Vacations: Good, Bad, and Beautiful

Now that we are in the height of summer and people are starting to think about back-to-school shopping, I have been finding the most amazing reflections on summer vacation! Here is my vacation round-up, for one last dose of adventure and summer freedom before we start thinking about school and fall layers.


I have been watching for this post since the author came back from vacation. These photos from a girls backpacking trip in Alaska are so striking. I have definitely added this to the list of trips I would like to take.


Joy shows some love to Detroit, and honestly, I’m convinced. The food looks great and it sounds like she found beautiful pockets of the rich culture and history of the city.


The trip to Joshua Tree that went horribly wrong. I held my breath through the entire story. I can’t imagine the agony she was in.


An old episode of This American Life all about summer camp. Warning: squeaky pre-teen boys and very loud, high-pitched screeches from the young ladies of the camp.


Photos from the Goddard family vacation give us all that final nudge to start saving for a trip to Italy. From Rome, to Tuscany, to Venice, Joanna captures the best of each region. And there is an Uber for Vespas???

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And finally, please check out my own summer vacation experience in Alberta, Canada. We backpacked in Banff, had tea on a mountain, and hiked to glaciers and hot springs in Jasper National Park.

Lake Agnes Teahouse Hike

The one thing we had most been looking forward to was the Lake Agnes Teahouse Hike we had planned for our last morning at Banff. We had plans to meet our family at Lake Louise by noon, so we essentially ran up and down the mountain in order to have time to sip tea and have a second breakfast. (We told youThe Hobbit” is a great read on a hike!)

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with g3 presetThis was one of our favorite hikes of the whole vacation. It was so special to visit this teahouse hidden up in the mountain between two lakes. In the future, we would also like to visit the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 presetWe shared a large pot of “Top of the Mountain Zen” herbal tea. I had a smoked salmon bagel, Kendra and Thor each had a bowl of beautiful rainbow root-vegetable soup. We shared tea biscuits and jam before jogging back down the mountain.

20294256_1398184933551750_3885805489218610382_nWe made it to Lake Louise at the agreed meeting time. Only once we had regained cell service did we learn that our family was just leaving Calgary! We spent the next few hours waiting for our family at the lake. We read a lot… look at how many books Kendra read during our 3 days of backpacking!!!

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetAnd finally, we hugged our family and climbed in the car for the next 4 hours up to Jasper.

This is day 5 of an 11 day trip! Tomorrow, I will share our adventures from Jasper National Park, where we spent the remaining 5 days of our trip. There we visited hot springs and met families of elk! Be sure to read about our backpacking trip while we were in Banff National Park.

Until then, check out the hiking advice from my brother and sister, see what we packed, what we read, and what you should read.

Backpacking in Banff National Park

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Last week, my family vacationed in Alberta, Canada. I would like to walk you through our travels in this photo-journey!

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetMy siblings and I flew out 4 days earlier than the rest of the family for our second annual backpacking trip. We stayed in the Lake Louise Village of Banff National Park. The photos above are of the famous turquoise lake herself.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 presetWe got a late start on our backpacking trip, and after hiking up a highway for hours and hitchhiking the same distance in 15 minutes, we finally made it to the trailhead. Our first hour was spent on lunch and packing up to the halfway hut, where we hid from the sun and mosquitos and accidentally took a nap.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetWhen we were finally loaded up and ready for the next 4 hours of our hike, it was late afternoon and we were anticipating some hiking in the dark. (Although, as we learned, the sun doesn’t set until 10 p.m. up there!) Just as we set out on the trail, it started raining, and more concerning, it started lightning.  There had recently been wildfires in the area, and there was a strong fire risk at the time. Feeling uneasy about our late start and the storm, we regrouped and decided to camp at the site near the halfway hut. Even though it was not the site we had reserved, we felt much safer and there ended up being extra tent sites there.

Processed with VSCO with  presetProcessed with VSCO with g3 presetProcessed with VSCO with g3 presetThe campsite we stayed at was a short hike away from Hidden Lake, and as advised by other backpackers, we set up our tent and then hiked our dinner out over a kilometer to cook and eat bug-free in the tranquil space by the lake. It was a beautiful spot that felt like a secret, and the bear tracks on the trail meant that we were the only people crazy enough to head out there. Our only regret was not taking our sleeping clothes and blankets, because it was frigid and very windy.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with  presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 presetThe next day, determined not to repeat the day before, we were out on the trail by 8 a.m.. My patient brother and sister stopped at least 5 times so that I could adjust my layers. It was too cold to wear shorts, but too hot to wear sweatpants. We were on sheer and windy mountainsides, and I finally found the right combination of long and thin layers. The rest of the morning was spent in the etherial beauty of the Skoki valley. The meadow between the mountains was in the full bloom of alpine spring.

Processed with VSCO with  presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with  presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with  presetMuch to the surprise of last night’s campers, we arrived at Baker Lake campground by noon! We had lunch and a nap, then took a tip from some other early morning hikers and wandered down the path less traveled in search of two small waterfalls.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetThe hikers told us that we would first see a small waterfall. Even though it was beautiful, they insisted that it is quite small and unimpressive compared to our actual destination. Just past it, there would be much larger falls.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 presetPhotos don’t capture the sheer scale of what we encountered. This photo of Kendra and Thor shows them right next to the falls, which are blocked by the boulders they are standing on. You can see how far up we are, standing where the river turns to waterfall.

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Processed with VSCO with  presetWe spent the rest of the day relaxing. We took in the view of Baker Lake, made dinner, and played cards. We should have packed a book of card games, because basically all we could remember how to play was Blackjack and Go Fish.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetWe were out even earlier for our return hike the last day, leaving by 7 and stopping for second breakfast and coffee by 9 or 10.

Processed with VSCO with  presetThe last part of our hike was down an access road, which kind of a crappy ending to backcountry camping deep in the park, far from roads. We were fortunate to catch a ride and hitchhike again, which saved us hours skidding down gravel roads. Our Canadian driver was listening to a public radio program about wolves in Indiana and drove us all the way to our campsite in the park.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetWe each made ourselves an easy feast. Thor bought a bag of raw vegetables and a half-baked baguette with a big hunk of cheese. Kendra has rosemary crackers with cheddar. I learned you can stick a can of chili right on the pocket stove and it heats through faster than a microwave! After a shower and an evening walk along the river, we slept through a night of rainstorms full and happy.

This is just the first 4 days of an 11 day trip! On day 5, we took an amazing hike up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse, and I will share that story tomorrow. Following that, I will share our adventures from Jasper National Park, where we spent the next 5 days of our trip. There we visited hot springs and met families of elk!

Until then, be sure to read hiking advice from my brother and sister, see what we packed, what we read, and what you should read.



Travel Advice Needed

Whew. We just got back from backpacking in Canada… and now we are turning around and driving to New York City… the day after tomorrow???

Obviously we have a ton of laundry to do, and our packing list for this trip will look totally different.

What is your advice for a rapid travel turnaround like this?

Backcountry Backpack: Three People, Three Days

As you are reading this, my brother, sister and I are loading our packs and headed out on a three day backpacking journey in Banff, Canada! We are so excited about this, but it took a lot of planning. I wanted to give you a glimpse of what we did to make this happen.

First, do you remember all the stuff we packed to hike the Grand Canyon? In case you missed it, here is that breakdown:


  1. The Backpack: See all this gear? Somehow, SOMEHOW, most of it fit in this little backpack! I carry a women’s Marmot, and it is probably just the “weekend” size. So far, I have only taken 2-3 day trips. Any longer trips, and I will need a larger pack.If you’re choosing a pack, here are some things to keep in mind:
    – Frame size: Be sure that your pack fits your body. Just because you need more room doesn’t mean you should order a size up.
    – Volume: How much room is in your pack, and how many things will you need to take on your trip?
    – Weight: The lighter the better. Always.
  2. Sleeping pad: These are not necessary, but when you are sleeping on the jagged canyon rocks along a fault line, it makes a big difference. BONUS, the sleeping pad is perfect for breaks on the trail or laying along the river to read your book.
  3. Sleeping bag: My sister told me over and over again to get a temperature rating for 20, 15, -5, -20… and I got a temperature rating of 30. If you plan to camp in high altitude, or a season other than summer, you should get a temperature rating for lower than 30. This is coming from someone who moved from the tent to the car for warmth.
  4. Dromedary: If you have confirmed access to water for each day of your trip, it is likely that you don’t need one of these. If you are hiking to a lake or river and have a filter, you probably won’t need one of these. If you are hiking into the Grand Canyon and the main water pipe just broke (again) this is a good way to ensure you will survive. We each carried 10 liters of water along with smaller water packs, and although it added 20 pounds to our packs, we were sure glad we had the backup water when we reached our first campground and learned that the pipe had burst.
  5. Hydration Pack: I am a big fan! I have learned to use the 2.5 liter pack and refill as needed to help monitor and pace the amount of water I am drinking. Extra points if your backpack has an opening for your hose… easy sipping.
  6. Tent: I don’t have a fancy minimal backpacker’s tent that ways .3 pounds and inflates in the wind. I have a clunky 4-person Coleman that shields us from wind/rain/animals and is spacious even with two other people. Packing tip: split the tent and poles between people depending on pack size and weight.
  7. Hiking boots: My sister told me that I need them. I told her I didn’t… and then I read a little more and realized a 70 lb. pack on a 65 degree downgrade could snap my ankles if I wasn’t careful. I have also heard horror stories of people breaking their feet by stepping on canyon rocks. In the end I was VERY grateful to have these Merrell’s on my feet.
  8. Sandals: I will always take Teva’s everywhere I go. If you don’t own a pair, buy some! You can hike in them, wear them in the shower/lake/river, jog to meet your friends, or slip them on like outdoorsy slippers.
  9. Cook-set: I have a little Stanley cook-set that has easily boils 2+ cups of water and has two nifty cups that fit right in. Also pictured: titanium eating tool.
  10. Stove and fuel: Take a stove, weather-proof matches, and fuel (not pictured.)

    Not numbered: trekking poles ($10 used for the PAIR, purchased from Grand Canyon rentals!), 2nd skyn blister kit, Mountain House breakfast, hiking clothes and a trusty red bandana

    Not pictured: flight duffle, book, many maps crammed in a sheet protector, food for days, allergy pills.


With three of us, the distribution of stuff is a little different. We share the big and bulky things, like the tent and dry sack of food, but we still have a number of personal things to pack up, like clothes and trail snacks. This is a direct CTRL-C/ CTRL-V straight to you from the backpacking google sheet. You should see our packs. They are LOADED.

Thor- completed Thor Kendra- completed Kendra Kelsey- completed Kelsey
X Pack X Pack Pack
Duffle X Duffle X Duffle
Sleeping bag + pad X Sleeping bag + pad X Sleeping bag + pad
X WARM CLOTHES, 2 pairs X WARM CLOTHES, 2 pairs Emergency Blanket
X All hydration systems X All hydration systems X TP+ shovel
Day pack X Day pack X Dinner for Thor and Kelsey
X Wound Power + First Aid X First Aid X Bear bin
X 3-5 changes of underwear X 3-5 changes of underwear/ sports bras X WARM CLOTHES
X 3-5 sets of athletic clothes X 3-5 sets of athletic clothes X 10 L Water Bladder + all others
X hiking boots X hiking boots + athletic sandals X Water filter
X Lunch for self- 3-5 days X Lunch and dinner for 3-5 days X Day pack
X Spork + cup X Coffee filter/ pour over X Suture + Second Skyn
X Sunscreen X Spork + cup X 3-5 changes of underwear/ sports bras
X Dry sack for dirty clothes X Sunscreen X 3-5 sets of athletic clothes
X Dr. Bronner’s, toothbrush X Dry sack for food + rope X hiking boots + athletic sandals
X 3+ wool socks Dry sack for dirty clothes X Breakfast for all
X Deodorant X Dr. Bronner’s, toothbrush X Lunch for self
X Headlamp X 3+ wool socks X Coffee
X Pack extra clothes with parents Pack extra clothes with parents X Stove, fuel, mess kit, matches
X Rain jacket X External charger battery pack X Knife
X Towel X Deodorant Alcohol for steralizing wounds, similar
X Hiking PANTS X Headlamp X Sunscreen
X Long sleeve FOR HIKING X Rain jacket X Water tablets
X Light jacket Fuel tablets X Dry sack for dirty clothes
X Tevas Lighter X Dr. Bronner’s, toothbrush
Retainers X Towel X 3+ wool socks
X Debit card X Trekking Poles X Deodorant
Cash X Pack extra clothes with Anthony
ID X Headlamp
X Trekking Poles X Towel
X Trekking Poles

Hiking with Thor: Advice from my Brother on Finding Food and the Best Views Ever

The one thing you can’t go hiking without: My Nalgene.

A mistake you learned from on the trail: Bring enough water, don’t go on a long hike on an empty stomach. I once- this was more of a suburban walk than a hike- I went on an 11 mile walk with no water and no food, and I was eating wild greens on the way back. So bring food and water.


The surprising thing that saved you from a bad day: I accidentally forgot to put on my Tevas, and wore sneakers instead to a hike to Sperry Glacier, and the last mile or two was all through snow banks. If I had worn sandals, I would have been hurting, so the tennis shoes came in handy.

Best song to keep the bears away: 

Favorite food for car camping: Thor-bread: Mix one box of Jiffy cornbread mix with 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 carton of sour cream. Baked in dutch oven.

Favorite food on the trail: Rice pudding or canned fish


Most important planning detail: Coordinate arrival times “We were hiking with friends, three of us went in one car and the other guy was meeting us. He thought we were hiking at 8:30, but we were meeting at 8:30. We got there while he was there, but he was already on the trail, and when we got off the trail he had already left.”


What is your signature move on the trail? Foraging for food, and hiking quickly ahead of the group

First memory of camping: Camping at our dad’s property (82 acres of trees) in the pines trees.

What to do after camp is set up: Explore the area, walk around and see what trails are around


Best trip yet: Baxter State Park in Maine, Mount Katahdin

Most wow moment on the trail: Turning around while hiking Mount Katahdin and seeing the valleys below, and seeing the nearby mountains. “When we got up to the top, it seemed like we were on the tallest mountain in the park.”

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Best book about outdoors: Mushi-shi



Best book to read outdoors: The Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkein

Question I should have asked: What’s the most developed trail you’ve ever walked that’s still difficult?

Your answer to that question: A hill outside of Heidelburg, Germany, that was all stairs and switchbacks.

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What do you enjoy about hiking? Walking is a fun motion to do. It is one of the most fun exercises there is. I’m always rubbernecking when hiking.

Why do you hike? Seeing a lot of stuff, and just getting to go look around at the world, I guess. Like, a scenic hike is great, and it’s also a fulfilling form of transportation, you feel like you moved yourself, instead of being moved by petrol-chemicals.