Category Archives: USA

Two Days in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is one of five most popular national parks in US ( Great Smoky Mountain, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Olympic National Park being the other four).

And it is my favoritest park ever. I simply love looking at the valley with the river flowing through, the monolithic El Capitan and the magnificent Half dome. Sunset on Half Dome is one the prettiest sights in the national park. Situated in central California, about 3 – 4 hours drive from Bay Area, this is the national park for city slickers.It has meadows, waterfalls, giant Sequoia trees and starry nights. At any point in the Yosemite Valley, we saw folks cycling around, rafting in the river or hiking to the waterfalls. It was alive and buzzing. Spring and Summer are the most popular times as the weather is pleasant and the waterfalls are gushing; though I can imagine Fall being equally attractive.

Planning a trip

Yosemite National Park

We planned on the west and south park attractions of El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point and Mariposa Grove. The north side of Yosemite are the beautiful Tuolumne meadows and Tioga Pass which Sunset magazine has crowned as the best spot to lose the crowds. But as it is open only from June thru November and is another hour – to hour and half further we skipped it. We only had the weekend in Yosemite as we had a Monday morning appointment in the French embassy for Schengen Visa so we didn’t really have a day to spare.

There are quiet a few options to stay inside the park from rustic cabins, campgrounds to elegant Ahwahnee; but they tend to be sold out during summer weekends. So plan early or stay near one of the entrances. If staying outside the park ensure that the lodging is really close to the park entrance else you will spend time driving back and forth instead of in the park. Being a popular park close to San Francisco and Bay Area the park sees a fair amount of visitors resulting in long entrance lines.

We went via Oakdale to the west entrance of the park and luckily didn’t encounter much traffic. We stayed at a Bed and Breakfast (Falcons Nest) inside the park in West Yosemite which had most hospitable owners ever. More about this later.

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite National Park

This is the most visited place in the park and has a visitor center and wilderness center. Free shuttles are offered to most common points of interest – Bridal Veil Falls, Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, El Capitan and Sentinel Bridge.

Yosemite National Park

This is the most crowded part of the park. Parking is hard. We enjoyed the hike up to and the mists from Bridal Veil falls but didn’t care about Yellowstone falls as they were very crowded.

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And the Tunnel view is not to be missed. This is the classic photo-op with the half dome in the distance and the bridal veil falls on the right. Plan it for late afternoon when the sun lights up the half dome.

El Capitan soars high above and you do see fair number of climbers on its face. The rafting in the river looked particular inviting but we had plans to go up to Glacier point for Sunset.

Glacier Point

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

To get away from the crowds and the day trippers, Glacier point is one the options. It’s about an hours drive from the valley.The ranger talk at Glacier point was one of the highlights of our trip. The sight of the valley below, the river, waterfalls and the setting sun over the half dome is surreal and is one experience you should not miss in the park. Most folks left after sunset, but this would be an awesome place to star gaze perched high above in the Sierra Nevada forest!

Falcons Nest B & B

Yosemite National Park

After the sunset we drove to our B & B. We were lost as the forest floor darkens post sunset and we couldn’t find the signs easily. We reached the B & B by 9:00 pm. Our plan was to check in and then go out for dinner. There were no restaurants around. We asked our hosts for nearest restaurants and everything would either be already closed or would be by the time we reached. As Donn explained “this ain’t Spain“. So plan meals or carry food along. He heated some south-western chicken chipotle soup and made us some PB& J. Yummm, after a long day.

The next morning, Kay, cooked us some fabulous breakfast. Cornmeal waffles, eggs, fresh fruit and coffee. It was served on their beautiful outdoor deck. It was a lovely morning and we lingered over breakfast exchanging travel tales and getting tips for the day ahead.

Mariposa Grove
Yosemite National Park

Near the south end of the park,this is another place which is quiet and not crowded. A bus takes you along the loop amongst century year old giant sequoia trees which are over 300 feet tall! I  was humbled in their presence. The trees are naturally fire resistant and have survived many a fires in their time.

After the tour, it was time for us to head back to San Francisco. We had a 7 am appointment the following morning and wanted to make sure we reached on time.

Yosemite National Park

The drive back was routine except for these beautiful windmills that dotted the road.

Yosemite is one park that I simply fell in love with. So much so that Vipul and I planned to retire as Forest Rangers here! If we lived in Bay area we would probably visit it every spring and fall! Two days are very short to visit the park – we hope to return again with a camper and stay for long. Some day, some fall day!

Crater Lake National Park: A Deep Blue Lake In Volcanic Caldera

Crater Lake

When we had newly moved to Seattle in 2003, every year, we used to go on a long road trip on 4th of July weekend. Crater Lake, Yellowstone, Canadian Rockies, coastal Oregon were visited with friends and their visiting families. Trip to Crater Lake National Park was the first such trip we took. A deep blue lake in the volcanic crater with crystal clear water surrounded by high cliff walls and towering pine trees. And friends to the mix and it has makings of an EPIC trip. A trip that you will never forget.

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We rented a 12 seater van from Redmond and set out on a long drive to Crater Lake on Friday evening. We had another group in a sedan.It was almost 2 am when we reached our rented house about an hour away from the National Park. There is limited lodging very close to the national park. And of course it is booked solid in summer and especially on long weekends. It’s hard to get last-minute reservations with 15 -16 people.

A day inside the Crater Lake National Park

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The next morning we woke up fairly late and then after a really late breakfast we headed to Crater Lake.  It was a beautiful sunny day and there was absolutely no one on the road. We reached the park post lunch time. We followed the rim drive and pulled over at several places to take in the breathtaking scenery. The deep blue water is mesmerizing. We hiked to the bottom to reach the shores of the lake.It was easy-going down but strenuous coming back up!

We sat on the boat jetty for quiet some time as no one wanted to go back up really.

The park offers a boat ride on the lake but you have to reach early to get the tickets. Scuba diving is also possible in the lake but you have to haul your gear all the way down ( and then back up). And since private boats are not allowed you have to dive with the park’s boat.

But these restrictions have ensured the lake is crystal clear, clean and pristine.

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After the hike we were all hungry. So we decided to go to the Lodge and have late lunch. There was some renovation and reconstruction work  going on, so we couldn’t really eat there. There were a couple of hot dog stands but they didn’t have any vegetarian option. Most of the us just had ice-cream and fries and such for lunch and were a bit grumpy for a while.

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We continued with the rim drive this time pulling over for snow fights. Yes, even in July you will find snow in this national park. It’s so awesome to have a snow fight under the sunny skies. We behaved like little kids with no regard whatsoever to what other folks may think!  Later in the evening we headed back to our vacation home to make a hearty dinner. Drinks, music, cards, singing and pav-bhaji! OMG it was insane.

White Water Rafting and Sunset at Oregon Coast 

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The next day we went white water rafting in the Umpqua river which was cool. We wore wetsuits as the water was still very cold. We went to a neat hole to dive into and had just a ball of a time in spite of the cold water.

Later we drove to the nearest beach (which was still a couple of hours drive) through beautiful valleys, across quaint bridges and rivers to watch the sunset. As with all beaches in pacific northwest it was cold and we had our jackets and sweaters on. In July. Yes. Really.

We drove back after dark and had another night of drinks,music, cards.

ATV on Sand Dunes

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Sand dunes and riding ATV’s on them was the agenda for last day. Towering sand dunes which shift every day based on winds,so tall that you cant see whats on the other side till you are the very top. They are almost vertical towards the top edge. Very exhilarating. . I was super thrilled till we got there and then was I was shit scared as a few friends who had come back earlier were injured. Some of us got stuck, others had their ATV’s toppled over.  We managed to go over to see  lakes, hidden valleys and pretty dessert landscape.

If you are in Southern Oregon then it is a must do. You don’t even need directions as you will see hoardings and ads all along the freeway.

After an adventurous ride on the sand dunes,it was time to head back to Seattle. It was a long drive back home from Florence, Oregon to Seattle. Most of us dozed on the way back while others just chatted away.

It was an EPIC trip. It marked beginning of  annual fourth of July getaways till our master trip planner moved from Seattle to Bay Area.  But its awesome to remember those fun times especially now that we are older and scattered all the way around the world. One day,I hope we get to have another memorable trip with old friends and their new kids in tow!

Mount Rainier National Park For A Casual Visitor

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If you are from Seattle or have ever visited Seattle, Mt. Rainier needs no introduction. As you land, you can’t miss the towering snowcapped mountain even on a partly cloudy day. On a sunny day, even the pilot will announce that Mt. Rainier is out and you will feel bad that you are in the aisle seat while the guy in the window seat is hogging the entire view without letting you get even a peek.

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Don’t worry, on a clear day Mt. Rainier is visible from almost anywhere in Seattle. And if you do see Mt. Rainier do make it a point to visit the Mt. Rainier National Park. A couple of hours drive south-west of Seattle, this mountain dominates the horizon. And we have visited Rainier in every season possible sometimes camping in the summer, staying in log cabin in fall or skiing in winter. The park has numerous entrances with Paradise and Sunrise being the two most popular entrances.

There is something for everyone here: Short walks in subalpine meadows, wildflowers in July , glaciers, hike to Camp Muir for the more adventurous, waterfalls, reflection lakes, camping and even a technical climb to the top.

This post is all about casual visitor and top things to do in the national park when you want to drive into the park and enjoy it without thinking about gear, training and other technicalities -which is what we did on most trips!

1.  Take a subalpine walk amongst the meadows(both  from Sunrise and Paradise)

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2. Look for rainbows around the thundering waterfalls

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3.  Enjoy Mt Rainier’s reflection at Reflection Lake

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4.   Watch sunrise over Mt Rainier

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5.  Admire the glacier

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Do plan a trip this Summer once the roads to Paradise are open.Its bound to mesmerize you and make you come back over and over again!

Spring in Seattle!

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It was a typical Seattle Spring when we were there last week for couple of days. Sun peeking out between clouds teasing us to come out only to start drizzling moments later.It was cool and refreshing to go outside especially since we were visiting from a hot and dry Hyderabad.

Cherry blossom

We went to checkout the annual Cherry blossom festival in the University of Washington. The recent rains had faded the blooms and it was past its peak. But I managed to relive the past experience when we visited with Varun with a couple of close up photos of the lovely pink blooms. They are a reason to visit the Pacific North West (PNW)  in April first week.

If that’s not inspiring enough, then there are acres and acres of Tulips and Daffodils fields blooming in Skagit valley for the entire month of April -though mid April is better as it is at its peak. Why plan a trip to Holland when you can experience these beauties in PNW?

Tulips

Daffodils

And if the trip to even Skagit valley seems like a long drive from Seattle ( and it can be on a sunny weekend when it seems like everyone wants to visit the blooming tulip farms), then Pike Place Market vendors offer luscious bouquets in every hue possible that you can’t resist to take home. From soft pastels to deep purples, single or double petaled, the prices and the fragrance is heady.

Liriope

Magnolias

Buds

Azaleas

Even along the streets,pops of color brighten up the otherwise rainy day. Liriope, Magnolia, Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Purple rain flower,Cherry blossoms and a lot more. The light green buds unfurling with their copper pink tips, the white flowers of Pieris Japonica set against the deep red new growth reminded me of our own garden and trips to garden centers with my friend Donna who introduced me to the world of gardening!

Lone Orange Tulip

And if you are in the Pike Place Market, don’t miss the fresh fruits – rhubarb and strawberries that are in season! We had lunch at Matt’s in the Market – an old favorite where we literally enjoyed Spring on our plate – Fresh Halibut with wilted pea-shoots and radishes on a pea puree.  Delish with some PNW inspired devilled eggs. Vipul had his standard sandwich on a brioche. Trust me, comfort gourmet doesn’t get better than this!

Spring on a plate - Halibut with radishes and pea shoots

Burger on a Brioche

Gourmet Devilled Eggs

We enjoyed our two day visit to Seattle. Friends, flowers, fun and also shopping. But we missed Varun and couldn’t wait to come back home. After all home is where the heart is and we missed our heart more than he missed us!

Exploring Olympic National Park: Beaches and Coast

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Olympic National Park has a rugged coastline where the beauty lies in pebble stone beaches, sea stacks and drift wood bleached by constant waves and cold winds. This is not the beach to sun-bathe on but a beach to bundle up and enjoy with a hot cup of coffee.

There are beautiful trails along with the coastline where you can stand on the buff top and enjoy the many moods of Pacific.

Kalaloch Lodge

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Kalaloch Lodge is probably the best base to explore the Olympic coast. We stayed in their rustic cabins overlooking the coast one winter and enjoyed the fiery pacific amidst stormy February. The sandy beach below is perfect for long strolls where you can find star fish and shell-fish  on rocky formations accessible during low tide from the beach.

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La Push Beach

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Driving further from Hoh Rain Forest, we reach La Push beach which is made up of First beach, Second beach and third beach. This is the place to watch the sea stacks. We visited  these beaches once with mom and dad and they simply loved the raw power of Pacific that you experience here although they were cold even in peak summer.

Lake Quinault

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Even if you don’t stay at Lake Quinault lodge, a visit to the lake Quinault is a welcome change from the rugged coast. Set amidst mountains, this historic lodge is welcoming with sprawling lawns that extend to the lake front. We have stopped here for an evening of tea/coffee/snacks and just savored the beautiful nature. We had planned on taking the boat tour on the lake but that has never materialized so far. Sunset tour would be perfect 🙂

Nearby there is a very short flat trail to the worlds largest Spruce tree. We expected to see one where you can drive through but it’s just a very tall tree. We were a bit disappointed.

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There are even more beaches, some remote than others. I admit, I love beaches – be it the soft sandy beaches or the pebbly wild ones of Olympic peninsula. The weather here is iffy but can be sunny when its cloudy in Seattle. So, if you don’t have any plans for this summer, plan a loop around Olympic National Park. From scenery, local food, lavender farms and various activities you won’t regret it. Its Pacific Northwest in all its glory!

Exploring Olympic National Park: Mountains and Rain Forest

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There are very few national parks where you have to choose between hot springs or lake; beach or mountain or rain forest. Olympic National Park in the north-western corner of Washington is one such park. Here you can spent the day at the rain forest and then watch sea stacks glow in the sunset throwing pebbles into the on coming waves while sitting on driftwood. Or you can spend the day hiking around hurricane ridge and then unwind in the hot springs. All within 3 hours of driving distance from Seattle!

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We have visited Olympic National Park several times with friends, with parents and by ourselves. We have spent a weekend driving along its beautiful beaches watching stormy skies and waves from beach-huts in peak of winter. We have spent summer weekend in the rustic A frame cabins at Crescent lake. And of course we have made impromptu last-minute trip and stayed in one of the many motels in Port Townsend overlooking the Strait of Jaun de Fuca with sights of Victoria, Canada on clear day.

There are mainly two ways that we have taken to Olympic National Park:
1. Drive up to Edmonds and then take a car ferry to Port Townsend
2. Drive south to Olympia and then drive around north on to 101.

We have usually taken # 1.above when we visit Hurricane Ridge, Sol duc hot springs, Crescent lake and Hoh Rainforest; and taken #2. route above when visiting the coast beaches of Kalaloch and Quinault lake. It’s possible to drive down to the beach from Hoh rain forest and then drive along the coast to the beaches and then lake Quinault and then complete the loop south and reach Olympia. It really depends on how many days you have on hand! Set aside at least 4 days if you want to visit and drive around the entire loop. We have usually split the trip between the mountains/ rainforest and the beaches.

Hurricane Ridge

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Leave as early as possible and take the ferry across from Edmonds to Port Angeles. Once on the Olympic peninsula, drive up to Hurricane Ridge. You will drive past quaint villages, antique shops and lavender farms. Once at the top,on a clear sunny day it offers majestic views of the park-mountains, valleys, strait of Juan de Fuca that separates USA from Canada and wildflowers! The visitor center here has maps, snacks, restrooms etc. In winter, its offers cross-country skiing.

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This is usually our first stop on the peninsula. We love the views here though parking sometimes is hard in summer as the place is extremely popular.

Crescent Lake

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Next stop usually for us is Lake Crescent. We love this place with its A-frame cabins on waterfront. Sleeping in the loft and gazing straight out to the calm blue water of the lake is my idea of a lazy vacation. The meals at the restaurant on-site are fairly good. Kayaking and boating is an option and so is camping. On one occasion when we were visiting with my parents, some of the campers offered my parents tea at 6:00 am when they were out for a walk as the restaurant was still closed.

Sol Duc Hot Springs

Usually we end day 1 with a quick hike to the Sol duc waterfalls or a soak in the Sol duc hot springs. We have never stayed here as the resort fills up quickly but you can just visit the hot springs for a fee. They even have swim suit rental incase you have forgotten to pack one – after all who thinks about swimsuit and pacific northwest in the same sentence 😉

Hoh Rainforest

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Our typical itinerary entails driving to Forks ( of the Twilight fame) to visit the temperate Hoh Rain forest.  Moss covered trees and fallen logs add to the lush green canopy. There are short flat trails that let us enjoy the unique ecosystem without actually sweating it though I am sure there are longer trails here as well.

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Dungeness Spit

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If we have only two days on the peninsula, we drive back from Hoh rainforest to Port Angeles. Before getting on the ferry, we stop at Dungeness Spit. It’s an arch of land that shoots off into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We have always seen deer here and is usually quiet with fewer tourists.

Coffee in hand, this is the perfect place to hang out and stretch your legs before getting back on to the ferry. Mountains, forests, hot springs and lake offer a quick breather away from city life. Ferrying across helps put you in a vacation mood already. Try this even on a not so sunny Seattle weekend – it will definitely put a spring in your step and a smile on your face!

Stay tuned for next post on Olympic National Park’s beaches and coastal explorations!

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