Friday, January 13, 2023

Free Entrance Days in the National Parks 2023

We wanted to make sure that everyone is aware of 2023's free entrance days for the National Parks. On five days in 2023, all National Park Service sites that charge an entrance fee will offer free admission to everyone. Mark your calendar for these entrance fee–free dates in 2023:

  • January 16: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • April 22: First day of National Park Week
  • August 4: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
  • September 23: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Family Hike By Lake Cuyamaca & Trip To Julian, California

It has been a while since have posted on our blog and part of that is simply just life.  As our family has grown and Ashley and I raise our two kids, time sometimes just slips by when you have young kids.  Our kids are of the age where we have started to go on short hikes again as a family and work to instill in our kids a love and appreciation of the outdoors as well as travel.  We have found that both our kids love the outdoors and enjoy spending time hiking, seeing wildlife and traveling.  Here is a little bit about our weekend trip to Julian on August 20, 2022 and our hike by Lake Cuyamaca.    

This past weekend we went to go hiking by Lake Cuyamaca in the San Diego Mountains.  Obviously, we first stopped in Julian on our way into the mountains.  We spent a couple hours in Julian and enjoyed lunch at Romano's Restaurant and had some apple pie at Apple Ally Bakery.  Romano's Restaurant is one of our favorite places to eat when we visit Julian and Ashley and I have always enjoyed eating there over the last 10 to 15 years.  And for apple pie, we always go to Apple Ally Bakery, who has a great selection of apple pies and other baked goods!  Further, the owner Debbie and her son Matt are usually there and they are always friendly and provide the best service.  For those that like hard cider, Julian Hard Cider is located there and has lots of craft brewed ciders to try and take home.  And yes, we usually buy a few to take home and enjoy.  Julian is a great place to visit any season of the year and we typically visit Julian and go hiking in this area a few times a year.  

After our pit stop in Julian, we traveled up to the Lake Cuyamaca area.  Along the way we encountered a beautiful summer thunderstorm with a lot of rain.  We enjoyed the pie we had purchased in Julian in our truck as the rain poured and thunder crashed around us for about 30 minutes. Once the rain had stopped, we went on our hiking by Stonewall Mine in Cuyamaca State Park.  For our full trail write-up on our prior hike at Stonewall Mine please click HERE.  Stonewall Mine in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is a great day hike near Lake Cuyamaca outside of Julian, California.

The Stonewall Mine Hike in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is a fun short hike that goes through some of the most scenic areas of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. The trails are well maintained and you are likely to see other hikers while out on this trail around Stonewall Mine. The hike also goes through an area that is heavily traveled by the park's wildlife, the Montane Meadow. The hike is under a mile long with minimal elevation gain and thus is one you can do with the whole family. You can make the hike longer by exploring some of the nearby trails if you like. Overall, this is an easy, but fun hike in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. 

During our hike, we had the opportunity to see multiple deer, numerous wild turkeys, turkey vultures, hawks and ground squirrels.  On previous occasions we have seen coyotes and bobcats in this area as well.  Our kids had a great time and we did a hike that was just about a mile and a half long.  Once finished, we began the drive back home.  There are more advanced hiking trails in this location we have done and you can read all about them on our other trail write-ups.  Below are some additional pictures from this fun day trip with the family to the San Diego Mountains.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Death Valley National Park Celebrates 25th Anniversary

DEATH VALLEY, CA – Death Valley National Park is hosting special programs and events in celebration of the park’s 25th birthday October 26 –November 2.  On November 2, the park will waive entrance fees.

Death Valley was first protected as a national monument in 1933.  On October 31, 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the California Desert Protection Act, which created Death Valley National Park, designated over 90% of the park as wilderness, and added 1.3 million acres to the park. The Act also redesignated Joshua Tree as a national park and established the Mojave National Preserve.

Geologists, biologists, astronomers, and other specialists will share their knowledge of desert ecology, dark skies, and natural history from October 26 through November 2.  A ranger-led sunrise hike will meet at Zabriskie Point at 7:00 a.m. on October 27. Astronomy programs will be offered at Harmony Borax Works from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. on October 26 and 28.

Park entrance fees will be waived on Saturday, November 2. The public is invited to join Superintendent Mike Reynolds for a 5 kilometer fun run/walk at 8:00 a.m. at Furnace Creek Visitor Center. Wish the park happy birthday with cupcakes at noon in Furnace Creek Visitor Center. Neighboring organizations and partners will have exposition booths set up at the Visitor Center from 12:00-1:00 and 3:00-5:00. Former Death Valley superintendents will answer questions and speak about the California Desert Protection Act from 1:00-3:00 in the auditorium.

“This is one of the largest celebrations Death Valley National Park has hosted,” notes Superintendent Mike Reynolds. “We are fortunate to have a number of knowledgeable guest speakers who are coming to the park specifically for this series of events. It’s a unique opportunity for the public to learn about this incredible park.”

All programs are free and open to the public. Close-toed shoes are recommended for hikes, which are on uneven terrain. Bring sun protection and water for daytime programs, and a headlamp, warm clothing, and a chair for evening programs. For the full schedule, visit

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Joshua Tree National Park Has Upgrades Planned To Ease Congestion

Annual attendance at the park has nearly doubled in the past five years to almost 3 million visitors in 2018, making it the eleventh most-visited park in the country last year. Joshua Tree National Park had 2.9 million people passing through the gates in 2018, about a 3.11 percent gain over 2017. The Park Service has experienced a similar surge at sites across the country. It has welcomed more than 300 million visitors to its parks every year between 2015 and 2018, according to the most recent data available. Meanwhile, the park's aging infrastructure, built for 1 million visitors, is sagging beneath nearly $66 million worth of "deferred maintenance" projects or, backlogged maintenance work as of September 2018, according to the National Park Service.

But the increase in attendance has also led to hour-long waits at the park’s west entrance and choked parking lots inside the park, according to news reports by The Desert Sun.  The Desert Sun reported this week that during peak periods, Park Service staff, from the superintendent on down, along with community partners, direct traffic, waving pass-holders through the entrance gate and managing parking at popular attractions.

To Ease the congestion in parts of Joshua Tree National Park, The Park Service has plans to demolish a fee booth and construct a new one with additional entry and exit lanes and automated fee pay stations. That project is expected to be completed by 2022.

There are also plans for new visitors’ centers to accommodate larger crowds.  A 5,000-square-foot visitor center in Twentynine Palms, California, which will replace an existing 600-square-foot space  will include educational exhibits and an outdoor stage for community events.

On the other side of the park, the Park Service will replace a trailer that serves as a center for visitor information with a new building with space for sales and exhibits. Officials also have plans to redesign a park campground following an increase in tent camping there.

If you are thinking about hiking in Joshua Tree National Park in the near future, or already have a trip planned, we have two hikes that we would gladly recommend, hiking to Mastodon Peak and hiking to Lost Palms Oasis.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Hiking Trails In The Monrovia Hillside Wilderness Preserve

The Monrovia Hillside Wilderness Preserve contains a series of hiking trails in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains just above Monrovia proper.  There are approximately 4.5 miles of hiking trails in the Monrovia Hillside Wilderness Preserve.  It is hilly terrain, so any hike here, will have its ups and downs.... literally.  The hike we did was a short out and back hike from the Ridgeside Drive Trailhead to the lookout point.  This was a fun easy to moderate hike in the lower foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.  There were great views along the way and plenty of evidence of wildlife who inhabit this area.  The only downside is the Ridgeside Drive Trailhead is difficult to find from the road and signage for the hiking trails in the Monrovia Hillside Wilderness Preserve is limited.

Directions to Ridgeside Drive Trailhead: To get to the trailhead to hike to viewpoint in the Monrovia Hillside Wilderness Preserve, from the 210 freeway, exit Myrtle Avenue in Monrovia and head towards the San Gabriel Mountains. Travel through old town Monrovia and then make a right onto Foothill Boulevard. In 4 short blocks, turn left onto Canyon Boulevard. Once you're heading north on Canyon Boulevard, in 0.7 miles, make a left onto Ridgeside Drive.  Park at the location of Ridgeside Drive and the Lower Clamshell Road/Trail.  Unfortunately, there is no signage for the hiking trail on Ridgeside Drive, so it is possible to drive past the location like we did at first.  The trail signage is up the road past the easement for the private residences.  There is no cost for parking.  The preserve is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.  Below is a picture of what the entry gate to the trailhead looks like.

Description of Hike: This is an out and back hike to the lookout in the Monrovia Hillside Wilderness Preserve.  It is a 2.5 mile round-trip out and back hike with approximately 600 feet of elevation gain.  The hiking trail is along a dirt fire road for most of the way.  Once you enter the Monrovia Hillside Wilderness Preserve the views only continue to get better the higher up the hiking trail you go!  There is limited shade on this hike, so if you go during hot sunny weather make sure to be prepared with enough water and sunscreen.  The hike is a gradual uphill the entire way to the viewpoint.  Once you get close to the top there is a sign indicating the side trail that breaks off to get to the viewpoint.  At the top you have views all the way to downtown Los Angeles, a majority of the San Gabriel Mountains and can see as far as the Santa Ana Mountains in Orange County.  Dogs are allowed on the hiking trails in the Monrovia Hillside Wilderness Preserve, so long as they are on a leash.  If you take your dog, please not that black bears are regularly seen in this area of Monrovia.  There is no running water along the hiking trail.

Further Thoughts: Ashley and I enjoyed our hike to the top of view point in the Monrovia Hillside Wilderness Preserve.  We only saw one additional group of hikers while out on this hiking trail. We saw a couple of small snakes while on our hike and saw about 5 deer while on the hike.  We also saw evidence of bear tracks in one location along the hiking trail.  This was a fun quick hike that we were able to do near our home in Monrovia and we look forward to returning here soon!

The Monrovia Hillside Wilderness Preserve was created in 2000, when the citizens of Monrovia voted to establish the wilderness park in the foothills north of city. More than a decade and a half later, following various legal maneuverings and negotiations with neighboring homeowners, the final of four access points opened up, making the entire 1,416-acre park available for public use.  There are four access points to the Hillside Wilderness Preserve that are open from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday - Sunday: Sleepy Hollow - Located off Norumbega Drive (West of Starlit Lane), Ridgeside - Located off Ridgeside Drive, 1/4 mile north of Briarcliff Drive, Cloverleaf - Located at the end of Cloverleaf Drive and Highland - Located at the end of Highland Place.

Rating: Elevation Gain: 600 (Moderate), Distance: 2.5 miles Roundtrip depending on trail (Easy).

Time to Complete Hike: 1.5 hours.