Crater Lake National Park

After Christmas, Bae and I decided to take a little trip down to Sisters, OR and spend a few days at 5 Pines Lodge as our Christmas gift to each other. It was a perfect little lodge equipped with a movie theater, brewery, legit fitness center, and even had a cocktail happy hour each day from 5-6. Needless to say, we were in heaven. Oh, and did I mention snow? It had a lot of snow, and seeing as Seattle was sort of lacking in that area (as usual) it was quite a treat for us. It was the perfect relaxing getaway right after Christmas, and before things started to get hectic again.

We enjoyed daily walks into the downtown area of Sisters, home of Sisters Coffee Company, which was delicious. There were also many other little shops and businesses to check out. Really a great little town to stop by and check out if you’re in Central Oregon.

Knowing that we were well over halfway to Crater Lake National Park from Seattle, we decided we should go ahead and make the trip! It was only a 2.5 hour drive away, so we figured, why not?! Well, it is technically a 2.5 hour drive in sunny and dry conditions. Unfortunately for us, we made a small detour in Bend trying to get gas (hand up, that’s on me. I may have ignored road signs and taken us on a major detour that alone added 15 minutes, but then also got us stuck behind a snow plow for the next 45 minutes), and the trip was more like 3.5-4 hours due to snow conditions. When we arrived I was running around like a madman (cause fundido) trying to figure out just exactly where we were supposed to meet for our noon snow-shoe tour that I signed us up for. I finally figured it out, it was the first place I started at (naturally). What’s important is that we were there and on time ready to go on a tour!

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Our obligatory photo at the Park Entrance

This was both of our first times snow-shoeing and it was a blast! Very easy and nothing to it. Just a great way to venture into the snow and have some much added grip when walking!

This is a really great feature that the park offers. You can go to their website and call and request your spot on free ranger-led scheduled snowshoe tour! Ranger Rick was a great tour guide for us and took us through the forest, without a structured plan, just based off of his knowledge of the area.

As we took off on our journey, it felt like we were tackling a blizzard! It was extremely cold and windy and snow was flurrying every where. I make it sound miserable, but it was actually a lot of fun. It make the experience that much more worth it.

Along the way, Ranger Rick gave us some cool facts about Crater Lake, like the fact that it was actually formed when Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed about 7,700 years ago. We sneaky learned a lot on tour, while burning some good calories trudging through the snow! For example, Crater Lake gets about 44 FEET of snow every year. One might ask, “when the snow melts, how come the lake doesn’t keep rising and go over the rim’s edge and flood the forest?” To that I would answer “cause there’s obviously a leak some where, duh!” And that happens to be the case! Anyway, we had a great time on our tour (minus being stuck with some slow-pokes and complainers on the adventure), we would highly recommend it.

After venturing through the forest, Ranger Rick took us near the rim’s edge and we were just barely able to see the lake and Wizard Island in the middle(ish) portion of the lake.

After our snow-shoe tour came to a close, we poked around the gift shop and cafe and picked up some very warm soup, coffee, and an ornament for our christmas tree (we got this thing going where we get ornaments from places we’ve been). After that, it was just about closing time for the park so we figured it was best we scoot! The drive home wasn’t so bad, I almost forgot, we had Sarah Koenig keeping us company most of the ride as well, so it all went pretty fast 😉

Overall, it was a great day spent adventuring and taking in some great snowy sights. And you better believe we’ll be back in the summer to check out the lake in all it’s glory in the heat! After all, we still gotta drive around the lake and check out all the viewpoints!

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South Dakota Adventures: Badlands, Wind Cave, Rushmore and so much more

Since I’m currently living in Omaha but may be moving in May PC and I feel like we need to make as many road trips to surrounding areas while we can. One of the places we felt like we needed to go before I move is Badlands National Park. And while we were in the area we figured we might as well do Wind Caves National Park since it’s not too far away. And then we decided we might as well throw in Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse since PC had never been to those before. Plus we had to do Custer State park in hopes of seeing some wildlife. And we threw in some other stops along the way. Thats do-able in two days right??

So we started on the road on Thursday evening after I picked PC up from Epply airport and we headed to Sioux City to see PC’s friend who’s on the Wichita Wingnuts play the Sioux City Explorers. We shared some cold beers and a hot dog. We really felt like we were in small town USA.

On the way out of town we stopped at Culver’s, my favorite fast food place because it reminds me of my grandparents and got a tasty sourdough melt and deep fried cheese curds and shared a concrete mixer for the drive to Sioux Falls.

We didn’t arrive in Sioux falls until around 10PM. We stayed at a Marriott in town that was actually very nice but we weren’t there for long because we woke up the next morning at 4:30AM since we had a very full day ahead of us.

First stop – coffee and bagels from a combined Caribou Coffee and Einstein Bagels. Got my first pumpkin-y drink of the season! PC went with something more manly.

Next we stopped at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. I had very high expectations because this place is pretty famous. Every year they do new murals made of corn with a different theme on the side of the palace. I expected intricate murals made kernel by kernel to create a beautiful elaborate masterpiece.

To my disappointment the palace just had a giant Willy Nelson mural that was made more out of dead grass than corn cobs. And the corn murals only covered less than two sides of the building! We were there to early to go inside but apparently they have basketball games and concerts in there sometimes. The only redeeming them about the Corn Palace was the statue of the giant cheerful corn cob. Plus it was nice to be able to get out and stretch our legs a little bit. Corn Palace grade: D-

Then we were back on the road. There was a pretty crazy lightening storm but it cleared up eventually and we got to see the sunrise. Next stop was Wall Drug, which is famous for its billboards all along I-90 through the entire state of South Dakota.

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We aren’t the type for touristy junk but we stopped in to check it out and get a second breakfast. The doughnuts were good and the coffee was cheap. Plus it was nice to stretch our legs again because we had been on the road for several hours at this point.

Next, it was onto Mount Rushmore, which was still a few miles away. As you get closer and closer to Mt. Rushmore there is a ton of touristy activities on the side of the road. Most of them look like a dump and we didn’t stop at any but I wish we would have stopped at Bear Country USA to see some bears! By the time we got there skies were still gray and sprinkly. There isn’t a ton to do at Mt. Rushmore aside from a little mile long trail around the base of the hill and a small museum about the making of the sculpture.

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This was my second time at Mt. Rushmore and PC’s first. We agree we don’t feel like we need to go back but its good to see at least once.

Crazy horse is just 30 minutes away so we headed there next. Crazy horse absolutely dwarfs Mt. Rushmore in size but not much progress has been made since I was last there three years ago. There are quite a few things to look at in the museum there.

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There is a bus ride that leaves from the museum and costs on a few dollars which takes you closer to the sculpture but we didn’t have time to do that since we were on a very tight schedule.

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Then on to Needles Highway which is a tortuous two lane (sometimes one lane) road through Custer State Park.

We saw a family of mountain goats along the way 🙂

Then we got on the Wildlife loop. Custer State Park has the largest buffalo herd in America and we were really hoping to see some wildlife. Luckily our dream came true!

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We actually came across a group of 30-40 buffalo meandering across the road. We saw some pronghorn deer (antelope) as well.

We had to high-tail it after we saw the buffalo to make it to Wind Caves National Park in time to get tickets for one of the cave tours. I wasn’t so convinced we needed to do one of the tours but PC insisted and I’m glad he did. We got lucky and happened to get there around 3PM, just in time to get tickets for the Garden of Eden tour. This particular tour is 1hr 15min but there are ones that are even 4hrs long. The remaining tickets for the remaining tours were sold out pretty soon after we go there, around 2:30, and visitors who were not able to get tickets were not pleased! So moral of the story is get there early to get tickets because the tour is amazing and they do sell out.

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The tour started with an introduction by a cheerful park ranger and then we took an elevator several stories down into the cave. This is the manmade entrance, the original entrance is very tiny; I’m not sure how people got in originally.

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The natural entrance to the cave.

Anyhow, our tour group was composed of people from ages 3yo to 80-ish yo so this adventure is good for all ages as there is a paved trail, as well as some stairs, all along the route. Our tour guide was absolutely fantastic! She was so cheerful and knowledgeable about the science behind the cave and the history of the place.

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Some thing unique about wind cave is that it has a ton of a rock pattern called “box work” which comes about when sheets of calcite crystals form around softer limestone and then the limestone gets worn away, leaving behind a spider web-like pattern. There may be no other cave in the world that has so much box work.

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Box work formations

Back in the day, a young boy explored the cave with just a candle and ball of string and discovered up to seven miles. I would be way to scared to do that! The cave actually has over a hundred miles of passages. The ranger ended the tour with a with speech that made me understand why I love national parks so much. In a world that can seem pretty depressing at times, national parks are an example of something good that people did. Generations ago, people had the foresight to set aside some of the most beautiful places in the country and preserve them for future generations and people continue to preserve and care for these amazing places. ❤

After our cave tour we decided to do something above ground. We chose to do the Rankin Ridge Trail because it has 360 degree views of the park. We didn’t see another soul on the trail.

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The hike was only about a mile long and we didn’t seen another soul on the trail. There is an old fire tower at the top of the hill but unfortunately it is gated off so you can’t climb to the top. The view were pretty spectacular regardless.

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View from the top of Rankin Ridge Trail

Once we got to the bottom of the trail we hopped in the car and drove back to Rapid City for dinner. We ran into a few more friends along the way.

Wind Cave National Park rating: A++

We went to Firehouse Brewing for dinner. Its a very popular brewery in town that is in an old firehouse (hence the name).  We had a bit of a wait so we walked around the downtown area. There was a statue on very street corner, literally! Most of them were of presidents but there were some others as well. Dinner was good – good burgers and beer.  Then we had a several hour drive out to Badlands to get to our hotel, The Badlands Inn, which was a bit of a struggle at the late hour after our very full day.

We got a few hours of sleep at the Badlands Inn and then woke up around 5AM because sunrise is a MUST at badlands park. Something to keep in mind is that you should actually be out there around 30-40min before sunrise to catch “the golden hour”. We started out at Big Badlands Overlook to catch the rays of the rise sun. Also, of note, be sure to bring an extra jacket and gloves, I was struggling with just my sweatshirt on.

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Big Badlands Overlook

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After taking the lovely sunrise from Big Badlands Overlook we drove a few miles deeper into the park to explore the Door, Wind and Notch Trails, which all leave from the same parking lot.

 

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Notch Trail – Not good for those who are afraid of heights!

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By this time we were very hungry so we went to the Cedar Pass lodge for breakfast. We got some bacon, hash browns, eggs and some type of deep fried.

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Then it was off to the visitor’s center which was right next door. We actually got a few souvenir’s which is unlike us but we just love these vintage national park posters.

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Then we started back along the Badlands Loop and a did a few more short hikes.

We also stopped saw some bighorn sheep! We stopped at one last look out and then we were back on I-90 East, heading home.

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Badlands National Park rating: A

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It would have been great to have another day to do this trip but we had to work with the time we had and it turned out to be a fantastic adventure.

Mount Rainier National Park

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August 25th marked the 100 year anniversary of the National Park Service. The celebration started on Thursday and lasted through the weekend. To celebrate, the NPS was allowing free entrance into all parks for the extended weekend. Coincidentally, Bae finished up her month working at Swedish Hospital in Seattle on Thursday and had the weekend free! We planned  on going to the park regardless this weekend, and just happened to get lucky being that it was Centennial Weekend.

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Bae has an insatiable desire to take photos of me eating. I have an insatiable desire to eat, so it works out well

As usual, we set our alarms for 5:30 and were on the road by 6 o’clock! Our plan was to enter through the southwest corner at the Nisqually Entrance drive through (with a few stops of course) and exit back out through the northeast corner at the White River Entrance. Once we got off the busy freeways we made a pitstop in Puyallup for our white chocolate iced americano (PC) and Abominable white mocha (Bae) at BigFoot Java. Across the street we noticed a little donut shop and we had to stop in. It was called Epic Donut. They had a pretty cool galaxy/space theme and an assortment of donuts. Bae and I went with the maple bacon bar, and it hit the spot. They did bacon crumbs instead of the bacon strip, which I find to be quite the difference maker between an average bacon maple and a good bacon maple (shots fired at VooDoo).

Fueled up (both the Corolla and us), we were ready to make our way into the park!

Near the park entrance, Bae once again saw wildlife, deer this time, and started getting very excited, so I had to pull over. We turned into a small bed and breakfast area, and Bae got some picture of the two baby deer. Luckily, she was quick with the draw, because the people who worked there quickly came up to our car and bluntly told us to leave. Apparently, they weren’t too fond of us “trespassing” on their property to see the deer. They were old and crotchety and could have been a bit more polite, but oh well.

When we arrived we were handed a map and a park newsletter as our souvenirs of the centennial. Our first stop was Kautz Creek. we parked our car and crossed the street and got a great view of the mountain. There were a handful of other people doing the same, but it was still early and the park was still pretty empty. We then briefly checked out the Longmire Museum Visitor Center and made sure we understood our plan before tackling the rest of the park.

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Bae taking a photo of Mount Rainier along with our park map at Kautz Creek

Next was the meat and potatoes of our trip. We settled on a 6 mile hike starting at Narada Falls and taking us east to Reflection Lakes and Louise Lake before looping back around and taking us back to our starting point. Once again, fully equipped with our WTA guide, we were ready to go!

We started out at Narada Falls and were one of two cars in the parking lot. Once again, very smart of us to get an early start, especially on Centennial Weekend. The first mile and a half was slightly uphill and in the shade and really a piece of cake. It was a good way to get the day started. We were covered in shade most of the way, and actually a bit chilly (this quickly subsided). Once out of the shade from the fir trees, we were ready to take on the lakes portion. We crossed the street and hiked through some shrubbery and made it to Reflection Lakes!

 

After getting taking the time for our photo op, it was back to business and finishing the hike!

Our next landmark was Faraway Rock. There was a bit of an elevation gain through the forest and when we came to the opening, it was quite the view. We could see Louise Lake below, Stephens Canyon to the east, and the Tatoosh Mountain Range to the souther horizon.

Once we took in the beauty from above, it was time to get back on our trek and finish strong. We continued on about a half mile or so and then things got interesting. We ran into a mother daughter team who were coming from the direction we were headed. They told us they just saw a mother and baby black bear about 5 blocks (wtf is 5 blocks in the wilderness?) ahead. They decided it would be best to turn around and head back down. Turning around really wasn’t an option for Bae. I was on the fence. I wanted to see bears, but on the other hand I didn’t want any trouble with the bears. We pushed forward. Eyes peeled and heads on swivels, we kept going talking loud so if we came across any bears, we wouldn’t startle them. I kept kicking my feet and Bae was laughing at me cause she thought I was being ridiculous. We reached a fork in the road and our directions told us we should go left. Bae analyzed the situation and figured 50% chance we wouldn’t run into the bears was pretty good, we kept going. Now to be honest, I REALLY wanted to see the bears, but I also REALLY sorta wanted to turn around. But I was with Bae and up for adventure, so I was 100% on board with  continuing.

We kept going until we climbed over some trees and found ourselves in a valley of rocks off the trail. Now to recap, we were well past 5 blocks from where we met those woman (but still weren’t convinced that the term 5 blocks was relevant because we were hiking, not going to the local market to pick up groceries for the week) but also off the trail. After pushing forward hoping to find the trail, we turned around and headed back. About 20 feet prior to the trees we climbed over, we found that the trail veered left when we went straight. Whoops. So we were back on track.

We ran into some nice gentlemen who looked like they made trips out here quite frequently and asked if they saw any black bears. They chuckled and said no, and if we saw any we shouldn’t be worried. The black bears aren’t as “curious” as brown bears, which were all removed from this part of the park years ago (by removed, I mean transported, nothing harmful). So it looks like back at the fork in the road, the bears were to the right. We were both disappointed we didn’t get to see any black bears (although I was partially relieved). After all, experiencing the thrill of the potential of seeing bears is a bit deflating if you don’t actually get to see the bears. Hopefully next time we’ll safely run into some bears.

We made our way back through the forest and found ourselves back at Narada Falls. A couple hours had passed and the parking lot was absolutely packed with people! Most came just for the photos and not to actually hike, so the trails weren’t too packed, just the parking lot and last 0.1 miles of the hike.

Back in our car, we continued our journey and made our final stop for lunch at the Henry Jackson Visitor Center. It was absolutely packed with tourists. There were buses of people being shipped in from all over! We got fruit and a hotdog (Bae loves hotdogs, and they’re growing on me) from the cafeteria. We then checked out the gift shop which had some cool items, but nothing we had to have. There is also a cool interactive portion on the second floor. There is very good information on the park as well as the Henry Jackson for which the center gets its namesake. Henry Jackson was a senator from Washington who was a large advocate for environmentalism and played a big part in expanding the protection of land for the 3 national parks located in Washington.

After letting our meal digest by walking around and reading, we were ready to get back in the car and head home. On our way out, we saw one viewpoint we couldn’t resist and made one final ill-advised swerving stop into the viewing area for one final shot of Mount Rainier.

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North Cascades National Park

On our way to Lake Chelan for the Fourth of July weekend, Bae and I decided to spend a day going through the North Cascades National Park. The North Cascades is home to hundreds of glaciers and actually has more than half of all the glaciers that exist in the US today!

To make the most of our trip, we decided to get an early start before sunrise and head north! I was a bit on the sleepy side for the first hour or so of the drive, until we stopped into a nice small little coffee shop for breakfast near Arlington. Once fueled with caffeine, we were ready to rock!
The North Cascades is actually located all along highway 20. When we were coming around a corner, the sign appeared and Bae shouted, “pull over!” Naturally, I did my best to pull the car over suddenly without accident. One hint for those deciding to make the trek, there is a nice flat iron platform the perfect size of a camera to sit on for those who don’t travel with either a personal photographer or a tripod 😉.

Our first stop in the park was Newhalem. Newhalem is a small company town owned by Seattle City Light. All residents are employees of the Skagit River Hydroelectric project.

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As soon as we stepped out of the car we could hear the crackling of the power lines above us.

In the evenings LED lights illuminate the small waterfalls in the area. Bae and I got out and wandered around the area a bit and it was the perfect intro to the park.

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Bae and the waterfall

Our first stop after Newhalem was the Gorge Overlook. This was a nice little 0.4 mile loop from the parking lot. It was quick and easy and a no-brainer if you are looking to make the most of your time in the park. It offers a great view and is quick and easy. Plus, there’s a restroom with a sturdy door, for a quick bathroom break before hitting some of the longer hikes.

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Gorge Overlook

The next stop on the trip was Diablo Lake Overlook. Located on the side of the highway, this requires no hiking or walking, so it is the next “must see”. It provides an amazing view of Diablo Lake.

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The water was a gorgeous teal color and the surrounding scenery was just as beautiful (including Bae). It was one of the “must see” stops on the trip when we first started planning, and it did not disappoint.

Diablo Lake Overlook

Next came the meat and potatoes of our trip. Our main hike. Since we only were making a day trip out of the North Cascades, camping was out of the equation, so we wanted to pick a nice challenging hike that would be equipped with rewarding views. Bae did her homework (as usual) and picked out a winner. Described as the best “bang for your buck”, we chose Heather Maple Pass Loop hike, a 7.2 mile round trip loop (duh).

We’re not sure if it was because it was a Thursday morning, it’s just a hidden gem, or the North Cascades are just a bit more empty than we expected, but it felt like we had the trail to ourselves. There were others around, but nobody was stepping on each other or passing each other constantly. Everybody had their own space and it was very relaxing.

The hike felt like it was 4 portions: forest, rocks, switchbacks, and snow – yes lots of snow in July.

We started out venturing through the shaded forest. And soon found ourselves under the sun walking through thin dirt trails and walking over rocks. Every so often there would be a tiny creek running down the mountain that we would walk through. We also saw A TON of lavender. Everywhere you looked, lavender! About halfway up the mountain, we stopped to take in Lake Ann from above.

Bae pointing out Lake Ann

We continued on through switchbacks until we made it toHeather Pass, about 2.5 miles from the trailhead, the first of two passes. After a quick water break, we plunged on!

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Now we entered snow territory. Equipped in our running shoes, we were ready to take on the snow! As we walked the snow just kept on coming. We got to a point where the trail was flagged to have us continue off the path to preserve growing wild flowers. Of course we abided (plus the trail was non existent at this point). The flags lasted about 30 seconds and then it was a free for all.

Bae and I trudged through powdery snow, packed snow, fresh snow, and bloody snow (brownish red snow). I thought it was brown, Bae called it red and that made me think it was blood, so we’re going to go with bloody snow. After climbing, falling, and siding through a mountain side of snow, we finally waved the white flag and deemed the trail un-explorable (plus we saw an experienced hiker standing about a quarter miles ahead of us staring at the mountain having no clue where to go next). We cut our losses and headed back down. But not before we managed to take in the beauty, not quite from the top.

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Bae making the trail for us


We made it down in one piece and avoided whatever animal stained the snow with blood. It was nice and easy going down, and we of course gave a heads up to our fellow hikers about what was up ahead.

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Overall, it was an excellent hike. We will have to make a trip back and complete the loop when it’s later in the summer season. The views are still worth the trip, and making your own way in the snow is actually fun. Even without completing the hike as written, we still enjoyed it and made the best of it. There is really nothing to complain about when exploring the North Cascades with somebody like Bae.

Finally, we ended with looking out over Washington Pass. It was the perfect cap to the park. Just a great view from up above with one side facing the lakes and the other facing the curving highway and Cascades. Bae and I took in the sights and felt very at ease and accomplished.

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We ended our trip with a pitstop in Winthrop for some burgers and coffee. To our surprise, we stumbled into an old candy shop after our meal. Bae introduced me to seafoam and I must say, it is quite the treat. Foamy sugary candy covered in chocolate. What’s not to like?! We also ate chocolate covered gummy bears (on my Mount Rushmore of candy) and reminisced about our childhood while we ate Zotz, the foaming hard candies. And no trip in Winthrop would be complete without a little artwork – both wood carved and chalk!

Overall, our trip to the North Cascades National Park was an outstanding one. We would both highly recommend it to anybody looking to get away from Seattle and take in some beautiful sites and enjoy some hiking. The only complaint we both shared – not enough nachos or cheeseburgers! 1 down, 58 to go!