Let’s just get this out of the way: this is not an easy backpacking trip. If you’re looking for a serene walk through a slot canyon ending in a nice beach with fishing access, look somewhere else. If you’re looking to test your grit, your skill and muscles you didn’t even know existed, then welcome to the post you psycho.
I’ve written about the Owyhee Reservoir before, and still think of our trip to Echo Rock Hot Springs as one of the trails that shaped me as a backpacker. Our unpreparedness for that trip led to an over-preparedness for this one, but I would much rather be ready for anything than stuck in the desert with fewer supplies than needed.
Getting to the trail head
Directions to the trail head are fairly easy to follow. As the area is used for grazing, there are several cattle guards and barbed wire fences to get through on the way there, but most of those were already open for the season when we rolled through. The trouble for us came when our tires got so covered with mud that we couldn’t get any traction on the road. I am not a very experienced back country driver, but I learned a lot about sliding, shifting and gunning it on this road.
Be careful if you make this drive in the rain (or consider saving it for a sunny day), it would be very easy to get stuck in the mud or even flip over in some spots. We were lucky that the ground was just dry enough that we could make it through, but on more than one occasion I definitely thought we were stuck for good. The road is hilly, rocky and treacherous in more than a few places, so proceed with caution.
There is a small marker for the trail head right next to the parking area, and from there it is a slow descent to the top of Honeycombs basin. If you’re familiar with the foothills around Boise, this terrain is similar, sporting lots of sagebrush, cheat grass and indian paintbrush flowers. The trail can be a bit tricky, as it is relatively unmaintained and overgrown in a few places, but if you keep heading in a south-westerly direction and keep your eyes peeled, you’ll find it again. There are a few cairns to mark the way as well, so be on the lookout for those.
You’ll know when you get to the tricky part of the hike, as the sloping hill becomes a steep drop into the dry basin below. We lost the trail and ended up going left when we should have gone right, a detour that led us to an impassable cliff. It was fun climbing around in the canyon for a bit and messing around with echos, but I would recommend taking your pack off and exploring, rather than carrying it around in the hopes of finding the way down.
On the trail map you might notice that there is a large gap in the line marking the trail – that’s because once you’re in the canyon it’s more of a slide down / scramble up
(depending on which way you’re coming from) and although we did find some cairns marking a semi-trail, the best way down is really whatever works best for you. The terrain is sandy, with sparse vegetation and rocky outcroppings along the way, making footing a bit tricky. We ended up descending an exceptionally steep part of the trail, but by cutting our own switchbacks and taking it really slowly, (with frequent rests to give our poor knees a break), we made it down without incident.
Once you’re down the hill and back on the trail, the true beauty of the Honeycombs really starts to take shape. The trail winds along / in a dry riverbed, taking you through the heart of towering golden and red canyon walls. I am a bit of a geology nerd and couldn’t stop talking about the lava flows that created pockets of air and subsequent erosion that led to the honeycomb-esque holes dotting the canyon. Even if rocks aren’t your thing, the natural beauty of the colorful formations create an unforgettable landscape to wander through.
It’s a few miles from the foot of the canyon to Owyhee Lake, and in the desert heat it can seem like a long haul. We were so happy to round a corner and finally see a patch of green trees and the twinkle of the reservoir ahead of us.
The trail led us right to a campsite on the beach, complete with several fire-pits and a nice grove of trees, perfect for hanging hammocks and water filters.
There was a lot of horse manure around the campsite but it was old and dry, nothing stinky to attract bugs. Speaking of bugs, there were surprisingly few of them! I put on bug repellent as a matter of habit, but didn’t get a single mosquito bite which has literally never happened to me before this trip.
WARNING: We did see two spiders that looked like black widows. I haven’t been able to find anything conclusive as to whether or not they were real black widows or false black widows, but both are venomous so just be careful about closing your tent (because that’s where I found one of them, crawling across my sleeping bag) and keep an eye out for creepy crawlies!
Our campsite was perfect and the lake water was decent for drinking, although I was happy we packed extra filtration measures; when the wind picked up it stirred up the water and made it much cloudier. I’m still going to have to replace the filter on my gravity bag, but pre-filtering our water definitely helped keep it cleaner, longer.
After a tough hike and a quick dip in the lake, we were happy to just relax in our hammocks and enjoy the sounds of nature. It was so exceptionally quiet there, although there are lots of fishing boats roaming around the lake. We saw other people at a distance but the only ones we interacted with was a group of bird watchers who wandered along the beach following a golden eagle. An owl took up his post in the trees over our hammocks, cocking his head from side to side and winning every staring contest we challenged him to. A small bull snake found his way under a log near our campfire, and once the sun went down the crickets added their chorus to the sounds of water lapping at the beach and wind whispering through the trees. It was serene and secluded, the perfect camp spot to remind us what being in the wilderness feels like.
On our second day, we hiked back through the canyon to explore more of the rock formations, and in the afternoon hunkered down in our tents as a small thunderstorm rolled over us. That evening we were treated to a beautiful sunset and I got to do the thing where I take a picture of the moon and a planet (Venus in this case) in one shot.
See my post on Padar Island for my all time favorite picture of Jupiter and the moon!
We woke up early on our third day, knowing that the desert heat would pick up and make our trek miserable if we waited too long to get moving. Thankfully some cloud cover showed up and seemed to follow us through the canyon, making the slightly uphill (barely noticeable on the way in, but we felt the incline going out) grind more tolerable. The big challenge of climbing up that steep incline was definitely strenuous, but I felt going up was much easier than coming down. After reaching the top, the hike back to the truck went pretty quickly. We saw another thunderstorm rolling over the hills toward the canyon, but it stayed just to our right, providing cloud cover and deliciously refreshing bursts of cool wind.
This trip was a solid reminder of everything that makes backpacking such an amazing experience. The hike was physically and mentally challenging, the terrain was tough, but the views and the campsite were so worth the effort of getting to the trail head and making the trek in. If you’re looking for a challenging hike in the Owyhee Reservoir region, this is the trail for it!
Komodo and Rinca are the two largest islands in Komodo National Park. They are home to a plethora of wildlife, including komodo dragons, wild boars, monkeys, water buffalo, deer, flying foxes and hundreds of bird, lizard and snake species.
I’m going to preface this by saying that our experience was more of a nature walk than an actual hike. In touristy places like Indonesia, there is a give and take – we took a leisurely 2-day boat tour of the islands, which allowed us to see a lot of the park, experience sunrise on Padar island, and snorkel with mantas in turquoise water. The give was that we didn’t get as much time to explore Komodo and Rinca as I would have liked.
That being said, if you have more time and want to do a longer hike on Komodo, there are options for that! My friend Ellie (author of yoginiwandering, a fabulous blog about her global adventures and time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Indonesia) was trying to figure out how we could stay longer on the island and still have time to do all the scuba diving we wanted… in the end scuba won out and we contented ourselves with quick tours of the dragon homesteads.
Our first stop on the 2-day tour was Rinca Island, the 2nd largest island in Komodo National Park. My initial thought was that it was much more arid than I had envisioned; the short walk from the boat dock to the park employee housing basically took us through a large field of dry grass and dirt. Around the raised houses (and under them, as they provided the most shade) there were monkeys, deer, water buffalo, aaaand – a komodo dragon! The guide explained that she was a female and was “being lazy”, which I later realized meant “not moving because it’s hot out”.
Once everyone had gotten all their pictures, we continued our walk into a dry forest – komodo dragons tend to look exactly like logs on the ground, so about every five feet I would feel a surge of excitement, then disappointment, then excitement, then disappointment. We came across some mounds of dirt with large holes in them, and the guide explained that komodo dragons lay their eggs in the holes and guard them until the rainy season. Once the rain hits, it washes the smell away from the holes and komodo mommas can’t tell which nest is their, at which point they leave the eggs to hatch on their own. Juvenile komodos live in the trees for the first few years of their lives, as they are the perfect snack for snakes, lizards, and other dragons.
As if to emphasize the point our guide was making, a young komodo wandered into the nests and began digging through the dirt, hoping to catch any late bloomers making their way out of the holes.
The rest of the walk was uneventful, but it was nice to stretch our legs and enjoy the scenery of the island. We saw monkeys and fat little orange-footed pigeons, which ran around in the brush sounding very threatening until you saw their chubby black bodies streak through the dry grass. Near the end of the walk I saw a wild boar and watched a water buffalo roll around in thick, sticky mud. For a quick stop, Rinca was nice, and the guided tour was very informative!
We got to Komodo about 2 hours before sunset, which ended up working in our favor. The dragons are most active in the morning and evenings, and on this particular evening we found seven of them hanging out at the watering hole before they found a place to bed down for the evening.
The differences in sizes and physique were amazing! The youngest was a 5 year old male, who seemed content to hang out on the edge of the clearing. In the bushes, barely visible was an older male, who the guide said was around 50 years old. The stars of the show were the two largest dragons who sat close to the water. One was a 45 year old male and the other a 27 year old female. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise but the younger female looked so much stronger than the male; her skin was tight over her muscles, where as with the 45 year old you could see his skin was starting to sag. The guide said that they are like humans – they start shrinking after middle age.
We watched that group for nearly 45 mins before continuing down the trail. Again, we didn’t have time for a longer hike, but if we had I would have done the cloud forest trail (dubbed “the adventure trail” on the guide maps) as it takes you up some pretty intense elevation change before opening into a dense forest that is perpetually swathed in fog. That sounded like an amazing adventure, but I was very happy just seeing the komodo dragons and walking through the forest, knowing that even though we couldn’t see them, there were thousands more on the island.
We departed Komodo Island at sunset and were treated to a full blood moon as we made our way to the mooring spot for the evening. It was a spectacular day and I went to bed knowing I could finally check “See komodo dragons” off of my bucketlist!
Pulau Padar (Padar Island) is the third-largest island in Indonesia’s Komodo National Park, after Komodo and Rinca Islands. It’s famous for the breathtaking views it provides of the Komodo archipelago.
For those willing to wake up early, the sunrise from the top of Padar Island turns the entire horizon into a fiery orange blaze. As the sun rises, the mirrored water softens to reveal pristine turquoise bays and beaches with three distinct colors of sand. I’d say the most famous insta-fabulous pictures of this island are taken later in the day, and show off the beautiful crystal clear water around it, but I was so happy we made the trek up before sunrise. We had the chance to see some of the islands residents (fat field mice that didn’t seem too concerned about our presence), a beautiful landscape of the moon and Jupiter setting over the island, and of course that unbelievably flame colored sunrise.
To get to this point was a fun journey – we were on a 2-day 1-night sleep-aboard trip, where you spend a couple of days on a boat, touring the islands and getting off for various trekking or snorkeling adventures. Our sunrise hike of Padar started when the boat captain woke us at 5 am, letting everyone know that the dingy would be making trips to shore for those who wanted to watch the sunrise form the top of the island. As we stepped onto the pebbly beach and began climbing the wooden stairs I realized that in the space of 5 minutes the sky had gone from nearly black to a light lavender, and the horizon had started to glow with the first sunlight of the day.
The trail is a stone staircase leading up the steep incline; parts of the stairs have crumbled away, leaving loose rocks and dirt to fly out under your feet if you’re not careful. I was wearing sneakers and slipped a few times, but people hike in all sorts of footwear… my particular favorite was a group of young Chinese women sporting gold gladiator sandals, platform flip-flops and some sort of jelly flat. I didn’t feel bad eavesdropping a little – they were complaining that no one told them the hike would be that difficult!
Pro Tip: Although the hike is not long and is paved with stairs, it is also rather steep at certain points. If you don’t have hiking boots, I would recommend a close-toed sneaker or a sturdy hiking sandal.
From our docking point on the beach, it took us about 30 minutes to reach the top of the island. Again, it’s not a long or particularly difficult hike, but the steep incline does get your heart pumping. Once at the top of the island, the view is absolutely worth it. Komodo Island stretches out to the west, while Rinca Island lies south east of Padar. The sunrise was spectacular, and as the sun climbed higher we had the chance to watch the light change the landscape below us from a dark mystery island into a dry, hilly savannah.
Our guide told us that there are still Komodo dragons living on the island, but I have since read that due to food scarcity there are no more on Padar. I can believe that, as the only wildlife we saw were chubby mice and little snakes and lizards; hardly enough food to keep a population of dragons satisfied. I was absolutely entranced by the island swallows as they swooped and floated on the morning ocean breezes, guided by the sharp incline of the island as it rises out of the water; they weren’t bothered by the tourists and their drones, they simply existed in that perfect space, and their freedom encouraged me to do the same.
If you’re planning a trip to Indonesia, all of the islands in Komodo National Park are worth a visit; seeing komodo dragons has been on my bucket list since I was 10, and even though Padar wasn’t on my radar back then, I’m so happy it fit into our schedule. The morning hike was invigorating, the sunrise was incredible, and the sense of peace I felt just being on top of the world and watching it come alive was indescribable. Plus, getting there was half the fun; hanging out on a boat and enjoying the sunshine is a pretty nice way to enjoy a vacation!
When our dogs see their backpacks, they have a tendency to freak out a little. After a long winter of casual walks and backyard fetch games, getting into the mountains and exploring is the only thing they want to do! Luckily for us, spring is here and although Idaho has a tendency to throw surprise two-minute snow flurries our way, we are getting our supplies ready and brushing up on our wilderness know-how as we prep for our first backpacking trip of the season. Here are some tips for making sure your camping dog is ready for adventure!
How to fit dogs for a backpack
There are some awesome sizing charts out there to help find the right size pack for your pup, but most backpacks rely on size and weight ranges to fit dogs correctly. Dog backpacks will generally clasp around the shoulders, chest and waist; you want the pack to fit snuggly but not too tight (if they can’t breathe they probably won’t get very far on the trail) and make sure weight is distributed evenly on both sides. Although dog weight doesn’t fluctuate as much as humans, it’s a good idea to check the way their pack fits every time they wear it. Things like coat thickness or even just a couple extra pounds of winter weight can drastically change how their pack sits on their body; one time Charlie went about a mile in a pack that was too tight because we forgot that the last time he had worn it he had short hair. To avoid mishaps like this, it’s best to adhere to the golden rule: Do unto your dogs backpacks as you would do unto your backpack – check the fit before you hit the trail.
How much can dogs carry?
The word around the internet is that dogs can carry up to 25% of their own weight, so depending on Fido’s size they should be able to carry their own food and water. Some dogs are able to carry up to 40% of their own weight (huskies, for example and other working/ pack dogs) but for weekend warriors or inexperienced dogs, it’s a good idea to ease them into backpacking with less weight and see how they do. When Theanie went on her first hike with us, we equipped her with an empty pack so she could get used to how it felt; on her very first overnight backpacking trip we kept the weight in her pack to just the canine med kit, their food and water bowls and a couple of gummy snack packs for us. Now that she’s an experienced backpacking pup, she carries all of that stuff, plus her meds, our camp shovel and our Ziploc trash bag.
Be aware of your dog’s age, physical ability and any ailments they might have. Theanie is only 5 and in general very fit and active, but she has a bum elbow that acts up when it’s cold or when she has been running or hiking. To keep her healthy enough to hike with us for years to come, I like to keep the weight in her pack to a minimum, even if that means carrying some extra weight in my own pack.
Dog Tip: Puppies under the age of 1-year-old should not carry packs with weight in them, and some sources even recommend waiting until closer to 1.5 – 2 years before adding weight to the pack. This all depends on the breed, but adding too much weight too early can impact their growth, so do your research before saddling them up!
What can dogs carry?
Our rule is that the dogs carry their own stuff, and I break down how and why we divide things up the way we do in my first Backpacking With Dogs post. The basic pup essentials on the trail are food and water; everyone needs extra calories when you’re hiking, so make sure to bring enough food. That being said, we always seem to have leftover dog food when we get back from our trips. Charlie and Theanie are more interested in playing, exploring or sleeping when we’re on the trail, their interest in food definitely comes as an afterthought.
I carry extra water bottles for easy access when we get to camp, but we’ve trained our dogs to drink out of our water packs on the trail. This saves us a lot of time (no need for dog bowl set up!) and means that we don’t have to worry about taking our packs on and off every time one of them needs a drink. If you can’t train your dog to drink directly from your water hose, having them carry their own bowl and some extra water is a great way to alleviate some weight from your pack.
Dog Tip: Don’t let your dogs drink from streams or other water sources! Dogs can get sick from tainted water and that’s the last thing you want to happen on the trail.
I’ve seen backpacking dogs that carry their own sleeping pad, but our dogs are lucky because their sleeping pads are too bulky to fit on their backs. I carry them on the bottom of my bag, and since they’re foam they only add about .25 lbs to my pack. We use their sleeping pads as seating around camp, and then dust them off the best we can before bringing them into the tent each night. We also carry extra layers for the dogs to sleep in. These don’t have to be fancy; Theanie wears an old vest that zips up backwards, and Charlie wears a bright orange puppy sweater that I got for $10 at a D&B. The most important thing is that they are comfy in the tent so that everyone gets plenty of rest before hitting the trail again the next morning.
Other things to consider
Keeping everything dry is one of the main challenges with puppy packs, especially if you’re going on a trail with lots of river crossings. We pack everything in the dogs’ backpacks into waterproof bags, and if they have something that really can’t get wet (medication, for example) put it in your backpack instead.
We try to stay off of muddy trails, but every once in a while we’ll run into a rainstorm and have to deal with wet, muddy puppy paws. I’ve sacrificed a shirt when this happens but it’s better to just keep a small towel in their puppy packs, and be as thorough as possible when wiping them down before they get in the tent.
Waste disposal for dogs is the same as for humans: bury it away from water and away from your campsite. Theanie carries our camp shovel so it’s always easily accessible, but it’s important to make cleaning up after your pet a priority on the trail. Not only does it reduce the risk of unwanted wildlife encounters, but it makes the environment more welcoming for everyone you might be sharing it with.
Backpacking with dogs can seem daunting and maybe even a bit overwhelming if you are just getting started. Hopefully these basic tips will help you decide if your pup is ready to hit the trail, and what they need in order to have the best experience possible. Keep exploring, and feel confident when you bring your furry sidekick along for the journey!
If you look up Camel’s Back Park or Hull’s Gulch, you’ll be shown pages upon pages of all the great activities you can do around this part of Boise. It’s not a secret that Camel’s Back Park is a popular spot; it’s placement in Boise’s historic North End near Hyde Park is enough to make it a great place to spend an afternoon, enjoying a game of ultimate frisbee, slacklining in the shade or just lounging in the grass and watching the clouds go by. What makes the park extra special is the access it provides to my favorite part of Boise: the foothills.
Hull’s Gulch Reserve was established in the early 1990’s as part of a citizen effort to preserve the land from development. The ponds at the low-end of the hills served as flood control, and as the area continued to build on restoration efforts, plant and animal life crept in to make it their own. Now, fences keep the ponds safe from human and pet traffic, while still keeping them visible for wildlife enthusiasts. I am not a bird-watcher by any means but every time I walk by the ponds I find myself scanning for all the different species that call Hull’s Gulch home.
The 292 acres of land isn’t just for wildlife; humans enjoy the space as an outdoor retreat right in the city. Hiking, trail running, and mountain biking are all popular sports on the trails, and designated dog off leash areas mean that pets can enjoy the foothills along with their people. Boise is a city that caters to dogs, and Hull’s Gulch is no exception, as it’s pretty darn near impossible to be on the trails and not see at least one adventure pup.
My absolute favorite hiking route starts in Camel’s Back Park on the 15th St. Trail. It’s a tough way to begin the hike, but the 5 minute walk up a steep incline gets you to the top of Camel’s Back quickly, and the view of the city is always exceptional. On clear days you can see the Owyhees stretching out to the south of Boise, and if you time it right you’ll be treated to beautiful sunsets that turn the valley rosie pink.
15th St. Trail winds around the back of the hill and although it splits in a few places it always ends back up with #36 Red Fox Trail. Following the Red Fox Trail up to where it connects with #36A Chickadee Ridge will bring you back towards Boise along a hilltop that overlooks the back of Camel’s Back and the Hull’s Gulch reserve. If you decide to continue on Red Fox Trail you’ll cross Sunset Peak Road, where you’ll have the opportunity to experience the Hull’s Gulch Nature Trail. Dogs aren’t allowed in this particular part of the reserve, so if you have a furry friend continue onto #29 Lower Hull’s Gulch Trail. Beyond that the reserve opens up into a number of awesome trails, any one of which is sure to get you in the mood to further explore the Boise foothills and all they have to offer.
I have been lucky enough to grow up near Camel’s Back Park / Hull’s Gulch Reserve and watch the area evolve; new apartments now dot the edge of the park, and roads that were once dirt have since been paved over. In my more angst-filled teenage years, I loved the feeling of disappearing behind the hill and wandering along the trails without seeing another person. Now, as Boise is growing and the outdoor community continues to flourish, it’s highly unlikely that you can get on the trails without seeing other people. It’s somewhat bittersweet, watching a place you love change so much, but I have faith that Boise will grow into the foothills responsibly, and seeing other people enjoy the space as much as I do is uplifting.
If you’re in Boise and have a chance to get into the foothills, Hull’s Gulch is a wonderful introduction to Boise hiking and a great way to experience the outdoors close to the city. Bring your pups, bring your bikes, bring your binoculars, and enjoy a piece of Idaho land that helps make Boise the perfect city for wilderness enthusiasts and casual outdoor recreation lovers alike!
Note: This trail is closed until the beginning of 2019 due to fire damage.
The Crooked River Trail is a very easy trail located in the Boise National Forest. This whole area is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts of any sort. In the summer, hiking, backpacking, fishing and a variety of motor sports all have dedicated space, and in the winter, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing are popular ways to enjoy this area.
At a length of 2.5 miles with only 137 feet of elevation gain, this was the laziest backpacking trip we’ve ever done! The area is a popular recreation destination and we ran into several day hikers and other backpackers, but were able to find a large and relatively secluded campsite right next to the trail. In May, the weather was wet and even though we could have had a fire, I seem to recall we really couldn’t get one started, and by early evening there was a steady drizzle that made sitting outside a no go.
This was also our first time backpacking with fishing gear. We later figured out that it was a bit early in the year for fishing, but it was fun to spend the afternoon hanging out on a small beach and practicing casts.
As the “hike” is so short and relatively flat, this is a good trail to test out new packing methods, different gear, or fun new wilderness toys.
In backpacking every ounce counts so adding new gear can be a gamble; this trail is both short and easy enough that you could go back to the trailhead and ditch some weight, trade in your new blister-inducing boots for your comfy old ones, grab that bottle of whiskey you forgot in the car and still have time to get back to your campsite before dinner. In fact, I ended up running an extra 2 miles along this trail because we lost Charlies leash (which is camo patterned… perfect for blending in to wet foliage) and it only took me 30 minutes to jog a mile, find the leash, and jog back. Not bad for a girl who hates running!
The Boise National Forest is a beautiful piece of land that caters to every possible outdoor interest. The Crooked River Trailhead is about a 1.5 hour drive from Boise, and the gentle terrain and beautiful scenery make this area perfect for a quick weekend getaway or an impromptu day hike appropriate for all ages and skill levels. Once the area opens back up for recreational use, I’m planning on bringing our parents and siblings for a fun and easy family backpacking trip!
Quick note: I link to a lot of stuff in this article but this is not a sponsored post, these are the products we’ve had success with and I’m including links to help you and your fur babies get geared up for your adventures!
How do you make the best things in life better? Dogs. The answer is always dogs.
Doggie Backpacks: The rule in our pack is that you carry your own stuff. Charlie, being the younger of our fur babies, carries the heavy food. Theanie has a bum elbow, so she gets the lighter pack, filled with a doggie med pack, their collapsible food and water bowls and her medication. The key to doggie backpacks is to distribute the weight evenly on both sides, and make sure everything is watertight! River crossings that are knee-deep for humans are closer to chest-deep for doggos, and throwing out supplies due to water damage is a waste of money.
LED collars: I bought LED collars on a whim right before we went backpacking last summer and immediately fell in love with them. Backpacking with dogs is amazing, but it can also be stressful, especially once it gets dark. Our pups are good listeners and generally stay around our campsite, and being able to look up and immediately see where they are is a huge comfort. Plus, we don’t disturb other groups by constantly yelling at our dogs to stay close; #wildernessbrowniepoints.
Pro Tip: Make sure to get adventure proof, water proof LED’s for backpacking! The ones pictured above got wet and didn’t last more than 2 nights. I’m ordering new collars from Halo Lights, I’ll have a review of those once we’ve had a chance to test them out!
Puppy med packs: First Aid is basically universal but there are med packs created specifically for dogs; if you’re into outdoor adventures with your furry friend, I would highly recommend picking one up. Not only is it nice to know that you can treat minor injuries (scrapes, bug bites, etc.) but many dog medical packs come with basic canine CPR and Heimlich instructions. Hopefully you’ll never need them, but it’s always good to be prepared for any type of emergency.
Paw Protection: We love all types of hikes but some trails are nicer on puppy feet than others, so it’s important to keep their paws tough and protected no matter the terrain. If you were able to train your dog from a young age and they are comfortable wearing shoes, congratulations and good on you! Charlie and Theanie don’t like booties so we use a spray on paw protector. The catch with this is that you have to build up the shield over time; if you’re looking for a last-minute solution it might work but it could irritate their paws if sprayed on thin or cracked skin.
Water: I keep linking back to our Echo Rock trip but that trail taught me a LOT about being prepared, assessing trail conditions and the keeping tabs on the overall wellness of your hiking group (pack dogs included!). On that trip we were running low on water from the get-go, and as the reservoir water was unsuitable for drinking, Charlie and Theanie were hot and dehydrated the whole time. We ended up carrying Theanie for the last 1.5 miles of the trip because she was so exhausted. Looking back, she was probably suffering from heat exhaustion and I’m sure dehydration didn’t help that situation. Please, please, please pay attention to the health of your animals and always be prepared to pack in more water. We now carry 2 extra litres of water per dog, especially in arid regions.
Not all trails are created equally! Trail conditions, livestock herding and conservation efforts all play a part in determining if a trail should be classified as on or off leash. Some trails change throughout the year (for example, the Alice Toxaway Lakes Loop is on leash from July 1st – Labor Day due to heavy horse traffic in the late summer), while others are set year round as one or the other. There are a multitude of trail guides, blogs, and websites dedicated to backpacking; most are easily searchable and have solid reviews and what to expect from the trail. My go-to site for trail information is the National Park Service, as they update weather and trail conditions regularly. Another good site is AllTrails.com, which has great trail information and reviews from other hikers.
Bring a Leash: Even if your dog is so well-trained they never leave your side, it’s always a good idea to bring a leash. It’s hard when your pup wants to explore, but it’s nice to have in case they get a little too excited about the wonders of the great outdoors. This is important for young dogs who are still learning about listening, for campsites you might be sharing with other backpackers, and in case you want to just chill in your hammock without worrying about the pups and what they might be getting into.
Bring a Shovel: I mentioned waste disposal in a previous post, but I’m going to mention it again because it’s an important part of being a responsible backpacker. Our dogs have an awesome habit of doing their business about 5 minutes into the start of a trail so we’ve gotten really good about keeping our camp shovel accessible. Theanie tends to wander off of the trail to take care of it in private, which usually ends in me tramping through brush trying to find the poo. Definitely not the most glamorous part of backpacking, but it’s necessary for keeping the wilderness a (somewhat) clean and enjoyable for everyone.
The Gross Stuff
Something I’ve learned about having dogs on the trail is that they can be really, really gross. The wilderness holds many treasures, and for dogs these come in a multitude of forms; fresh manure, animal carcasses, waste from other backpackers… The list is exhaustive and disgusting so I’ll stop there and just leave you with a simple warning: KEEP TRACK OF YOUR PETS. Pay attention to the area around your campsite, if they are digging, or eating or rolling around, the chances are they found something that smells amazing to them and nasty to you… Stopping the gross behavior before it starts can save you from having to share your tent with a stinky puppy.
Wow this turned into a really long post and I didn’t even get to review the items I talked about! I’ll have a more indepth review of specific products in a later post. Until next week, keep exploring friends!
We all have those formative life experiences, the ones that either teach us a lesson about ourselves or the world around us, or maybe both at the same time. Sometimes these are stressful situations (like our trip to Echo Rock) but sometimes these experiences are so positive that they change your outlook on yourself, your partner and your life goals.
This trail has so much to offer for all types of adventurers. Looking for a challenging but doable day hike? Maybe hoping to get away for a multi-night backpacking weekend? Are you insane and enjoy running 20 miles up a mountain “because it’s fun”? All of these are options when you’re on the Alice Toxaway Lakes Loop.
Be Prepared for Company
As with all popular and easily accessible trails, expect to see other people on this loop. You’ll often run into other hikers, backpackers, and (as I mentioned above) crazy people who run because it’s fun. Depending on the time of year, you might even be sharing the trail with horses; during these months it becomes a dog-on-leash trail, so keep that in mind when making your plans. We have never had a problem finding a campsite, as both Alice and Toxaway Lakes are huge, but remember that the closer to the water you are, the more mosquitos you will have to deal with.
Bring Hiking Sandals
There are two types of people. The ones who say “YAY, river crossings!” and the ones who groan and grumble as they take off their pack to switch out their boots with sandals. I am part of the former group, because I absolutely love the feeling of ice-cold river water on my dirty, sweaty feet, plus it’s fun to break up the monotony of hot, rocky trails with some extra cold H2O.
Alice Toxaway Lakes Loop has no shortage of river crossings, and depending on the time of year you’re there, they can be quite deep. Our first time on the trail was over 4th of July weekend, and our last 3 miles basically consisted of crossing the same river eight times. Last year we warned our friends about the multiple crossings, but by the time our early September trip rolled around, snow melt season was over and we had dry boots the whole hike.
In the Idaho Sawtooths, you could see all four seasons over the course of an hour; no matter the time of year you are planning to go, be prepared for whatever weather and terrain mother nature could have in store for you.
Last year we were snoozing in hammocks after taking a dip in Alice Lake, when a ranger came over and questioned us about our fire building and waste disposal habits. She had gotten a tip that a group consisting of four people and two dogs had left food wrappers lying around a campsite that day, on top of some unruly behavior and a not-so-safe campfire etiquette the night before. We weren’t the group she was looking for (I didn’t even have to use my Jedi mind powers to convince her), but hearing her talk about the disrespect those people had for the shared wilderness… it sort of baffled me.
Everyone is out there to have a good time, and enjoy the natural beauty without compromising it. If you’re not sure about waste disposal (I’m talking about poop) here is a fabulous guide from Gizmodo: How to Poop in the Woods. For campfire safety info, I’ll defur (bear pun intended) to my all-time favorite mascot, Smokey Bear.
The Alice-Toxaway Lake Loop in the Sawtooths changed my life. Not only was it my first multi-night backpacking trip, it was my first alpine hiking experience, and the first time I saw how Theanie reacts to horses on the trail (she wants to chase them). This was the trip that made me realize I would rather be dirty on top of a mountain than clean pretty much anywhere else. This was the trip that made me a backpacker, and I’m really looking forward to hiking this trail again!
P.S. A special thanks to my amazing boyfriend, who lets me use his GoPro footage and the occasional picture in my videos and blog posts. He’s also the one who got me into backpacking, so technically without him this blog wouldn’t exist. Love you BB 🙂
I was planning on making this post a part of my Vacation Chronicles: Alaska series, but when I sat down to write it things got a little out of control. We were only in the park for 1.5 days, they couldn’t have been that eventful right? Wrong. Denali is amazing. I have never spent 8 hours on a bus and been excited to do it again, but the bus tour of Denali is a really great way to see a lot of wildlife and beautiful landscapes, and easy hiking around the visitors center meant we could explore some incredible mountain views with the whole family.
The Big Five
The Big Five is a reference to the five large mammals you might encounter while in Denali: moose, caribou, Dall sheep, grizzly bears, and wolves. On the bus tour, we saw all five!
Moose was easy; we saw a cow and her two calves munching on tree branches right outside of the visitor center.
Caribou were everywhere in the park, by far the most of any species we saw. They seemed very at ease with the busses too, mostly staying in one place and munching grass as we drove by.
Dall sheep were difficult to spot as they tend to hang out on cliff faces that tower over the road. Our sharp-eyed bus driver saw some waaaaaaaay up a mountain, and with some help from binoculars we were able to discern the fluffy white daredevils standing out against the rock face.
Grizzly bears were surprisingly easy to see! All of them were far enough away that we needed binoculars to see them, but they were very active and it was fun to watch them lumber around the grassy plains of the park. My favorite was a mama bear and her young cub, but we did see a young male taking a nap on a hill as well.
Last but certainly not least: wolves (which were by far the coolest wildlife encounter we had).
On our way out of the park our hawk-eyed bus driver saw a grey wolf running at full speed down a dry river bed. A couple of minutes later, three more wolves came running down the same way, prompting us to wonder if we were witnessing a wolf being run out of the pack. About ten minutes down the road, we spotted a caribou walking slowly across a field; I could tell right away that something wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t fully limping, but it wasn’t moving at top speed either, and that was the first time we had seen a caribou by itself.
We were sitting in the back of the bus so I didn’t see the wolf pass in front of our vehicle, but suddenly everyone got really quiet. The caribou was on the other side of the plain and had all but disappeared over a hillside but the wolf kept a steady pace headed directly towards it. We watched as it moved across the field, all of us silently waiting for the other wolves to catch up to their leader. By now everyone knew what was going on and a morbid curiosity kept us there longer than any other wildlife encounter we had leading up to that point.
Warning: This video is disappointing and anti climactic, but you can see the wolf (tiny white dot) moving from the left side of the frame.
The wolf followed the caribou over the hill and that was the last we saw of it. How’s that for an anti-climax? I don’t know if I could have watched what I assume was a bad night for the caribou, but I do know that the entire bus ride back to the visitor center, “The Circle of Life” was playing over and over in my head.
I still have more to say about Denali, but in an effort to produce shorter posts, I’ll leave this one as is for now. Thanks for reading!
Check out Vacation Chronicles: Anchorage, Alaska for more info about things to do in AK!
Seward is a small city located in the Kenai Peninsula. It is a popular tourist destination thanks to its position; fishing, hiking, sightseeing, whale watching, etc. are all easily accessible, while the small town feel keeps the wild vibe of the state in tact. We took a day trip here and it was the perfect combination of outdoor activity and “touristy” experiences.
Alaska Sea Life Center
The Alaska Sea Life Center is a truly unique and interactive public aquarium / research center. Their mission statement perfectly sums up the experience: “The Alaska Sea Life Center generates and shares scientific knowledge to promote understanding and stewardship of Alaska’s marine ecosystems.” Gigantic sea lions swim in lazy circles around crystal blue tanks, an interactive “touch tank” allows guests to feel starfish and sea anemones in the frigid water of their natural habitat, and an observation deck is a great place to view whales as they enjoy the warmer water in the harbor. I would absolutely recommend a visit to the center for anyone and everyone, as it gives visitors a chance to see local wildlife and learn about the importance of preserving the natural environment that makes Alaska so special.
Exit Glacier: Kenai Fjords National Park
Exit Glacier is just the tip of the iceberg (ice pun very much intended) when it comes to the frozen landscape of the Kenai Fjords National Park. Located about 10 miles outside of Seward, Exit Glacier is accessible by road and a 20 minute walk / hike along a forest trail. Markers along the trail show the gradual recession of the glacier over the last 120 years, a sobering reminder of the effects of climate change. I always love looking at the geological timeline of wild places, and the gravel lined Outwash Plain leading up to the glacier shows the power of the elements that carved it, as well as the tenacity of plant life that has sprung up as the glacier has receded.
Alaska is a vast, wild, unspoiled treasure of a state. Everywhere you go, snow-covered peaks rise out of glacial lakes, wild flowers dominate the landscape and moose meander around looking for food. Although most of our adventures centered around Anchorage, it was well worth hopping in the car and driving for a few hours to get to some of the other places we visited!