As you all know, Matt and I recently returned to Anchorage in August for a little over a week to see friends and participate in Anchorage RunFest.
I constantly get questions – both in person and through e-mail – asking me “What should I do in Anchorage?” and “When’s the best time to go?” so I thought I would recap some of the activities and restaurants we visited recently. Consider it a tourist guide through a former locals eyes.
First up, food. These are the places I deemed necessiary to grab a bite or a beverage at, while fueling for the week or catching up with friends. Continue reading “Food Guide: A Week in Anchorage” »
For Labor Day, we did something completely unlike us: we relaxed and did nothing.
We headed down to our cabin in Northeast Georgia with the dogs and spent Saturday afternoon eating lunch in downtown Clayton at the U-Joint, then hit up the grocery store for commissaries for the weekend. The rest of the day was spent lounging around the house, reading books, and cooking dinner together.
Sunday, we took the dogs to a state park we hadn’t explored yet – Smithgall Woods. It’s located down near Yonah and Helen, about an hour drive from our cabin. After paying the $5 fee and determining we wanted to do the Ash Creek Trail. At only 3.6 miles, it was an easy trail on a warm day for our oldest dog who just can’t hike like she used to.
This was a great trail for the pups because it was incredibly isolated. We knew we were the first ones on it for the day because we walked through every spiderweb on the trail. We did go around one where a particularly hardy spider was wrapping an insect it had caught. Hey, if we’re going to walk through their woods, may as well respect them.
This trail also had the benefit of fording two nice creeks, which the dogs absolutely loved. They’re not fans of lakes or the ocean, but man do they enjoy walking through a babbling stream.
The trail portion of the hike ended at a covered bridge and more water, where we got to see some trout anglers playing catch and release. Smithgall Woods is an angler’s paradise, with a great trout stream (Duke’s Creek) running through the land and limited permits given to fish. Angler’s can only catch and release, meaning fish are plentiful and large.
A lazy sunday evening spent cooking dinner and watching The 5th Wave finished out a lacsidaisy day.
How did you spend your long holiday?
Last Tuesday was our final day in Anchorage on this trip so before we packed up our belongings for the long looong flights home, we needed to get outside one final time.
So a 12-mile hike was obviously in the books!
Betsy took a day off work to hike with us (She told us that when she told her boss she was going to take a day off for hiking, they were like “Why are you telling us? Just go.” which reminds me of how amazing it is to live in a state where it is expected to be outside when there is good weather and hiking to do) and we drove to the South Fork Valley Trailhead in Eagle River – about a 30 minute drive from downtown Anchorage.
The day called for a bit of rain, but we ended up with a slightly overcast hike in the beginning, and incredibly warm sunshine for the way back. I was regretting a long sleeve shirt almost immediately, and ended up taking off my hiking pants and finishing the hike in yoga pants.
While out on the trail, we came across 3 other people. Three. On a 12 mile, 4.5 hour journey. I absolutely love how you can find peace and alone-time anywhere, when Anchorage is such a big and crowded city.
Continue reading “Eagle & Symphony Lakes: Final Hike in Alaska” »
Currently, I am back home in Anchorage for Anchorage RunFest. I say back home, even though I am not an Alaska native, because it’s been my most favourite place that I have ever lived. We made awesome friends up here, and got to explore and grow our love of the outdoors. Matt got to downhill ski, rock climb, and mountain bike. I got to cross-country ski and snowshoe. We both got to hike and backpack and experience true wilderness. It’s where I am the happiest.
So being back in Alaska for the first time in almost a year (11 months and 2 weeks but I didn’t keep a countdown or anything), I was desperate to get out on a mountain again. Luckily, Betsy (a fellow Carolinian who has made Alaska her home) is a great hiking buddy and she took me to a trail I never climbed in Bear Valley – only a 30 minute drive out of Anchorage during rush hour traffic.
The weather was incredibly sunny – the second evening of sun after weeks of rain – and would have been warm if it weren’t for the wind. We laughed at how our hair was blown around, and how our ears were so cold from the wind. Our hike was incredibly steep, and among catching up on life, we questioned why we’ve never acclimated enough to be hikers who don’t get out of breath.
We parked by those houses. Elevation gain like whoa!
Water bottle down. An incredibly steep hill, but the rescue mission was a success!
I know, it’s been about 2 months since you’ve heard from me. The past several weeks have been a blur of incredibly hot Carolina temperatures, big life changes, and enjoying a summer with friends from all over.
Back in June, our friends Jodie & Alex came down from Anchorage for a weekend of hiking before they and Matt flew out to Minnesota for a week of canoeing through the boundary waters.
North Carolina has a lot of places to go backpacking – but once you’ve camped in Alaska’s backcountry, it is hard to find places that compare on the East Coast. Our mountain range is a lot older over here, so the peaks aren’t as tall and trees cover the top of mountains – obscuring the amazing views when you’re on the trail.
I wanted to find somewhere cool. So I asked around to everyone I know who spends time in the outdoors like we do. An area that kept coming up with the Grayson Highlands State Park on the NC/VA border. Neither Matt or I had ever heard of it, but once I started researching it, I knew it would be the perfect place for an easy weekend trip.
A 3 hour drive north of Charlotte, Grayson Highlands State Park intersects with the Appalachian Trail, is easy proximity to Mount Rogers (The tallest peak in Virginia at 5,729 ft above sea level), and known for feeling more like the Scottish Highlands instead of Virginia Highlands.
It also is home to Assateague ponies!
The ponies were places on the mountains in 1957 to graze on the balds and keep the brush at bay. The horses have thrived, and every year a few are sold off to pay for the vetinary care. There are supposedly 150 horses, we felt like we saw close to 50 of them ourselves. We saw pregnant ponies, new baby foals, and a cow who was trying to join a pony pack. They were incredibly friendly and not afraid of people at all. Some curious horses even tried to play with Moose – our hiking dog that tackles every mountain with us. Moose was amazing with the horses – she seemed to realize that she needed to stay calm and approach slowly if she wanted to sniff them.
The best part of the trip was the amazing views, and the cooler temps. We’ve been experiencing a summer where temps in the high 90s have been the norm, but the GHSP felt like high 70s/low 80s – making it enjoyable and allowing for a bit of a suntan on the arms, without the intense sweating.
The Route We Took:
From The Grayson Highlands State Park parking area, we hiked along the Rhododendron Trail until we intersected with the Appalachian Trail. We took the App Trail Southbound, meandering for miles until we found a place to make our home from the night. The next morning, we did day packs along the App Trail Southbound to the Mount Rogers Spur Trail to reach the peak of the mountain. We then hiked back to our bags, and made our way out of the park back to the car. It was roughly 10 miles round trip.
Fair Warning: this post is very image heavy! Be prepared to see so many horse. If you want to see the image larger, click the pic.
The Highest Point in Virginia
*I’d like to point out that I took all these photos with my iPhone 6s Plus. I can not get over the quality I was able to get with a camera phone. It’s amazing how much has advanced since taking photos with a Motorola Razr in 2008!
Have you explored this amazing state park before? We want to go back this fall to see the leaves changing – any recommendations for other trails in the area?