Big Sky, Montana & Yellowstone National Park
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For my 30th birthday I knew I wanted to get off the grid for a few days. Not out of fear of turning 30 - I’ve been waiting to be 30 my whole life - but I wanted to escape somewhere my husband and I could both relax AND have some amazing adventures.

We toyed around with a lot of ideas; from a 10-day Alaskan cruise to a quick trip up the coast to Big Sur, but nothing seemed to be quite right, until the day I stumbled upon Collective Retreats, a luxury camping resort with locations scattered across the country. The location that particularly peaked my interest was their retreat based in Big Sky, Montana, just an hour outside of Yellowstone National Park. Neither myself nor Mark had ever been to that part of the U.S. and with just a 2.5 hour flight from LA it felt like something we could manage in a long weekend.

Soon enough August rolled around and it was time for our departure - or so we thought. Our excitement was brought to a halt thanks to a 2-hour flight delay. Normally, this wouldn’t stress me out, but knowing that we would still have to pick up our rental car and drive a good hour into unfamiliar mountains, now presumably in the dark, was not putting my mind at ease.

Little did we know, that was just the beginning of our delays. We were stalled once again as we landed in Bozeman which only furthered our anxiety. Luckily, we made it out to Big Sky and down to the resort just as the last bit of sunlight was leaving the sky. The team members at Collective were very helpful and understanding. We originally had a BBQ-in-a-box dinner scheduled for that evening, which they happily cancelled for us free of charge due to our late arrival. The team also kindly waited for us to arrive, taking our bags once we reached the parking area and later directing us by flashlight to our cozy tent.

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Collective does everything to provide all of the amenities of a luxury hotel while still allowing you to feel connected to the outdoors. After a long day of traveling we were ready to unwind and the cozy details that adorned the tent, like the Pendleton blankets, wood burning stove and Frette bathrobes made falling back into relaxation mode a breeze.

After a solid night’s sleep, we awoke early, snug in our king size bed under our heated blanket. It was hard to pull ourselves out from under the covers. The Montana mornings are fairly cool, even in August - but thankfully, our tent also came equipped with a fully functioning private bathroom and hot shower.

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While our tent was certainly a highlight, I think my favorite part about our stay at Collective was the breakfasts. Every morning we’d head to the main Lodge, sit out on the front porch looking out at Lone Pine Mountain and plot out our day while sipping coffee and devouring delicious egg scrambles and blueberry pancakes.

Saturday - Yellowstone National Park

We decided to utilize our first day in the area to explore Yellowstone National Park. The West Yellowstone entrance is a beautiful 1 hr drive south on the 191 from Big Sky. We arrived around 10am - later than we had hoped - but we had a solid game plan, so we were feeling pretty confident that we could fit everything we wanted to see into this one day. We decided to follow the Lower Loop route. Unless you’re doing some back country hiking, most of your time spent in Yellowstone will be in the car. For this reason, I highly recommend downloading GyPSy Guide to your phone. It’s a great little tour guide app that uses GPS location aware technology to trigger commentary points along the route. It was like having our own personal tour guide in the car with us! If you’re looking for a great 1-day itinerary for Yellowstone, follow along below…

10 am - Park Entrance to Madison Junction

The line to get into the park was pretty reasonable. As of August 2018 there was an entrance fee of $25. As we entered the park, we were pleasantly surprised by the lack of traffic. We’d heard nightmare stories of endless lines of cars, but sure enough after driving about 30 minutes we came upon our first Yellowstone traffic jam. We moved pretty slowly for a while, wondering what could possibly be causing such a slow down, when finally, after moving about 1mph for 15 minutes, we realized the hold up was due to some Elk that other motorists had spotted. This was our first, and would certainly not be our last animal jam of the day - if you’re heading to the park this is something you too should be prepared for!

11 am - Firehole Falls (15-20 mins)

Our first stop inside the park was quick detour out to Firehole Falls. As you drive into the park, you’ll come to a Madison Junction, if you’re following the Lower Loop route, take a right toward Madison. Not far after this junction is Firehole Canyon Drive. As you continue up the road, you’ll eventually come to some pull outs and a small parking area available across from the falls. You can also find more parking up the road at the swimming area. The Firehole River plunges 40 feet over the Firehole Falls just before it intersects up with the Gibbon River at Madison Junction. Firehole Falls are surrounded by extremely steep rhyolitic rock cliffs that make up the Firehole Canyon. This little stop seemed to be lesser known, lightly trafficked and a beautiful way to kick off our morning.

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11:45 am - Fountain Paint Pot (30 mins)

Our first geyser sighting of the day! This stop was really interesting because you get to see a little bit of all the different hydrothermal features that are scattered throughout the park. Along this short trail you will find geysers, hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles.

Our first stop on this trail was the Celestine Spring. This was the first spring we had a close view of on our trip, and we were in complete awe of it’s insanely bright blue coloring annnd it’s sulfuric stink.

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Next on the trail we made our way to Fountain Paint Pot. This is one of many mud pots you can see in the park. In late summer, while we were at the park, the mud pots were fairly thick and as the sounds they emit as the air bubbles up to the surface is amazing.

Lastly, we saw Clepsydra Geyser and Spasm Geyser. Clepsydra got it’s namesake from the Greek word for Watch Clock. Apparently, it used to erupt every three minutes, but then after an earthquake in the 50s, the geology under the surface changed, and it now erupts regularly without pause. Spasm, seen just in front of Clepsydra, is a deep blue bubbly geyser - one of our favorites in the park, maybe just because of it’s great name.

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12 pm - Midway Geyser Basin (1-2 hr)

This was the stop I had been waiting for because it’s home to the beautiful Grand Prismatic Spring. This is an extremely popular spot in the park. Getting into the parking area to find a spot took about 15 minutes, but we prevailed, and made our way out to the boardwalk trail that winds it’s way past Excelsior Geyser (which is one of the largest geysers in the park) over to an up close and personal view of Grand Prismatic Spring.

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The colors of Grand Prismatic Spring are simply mesmerizing. The saturated bands of orange, yellow and green that encircle the deep blue waters of the spring are created by heat-loving bacteria. You could stand here for hours just staring at the surreal colors and massive size of this hot spring.

There are several other geysers along the boardwalk trail of the Midway Geyser Basin. One of our favorites to watch was Excelsior Geyser Crater. At one point in time it was an active geyser that erupted frequently - today, it is believed that the powerful eruptions damaged its internal plumbing system, and now is considered a productive hot spring that pours thousands of gallons of water every minute into the Firehole River.

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Now, if you want an even better view of Grand Prismatic Spring, the secret is to get back in your car and head up the road until you reach the next turn off for Fairy Falls Trailhead. If you take this trail up to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook and you will not be disappointed by this gorgeous birds eye perspective of the massive spring below.

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2:30 pm - Old Faithful Inn + Old Faithful (1 hr)

We decided it was time to eat, and obviously wanted to catch a glimpse of the most famous geothermal sight in the park, Old Faithful. First thing we did was check for the next estimated time of eruption, which on this day was 3:15 pm. We had 45 minutes to eat, so we popped inside Old Faithful Inn (which is a sight itself) and had a quick bite. We were pushing it for time, but managed to get out to the Geyser viewpoint by 3:10 for and early eruption at 3:12 pm.

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If you have more time, you can wander the boardwalks here and explore other amazing geysers. We were strapped for daylight, so we enjoyed ourselves as we watched Old Faithful burst 100s of feet into the sky just like clockwork.

4 pm - Kepler Cascades (15 mins)

Just as we thought we were getting back on the road, about 2 miles past Old Faithful there was an opportunity to pull off and catch a glimpse of the beautiful Kepler Cascades. This three-tiered cascade falls more than 50 ft. into the Firehole River. Again, a low trafficked spot, it’s a nice place to pull off and get some peace and quiet - especially after all the crowds we encountered at Old Faithful.

5pm - Hayden Valley

We were doing great on time, making our way past Yellowstone Lake into the Hayden Valley area when suddenly there was an abrupt halt in traffic. As we crawled along, we finally came to a meadow were we realized there was a big heard of Bison grazing… annnd hanging out in the middle of a road. We were trapped in a Bison Jam!

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Our arrival to Yellowstone also also coincided with the middle of the Bison Rut season. The rut begins in late July and goes through August. The males display their dominance by loudly bellowing, wallowing, and fighting other males. Once a male has found a female who is close to estrus, he will stay by her side (stage-5 clinger much?) until she is ready to mate with him. It was amazing to look out our car windows and see the rut happening right in front of us. The sound of the bulls bellowing and flopping around in the dirt was insane. As we slowly made our way through the valley, we had multiple bison walk RIGHT in front our car. It was incredible - but also nerve-racking, both because these animals are HUGE and intimidating, but also because we were losing daylight and I was still desperate to get to Artist Point to see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

6 pm - Artist Point | Grand Canyon of Yellowstone (30 mins)

Aside from Grand Prismatic Spring, Artist Point was one place I was dying to see. We made it just in time - right as Golden Hour was setting in we pulled into the parking lot. Unfortunately, this was also where we realized at some point that afternoon someone had backed into our rental car, leaving a massive dent in our bumper and hatchback. It was super disappointing to be walking up to this beautiful vista point, with the idea that we were going to have to deal with our insurance looming in the back of our heads. But this view is something else. I thought the Grand Canyon in Arizona was the most beautiful landscape I had ever seen to date, but Yellowstone’s version just might surpass it.

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6:45 pm - Brink of the Upper Falls (20 mins)

We decided to make one final pit-stop to see the Brink of the Upper Falls. We took a turn up a short road located between the North and South Rim Drives that lead us up to a parking lot where we took a short walk to the brink of the 109 ft. Upper Falls, which is also the beginning of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

This was a great way to end our day. As the sun was setting lower in the sky, the crowds were beginning to dwindle and we mostly had this spot to ourselves.

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8 pm - 9pm - Back to Big Sky

There was still so much to be seen in the park, but we decided to call it a day around 7pm, and head back to the West Entrance. We arrived at the entrance around 8pm and popped back on the 191 back North toward Big Sky. On our ride back home, we noticed a fire that had grown in the mountains to our left. On our way down in the morning, it was very small and it seemed as though to be under control, but heading back we realized the fire had tripled in size and was putting out a LOT of smoke. It was a little concerning, but we made it back to Big Sky safe and sound.

Unfortunately, nothing in Big Sky stays open past 9 pm (at least not in the Summer) - not even the grocery stores! We managed to sneak into the Hungry Moose Market & Deli just before they closed up shop and snagged a couple of their pre-made wraps. Not a very exciting dinner, but at least it was something. After a long day of driving and sight seeing we were pooped. I picked up a Yellowstone Ghost Story book at one of the gift-shops and we read that until our eyes grew heavy and we fell asleep once again, in our comfy bed.

Sunday - Exploring Big Sky

Sunday morning we awoke early, ready to explore the local area of Big Sky that surrounds Collective Retreat. As we unzipped the front door to our tent and stepped out on to our patio, we noticed a thick blanket of smoke was covering the sky. What was usually a prominent Lone Mountain in the towering above the resort was now just a blurry shadow looming in the distance. The faint smell of burning wood was in the air - and it wasn’t from last night’s s’more campfire - the wild fire we had past on the highway Saturday had continued to grow. We weren’t in any immediate danger, but we heard some neighboring towns were being evacuated, which put us a bit on edge.

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Our original plan was to head into Big Sky and take one of the Ski Lifts up to Lone Mountain for a more strenuous hike, but with the impending fires and heavy amount of smoke in the air, we decided it was best to do something closer to our home base and a little less strenuous on the lungs. While we sipped our coffee and ate our tasty scrambles I consulted my All Trails app to see what other adventures we could find in the area. After scrolling for a bit I came across Ousel Falls Trail, and upon doing a little reading and discussing it with some of the Collective staff we decided it was our best move.

We scheduled ahead of time for Collective to prepare us lunch boxes to-go - a sandwich, chips, orange and cookie - so we picked up our boxes before heading out to find the Ousel Falls Trailhead. One thing we hadn’t anticipated was how popular this trail would be on a Sunday afternoon. Parking was a little tricky - there is a nice lot, but it was packed to the brim with massive Suburbans and families rolling six deep who happened to have the same idea as us.

The 1.6 mile trail to Ousel Falls very well maintained and perfect for all skill levels - which makes sense as to why this is such a popular spot for families. The Gallatin river runs right along the trail and there are plenty of opportunities to climb down and enjoy the flowing river. The falls at the end of the trail are gorgeous and if you walk down the stone steps to the base of the falls there's a lovely pool to dip your feet or swim.

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After we spent some time relaxing by the falls we decided it was time to head back up to the resort. One amazing amenity that comes along with your stay with Collective Retreats Yellowstone is that you have access to Moonlight Basin Community perks, like the pool, hot tub, fitness center, and local hiking and biking trail network. Guests also have access to Ulery’s Lake, where there is a beach and dock stocked with canoes, paddle-boards, kayaks and concessions. We had yet to take advantage of this little perk, so we decided to head down and check it out.

The air quality was still pretty poor, but we decided to grab a couple beers and hit the lake by canoe nonetheless. I honestly hadn’t been in a canoe since I was a 19 year old camp counselor, so there was something exciting and nostalgic about it - unfortunately, our time on the lake was cut short by a thunder storm. We quickly paddled back to shore, returned our oars and jumped back in the car as the rain began to pour and thunder cracked around all around us.

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Feeling a little dejected, we headed back down the hill to our tent. We laid listening to the rain pitter patter on the canvas above our bed, and then decided to make the most of this extra down time we suddenly had. We managed to make a reservation at a local restaurant, Horn and Cantle on Lone Mountain Ranch, just down the hill from Collective Retreats. Finally! A real hot meal. Our dinner did not disappoint - the atmosphere was beautiful, the dinner delicious and the little bit of wine was the perfect way to celebrate our last night in Montana.

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We wrapped up dinner just before sundown and to our excitement the smoke had seemingly cleared from the air and a beautiful sunset was underway. We stuck around Lone Mountain Ranch for a bit, making friends with the horses and gaping at how stunning the ranch was in the golden hour light. With our spirits restored, we finally made our way back to the resort, ready for our fireside s’more dessert and excited that, by some miracle, we’d be able to catch a glimpse of the Perseid Meteor shower.

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I could not have asked for a better way to spend my birthday. My only regret is that it couldn’t last longer! And while the trip had it’s challenges - from flight delays and fender benders to thunderstorms and wild fires - it seemed impossible to be in a bad mood while we were surrounded by such natural beauty.

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Summiting Mt. Whitney
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I was home for the Holidays in the winter of 2017 when my brother and I solidified our deal to summit Mt. Whitney together in the summer of 2018. Even though we made a verbal agreement - it still seemed a far off dream and the odds of getting a decent permit for the dates we wanted seemed slim.

That following April, while I was on my usual workday lunch-break-walk to Whole Foods, I got a text from my brother; we had miraculously secured overnight permits for the trail from June 30th - July 1st. Upon reading those words, I stopped dead in my tracks. This was really happening. 

The Preface

Since 2014, and the inception of Hikeology, my hiking skills have slowly, but steadily progressed. Back then I mostly stuck to exploring the local LA trails - my goal was to simply explore the immediate city trails and offer insight for other weekend warriors. But soon I found a desire to explore deeper and go farther into the backcountry. In the fall of 2015, during a camping trip to Sequoia National Park, I remember standing atop Moro Rock looking out over the Great Western Divide overhearing a father telling his son that "just past those peaks is the highest mountain in the contiguous United States". He continued on, telling his kid about how he had once summited that peak and was, for a moment, the tallest thing in the lower 48. This brief moment of eaves dropping blew my mind. First of all, in my 4 years of living in California I had never heard about Mt. Whitney and secondly, there was a mountain, THAT special, THAT close to home that I could attempt?! 

When I arrived home from that trip I immediately started Googling all I could about Mt. Whitney. I read countless blogs and probably watched every time-lapse video that existed on YouTube. I was fascinated. But it still seemed beyond my reach. If there was one thing I learned through all my research, this wasn't a fun little jaunt up the "hard side" of Runyon, this was the real deal and  I was a day-hiker, not a backpacker. 

So, I pushed that desire to the back of my mind, and continued to pursue the local LA trails. But soon, I was seeking trails farther away, and I seemed to be regularly ending up in the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests, bagging peaks, and doing light-backpacking excursions, still longing for more. 

Cut to 2017, as I'm mindlessly scrolling Facebook, as one does at 9:30pm in bed on a Sunday night, and I'm stopped short when I see that my older brother, who lives in Chicago, has uploaded a photo of himself holding a wooden summit sign for Mt. Elbert, one of Colorado's many 14'ers. I was shocked, because, quite honestly, I never knew my brother had any interest in hiking. But also because when I saw that picture of him with that huge smile on his face, it immediately reminded me of the deep dive I had done in 2015 on all things Whitney and that feeling of accomplishment I, too, wanted. I texted to congratulate him, and also cheekily added "If you ever want to do the OG 14er, you should come to California". I was only half serious. 

10 months later we were standing on top of Mt. Whitney.

The Prep

Just getting the privilege to climb Mt. Whitney is an uphill battle. This hike is extremely popular. In 2016, there was something like 65,000 people that wanted to hike or backpack to the summit from Whitney Portal during between June-September (prime hiking season). Because of that, a quota system has been enforced that allows only 100 day hikers and 60 backpackers at a time to hike from Whitney Portal between May 1st and November 1st. You can gain one of these quota-controlled spots by entering the lottery. Securing a spot is not an easy task, and you will have to attempt to get your permit a couple months in advance.

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To get into the nitty-gritty of how to obtain your permits I HIGHLY recommend you check out the HikingGuy.com post on Mt. Whitney. He offers loads of details, that simply put, I cannot, because my brother did all the leg work for this portion of our adventure. We would have been lost without Chris, aka The Hiking Guy, and his wealth of knowledge - so a HUGE thanks to him!

Initially,  my brother forgot to enter us into the lottery (I only found this out after the fact) but when they reopened the lottery in April for cancellations, we miraculously locked down overnight permits for the last weekend of June, during a nearly full moon and our conditions were absolutely perfect. 

Now let's talk details. Mt. Whitney tops out at 14,508 feet, making it the tallest peak in California AND in the Contiguous United States. The Mt. Whitney Trail is a round trip total of about 22 miles, and while in the summer-time it requires little to no mountaineering skills, it is still a long, grueling hike and the extreme altitude and sporadic weather is nothing to mess around with. 

As soon as my brother gave me the news that we had secured spots for the end of June I realized, I only had 2.5 months to prepare. Let's. Be. Real. I'm an Art Director at an branding agency. Sometimes I work till midnight, with my butt sat in a chair staring at a screen for hours on end. Not to mention, since my wedding in October, I had given myself a reeeeally nice long break from regularly exercising (I deserved it, quite honestly). So physically, I was not in the right kind of shape to be climbing the tallest mountain in the lower 48. 

So to begin my preparation, I forced myself to prioritize my exercise again. I made sure to schedule time to get to the Baldwin Hills stairs as much as possible, and when it was too dark for that, I'd hit the gym and go back and forth between the treadmill and the stair-climber. I also made sure to work some yoga and HIIT into my schedule. I honestly believe half the struggle of the climb is mental stamina, so I felt the yoga and HIIT helped prepare and train my mind to be centered and focused on my goal. 

At the time of obtaining our permits I had also only hiked and camped around 8,000 feet in elevation. On top of that, I live in LA, therefor I basically spend all my time at Sea Level, so Altitude Sickness was a real concern of mine. 

I read a lot about AMS in preparation for this hike. Probably too much. I discovered that a lot of people take Diamox (I did not) which is a prescription drug said to help with the side effects of Altitude Sickness. I also read that hydrating far in advance, taking ibuprofen before and during your hike, and some elevation acclamation a day or two beforehand were key. Did I follow all these tips? Not exactly. But I did what I could. The week before our trip I drank a gallon of water every day - whether this helped or not, I can't really tell you, but I will say my skin was absolutely *glooowing* and I felt really good, so either way - I recommend it. I also made sure to pop a Tylenol before heading out on the trail. While I had some moments of exhaustion up there, I never experienced any nausea, stomach issues, confusion or headache (I'm extremely prone to migraines so this was a big deal for me), so it seems something was working in my favor.

Another great way to prep for this adventure is to get some high-elevation and longer distance hikes under your belt. Because of my schedule, I unfortunately didn't get to train much above 9k but I did make sure to solo-hike Mt. Baden Powell about 4 weeks out from our trip. This felt like a good mental training hike - this trail has LOTS of monotonous switchbacks, some decent mileage for a day hike, and half the trail is above 8k.  

Knowing that the first leg of our trek would be about 6 miles, I also made sure to log some local lower elevation 6+ mile hikes in leading up to the trip. There are loads of those throughout Southern California - AllTrails is definitely your friend when planning your training hikes!

If you're in Southern California, here are some other great training hikes: 

  • Mt Baden Powel (8.5 miles, 2600 ft. gain)

  • Mt Baldy via the Devil’s Backbone (11 miles, 3800 ft.gain)

  • Mt Wilson from Chantry Flat (14 miles, 4100 ft. gain)

  • San Bernardino Peak Hike (16 miles, 4600 ft. gain)

  • San Gorgonio Hike (18.5 miles, 5400 ft. gain)

  • San Jacinto from Idyllwild (19 miles, 5000 ft. gain)

You can also prep by joining Socal Hiker's 6 Pack of Peaks challenge (it has includes most of the above peaks). I haven't attempted it yet - but it's an awesome pursuit either way!

Aside from hiking and exercising I did a lot of research. My husband can vouch for that. I drove him a little nuts every night before bed scrolling through the Whitney Forums looking at the trail conditions or checking posts on the Mt. Whitney Facebook Group. I was obsessed, because I quickly realized, that while we had a fairly dry winter here, the weather just wasn't warming up enough on the mountain. The snow and ice that had accumulated along the most dangerous portion of the 99 switchbacks wasn't melting, which meant the usual trail from Trail Camp to Trail Crest would be closed. If that trail didn't open, it meant the only way up was up the via the snow Chute -  a 1,200 vertical ft. snow field that requires crampons, an ice-axe and a bit more technical mountaineering skills. My brother and I are pretty confident hikers, but this was unknown territory for me. I had no prior glissading or self arrest training and I was terrified it was going to bring our dream of summiting to a halt. 

That said, if you are heading up there before July and after September and you don't have any kind of winter mountaineering experience you should definitely invest some time in learning. REI offers classes during specific times of the year and I also found some other outfitters in the Mammoth area that offer day-long classes. The conditions up there are always changing and weather is never consistent season to season so it's a great skill to have to be safe.

The Climb

Before I knew it, my brother was landing at LAX and we were huddled in my living room sorting out gear between our two packs. That evening we made sure fill up on plenty of carbs at my favorite Hollywood dining spot, Jones, and then came home early to get a proper night's sleep before heading to Lone Pine the following morning. 

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We got a later start than we intended, hitting the road around 8am, and we arrived in Lone Pine to pick up our permits about 11am. After waiting about a half hour to get checked in and receive our passes, we were finally free to head up the windy road to Whitney Portal. When we arrived at the portal it reminded me, that while we're heading into the wilderness, we're still just a short distance from LA - the parking situation reflected that. It was no easy feat to find legitimate parking spot, and part of me began to panic that we'd be circling for hours losing precious day light. Luckily, the circling didn't last long and we managed to find a spot in the overflow parking area. Here, we made sure to clear out any scented items from our car. There are a lot of Black Bears in the area, and if they sniff out anything in your car, you just might return from your long adventure to find a bear behind the wheel. Pretty sure that's the last thing you want to find after hiking 22 miles. 

At the portal there is a general store with basic gear, snacks and a menu of what we heard were some super tasty burgers. We picked up a couple last minute essentials from the store and quickly headed right for the trail. As you approach the trailhead there is a station to weigh your pack. Mine clocked in just under 30 lbs. and my brother's was around 35 lbs. - I was pretty proud of us, considering we had never done this intense of a backpacking trip together, but I definitely learned some new packing lessons (that I'll elaborate on later) and I'm fairly certain I could shed another 5-10 lbs. on my next trip.

The first half mile of the trail feels like your average Angeles National Forest trail. To be honest, this was the worst part for me. While the views here were beautiful, I just wanted to get to the "good stuff". You know, the massive waterfalls, the lush meadows, the alpine lakes - my impatience seemed to make my pack feel a lot heavier.

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Around that half mile marker we reached our first of many stream crossings and the views began to open up.  0.3 miles later we found ourselves at the crossing of the North Fork of the Lone Pine Creek. This section is made famous for the downed logs that act as a bridge. 

Eventually you will reach a junction with the Lone Pine Lake Trail around 2.8 miles in. I had heard about how beautiful Lone Pine Lake was, and while we were a little behind on our timing, my brother and I agreed to take the 0.1 miles trip down to it's shores. I only wish we had ditched our packs at the junction, the hike back up from the lake was no walk in the park, and forced us to dip into some of our energy reserves. Otherwise, this quiet detour off the main trail was definitely worth it. I've never seen a lake so glossy and blue in my life. 

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When we finished soaking in the views at Lone Pine Lake we retraced our steps back to the Whitney trail and continued on our way. This next section of the trail contained a lot of switchbacks - and during this stretch we broke 10,000 feet and officially entered the Whitney Zone! I felt a pang of emotion as we crossed over 10k. I had never been that high in elevation and while my pack was starting to get the best of me, I otherwise felt great. 

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Suddenly we began to descend and we were greeted by Bighorn Park, a super lush meadow nestled right between these humongous granite monolith formations. This part of the trail is simply awe inspiring. We took a moment here to just stare. Looking back on footage of my go-pro through this section I'm caught whispering to myself: "I am in my happy place." It was seriously a magical sight.

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Here we found ourselves crossing more low streams and having to get our feet a bit wet. Eventually we came upon Outpost Camp which is around the 3.8 mile marker and 10,360 feet in elevation. 

Outpost Camp is the first of the two main camps on the Mount Whitney Trail. It's a beautiful spot to camp, but we made the decision to continue on up to Trail Camp to make our morning ascent a bit easier. However, if you're breaking your overnight trip up into multiple nights, I would highly recommend posting up here. The scenery is absolutely stunning.

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As we passed through Outpost Camp the ground began to change from softer dirt to full on granite and your feet and knees really start to feel it! We continued to gain elevation along the hard granite trail and as we continued upward we found ourselves looking down over beautiful Mirror Lake. At this point Trail Camp begins to feel SO close, but still so far. 

My brother and I are very different hikers. He is fast and wants to get to where he is going without any dilly-dallying. Now, I'm not "slow" per-se, but I'm definitely more of a leisurely hiker. I love to take pictures, and gawk at the grandness of it all. You'll see in most of our photos and video he's always about 100 feet ahead of me waiting. But somehow we made it work without too much bickering. My brother started a system that helped motivate me to keep climbing - every 500 ft. of elevation we gained I was allowed to take a break where I could take my back pack off, give my shoulders a rest and nosh a little. 

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During one of our breaks above Mirror Lake we decided to rest in the shade of a giant boulder and fuel up on snacks. Just as we were hoisting our packs back on to head back up the trail we heard a huge CRACK! I stopped dead in my tracks and called back to my brother, "Did you hear that?! Was that a gun?!" Then as I turned the corner around the boulder, I saw it: a massive rock slide was barreling down the side of the mountain just in front of us. 

Scale in the mountains is really hard to judge. We stood watching these massive boulders come tumbling down the face, taking out everything in it's path and then suddenly we were panicked... How far away was it really? Could it reach us? It was hard to tell, so to play it safe we jumped back behind our giant boulder and waited until the sound of tumbling rocks subsided. I don't think we were ever in any kind of real danger, but it was certainly a humbling moment and a reminder that we were in fact at the mercy of this magnificent mountain.

After this little scare, we quickly got back on the trail. We knew there wasn't much farther to go, and we were anxious to set up camp. 

Around the 5.3 mile marker the trail begins to rise up the the side of Lone Pine Creek at Trailside Meadow where you will find the tiniest most beautiful little alpine meadow. This section also marked our last big push up to Trail Camp and as we ascended over this last steep section we caught our first glimpse of Consultation Lake. The site of the lake fueled our anticipation and gave me a little extra pep in my step knowing Trail Camp was just hundreds of feet away. 

Finally at 6.3 miles, we were entering into Trail Camp at 12,039 feet of elevation. It’s a fairly large backcountry camp and feels like you're basically on the Moon. There is little to no vegetation, so if you find yourself up there on a windy day, it's great to pick a spot behind a boulder to help shelter you from the cold and wind. It was around 6pm when we arrived. We still had plenty of light left in the day and there wasn't much wind, but we made sure to quickly find a vacant spot and set up camp. We were hungry, tired and as soon as the sun set behind the needles towering above us we could feel the temperature drop significantly. 

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After filtering water from the small camp-side lake that is so eloquently dubbed "Pooh Lake" (thanks to all the WAG bags left behind at Trail Camp) we put on some extra layers and waited for the stars to come out. As the sky turned a deep, dark blue color we could start to make out little headlamps winding their way down the 99 switchbacks. After such a tiring afternoon, it was tough to keep our eyes open, but let me tell you, when the stars come out up there, they shine extra bright. 

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I tossed and turned for most of the night. The mixture of excitement and elevation was overwhelming, but by some miracle, when my alarm rang out at 5:00 am I was up and ready to get back on the trail. 

We began ascending the infamous 99 switchbacks around 5:30am. Why are they infamous? Well, for one thing there are 99 of them (or 97 - it's a heated debate - that we tried to count but were over it by the time we reached 40-something) and they stretch on for 2.2 miles rising just over 1,700 feet before hitting Trail Crest. Most people find them excruciatingly monotonous - but looking back, as I commiserate on our trip, this actually felt like one of the most enjoyable parts of the trail. It may have just been the luck of our timing, but every turn I found more exciting than the next. In some areas you could hear the rush of the spring beneath the rock, there were beautiful little purple wild flowers sprouting seemingly out of no where and watching the sun rising was simply incredible! It also might have been my lack of sleep causing some delusion - if I recall correctly, this is also where I did A LOT of singing and talking to myself as my brother powered on ahead of me. 

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About 1.4 miles of the way up the switchbacks you'll find "The Cables", a short section of the trail that has a cable like railing along the side. Before our trip, this had been a point of serious anxiety for me. We had heard stories just days before about someone trying to climb over the mass of snow still covering the trail, nearly slipping and falling to his death. So, that's cool. 

However, when we arrived at the cables we were pleasantly surprised to see that nearly all of the snow and ice that had been obstructing the trail had melted! Still, the section is a bit nerve wracking - there is a reason they have installed a "railing" system here after all. Just be mindful of your footing here and you'll be fine. 

As we trudged along we eventually ran into a group coming down from the summit who excitedly exclaimed "This is your last switchback!" We were so excited - until we quickly realized, it's the longest, steepest switchback of them all, but it makes your arrival to Trail Crest that much more rewarding. 

We made it to Trail Crest around 8am and I suddenly found myself getting a little emotional - the same damn way I'm finding myself getting emotional writing this right now. At that moment, I just knew we were going to succeed. Everything before that seemed uncertain, but at Trail Crest, I could feel it. 

At this point we only had 2.5 miles and about 845 feet of elevation gain to reach the summit. This was by far the longest 2.5 miles of my life. Knowing how close you are is somehow both invigorating and demoralizing at the same time. But you can't beat the views throughout this part of the trail - that's for sure. 

After crossing through Trail Crest we found the trail began to descend. At first this is an exciting break for your legs, but then you remember the summit is still 1,500 ft. above  you - which can be a bit demoralizing too. About a half a mile after Trail Crest the trail intersects with the John Muir Trail. Here we ran into a lot of fellow hikers taking a break, or making their way up to Whitney from the JMT. This is a spot a lot of the JMT hikers leave their big packs and continue on with their day packs (we left our big packs back at our campsite). Because so many packs get left behind here, you'll ALSO find this is a popular spot for Marmots! Keep your eyes peeled for these little buggers snooping around looking for any kind of treats they can get their paws on. 

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As we made our way past the JMT junction the trail becomes primarily just slabs of super hard, knee-busting, granite. My feet and knees were not happy along the last stretch of trail, but again: #sickviews. They make all the difference. 

Eventually we found ourselves coming upon a part of the trail I had read about and was very excited for: The Windows! The Windows are a section of trail that passes behind the space between the thin needle-like peaks. The windows offer extremely steep, little peeks down to the other side where Trail Camp lies. Pictures do not do the vertical drop here any kind of justice. It is steep. And if you have any kind of vertigo or fear of heights, it's probably best to just keep walking.

From the windows it's about another 1.5 miles to the summit! Unfortunately, this part of the trail was pretty daunting. After a slight descent for a good 1 mile, you'll find yourself making up for that loss of elevation and it is no fun. Luckily, from there on out we could see the Smithsonian Hut perched upon the peak and somehow knowing it was just ahead in the distance kept us going strong. 

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Just before our last 500 ft. of elevation we took a short break. Words can't describe the feelings I had staring up at that last push before the summit. That's a lie, I did have some words, however most of them were expletives. 

After cursing those last 500 ft. around 10am on July 1st, 2018 we were there. My brother let me walk those last 100 feet to the top in front of him and when we reached the hut he called out to me "How do you feel?" and my response was a simple, out-of-breath whisper, "We f*cking did it."

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We allowed a good 45 minutes to rest at the top. We captured our happy summit photos, high-fived some fellow hikers we had been leap-frogging with, quietly face-timed our parents (yes, there is excellent cell service on the peak - but be mindful of your volume if you phone a friend - most people are trying to enjoy the serenity of it all) and then took a moment to ourselves to simply lie under the sun and soak it all in. 

Around 10:45 am we started to notice some clouds building in the distance which was our cue to begin our descent. It was really hard to tear ourselves away from the summit, but the last thing I wanted was to ruin a perfect hike by getting stuck in a lightning storm on top of Mt. Whitney. 

As we headed back down the trail I remember feeling as though the switchbacks took much longer to descend than to climb. The lingering thought of having to pack up our campsite and don those heavy packs again was putting a damper on my thus-far pleasant mood. 

We arrived back at Trail Camp around 1pm and just as we packed up the last of our belongings we began to feel rain drops. This put a little extra pep in our step as we said goodbye to our campsite around 2pm and took off down the trail. I don't usually agree with the sentiment, but this time it felt very true: the way down is the harder than way up.

Around 6pm, after a single day of 16 miles, 22 miles total, 6,130 feet of elevation gain, 2 marmot sightings, 1 deer sighting and a miraculous 0 blisters, we threw our packs in the hatchback, collapsed into my car, and with our last tiny bit of energy left, headed back to LA. 

Any Regrets?

There are only two things I would change about this hike.

1. Pack lighter

All things considered, I felt pretty good about my pack capping out around 25-30lbs. However, my next overnight backpacking trip I'll be sure to invest in a lighter sleeping bag. I currently have the REI Trail Pod 30º bag. It's a fairly light bag at the end of the day, and before the trip I wasn't ready to invest in an ultra-light bag. Now, after the fact, I'd be more than happy to shell out some cash to shave off a pound or two. The Trail Pod also has a pretty big footprint - it takes up a lot of space in the pack. If any of you have a favorite ultra-light sleeping bags, let me know!

2. Enjoy the scenery

I wish I had "taken it in" more and brought my camera and GoPro to the summit on our second day. The morning of our summit bid, as we were preparing our day packs, I wanted to carry as little as possible - just  some snacks, 3L of water, rain gear, first aid kit, a head lamp and my poles . The thought of the extra weight of my camera around my neck was exhausting. But in hindsight, after watching and re-watching my go-pro videos and photos from our first day, I wish I had that kind of footage of our triumphant summit. When you are really "in it" it's hard to allow yourself to take in the view. I mostly had my head down, calculating my every step and focusing more on keeping the pace than really soaking in the awe-inspiring scenery that surrounded me.


My Go-to Whitney Gear:

Alpine Summit
Gregory Mountain Products
Columbia
Sony
GoPro Camera
Katadyn North America - pallet ordering
Sametop
Adventure Medical Kits
Black Diamond
Gregory Mountain Products
BOGE9
New Nuun Active
BearVault
Clif Shot Bloks Energy Chews
Cozy High Desert Cabin Getaway in Joshua Tree

Man, we have a lot of catching up to do! With traveling and wedding planning being the main source of the blog neglect - I can't really complain. 

With all the hype surrounding the current super bloom, desert music festivals and art installations it seems like a good time to fill y'all in on this gem of a property out in Joshua Tree. 

Mark and I ventured off to Joshua Tree to check this place out in Mid December. We were a little worried the weather would be too chilly - but it turned out to be a beautiful day! We met our hosts outside of the Joshua Tree Saloon and followed them to the property, where they gave us a great little tour of the space and some background on themselves and the land. 

There are three "sites" on the property that surround a main building (that is currently unfinished) resembling a sort of amphitheater. It's a great space for entertaining, retreats or group camping. 

The site we were staying at was the Pensione site. At this site, there is a tiny little cabin - which is GREAT at night for sheltering you from the wind. The cabin has electrical outlets, a mirror and the windows are arranged perfectly so it doesn't get too hot, but lets in beautiful natural light. We set up a queen size air mattress inside - it was just perfect! The Pensione site also has a big fire pit made from an old washing machine drum, a water tower (with shower and sink) a picnic table and more outlets along the perimeter! 

The other two sites were created for tent camping. They each offer lots of privacy from the other sites and have a picnic table, campfire ring and a solid wooden fence surrounding them, so again, there is plenty of shelter from the wind. I would love to come back in the warmer months to tent-camp at these spots!

The great thing about this property is it's proximity to bars, restaurants and shopping, but it still manages to feel "off the grid". I was happy we were able to grab groceries (and wine, of course) on the way in, and we never felt stranded so that if we happened to forget anything we weren't out of luck. 

After Cheryl and Jimbo showed us around, we set up our bed, did some exploring and got to cheersin' and cooking! The early sunset during the winter months always manages to sneak up on me when camping - so we had to do some of our cooking in the dark - but lucky for us, the Pensione has plenty of lights and our roaring fire made it easy to navigate. 

The fire pit in the Pensione has a built in removable grill, so we grilled up some burgers and veggies and had ourselves a feast! 

We also found JUMBO mallows at the store that we couldn't resist, so we made ourselves some giant s'mores to close out the night. 

When the sun fully set, the stars came out in full force - it was simply breathtaking. Even with the full moon, we could see millions of stars, and it made for some pretty epic photo ops. We constantly found our selves in complete silence, just staring up at the stars in awe. 

When it came to head to bed, I was actually too excited to sleep! I don't know if it was the altitude, the excitement of the day, or just my star gazing FOMO - I felt like I couldn't go to sleep or else I'd miss some epic shooting stars.

The cabin was SO cozy and when I finally did fall asleep, I slept fairly well. We awoke bright and early to the sun shining in through the windows - it was another beautiful day! We decided we wanted to head into town to grab breakfast and explore a bit. So we made some coffee, packed up our things, brushed our teeth under the cute little water tower and headed off!

We grabbed some breakfast sandwiches at Frontier Cafe on the main drag and sat out on their front patio reflecting about the great time we had the night before. Our sandwiches were SO GOOD. I definitely recommend popping in here for some coffees and breakfast. They also had great live music! 


Our entire Joshua Tree trip was such a treat! I can't wait to go back for my bachelorette 💁🏼 

If you want to find out even more about this property head to hipcamp and book your stay here ASAP! 

Inspiration Point - Pacific Palisades, CA

I’m going to admit something that’s a little embarrassing not only as a local hiker but also a 6-year strong Angeleno - I had never been to Will Rogers State Historic park until I finally decided to conquer the hike to Inspiration Point. The park is rich with history plus a polo field, a ranch house, and a beautiful picnic area. Oh, and did I mention the lovely 2.5-mile loop hike to Inspiration Point? It’s a great place to spend an entire day.

I will say, the one downfall of this area is the steep price you have to pay for parking! The fee is $12, so if you are going check this area out, it’s definitely worth it to pack a picnic and spend some time there.

From the parking lot just beyond the park entrance, you’ll find the trailhead meandering up the hillside just to the left of the fenced in tennis courts. The single track here switches back and forth for a short tenth of a mile before you come to a service road, which is the Inspiration Point Loop Trail. Across the way, there is a single track that continues to wind it’s way up, while the service road gradually makes its way up the mountainside with views of the Santa Monica bay. If you choose to take the single track, it will cut your distance and time in half. Otherwise, continue along the service road.


As you make your way to the left, you’ll find two benches along the road, offering beautiful vistas of the surrounding area. One looks south over the polo field and Santa Monica. The other rests at the western end of the loop and has a great view of the Pacific Ocean.

Follow a bend in the trail to the northeast. Just past the top of the aforementioned single track, you will come to another split with a trail breaking off to the right. You’ll see arrows and signs for Inspiration Point in both directions! You have two options. You can take the road another quarter mile up Inspiration Point Loop Trail to the overlook, or you can turn down this single track, which crosses a chaparral-covered depression to reach the point after 0.4 miles. We took the single track, which was a fun little detour. Both routes lead to your destination of Inspiration Point. 

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If you followed the road, you’ll get more lovely views of the taller mountains off to the north until you eventually come to a split. Take a right up along a spur trail that wraps around a short rise to reach Inspiration Point.

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To the southwest, you’ll find an amazing view as the Pacific Ocean curls it’s way around Santa Monica Bay. To the north, you’ll find wonderful views as well. Looking out to the Santa Monica Mountains you’ll find the 2,126 ft. high Temescal Peak.

To close the trail loop, head back down to the trail split. A couple hundred feet to the north is a trail map. The Backbone Trail (which is roughly 65miles long and crosses the Santa Monica mountains all the way to Point Mugu) breaks off to the left, while the descent from Inspiration Point continues on to the right. Hike straight through a junction with a service road heading down to Will Rogers Ranch and continue to the eastern edge of the loop. Along the way you’ll spot mansions at the top of Sullivan Ridge to the east as you make your way to a line of eucalyptus bordering the trail.

This is one of the only shaded areas along the loop, which provides a charming canopy for the remainder of the hike. Continue another 0.4 miles down the hillside to the bottom of the trail. Here, you can take a peek around the ranch or say hello to the horses! You’ll pick the trail back up as it runs next to a large green lawn. This is the perfect place for a picnic or to enjoy a good book under the sun. Follow the trail along the top of the field and behind the Will Rogers House to complete the loop and return to the parking lot.

Note: Dogs are not allowed on the park trails, however, you may have your leashed pups on the lawn.

As mentioned before, there is a $12 fee for parking. You can also find (limited) free roadside parking outside of the main entrance. 

How to get there: Follow Sunset Boulevard to Will Rogers State Park Road, located 4.5 miles west of the 405 and 3 miles east of the PCH. At the traffic light, turn north on Will Rogers State Park Road. Go about 3/4 of a mile up the mountainside to the park entrance. Pull past the gate and park in the lot on the left.

Address: 1501 Will Rogers State Park Road, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272

Girl's Night Outside in The Intrepid Wild - Wolf. Feather. Honey. Farm.

Wow. It really shouldn't have taken me this long to write about our stay at Wolf. Feather. Honey. Farm. Somehow, every time I sat down to begin a draft I just couldn't find the right words. It's hard to craft a sentence worthy enough to describe the magic and energy of that place. But now, it's been nearly 3 months since our stay, and my guilt for not sharing our special experience has finally overcome me. 

Mid June of 2016 I was lucky enough to snag a Field Scout trip through HipCamp for WFHF. HipCamp only had two photos up on the listing at that point, and neither did the place any real justice, but I was eager to go on a new adventure and take pictures!

Almost every year, my girlfriends and I take a camping trip. Usually, we head up North to Sequoia National Park, but this year we didn't manage to make it. We'd been itching for a girl's only adventure, but this last year we've all been swamped with work, social events and making our way through the wedding circuit. Heading 5 hours North has just been too much of a commitment. WFHF, on the other hand, is located just 2 hours south of us in Temecula and seemed to be the perfect opportunity to unplug for 24 hours. So I grabbed my two friends, Jillian and Shannon, we packed up my car and headed off in a direction we'd never been. 

The property is located just past all of the wineries of Temecula, up a country road that winds past horse farms and pistachio groves. When we pulled up to our camp sight, we were in absolute awe. Now, if you know me, you know I am an excellent Internet sleuth. I managed to hunt down WFHF's Instagram, so I had some idea before we got there what we were in for, but I assure you, photos do not do this place justice. Chari, the matriarch of WFHF, and I had been in touch before our arrival. She gave us some lovely tips for before and after our stay. Not only that, she had the sweetest note waiting for us when we arrived and she and her husband Craig stocked the vintage cooler on site full of Moscow Mule ingredients! They truly are a couple after three late-twenty-something's hearts, I'll tell ya what!

Chari and Craig really take glamping to a whole new level. We were so pleasantly surprised to find that not only did they provide all the fixings for Moscow Mules, but the site is fully stocked with lighter fluid, coals, a grill, a trash bin, a hand washing station and more! As the girls and I explored the grounds, we caught ourselves (embarrassingly) repeating the phrase "so cute!" whenever we encountered something new. But it was true - everything was SO CUTE.

The icing on the cake of the entire experience is hands down the Pioneer's Penthouse tent. The tent sleeps 3 comfortably and is equipped with sleeping pads, tons of comfy blankets and pillows and a plush day bed - it is seriously a glamper's dream!   

After "oohing" and "aahing" for about an hour, the sun began to set, and we noticed the hum of an engine growing nearer and nearer to the campsite. As the sound grew louder, we realized it was Chari and Craig coming to greet us on their adorable vintage buggy! We piled into the back, Mules in hand, and our hosts escorted us to the top of one of the hills on their property that offers the most amazing views of Temecula. It was such a treat to be able to watch the sunset, surrounded by friends new and old and this positive energy that was truly palpable.  

As the sun dipped behind the horizon, we hopped back into the buggy and had an exciting ride back down the hill to our campsite. Chari and Craig helped us get settled in for dinner under a chandelier that hung from a tree branch. We grilled up chicken kabobs and veggies - my camp dinner go-to these days - and sipped (a bottle or two) of rosé under a massive blanket of stars. I'm pretty sure we stayed up until about 4am, laying on our backs, simply staring up at the stars. It was hard to pull ourselves away, but when we finally retreated back to the tent, we all crashed immediately, and I have to say, while it was not a long sleep, it was a good sleep. 

Unfortunately, our trip took place during one of the hottest weekends in June to date. We awoke around 7am to temperatures in the mid 80º's, which wasn't doing our rosé hangovers any favors! We sipped some instant coffee and nibbled on granola bars - attempting to linger as long as possible, but eventually the heat got to us. We sadly gathered our gear, packed up the car, and said goodbye to Wolf. Feather. Honey. Farm. 

Since our time in the Intrepid Wild I have raved on and on about this trip. I've even considered it as one of my wedding venues... that is how special this property is! My only regret is that we couldn't stay longer! 

If you're looking for an amazing place to unplug, with beautiful views, excellent hosts and magical vibes, you should book your stay through HipCamp right now!