Category Archives: Geology

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Location: Alamosa, Colorado
Length of visit: half day
Major draws: Tallest dunes in North America, scenic views
Strenuosity: 6 out of 10
Cost/Fees: Free in winter
Additional considerations: High elevation, strenuous climbing
Description: We saved our favorite National Park for last in 2016. Tiff came here as a child from nearby Pueblo, Colorado and we first climbed 750-foot tall Star Dune together in 2007.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
Location: Mariposa, California
Length of visit: half day to multiple days
Major draws: Iconic granite, scenic views, wildlife
Strenuosity: 0 to 6 out of 10
Cost/Fees: $30 per vehicle or free with America the Beautiful pass
Additional considerations: High elevation, steep trails
Description: Giant sequoia trees, massive waterfalls, and miles of hiking trails make this one of the most heavily-visited National Parks in the world, but it was fairly quiet the week before Thanksgiving.

Shark’s Cove

Shark’s Cove
Location: North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii
Length of visit: 1 hour
Major draws: Snorkeling, diversity of fish species, showers
Strenuosity: 2 out of 10
Cost/Fees: Free
Additional considerations: Strong current at times in deeper section
Description: Most visitors wade in this shallow, protected cove but you can see the fish much better while snorkeling. We went twice to see the copious marine life here and found the water clearer in the morning.

Diamond Head State Monument

Diamond Head State Monument
Location: Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii
Length of visit: 2 hours
Major draws: Scenic views, popular trail
Strenuosity: 1 out of 10
Cost/Fees: $1 per person walk-ins or $5 per vehicle
Additional considerations: Very limited parking, people jams on trail
Description: Diamond Head is an internationally recognized landmark standing above bustling Waikiki Beach. A continuous line of humanity climbs the 1.5-mile roundtrip trail to the top all day every day.

Spouting Horn

Spouting Horn
Location: southern Kauai, Hawaii
Length of visit: half hour
Major draws: Natural blowhole, scenic views, sea turtles
Strenuosity: 1 out of 10
Cost/Fees: Free
Additional considerations: Limited parking and viewing space
Description: Two lava tubes that open to the ocean create the Spouting Horn, which splashes out one and breathes out the other. The south shore of Kauai tends to be the sunniest part of the island and has plenty to see.

Alakai Swamp

Alakai Swamp—Koke’e State Park
Location: northwestern Kauai, Hawaii
Length of visit: half day
Major draws: Scenic views, unique species
Strenuosity: 7 out of 10
Cost/Fees: Free
Additional considerations: Muddy and steep trail
Description: The wettest spot on the planet (averages 452 inches of rain per year) takes time to drain, so it naturally creates a swamp with plant and animal species unique on the island. There is boardwalk in the swamp, but to access that we hiked miles of muddy, slick trails.

Hanakapi’ai Falls

Hanakapi’ai Falls
Location: northwestern Kauai, Hawaii
Length of visit: half day
Major draws: 300-foot waterfall
Strenuosity: 9 out of 10
Cost/Fees: Free
Additional considerations: Multiple waist-deep stream crossings, flash floods, trail slippery when wet (all the time)
Description: This trail follows the treacherous Kalalau Trail for the first 2 miles then heads up the soggy valley an additional 2 strenuous miles to reach the impressive falls. It is incredibly difficult to photograph due to the spray at its base, so be sure your equipment is waterproof.

 

Kalalau Valley

Kalalau Valley
Location: northwestern Kauai, Hawaii
Length of visit: multiple nights
Major draws: Uninhabited beach, scenic views, birding
Strenuosity: 10 out of 10
Cost/Fees: $20 per person per night
Additional considerations: Permits limited to 60 people per night and they sell out months in advance, feral goats but no chickens
Description: The trail to Kalalau is hell, but the place itself is paradise—the most beautiful place in all the Hawaiian Islands. Two nights is the minimum amount of time we would recommend staying.

Napali Coast State Wilderness Park

Kalalau Trail—Napali Coast State Wilderness Park
Location: northwestern Kauai, Hawaii
Length of visit: multiple days
Major draws: Scenic views, uninhabited coastline
Strenuosity: 10 out of 10
Cost/Fees: Free
Additional considerations: Sheer cliffs, trail slippery when wet (all the time)
Description: The only access to the idyllic Kalalau Valley is via this 11-mile one-way treacherous trail along the stunningly beautiful Napali Coast. Several deep stream crossings and deep mud require shoes or sandals that can get wet and not destroy your feet as you ascend and descend each of the numerous valleys.

Waimea Canyon State Park

Waimea Canyon State Park and Koke’e State Park
Location: western Kauai, Hawaii
Length of visit: half day
Major draws: Scenic views, waterfalls, hiking, birding
Strenuosity: 5 out of 10
Cost/Fees: Free
Additional considerations: Feral goats on trail, trail slippery when wet (which is all the time)
Description: The “Grand Canyon of Hawaii” is 3,600-feet deep and very colorful. Many trails crisscross these two state parks, including the one we took to the top of 800-foot Waipo’o Falls.