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Hike the Historic Donner Tunnels

Dylan and I recently drove to Truckee, California to hike the Historic Donner Tunnels. It turned out to be more of a walk than a hike, but it was interesting and a little bit creepy. The tunnels are dark and there are bats and rats living inside them. If you walk through all of the tunnels it is about 5 miles roundtrip. Most of the path is gravel or hard-packed sand.

Where to Enter Donner Tunnels

There are a few places to start this hike. We decided to start closest to tunnel 6. The day we went to the Donner Tunnels we encountered multiple road closures due to construction. We were finally able to circle back to Donner Pass Road (Old Highway 40) and we parked in the Sugar Bowl dirt parking lot. The entrance to tunnel 6 is a short walk through this parking lot.

This is the entrance to the Historic Donner Tunnels from the parking lot.

The History of The Donner Tunnels

In the late 1800s, the Central Pacific Company wanted to extend their railway lines from Sacramento, California to Ogden, Utah and that meant that they would have to cross Donner Pass. CPC employed Chinese immigrants to dig tunnel #6 by hand. One man would hold a drill bit while two others hit the bit with a sledgehammer. They would continue hammering until their hole was big enough for explosives. Using this method the men only averaged 14 inches of progress a day. CPC completed the tunnel in a year and a half and the first trains were able to pass in 1867. Trains ran on this route for 125 years until 1993 when the route was changed and the railroad tracks were taken out of the tunnel.

A Sign about the Historic Donner Tunnel #6

Tunnel #6

Tunnel #6 is the most impressive of all the historic tunnels. It is the longest at 1,600 feet. When I looked up at the top and at the sides I could see the solid granite. It is amazing to think that men had basically carved out this tunnel by hand. As soon as I walked inside the tunnel I couldn’t believe how cool it was. It was at least 20 degrees cooler than outside. Although it was the middle of August and the snow had long since melted we had to watch where we were walking, because of all standing water throughout the tunnel.

Historic Donner Tunnel #6

Walking Through the Historic Donner Tunnels

Not all of the tunnels are pitch black. Some of the tunnels have slits on the walls near the top and these let in light. These slits were my favorite part of all the tunnels. The lighting is amazing as it bounces through the slits and lights up the corridor.

The light slits in the tunnel.
Light streams in through the slits.

There are also a few spots where the wall is open either via a rolled-up door or a broken wall. Step back out into the light and you will have a great view of Donner Lake.

An exit from the tunnel.
Donner Lake

I Was Scared in the Donner Tunnel

I thought I knew what to expect in the tunnels, but I was unprepared for the bats, rats, and the pitch black. We brought flashlights, but when we were in the middle of tunnel #6 it was pitch black even with the flashlights on. The bats never bothered us, but we could hear them. The rats freaked me out. I lost my cool when I almost stepped on a dead rat that was as large as a small house cat. At one point we heard a noise that at first sounded like the wind and then it got louder and louder until it sounded like a train coming through the tunnel. I looked down to make sure there were no train tracks and then I had visions of a ghost train. It turned out it was a truck from the railway company driving through the tunnel.

Inside a dark tunnel.


Like it or not there is plenty of graffiti in the tunnels. For the most part, the graffiti is all contained on the inside of the tunnels and is not spilling out into the surrounding areas. Some of the graffiti looks like art and some look like just a normal tag. I’ll leave it up to you if you think it belongs here or not.

Tips to Help You Enjoy the Donner Tunnels

  • Bring a sweater or jacket even in the summer. It’s much cooler inside the tunnels.
  • Wear good shoes. You will be walking on lots of uneven gravel.
  • Wear closed toe shoes. Even in summer there is standing water inside the tunnel. I wouldn’t want that water on my feet.
  • Bring a big flashlight. The tunnels are dark!
  • The tunnels can be dangerous in the winter and spring because of falling icicles.
  • Bring a friend because only the brave would want to do this hike alone.

Bodie State Historic Park

Bodie State Historic Park is located off of Highway 395 between the towns of Lee Vining and Bridgeport, California. Once you leave 395 it is 13 miles to Bodie. Ten of those miles are paved and 3 are dirt roads with washboards that make it impossible to drive over 15 miles an hour. The road isn’t plowed in the winter, so be sure and check with the park before attempting the drive. The hours vary by season and currently it costs $8 a person to enter Bodie. Dogs are permitted in the park as long as they are on a leash, however, they are not allowed on the Mill Tour. There is plenty of parking and flush toilets in the parking lot.

Visiting Bodie

Dylan and I went to Bodie one afternoon in July. We were prepared for it to be hot, however, even though it was extremely bright the temperature was only in the low 80’s. We had Jinx with us and she was able to walk around on all the dirt trails without her paws getting too hot. When we paid our entrance fee the ranger offered us a walking guide of the park for $2. We purchased the guide and we used it to take a walking tour of Bodie.

Bodie State Historic Park

The History of Bodie

Gold was first found in Bodie in 1859 by W.S. Bodey. Mining was slow in Bodie until 1875 when a mine collapsed and exposed a large load of gold ore. Bodie continued growing. 1877-1881 were Bodie’s peak years with it’s largest population. Historians estimate that there were between 7,000 and 8,000 full-time residences. Mining continued in Bodie until 1942 and in 1962 California State Parks purchased the town to preserve it. Currently, about 5% of all the buildings are still standing.

Bodie’s Only Standing Church

There is only one church left standing in Bodie. It is a Methodist Church that was built in 1882. There was a Catholic Church also built-in 1882, but unfortunately, it burned down in 1928. I was able to walk up the stairs and take a peek inside. All things considered, it looks like it’s still in good shape. The pews and an organ are still inside along with a whole lot of dust.

The Methodist Church
Inside the church.

Living In Bodie

The J.S. Cain Residence

J.S. Cain was the last major landowner in Bodie. When he left Bodie he hired caretakers to watch over the town and to prevent looting. His house is still standing on the corner of Green and Park Street. During Bodie’s boom years there were 30 different mines, saloons, laundry service, boarding houses and one school.

Bodie’s Schoolhouse

Bodie’s original schoolhouse was burned down by a student. After the fire, the school moved to the Bon Ton Lodging House. During its peak, there were 615 students enrolled. The school was used until 1942. Take a peek through the windows and you will see chalkboards, maps, and desks.

The Schoolhouse
Inside the schoolhouse
A peek inside the schoolhouse.

Bodie Today

The 5% of the remaining buildings give a good glimpse into Bodie’s past. There are remains of the jail, post office, fire department and a few general stores. Walking down the dirt streets looking at the old buildings it was easy to pretend we were in an old western movie.

Dylan and Jinx were looking inside the jail.
Inside the store.
A building covered in tin.

Whoa Nellie Deli

After leaving Bodie we drove to Lee Vining to eat at a gas station. Even though people say they are eating gas station food Whoa, Nellie Deli isn’t really in a gas station, but it shares a parking lot with a Mobile Gas Station. I had stopped at Whoa Nellie Deli with Sally on our way home from backpacking in Yosemite. Their food is delicious. Because of COVID, seating inside the restaurant is closed, but there is plenty of seating outside at picnic tables on the lawn. We ordered their famous fish tacos and June Lake Brown Ale, but because we had Jinx with us we took our food to go and we ate across the street on the grass with a view of Mono Lake. It was the perfect ending to a fun day.

The Menu at Whoa Nellie Deli
The famous fish tacos.
We ate dinner on the grass looking at Mono Lake.

Backpacking to Cathedral Lakes

2020 was supposed to be the year that Sally and I hiked Mt. Whitney, but instead, we did a 3-night backpacking trip to Cathedral Lakes in Yosemite. We actually got lucky in the lottery and got a permit to hike Mt. Whitney, but then COVID hit, and then there was a major earthquake in Lone Pine and we had to change our plans. In a normal year a hiker can get a last-minute permit for backpacking in the backcountry, but this year because of COVID I applied for a walk-up permit online 2 weeks ahead of time and I received a backcountry permit for Cathedral Lakes.

Before Backpacking

Normally to receive a permit I would go into a visitor’s center and meet with a ranger, however, this year the meeting had to be done online. I logged in with other permit holders and a ranger went over all the basics with us and gave us info about to be safe in a national park during a pandemic. I learned that some popular hikes such as the Mist Trail are one way and face masks and social distancing are encouraged. The ranger let us know that bear canisters are required and we covered the leave no trace policies. After my hour-long meeting, I was given a code to finalize my permit. The Yosemite Conservancy emailed me my final permit.

Day One

Sally and I left Southern California in the morning and drove to Yosemite. We entered Yosemite through the South entrance. This year due to COVID you must have a reservation to enter. Our backpacking permit allowed us to enter the park. The entrance fee is $35 for seven days. Taft Overlook was our first stop. This is an easy 2.2-mile roundtrip hike to the most amazing view of Yosemite Valley. If you have ever seen pictures of wedding proposals from Yosemite this is probably where they were taken. It is possible to get right on the edge and every so often you hear about people falling to their deaths so we proceeded with caution. Overall the views are spectacular and well worth the detour.

Taft Point Overlook

Night One

Our backpacking permit allowed us to spend one night before and after our trip in a backpacking camp. This year in the valley the only backpackers camp is located in the Upper Pines Campground. We parked the car and put on our packs and headed to the camp. Oh my, we were in for a shock. Yosemite was having a heatwave and by the time we hauled our backpacks to the camp and set up our tents we were roasting. We walked back to Curry Village and ordered some dinner from the grill. There are only a few places open for food in Yosemite, but there were 2 food trucks parked at Curry Village. Back in camp, it was so warm that I slept on top of my sleeping bag and with both doors of my tent open.

In the Valley of Yosemite.

Day Two

After packing up camp and hauling backpacks back to the car we walked to Curry Village for breakfast. We wanted to go to the store and it doesn’t open until 10:00 a.m. so we walked around the valley. This is when we really noticed how few people are in Yosemite compared to a normal summer. There were plenty of parking places and very few people on the river trails. It was weird to walk past Housekeeping Camp and to see it completely empty. After we shopped at the store we then drove up Tioga Pass to where we would leave our car. There isn’t a parking lot for Cathedral Lakes. We parked on Tioga Road. As soon as we got out of the car we had a great view of Tuolumne Meadows. At the trailhead, there are porta-potties, bear boxes, and trash cans.

Hiking up the trail to Cathedral Lakes.

Time to Start Hiking

The trailhead elevation is 8,500 feet which makes this hike seem hard with a 35-pound backpack on. Roundtrip the trail is approximately 9 miles, but depending on which lake you are heading too and where you decide to camp it can be even longer. The first few miles are the hardest, because it is a steady uphill climb, but the scenery is beautiful. Big trees provide shade and we saw lots of ferns and wildflowers. A couple of miles up the trail we came upon a natural spring. Cool refreshing water was bubbling up through the sand. We stopped and filled up our water bottles.

Lower Cathedral Lake

The entire time we were hiking we could hear thunder and see the clouds starting to roll in. When we arrived at a trail sign we decided to head down to Lower Cathedral Lakes instead of continuing to the upper lake. From the sign it’s about 1/2 mile down through some rocks and then 1/2 mile through a meadow with a creek meandering through. When we arrived at the lakes we looked around for a good spot to set up camp. We settled on a small peninsula that became our own private island. By the time we picked our spot and took off our backpacks the thunder was booming. We quickly set up our tents which was no easy task with the wind howling. I quickly threw my backpack in the tent and it started to rain. It rained for about an hour and half and the temperature dropped dramatically.

Our campsite for 3 nights.

After The Rain

When it stopped raining we climbed out of tents and we had a chance to look around. Our first chore was to filter water. Next we got out our stoves and cooked some dinner. We sat up on a granite ledge and we had a great view while we cooked and our dinner. After dinner we walked around the lake. At the end of the lake is a view that looks down to Tenaya Lake. We tried to stay outside to look for the comet that was passing by, but it was too cold and we ended up in our tents reading until we fell asleep.

Taking in the view.

Day Three

We woke up to a beautiful sunny day and after breakfast, we decided we would hike to the Sunrise High Sierra Camp. The camps are closed this year, but we were curious about what they look like. From Cathedral Lakes there is a lot of inclines and we were happy we didn’t have on our big packs. It was a little over 9 miles roundtrip. The trail travels up and down through big trees and then across several meadows. There was still water in the creek in July and we saw a bald eagle and a few marmots. Sunrise Camp looks like it would be a fun place to spend the night especially since in season they provide you with everything you need including a bed inside a tent and your meals. After lunch, we hiked back to Cathedral Lakes.

Cathedral Peak

Night Three

Back at camp we again had to filter water. I stretched out my towel on the rocks and watched the fish jump while I stared up at Cathedral Peak. We hung out on the rocks drinking whiskey and laughing until it was time to cook dinner. No fires are allowed at Cathedral Lakes, so by the time the sunsets we would crawl into our tents and read until bedtime.


Day Four

Day four was a zero-day, meaning we didn’t hike anywhere. After breakfast, we filled up a collapsible bucket and washed our hair with some biodegradable soap. I then decided to go swimming. The water was freezing so I didn’t stay in long. I was also apprehensive about leeches because the day before we heard some people yelling that they had them attached to their bodies. Luckily no leeches for me. Unfortunately, by 2:00 pm a thunderstorm rolled in and we had to retreat to our tents. It rained hard for about 4 hours.

The meadow behind our camp.

Night Five

After the rain stopped we were able to come back out and cook dinner. After dinner, we walked around the lake and scrambled up some rocks so we could take pictures of Cathedral Peak at sunset with the puffy cotton candy clouds that were leftover from the rainstorm. John Muir said it was the first time he had been to church in nature when he saw Cathedral Peak and he was right on the money. That night it was warm enough to be outside after dark. I walked around looking for the comet, but I never found it. I saw millions of stars and even a little bit of the Milky Way.

After the storm.

Day Six

We packed up camp and hiked back down to our car. It was a lot easier going down than it was on the way up. Sally and I decided we didn’t want to go back and camp in the valley, because it was too hot. Since we were close to 395 we drove out of Yosemite on Tioga Pass. We stopped for lunch at Whoa Nellie Deli in the Mobile Gas parking lot in Lee Vining. The inside seating was closed, but we ordered outside and sat at a picnic table on the grass with an amazing view of Mono Lake. After lunch I drove us the 6 hours back to Southern California. I arrived home dirty and tired, but so happy to have been able to spend all those days in nature.

Tuolumne Meadows

Hiking Mount Baden-Powell

On a Friday in June Sally and I decided to try hiking Mount Baden-Powell. We have both done this hike before, so we fooled ourselves into thinking that it wouldn’t be that hard of a day. Boy were we wrong. We encountered crazy weather, large banks of snow, and the added difficulty of trying to hike with two dogs.

The view from the beginning of the trail.

Driving to Mount Baden-Powell

The trailhead is located off of Highway 2 outside of Wrightwood. Be aware that Highway 2 is often closed. The highway is prone to landslides and Cal Trans spends a considerable amount of time scraping rocks off the road. Be sure and check for road closures before you drive there. The trail starts at Vincents Gap and there is a large parking lot. The parking lot fills up on the weekend and an adventure pass is required to park. There are two vault toilets, but no running water.

Mount Baden-Powell

The summit of Mount Baden-Powell is at 9,406 feet and it is one of the tallest peaks in the San Gabriel mountains. The trail to the summit intersects with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in case you want to channel your inner Cheryl Strayed. The mountain was named for Lord Baden-Powell the founder of the Boy Scouts.

Up We Go

The trail up is pretty straight forward and easy to follow. It is about 4 1/2 miles to the top and we climbed about 3,000 feet. The incline felt a little more gradual than some of the other Southern California peaks because there are over 40 switchbacks on the way to the top. When we first started up the air was cool and the sky was clear. We didn’t pass many people because we were hiking on a weekday.

Snow in June

A couple of miles into our hike and we encountered our first snow. We let the dogs stop and have fun in the snow. About a mile from the top we got to banks of snow that were covering the trail. It wasn’t possible to go around, because it was too steep above and below so we had to go through it. Unfortunately, because it was June the snow was soft and we post-holed through the banks. The dogs had no problem going over the snow, but somehow Sally and I came out looking like we had rolled around in a snowbank.

Snow in June

Wally Waldron

Just below the summit, we walked across a ridge and we came upon Wally Waldron the oldest living organism in the San Gabriel Mountains. Wally Waldron is an ancient Limber Pine estimated to be over 1,500 years old. Its roots are precariously hanging onto the edge of the trail. These large knarled roots help protect Wally from the wind and rain. There is a sign telling about the history of the tree. After passing Wally it is just a few short switchbacks to the summit of Baden Powell.

Wally Waldron
The Limber Pine has massive roots.

The Summit

We were so relieved to reach the summit. There is a monument to Baden- Powell, a logbook, and sometimes there is an American Flag and a summit sign. On this visit, there was no flag. There seems to be a debate going on within the hiking community about leaving flags and trail signs. Some people believe that leaving these things at the summit violates the leave no trace policy. There was a summit sign this time so we took pictures with it. This was Jinx’s 2nd summit. After our pictures, we found a place to hunker down and eat lunch and rehydrate. We used so much energy on the way up that after lunch we both lied down in the dirt and closed our eyes for about 30 minutes. It felt glorious to soak up the sun and rest.

A monument to Baden Powell.
Jinx and I made it to the summit.

Time to Hike Down

Some people might think that going down is easier than going up, but that is not always the case. When we are feeling tired going down can feel hard on our knees and if you add dogs and snow to the mix down can be even more treacherous. Getting past the snow was even more difficult on the way down because the sun had warmed up the snowbanks. We tried to step our way across, but we basically turned the snowbank into a giant slip and slide, and by the time we got to the other side our pants were soaking wet and we had a lot of good laughs.

Trying to cross the snow.
On the way down.

The Weather

During our hike, we encountered a wide variety of weather. In the morning it was cool and cloudy, however, when we got to the summit the sun was out and the skies were blue. On our way down very low clouds started to roll in and the temperature dropped. We felt like we were walking in a cloud bank. When we got close to the bottom it started to rain and then it hailed a little bit. Luckily, neither the hail nor rain lasted long and we just kept hiking down.

Walking through the clouds.
The trail is part of the PCT.

The Take Away

In June Sally and I were still training for Mt. Whitney so we were happy we completed this hike. We both agreed that hiking Baden Powell reinforced a few good lessons. #1 Sometimes your body just might not be feeling like hiking. Sally and I have both hiked Baden Powell before in half the amount of time that this hike took, but for whatever reason, it just wasn’t our day. #2 Always be prepared for anything. We both have micro-spikes and they would have made our trek over the snow so much easier, but who knew we would need micro-spikes in June in Southern California. Also, neither of us had brought rain gear. The rain wasn’t in the forecast at all for the day and when we left the valley it was sunny.

We Made It To The Car

Luckily, we made it back to the car without getting drenched. We might have to revisit Baden Powell in the near future because it is a beautiful hike that is great for conditioning and it is part of the Southern California Six Pack of Peaks.

Momyer Creek Trail to Alger Camp

Momyer Creek Trail to Alger Camp is located in Forest Falls in the San Bernardino Forest. When it’s 96 degrees in the valley and we want to hike we have to head to the mountains. We decided that since we were hiking with dogs and we did not want to push them too hard in the heat that we would try the Momyer Creek Trail, because there are water crossings and some shade. Our hike was 9 miles roundtrip.

Momyer Creek Trailhead

It was an easy one hour drive to the trailhead for us. Momyer Creek trailhead is reached by turning east off Highway 38 to Forest Falls, continue up the road 3 miles to the large parking area on your left 100 yards before the fire station.The address is 40560 Valley of the Falls Dr. in Forest Falls, CA. There is a dirt parking lot with trail signs, trash cans, and picnic tables, however, there are no bathrooms.

Momyer Trailhead

Crossing the Creek

The trail immediately descends into a wash and you have to cross Mill Creek. There is not a bridge, so use extreme caution. We were able to pick our way across on rocks and logs. The water was moving rapidly and looked a little too deep to plunge in and try to cross that way. Flash floods have occurred in the area that has resulted in many hikers needing to be rescued so make sure you are aware of the weather conditions before you cross.

Crossing Mill creek
Parts of Mill Creek are deep.

Heading up Momyer Creek Trail

Immediately after crossing Mill Creek, we saw a sign that states in 3 miles we would need a wilderness permit, however, we were heading towards Alger Camp and we wouldn’t be needing a permit. At this point, the trail starts to head up via switchbacks. The trail gains bout 1,800 feet in 3 miles and is moderately strenuous. A lot of the trail is shaded by big oak trees on the way up, so it makes it a great option for a hot day. We were hiking in June and the wildflowers were amazing. There were large patches of Lupine and Indian Paintbrush along with some flowers that we did not know the name of. After we had hike 2 miles we stopped on a log and gave the dogs a drink. We were able to find the perfect place in the shade.

A wilderness permit is required in 3 miles.
Lots of Lupine
Indian Paintbrush

Entering San Gorgonio Wilderness

At approximately the 3 mile mark we saw the sign for San Gorgonio Wilderness. Shortly after the sign, we came to the juncture for San Bernardino Peak, Alger Creek, and Dobbs Cabin. There was a sign for Alger Creek and Dobbs Cabin, but nothing for San Bernardino Peak. If you would like to head to the peak there is a small trail on the left side that heads straight up the mountain. It’s another 3,000 feet of climbing to reach San Bernardino Peak. In order to continue on that trail, you do need a wilderness permit. We followed the trail that veers right towards Alger Creek.

Entering San Gorgonio Wilderness
Entering San Gorgonio Wilderness

Heading Down to Alger Creek

The trail down to Alger Creek follows a series of small switchbacks. This is a shady section of the trail. At one point we walked into a small patch of Redwoods. The Redwoods are towering above the other trees. We also walked past a small spring that is bubbling out of the side of the mountain. The extra water in the area is helping the ferns grow. The path down to Alger Creek is just .7 miles. We saw a sign when we got to the creek and in order to get Alger Camp, we needed to cross the creek. Again we were able to get across on a combination of rocks and logs.

The sign for Alger Creek
A giant Redwood
Pretty ferns
Parker getting water from a spring.

Alger Camp

Alger Camp is located .25 miles below the creek. There are some big logs to sit on. We saw where someone had set up a tent before, but there wasn’t anyone camping there. Alger Camp might be a good location for an overnight backpacking trip. No fires are allowed, but you can use your gas stoves. With the creek running by there is an endless supply of water as long as you are filtering it. We ate our lunch and let the dogs rest in the cool shade. It was a peaceful location if you don’t take into account the biting flies. We could have continued on the trail for another 2 miles to Dobbs Cabin, but according to AllTrails, there isn’t much to see there so we turned around and headed back the way we came.

The sign for Alger Creek Camp

Hiking Back to The Car

The first .7 miles was uphill and after that, we were pretty much headed downhill until we got to Mill Creek. The way back was much warmer and we had to stop several times to give the dogs water. The views were great. We could see Yucaipa Ridge, San Bernardino Peak, and Mill Creek Canyon. According to the Forest Service this one of the most underused trails in the San Gorgonio Wilderness within the Sand to Snow National Monument. We saw a total of 3 people the entire day. We were again able to cross Mill Creek safely. There is not a clear path back to the car we just had to carefully step over rocks along the wash. Although this hike doesn’t have a big pay off it is a beautiful trail with good views and plenty of shade for a warm day.

There is shade provided by the oaks.
A view of Mill Creek.
Fields of Lupine.

Hiking in Big Bear, CA

In May sally and I went hiking in Big Bear, CA. We are training for Mt. Whitney so we headed to Big Bear to hike at a higher altitude. Living basically at sea level makes it harder to prepare for hikes that start at such a high elevation. We decided on the Castle Rock Trail but followed someone’s advice from All Trails and added Bluff Lake and Champion Lodge Pine to our hike.

Driving to Castle Rock

It takes about an hour and 15 minutes for us to drive to Big Bear from my house. This time we drove up CA-330 and I was unfortunately reminded how windy the road is. The trailhead for Castle Rock is located 1.1 miles east of the Big Bear Dam on State Highway 18. There is very little parking so it’s best to try and not hike here on a busy day. We parked alongside Highway 18, but there is a very small turnout North of the trail. According to All Trails, Castle Rock Trail is 2.6 miles round-trip and is rated as moderate. This is an out and back trail.

Castle Rock Trail

There is a large map posted on the trail sign at the start of the trail. Immediately this trail starts heading up. You will gain over 500 feet of elevation in a short amount of time. The trail is well maintained. It looks like the forest service has built some permanent rock cairns. They are a tower of chicken wire that is encasing a pile of rocks. The cairns along with the trail signs posted on many of the trees help people from veering off the trail. Castle Rock is a large outcropping East of the trail. We watched someone repelling down the side of Castle Rock. On the way up we crossed the stream several times, but the water level is so low so our shoes didn’t get wet.

Castle Creek Trail
Parts of the trail are steep.
Sally & I at the top of Castle Rock Trail.

Heading to Bluff Lake

After Castle Rock Trail we headed to Bluff Lake. When you get to the top of Castle Rock Trail there are signs and a dirt road that cars can drive on. At the sign head west on the dirt road. Turn left at the second road. There is a sign saying that it is a dead-end, but keep going. At the end of the road, there is a large gate to keep out the cars, but hikers are allowed to pass. On the other side of the gate is The Bluff Lake Reserve that is operated by the Wildlands Conservancy. The reserve is open daily from 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. May 1 – November 1st. Admission is free and dogs are allowed, but they must be on a leash. Swimming isn’t allowed at Bluff Lake.

Bluff Lake

The History of Bluff Lake

In the late 1800s, there was a YMCA Camp at Bluff Lake. In the 1920s Pomona College bought the property to use as a nature field study area. Today there is one original cabin remaining that was a stage stop for the burro trains that went through the area in the 1880s. The 1961 original Parent Trap movie was filmed at Bluff Lake as well as the 2002 Dr. Doolittle 2 movie. The Wildland Conservancy obtained the land in 2000 to save it from being developed and they drained the 20-acre lake to rid it of non-native catfish in order to restore the native fish.

An original cabin.
The original cabin.

Bluff Lake

In addition to the 20-acre lake, Bluff Lake Reserve is 80 acres of natural beauty. There is a one-mile trail that circles around the lake. The area is home to several species of rare plants. There are towering pine trees and a delicate meadow. We saw a few picnic tables if you want to sit down and have lunch with an amazing view, however, be warned the bugs were fierce the day we were there. The bugs weren’t biting, but they were flying up our noses and trying to get in our eyes.

The entrance to the reserve.
Bluff Lake
Bluff Lake

Champion Lodgepole Pine

Follow the trail signs to Champion Lodgepole Pine. Lodgepole pines usually only grow above 8,000 feet and in the Sierras where it is much cooler, however, there is a small group of them growing in a meadow near Bluff Lake. The Champion Lodgepole Pine was discovered in 1963. This giant towers over the other trees and is around 110 feet tall. It is estimated to be at least 450 years old. There are numbered trail signs for an interpretive trail, but we didn’t follow it.

Champion Lodgepole Pine
The Champion Lodgepole Pine.

Siberia Creek

Sally, Jinx, and I continued on past the Champion Lodgepole Pine heading towards Gunsight. We walked alongside Siberia Creek. At one point we turned a corner and saw smoke smoldering under a tree. It was a little discerning to see. The further we walked we could see that the smoldering was remnants of a prescribed burn. The whole area looked a little like the Apocalypse. Siberia Creek Trail crosses 2 bridges and then starts to climb up a mountain. Soon we could see all the way to Mt. Baldy. We were unsure where or what is Gunsight, so after hiking on the trail for over a mile we turned back around and returned the way we had come.

On the way to Siberia Creek Trail.
The meadow.
Lots of green.
There were still pockets burning.

Keep Your Dog On A Leash

On the way back we had planned to stop at Bluff Lake and have lunch, but our plans were derailed by an encounter with a crazy man and his dog. The man didn’t have his dog on a leash. His dog was a giant Husky and it charged at us because it wanted to play with Jinx. Jinx is still fearful of other dogs and the whole interaction wasn’t positive. We ended up leaving Bluff Lake and hiking to the top of the Castle Rock Trail and ate our lunch overlooking Big Bear Lake.

Jinx on a leash.

Heading Back To The Car

After lunch on our way down a guy on the way up warned us to be careful because he had just passed a big rattlesnake. If you go with children I would be really careful about where you put your hands or where you step, because there are so many hiding places for snakes amongst all the big granite boulders. Overall the trail was a great workout, we ended up hiking over 8 miles. In the morning on the way up the trail, we didn’t see another person, but on the way down in the afternoon, it was really busy. Bluff Lake is beautiful, but if I ever went back again I would hike very early in the morning to avoid the snakes and the hoards of people. The nice thing about Big Bear is there are lots of beautiful hikes to accommodate all different hiking levels.

Castle Rock off in the distance.
Big Bear Lake
Watch out for the snakes.


Devils Slide to Tahquitz Peak

Devils Slide to Tahquitz Peak is a beautiful trail in the San Bernardino National Forest that leads to a National Forest Fire outlook. Tahquitz Peak is at 8,846-foot elevation. The hike is somewhere between 8 & 9.5 miles (round-trip) with a gain of 2,500 feet through the San Jacinto Wilderness. It is rated as moderate on Alltrails, but as far as peaks go if you hike often it’s on the easier side.

The Legend of Tahquitz

Legend has it that Tahquitz Peak was named by the Cahuilla Indians after a flesh-eating shaman who lived in the mountain. Tahquitz (pronounced tah-KEETS) was captured long ago behind Tahquitz Rock, so it is now safe to hike there.

A Working Fire Lookout

Tahquitz Peak Fire lookout was an active fire lookout until the end of 1993. In 1998 it reopened and is now staffed seasonally with volunteers. Inside the outlook are a single bed, an oven, and plenty of counters and tables for workspace. There is a sign at the bottom of the lookout asking that no more than 5 people at a time go to the top. The day we were there it was unmanned, but I’ve heard if there is a volunteer there they might welcome you inside for a chat. It is very similar to the lookout tower that Sally and I hiked to at Slide Mountain.

Driving to Tahquitz Peak

We started the morning on the 10 freeway heading East. In the city of Banning we turned on to Highway 243 and wound our way up the mountain to the city of Idyllwild. The trail starts at Humber Park, 24559 Fern Valley Rd, Idyllwild, CA 92549. You need an adventure pass to park in the Humber Park parking lot. Passes are $5 a day or $30 a year. Passes can be purchased at ranger stations or sporting goods stores.

You Need a Permit

There are very strict rules about obtaining a permit for this hike. If you are hiking on a weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day you need to obtain a permit beforehand. There is a quota of 30 permits per day. You can confirm all the details with the San Jacinto Ranger District Office. If you are hiking it any other time you need to stop by the ranger’s office on the way to the trail and fill out a self serve permit.

Hiking on Devils Slide Trail

We started hiking at 9:00 a.m. and even though it was the middle of May it was cold. Too cold to be standing in the shade and not moving. The trail starts at 6,000 feet. For the first 2.5 miles we followed Devils Slide Trail. The trail itself is a series of well-maintained switchbacks. It is a moderate uphill the entire way. We stop a few times to take in the sweeping views of the Hemet/San Jacinto area. We crossed the creek a few times and saw lots of pretty wildflowers. The trail is gorgeous with pines, oaks & manzanita the whole way up. We had great views of Lily Rock which is a popular rock climbing spot, but without binoculars we weren’t able to spot any climbers.

Devils Slide Trail
The start of the trail
An ominous warning
We were starting to get a good view.

Saddle Junction

The trail levels out when you get to Saddle Junction. As you walk through the trees you will notice signs for all the various trails you can take. It is possible to hike from Saddle Junction to Mt San Jacinto without taking the tram from the Palm Springs side. There is also a trail leading to Round Valley which is a backpacking destination. To get to Tahquitz you want to make a hard right onto the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT.) After the nice break at the junction the trail again starts heading up. We were only on the PCT for a little over a mile. We came to a sign pointing to Tahquitz Peak and we again turned right.

Saddle Junction
Saddle Junction

A Beautiful Trail

As a whole this is a beautiful hike. Along the way we crossed a few streams and saw a few little waterfalls. We came across two alien looking Snow Plants. The trees provided nice shade for us and we saw lots of birds, lizards and squirrels.

A Snow plant.
The trail is well maintained.
We saw lots of moss.
One of the streams we passed.

The Last Push To The Top

This part of the trail has some amazing views. We passed by views of Marion Mountain and San Jacinto off in the distance. The trail climbed in elevation and we were now above Lily Rock and that really gave us the perspective of just how far we had climbed. We ran into one giant patch of snow that made getting across a little hairy. On one side was a drop off to your death and the other side was a snow berm that looked unstable because it was melting. We took it slow and made it across. It isn’t possible to see the lookout until you are directly below it. After hiking a little less than a mile from the last turnoff we turned a corner and we saw it.

Our first look at the fire lookout

We Made To The Peak

The day we hiked to the peak the fire outlook was still closed for the season. We were able to climb up the stairs and enjoy the view, but we couldn’t see inside of the outlook. The view is outstanding. You can see Lake Hemet, Lake Elsinore, and looking in the other direction The Salton Sea. We took pictures with a trail sign and sat down on the rocks and had lunch.

This was Jinx’s 1st summit
An amazing view from the top

Hiking With A Dog

In March we got a dog from a rescue. She is a Cattle Dog mix and she has endless energy. I have been taking her on regular hikes and walks. This was her first summit. I packed her water bowl and extra snacks. Her favorite part was walking through the snow. She did great on this hike and I’m sure it helped that there is lots of shade on the trail and it wasn’t hot the day we hiked.

There were a few stream crossings
JInx loved the snow.

Hiking Down

The trail if you want to make it a loop.
Heading back down.
Tree art

From the top of Tahquitz Peak you have the choice to turn around and hike back on the same trail as you hiked up on or head down a different trail that takes you into Idyllwild. We opted to head back down the way we had hiked up. The trail we didn’t try makes the hike into a loop, but it is longer and it doesn’t end in Humber Trail Parking lot. If you opt for that trail you have to walk a little way on the street. Our hike back to the car was nice. Again, this is a beautiful trail. You are treated to amazing views the whole way. Sally, Jinx, and I had a great day and I’m sure we would hike in Idyllwild more often if it didn’t involve an almost 2-hour drive from my house up a very windy road.

In Search of the Perfect Dessert in New York City

Are you in search of the perfect dessert in New York City? If you are I have some suggestions for you. If there was ever a city to splurge on dessert, it is NYC. There are so many options that it might be hard to narrow down your choices. I am going to share a few of my favorites.

Dessert Cookies

Levain Bakery is currently having a cult-like following over their perfect cookies and I for one am a card-carrying member. Levain Bakery has multiple locations in the city. During my last visit to New York City, Nicole and I stopped in to get dessert for the picnic we were going to have in Central Park. We went to the location on Third Avenue. The line was long but efficient and it moved fast. We each ordered a cookie. Their cookies are a staggering 6 ounces each and they cost around $4 each.

The Perfect Cookie

We ordered their classic Chocolate Chip Walnut and their Dark Chocolate Chip. I firmly believe you will never find a more perfect cookie than their Chocolate Chip Walnut. This is the cookie of ALL cookies. Ooey-gooey chocolate, crunchy walnuts, and a crisp and chewy cookie at the same time? Sign this girl up right now. I’m honestly not a fan of nuts in my cookies but the walnuts added more texture than flavor, which was perfect! The Dark chocolate Chip is rich and decadent. It has some brownie qualities to it and it is delicious. I think Levain Bakery just might be serving the perfect cookie.

Cookies from Levain Bakery

Ice Cream in Chinatown

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory has been in business since 1978. It is tucked in on a small street in the middle of a bustling Chinatown. The original location is at 65 Bayor St and they now have a second location in Flushings. Their storefront is small and it’s not unusual for the line to be out the door. When you get inside they have a sign hanging on the wall with all the flavors they are currently serving. They have flavors ranging from every day common to the exotic.

Try Something New

One of my favorite flavors is Almond Cookie. It is Chinese almond cookies from the Famous Fung Wong Bakery soaked and blended into ice cream. Of course, they serve their ice cream in either a cone or a cup. There isn’t a place to sit inside so we always order our ice cream in a cup and walk around the neighborhood while we enjoy it. There’s a reason why Chinatown Ice Cream Factory has been in business for 40 plus years. They serve delicious reasonable price ice cream.

Ice Cream from Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
Walking around Chinatown eating our ice cream.

Magnolia Bakery

Magnolia Bakery is a quintessential New York cupcakery. I’ve watched my fair share of Sex and The City episodes and those ladies loved Magnolia’s Bakery. They opened their first bakery in 1996 on a quiet corner in the West Village. Today they have locations worldwide. The original location is my favorite. It reminds me of stepping into my grandma’s kitchen. Whenever I visit I always feel as though I’ve been transported to another era. Their cupcake menu varies, but they always serve their famous Red Velvet cake with whipped vanilla icing. Each regular size cupcake is $3.95 and they also sell mini sizes.

Banana Pudding

When I go to Magnolia Bakery I rarely get a cupcake, because I have fallen in love with their Banana Pudding. The regular pudding is a layer of vanilla wafers, fresh bananas, and creamy vanilla pudding. The small size is $4.50 and it is served in an adorable branded container. The pudding comes in different sizes, but a small is more than enough for one person. On my last visit, I tasted a chocolate version that has Oreos, bananas, chocolate pudding, and chocolate shavings. The sample was delicious, but I ordered the original. Directly across the street is a city park. We usually take our dessert there and sit on a bench and people watch. The streets in this neighborhood are adorable and they are filled with Brownstones with big stoops. It is a neighborhood that Carrie Bradshaw would love too.

Banana Pudding from Magnolia Bakery
Looking for Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment while we were eating our pudding.

Serendipity 3

Serendipity 3 claims to be the oldest coffee house boutique in New York City. Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, and Jackie Kennedy all frequented this location. A scene from the movie Serendipity with John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale was filmed inside. This upper East Side boutique coffee house is small. They take a limited number of reservations for lunch & dinner, but none for dessert. I always walk in and add my name to the list and then walk around the neighborhood. On the same block is Dylan’s Candy Bar the famous candy store owned by Dylan Lauren. If your wait is really long, (FYI: we’ve waited over 2 hours before) you can head towards the East River and ride on NYC’s only ariel tram. The fee is included in your Metro Card and you can ride the tram to Roosevelt Island.

Frozen Hot Chocolate

You can’t go to Serendipity 3 and not try their Frozen Hot Chocolate. This is the dessert that John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale shared in the movie and it was also featured in episodes of Girls and Gossip Girl. The Frozen Hot Chocolate comes out in a big glass with a saucer underneath to catch the spillover. The drink is thick and rich, but not overly sweet. It is covered with whipped cream and topped with chocolate shavings. It costs $14 and is big enough to share, but beware Serendipity has a $12.50 minimum per dinner. The Hot Chocolate now comes in other flavors such as peanut butter, mint, and S’mores. Everything in NYC is expensive and at Serendipity you are definitely paying for the experience and they don’t disappoint. The Frozen Hot Chocolate is delicious and the inside of the restaurant is kitschy and fun.

Outside Serendipity 3
Frozen Hot Chocolate.

Eileen’s Special Cheesecake

It is hard to add just one place for cheesecake in all of NYC, but I’m going to do it. I do love Junior’s and it has a huge following, but I have fallen in love with this tiny Greenwich Village bakery that specializes in cheesecakes. The best part of Eileen’s is that in addition to a regular size they also make cheesecake minis which means you can try more than one flavor. Their bakery has about 10 stools inside, so it is more of a grab and go location. In 2019 Food & Wine deemed Eileen’s Special Cheesecake as the best in America. The minis cost $5.25 each and there are 10 flavors to choose from. My favorite is the Dulce de Leche it is light and fluffy and the tang of the cheesecake mixes perfectly with the Dulce de Leche.

Eileen’s Special Cheesecake located in Greenwich Village
The cheesecake was so good we forgot to take a picture before we took a bite.

Big Gay Ice Cream

Your life will not be complete until you try a Salty Pimp from Big Gay Ice Cream. Big Gay Ice Cream started as a seasonal food truck and they have now expanded to multiple locations in Manhattan and Philadelphia. They serve traditional soft serve ice cream that is mixed with imaginative and fun ingredients. Their treats range in price from $5 – $10. My favorite location is in the East Village.

The Salty Pimp

I have only tried one thing on the menu, the Salty Pimp because I love it so much. It is a vanilla ice cream cone injected with dulce de leche, lightly salted and dipped in a chocolate shell. During the summer lines to get inside can wrap down the street. There are a few tables and a long bench that you might score a seat at. Overall the ice cream is tasty and the shop is kitschy and fun what more could you ask for in a dessert location.

The Magical Unicorn at Big Gay Ice Cream Shop
The Salty Pimp
An ode to the Golden Girls.

Spot Dessert Bar

Spot Dessert Bar in New York City only serves desserts and drinks. Their flagship location is on St. Marks Street in the East Village. Spot Dessert Bar opened in 2009 and was the vision of Iron Chef of Thailand, Chef Ian Kittichai. Their desserts are served tapas-style, of course, you can order one to eat by yourself, but it is more fun to order multiple desserts for the table and share them. Most of their desserts are $11.95 each. They have their classic desserts that are always on the menu and then some that are seasonal. The restaurant is very small and they have now partnered with Yelp. You can log into Yelp and add your name to the waitlist before you arrive.

Cookie Camp & Matcha Lava

Cookie Camp is a fresh half baked marshmallow cookie, covered with pretzels and cookie crumbs and served with condensed milk ice cream. They bring it to the table in an individual cast iron pan. The warm cookie topped with the cool ice cream is a decadent combination. Matcha Lava is their most popular dessert. It is a warm dark chocolate cake filled with matcha ganache, served with matcha green tea ice cream. The matcha ice cream balances out the sweetness of the chocolate cake. It truly is a delicious dessert.

Cookie Camp
Matcha Lava
Matcha Lava

My Very Favorite Dessert in all of NYC

My favorite dessert in all of New York City is the Golden Toast from Spot Dessert Bar. It is a warm crispy honey buttered toast that is served with strawberries, homemade whipped cream, and condensed milk ice cream. I never thought I would like this dessert because I thought it would be too much bread, but I was so wrong. The combination of the butter and honey makes the outside of the bread sweet and crispy and the ice cream is delicious. The Golden Toast is the best and you absolutely have to try it when you are in the city.

The Golden Toast

There’s Always More to Try

I would go back to all the locations on my list. Some I have been to multiple times and I stop by every time I’m in the city. The good thing about NYC is there are plenty of desserts to choose from and more than likely you will be doing a lot of walking so hopefully you won’t feel guilty about trying a few.

Hiking at Red Rock Canyon

Before you go out for a crazy night of debauchery in Sin City you can head to Red Rock Canyon for an amazing day of hiking. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is just a mear 25 miles West of the Las Vegas strip. On a Saturday in January, we drove from the Los Angeles area to Red Rock Canyon and it only took us about 3 1/2 hours.

Plan to Arrive at Red Rock Early

Check the visitor information page for their hours. We arrived at the entrance at 9:30 a.m. There were only a few cars ahead of us to pay. There was a $15 entrance fee. We stopped at the visitor’s center and looked around. Instead of hiking around the visitor’s center, we decided to head to the Calico Tank hike. After entering the park the road is 13 miles one-way loop. When we arrived at the parking lot for Calico Tank it was completely full at 10:00 a.m. I drove around and around the loop, but nobody was leaving. I finally decided to drive down the road and park off the roadway and hope I didn’t come back and find a ticket.

The entrance to Red Rock Canyon
There were lots of people out rock climbing with ropes.

Wildlife at Red Rock Canyon

We hoped to see some wildlife during our visit to Red Rock Canyon, but we only saw a few lizards. There are signs warning drivers to slow down for the wild tortoise, but since we visited in January they were probably still hibernating. We lept our eyes peeled for wild burros, but we didn’t see them either.

Use caution while driving.

Hiking to Calico Tanks

The park trail map rates the hike to Calico Tanks as Strenuous. From the parking lot to the tank is a little over 2 miles roundtrip. Even though the parking lot was full there are other hikes in the area and lots of people practicing rock climbing. The first part of the hike follows an actual path. There weren’t that many people on the trail when we first started. The weather in January was sunny and comfortable. I wouldn’t want to do this hike if it was hot outside, because there is little to no shade. After about 1/2 mile the trail becomes less clear cut and the hike becomes “choose your own adventure.” There are places that you can hop from rock to rock.

A trail map for the hike to Calico Tanks.
There are parts where you need to scramble up the rocks.
Heading up the canyon.
We found a little water along the trail.

Calico Tanks

There are a few signs along the way to let you know that you are still going the right way. Basically, you are heading up through a small canyon. The actual Calico Tanks is a natural holding pool for water. I’ve heard that the water dries up in the warmer months. We made it to the tank in a little over an hour with plenty of time for exploring and taking pictures. After the tanks, you want to continue going up and you will be rewarded with an amazing view of the Las Vegas strip and valley. We took in the view and took lots of pictures.

Calico Tank

Hiking Down From Calico Tanks

Coming down was a little dicey. The trail had become “The Disneyland of the Desert.” I couldn’t believe how many people were on the trail on the way down. A lot of the trail is on rocks that have a thin coating of sand on them and there were way too many people in Vans or Converse that were sliding all over. We saw some people scooting down on their butts in order to avoid falling. We made it down and walked back to our car. The parking lot was still full on our way out.

Halfway down the trail.

Petroglyph Wall

We continued driving on the scenic one-way loop. We drove to the parking lot for the Petroglyph Wall. Depending on where you can find a parking place the walk to the Petroglyph wall is very short. We walked across a wash and headed towards a cliff. The Petroglyphs are on the face of the cliff. The Petroglyphs are estimated to be 800 years old. After reading the sign and taking pictures we walked back to the car. We got a cooler out of the car and had a picnic at the Willow Springs picnic area. While we were eating the clouds rolled in and we started to get cold. We finished the scenic loop and decided we were done for the day.

A map for the Petroglyph Wall
800-year-old Petroglyphs

A Reason For Another Visit

We only did two hikes in Red Rocks. I would love to go back and visit, but preferably on a weekday when it is a little less crowded. We saw several groups drive by in open air 3 wheeled vehicles. Each car held 2 passengers and they all looked like they were having a good time. I would also like to come back and look around for some wildlife. All in all, we had a good visit and this was definitely a side of Las Vegas that I had never seen before.

Camping at Parsons Landing

Camping on Catalina Island

Catalina is just a short 26 miles across the sea from the Port of Los Angeles. Sally and I didn’t have enough days to hike the entire Trans Catalina Trail, so we settled on a long weekend of camping on Catalina Island.

Camping Reservations

Reservations for camping are a must. Depending on when you want to go reservations can book up months in advance. We chose to stay at Parsons Landing. I was able to make my reservations through Reserve America. There is a two-night minimum when you make reservations. If you are hiking the TCT it is possible to contact them and book the site for only one night. The fee to camp at Parsons Landing is per person not per a campsite. Our fee for two nights was $89.25. $20 per person per night and then a service fee.

Boat Reservations

We made reservations on Catalina Express out of San Pedro to Catalina. The price is $37.50 each way. We chose to leave on the 9:00 am boat and return on a 4:30 pm boat. Parking at the San Pedro dock costs $19.00 a day. Be sure and read the information for campers. Coast Guard regulations do not allow you to bring fuel on the boat.

The Boat Trip to the Island

We arrived at the Catalina Express office in San Pedro an hour early. Maybe because it was a rainy day there wasn’t a crowd and we were plenty early. At 8:40 we carried our backpacks over to the dock and the crew put them below the boat. I getting really seasick so I headed to the top of the boat and I chose to sit outside. It was cold, windy and it rained a little bit on the ride over. Avalon is the first stop and it takes 1 hour and 15 minutes to get there. Our boat only stayed in Avalon long enough to drop off and pick up passengers. After Avalon, we hugged the coast and it took us 30 minutes to get to Two Harbors.

Catalina Express Office in San Pedro.
Our boat looks so tiny compared to the big cruise ship.
Heading into the storm.
We almost froze to death sitting outside.

Two Harbors

We docked in Two Harbors a little late. The crew took our backpacks out of the boat and we carried them up the dock. The first stop is Two Harbors Visitor’s Office and it is right at the end of the pier. This is where you check-in for camping reservations. Your reservation is also your hiking permit.

Wood & Water

We had called ahead and preordered wood & water, so this is where we picked up our locker keys. The fee is $20 for one bundle of wood, a fire starter and 2.5 gallons of water. Thankfully they drive over to Parsons Landing once a day and leave the wood and water in a locker. We were staying 2 nights so we ordered 3 locker keys because we wanted the extra firewood. There is not a water source at Parsons Landing so you will only have the water you carry in or purchase in the lockers.


Our next stop West End Galley for some lunch. After we checked in with the Visitor’s Office it was still sprinkling luckily The West End Galley was open. They serve drinks and have a small menu. They seem to be open around the time the boats arrive and dock. We order coffee and lunch and sat inside and tried to unthaw from our boat trip.

The dock at Two Harbors.

Hiking to Parsons Landing

The hike from Two Harbors to Parsons Landing is about 7 1/2 miles. When we were done with lunch it had stopped raining and the sun was out. We set off on the trail around 12:30 p.m. The trail is basically a fire road, but it hugs the coast so you are in for million-dollar views most of the way. The water is so clear that we could see the bottom. We passed two Boy Scout camps and one private camp along the way.

Sally and I above Two Harbors.
A million-dollar view.

Parsons Landing

It took us about 3 1/2 hours to hike to Parsons Landing. We stopped a lot to take pictures and adjust our boots and backpacks. We didn’t weigh our packs this time, but I’m guessing they weighed about 30 pounds and this was our first time out with them this season. Somehow the first mile is always the hardest until I get used to carrying that heavy pack. The last mile of the trail was up and down hills so we were happy to finally see the sign and know we were almost to camp.

Almost to Parsons Landing

8 Beach Front Campsites

There are only 8 sites at Parsons Landing. Site one is the most secluded, but it is mostly rocks instead of sand. Camp site 8 is on the opposite end and gives you a little more privacy, but you still have an amazing view.

Site #1
Site #2
The view from site #8

Campsite #7

We had site number 7 and we liked it. There was room for two tents and someone had already made the windbreaks out of rocks. There is a fire pit with a windbreak, a picnic table, and a critter locker. We set up our tents. Sally cooked her dinner. I couldn’t eat because my stomach was still upset from the boat. At dusk, Sally made a fire and I made Hot Toddies. We sat on rocks inside the windbreak and enjoyed our warm drinks and the fire. We climbed into our tents by 8 p.m. to read and get warm. During the night the wind blew so hard that I thought my tent was going to take flight.

Site #7

Sunday at Parsons Landing

When we woke Sunday it was a beautiful morning. As we were drinking coffee and making breakfast we spotted some whales offshore. Breakfast with a view. We also watched a Bald Eagle fish in the ocean and a seal kept popping his head up to see if the beach was vacant yet.

Hiking on the Trans Catalina Trail

We packed our lunches and hiked to Starlight Beach. First, we hiked back to a spring. There was a little water flowing and we heard frogs, but couldn’t see them. Starlight Beach used to be the ending of the TCT it is at the Western End of Catalina. We hiked to above it but didn’t go all the way down to the beach. Although we saw lots of bison tracks and some scat we never saw a bison. I saw one Island Fox run across the trail in front of us, but nothing like when I backpacked on Santa Cruz Island. We ate lunch high up on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Our hike was around 8 miles roundtrip.

The Spring.
My lunch view.
The view of site #8
We survived day #2 of hiking.

Camp Life

When we got back to camp we took off our boots and explored all the other campsites. Our favorites in order are #8, #7 & 2. I would avoid numbers 3, 4 & 5 they are lacking privacy and right in the middle of the pathways. If you look closely you can find amethyst on the beach. I found two great pieces and debated about bringing them home because I didn’t want to add any extra weight to my backpack. Sunday we had extra time to lounge around, read and look at the scenery. For dinner, I made mushroom risotto and watched the lobster fisherman set up his traps in our cove. Sally made another fire and I made more Hot Toddys. We sat out by the fire and watched the lobster guy check his traps in the dark.

Shells & amethyst
Interesting Rocks
A squirrel visiting our firebreak.
Reading and cooking dinner.
The view never gets old.

Hiking Back to Two Harbors

Monday morning we took our time packing up camp. There are two boats that leave Two Harbors for San Pedro. The first boat is at 11:30 a.m. and the last boat is at 4:30 p.m. Instead of rushing and trying to make the earlier boat we took our time and opted for the 4:30 p.m. boat. When our backpacks were all loaded we started the trek back to Two Harbors. Keep in mind that there is little to no shade on the road back. The day we hiked back was only in the ’60s but we were in full sun and we got hot. Both Sally and I ended up with blisters and we think it was a combination of the heavy packs and our feet being hot in our boots. We stopped often and enjoyed the views along the way.

The views are amazing.

Back at Two Harbors

We arrived back at Two Harbors around 12:30 p.m. After peeling off our backpacks we went into the general store and ordered a pizza and bought some beers. The store will make either a large cheese or pepperoni pizza for $20. It comes out piping out in about 25 minutes.

Pizza and a beer.

Harbor Sands

After we were done eating we asked someone in the restaurant if we could take a nap on the lounge chairs on the beach and because it was a Monday and not in season yet they were happy to let us lounge. They even suggested we hang out in the cabana on the beach so we wouldn’t get too much sun. We spent a couple of hours lounging and it was heaven.

Lounging at Harbor Sands.


Before we arrived on the island we had been warned about protecting our gear from the ravens. While we were lounging we looked over and saw a raven unzipping someone’s unattended backpack. While I was walking over to shoo it away it stole their bag of chips and poked a hole in it. I put their chips in their cooler, but later Sally had to go over and coverup their backpack because the raven was trying to take stuff out of it again.

Buffalo Milk

Buffalo Milk is the name of the most popular cocktail on Catalina Island. The Harbor Reef Restaurant opens at 3:00 p.m. so when it opened we went inside to try a drink. The bartender made us our cocktails in plastic cups so we could take them back out to our lounge chairs on the beach. Buffalo Milk is made with the following:

  • 1/2 shot of Creme de Cocoa, Kahlua, & Creme de Banana
  • One shot of vodka
  • Half & Half

It is then topped with whipped cream and nutmeg. Buffalo Milk is delicious it tastes like an adult milkshake.

Inside the Harbor Reef Bar.
The Buffalo Milk Cocktail.

Back to San Pedro

We boarded the 4:30 boat and we were sad to find out that the boat goes to Avalon and then San Pedro. It took us 2 hours to get back to San Pedro and then 1 1/2 hours to get back home. I dropped Sally off at her house and came home and went straight into the shower and then bed. We had a great trip!

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