Category Archives: Travel

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.

Fort Bowie National Historic Site

Fort Bowie National Historic Site
Location: east of Wilcox, Arizona
Length of visit: 2 hours
Major draws: Ruins of a fort, scenic views
Strenuosity: 3 out of 10
Cost/Fees: Free
Additional considerations: 3-mile roundtrip hike to visitor center
Description: There aren’t any other NPS sites we can think of that require a 1.5-mile one-way hike to access the visitor center, but as a bonus when you arrive you’ve earned an I Hike for Health pin. This fort dates from the Civil War and late-1800s Apache Wars.

Tonto National Monument

Tonto National Monument
Location: Roosevelt Lake, Arizona
Length of visit: 1 hour
Major draws: Ruins, scenic views
Strenuosity: 3 out of 10
Cost/Fees: $5 per adult or free with America the Beautiful pass
Additional considerations: Steep but short hike to ruins
Description: Not far east of Phoenix is this beautiful cliff dwelling ruin, which makes for a great half day trip and scenic drive past Roosevelt, Apache, and Canyon Lakes.

Dole Pineapple Plantation

Dole Pineapple Plantation
Location: central Oahu, Hawaii
Length of visit: 2 hours
Major draws: Pineapple Express train, world’s largest maze, Dole whip dessert
Strenuosity: 1 out of 10
Cost/Fees: $7 per adult for maze
Additional considerations: Crowded when tour buses stop
Description: Even on a rainy day we had fun finding the 8 hidden stations in the world’s largest maze. To celebrate we split a Dole whip (pineapple soft serve).

North Shore

North Shore
Location: Hale’iwa, Oahu, Hawaii
Length of visit: full day
Major draws: Surfing, scenic views, shave ice, shrimp trucks
Strenuosity: 1 out of 10
Cost/Fees: Free parking
Additional considerations: Wave height varies considerably even in winter
Description: The famous pipeline waves of Hawaii are found on Oahu’s North Shore in winter, but during the week we visited they were not very large. Luckily, it was warm enough in December for a stop at Matsumoto’s General Store for shave ice.

Atlantis Submarine

Atlantis Submarine
Location: Waikiki Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
Length of visit: 2 hours
Major draws: Submarine ride, shipwrecks, fish, sea turtles
Strenuosity: 1 out of 10
Cost/Fees: About $100 per person
Additional considerations: Ferry boat to access offshore submarine
Description: Tiff was nervous about diving 100 feet in a submarine, but she enjoyed the spacious interior and large portholes. We saw a white reef shark, green sea turtles, numerous bluefin trevally, and many other interesting fish that were not their usual colorful selves due to color absorption in deep water.

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.

Byodo-In Temple

Byodo-In Temple
Location: Kahalu’u, Oahu, Hawaii
Length of visit: 1 hour
Major draws: Buddhist temple, koi pond
Strenuosity: 1 out of 10
Cost/Fees: $3 per adult
Additional considerations: Slapping mosquitoes is not very Zen
Description: Byodo-in Temple is a scale model of a structure in Japan. Set against the steep Ko’olau Range on the wet windward side of Oahu, it is incredibly photogenic.

Kalaupapa National Historical Park

Kalaupapa National Historical Park
Location: Molokai, Hawaii
Length of visit: half day
Major draws: Scenic views, historic buildings
Strenuosity: 1 out of 10
Cost/Fees: $249 per person from Honolulu
Additional considerations: Nobody under age 16 allowed, public only allowed into Kalaupapa while on a guided tour
Description: This isolated peninsula on the island of Molokai was selected as a quarantine zone for those suffering from Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) in the 1800s. There are still about 20 patients living here today even though they are no longer forced to segregate from society due to effective medical treatments.