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Along The Road to Hana

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I have always wanted to drive on the Road to Hana since I saw it on some travel channel years ago.

In one of our earlier versions of the trip plan, we planned to stay overnight in Hana and explore the Seven Sacred Pools and hike in the vicinity.

Of course, this time we didn’t really want to change hotels etc. So we just decided to do a day trip. Drive as far as we could go and then turn back. the trip was more about the journey than the destination.

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We didn’t want to wake up early just to complete the drive. The drive one way is about 45 miles and there are several guides/maps that list what to do mile by mile. The roads hugs the coast and crosses many single lane bridges as it winds its way to Hana. On a busy day there is a pile of cars and that tends to slow folks down. Most folks tend to drive all the way to Hana, have lunch there and then stop at different attractions on the way back.

We took it easy and left Wailea after breakfast and decided that we will probably go up to mile marker 17 or such and then head back.

First stop – Paia Town

This is the last big town before you embark onto the road to Hana drive. We stopped here to pick up picnic lunch, water and use restrooms before continuing further. Didn’t really spend much time here though it has some excellent shopping opportunities – jewelry, clothes, restaurants etc

With our lunch packed we headed to our first real stop on the drive.

Mile Marker 2 –  Twin Falls

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Varun hates long drives. To get him excited about the trip we told him about waterfalls and how he could splash in them and get wet. In fact the only reason he agreed to sit in the car for this long was to see waterfalls. So, we were very happy to find a decent waterfall right off the bat. Parking was a bit tricky here as this is the first stop on the trip and almost everyone stops here but we managed to find one along the road. Varun hiked the almost one mile gravel trail to the falls.

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Flowers, fruits, singing and dragging a stick behind him helped him walk on the uneven trail.

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The falls were strictly ok but Varun loved getting wet in the big pool.

And holding a big green gecko on a stick.

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As a reward for walking, we treated him to coconut water and bananas at the fresh fruit stand right outside the trail head to the falls.

Exhausted he slept in the car. So now, we had a dilemma – should we stop along the way and carry him or drive a bit further and then stop on the way back. We decided to do the latter.

We stopped and ooh-ed-aah-ed at the views from the car but our real next stop was in Ke’anae Peninsula.

Mile Marker 16.5 – Ke’anae Peninsula 

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Tall waves spraying over rocky lava coastline, taro fields, a beautiful old Hawaiian church and not to mention the most amazing banana bread. Need I say more why we stopped here. Shaved ice was heaven. It was dramatic and hypnotizing. Inviting us to stay, lay a blanket and have a picnic lunch right there.

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The open green fields next to the church would be perfect for Varun to run around but he was still asleep.

We sat there taking in the dramatic scenery and munching on the warm banana bread and then drove down further south to see more waterfalls and coast.

Mile Marker 25 – Nahiku Landing 

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Nahiku landing promised a drive through forest and a hidden waterfall on the beach. We though this would be perfect for Varun. Wake up from his nap, have lunch on the beach and then spend time in the waterfall before heading back. The drive was beautiful. But unfortunately the waterfall had dried up. We met another couple who hiked around the beach to find the waterfall with no luck.

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This was the least touristy spot on the drive thus far and the solace was very comforting.

Varun was a bit disappointed about the waterfall but was happy to see the giant waves splash on the rocky shore below.

We decided to head back as it was past 3 by now and see if we could wrangle in one more waterfall stop on the way back.

Mile Marker 17 – Pua’a Ka’a Park & Falls

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We stopped at the Pua’a Ka’a park for late lunch and rest room break. Across the road there was a small waterfall and Varun was very impatient to cross a little stream to reach it. He wanted Vipul to help him jump from one rock to another while crossing the stream. The water was a bit cool to actually bathe in but it was fun splashing around in it.

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We spent some time here and then decided to drive back home. Clouds started gathering and it was bit dark. We drove back playing car games like I Spy games and  asking him to recognize animal sounds.

It was a lovely day out – away from the resort to see the real Maui.

I am sure areas around Hana are even more prettier but we got a glimpse of it on this lush green tropical drive. Wonderful seascapes, quaint one lane bridges, thick bamboo forests and taro patches. A must do while on Maui.

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Yellowstone National Park – Geysers, Artists Point And The Lake

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Besides wildlife, Yellowstone national park is famous for its geysers and hot springs. Some are predictable like the Old Faithful; others bubble and gurgle like the Paint pots. Some howl like monsters and others are still.

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They may be brown and orange or prismatic with blue-green shades. They all smell of Sulphur.

And you don’t want to miss them.

Artists Point in Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

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One of the most unusual scenic vistas in Yellowstone is the artist’s point. This is a beautiful canyon with yellow rock that gives the park its name. The falls, the colors of the canyon and the river below are beautiful.

There is a short walk with a vista point for a perfect group shot. We spent some time here before heading to the lake.

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Lake Yellowstone

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After seeing a bunch of hot springs, we headed to Lake Yellowstone. This is where the caldera is – below the lake. Along the lakefront there are more hot springs and geysers. We walked around the boardwalk to take a look at the beautiful colors in the water.

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Old Faithful Geyser

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On day 2 and 3 in the park we saw various geysers and hot springs with Old faithful being the most spectacular one. Every 45 minutes the geysers erupts like clockwork. We all got there early to get a place in the front row and waited for the count down. And when it was time the geyser erupted ferociously and faithfully. Awesome.

It amazed adults and kids alike. One of America’s greatest natural wonders!

Firehole Falls

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While we were in Old faithful area we continued further and saw the Firehole falls. We hiked a bit in the area before we headed out of the park towards the West Entrance.

We stayed overnight outside West Entrance and then started for an all day trip to Seattle the following morning. Pre-kids,we all loved Yellowstone national park. Animals, geysers, hot-springs, lake, camping and telling each other stories of bison attack as we walked back to the campsite in the dark. That night it rained and water entered our tents soaking us. Some of slept in the van scared about bear attacks and carbon dioxide poisoning.

If we were to plan now we would probably stay in one of the motel outside the park or in the historic lodges by Old Faithful. It will be a different experience now nevertheless it will still be equally amazing!

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!

Alaskan Adventures: Denali National Park

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After our day trip to Kenai Fjord National Park, we walked back to the RV parking lot and started driving up towards Denali National Park. After seeing whales, porpoises, sea-lions and bald eagles, it was time to now see the land animals – bears, caribou, dall sheep etc. We started driving north from Seward to Denali. As this is a 8+  hour drive, we broke it up with an overnight stop in Anchorage.

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On the way we stopped at Portage glacier. By then the sun was out and we had beautiful views of the glacier and the Turnagain Arm on the drive back. We stayed at RV park very close to the city centre. The RV parks in the city were smaller and noisier than in Seward (naturally!) and a couple of them looked a bit shady. Again, I can’t remember the names but its all in Milepost magazine – a handy guide to everything in Alaska mile by mile. Don’t forget to pick up a copy in Wal-Mart along with other supplies.

The following morning we showered in the RV camp, had breakfast and then made our way to Denali National Park. We had almost all day to drive up and make it to a 6:00 pm White water rafting trip. En-route we planned to do the short trail of Thunderbird  falls and then an airplane ride around Mt McKinley near Talkeetna. The air plane ride was a bit expensive so we thought we will do it only if Mt. McKinley was visible.

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This day was better than the previous day on boat cruise and we had a ball of time – fantastic company, stunning scenery, few RV’s on the open road. We pulled over at one of the many pit stops to have lunch while enjoying the views. We met another couple who had driven their RV all the way up from Iowa and were planning to spend their Spring and Summer in Alaska.  And here we were on a 5 day road trip trying to see as much of this gorgeous state. Something better than nothing, eh?

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Although it was sunny, Mt McKinley generates its own weather system, similar to Mt. Rainier in Seattle area. So while we enjoyed the plains and low mountains, the top of Mt. McKinley was covered in clouds. We decided to skip the air plane ride and instead continued onwards to Denali.

Once at Healy, the town closest to Denali National Park, we checked into the RV park, picked up our bus tickets for the trip inside Denali National Park which we had pre-booked online and then went White water rafting. According to our raft guide, the water level is much higher in August, making it the best time to white water in Denali. White water rafting was a great way to end the day after the long drive. Dinner was in one of the many restaurants in Healy which were all open at 11:00 pm and had some great music. What a mesmerizing journey so far!

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The next morning  was our day trip in the park. Personal vehicles are not allowed in the park (beyond the first 15 miles) and shuttles are the only way to go. We took the 8:00 am shuttle so we could go as far inside and hike around a bit. The ideal way to see this park is to stay overnight in the  Wonderlake  campground. Experience the sunset and sunrise in the park. But this early in the season, the campground was closed and we could go only up to Tolkat River. En-route we saw herds and herds of caribou, grizzlies, Dall sheep, bears and owls amongst other birds. Our initial plan was to hike around Tolkat River, but it was awfully cold and it started snowing at Tolkat. We took the shuttle back to Savage River and then hiked a bit around that area. The ranger recommended a few paths along the Caribou creek and we saw a couple of them just 100 ft away. I was a bit terrified when ne of them looked up and stared at us. They can outrun humans if they choose to. We slowly backtracked on the soft lichen covered trail and headed to the bus stop. It was going to be a while before the bus so we climbed up some rock formations to take in aerial views of the park. We took in some fabulous views of area – the lone bus on the lone track, scree covered mountain bases, different colors of the rock formations and the vastness and silence that is only seen in Denali with miles upon miles of plains set amidst the backdrop of the mountain ranges.

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We hurried down as the next bus came around and we were back to the RV by 6:00 -6:30. AA couple of friends had skipped the hike and headed to the visitor center for seeing movies/information on the area, its natives etc. We all met up in the evening and headed back to Anchorage after some refreshments.

A visit to national par is always refreshing  – the fresh mountain air, relaxed vibe, starry nights, trails and the peace and calm that is hard to get by in the cities. But even more it refreshes the spirit which is re-energized and humbled in the presence of tall conifers, cycle of life and majestic mountains!

Stay tuned on the next post on Whittier – the last of our Alaska series.

Alaskan Adventures: Kenai Fjord National Park

DSC00683 I have several friends who can’t wait for spring to arrive and start doing outdoorsy things: gardening, road Trips, hikes, biking or simply going out for a walk. The topic of road trips turned in to renting a RV and driving around in Alaska. Vipul and I shared our adventure in Alaska a few years ago and then they asked me to send them a trip report. Few others asked about other road trips: Yellowstone, Yosemite, Jasper – Banff in Canadian Rockies and I thought of doing a series on National Parks of US. The ones that we have visited so far.

While Vipul and I have taken most of these trips before Varun, the photos are dated but the information is still valid.

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First up, is our grand RV adventure in Alaska. We visited Kenai Fjord National Park, Denali National Park and Whittier while in Alaska. It’s the most popular itinerary for those who want a taste of Alaska – a bit of wildlife, white water rafting, glaciers and miles upon miles of pristine scenery. Now, Alaska has multitude of places to take in the wildlife, to see glaciers, to see bears in their natural habitat, or even see hump back whales. It’s hard to decide which ones to pick and which ones to   leave out. There are also historic towns from Gold rush era where you can try your hand at panning. Fresh fish to entice you, fishing expeditions to try. It’s hard to narrow down. The best option is to rent a RV for 3 weeks, pick up a Milepost magazine that has details on lodging, restaurants, RV camps, activities and deals mile by mile. But when you don’t have 3 + weeks, choose one or two destinations and get a teaser like we did.

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We flew from Seattle to Anchorage. We were excited to see so much light when the flight landed at 11:00pm, excited about the RV which we rented from Great Alaskan- it was so spacious and brand new,   and generally excited to be on vacation 🙂

Next morning, after completing formalities at the office and a nice breakfast at the café next to Great Alaskan, we drove down to  Wal-Mart for supplies and then were on our way to Seward. The drive was very scenic. We stopped along the way and took lots of pictures.

Seward is the gateway to Kenai Fjord National Park. We chose  Kenai Fjord national park because we all wanted to see a lot of wildlife and  also some glaciers. Day cruise and kayak are the popular ways to go see the fjords and the sea life – seagulls, bald eagles, whales, porpoises, otters, sea lions etc. We went on all day tour with Renown tours .

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The day was cloudy, the water choppy and it even drizzled a bit. But we saw lots of wildlife. And even a glacier calve. The whales were very hard to photograph – they were quick, the boat was moving and it was cold.

While we were enthused for the first half, we were exhausted on the way back and dozed off.

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On hindsight, May was probably a bit too early to go. It was still cold but we encountered fewer tourists and even with a  last-minute we were able to get the RV reservations as well as bus tickets to visit Denali National Park. If you want to go in peak summer, do plan ahead. Book the RV’s upfront to avoid disappointment. Driving around in RV is something I will never forget. Sipping hot tea and eating hot Maggi noodles while enjoying the snow-clad mountains is a sight I will remember all my life.

Next stop on this trip was Denali National Park. Stay tuned for details in the next post.

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