New Orleans Quick Guide


French Quarter, New Orleans
French Quarter, New Orleans

A trip to New Orleans, Louisiana is not one you will soon forget.  From enjoying the city’s vibrant jazz music to the delicious Creole cuisine, you will not be disappointed with your experience.  This city’s music and food well represent the melding of French, African and American cultures that has occurred here. At almost every corner, you can experience the festive Mardi Gras spirit of New Orleans with around-the-clock nightlife.  The unique architecture throughout the French Quarter makes you feel like you have been transported back in time to the early experiences of the city 300 years ago.  We recommend spending at least 2-3 days in New Orleans (allowing you plenty of opportunities to try out different restaurants) or more if you want to explore beyond the French Quarter. 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


What to do in New Orleans


French Quarter Walking Tour

French Quarter Walking Tour, New Orleans
French Quarter Walking Tour, New Orleans

A walking tour is a great way to see the French Quarter as the area is easily walkable.  We took a self-guided audio tour that is no longer available, but this walking tour (link below) hits most the same spots (Jackson Square, Bourbon Street, St. Louis Cathedral, etc.).  This company offers several other tours as well including a Secrets of the French Quarter Tour and a self-guided option.  In addition to taking a walking tour of the French Quarter, make sure to explore some of the different costume and voodoo shops in the area for a fun experience as well. 

French Quarter Walking Tour, New Orleans
French Quarter Walking Tour, New Orleans

French Quarter Walking Tour


Food Tour 

Food Tour, New Orleans
Food Tour, New Orleans

A food tour is one of the best ways to see New Orleans since food is such a large part of the culture.  On our food tour, we ate seafood gumbo, pralines and beignets as well as drank delicious cocktails. It was a really fun and delicious way to experience the city!  We love walking food tours and highly recommend taking one in any city.  See…coming soon…Why You Should go on a Food Tour. 

The Best of the French Quarter


City Park

City Park, New Orleans
City Park, New Orleans

City Park is a beautiful, large, green space, located just outside of the French Quarter. It is full of heaps of big oak trees.  We enjoyed spending our morning walking around this large and expansive park.  Alternatively, you can rent bikes to ride around the park rather than walk it.  

Walk to City Park from the French Quarter
Walk to City Park from the French Quarter

FYI this park is located about 2 miles from the French Quarter so you can either walk or Uber to get here if you are staying in the French Quarter.  We opted to walk, and the walk from the French Quarter to City Park went by very quickly as we passed by a lot of different types of classic New Orleans architecture.  We really liked seeing all the different, and some very impressive, southern houses along our walk to the park. 


Visit a Cemetery 

New Orleans Cemetery
New Orleans Cemetery

This may sound like an odd recommendation but the cemeteries in New Orleans are interesting to see because they are above ground (because the water table is quite high) and very impressive. We visited St. Louis Cemetery #3 (on our walk to City Park) but there are different cemeteries you can visit throughout the city.  


Other Things To Do

Below are New Orleans activities our friends/family have done and recommended but we either did not have time to do them or they were not operating when we visited in early January. 


Where to Eat in New Orleans


Adolfo’s

Adolfo's, New Orleans
Adolfo’s, New Orleans

This hole-in-the-wall Italian Creole restaurant was our favorite place we ate at during our entire time in New Orleans. The ocean sauce served with many of the dishes is out-of-this-world good.  Make sure to get a dish served with this sauce!  The ambiance in the dimly lit and small dining room makes for a more fun experience too.  FYI, this is a cash-only restaurant. 

Adolfo’s


Clancy’s Restaurant

Clancy’s is an elegant Creole restaurant with a supper club vibe.  This restaurant is slightly higher priced but a great place to celebrate a special occasion (we celebrated Sam’s birthday here). The first courses we ate here were our favorites!  FYI, this restaurant is located about 5 miles from the French Quarter so you will need to take an Uber or other form of transportation to get here. 


Mother’s Restaurant

Mother’s Restaurant is a diner where you can get classic Southern Creole food including red beans/rice, jambalaya, shrimp po’boy, fried chicken and seafood gumbo. This diner is simple and without any frills, but you will definitely get a good homestyle meal here. 


Cafe Du Monde

Cafe Du Monde, New Orleans
Cafe Du Monde, New Orleans

This New Orleans classic stop is a must. The beignets are so delicious, and the atmosphere is fun as it is located off the main square in the French Quarter.  We stopped at Cafe Du Monde several times for coffee/beignets while in New Orleans and would recommend you do the same.  The beignets here were one of our favorite foods in New Orleans and they are quite inexpensive.  


Deanie’s 

Deanie’s Seafood is a classic seafood restaurant that provides you with some of the most delicious yet simple seafood options. We ate here for lunch and really enjoyed the fresh fish of the day.  We were based in the French Quarter so we ate at the French Quarter location but there are several locations throughout the New Orleans area. 


Where to stay in New Orleans


French Quarter

We HIGHLY recommend staying in the French Quarter because you will be within walking distance of most of the main attractions and activities/restaurants we suggest. The Dauphine New Orleans is where we stayed and we recommend it as is located right in the heart of the French Quarter.  The location and price were on-point, and we found the rooms to be comfortable.  There are a lot of unique Airbnb’s in the New Orleans area too so make sure to check into those if you are looking for somewhere a bit more memorable to stay. Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb 


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to New Orleans.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

New York City Quick Guide


Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge Views from Brooklyn Bridge Park

New York City is a city unlike any other as it is not only the most densely populated city in the US but also is one of the most influential cultural capitals of the world.  This bustling city has something for everyone with its entertaining Broadway shows to its expansive green space in Central Park.  We recommend spending at least 3 days, if not more, in NYC.  Here is our quick guide on New York City, New York. 


What to do in New York City


Brooklyn Bridge

Another iconic spot and must see in New York City is the Brooklyn Bridge.  We walked across the bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn as well as back but beware that it is a much further walk than you would expect. The bridge may only be about a mile long but there is approximately a mile lead in on both sides. 

Tip: To get to the park where we took our first picture on this blog post with the Manhattan Skyline, you have to get to the Brooklyn Bridge Park (on the water, south of the bridge) and it is quite a hike from the bridge itself.  If you are not as apt to walk as us, you may want to take a cab.  

Brooklyn Bridge


Broadway Show

Broadway is home to the best of the best as far as shows and talented cast members.  We recommend splurging on tickets as close to the stage as you can afford.  Being closer to the stage truly makes the Broadway experience magical.  We saw Aladdin on Broadway and it was our favorite part of our New York City trip. 

Tip: Use the Today Tix App to get better prices on tickets.  We got to sit within the first couple rows at Aladdin as we got tickets for less than half of their normal box office price using this App. We also used this App to get tickets to a Stomp show for a very fair price.

Today Tix


Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty

If you are in New York City, you need to visit the Statue of Liberty.  It is one of, if not the most, iconic symbol of America.  We enjoyed the Ellis Island Immigration Museum as well learning about the rich history of immigrants coming to America.  We did not go inside the Statue but if you want to go inside of it, make sure to buy tickets early as these tend to sell out months in advance.

Tip: Book a ferry to the Statue of Liberty at the earliest time possible because it will be much less busy in the morning.  As the day goes on, more and more people are dropped off on the island and inherently, without people having a specific time they have to leave, more and more people continue to accumulate.  

Statue of Liberty National Monument


Central Park

In all the chaos of New York City, this park feels like a serene green space getaway.  This massive park is truly one of a kind with all the different activities within it, even including a small Zoo.  We enjoyed going for a morning run here twice and seeing what the park had to offer without the crowds. 

Tip: If possible, go here on a weekday and early in the day.  We visited Central Park on three separate occasions on our short four day trip and we enjoyed our two early morning weekday visits much more than our weekend afternoon visit.  On a nice day, this park can get quite busy and although we like people, we don’t like crowds. 

Central Park NYC


Bonus: Attend the Taping of a Show

We had planned to do this, we got tickets to Good Morning America; however, for a reason unknown to us, the studio was closed to a live audience the day when we had tickets to attend so we hope to do this another time. 

Tip: These tickets are free but not easy to get. Make sure to check for tickets well in advance to know when you need to request them. 

Book Show Taping Here


What to eat in New York City


Black Tap Shakes 

This restaurant specializes in unique, GIANT and artistic milkshakes.  We lucked out and stumbled upon a pop-up Black Tap Shakes food truck that offered a limited selection of the normal shakes they offer in their restaurant.  We were happy to find this food truck as we did not have to wait and there is a typically 1+ hour wait at the restaurant. 

Black Tap Shakes


New York City is a melting pot of people and the number of different authentic ethnic restaurants reflects that well.  We loved all the food we ate in NYC (Thai, Indian, Lebanesse, Mexican) but we do not have further restaurant recommendations as most of the spots we picked were based on convenience to where we were at the time we wanted to eat.  


Where to stay in New York City

Stay somewhere between Central Park and Time Square.  We stayed at the DoubleTree By Hilton Hotel Metropolitan NYC and felt it was a good central location.  The location of this hotel allowed us to walk everywhere we visited in the city from here. Alternatively, if you don’t want to walk, you could easily use the Subway system from this location as well. 

Hilton DoubleTree Metropolitan


We hope this post helps you plan your trip to New York City.  Anything else you’d add to our guide?  We’d love to hear your feedback.  Please send us an email or leave us a comment.

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

Mammoth Cave National Park: What to Do


Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park

With the largest cave system in the world, Mammoth Cave National Park truly lives up to its name.  This cave system is a geologic wonder made out of limestone and sandstone.  It is even a UNESCO world heritage site.  The caves here are expansive and many feel more like large underground tunnels rather than the claustrophobic caverns many people associate with caves.  We recommend at least a ½ day visit to this park, including taking a Cave Tour, hiking some of the trails and exploring the visitors center. This park is the perfect stop if you are headed south towards Nashville as Mammoth Cave National Park is only located a couple miles off of I-65, about 1.5 hours north of Nashville.  


Cave Tour

Mammoth Cave National Park Cave Tour
Mammoth Cave National Park Cave Tour

A Cave Tour is the main way to see part of the park’s underground cave system.  We took the Domes and Dripstones Tour (about 2 hours) but there are many different tours that highlight various parts of the cave system.  On most of the tours, you walk about a mile but this distance varies.  Make sure to check out the Mammoth Cave National Park website to pick the tour that is right for you.  

Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park

Tip: Reserve tour tickets well in-advance.  We visited in the off season, late November, and had no problem purchasing walk-up tickets but during peak season, these tours often sell out weeks prior.  If you plan to visit during peak season (late spring, summer, early fall), buy your tickets ASAP.      


Hiking

There are over 80 miles of hiking trails here.  Near the visitors center, there are about 7 miles worth of different short (mostly 1 mile or less round-trip) trails to explore.  These trails vary with different features including sinkholes, rivers, springs, ridgetops, cave entrances and one even has a historic train engine.  These trails are home to the most unique paths within the park.   

Mammoth Cave Railroad Trail
Mammoth Cave Railroad Trail in November

Further, there are over 10 miles of forested trails on the main park roads.  We hiked part of the Mammoth Cave Railroad trail which is located right on the road we took in/out of the park.  We were afforded some pretty fall colors on this hike.      


Visitors Center

The visitors center here has some really nice displays and information.  Take some time to walk around here, read and learn more about the park.  Budget 30 minutes to an hour depending on how much you want to read/videos you want to watch.  


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Mammoth Cave National Park.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

Mount Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, Mount Si & Seattle Road Trip


Mount Rainer National Park
Mount Rainer National Park

On this road trip, you’ll explore downtown Seattle, hike a mountain right outside of the city (Mount Si) and visit two National Parks (Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park). Here are all the details from our itinerary below.


Day 1: Fly into Seattle, Explore the Seattle Waterfront 


Fly into Seattle

Depending what time you arrive in Seattle, you may have more or less time to explore.  See 5 Ways to Save on Flights to get the best deals flying into Seattle.  


Seattle Waterfront

Seattle Waterfront
Seattle Waterfront

We took this evening to explore some shops down by the Seattle Waterfront and see the iconic ferris wheel and boardwalk views.  We had a delicious dinner full of seafood from Ivar’s Fish Market.  This restaurant is located right along the waterfront and recommend trying it for a classic Seattle seafood dining experience. 


Where to Stay

We stayed at The Loyal Inn in downtown Seattle.  This hotel is nothing fancy but the location and price were right.  We were able to walk everywhere we visited from here and parking was included with our stay (big money saver). 


Day 2: Explore Seattle


Morning Run to the Waterfront 

Seattle City Views
Seattle City Views

This morning, go for a run or walk on the Elliot Bay trail at Myrtle Edwards Park along the waterfront.  This path will give you pretty views of the Olympic Mountains, Mount Rainier, Puget Sound and the Seattle Skyline.

Myrtle Edwards Park
Myrtle Edwards Park

Pike’s Place Market 

Pike's Place Market
Pike’s Place Market

Next, head to the well known Pike’s Place Market.  This colorful market is really fun to see in-person with its flying fish, plentiful fresh fruit and beautiful fresh flowers.  There are plenty of different places where you can get a meal here as well. This market reminds us of the Mercat de la Boqueria in Spain (see…coming soon Barcelona, Spain, Quick Guide).  

Pike's Place Market
Pike’s Place Market

Gum Wall

Gum Wall, Seattle

Down an alleyway next to Pike’s Place is your next stop, the instagram famous Gum Wall. This is literally a wall of chewed gum, built piece by piece and continuing to grow each day, it makes for a very colorful and unique display.  Add to the wall if you’d like! 


First Starbucks 

Not far from Pike’s Place and the Gum Wall is the first original Starbucks.  This tiny shop is neat to see since it is where the mega brand got its start.  Try to go here earlier rather than later if you plan to order something as this location tends to be a pretty crowded touristy spot. 


Hello Robin Ice Cream Sandwiches

Hello Robin Ice Cream, Seattle
Hello Robin Ice Cream

If you eat dessert at one place in Seattle, eat it at Hello Robin.  We loved this place.  This shop specializes in homemade cookies that you can order alone or as an icecream sandwich with homemade local ice cream in the middle of two homemade cookies of your choice.  So delicious!  We visited the location in the cute Capitol Hill neighborhood.  There are tons of restaurants in this area too if you want to get some dinner before dessert.  Consider trying Momiji for some sushi! 


Day 3: Hike Mount Si


Hike Mount Si

Mount Si Hiking Views
Mount Si Hiking Views

This 8 mile round trip hike with approximately 3,200 feet of elevation gain certainly is a challenge.  Hiking Mount Si will be an experience that you do not soon forget though.  The moss covered trees at the bottom of the trail starkly contrast the pine covered forest at the top.  On this hike, it went from feeling like a very humid rainforest at the bottom, to being a cold rain in the middle and then to snowing at the top.  

Typically, when you reach the summit of Mount Si, you are afforded expansive views over the Snoqualmie valley.  However, on the day we visited, it was quite foggy and cloudy so we did not get those views but the snow covered mountain top was still very picturesque.  We enjoyed this hike and felt very accomplished after doing it.  This trail is located driving only 45 minutes east from Seattle, making it a popular hike. However, we only saw about 10 other people on the trail on our weekday hike in May.   


Snoqualmie Falls 

Snoqualmie Falls
Snoqualmie Falls

On your drive back to Seattle, stop off to see the massive Snoqualmie Falls.  It was pouring rain when we arrived here so we did not spend too much time at the falls but boy is it ever giant! 

For dinner, try some sustainable seafood at the trendy The Walrus and the Carpenter (Ballard neighborhood) or dumplings at the more casual Din Tai Fung (University Village).   


Day 4: Mount Rainier National Park, Drive to Olympia


Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainer National Park
Mount Rainer National Park

After resting up from your Mount Si hike, drive towards Mount Rainier National Park which is about 2.5 hours from Seattle.  On this drive, you might be afforded some views of Mount Rainier on a clear day, like we were. We spent only part of a day exploring Mount Rainier National Park.  Part of a day is certainly not enough time to see all the park has to offer but we enjoyed hiking two of the trails and driving through the park.  Like every other National Park we have visited, the views are truly stunning everywhere you look. 

Mount Rainer National Park
Mount Rainer National Park

Trail of the Shadows

Trail of Shadows, Mount Rainer National Park
Trail of Shadows, Mount Rainer National Park

This trail is a relatively flat 0.7 Mile loop that takes you through a pretty meadow, peaceful forested area and past a replica of an early homestead cabin.  This trail leads into the Rampart Ridge Trail (info below) and is located across road from National Park Inn at Longmire.  If you are really short on time, the hike will give you picturesque Mount Rainier views (on a clear day) and a quick taste of what the park has to offer. 


Rampart Ridge Trail

Rampart Trail, Mount Rainer National Park
Rampart Trail, Mount Rainer National Park

If you have a little more time and are inclined to hike some elevation, definitely hike the Rampart Ridge Trail.   This hike is approximately 4.6 miles round trip with 1,336 feet of elevation gain.  On this hike, you are rewarded with even better Mount Rainier and valley views.  We hiked this trail in early May and at times, we had trouble finding the path with how much snow there was still on the ground. However, this made for more of an adventure! The trailhead for this hike is on the Trail of Shadows, located across the road from the National Park Inn at Longmire.  


Drive the Park

Driving Mount Rainer National Park
Driving Mount Rainer National Park

Throughout the park, you will see all sorts of varying views.  Some are very snowy and others are not snowy at all.  Drive through Mount Rainier National Park and get as close to Paradise Inn as time allows and contingent on the road being open.   On this road, you will get astounding views of the park, especially if there is a lot of snow.  At certain spots when we were driving it on, the snow was over 16 feet high on both sides! 

Mount Rainier National Park

Tip: Make sure to check road conditions before going to Mount Rainier National Park and know if you need snow tires or not. Also, make sure the park/roads are open (when planning the timeframe of your trip and then again the day of your trip). They often close roads with heavy snow.  


Drive to/Stay in Olympia

After visiting Mount Rainier National Park, we started our drive to the capital city of Olympia, Washington. Olympia is the perfect city to stay in-between visiting Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park as it is roughly equidistant from both. 

Olympia is the capital of the state of Washington and very much so reminded us of Madison, Wisconsin.  It is a young, active, earthy and eclectic city. 


Where to Eat in Olympia

We loved eating at several mom & pop restaurants near the capitol. Some of our favorites included:   


Where to Stay in Olympia

We set-up home base for 2 nights in Olympia at Governor Hotel Red Lion Inn.  The hotel rooms here were quite nice for the price and this hotel is located less than a block from the main drag in Olympia.  Again, parking was included with our stay here.  See…coming soon…How to Book Accommodations for more tips on booking a hotel. 


Day 5: Olympic National Park, Drive back to Olympia

This day, after breakfast, (consider eating at New Moon Cafe) start your drive towards Olympic National Park. As we were only visiting this park for one day, we chose just one part to visit, Quinault Lake/Rainforest. This area of Olympic National Park is about 2 hours from Olympia.  


Quinault Rainforest, Olympic National Park

Lake Quinault, Olympic National Park
Lake Quinault, Olympic National Park

The drive from Olympia to the Quinault Rainforest was very pretty with lots of large, mature trees.  Once we arrived at the Quinault Rainforest, we were in awe of its beauty.  We were in the northwest corner of America yet we were in a temperate rainforest.  Certainly not an experience you get everyday!  Here, we hiked through the rainforest and then looped back parallel to the lake. The lake here was beautiful as well.

Quinault Rainforest
Quinault Rainforest

Tip: Spend more time at Olympic National Park

If time allows, add on a day or two and consider staying at the rustic and secluded Lake Quinault Lodge.  We stopped in at this lodge while hiking, and it was very cozy.  Further, if you can add on even more time, consider spending a week or two exploring even more of Olympic National Park (it is nearly a million acres!). This park is made up of very different ecosystems including temperate rainforests, snow-capped mountains and miles of coastline. We only had time to explore one of the temperate rainforests but hope to visit again in the future. 


Day 6: Drive from Olympia back to Seattle to Fly Home

Capitol Lake, Olympia
Capitol Lake, Olympia

On your last morning, take some time to walk around the pretty trail around Capitol Lake.  This trail at Capitol Lake was located directly behind our hotel.    

Finally, head back to Seattle, about 1 hour from Olympia, to catch your flight home.  Depending on how much time you have you could spend some more time in Olympia or Seattle.


Have you taken a road trip from Seattle to Mount Rainier National Park or Olympic National Park?  Have you hiked Mount Si? We hope this guide helps you plan your road trip to the Seattle area.  Anything you’d add to our guide?  We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

A Day at Starved Rock State Park


Wildcat Canyon, Starved Rock State Park
Wildcat Canyon, Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park is well-known for its impressive bluffs and steep sandstone canyons.  The park features 18 of these canyons, several of which have seasonal waterfalls.  Hiking through these canyons and along the scenic overlooks on the Illinois River are the best ways to see this park.  The well-maintained paths, many with wooden stairs and boardwalks, make these hiking trails substantially more accessible for non-hikers.  The trails here are also all dog friendly so feel free to bring your pup with you.  

Starved Rock State Park is located about 2 hours from Chicago and about 2.5 hours from Milwaukee, making it a great weekend or long day trip from either city.  We recommend spending at least a day here, if not the whole weekend, depending on how much hiking you want to do.  Here is our guide for spending a day in the park. 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


Hike the Park

Starved Rock State Park Map
Starved Rock State Park Map

If you are only spending one day in the park, hike as much as you can.  We hiked in both directions of the visitor center, in the pattern outlined on the map. This route totaled about 6 miles.  Our route brought us to the main attractions of French Canyon, Wildcat Canyon and St. Louis Canyon.  We highly recommend seeing each of these canyons as they all seasonally feature a waterfall.  Visit in the spring to ensure flow at the waterfalls! 


French Canyon

French Canyon, Starved Rock State Park
French Canyon, Starved Rock State Park

Start your hike by heading east of the visitor center (? on the map).  Hike in a counterclockwise fashion to your first stop, French Canyon.  French Canyon is the easiest canyon to access, as it is a very short hike from the visitor center.  You do have to do a short scramble up some rocks and through shallow running water (depending on time of the year) to access it, but we found this scramble quite easy to manage.  French Canyon is 45 feet tall with a very pretty and peaceful flow of water.  


Pontiac Canyon

Next, continuing to hike counterclockwise, you can either hike along a relatively flat interior canyon trail or on the wooden boardwalk/staircase path to access Wildcat Canyon.  On the way out, we chose to hike on the wooden boardwalk/staircase path as it led us through Pontiac Canyon on our way to Wildcat Canyon.  Pontiac Canyon can be viewed from above on the boardwalk, but you cannot go down into it so don’t expect astounding views.  


Wildcat Canyon

Wildcat Canyon, Starved Rock State Park
Wildcat Canyon, Starved Rock State Park

After passing through Pontiac Canyon, you continue on the boardwalk to Wildcat Canyon.  Here, you can view the Wildcat Canyon from above which is very pretty, but the views are nothing in comparison to the ones from inside the canyon.  Continue hiking in a counterclockwise fashion to reach the stairs leading into the canyon.  The stairs here are steep but very manageable for anyone without joint problems.  The views at Wildcat Canyon, the deepest canyon in the park at 90 feet, are stunning. This was our favorite Canyon we saw in the park. 


Looking for great hiking boots?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 6+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots


Bluff Views

Lover's Leap Overlook, Views from Beach below Beehive Overlook and Eagle Cliff Overlook, Starved Rock State Park
Lover’s Leap Overlook (Left), Views from Beach below Beehive Overlook (Center) and Eagle Cliff Overlook (Right)

Next, continue counterclockwise, heading Northwest, to hit several viewpoints including Beehive Overlook, Eagle Cliff Overlook and Lover’s Leap Overlook.  These overlooks give impressive bluff views.  Out of these, our favorite overlook was Eagle Cliff Overlook as the views here were most unobstructed.  

After seeing these viewpoints, head back on the wooden boardwalk/stair trail in a continued counterclockwise manner.  You can either head back through Pontiac Canyon and then onto the interior canyon trail (slightly longer) or on the wooden boardwalk you hiked out on (slightly shorter).  We opted to hike back through Pontiac Canyon and then on the interior canyon trail in order to hike back toward the visitor center or lodge.  

At this point, you can either hike back to the visitor center to get a snack, hike to the lodge to eat at The Cafe, , continue hiking past the lodge onto the trails west of the park, or complete your hiking for the day.  We elected to head towards the trails on the west side of the park after passing by the lodge/cafe. 


Aurora, Sac, Kickapoo and St. Louis Canyon

Sac Canyon (left) , Sandstone Rocks on the trail (center), St. Louis Canyon (right)
Sac Canyon (left) , Sandstone Rocks on the trail (center), St. Louis Canyon (right)

On the west side of the visitors center, you can hike out to St. Louis Canyon.  This 1.5 mile out and back hike is very easy to follow.  On your way to St. Louis Canyon, you will pass through Aurora, Sac and Kickapoo Canyon.  These canyons are viewed from above/on the path, similar to Pontiac Canyon discussed above.  After passing through these canyons, you’ll take an offshoot of the main trail to get to St. Louis Canyon.  At the end of this trail, you will be afforded pretty views of the waterfall and there is some area where you could set down a blanket and have a picnic if you please.  This is the only spring fed canyon in the park so it tends to last longer into the summer than the others that are rain fed. 

After visiting St. Louis Canyon, head back east towards the visitor center (on the same trail you came out on) and then head north on the offshoot trail to the main visitor center parking lot.  This will complete your 6 mile hike.  If you are feeling ambitious, drive to one of the many other parking lots in the park to check out some more of the 18 canyons and the 13 miles of hiking trails this park has to offer. 


Where to Eat

For eating, you have several options.  If you are looking to eat in the park, either pack a picnic or eat at The Cafe in the park.  The Cafe has a basic menu but does afford you some pretty views overlooking the Illinois River and Bluffs on the patio.  If you eat at The Cafe, you are eating there for the views and convenience, not the food.  Dogs are allowed on the patio.  The visitor center also has some homemade fudge, ice cream and candied nuts if you are looking for a snack rather than a meal. 

If you would prefer to eat somewhere with more variety on the menu, consider eating in the small town, Utica, just north of the park.  For a meal, eat somewhere on Mill Street such as the Lodi Tap House or Canal Port.  If you are just looking for a snack, there are several touristy ice cream and popcorn shops on the main drag. 

We opted to stop in Rockford, on the way back to Milwaukee, at the Thunder Bay Grille, to eat on the patio where dogs are allowed. Located just off the freeway and about halfway on our trip home, this was the perfect location for us to stop with our pup.  The menu is diverse and delicious.  We recommend the Salmon Fresca and the Bison Smoked Meatloaf. 


Where to Stay

If you are looking to make a weekend trip out of your visit to Starved Rock, you’ll have limited accommodation options.  In the park, you can either camp at the campgrounds, stay at the lodge or rent one of the small cabins associated with the park.  Airbnb and hotel options are few and far in between in the area.  If you plan on spending a lot of time hiking/in the park, staying in the park is your best option. 


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Starved Rock State Park.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

Florida Keys/Southern Florida Quick Guide


Key West, Florida Keys
Key West, Florida Keys

The Florida Keys and Southern Florida are the tropical paradise of the continental US.  Traveling through this area, you will see exotic plants and animals not found elsewhere in mainland USA.   From this part of the country, you can also access the third largest coral reef in the world, and the largest coral reef in the US, the Florida Reef.  Moreover, this area is home to three National Parks–Dry Tortugas National Park, Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park.  Lastly, the Overseas Highway that spans the Florida Keys, from Key Largo to Key West, has been rated as one of the most beautiful drives in the US with it’s scenic ocean views.

Biscayne National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, Everglades National Park
Biscayne National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, Everglades National Park

We spent 10 days exploring the Florida Keys and Southern Florida area on our babymoon.  During this time, we visited Everglades National Park (see Everglades National Park Quick Guide), Biscayne National Park (see Biscayne National Park Quick Guide), Dry Tortugas National Park (see Dry Tortugas National Park Quick Guide), Miami, the Florida Keys and everywhere in-between.  On our trip, we saw SO much wildlife including iguanas, dolphins, sharks, alligators, sea turtles, manatees and many different birds.  We recommend spending at least one week in the Florida Keys and Southern Florida, potentially longer, if you want to see all three of these National Parks and a large majority of what the Florida Keys has to offer. 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


What to do in the Florida Keys/Southern Florida


Visit Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park

This park is located 70 miles west of Key West and is one of the most remote and secluded National Parks in the US.  To get to this uninhabited island, you have to either take a seaplane or a ferry.  Highlights of visiting this National Park include exploring the historic Fort Jefferson (built in the 1800s) and snorkeling in the crystal clear water around the Fort. A visit to this park is not one you will soon forget.  See our Dry Tortugas National Park Quick Guide for all the details about visiting this National Park.  

Dry Tortugas National Park


Visit Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park is located near Homestead, Florida (Southeast Florida) and is 95% water.  Highlights of visiting this park include traveling across the very clear Biscayne Bay, exploring the mangroves, snorkeling around the mangroves on the bay side of the park or in the Florida Reef on the Atlantic side of the park. To visit this National Park, take a tour with the Biscayne National Park Institute.  We highly recommend sailing, snorkeling, kayaking and visiting one of the remote Keys during your time at this park.  For all the the details on visiting this National Park, see our Biscayne National Park Quick Guide

Biscayne National Park


Visit Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park

This National Park, the 4th largest US National Park, spans from the Miami area all the way down into the Florida Keys so there are many points to access it.  On the northern end of the park, visit Shark Valley and rent a bike or ride a tram on the loop road to see more Alligators than ever before.  Near the Homestead entrance (Ernest F. Coe entrance), you can explore many different hiking trails and/or canoe/kayak.  Near both of these areas, you can also take an Airboat ride.  The possibilities are endless.  See our Everglades National Park Quick Guide for all the details about visiting this park.  

Everglades National Park


Visit the Turtle Hospital

Turtle Hospital, Marathon, FL
Turtle Hospital, Marathon, FL

In Marathon Key, there is a unique Turtle Hospital, that rescues local sea turtles, that we recommend visiting.  Here, you can take a tour and see more sea turtles than ever before.  On the first part of your tour, you will learn about the different types of sea turtles in Florida and how/why the turtles end up at the Turtle Hospital.  On the second part of your tour, you get to see many of these massive sea turtle patients and permanent residents up close.

Sea Turtle Hospital
Sea Turtle Hospital

This hospital’s goal is to release as many of the sea turtle patients as possible back into the wild, but some turtles become permanent residents here as they would not survive in the wild on their own.  This tour costs $27/person and is well worth every dollar.  

Turtle Hospital

Mile Marker 48.5


Take a Pontoon Boat Tour

Pontoon Boat Tour
Pontoon Boat Tour

This pontoon boat tour, based in Key Largo, explores a small portion of the southern saltwater Everglades National Park, part of John Pennekamp State Park and some of the Key Largo Canals.  On this tour, we saw manatees (a mom and her baby), giant iguanas and plenty of different birds.  Our captain on this tour, Captain Tony, was very entertaining and we learned quite a bit of history about the different areas we visited. 

Pontoon Boat Tour
Pontoon Boat Tour

Key Largo Everglades Eco Tour

Mile Marker 101.9


Spend a day in Key West

Key West, Florida Keys
Key West, Florida Keys

Key West is the most vibrant, fun and walkable of the Florida Keys.  On Duval street (the most lively street on the island), there are 43 bars alone, which speaks to the exuberant party scene here.   With all the bars and the unique style of the houses on the island, Key West felt to us like a Tropical New Orleans.  If you are looking to take advantage of the nightlife here, you may want to consider staying down on this Key.  

Key West Tourism Website

Key West Food Scene 

Lucy’s (left) and Conch Republic Seafood (middle & right)

A large part of the Key West culture is the many different vibrant restaurants.   During your visit to Key West, make sure to stop at Conch Republic Seafood for a meal, our favorite restaurant on the island.  This restaurant is located right along the harbor with delicious seafood.  We recommend getting the blackened snapper and the seafood ravioli but really do not think you could go wrong with anything on the menu.  For other meals, we recommend eating at Blue Heaven (good brunch) and Lucy’s (casual diverse food, on Duval street).  However, you will have plenty of different options to choose from. 

Conch Republic Seafood

Sunset Celebration

Key West Sunset Celebration
Key West Sunset Celebration

While in Key West, make sure not to miss the Sunset Celebration.  This nightly celebration starts about an hour or two before sunset when street performers, artists and food vendors fill Mallory Square.   These street performers look to make tips by dazzling onlookers while artists and food vendors look to sell their products.  The Sunset Festival is really a Key West cultural experience. The sunset over the ocean from Mallory Square is also truly unmatched and not to be missed.  

Sunset Celebration

Other Key West Activities

Key West, Florida Keys
Key West, Florida Keys

Another fun thing to do while in Key West is to take your picture by the Southernmost point of the Island, the closest spot in the US to Cuba (90 miles from).  Also, seeing chickens/roosters everywhere on the island is part of the Key West experience.  We saw at least 30 chickens and roosters during our day in Key West.  Other things we did not have time for while visiting Key West but have heard good things about include visiting the Ernest Hemingway House (one of the most famous Key West residents) and watching the Turtle races (bet on Turtles racing) at the Turtle Kraals.  

Tip: If visiting Dry Tortugas National Park, we recommend doing your day in Key West on the same day you visit the park (if you are taking the seaplane/doing the half day tour). 


Visit Bahia Honda State Park 

Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda State Park

At Bahia Honda State Park, you can hike (about 1 mile trail), kayak, fly a kite or lay out on the beautiful natural sandy beach. The views from the old Bahia Honda Bridge are very pretty.  We enjoyed hiking on the trail and exploring the park for an hour or so.  

Admission is $4.50/person, $9/two people and 50 cents more per person after two.  

Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda State Park

Tip: If staying in one the more northern Florida Keys, stop here in the morning on your way to Key West or after visiting the Turtle Hospital. You only need an hour of two at this beach, depending on what you want to do, and this will minimize your driving time on different days. 

Mile Marker 37


Feed the Tarpon at Robbie’s Marina 

Spending an afternoon at Robbie’s Marina will offer you a plethora of activities to choose from.  You can eat at the Hungry Tarpon restaurant (we highly recommend–great views and good food), rent a kayak or boat, shop at the different stores/stands or the most unique and well-known activity, “Feed the Tarpon.”  

Feed The Tarpon, Robbie's Marina, Islamorada
Feed The Tarpon, Robbie’s Marina, Islamorada

“Feed the Tarpon” involves feeding tarpon, which are giant, 4 foot up to 8 foot, fish that can go flying into the air to grab fish to eat.  At Robbie’s, buy a bucket or two of fish ($4/bucket, food for the Tarpons) and admission to the pier ($2.25/person) that these tarpons frequent.  Then, go onto the pier and feed the tarpon by holding fish near the water in the designated area. 

Robbie's Marina, Islamorada
Robbie’s Marina, Islamorada

Feeding these tarpon is quite entertaining as they jump high into the air to get fish that are being fed to them.   It is really a spectacle as, even though you know they are going to jump into the air, it is quite startling with their size.  Further, adding the experience, there are always many Pelicans waiting very closely (maybe too closely) for a fish to accidentally get dropped to them.  Also, when we fed the tarpon, we saw a 5+ foot shark in the water with the tarpon, making our experience even more unique. 

Robbie’s Marina

Mile Marker 77.5


Eat Key Lime Pie

While in the Florida Keys, make sure you eat the iconic desert of these islands, key lime pie. The authentic Florida Keys style is served with meringue.  The best meringue key lime pie we had in the Florida Keys was at the Fish House in Key Largo.  If whipped cream is more your style, the best whipped cream key lime pie is from Key Largo Chocolates. Regardless of what kind you get, make sure you get some.  

Key Lime Pie, Florida Keys
Key Lime Pie, Florida Keys

Note: The key lime pie in the Florida Keys is not green, it is more of a light yellow, unlike other places we have eaten it in the US.  This less vibrant coloring reminded us of how you know if gelato is the real deal. Generally speaking, authentic gelato will not have extreme or vibrant coloring either. See…coming soon…Rome, Italy Quick Guide.


Spend a day in Miami 

Miami is a lively, colorful and culturally vibrant city to explore.  The options on what to do while in Miami for a day are really endless. However, we most recommend visiting both Little Havana and the Wynwood area during your time there.

Little Havana

In Little Havana, make sure to visit Calle Ocho.  Here, you will be impressed by the many colorful murals and different authentic Cuban (and other Latino) restaurants.  On this street, there is also the famous Domino Park (small park where locals come to play dominos), Walk of Fame (stars in the sidewalk highlighting famous Cuban Americans) and Cuban Memorial Boulevard Park (a pretty and peaceful park located right off Calle Ocho).  

Little Havana, Miami
Little Havana, Miami

Tip: To find Calle Ocho, either search for Domino Park or Cuban Memorial Boulevard Park in your GPS and you will be sure to stumble upon it. 

Wynwood

After visiting Little Havana, head to Wynwood.  Here, you will also be impressed by the many different murals that seem to be on nearly every building or business you pass.  You can explore these murals through walking around or driving.  We recommend eating lunch at Tacomiendo while in Wynwood.  This simple outdoor eatery, which is BYOB, serves delicious tacos (at least 10 to choose from) that you can enjoy on a pretty outdoor patio.  

Wynwood, Miami
Wynwood, Miami

Next, consider spending the afternoon at the lively and youthful South Beach.  Here, you can go roller skating, relax on the beach or simply people watch.  We opted not to visit South Beach, as we had plenty of ocean time during other parts of our trip but we think it would be a fun place to explore.  

Visit Miami


Rent Bikes 

There are plenty of different bike rental shops in the Florida Keys.  If you want to rent it conveniently, you can rent from a place near where you are staying or if you want to explore another Key, you can rent a bike in a different Key.  We rented bikes in Key Largo, from All Keys Cycles, and really liked exploring the Key via bike. We found biking around the Keys to be more enjoyable than walking as the breeze created while on the bike was much appreciated. Biking was a fun way to see a lot of the different neighborhoods/houses in Key Largo. 

Bike Riding in Key Largo
Bike Riding in Key Largo

While riding bikes, we played the “name the price game” of different houses for sale.  This is where we would both guess how much a house was for sale and then look up how much it was actually for sale.  We found this to be entertaining as the real estate market is really much more pricey than what we are used to in Wisconsin.  

All Keys Cycles

Mile Marker 103.4


Visit Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park

Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park
Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park

At Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park, you can see the fossils of different coral reefs on the approximately 1.5 miles of hiking trails here.  Plan to spend an hour or so here on the hiking trails looking at the different coral reefs fossilized. This is a nice to see, not must see, so only stop here if it is along the way (you will likely pass it at least one of the days while driving).  

Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park
Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park

Tips: This state park, similar to some other state parks (not Bahia Honda) in the Keys, is only open Thursday-Sunday so plan accordingly.  The park admission is $2.50/person and bring this in exact change as you will likely pay the self-pay station. 

Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park

Mile Marker 84.9


Where to Eat in the Florida Keys and Southern Florida


As our Airbnb had a kitchen and a covered patio overlooking the ocean, we cooked/ate most of our meals at our Airbnb.  However, we did eat out several times and below are our recommendations for different areas. 


Key Largo

  1. Fish House (seafood, good meringue key lime pie)
  2. Key Largo Chocolates (best to-go whipped cream key lime pie) 
  3. Hobo’s (seafood) 

Key West

  1. Conch Republic Seafood (harbourfront dining, seafood)
  2. Blue Heaven (good breakfast/brunch)
  3. Lucy’s (on Duval Street, causal) 
  4. Kermit’s (key lime pie)

Islamorada

  1. Hungry Tarpon (seafood)

Homestead

  1. Robbies (fruit stand, delicious fruit milkshakes/smoothies)
  2. La Quebradita Mexican Grill (Mexican)

Where to Stay in Southern Florida/ The Florida Keys


Stay in Homestead or one of the Florida Keys 

We based ourselves in northern Key Largo, at a cute Airbnb perfect for two people, right on the Atlantic Ocean.  This location was perfect for us because we wanted to stay in the same place our whole Florida Keys/Southern Florida trip to make it a bit more relaxing (packing and unpacking numerous times in a trip can be a bit exhausting).  We were very happy to find this little slice of paradise, that was reasonably priced, with a beautiful view.  It was a 2 hour and 15 minute drive to Key West from here but we only made that drive one day so it was manageable.  The other days, we were within 30 minutes to 1 hour drive of where we were going. 

Key Largo Airbnb
Key Largo Airbnb

Lookout Point Airbnb in Key Largo at Mile Marker 113

Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb

Alternatively, you could also stay a little further down in the Keys for an even more central location (such as Islamorada).  Another option is to split your time between Homestead or Key Largo and Key West.  However, keep in mind that accommodations only get more expensive as you get further down into the Keys and closer/into Key West.  Conversely, accommodations in Homestead are on the more reasonably priced than any accommodations in the Keys.  


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to the Florida Keys and Southern Florida.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

Dry Tortugas National Park Quick Guide

Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most remote and secluded National Parks in the US.  It is located about 70 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico and the only way to access it is by seaplane or boat.  This National Park is home to the massive Fort Jefferson, a large brick structure built in the 1800s to help protect the shipping lanes in this part of the ocean and then later used to hold Civil War prisoners. This park preserves not only Fort Jefferson but also the seven Dry Tortugas islands, the most western of the Florida Keys. This island is surrounded by the clearest blue water and is well-known for its excellent snorkeling and scuba diving. You can visit this National Park for the day or stay at one of the 8 primitive campsites overnight.  We recommend spending at least a morning or an afternoon exploring this park, if not more time.  Here is our quick guide for visiting Dry Tortugas National Park.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


How to get to Dry Tortugas National Park

Snorkeling, Fort & Moat, Dry Tortugas National Park
Snorkeling, Fort & Moat, Dry Tortugas National Park

There are two ways to get to Dry Tortugas National Park

  1. Take a Seaplane…Key West Seaplane Charters
  2. Take a Ferry…Dry Tortugas Ferry

Both options have their pros and cons but we highly recommend taking the seaplane, which is what we did. 

Fun Fact: Last time we were on a plane this size was when we met 7.5 years ago in Belize.  Crazy how a plane ride can change your life forever! 

Why take the Seaplane 


It’s Faster

Seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park
Seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park

The seaplane takes 35 minutes each way whereas the ferry takes 2.5 hours each way. If you take the ferry, you will be spending 5 hours of your day on it where conversely, on the seaplane, you will only spend a little over an hour. This allowed us our whole morning to explore Key West prior to going to Dry Tortugas as we went on the 2pm-6pm seaplane trip.  The plane ride to/from Dry Tortugas goes by very fast as well .  On the ride, the pilot is either pointing out different wildlife and viewpoints or an educational recording about the park is playing.  You’ll be at the park or back in Key West before you know it. 


The Views from Above

View from above on the Seaplane
View from above on the Seaplane

The views from above on the seaplane are really neat!  You fly at 500 feet elevation so you can see into the water quite well from the plane. Our pilot pointed out sharks, dolphins, stingrays and sea turtles along the way which were all very fun to see.  You’ll also see some sunken shipwrecks and other islands on the way to the park.  Our favorite view was seeing Fort Jefferson from above before landing on the water at the park. 


Avoid the Crowds 

Moat Views, Dry Tortugas National Park
Moat Views, Dry Tortugas National Park

Further, when you visit on the 8am or the 2pm seaplane trip, you will almost completely have the island to yourself.  The only other people at the park at those times will either be from one of the two small 10-person seaplanes or campers on the island (there are only 8 remote sites). If you visit on the ferry, it carries up to 175 people and it will certainly feel more crowded during your visit.  Be sure to book the seaplane in advance and book the 8am or 2pm trip to avoid any crowds. 

The seaplane is about twice the cost of the ferry (which is still expensive) but with all the pros to taking the seaplane, we think the extra cost is well worth it.


Other Seaplane Logistics

Seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park
Seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park

With the seaplane you have the option to do a full day trip (8 hours total, with 6.5 hours at the park) or a half day trip (4 hours total, with 2.5 hours at the park).  We did the half day trip and felt it was adequate to tour Fort Jefferson and do all the snorkeling we wanted around the Fort.  However, if you are looking to spend more time relaxing on the island or want to snorkel for more than an hour, you may want to book the full day tour.  Keep in mind though, the full day tour is twice the cost of the half day tour. 

Included with your seaplane trip is the use of snorkel gear for the day as well as a cooler of soft drinks of your choice to enjoy on the island. Both of these were added perks. It was especially nice to not have to pack or purchase our own snorkel gear for the trip.  


Caution: Beware of Motion Sickness

If you are prone to motion sickness (like Natalie), you may experience it on the seaplane.  Prior to our trip, one pro that sold us on the seaplane was being told it was a way to avoid the motion sickness sometimes experienced on the ferry.  However, on our trip, we did not find that to be the case.  Our pilot did several banking 360 degree turns to show us different creatures on our trip to/from the park.  Although these turns provided us some stellar wildlife views, they did not bode well for Natalie’s stomach. 

If you take meclizine for motion sickness, try to take that before the flight to/from the island.  Also, make sure you are hydrated and are dressed cool as the plane tends to be quite warm (which does not help with any motion sickness).  See, coming soon, How to Prevent Motion Sickness While Traveling.  Again, we recommend taking the seaplane over the ferry and would both take it again but just be aware that it may be a bit of a roller coaster ride for your stomach.


What to do at Dry Tortugas National Park


Snorkel

Snorkeling Dry Tortugas National Park
Snorkeling Dry Tortugas National Park

The snorkeling at Dry Tortugas National Park was hands down the best snorkeling we have ever done. The water here is crystal clear and the coral reef growing around the moat of Fort Jefferson is so colorful.  We saw many different colored and sized fish while snorkeling around the moat.  If you are a more experienced snorkeler, you can also snorkel in some deeper water on the North and South Beach of the park which is supposed to be stunning as well.  We highly recommend spending at least an hour, if not more time, snorkeling while visiting the park. 


Tour Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park
Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

At the park, you can take a self-guided tour of Fort Jefferson.  This took us about 45 minutes to do.  On the tour, you can read history about different aspects of the Fort.  It was also really astounding to walk through this brick fortress as it was built at this very remote location with such limited resources in the 1800s.  The architecture of the Fort is really pretty.  From the top of the Fort, you get great views overlooking the park as well.  

Water Views from Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park
Water Views from Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

Relax on the Beach 

Pristine Beach, Dry Tortugas National Park
Pristine Beach, Dry Tortugas National Park

The beach here is pristine.  If you have time, enjoy a beverage overlooking the clear blue water while on the white sandy beach.   


Where to Stay when visiting Dry Tortugas National Park


Key Largo Airbnb
Key Largo Airbnb

We opted to stay in Key Largo and take a day trip to Key West (about 2.25 hours from Key West) to visit Dry Tortugas National Park. Going to Dry Tortugas this way does make for a long day (we left at 6am and got back to our place around 11pm).  If you want to spend more than part of a day exploring Key West, in addition to visiting Dry Tortugas, you will want to stay in Key West or another one of the more southern Florida Keys such as Marathon.  

We stayed at a cute Airbnb, perfect for two people, right on the Atlantic in Key Largo and would highly recommend it if looking to stay further up in the Florida Keys.  On our trip, we also visited Everglades National Park (see Everglades National Park Quick Guide), Biscayne National Park (see Biscayne National Park Quick Guide) and Miami in addition to Key West, the other Florida Keys (see Florida Keys/Southern Florida Quick Guide) and Dry Tortugas National Park so we wanted a more central homebase than one of the more Southern Florida Keys.  

Lookout Point Airbnb in Key Largo

Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Dry Tortugas National Park.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

Biscayne National Park Quick Guide


Snorkeling in Biscayne National Park
Snorkeling in Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park is located in Southeast Florida, just south of Miami, and is about 95% water. It preserves not only Biscayne Bay but also the mangroves and coral reef associated with it. This includes the northernmost portion of the Florida Reef, the third largest coral reef in the world.  Further, several of the small, northernmost Florida Keys, such as Elliot and Adam’s Key, are part of this park. We recommend spending 1-2 days in this park depending on what you would like to see or do in it. Here is our quick guide on Biscayne National Park. 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


What to do in Biscayne National Park 


Take a day trip with the Biscayne National Park Institute 

Kayaking Views in Biscayne National Park
Kayaking Views in Biscayne National Park

Since this National Park is 95% water, you need to get out on the water to really experience it. The best way to do this is to take a day trip with the Biscayne National Park Institute. This nonprofit company is the only company allowed to run day trips in Biscayne National Park. The Institute offers many different options for day trips depending on your interest.  Be sure to book your trip far in advance so that you have your pick of different tours.  We booked our trip about 3 months ahead of time for March travel with no issues; however, availability will likely vary depending on time of year.

Sail, Paddle, Snorkel and Island Visit

Sail, Paddle, Snorkel and Island Visit Day Trip, Biscayne National Park
Sail, Paddle, Snorkel and Island Visit Day Trip, Biscayne National Park

We did the Sail, Paddle, Snorkel and Island Visit day trip and highly recommend it.  This day excursion is a great mix of activity and allows you to get a little taste of everything while in the park.  First, this trip will take you on a sailboat ride across Biscayne Bay to one of the Keys within the park. Our trip took us to the secluded, peaceful and small Adams Key.  On this island, there are only two houses for National Park Rangers and a small bathroom. Besides that, you have the island completely to yourself/group. 

Adams Key (left) Biscayne National Park, Kayaking & Water (middle & right) Biscayne National Park
Adams Key (left) Biscayne National Park, Kayaking & Water (middle & right) Biscayne National Park

After relaxing and eating lunch (pack/bring your own) on the Key, you will take a kayak or a standup paddleboard into the mangroves where you will then have the opportunity to go snorkeling in the very clear blue and shallow water.  While snorkeling here, we saw a lot of different pretty colored fish along the fringes of the mangroves and really enjoyed it.  While kayaking through the mangroves, we saw a juvenile shark which was pretty neat too (avoid calling it a baby shark to avoid getting a certain song stuck in your head).  After paddling and snorkeling for several hours, you will make your way back to the sailboat and then sail back to the mainland.  We found this trip to be the right balance of relaxation and activity. 

Sail, Paddle, Snorkel and Island Visit

Other Excursions Options

Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park

The Institute also offers several other day trips that go to the Atlantic side of the park and into the coral reefs. On the same trip, we were also visiting Dry Tortugas National Park (see ***)  and going to go snorkeling in the coral reef there. Therefore, we opted to stay in the calm, bayside waters near the mangroves while visiting Biscayne. 

Make sure to look at all the daytrip options and pick one that suits your interests. You may consider doing two different day trips into the park to see two different parts of Biscayne as well. Once you book one trip with the Institute, you will likely get a small discount offer to book another.  If you plan on purchasing two excursions, book your top choice first and wait to see if you get an email for a discount after booking to book another. 


Where to Stay to Visit Biscayne National Park


Stay in Homestead or Key Largo

Key Largo Airbnb
Key Largo Airbnb

We opted to stay on the northern end of Key Largo, which is about 30 minutes from Biscayne National Park.  We stayed at a cute Airbnb, perfect for two people, right on the Atlantic that we found to be an excellent place to unwind and would recommend it.  

On our trip, we were also visiting Everglades National Park (see Everglades National Park Quick Guide), Dry Tortugas National Park (see Dry Tortugas National Park Quick Guide), the Florida Keys (see Florida Keys/Southern Florida Quick Guide) and Miami so we wanted a more central homebase than staying in Homestead.  However, if only visiting Biscayne National Park, Everglades National Park and/or Miami, you may want to stay in Homestead as it is closer to all three of those. 

Lookout Point Airbnb in Key Largo

Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Biscayne National Park.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

Everglades National Park Quick Guide


Biking in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park
Biking in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the US, spanning from southern mainland Florida and into the Florida Keys.  It is the 4th largest National Park in the US and spans over both freshwater and saltwater environments.  Everglades National Park is home to many different unique species including manatees, panthers, numerous birds, the American crocodile (prefer saltwater) and alligators (only live in freshwater).  Fun fact: this park is the only natural habitat in the world where alligators and crocodiles live among one another.  

Hiking in Everglades National Park, Alligator & American White Ibis in Everglades National Park
Hiking in Everglades National Park, Alligator & American White Ibis in Everglades National Park

Our favorite part of visiting Everglades National Park was seeing heaps of Alligators while biking in Shark Valley but we also enjoyed our time hiking and seeing many different species of birds.  We recommend spending 1-3 days in the park, depending on everything you want to do while visiting.  Here is our quick guide on Everglades National Park.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


What to Do in Everglades National Park 


Visit Shark Valley

Biking in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park
Biking in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park

In Shark Valley, located in the northern section of Everglades National Park near Miami, you will have the opportunity to see more alligators in nature than likely ever before.  If you only do one thing in Everglades National Park, do this.  Here, you can rent a bike or take a tram ride on the paved Shark Valley loop trail that abuts the water.  We recommend renting and riding bikes (if you are physically capable) over taking the tram as you can stop and look at/take pictures of wildlife as you please.  However, if riding a tram is more of your jam, you will get to hear a bit of history from the tram guide and still see plenty of wildlife. 

Wildlife on the Trail
Alligators on Shark Valley Trail, Everglades National Park
Alligators on Shark Valley Trail, Everglades National Park

Along the trail, you will see loads of wildlife.  On our 15 mile bike ride, we saw 50+ alligators (including about 5 babies), 100+ birds and several turtles.  Some of the alligators were even right on the trail!  Don’t worry though, we felt completely safe while passing these alligators on our bikes and, most of the time, we were 15+ feet away (which is considered a safe viewing distance for an alligator).  These alligators seemed to care less that we were there and seemed more concerned about soaking up the sun.  

Trail Logistics
Observation Tower, Everglades National Park
Observation Tower, Everglades National Park

This trail is 15 miles in total and almost completely flat.  It is a loop trail and at the halfway point, there is an observation tower you can climb up to see the Everglades horizon, which seems to stretch endlessly.  From this observation tower, we were also able to see many alligators from above.   

Bike Rental Logistics
Biking in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park
Biking in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park

Make sure to plan ahead if you want to rent bikes at Shark Valley.  Make reservations online for the day of your choosing ($20/bike/day) and then you can pick up your bike that day between 8:30am and 12:30pm. Although you do not need to pick up your bike first thing in the morning, we highly recommend picking it up as close to 8:30am as possible.  At this early time, there are very few trams (we only saw 2 on our whole ride) or other people on the trail.  It is really nice to have the trail and observation tower to yourself as much as possible. The weather is more mild/less hot in the morning, making for a more pleasant ride at this time as well.  Additionally, you have first choice from the group of bikes at that park as many of the bikes are operational but weathered.

Everglades National Park Bike Reservations

Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park

If you do not make reservations online (you may not be able to if all sold out), you can get a bike on a first come, first serve basis when they are returned from the morning riders with reservations.  However, there is no guarantee you will get a bike through this method.  When we returned our bikes a bit before noon on a Monday, there were a good 30+ people waiting for bikes and the parking lot was completely full.  If you plan to take a tram, be sure to book that in advance as well as only a handful of tram rides operate each day. 


Hike

Birds while Hiking in Everglades National Park
Birds while Hiking in Everglades National Park

Hiking in Everglades National Park is a great way to see many different species of birds and to see some of the variable scenery.   To hike in this park, you’ll head to the Ernest F. Coe Visitors Center Entrance in Homestead (northeast corner of the park) and then drive along the approximately 40 mile road that leads you to the Flamingo Visitors Center (southwest corner of the park).   There are many different hiking options along this road.  You can drive the whole road and hike them all or just drive the first part of the road and hike a few.  The choice is yours.  Here are our top hiking recommendations in the park, starting from the closet to the Ernest F Coe Visitors Center to the furthest away from the Ernest F. Coe Visitors Center.  

Hiking in Everglades National Park
Hiking in Everglades National Park

Note: Hiking in Everglades National Park is scenic but does not take you to one specifically exceedingly scenic destination like many other National Park hikes do.  Do not expect an astounding viewpoint at the end but instead enjoy the journey.  The trails here are more about seeing the different flora and for wildlife (mainly bird) viewing. 


Anhinga Trail

0.8 Mile, Out & Back/Loop, Royal Palm Parking lot

Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park
Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park

If you only have time to hike one trail in Everglades National Park, hike this one.  You will likely see the most wildlife on this trail as the ample water supply here attracts both birds and alligators.  We saw many different species of birds (including Anhinga) and fish during our hike.  Although we did not see alligators on this trail, it is not uncommon for visitors to see them under the boardwalks so be sure to look under those for some.  This trail is also conveniently located near the northeast park entrance. 

Tip: BEWARE of the vultures in the parking lot and make sure to cover your car windows/windshield with a tarp.  

The vultures that live in the Royal Palm parking lot (where Anhinga Trail and Gumbo Limbo Trail both start), for some unknown reason, love the rubber around the windows/windshield of the cars parked there.  These birds literally will swarm a new car and start to try to rip off the rubber parts.  Be sure to bring your own tarp or use one of the provided tarps in the large bin by the bathroom (limited supply, we had no problem getting some to borrow at the park but only enough for a handful of cars).  

Vultures at Royal Palm Parking Lot, Everglades National Park
Vultures at Royal Palm Parking Lot, Everglades National Park

We have never seen such an odd phenomenon before but this is no joke.  Although we covered our car’s windshield/windows completely with tarp and secured the tarp down, these vultures were ruthless and tore the tarp right off.  They actually ripped out a piece of our windshield rubber!  Thankfully, this piece of rubber was not actually damaged, laying right next to the car when we returned from our hike and just had to be put back into place.  However, be warned, these vultures will stop at nothing to try to take the rubber off your car and may actually do some real damage.  


Gumbo Limbo Trail

0.4 Miles, Loop, Royal Palm Parking Lot

Gumbo Limbo Trail, Everglades National Park
Gumbo Limbo Trail, Everglades National Park

This paved trail takes you through a tropical hardwood hammock.  Along the trail, there are signs to identify the different flora.  This trail is very easy to hike and be sure to combine it with doing the Anhinga Trail as it starts from the same parking lot.  Again, beware of the vultures in the parking lot of this trail.  


Pa-hay-Okeee Overlook

0.16 Miles, Loop

Pa-hay-Okeee Overlook Trail, Everglades National Park
Pa-hay-Okeee Overlook Trail, Everglades National Park

This short boardwalk leads to a raised observation platform where you can view out onto a grassy wetland area. No vultures at this parking lot. Phew! 


Mahogany Hammock

0.5 Miles, Loop

Mahogany Hammock Trail, Everglades National Park
Mahogany Hammock Trail, Everglades National Park

This boardwalk trail takes you through tropical hardwoods and gumbo limbo trees.  Also on this trail is the largest living mahogany tree in the US.  


Snake Bight Trail

3.2 Miles Round Trip, Out & Back

Snake Bight Trail, Everglades National Park
Snake Bight Trail, Everglades National Park

Snake Bight Trail takes you through a tropical hardwood hammock to a boardwalk that ends at Snake Bight Bay.  Many people like to spend some time bird watching at the end of the boardwalk. Also, bight is not a typo. Fun fact: a bight is a bend or curve in a coastline, river or other geographical feature, or it may refer to a bay formed by such a feature.

Tip: Make sure to have bug spray for this trail as it is the only trail (thus far on our guide) that is not paved and was much more buggy than the others


Eco Pond

0.5 Miles, Loop 

Eco Pond Trail, Everglades National Park
Eco Pond Trail, Everglades National Park

This unpaved grassy trail loops around a pond and will give you a good opportunity to hear/see different birds.  There are many other short pond loops along the main road you may wish to stop at too.


Looking for great hiking boots?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 6+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots


Kayak or Canoe

Kayaking or canoeing through the mangroves is a great way to see Everglades National Park.  There are a lot of different tours offered but be sure to book in advance as these tend to fill up weeks in advance.  We opted not to do this as we were kayaking through Mangroves at Biscayne National Park (see *** for more details on this) on the same trip but we would do this if we ever go back.  

Two Kayak/Canoe options: Kayak Safari and Manatees and Mangrove Tours


Go on a Pontoon Boat Tour

Pontoon Boat Tour
Pontoon Boat Tour

The pontoon boat tour we did through part of the Everglades was awesome, and we highly recommend it.  However, it only visits a small portion of the southern saltwater part of Everglades National Park so be sure to explore the park other ways as well.  On this tour, you will get a taste of the Everglades as you boat through the mangroves and see several types of birds.  You may also be lucky enough to see Manatees and giant iguanas like we did too.  This tour also takes you into John Pennekamp State Park and throughout some of the Key Largo canals.  We learned some history about all the spots we visited on this tour as well as about the development of Key Largo.  

Key Largo Everglades Eco Tour

Note: This tour leaves from Key Largo at Mile Marker 101.9.  See our *** Florida Keys Guide *** for more information on visiting the Florida Keys. 


Airboat Ride

Natalie has done this several times as a teenager and found the rides to be exciting.  We opted not to do it on our trip because we got our fill of Alligators and the Everglades through biking and hiking but this is another fun way to see the park.  There are lots of different airboat tour options near the Ernest F. Coe Visitors Center and Shark Valley.  Pick one that works for where you’ll be.  Typically, you do not need to reserve these in advance and will likely be able to walk up/get on the next airboat ride. 

Tip: Try to pick an airboat tour that does not guarantee alligator sightings as it will be more realistic. 

Further, some of these tours have an alligator show before/after the airboat ride and may be a bit reminiscent of Tiger King but with alligators instead of tigers. Do your research before booking and know what to expect.  That being said, having done both, Natalie recommends biking shark valley over an airboat ride to see alligators.   

Two Airboat tour options: Alligator Farm Airboat Rides and Captain Jack’s Airboat Rides


Bonus: Visit Big Cypress National Reserve 

Big Cypress National Reserve
Big Cypress National Reserve

Most people overlook this area, located less than 20 minutes from Shark Valley, but don’t be one of them.  Make sure to go to the Oasis Visitor Center in Big Cypress Reserve where there is a short boardwalk that overlooks a freshwater area with many alligators.  Here, we got to see alligators actively hunting fish.  It was really neat to see them stalk and pounce at the fish.  

Further, you can drive the scenic loop road (unpaved, will take about 1.5 hours without stops) to see more alligators and birds as well. We opted to only go to the visitors center here, as we had seen plenty of bird and alligators at Shark Valley, but seeing the alligators actively hunt fish from the boardwalk was completely worth the short additional drive. 

Note: An America the Beautiful Pass will get you into this National Reserve for free so take advantage if you have this!  


Where to Eat near Everglades National Park


Robert is Here Fruit Stand

Robert is Here Fruit Stand, Homestead, FL
Robert is Here Fruit Stand, Homestead, FL

This fruit stand has been in operation for over 60 years and for good reason–their delicious fresh fruit shakes/smoothies are unmatched.  Make sure to stop here for a shake or smoothie!  We also got a tasty Cuban Sandwich here that did not disappoint either.  This stand is located in Homestead near the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center.

Robert is Here


La Quebradita Mexican Grill 

La Quebradita Mexican Grill
La Quebradita Mexican Grill

This authentic Mexican restaurant located in Homestead has a classic menu.  The food is great here and can be enjoyed on the very pretty garden filled patio.  We had the shrimp fajitas and a chorizo burrito, both were delicious! 

La Quebradita Grill


Another place you could stop to eat is at one of the many fruit stands you will pass traveling from Shark Valley to Homestead on Fl-997 S.  Unfortunately, most of these were closed on a Monday when we went passed them but these local stands looked like a great place for a simple and unique meal as well. 


Where to Stay Near Everglades National Park


Stay in Homestead or Key Largo

Key Largo Airbnb
Key Largo Airbnb

We opted to stay on the northern end of Key Largo, which is about 35 minutes to the Ernest F Coe Entrance and about an hour to the Shark Valley Entrance.  We stayed at a cute Airbnb, perfect for two people, right on the Atlantic that we found to be an excellent place to unwind and would recommend it.  

On our trip, we were also visiting Biscayne National Park (see Biscayne National Park Quick Guide), Dry Tortugas National Park (see Dry Tortugas National Park Quick Guide), the Florida Keys (see Florida Keys/Southern Florida Quick Guide) and Miami so we wanted a more central homebase than Homestead.  However, if only visiting Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park and/or Miami, you may want to stay in Homestead as it is closer to all three of those. 

Lookout Point Airbnb in Key Largo

Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Everglades National Park.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

4 Days in Joshua Tree National Park


Joshua Tree National Park is full of not only Joshua Trees but also canyons with hidden palm oases, towering rock formations and other unique flora.  

Forty Nine Palms Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park
Forty Nine Palms Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park

This National Park is where the Mojave and Colorado Deserts meet.  The Mojave, or high desert, on the northern side of the park is where you will find the iconic Joshua trees.  The Mojave desert is the only place in the world where these unique trees live.  The Colorado, or low desert, on the southern side of the park also has distinctive vegetation including, but not limited to, the thorny and plentiful Ocotillo plant. 

Wall Street Mill Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Wall Street Mill Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

We truly enjoyed our time hiking and exploring in Joshua Tree National Park.  We hope our guide helps you find experiences you will love in the park as well.  The first part of this post is a 4 day guide to exploring Joshua Tree National Park. The second part of this post goes over the logistics of visiting the park, including how to access Joshua Tree National Park and where to stay around the park.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you  


Day 1: Hike Ryan Mountain, Cap Rock and Hidden Valley Trails


Hike Ryan Mountain

3 miles round-trip, 1,000 feet of elevation gain

Ryan Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park
Ryan Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park

Ryan Mountain is an exhilarating uphill hike that leads to panoramic views of the park.  This trail was the most challenging hike we did in the park, due to the quick elevation in a short distance. However, it is well worth the effort.  We did this hike in about 1.5 hours but recommend budgeting at least 2 hours depending on how quickly you hike.

Ryan Mountain Trail Views, Joshua Tree National Park
Ryan Mountain Trail Views, Joshua Tree National Park

Looking for great hiking boots?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 6+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots 


Hike Cap Rock Nature Trail 

0.3 miles round-trip, 39 feet of elevation gain, loop

Cap Rock Nature Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Cap Rock Nature Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

After hiking Ryan Mountain, head to the nearby Cap Rock Nature Trail. This trail leads you through pretty rock formations and foliage with many informative signs along the trail to teach you about both.

The Cap Rock Nature Trail is the most inclusively accessible trail we did in the park. It is appropriate for all fitness levels as it is very short and flat. 


Hike Hidden Valley Nature Trail

1.0 mile round-trip, 114 feet of elevation gain, loop

Hidden Valley Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Hidden Valley Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Next, head to Hidden Valley Nature Trail. This trail brings you through a unique ‘hidden valley’ surrounded by rock formations on all sides with lots of pretty trees and scrubs in it. The foliage that grows in the hidden valley is so extensive because of how the rocks on the outside of the valley protect the it from the wind and drain in ample water into the area as well.

Hidden Valley Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Hidden Valley Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

This trail offers some of the best views in the park for very minimal effort. There are also many signs along the path to identify and educate you on the different plants and wildlife throughout the valley. 


Day 2: Hike Forty Nine Palms Oasis, visit Skull Rock and Hike Wall Street Mill/Barker Dam Trails


Hike Forty Nine Palms Oasis

3.0 miles round-trip, 636 feet of elevation gain, out & back

Forty Nine Palms Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park
Forty Nine Palms Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park

This was one of our favorite trails in the park as it was relatively short and quickly led you to a beautiful palm oasis.   We set out on this trail just after sunrise and would highly recommend starting at this time as we were the first people on the trail and only saw about 5 other people in total throughout our hike.

Forty Nine Palms Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park
Forty Nine Palms Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park

On this trail, you hike up for the first half of the out hike and then down into the oasis.  This hike did not feel overly strenuous given that the elevation gain was broken up between the out and return journey, making for a rewarding yet relaxing hike.


Stop at Skull Rock

Skull Rock, Joshua Tree National Park
Skull Rock, Joshua Tree National Park

Next, head to Skull Rock, which is located right off the road. You can quickly park on the side of the road to see this rock that truly resembles a human skull.  Alternatively, you could also hike the associated nature trail around the rock that is approximately 1.7 miles in total with minimal elevation gain. 


Hike Wall Street Mill & Barker Dam Nature Trail

Wall Street Mill is an out & back trail that is 2.4 miles round-trip with 23 feet of elevation gain & Barker Dam Nature Trail is a loop trail that is 1.3 miles with 63 feet of elevation gain. 

Wall Street Mill Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Wall Street Mill Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

After stopping at Skull rock, head to the Wall Street Mill and Barker Dam Trails. Both hikes are relatively flat and easy to complete.  On both of these trails, there are MANY Joshua trees for you to adore.  Both of these trails also have many signs along the way to teach you about the flora and animals in the area. 

Wall Street Mill Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Wall Street Mill Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

The Wall Street Mill trail brings you to an abandoned mill that previously processed gold in the late-1800s. Conversely, the Barker Dam trail takes you past petroglyphs and a previously functioning cattle dam. 

Barker Dam Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Barker Dam Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

We recommend combining these two hikes as you can park at Barker Dam lot or Wall Street Mill lot to access both.  We parked at the Wall Street Mill lot and our hike was, in total, about 3.6 miles round-trip with little to no elevation gain. 


Day 3: Hike Lost Palm Oasis, visit Cholla Cactus Garden and Hike Arch Rock Trail


Hike Lost Palm Oasis

7.4 miles round trip, 1,026 feet of elevation gain, out & back

Lost Palm Oasis trail is located on the southern side of the park, which is at a lower altitude and is part of the Colorado Desert so the flora looks a bit different here. 

Lost Palm Oasis Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Lost Palm Oasis Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

This hike has a decent amount of elevation gain but it doesn’t feel overly strenuous as it is spread out throughout the hike.  We found the pace and effort of this hike to be quite pleasant. 

Lost Palm Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park
Lost Palm Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park

After 3.4 miles, the trail ends but you are not yet at the Oasis.  You can see the oasis from atop the rocks but you have to scramble down to get to it.  After you reach the sign that indicates the trail goes no further, go to the left to scramble down into the palm oasis and/or hike up to the right for the best birds-eye view of the palm oasis. We enjoyed relaxing in the oasis, which we had completely to ourselves, before making our return journey. 


Stop at Cholla Cactus Garden 

Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree National Park
Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree National Park

After hiking to Lost Palm Oasis, stop at Cholla Cactus Garden. Here, you can take a short walk through an area completely FILLED with Cholla Cactus, a unique type of cactus not seen elsewhere in the park.  This destination is a quick stop but definitely worth it to see these cacti that stretch as far as the eye can see. 


Hike Arch Rock

1.2 miles round-trip, 88 feet of elevation gain, out & back 

Next, head to the Arch Rock Trail. This is a short hike, with minimal elevation gain, to a unique rock arch that also takes you through some other interesting looking rock formations along the way. This arch is not as impressive as the ones we’ve seen in Arches National Park (see Arches National Park Quick Guide) but the rock formations here were nonetheless neat to see. 

Arch Rock Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Arch Rock Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Note: Make sure to pay attention to the signs and turn right once you cross the street here otherwise you will end up on the California Riding/Hiking Trail accidentally (like we did).  We were not paying attention and followed a hiker in front of us, assuming they were going to Arch Rock as well.  Remember to always independently verify when hiking and to look at the signs even if you think you know where you are going. See What you can Learn from our First Backpacking Trip for more on independent verification. 


Beware: To access all the spots on today’s itinerary, you will drive on the windy Pinto Basin road that may provoke motion sickness (see…coming soon, How to Prevent Motion Sickness while Traveling) 


Day 4: Hike Lost Horse Mine Trail  


Hike Lost Horse Mine 

6.4 miles round-trip, 1000 feet of elevation gain, loop

This loop trail is very peaceful and offers varying views throughout. We recommend hiking this loop in a clockwise manner so that you do all the elevation gains in the first half of the hike. The second half of the hike is then much easier as it is pretty much flat.  

Lost Horse Mine Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Lost Horse Mine Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

The first half of this hike, you will climb towards the Lost Horse Mine, an old preserved gold mine. During this climb, you will be afforded vast desert views.  The second half of the hike, you will be on a mainly flat part of the trail and see some of the largest Joshua trees in the park.  We liked seeing how variable the Joshua trees are in size depending on where you are hiking in the park. 

Lost Horse Mine Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Lost Horse Mine Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Alternatively, you could hike to the Lost Horse Mine as an out and back hike, 4 miles total round trip. However, we recommend hiking this as a loop because you will see more variety on the loop trail and the second half is a relatively easy hike. 


Relax or Return Home

Spend the rest of your day relaxing, as well did, or fly out later this evening home. 


Logistics


How to Access Joshua Tree National Park 

Fly into Los Angeles, Las Vegas or San Diego to access Joshua Tree National Park.  Los Angeles Airport is a bit closer (30 minutes closer) than the latter two but we chose to fly into Las Vegas because we were also visiting Death Valley National Park on this trip and this airport worked out better for us logistically. See our Two Days in Death Valley National Park guide if you want to add this onto your adventure too. 

Also, LAS is typically less expensive for us to fly into than LAX.  For the best flight deals, see our 5 Ways to Save on Flights post and/or become a member of Scott’s Cheap Flights, a flight subscription service we use and love.  Use this link for a FREE 2 week trial of Premium Scott’s Cheap Flights

Another option is to fly into San Diego, which is about 3 hours from Joshua Tree National Park. For more information on visiting San Diego and great hiking in the area see San Diego, California Quick Guide.


How this Itinerary is Set-Up

While visiting Joshua Tree, we did one ‘highlight’ (more challenging/stunning views) hike per day and then one or two shorter hikes afterwards to see as many trails as possible. We also strategically planned this itinerary to see things close together in the park on the same day to optimize travel times. 


Where to Stay

Set up your home base in Twenty Nine Palms, Joshua Tree or any of the other surrounding communities in/around Yucca Valley. Wherever you book, make sure you are on the northern side of Joshua Tree National Park, as this is where most the attractions/trailheads in the park are located. 

Landers Airbnb outside of Joshua Tree National Park
Landers Airbnb outside of Joshua Tree National Park

We choose to stay in Landers, about 30 minutes Northwest of the park, to allow us to book a more economical Airbnb with a lot of outdoor space.  We loved our Landers Airbnb and highly recommend it.  It was the perfect spot to unwind after our mornings hiking in Joshua Tree National Park.  We particularly loved spending our afternoons reading in the hammocks here.  Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb.


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Joshua Tree National Park.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!