north from Buckhorn Point Steep drop offs from Buckhorn Point Heading back from Buckhorn Point Stairs on the Golden Wall Trail
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Have you wanted to explore the outdoors but are unsure about where to start? Are you thinking about doing a backpacking trip but feel intimidated by doom and gloom news stories about lost hikers? Here are 10 tips to make your hike safe, enjoyable and memorable.

  1. HIKE IN A GROUP

Besides being safer, group hikes help you enjoy quality time with friends and to get to know people better. It’s always fun to experience nature together and everyone will have a story to talk about after the hike. In addition you might learn from more experienced hikers, whether it’s safety tips, ideas for new places to hike, or tips on supplies to bring. Another advantage is if a hiker in the group is struggling, you can help by distributing loads.

When I was hiking, I had friends recommend awesome new trails such as Muir Beach Trail in the Marin Headlands and Point Reyes. I also meet cool people who even did rock-climbing in Yosemite and traveled to pretty remote places. I learned tons about safety, new hiking spots, and the cool experiences people had.

IF YOU ARE HIKING ALONE: make sure you do it right. If possible pick a well-traveled, well-marked trail, tell someone where you are going beforehand, know your physical limits, and be prepared with water and food. If you’re hiking in a fairly remote/wild place, I highly recommend getting something like a SPOT Transponder. This device can help you send pre-determined messages to family and friends, and if something goes wrong you can send a help signal to emergency responders who will track down your location.

  1. DRINK, DRINK, DRINK

And I don’t mean the Bacardi vodka here :P. Make sure you and your entire party has plenty of water the entire hike, both on the outgoing and returning trip. A good rule of thumb: Always bring a little extra than you think you might need. Check out this page to see exactly how much water you should bring on the hike. This will prevent any shortage/complains. Your backpack gets lighter each time you stop for a drink, making your return trip little less laborious.

  1. CARRY CALORIE-RICH SNACKS

Food provides you with essential energy but it also adds weight. That’s why for backpacking trips, it’s recommended that your snacks have at least 100 calories per ounce and that formula is good to keep in mind for long day hikes as well. For examples of snacks that meet this standard, click here. Also check out this article for additional tips.

  1. SECURE YOUR VALUABLE BELONGINGS

Hikes cause things to be easily forgotten or lost, especially small, valuable items. Take a photo ID, insurance card, and credit card on the trail and keep them in a secure location such as a backpack zip up pocket. For extra precaution, take pictures of each of these items and email them to yourself, so it makes the process easier of you lose any of these items. Remember, don’t have a situation where you lose your credit card to a vast place like Yosemite!

  1. REPACKAGE TO REDUCE WEIGHT

It’s easy to automatically grab more supplies than you need, but if you pack carefully and pay attention, you can cut out a lot of weight. For example you won’t need a whole 8-ounce bottle of bug spray on a day hike and probably not even on an over-nighter. By finding smaller containers and pouring an ounce or two, or however much you need, of bug spray, sunblock or similar items, the weight saved adds up and for that you will be thankful, especially nine or ten miles in. For tips on shaving weight from your pack, click here.

  1. WRAP SUPPLIES TO PROTECT THEM

You’ll be carrying lots of water, and that’s good! However, on a cold hike, even a small spillage of water can ruin the contents of your backpack. In this precious tip I encourage you to keep yourself and your gear dry. Put at-risk items in a Ziploc bag, sleeping bags in a large trash bag, and clothes in waterproof bags. Also, if applicable, carry and use raingear. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting all your clothes wet on a chilly hike that lasts many hours.

  1. LEAVE YOUR COTTON CLOTHES AT HOME

Ever heard of the phrase ‘Cotton Kills’? I actually hadn’t heard of it until recently, when a very experienced hiker explained it to me a couple years ago. Cotton clothes are extremely bad for hiking, especially on long, arduous ones. Once your cotton clothes get wet from sweat or rain, they lose all insulation protection and your body can become dangerously chilled – especially during cold, high-altitude nights. Other fabrics to avoid include modal, rayon, viscose, tencel and lyocell fabrics at all costs for hiking clothes. Use material specially made for hiking. Wool is acceptable, but also can be less comfortable than more specialized material.

Other fabrics to avoid: corduroy, denim, flannel or duck. 50/50 cotton-polyester blends are also a no-go. Make sure you get the right clothes!

  1. LEAVE BACKUP PLANS

Leave your planned path and trail with someone you trust back at home. If you get lost or in a life-threatening situation, your trusted friend or family member will can search for you in the right area and have a much higher chance of rescue. Oregon hiker Mary Owen endured a harrowing ordeal in the wilderness near Mt. Hood. Although she listed her contact information and expected return time on a registration form, the form was lost and she was not found for six days. Many people are also familiar with the story of Aron Ralston, who did not let anyone know his plans when he went canyoning in the Utah wilderness. His story was made into the film “127 Hours.”

  1. ADHERE TO “LEAVE NO TRACE” ETHICS

Is your social media account worth getting death threats over? If not, don’t be like Andre Saraiva, who was caught vandalizing in Joshua Tree National Park. In addition to following Leave No Trace ethics, consider joining a trail clean-up event – it can be a great way to give back while enjoying time outdoors with other like-minded hikers. Organizations such as Trash Free Earth hold trail clean-ups regularly, helping federal and state agencies that have to stretch their budgets.

  1. HAVE BASIC PROTECTION AT ALL TIMES

Hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, or all of them (which is recommended), always have the most basic protections with you from the outside elements. Even on cloudy days, UV rays can still penetrate and give you a nasty sunburn. As an extra tip, keep a small, fully replaced first-aid kit for minor injuries or other unexpected events. If you want to make sure you have the best gear possible, check out my recommended hiking equipment here.

For more advice and awesome hikes, stay updated on my California Hikes Blog.

Thank you and I hope to see you on the trails soon!

Florian is a part time adventurer and full time college student in the central coast of California. He’s hiked all over California, including Yosemite, Tahoe, LA, and the San Francisco Bay Area and has also done multi-day hikes in the Swiss Alps. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

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Kauai, Hawaii’s northernmost island, is known for Manawaiopuna Falls (“Jurassic Park”), Waimea Canyon, the famous (and dangerous) Kalalau Trail and many other spectacular natural attractions. However, for those who want just a taste of adventure, there are also some great hikes to be found right on the outskirts of town. With a population of just over 10,000, Kapa’a, on the island’s east side, is Kauai’s “big city.” These three hikes are all conveniently located to Kapa’a and neighboring Lihue (where the airport is). They are all popular with locals and offer a sampling of what Kauai’s varied landscapes. Whether you’re looking for a good training hike for one of Kauai’s more ambitious treks or just a fun family activity that will get you back in time for the night’s luau, Ho’opi’i Falls, the Kuilau Ridge Trail and the “Sleeping Giant” all fit the bill.

TIPS FOR L.A. HIKERS

Getting to Kauai: A few nonstop flights are available from LAX to Lihue. (If you are coming from SNA, ONT, BUR or LGB, expect to have to change planes in Maui or Oahu). The flight is about 5 hours. Hawaii is 2 hours behind Los Angeles from November to March and 3 hours behind for the rest of the year as the state does not observe Daylight Savings Time.

Staying on Kauai: There are several options for lodging in Kapa’a and Lihue. For tips on finding budget accommodations in Kauai, click here. Here is a list of TripAdvisor’s top 10 rated Kapa’a hotel deals.

Weather: According to data collected at the airport, Lihue averages about 36 inches of rain per year (compared to 15 for L.A.) Expect humidity and muddy trails after rain (winter months tend to be wetter). The temperatures are usually pretty stable, typically ranging from the mid 60s to mid 80s.

Cell phone reception: Good to fair on the Sleeping Giant and Ho’opi’i Falls hikes; weak to none on the Kuilau Ridge Trail

Dogs: Bringing pets into Hawaii requires an elaborate process that must be started at least 120 days in advance.  If you are unable to bring your dog from home, you can borrow a dog for the day from the Kauai Humane Society in Lihue. Exercise caution on warm days and be careful around steep cliffs.

THE HIKES

Ho’opi’i Falls

2 miles round trip, 550 feet of elevation gain; allow 1.5 hours

There are two medium-sized waterfalls on Kapa’a Creek that are locally known as Ho’opi’i Falls. This short but challenging hike visits both of them. It offers a taste of Kauai’s jungle-like interior, requiring a fair amount of bushwhacking. Consider leaving trail ducks as some of the route can be tough to follow, especially on the way back. Keep in mind that once you reach the creek, you will never be too far from it and it will always be on your left.

From the entry point on Kapahi Road, follow the well-marked path downhill a short distance to the creek. Head right (downstream). You will likely have to negotiate fallen tree branches. Soon you will hear, then see, the first of the two waterfalls. A steep, loose path on the left heads down to the top of the waterfall, where you can sit and enjoy the scenery before continuing on toward the second one. (It is possible, but very risky to reach the bottom of this first waterfall; since you have the option of swimming below the second waterfall, it’s best to wait until then.)

Back on the trail, you continue through the woods, bushwhacking at times, to a T-junction. Head right (the left trail is a spur that leads to the water) and continue toward a Y-junction. Again stay right, this time climbing uphill and scrambling over more trees. The trail levels out and soon reaches another steep spur that takes you to the base of the second waterfall.

This is a peaceful and scenic spot with water cascading down a jumble of rocks into a wide pool. After enjoying the calm, retrace your steps back uphill and back through the woods to the parking area.

More information: Video of the waterfalls here; trip descriptions here, here, here and here

Trail to Ho’opi’i Falls Upper Ho’opi’i Falls Trees next to the creek Descending to lower Ho’opi’i Falls

Kuilau Ridge Trail

3.4 miles round trip, 750 feet of elevation gain; allow  2 hours

The Kuilau Ridge Trail offers a taste of the deeply forested scenery of Kauai’s interior, without requiring commitment to an epic, rugged trek. Though just a few miles down the road from Kapa’a (Kauai’s largest community with a population of a little over 10,000) the trail is almost entirely away from the sights and sounds of civilization, except perhaps for the occasional distant tour helicopter.

From the parking area, begin heading uphill past the information board and into the woods. (Note that you will be asked to scrape your shoes/boots here on the way out, to help prevent the spread of seeds). For the first mile plus, you follow an old dirt road which tends to get muddy following rain. The trail ascends gradually but steadily, gaining about 500 feet before arriving at a clearing with picnic tables. Here you can enjoy a view of Wai’ale’ale Mountain, Kauai’s highest, to the west. The view to the south, which extends to the ocean on clear days.

After leaving the picnic area, the trail becomes a single track, gradually heading downhill and making a switchback to reach a saddle. You climb Kamoohoopulu Ridge and then drop into a thick woodland where you will hear and get a glimpse of a small waterfall. At 1.7 miles, you reach a wooden footbridge crossing over the stream; this is the end of the Kuilau Ridge Trail. It continues for another 2.75 miles as the Moalepe Trail. If you have set up a car shuttle, you can follow the Moalepe Trail to its eastern end, mainly downhill. However, the Moalepe Trail tends to be in rougher shape due to its use by horses, so the most enjoyable option is to simply retrace your steps.

More information: Trip descriptions here, here, here and here

Ascending the Kuilau Ridge Trail Meadow on the Kuilau Ridge Trail Looking west into the island’s interior Bridge (turnaround point)

Sleeping Giant (Nounou) Trail

4 miles round trip, 1050 feet of elevation gain; allow 2.5 hours

The elongated form of Sleeping Giant (Nounou Mountain) is easily recognizable from Kapa’a on Kauai’s east side. The mountain’s name comes from a local legend of a giant who sat down to an enormous feast and was so tired afterward that he went to sleep and never woke up. Though only 1,241 feet tall, the mountain’s prominence makes it a prime spot for excellent views, especially for those daring enough to risk venturing beyond the end of the official trail.

The summit can be approached from the north, the southwest or as described here, the east. From the parking area, follow the well marked trail up a shaded slope, climbing steadily, taking in views of Kapa’a. Just over half a mile from the start, you will have to make a tricky scramble up a washed out section of the trail, climbing up a short but nearly vertical slope (several rocks and holes in the wall can be used as hand and footholds, but extra caution is still required). You will also notice that the trail appears to continue past the “wall” but it soon degenerates.

Once you are back on the stable portion of the trail, you continue to make switchbacks up the mountain, eventually arriving at its eastern ridge. This area is more prone to muddiness following rain. Even as you slug your way up the steep and potentially wet trail, you are rewarded with views to the north, including the jagged pinnacles of the Anahola mountains and of the coastline to the east. An overlook at about 1.3 miles from the start gives you a good view of the Sleeping Giant summit itself.

Soon after, the trail from the north merges. In about another quarter mile, you reach the end..

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Photo credit: Ariel da Silva Parreira

Most of us think of virtual reality primarily as an in-home gaming system. Though it has numerous other applications (and seemingly more by the day), VR was billed as a way for us to dive into the sorts of gaming experiences we already enjoyed on our phones and gaming consoles. It is, essentially, a next step in immersion, and though it’s far from perfect at this stage, it is being used this way. However, the idea of VR being used as a means of simulating in-person entertainment situations has also introduced some interesting possibilities.

The main idea in this regard is that of a VR arcade in which you can move from one game to another within your VR program. Put simply, people miss classic arcade games (or at least those of us old enough to remember do). Browsing through the best arcade video games of past eras you’ll see titles like Area 51, Primal Rage, Virtua Fighter, and Crazy Taxi, to give a broad idea. There’s no guarantee that these games could be brought back via virtual reality, but they do make you remember what it was like to stop by a mall arcade or perhaps play in the lobby of the cinema, and VR does have the ability to recreate that sort of environment, with a spread of mini-games on offer. There’s a chance it could even be a social experience.

On a similar note, there is thinking among some that VR platforms could essentially revolutionize online casino spaces to make them more like the real thing. To some extent these games have already been made better and more realistic. Poker and blackjack online take place in real-time competitive environments, and there’s been a trend toward more engaging video slots that doesn’t look likely to abate any time soon. But rather than seeking out the most realistic games online, people using VR could step into full virtual casinos, moving, as with arcades, from one game to the next – possibly among other players.

Building on these concepts however is something that might be of more interest to those who like to hike or otherwise exercise in interesting places. Again, we think of VR primarily as a home gaming technology, and the ideas above – those of virtual arcades or casinos – play right into that idea. However, the very concept of a VR arcade has also quickly come to mean something else. We’re already seeing the birth of actual, physical arcades in which people can enjoy VR experiences that either aren’t suited to a smaller home space or are more expensive than the average consumer can afford.

Already in Los Angeles there are a few such venues popping up. Los Virtuality, perhaps the biggest name of them, offers a wide selection of games, from horror simulations, to Eagle Flight (a somewhat famous VR game that allows you to feel the sensation of flying over towns) to games based on sports and popular films. The idea is that you can experience all of this in one place, all through the best VR headsets and, when necessary, even additional equipment. It’s frankly a fantastic concept for a modern entertainment venue, and we have to wonder: what if such a place were to emerge solely for fitness needs?

To clarify, VR is already being put to use for exercise purposes. Some have used it to make in-home cycling more interesting, and in other cases whole new fitness machines are being built to work in conjunction with VR games. So what’s to stop a VR arcade from putting these experiences together and adding hiking with dynamic treadmills, or climbing with a safe harness and a treadmill-style climbing wall? Those who like to hike on a regular basis generally prefer to get out and about in nature – to actually feel the elements. But what if you could drive to the nearest VR gym, hook yourself into a headset and treadmill, and start hiking a mountain or walking through a favorite city clear across the world?

It opens up the potential for some truly incredible experiences, and it’s something we’ll likely be seeing before long.

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Located about an hour northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park is noted for its outlandish rock formations. The famous and recognizable “Fire Wave” is one of two hikes profiled in this post; the other is the short but adventurous White Domes Trail, visiting a remote canyon that has been a favorite location of film and television. Valley of Fire is becoming an increasingly popular destination for L.A. area hikers and given the park’s phenomenal scenery, it’s easy to see why.

TIPS FOR L.A. HIKERS

Getting to Valley of Fire State Park: The park is a little over 300 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Depending on traffic and which area of Los Angeles you are coming from, expect a 5-7 hour drive each way. The park is about an hour’s drive from McCarran International Airport. Several outfitters offer guided tours of Valley of Fire State Park, including hotel pickup and drop off.

Staying at Valley of Fire State Park: The park has 72 campsites available on a first-come, first-serve basis for $20 per night (your park entrance fee is included). During peak season, the sites tend to fill up quickly. If you are driving from the L.A. area the campgrounds may well be full by the time you arrive, especially on weekends. For hotel or motel accommodations, the nearest town is Overton, about a half hour drive. Las Vegas is a good alternative as there are more lodging choices (if you are coming from Los Angeles, staying in Vegas will break up the drive; Overton is farther north and would ultimately require more driving). The nearest services of any kind are at a travel plaza off exit 75 of Interstate 15, about a 45 minute drive from the Fire Wave and White Domes trails.

Weather: Like Joshua Tree National Park, Valley of Fire State Park experiences a wide range of temperatures, from average lows of 38 degrees in January to average highs of 105 degrees in July. The park receives an average of 6.5 inches of precipitation per year (including an average 0.4 inches of snow).

Cell phone reception: Weak by the park entrance; none in the park (park literature claims that there is cell phone reception at the trail heads but I didn’t have any).

Dogs: Allowed on leash but exercise caution on warm days (for tips on hiking safely with dogs, click here).

THE HIKES

Fire Wave

1.4 miles round trip, about 200 feet of elevation gain; allow 1 hour

Much of Valley of Fire State Park’s geology is sandstone dating back about 150 million years. Like many of the other geological features of the park, the Fire Wave was once a sand dune. Today, its curved shape and orange, pink and white stripes make it the most recognizable formation in the park. The official trail was built relatively recently; it is sometimes difficult to distinguish from the various footpaths that hikers have left over the years but navigation is still fairly straightforward. You head east and then south, enjoying panoramic views of the park before following the base of a long sandstone formation. A few signs help delineate the official route. The Fire Wave is less than three quarters of a mile from the trail head. Also worth exploring is the sandstone wall on the opposite side of the wash, featuring several narrow caves and a small arch.

More information: Trip descriptions here, here, here and here; Yelp page here

View from the Fire Wave trail head Sandstone wall on the Fire Wave trail View on the descent to the Fire Wave Approaching the Fire Wave Fire Wave Arch rock near the Fire Wave Inside the arch

White Domes

1.2 mile loop, about 200 feet of elevation gain; allow 1 hour

Just a short distance up the road from the Fire Wave, White Domes offers an equally exciting and totally different hiking experience. The trail leaves from the end of the road by the restrooms and follows a sandy wash beneath a large sandstone formation. It then makes a short but steep and rugged drop (expect to use your hands as well as your feet) into a canyon where the remains of a movie set from the 1965 film “The Professionals” still stands. The trail then bends west (right) and enters a narrow but easily navigable slot.

On the opposite side of the slot, the trail climbs along a small ledge with a canyon on the left and the large sandstone formations you passed by earlier on the right. Keep an eye out for a small arch in one of the rocks. The trail then threads the gap between two of the larger formations and then heads south for its final stretch, paralleling the road and soon returning to the parking lot.

More information: Trip descriptions here, here, here and here

View from the trail head Making the descent into the canyon
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Nobody Hikes in LA by Dlockeretz - 3M ago

  • Location: 1313 Disneyland Drive, Anaheim. From the 5 Freeway, take the Disneyland Drive exit and head south. The park entrance will be on your left.
  • Agency: Disneyland (Critter Country)
  • Distance: 0.8 mile round trip walk from park entrance; 0.5 mile for the Splash Mountain Loop
  • Elevation gain: Level
  • Suggested time: 5 minutes for the loop plus time walking to Splash Mountain and waiting in line
  • Recommended gear: FastPass
  • Best season: Year-round (blackout dates may apply)
  • More information: Article about native vs. non-native wildlife at Disneyland here

Since its opening in 1989, Splash Mountain has joined Holy Jim Falls, Black Star Canyon Falls and Upper Hot Springs Canyon Falls and one of Orange County’s most popular waterfalls. While the hike to Splash Mountain Falls is not quite as secluded an experience as some of O.C.’s other waterfalls, it has the advantages of better cell phone reception and no poison oak.

From the parking area, purchase your Disneyland admission ticket and follow Main St. north. Head left on the trail signed for Frontierland. Follow it as it threads its way between two catch basins, passing by local landmarks such as the Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, both popular sites for social media posts (though not as much so as Potato Chip Rock).

Since walking up Splash Mountain is frowned upon by the local governing body (Disneyland), the best way to explore the loop is by log. You will be assisted into your log by a local ranger. After leaving the station, the logs are carried up a conveyor belt which may remind some hikers of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. After negotiating a small drop, the logs continue through a cave, decorated with various animated characters based on the “Brer Rabbit” stories, before making a final ascent to the top of Splash Mountain. The logs then make a 50-foot drop down the waterfall, guaranteed to soak both hikers and spectators alike, before returning to the station, completing the loop.

If you still have time and energy, consider other local hiking destinations: Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain and the Matterhorn.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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With 1,000 L.A. area hikes published on the site, I am proud to introduce a new series of write-ups featuring hikes outside of southern California. For the past two years I have had the good fortune of being able to visit Kauai, Hawaii and do some terrific hiking. This write-up will discuss three trails in Koke’e State Park, a neighbor of Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” They are the Awa’awapuhi Trail, the Kilohana Lookout via the Pihea and Alaka’i Swamp Trails and Waipo’o Falls via the Canyon Trail.

TIPS FOR L.A. HIKERS

Getting to Kauai: A few nonstop flights are available from LAX to Lihue. (If you are coming from SNA, ONT, BUR or LGB, expect to have to change planes in Maui or Oahu). The flight is about 5 hours. Hawaii is 2 hours behind Los Angeles from November to March and 3 hours behind for the rest of the year as the state does not observe Daylight Savings Time.

Staying on Kauai: Camping is available at Koke’e State Park starting at $12 per night. Here is a description of the camping experience. For information about non-camping lodging on Kauai, click here.

Weather: Though the island is relatively small (at 552 square miles, it’s slightly larger than the city of Los Angeles) Kauai has a huge variety of weather. The town of Waimea, at the mouth of Waimea Canyon, usually averages about 20 inches per year (L.A. averages 15) while Wai’Ale’Ale Mountain, only a few air miles away, registers 440 – making it the second wettest place on earth. Koke’e State Park receives an average rainfall of 70 inches per year. In addition to muddy trails (some of which are fitted with netting to help with traction) you will also be dealing with a lot of humidity. Two of the hikes described below are “reverse” hikes (down then up) and the third also has some significant elevation gain on the return, so plan accordingly. In my personal experience, the hikes took between 25 and 50% longer than L.A. hikes of comparable distance and elevation gain. The temperatures are pretty consistent throughout the year, usually ranging from the high 40s to the high 60s. Summer months tend to get less rain than winter.

Cell phone reception: The developed areas of Kauai (mainly along the coast) typically have reliable cell phone reception, but don’t count on it when you’re on the trails.

Dogs: Bringing pets into Hawaii requires an elaborate process that must be started at least 120 days in advance.  If you are unable to bring your dog from home, you can borrow a dog for the day from the Kauai Humane Society in Lihue. Dogs are allowed on leash at Koke’e State Park. Exercise caution on warm days and be careful around steep cliffs.

Recommended guidebook: The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: Kauai Revealed

THE HIKES

Awa’awapuhi Trail

6.2 miles; 1,600 feet of elevation gain; allow 4 hours

If conditions are ideal, this is one of Kauai’s best day hikes, featuring a vista point with outstanding views of the island’s northwest shore. The trail can get muddy if there has been recent rain and on hot days, the return trip (climbing some 1,600 feet) should not be underestimated, but with good planning and a little bit of luck, the Awa’awapuhi Trail is a seminal Kauai hiking experience.

The trail starts out innocently enough, leaving from the parking lot and briefly heading uphill through a thick forest (plaques identify some of the local trees) before beginning the main descent shortly after the half mile marker. At about 1.25 miles the trail exits the woods and previews the coastal scenery that is to come. The next mile or so is in and out of shade and after a few tight switchbacks, you reach a junction with the Nu’alalo Cliffs trail (currently closed due to hazardous conditions.) The Awa’awapuhi trail continues about 0.3 mile to its ending at two vista points, a site featured in the movie Six Days and Seven Nights.

Both views – the Nu’alolo Valley on the left and the Awa’awapuhi Valley straight ahead – are memorable. The cliffs abruptly drop 2,000 feet to the valley floors and the ocean. Tiny shapes of touring helicopters and boats can be seen far below. Formidable metal railings separate you from the edge. Whether you want to go past the railing and follow a narrow ridge to its end depends on how much you are willing to risk for a selfie. Many hikers will likely want to enjoy the views from the safety of behind the railing before making the long climb back uphill.

More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Yelp page here

Descending through woods on the Awa’Awapuhi Trail Tree by the overlook at the bottom of the trail Nu’alolo Valley from the overlook Na Pali Coastline as seen from the end of the Awa’Awapuhi Trail

Pihea and Alaka’i Swamp Trails to Kilohana Lookout

7.6 miles; 1200 feet of elevation gain; allow 5 hours

There aren’t many hikes that visit forests, high altitude wetlands, a mountain stream and culminate in a lookout with panoramic ocean views, but the hike from the Pu’u O Kila lookout to the Kilohana Lookout in the upper reaches of Kauai’s Koke’e State Park does all of the above. Hikers who are willing to drive all the way to the end of Koke’e Road and don’t mind getting dirty (the trails get very muddy following rain and it rains a lot in this area) are rewarded with this unique adventure.

The views from the trail head at the Pu’u O Kila lookout are outstanding, making this a popular destination even for non hikers. The Pihea Trail descends steeply from the lookout, following a roller coaster-like ridge. Some casual hikers explore a little ways down the trail before returning to the parking area. The hikers who are returning from longer trips – on the Pihea and Alaka’i Swamp Trails or other routes in the area – are likely have more mud on their clothing.

The first mile of the Pihea Trail features views of the Na’Pali Coast to the north and the lush upper reaches of Waimea Canyon to the south. A few boardwalks help out with footing but the trail can still be very muddy and slippery. One mile from the start, you reach a junction. A short but steep spur on the left leads to a vista point while the Pihea Trail continues to the right, heading sharply downhill. A fence provides useful handholds and at the bottom of the slope, you enter a wooded area where the trail becomes a boardwalk. For the most part the boardwalk makes life easier – but don’t get too comfortable. Metal netting on the boardwalk, intended to provide traction, does so – but also can become a tripping hazard as some pieces have come loose from the wood. The wood itself has rotted out in some places, leading to missing steps.

At 1.7 miles from the start, you reach a 4-way junction. Take a hard left onto the Alaka’i Swamp Trail and follow it through the woods to a staircase. After descending the stairs, you are rewarded with a pleasant surprise: a mountain creek (a tributary of Kawaikoi Stream). This is a perfect spot to rest for a little while – and wash off some of the mud you may have accumulated. The trail continues by climbing out of the canyon, now without the benefit of the boardwalk, soon reaching the Akala’i Swamp. The boardwalk returns, carrying you over the wetlands past multitudes of short trees. Some of the boardwalk’s original segments from the late 1990s still remain intact while in other areas it’s been replaced by a less attractive but more durable Ikea-like composite. Despite the boardwalk, there are going to be a few spots where it’s hard not to get muddy.

Near the end of the trail, the boardwalk crosses a wide pond. By this point you may hear the voices of other hikers at the lookout. The Kilohana Lookout, the trail’s terminus, is little more than a small clearing at the edge of the mountain, but the views are tremendous. Hanalei Bay stretches out to the north while deep, lush canyons yawn to the east. Silver strands of distant waterfalls make their way down the green slopes across the chasm. After enjoying the view, retrace your steps back to the Pu’u O Kila lookout. The return route has slightly more elevation gain (700 feet total, compared to 500 outbound) but in wet conditions, uphill can actually be easier.

More information: Trip descriptions here and here; TripAdvisor page here

Boardwalk through the woods, Pihea Trail Creek crossing, Alaka’i Swamp Trail Crossing the swamp on a boardwalk
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Nobody Hikes in LA by Dlockeretz - 3M ago

  • Location: 1313 Disneyland Drive, Anaheim. From the 5 Freeway, take the Disneyland Drive exit and head south. The park entrance will be on your left.
  • Agency: Disneyland (Critter Country)
  • Distance: 0.8 mile round trip walk from park entrance; 0.5 mile for the Splash Mountain Loop
  • Elevation gain: Level
  • Suggested time: 5 minutes for the loop plus time walking to Splash Mountain and waiting in line
  • Recommended gear: FastPass
  • Best season: Year-round (blackout dates may apply)
  • More information: Article about native vs. non-native wildlife at Disneyland here

Since its opening in 1989, Splash Mountain has joined Holy Jim Falls, Black Star Canyon Falls and Upper Hot Springs Canyon Falls and one of Orange County’s most popular waterfalls. While the hike to Splash Mountain Falls is not quite as secluded an experience as some of O.C.’s other waterfalls, it has the advantages of better cell phone reception and no poison oak.

From the parking area, purchase your Disneyland admission ticket and follow Main St. north. Head left on the trail signed for Frontierland. Follow it as it threads its way between two catch basins, passing by local landmarks such as the Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, both popular sites for social media posts (though not as much so as Potato Chip Rock).

Since walking up Splash Mountain is frowned upon by the local governing body (Disneyland), the best way to explore the loop is by log. You will be assisted into your log by a local ranger. After leaving the station, the logs are carried up a conveyor belt which may remind some hikers of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. After negotiating a small drop, the logs continue through a cave, decorated with various animated characters based on the “Brer Rabbit” stories, before making a final ascent to the top of Splash Mountain. The logs then make a 50-foot drop down the waterfall, guaranteed to soak both hikers and spectators alike, before returning to the station, completing the loop.

If you still have time and energy, consider other local hiking destinations: Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain and the Matterhorn.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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