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The annual mass migration along the Pacific Flyway is in full swing by 10474477492?profile=originalThanksgiving.  Over 1.5 million ducks, geese, and other waterfowl pass through the Sacramento National Wildlife Complex or stop to claim it for their winter home.

Snow geese may be the stars of the show.  A brilliant white, they flash black wingtips when they take flight.  More than a quarter of a million make the 10474477686?profile=originallong journey from Siberia, Alaska and the Canadian arctic, flying night and day, resting in British Columbia and Washington.  After another rest along the Klamath River, they settle for the winter in the flooded ponds of the complex.

They are joined by hundreds of thousands of ducks, grebes, herons, egrets, ibis, cormorants, pelicans, gulls, and shorebirds. 

If you are driving on I-5 through the Sacramento Valley, make a short detour between Maxwell and Willows to visit the 10474477289?profile=originalSacramento NWR.  Stretch your legs along the 2-mile hiking trail or take the leisurely 6-mile driving tour.

We cruised slowly along the driving tour.  Northern harriers glided low over the marshland searching for voles and ground squirrels.  Jack rabbits scurried through the high grass.  Hawks rested in the10474477886?profile=original trees contemplating their next easy meal. Turkey vultures circled overhead.

We stopped at a viewing area where thousands of snow geese rested in a pond.  A small cluster got spooked, and it quickly spread.  Honking and chattering, they rose en masse in thrilling chaos, filling the sky.  Gradually they circled and returned to feed and relax in their pond.

You can make a day of birding with a drive through the Valley between I-5 and the Sacramento River visiting some of the other four refuges of the complex. Colusa NWR, east of Williams, is spectacular.  We spotted dozens of night herons perched in the bushes 10474478261?profile=originalalong the 3-mile driving tour and a great horned owl from the hiking trail.

Winter rains will soon be filling the marshes of the wildlife complex and the Valley’s rice fields.  The birds will keep coming and stay into February.  It’s a good time to enjoy this amazing wildlife spectacle.

 

Walkabout California – connecting with the natural world through travel, outdoor adventure, and hiking inn-to-inn.  Savor the journey and the destination. Click here for California inn-to-inn hiking guides.

 

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The American River starts high in the peaks of the Sierra Nevada.  It winds and crashes through deep canyons down to the foothills where it eventually is tamed to10474476258?profile=original form Folsom Lake.  Released again, it flows wide and powerful to meet the Sacramento River.  This moderate 66-mile, four-day walkabout starts in the foothill town of Auburn and descends downstream along the river.  It hikes back in time through California’s gold-rush history visiting Old Town Auburn, Folsom, and Sacramento.  On this hike, you’ll enjoy charming inns, excellent restaurants, live music, a brew pub, and old-time saloons.

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Looking for a fun weekend hike?  The first two days of this walkabout from Auburn to Folsom are a beautiful hiking get-away.

 

Spring is the perfect season for this journey.  Willows, cottonwoods, and buckeyes are leafing out.  Wildflowers grace lush meadows – fields of blue lupine, white and pale-blue Douglas iris, buckbrush dense with clusters of 10474476082?profile=originalsweet-smelling white flowers, 20-foot high and wide blooming redbuds.  Turkey vultures and red-tailed hawks circle slowly on warm updrafts.  Wild turkeys scamper across the trail and chortle in the woods.  Small herds of mule deer graze on tall shoreline grass.

 

Descend through the deep river canyon on the first two 10474477058?profile=originaldays. You will probably only see a few other hikers.  As you approach Folsom, the countryside opens.  You’ll join the American River Parkway and hike it all the way to Sacramento.  Gentle trails wind along the river.  Civilization is only a mile or two away, but the forest is deep and tranquil.  The only sounds are the music of spring10474476859?profile=original songbirds, the breeze through the trees, and flow of the river.

 

Below Nimbus Dam, the American rages wide and wild as it races to merge with the Sacramento River.  Your journey has descended from the Sierra Nevada 10474477452?profile=originalfoothills to the Sacramento Valley through beautiful country, visiting wonderful inns and interesting towns.  Walk in the footsteps of the pioneers, hiking from inn-to-inn along the American River.

Hiking the Tahoe Basin Walkabout is one fourteen inn-to-inn hikes found in the new edition of “Walkabout Northern California: Hiking Inn to Inn.”  It can also be purchased as an individual guide.

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Hiking Grizzly Island

A small herd of tule elk bounded out of the trees and into the marsh.  All males with 10474475254?profile=originalimpressive racks, they splashed through the shallows startling egrets and sending a flock of ducks aloft as they raced to an open field and disappeared.

Grizzly Island, 8,800 acres of marshland is a maze of ponds, sloughs, rivers and fields.  You can take the 8-mile driving tour and see wildlife, but you need to leave the car and hike the levee trails to experience the amazing abundance of raptures, waterfowl, river otters, and the elk.

We hiked in early February, shortly after the park had reopened from its five-month elk and waterfowl hunting season.  Those 600-800 pound male elk will soon drop their massive antlers.  In10474475654?profile=original the spring, a new set will start to grow.  A hungry northern harrier glided gracefully over the marsh and startled a flock of hundreds of snow geese.  They rose as one with a cacophony of squawks, circled and flew to a distant pond to resettle.  A pair of river otters playfully embraced and tumbled in a nearby slough.  Herons and egrets grazed in the shallows. Flocks of ducks paddled and fed in small ponds.  Red-tailed hawks and white-tailed kites circled overhead.

Located near Fairfield off I-80, the island is part of a patchwork of 10 separate parcels in the Grizzly Island 10474475852?profile=originalWildlife Area.  (Directions, fee information, public use schedules or call 707-425-3828)  It is in the heart of the 84,000 acre Suisun Marsh, the largest contiguous estuarine marsh in the U.S.

We saw only two other hikers and a fisherman as we hiked six miles on levee trails that leave from eight designated parking areas.  The sun was nearing the western horizon as we headed back to our car, casting long shadows over Mt. Diablo.  Rounding a bend, we spotted a white-tailed kite with a grey back, white head, and piercing eyes, perched atop a fence post.  She stared at us.  Then bored with our presence, she lifted with a few flaps, circled, and glided off.  It was a beautiful sight, ending a serene day of hiking in the wildlife wonderland of Grizzly Island.10474475683?profile=original

 

Walkabout California – connecting with the natural world through travel, outdoor adventure, and hiking inn-to-inn.  Savor the journey and the destination. Click here for California inn-to-inn hiking guides.

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The Joys of a Multi-Day Hike from Inn-to-Inn

There is a surge of popularity for hiking from inn-to-inn in Europe, and the same is true in 10474474652?profile=originalCalifornia.  Adventurers hike trails connecting coastal villages along the wild Pacific.  They trek through the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains, along the serene beaches of Southern California, and through the parklands around the San Francisco Bay.  Each day ends with a comfortable bed, a hot shower, a good meal, and perhaps even a therapeutic massage or a soak in a hot springs.

 

WHAT DRAWS US TO DISTANCE HIKING?

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, 10474474300?profile=originalwas really going in.”  -John Muir

We are drawn to wilderness to take respite from our modern urban lives, to connect with nature and with ourselves. The multiday hiker delights in a special joy from hiking in the wilderness.  Leave the car behind to hike for a few days, and you have the time to process the do-do list and plan the work that needs to be done when the hike is over, but also the time to daydream, to contemplate, to meditate, to have an unhurried conversation with a friend that might last three days.  The mind10474474854?profile=original slows as the miles pass. The hiker goes, not only into the woods, but deeper into herself.  If a pilgrimage is a walk to a sacred site, then perhaps nature’s wild places are our cathedrals, and every extended hike in nature is a pilgrimage both to a place and into one’s heart.

THE PLEASURE OF ENDING A DAY’S HIKE AT A WELCOMING INN

Backpackers know the 10474475092?profile=originaljoys of a multiday hike, but sometimes you just don’t want to sleep on the ground.  Strap on a 12-15 lb. daypack and hike the Marin Coast from the Headland to Point Reyes, stopping each evening in a coastal village where you can explore the pubs and restaurants.  Cross the Sierra in the footsteps of the pioneers and stay in cabins on the the shores of clear mountain lakes.  Take a romantic stroll along the beautiful Mendocino Coast and enjoy gourmet cuisine at inns perched on bluffs overlooking the vast Pacific.  Hike Lassen, exploring mountains lakes, deep canyons, and otherworldly hydrothermal landscapes with a visit to a rustic guest ranch where you will enjoy sumptuous dining and a muscle-soothing soak in a hot springs pool.

Leave the car behind, and explore some of the most beautiful wilderness in the world.  Take a hike from inn-to-inn.

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Hike the spine of the High Sierra along the Pacific Crest Trail on this 3-day, 30 mile walkabout.  This is a challenging hike, but you’ll be rewarded with stopovers at 10474473654?profile=originalmountain resorts in spectacular settings and with the solitude and pristine beauty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Start your journey at Donner Pass and end at Lake Tahoe.  Day 1 hikes 10.5 miles along the PCT.  Starting at 7,100 ft., the trail climbs sharply along a series of rocky switchbacks but soon settles into a gradual ascent.  The high mountains that form10474474052?profile=original Sugar Bowl Ski Resort come into view.  Reaching the crest, the PCT becomes one of the most beautiful trails in all the Sierra – exposed volcanic ridges, snowcapped peaks, and scattered forest of fir and pine.  The Truckee River Valley plunges to the east, the American 10474473700?profile=originalRiver cuts a deep gorge to the west, and Lake Tahoe shimmers in the distance.  End the day with a descent by foot or tram to Squaw Valley and enjoy a comfortable bed, a good meal, and maybe a well-earned soak in a hot tub.

Day 2 returns to the PCT and enters territory visited only by the most adventurous mountain hikers.  Hike long glaciated valleys through scattered pines under towering mountain peaks.  Spring comes late in the high country.  Bright yellow mule’s ears and deep blue lupine cover mountain slopes in July and August. 

Leaving the PCT, take Five Lakes Trail, and descend 1,000 feet past crystal-clear alpine lakes beckoning you to take a swim.  Forests of giant Jeffrey pines and aspen greet you as you approach Alpine Meadows Ski Resort.  Continue  to the Truckee River.10474474273?profile=original

Finish your adventure on Day 3 hiking along the Truckee to Lake Tahoe.  Take your time, savoring the serenity of the river, the grandeur of the lake, and the memory of hiking the crest of the High Sierra.

Hiking the Tahoe Basin Walkabout is one of a dozen inn-to-inn hikes found in “Walkabout Northern California: Hiking Inn to Inn.”  It can also be purchased as an individual guide.

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Exploring Lassen Volcanic National Park

An enchanted land of rugged mountains, alpine lakes, clear streams, deep glaciated canyons, and 10474471693?profile=originalother-worldly hydrothermal landscapes, Lassen Volcanic National Park is a wild and exotic Northern California treasure.  Towering above it all, Lassen Peak rests after its most recent eruption in 1917.

One of the least visited national parks, Lassen sees one-tenth the visitors of the Grand Canyon.  Most people stay close to the highway that traverses the park.  Here are two walkabouts that take you deep into the backcountry.

Both two-day hikes stop overnight at historic Drakesbad Guest Ranch in the south-central part of the park.  Eighteen10474472868?profile=original miles from the nearest village, the cabins are lit by kerosene lamps.  Hot springs heat the swimming pool.  Stay a couple of days to enjoy the hearty cuisine and day hikes to nearby thermal hotspots.  You might even want to try horseback riding, fly-fishing, or a soothing therapeutic massage.

The first Lassen Walkabout is a 19.4 mile, two-day loop.  Start and end your hike at lovely Summit Lake, perched at 7,000’ in the shadow of massive Lassen Peak.  This hike explores the park’s central region. 

Our trail passes a string of inviting mountain lakes, their shorelines dense with wildflowers in the 10474472894?profile=originalearly season. Join the PCT and head south.  You may have the trail all to yourselves.  Only backpackers and a few daytrippers venture this far.  Descend through Grassy Swale along a meandering brook.  Cross Kings Creek and follow the signs to Warner Valley and Drakesbad where rustic comfort awaits you.

After your sore muscles have been pampered in the hot springs pool and you have been well fed, your return journey hikes the northern edge of Hot Springs Creek Canyon.  Descend to spectacular Kings Creek Falls crashing 50 feet over a rocky natural staircase. 

The trail back to Summit Lake ascends through verdant meadows, crossing spring-fed streams.  Before returning to your car, stop to take in the awesome grandeur of Lassen Peak and its reflection in the crystal-clear waters.

The second Lassen Walkabout, a two-day, 22.2 mile hike requires two cars.  Hiking from the NE to SW corners, it explores the park’s most amazing volcanic features.  Start your trek at Butte Lake,10474472701?profile=original 6,100’.  One hundred foot high rivers of lava, frozen in time, shape its shoreline.

Head south to Cinder Cone.  Eruptions in the 1600s formed this 750 foot high elegant beauty.  If you feel ambitious, climb the steep trail over loose cinders.  The view is worth the climb – The Painted Dunes, Fantastic Lava Beds, and to the west, 10,457’ snowcapped Lassen Peak.

10474473452?profile=originalTurn south on the PCT past a series of lovely jewel lakes, perfect for an afternoon swim.  Then descend into Warner Valley and Drakesbad Guest Ranch where a nice soak in the hot springs pool awaits you.

The second hiking day follows the ridgeline of Hot Springs Creek Canyon, past Kings Creek Falls, and up Kings Creek, hiking through forests of mountain hemlock, lodgepole and ponderosa pine.  Fields of wildflowers abound through mid-summer.

You will arrive at Bumpass Hell, a thermal wonderland of fumaroles, boiling hot springs, and bubbling mud pots.  This is a reminder that the forces that caused Lassen Peak to erupt 100 years ago are still active.  She is 10474473069?profile=originalonly resting.

The final leg of the trail climbs to 8,400’, the highest point on these walkabouts. While dropping to the parking lot, pass Lake Helen with magnificent Lassen Peak in the background.  Stop for a moment before climbing into your car; breathe the crisp mountain air, and savor your exploration of one of America’s most spectacular and least-visited national parks.

 

Exploring Lassen Volcanic National Park Walkabouts are some of a dozen inn-to-inn hikes found in “Walkabout Northern California: Hiking Inn to Inn.”  It can also be purchased as an individual guide.

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Hiking Tuscany - Hill Town to Hill Town

Is there anything better than a leisurely drive through Tuscany? Yes! A multi-day hike from hill 10474468666?profile=originaltown to hill town savoring the Tuscan countryside at two miles an hour, exploring farmland and forest, walking the quiet streets of ancient villages, meeting the locals, and enjoying the famous wines and cuisine.

It was late October when my wife, Heidi, and I set out from the walled city of Buonconvento for five days of hiking, walking 4-6 hours a day.  Summer in Tuscany can be unbearably hot and crowded with tourists.  But, in the autumn, the hoards have departed; the weather is ideal for a long stroll.10474468498?profile=original

We were armed with only a map of Italy and a fantastic book, Walking and Eating in Tuscany and Umbria, by James Lasdun and Pia Davis.  It describes the trails, countryside, villages, cuisine, wines, and restaurants of a country the authors deeply love.  Unfortunately, it was last published in 2004 and sadly out of date.  Most of the restaurants have changed hands, landmark farms have changed names, and some trails are now blocked. 

Yet, after moments of confusion, we were always able to find our way.  The book’s maps are useful.  Red and white trail markers of the CAI (Club Alpino Italiano) help.  Restaurants that we found after talking to our innkeepers or to locals and visitors over a glass of wine, never disappointed. 

 

Buonconvento to Montalcino

10474468691?profile=originalLeaving Buonconvento, we walked a quiet road, turned down a gravel drive toward a farm house, and onto a path.  Italy has a different attitude about walking and private property.  Trails and footpaths have been used for centuries.  If the walker is respectful, she is welcome to pass.

We hiked rolling hills and valleys of woodlands and harvested fields of grain and sunflowers on hiking paths, gravel roads, and country lanes encountering very few cars and no other hikers.  In the distance, we could see our destination, Montalcino, high on a hilltop.  As we approached, the landscape shifted to vineyards of the recently harvested and famous Brunello wines.  Climbing 10474469466?profile=originalthrough the outskirts of town, it dawned on us that because we were hiking to hill towns, each day would end with an ascent.

Our cheerful innkeeper greeted us with glasses of prosecco and a sunlit room overlooking the main square.  In the busy season, rooms need to be booked weeks in advance.  In late October, we arranged for our inns usually a day in advance using booking.com or Airbnb.

That evening, we visited the festive wine bar scene, packed with friendly locals, and sampled the dark, bold, tannic, delicious Brunello.

 

Montalcino to Sant’Antimo

As we left Montalcino, we enjoyed the best views of the city’s castle, grand church, and bell 10474469865?profile=originaltower.  The trail quickly plunges into a dense forest, winding along a woodland path, crossing streams crashing down steep gullies.  It is amazing how much of South Tuscany is still forested.

Emerging from the woods, the countryside changes from harvested grain fields to vineyards.  Hike along a gravel road under a canopy of oaks for several miles and then along the crest of top land through beautiful vineyards and rolling hills.  The trail becomes steep and rugged as it descends into Starcia Valley. 

The beautiful Romanesque abbey of Sant’Antimo comes into view surrounded by olive orchards and vineyards turning bright red and yellow.  After stopping to tour the church and to rest, we walked10474470468?profile=original another kilometer into Castlenuovo del’Abate and to a wonderful agriturismo, La Palazzetta (palazzettafanti.it).  Agriturismos are country farms that offer lodging and dining.  The family that owns La Palazzetta is a delight.  For four generations, they have worked this land.

We toured the wine production facilities with daughter, Tea.  Then we met the rest of the family who were pressing olive oil, and we tasted the freshest virgin olive oil of our lives.

That evening, we strolled back to Sant’Antimo.  Founded in 1118 as a Benedictine community, it is 10474470093?profile=originalnow run by a French Cistercian order.  Sitting in the ancient church, we were transported to another realm by the sonorous Gregorian chants of five monks.  Then we dined at a village trattoria on ravioli with truffles, boar stew, caprese salad, and very local wine.

Our hosts convinced us that we must stay another day and return to Mantalcino for the annual medieval festival, and the family patriarch, Flavio, drove us back to town. 

Montalcino was ready to party.  Folks from its four districts paraded in traditional costumes.  Food stalls served polenta and grilled meats.  The Brunello flowed.

The festival culminated in an archery contest.  Four teams, dressed in the colors of their district competed fiercely.  Whittled down to two teams, they kept shooting from greater distances and tying.  Tension mounted.  Finally, the last10474471267?profile=original archer fired his last shot and missed.  The crowd erupted with cheers and tears.

 

Sant’Antimo to Bagno Vignoni

Workers were already in the orchards when we set out the next morning, shaking branches, the ripe olives falling into nets below.  Ascending a gravel road, we reached top land and hiked rolling hills of vineyards.  Monte Amiata dominates the skyline, and castles crown smaller peaks. CAI signs and posted maps mark the route.  The trail 10474471489?profile=originaldescends sharply through woodland over rugged terrain to River d’Orcia.  It passes the castle hamlet, Ripa d’Orcia and enters the spa town, Bagno Vignoni.  Built around a central square with an ancient steaming pool, the waters of Bagno Vignoni have attracted visitors since Etruscan times. 

We strolled through town to the Posta Marcucci Hotel (postamarcucci.it).  Famous for its pools, it perches on a cliff overlooking the d’Orcia valley.  The hotel is the converted renaissance summer house of Pius II.  Steaming waters from 1,000 meters underground bubble up to springs that feed the large pools.  After a wonderful day of hiking, we luxuriated in the baths, sauna, steam room, and hot pools.

 

Bagno Vignoni to Pienza

10474471097?profile=originalThe trail to Pienza follows a route established during the Renaissance.  On gravel roads, farm tracks, and footpaths, we hiked through rolling hills of spent grain fields past old and newer farms and villas.

The hill top, walled city of Pienza beckons for miles in the distance.  Of course, approaching the city requires a long ascent.  We stopped for a rest at Pieve di Corsignano, a small Romanesque church built in the 11th century, its entry carved with dancers and dragons.

10474472074?profile=originalPienza is the birth place of Pius II, and he attempted to transform it into a Renaissance utopia.  From 1459-62, palaces, the cathedral, and the central district of town were constructed, but Pius died and the project was never completed.

The central district has changed little, and it is a favorite site for movie settings.  With only a few minor changes, the made-for-TV movie “Masters of Florence” was being shot when we visited.  We joined the film crew for an evening of wine and stories in a tavern on the main square that felt like it had been serving locals and pilgrims for centuries.

 

Pienza to Montepulciano

We stopped at a cheese shop on our way out of Pienza, sampling some of the famous pecorinos10474472275?profile=original and other sheep cheeses before settling on two to carry us through our last day on the Tuscan trails.  Leaving through the S.E. portal of the city wall, the route descends a gravel road into a fertile valley.  It climbs to the crest, and views unfold of the most beautiful valleys dotted with farm houses surrounded by vineyards and lanes lined with tall cypress trees.

Turning onto a small farm path, it started to rain.  Out came the rain jackets, pants, and pack 10474472300?profile=originalcovers.  Then the skies opened, and it began to pour.  What joy to hike through Tuscan farmland and forest in the sweet autumn rain.  The skies cleared as we hiked through vineyards of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

The city came into view, and the sun broke through.  High on a hill, surrounded by storm clouds, the magnificent city glowed.10474472475?profile=original

Yes, there is great pleasure in driving through Tuscany.  It might take only 30 minutes to drive to the next pretty town compared to five hours on foot.  But, I can think of no better way to have a deep experience of this rich and ancient country than hiking through Tuscany from hill town to hill town.

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Slovenia's Julian Alps - Hiking Hut to Hut

Beautiful Slovenia, a pastoral country of 2 million, lies in So. Central Europe, nestled between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea.  Set in its NW corner, in the Julian Alps, Triglav National Park is a land of raging rivers, crystalline lakes, alpine10474465875?profile=original meadows, and soaring peaks.  At its heart stands Mt. Triglav, Slovenia’s tallest mountain.

After spending a few days in Slovenia’s enchanting capital, Ljubljana with my wife, Heidi, we took a bus to the mountain resort town of Bled.  A 30 minute taxi ride brought us to Rudno Polje (1,347m), the starting point for a six day trek from mountain hut to hut. 

It was raining lightly as we hit the trail, climbing through a forest of fir, pine, and larch.  The feathery larch sprays glowed in the mountain mist.

The park’s trails are well marked, and signs give hiking times, not distances.  The trailhead sign said it is a three hour hike to our first hut, 10474466466?profile=originalVodnikov dom, but we were in no hurry on this trek.  We wanted to go slow, to savor the journey and the destination.

 Ascending out of the forest, we entered a rocky glaciated valley at the foot of barren Mt. Visevnik and climbed steeply on loose scree to the pass, Studorski Preval (1,892m).  The trail then leveled, winding along the mountainside.  Lush, verdant valleys lay below us.

Rounding a bend, we stopped, awestruck.  The three limestone peaks of Mt. Triglav (2,864m) came into view.  Clouds enshrouded the summit, then moved on, and the sun shined bright on the mountain’s white face.  A kilometer later, we arrived at our first hut.

Vadnikov dom (1,817m) is a two story wooden house with dorms and private rooms.  After our 8k hike, we were delighted when upon our arrival, the two ladies who managed the hut offered us beer, wine, or schnapps.  We settled into a private room with two twin beds and a mountain view for 37 euros, then joined two Americans and five Slovenian climbers for a spaghetti dinner.  Tales of hikes and climbs across Europe were spun over glasses of wine while our clothes dried by the wood stove.

There are dozens of huts and miles of trails in the park.  The Alpine Association of Slovenia (www.en.pzs.si) is a great resource for maps and books.  A membership, which can be purchase online for 55 euros, entitles you to accident insurance while in the mountains and discounts at Slovenia’s 10474466280?profile=originalmountain huts as well as other European and Canadian huts.  Ciscerone (www.cicerone.co.uk) is also a good resource for books on hiking all over the world, including Slovenia.

We hiked in late September.  In another week, many huts would close for the winter.  It’s good to make reservations during the summer, but we didn’t need them this late in the season.

Mt. Triglav towered high above us as we set out on day two.  We could just barely make out our destination, Dom Planika (2,401m), a hut perched on a bare rock plateau below the summit.  This day’s hike, beautiful and challenging, was only three kilometers.

Our trail hugged the mountainside.  Sections were so narrow and exposed that steel cables and anchors had been fixed 10474467073?profile=originalto the stone, a via Ferrata or Iron Way.  We reached a pass, and a howling wind almost knocked us off our feet.  The trail climbed steeply over loose scree.  At times the mighty wind pushed us backwards, and we staggered for a few steps.

Then it started to rain.

We were happy to reach the hut.  A Slovenia hiking club soon joined us.  They were exuberant, breaking out flasks, buying beers, and tossing back shots of schnapps with shouts and laughter.

This remote hut is supplied by helicopter, so the menu is a bit more limited than other huts.  We dined on cabbage soup, goulash, polenta, and sausage.  Outside, the wind roared, reaching hurricane force, 120k/hr.  We briefly ventured out before nightfall to take in the last moments of sunshine on rugged peaks stretching to the horizon.10474466894?profile=original

Fortunately, the hut is built for severe weather.  It has two large dorms.  The hiking club took over one, and they partied until the wee hours.  We were thankfully assigned to the quiet dorm along with a half dozen hikers from all over Europe

It is said that every “true” Slovenian needs to stand atop Mt. Triglav once in her life time.  The summit is about a two hour climb from the hut with via Ferrata to manage stretches of wicked exposure.  Helmets are recommended because of falling rocks.

It looked like none of us were going to summit this day. A gale still blew at 80k/hr., so we headed out for a 7k hike to 10474467484?profile=originalour next hut.  The wind quickly tore off Heidi’s pack cover and sent it soaring over the ridge, never to be seen again.  Once we left the exposed flank of Triglav, the wind began to calm.

We hiked methodically over loose shale and wet rock. The cables and iron steps of the via Ferrata made difficult sections easy.  What a joy it was to hike these high alpine trails through miles of rocky terrain.  We ran into only two other hikers all day.

We passed a small lake and spotted our next hut, Zasavska koca na Prehodvcih (2,071m), high on a ridge.  It was like the other huts, unfailingly pleasant at the end of day’s hike.  People from all over the world are happy to meet and eager to talk.  The food is simple and nourishing.  The beer and wine is plentiful.  The staff is friendly and helpful.

As we left in the morning, we spotted a chamois, an alpine goat-antelope, lounging on a rock, studying us.  We were now hiking on the E7 European Long Distance Footpath.  The idea of following it to Portugal was tempting.

Descending through Triglav Lakes Valley, we passed beautiful ponds and lakes, leaving the raw rocky slopes and dropping below the tree line.  The two remaining huts at lower elevation are more easily supplied.  They are more posh and the menus more varied.  We even got to take a shower!10474467697?profile=original

On our final day, we descended 1,000m to Lake Bohinj (526m), another beautiful Slovenian mountain resort town and arrived just in time for the annual Cow Festival.  Hundreds of locals gathered for the bringing of the cows down from the mountains into the valleys for the winter.  They celebrated in traditional costumes with music, dancing, food, and beer.  And we joined them, happy to celebrate Slovenia and a long walk through amazing Triglav National Park.

Click here for California inn-to-inn hiking guides.

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This moderate four-day, 27.3-mile walkabout hikes some of the most alluring swimming and 10474469090?profile=originalsurfing beaches in the world as well as rugged rocky shores under steep cliffs that you will share with sea birds, seals, and dolphins.  You may want to pause from hiking each day to swim in the luxurious waters of the Pacific.

Start this hike in Newport Beach.  It has the feel of an old-time Southern California seaside hamlet.  Eateries and watering holes surround the pier.  Live music spills out of taverns on balmy evenings. 

Day 1 hikes 7.2 miles to Crystal Cove State Park.  Walk Newport’s Ocean Front 10474468900?profile=originalPromenade, take the ferry to Balboa Island, and stroll along the harbor to Corona del Mar State Beach.  Then hike along a rugged shoreline, teeming with birdlife. Stop to inspect the tide pools, home to sea snails, anemone, and hermit crabs. Harbor seals feed and swim just beyond the breakers.   

Hiking into Crystal Cove, you pass the historic district where ramshackle cottages from the 1930s – 1950s perch on the bluffs.  They are being rescued and meticulously restored for visitors.  You will need to make your reservation early.  They book up months in advance.  If you 10474469676?profile=originaldon’t score a cottage, stop for lunch at the Beachcomber Café, and push on to Laguna Beach (Day 2, 4.6-miles).

Laguna Beach’s main beach is almost always a scene with strollers on the promenade, musicians, painters, beach volleyball, Frisbee, and sun bathers.  It is a fun town, worth staying an extra day – lots of inns close to the beach, dozens of restaurants, and more than 100 artist studios and galleries.

Day 3 (9.5 miles) hikes both quiet shorelines and popular beaches to Dana Point.    Climb a set of stairs and enter the magical world of Dana Point 10474470454?profile=originalPreserve.  A path winds along coastal cliffs through a wild garden of native plants.  The lush foliage attracts a wide variety of bird life.  You feel transported back in time to the days before California’s great cities were built and her shoreline crowded with houses.

Day 4 is a six-mile stroll along pretty beaches to San Clemente where you can enjoy the inns, restaurants, and pubs near the pier. Take a walkabout and explore the Southern California Riviera at two miles an hour, hiking inn-10474470265?profile=originalto-inn.

The Newport Beach to San Clemente Walkabout is one of the hikes found in "Walkabout Malibu to Mexico: Hiking Inn to Inn on the Southern California Coast. " It can be purchased as an individual guide.

$6.99

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

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Walkabout the Monterey Bay

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.”
~ Gandhi

Who has stood on a beach that stretches all the way to the horizon and not felt a primal longing to 10474464300?profile=originalwalk, perhaps all day, to see how far it goes, to explore that region where sea meets shore?  Satisfy that yearning on this 37-mile, four-day hike on the edge of Monterey Bay.  The protected waters of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary teem with ocean and bird life.  You’ll hike pristine beaches and have miles all to yourself.  Enjoy unique inns and great dining.

Start this walkabout at Capitol Village with its joyful beachside inns, restaurants, and taverns.  Then set out for an 8.7-mile stroll along a series of state beaches – New Brighton, Seacliff10474464500?profile=original, and Manresa.  The sand is firm and flat, ideal for hiking.   Thousands of birds feast in the Pacific and along its shore.  Marbled godwits, curlews, and willets with long skinny beaks roam the shore on tall spindly legs, probing the bubbling sand behind receding waves for small mollusks and crustaceans.  Groups of comical, tiny sanderlings scurry to the water’s edge to pick up a morsel before racing inland to avoid the next surge.  Hundreds of pelicans put on a show, diving for lunch while gulls swoop in for scraps.  You may spot sea 10474464663?profile=originallions, pods of porpoises, and migrating whales.

Hike 12.1 miles of quiet shoreline on Day 2, arrive in Moss Landing, and be delighted by the whimsical antics of the sea otters who relax and play in the harbor.  Stay at Captain’s Inn where you can watch birdlife in the marshes from your bedroom.  Spend an extra day and rent a kayak or take a pontoon boat to explore Elkhorn Slough, one of the best places for wildlife viewing on the West Coast.10474465661?profile=original

Day 3 (7.3 miles) and Day 4 (9.0 miles) continue along the beach to Monterey.  Enjoy the inns, restaurants, and bars of Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row after a hike that few have ever done, hiking from inn-to-inn on glorious Monterey Bay.

The Monterey Bay Walkabout is one of the hikes found in “Walkabout Northern California: Hiking Inn to Inn”. It can also be purchased as an individual guide.

$6.99

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike."
~ John Muir

 

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Natural Bridges Monarch Butterfly Preserve

They fly 2,000 miles to return to their winter home.  When the temperature dips below 55, they10474464273?profile=original gather in pulsating clusters, clinging to eucalyptus branches, their feet intertwined.  The day warms, and sunlight falls on a cluster.  They burst forth, a fluttering orange and black cloud.

Natural Bridges State Beach, just north of Santa Cruz, is the winter home of a colony of thousands of monarch butterflies.  They arrive in mid-October and stay until mid-February.  Then they leave for an amazing four-generation annual migration.

Newborns set out, heading northeast, laying eggs on milkweed.  The initial generation dies, but new caterpillars are born, feed on milkweed, form chrysalises, 10474463488?profile=originaland emerge as a second generation. They fly over the Sierra Nevada Mountains and repeat the process.  Generation three spreads out to the Pacific NW, Southern Canada, and the Western Rockies.  When days grow short, generation four, traveling at 5.5 mph, flies the 2,000 miles back to Natural Bridges.

Although Western North American monarchs winter in many sites along the California and Baja coast, Natural Bridges State Beach is California’s only state monarch preserve.   Leave the beach, and follow a path that leads to a canyon with a eucalyptus grove, boardwalk10474464855?profile=original, and observation deck.  Visitors descend into the grove and speak in hushed tones, feeling they have entered a sacred and magical spot.  Monarchs flitter overhead.  One may land on your arm.

  Herbicides and loss of breeding habitat threaten monarch populations.  A 2014 study estimated the Western North American monarchs have declined 50% since 1997.  Their eastern cousins, who migrate from north and central U.S. and Southern Canada to Florida and Mexico, have declined 90% since 1995.

Efforts are underway to preserve habitat and to create “Monarch Waystations,” – parks, fields, and home gardens planted with milkweed.  Check out your local nursery for milkweed plants or seeds.  Plant organic milkweed, and create your own waystation!

10474465075?profile=originalNatural Bridges State Beach (parks.ca.gov) is on the north side of Santa Cruz, at the end of W. Cliff Dr. There is a $10 per vehicle day use fee.

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Yellowstone in the Winter

The summer Yellowstone crowds disappear, and serenity settles on the land for both people and animals.  Bison gather in the geyser basins where food is more 10474460694?profile=originalabundant.  Elk graze along river banks.  Wolves and coyotes come to pick off the vulnerable.

     Yellowstone is unique in the world – 2 million acres with 10,000 hydrothermal features – hot springs, mud pots, and geysers.  All of the park’s roads close from early Nov. to mid-April, except one road from the NE 10474461280?profile=originalentrance into Mammoth Hot Springs.  Once there is enough snow, you can enter this ethereal paradise only by snowcoach or snowmobile.

     We came in from West Yellowstone on a 4-hour snowcoach ride along the Madison River, then south along the Firehole to Old Faithful, stopping to observe and photograph wildlife – bison, elk, coyotes.  We spotted the carcass of a bull elk, his skull and antlers lay in the snow.  A pack of wolves had brought him down.  Coyotes feasted after the wolves had eaten their fill.  Raccoons, mice, and other smaller creatures followed.  Ravens were taking their turn when we arrived.  Insects will finish the job.  Raw nature and the vivid cycle of life.10474462055?profile=original

     Old Faithful Snow Lodge is the only lodging in the park.  Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel is closed in the winter for renovations.  It should reopen in winter 2018-19.  We stayed in a cozy cabin.  There is a grill, a good restaurant, and a comfortable lounge.  Even though they have a monopoly, prices are reasonable.

     Old Faithful is the central attraction.  More than 1,000 people will gather to watch it erupt in the summer - in the winter, maybe 20-30.  We hiked for hours through the Upper Geyser Basin, meeting only a few other hikers.  What a contrast to the summer throngs.

 10474462092?profile=original    Deep hot springs, with brilliant blue and yellow pools, steam in the cool air.  Geysers, each with its own personality, bubble and spout or fire jets of boiling water and steam high into the sky.  The beautiful Firehole River meanders through the basin, geysers steaming along its banks.  At times we needed to take a detour around a gang of bison or a single bull. 

     Bring your cross country skis and snowshoes, or rent them once you arrive.  You can ski or snowshoe on trails from Old Faithful or take a shuttle and ski back.  We hiked the geyser basin trails with tracs, traction devices attached to our boots.  They are sold in the Old Faithful store.

     Lodging at Old Faithful Snow Lodge starts at $149/night.  For reservations, call 307-344-7311 or go to 10474462489?profile=originalwww.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com.  Enter the park by snowcoach or snowmobile tour from the west, north, or south entrance.  Start your research at www.nps.gov/yell.

     Leaving the park, our driver, Les, spotted a lone wolf, ½ mile away.  With binoculars, we saw a nearby pack of five.  The lone wolf slowly approached the pack.  This was the first time Heidi or I had seen a wolf in the wilds.  Les, a retired park ranger, was as excited as we were to watch this drama.  He speculated that the lone male was searching for a pack to join. 

     “They are pack animals,” he said, “and a 10474463260?profile=originallone wolf will not thrive.”

     The lone male approached slowly, tentatively.  Things did not go well.  The pack spotted him.  We could not hear the exchange, but it was clear he was not welcome.  The pack moved forward, menacing, and the lone wolf streaked away over the hill and into the woods.

Add winter in Yellowstone to your bucket list.

 

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Birding – Colusa National Wildlife Refuge

A red-tailed hawk swoops low, and 1,000 startled snow geese lift with a cacophony 10474459490?profile=originalof honks and chatter.  They ascend in disarray, filling the sky.  Breathtaking chaos.  Then they gradually assemble, circle, and return to their vernal pond.

Winter is the season to visit Colusa National Wildlife Refuge.  On the Pacific Flyway, 66 miles north of Sacramento, 200,000 ducks and 50,000 geese pass through or claim the refuge for their winter home.  The 4,686 acre refuge has a 1-mile hiking trail with two viewing platforms and a 3-mile driving loop, ideal for birding and photography.

We see dozens of species during our early January visit, but snow geese are the stars.  Thousands rest in the ponds10474459877?profile=original and along the shoreline.  Brilliant white, they reveal black wingtips when taking flight.  They leave their breeding grounds in Canada, Northern Alaska, and Siberia and start arriving in the Sacramento Valley in November.  Their populations peek in January and February.

Duck populations peek in December and January.  We see mallard, teal, wigeon, bufflehead, northern shoveler, pintail, and many other species.  Egrets and herons wade in the shallows.  Hawks rest in high branches, seemingly trying to decide what to have for lunch from the abundant buffet.  Northern harrier glide low over uplands in search of mice and ground squirrels.  Turkey vultures 10474460464?profile=originalcircle overhead as cliff swallows dart in the waning sunlight.  Twenty night herons settle in to roost in the bushes along a slough while two deer stare at us as we slowly drive by. 

If you are traveling through the Sacramento Valley, take a brief detour to the Colusa Refuge.  It is 1 of 6 units of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex.  Rice fields throughout the valley are flooded by winter storms.  Driving through the valley, we saw trumpeter swans swimming in the fields, sandhill cranes grazing, and bald10474460089?profile=original eagles roosting in the trees.

Directions: Exit I-5 at Williams (#578) and take Hwy 20 east for 6.7 miles.  Watch for the refuge sign and enter on O’Hair Road.

Click here for California inn-to-inn hiking guides.

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San Clemente to Oceanside

This one day, 23.8 mile “bridge hike” connects two multi-day walkabouts. There are no inns or restaurants, but the inn-to-inn hiker is rewarded with the longest stretch of accessible uninterrupted, undeveloped shoreline for over 200 miles. Hike miles of plateau between coastal mountains and the sea. Walk through Camp Pendleton where you will experience an active Marine Corps base at two miles an hour. This is a challenging hike. Be sure to bring your driver’s license. They will check it as you enter Camp Pendleton. Visit the Walkabout Shop page to purchase a guide to hiking from San Clemente to Oceanside.

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“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”
- Margaret Atwood, Bluebeard’s Egg

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Kayak the Albion River

Kayaking up stream, the river stirs.  A harbor seal pokes his head above the surface 10474485290?profile=originaland stares back at us.  Overhead, an osprey glides, searching for lunch.  Blue herons perch on limbs of firs, pines, and redwoods on the river banks.  We startle a cormorant.  Madly slapping the river and running along the surface, she takes flight.

The Albion River meets the Pacific eight miles south of Mendocino.  Turn east on the first road north of the bridge, and follow it to Albion River10474485072?profile=original Campground to launch.  We paddled a few miles upstream.  Floating back, we let the gentle current do the work, wanting to savor the joy and serenity of being on the river.

The Albion River Campground, 707-937-0606, rents kayaks and canoes from early spring to late fall.  They have RV and tent sites on the river, or you can stay in one of their RVs.

Walkabout California – connecting with the natural world through travel, outdoor adventure, and hiking 10474485478?profile=originalinn-to-inn.  Savor the journey and the destination. Click here for California inn-to-inn hiking guides.

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Hiking Point Reyes Tule Elk Reserve

We round a curve and halt.  A herd of 50 female tule elk crosses our trail.  There 10474486276?profile=originalare three males.  Two are smaller, but one is massive, standing tall above his harem, with a huge candelabra rack, seven points on each antler.  He looks like he is having a very good year.

It is late October, the tail-end of rutting/breeding season, as we hike the northern tip of Point Reyes National Seashore on Tomales Point Trail.  A narrow peninsula, it is bordered by steep cliffs and the wild Pacific to the west, and to the east, the calm waters of Tomales Bay and the rolling hills of Marin.

Tule elk once rambled California’s coastal hills and Central Valley.  It is estimated10474486065?profile=original that there were 500,000 when Europeans arrived.  They were hunted relentlessly, and by the 1860s they were thought to be extinct.  But in 1874, a group of less than 30 was discovered in the marshes of southern San Joaquin Valley.  Rancher, Henry Miller, protected them, and they started to make a comeback.

In the fall of 1978, 17 tule elk were released into the 2,600 acre enclosed reserve at Pt. Reyes.  The population grew, and today it is estimated at 450.  In 1998, 28 elk were 10474485892?profile=originalmoved to the Limantour Beach area.  The herd grew, and a group swam across Drakes Estero and established a sub-head near Drakes Beach.  Around 4,300 tule elk now live in 15-20 California sites.

Rutting and breeding season extends from August into October, and this is an exciting time to hike the reserve.  Female hormones are pumping.  Bulls attract females by bugling and then chase off other males to10474486301?profile=original form harems of up to 30-50.  After the rut, males form bachelor groups, and in the winter, they lose their antlers.

Females remain in groups throughout the year, except between mid-May and mid-June when a pregnant cow separates to give birth.  She returns to the group after about 3 weeks with her calf.

A mile later, we see a coyote, light brown, healthy and proud.  He prances along the grassy hillside, then stops and starts to stalk.  He freezes, then pounces.  A ground squirrel locked firmly in his jaws; he strolls over the crest and disappears.

We continue to the end of the peninsula, hiking trails through grassland, coyote 10474486676?profile=originalbrush, lupine, Douglas iris, and wild radish.  Red-tailed hawks, kestrels, and vultures circle overhead.  It is a nine mile round trip.

On our hike back, we spot 20 bachelors, 7 feet long and 4-5 feet tall at the shoulders, sporting coats of beige, dark brown manes, tan rumps, and impressive racks.  They gather round a small tarn, grazing and 10474486090?profile=originallounging while mallards swim in the shallows and an egret hunts along the shore.

We approach cautiously, but they are unconcerned.  Roosevelt elk and Rocky Mountain elk inhabit other national parks, but Pt. Reyes National Seashore, is the only one where tule elk roam, and they know they have nothing to fear from humans.  Our trail passes within a stones-throw of the pond.  We sit for a while before heading back to civilization, taking in this wildlife experience, feeling grateful that these 10474486467?profile=originalmagnificent creatures have endured.

Point Reyes is about 1.5 hours north of San Francisco.  To reach the Tule Elk Reserve, take Sir Francis Drake Blvd. into the park.  Continue on Sir Francis Drake along the western edge of Tomales Bay and through Inverness.  Turn right on Pierce Point Road and drive to the end at Historic Pierce Point Ranch.  Tomales Point Trail starts from the parking area.

Docent led tours are available during rutting season.  For more information, go to the park’s website, or call 415-464-5100.

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La Jolla to Mexico - Hiking Inn-to-Inn

Stand on cliffs overlooking La Jolla Bay, and take in the abundance of wildlife.  10474484276?profile=originalMigrating whales feed close to shore.  Sea lions bark a noisy chorus from offshore outcroppings.  Harbor seals lounge on sheltered beaches.  Dolphins, leopard sharks, shovel-nose guitarfish, and Garibaldi damselfish ply the clear waters.

     Then set out on the final leg of a 200 mile inn-to-inn hiking adventure from North L.A. County to the border with Mexico.  You will hike rugged, rocky coastlines and sublime swimming beaches, on this 32-mile,10474484872?profile=original 5-day sojourn.  Pass through working class seaside villages and elegant upscale towns, offering great cuisine, interesting inns, and always – the wild Pacific.

     After taking advantage of La Jolla’s many restaurants and taverns, hike the first day (5.1 miles) along the rugged coastline, sheer cliffs, pocket coves, and inviting beaches of La Jolla Peninsula.  End the day in Pacific Beach, popular with surfers and sun worshippers.  Take a swim.  Then grab a table at a sidewalk cafe and enjoy the 10474484661?profile=originalpeople-watching parade along the strand.

     Hike coastal beaches and the north shore of San Diego Bay on Day 2 (8.5 miles) and Day 3 (6.8 miles).  A ferry takes you across the bay to Coronado.  The Hotel del Coronado is one of the largest and oldest wooden structures in California.  Ornate and regal, it is worth a visit.  Stroll the grounds.  Have a drink at the outdoor beach-side bar.  Then enjoy a balmy evening in the surrounding village – shops, bars with live music, and 10474484897?profile=originalrestaurants with sidewalk tables.

     Day 4 hikes the Silver Strand, an eight-mile long and quarter mile wide strip of sand dune separating San Diego Bay from the Pacific.  You will probably have this beautiful beach all to yourself, sharing it only with flocks of snowy plover and marbled godwits.  There is no hurry.  Slow down.  Savor a deep connection with the powerful Pacific.

     10474484686?profile=originalArrive in Imperial Beach, a slow moving, working class hamlet, the last stop before Mexico.  Enjoy a swim on the beautiful beach. Then take a long walk to the end of the pier and feast on fish tacos and crab cakes at Tin Fish Restaurant, or saddle up to the bar of IB Forum, “the most southwesterly bar and grill in the continental U.S.A.,” for steaks, burgers, or 10474485261?profile=originalseafood.

     It is only 3.3 miles to the border, a 6.6 mile round trip.  The estuary, marshland, and sand dunes of Border Field State Park flank the beach, a protected refuge rich with birdlife.  You will reach the Tijuana River, and this may end your journey.  But in late summer and fall, it runs shallow and can be waded.  The river’s mouth teems with pelicans, cormorants, gulls, egrets, and endangered least terns and snowy plover.  The terns make an incredible racket, 10474484301?profile=originalchattering and screeching.         

     You will probably have the final 1.6 miles of this serene beach to yourself.  Reaching the border fence, pause to take in the moment and relish the memory of a five-day adventure along America’s southwestern edge, hiking inn-to-inn.

The La Jolla to Mexico Walkabout is one of the multi-day hikes found in “Walkabout Malibu to Mexico: Hiking Inn-to-Inn on the Southern CA Coast”.  It can also be purchased as an individual guide.

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From San Francisco’s Cliff House, Ocean Beach beckons.  Broad and flat, it stretches as far as you can see, disappearing into the mist.  Stride out on 9 miles of10474485663?profile=original uninterrupted beach to start this 30-mile, 4-day walkabout.  Urban life fades as you hike a coast that is extraordinarily wild.

     Hike miles of solitary beaches, the flanks of coastal mountains, and bluff trails above the wild Pacific.  Enjoy interesting inns and delightful coastal villages along the way.

     What joy to hike for hours along the immense and powerful Pacific.  Day 1 (13.6 miles) ends in the 10474485865?profile=originalcoastal hamlet, Pacifica.  Perhaps you’ll take a swim and then savor a fresh catch-of-the-day at a restaurant overlooking the sea. 

     Day 2 (7.8 miles) journeys up the side of Montara Mountain.  Views open to the narrow10474485688?profile=original channel of the Golden Gate and the steep, forested hills of the Marin Headlands.  The vast Pacific stretches out below you, the horizon only interrupted on a clear day by the Farallon Islands, ancient mountain peaks jutting out of the sea 27 miles offshore.  

     Walk the bluffs and cypress forests above Fitzgerald Marine Reserve on Day 3 (4.0 miles).  Take a path to the shore and explore the intricate web of tide pools alive with green anemone, orange sea stars, and scurrying crabs.  Harbor seals, pelicans, egrets, cormorants, grebes, and countless shorebirds feed on the reefs and offshore waters.  End the day in Pillar Point Harbor, a seaside village of inns, restaurants, and taverns with live music.

     Enjoy another long beach stroll on Day 4 (4.6 miles).  You may want to walk barefoot and 10474485100?profile=originalconnect deeply with sand and surf.  You will soon return to the urban ramble, but now you can savor hiking inn-to-inn from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay.

 

This is one of the most popular Northern California inn-to-inn hikes.  Read about the ideas and adventures from the Walkabout Community on the Forum.

The San Francisco to Half Moon Bay Walkabout is one of a dozen inn-to-inn hikes found in “Walkabout Northern California: Hiking Inn to Inn”.  It can also be purchased as an individual guide.

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Driving across the Sierra Nevada Mountains and need to stretch your legs?  Take10474475075?profile=original this short and beautiful High Sierra hike to two pretty alpine lakes.

We hiked this trail in late July.  It was still spring time in the high country.  The wildflowers were spectacular, and they should continue into late August. 

Start at Carson Pass (8,574’) from the parking area at the crest of Highway 88, and head south on the Pacific Crest Trail, gradually ascending through a forest of western white pines.  The hike to Winnemucca Lake (8,980’) is 2.4 miles, and Round Top Lake (9,364’) is another mile.

The forest thins as you hike, and the terrain turns to grassy mountain sides.  Round Top Mountain comes into view, raw granite graced with snowfields.  After a mile, you 10474474879?profile=originalpass by Frog Lake, a short detour from the trail.  The PCT veers to the west, but we follow the signs to Winnemucca Lake.

Snowmelt moistens the soil, and we hiked through vast wildflower gardens – deep blue lupine, yellow mules ear, white cow parsnips, wild iris, red paint brush.  We spotted blue elephant heads along a stream with clusters of flowers shaped like its name.

Winnemucca Lake sits at the base of Round Top Mountain.  Streams of melted snow feed it.  The very brave can take a10474475477?profile=original refreshing swim.

Most hikers turn back here.  A few continue on to Round Top Lake.  It is worth the effort.  Even if you don’t go on, walk to Winnemucca’s south west corner where a stream flows out of the lake and water pours down the mountainside from snowfields.  Here the wildflowers are in their full glory. 

10474475853?profile=originalThe trail climbs more steeply to Round Top Lake.  Whitebark pines, some of the highest elevation pines in the Sierra, bend and bow to the east, weathered by gales that howl through this pass.

Hike over the crest, and the view of Round Top Lake will take your breath away.  A crystalline lake surrounded by green fields and pines, it is nestled at the base of10474475281?profile=original The Sisters, rugged granite peaks with deep snowfields that should last until they are replenished by next winter’s storms.  We walked along the shoreline and stopped for a picnic, just enjoying the beautiful scene.

The hike back is downhill and should take 1 – 1.5 hours.  What 10474476460?profile=originala wonderful way to break up your drive across the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

 

Walkabout California – connecting with the natural world through travel, outdoor adventure, and hiking inn-to-inn.  Savor the journey and the destination. Click here for California inn-to-inn hiking guides.

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Hiking Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre is the jewel of the Italian Riviera.  Rugged mountains plunge to the Ligurian Sea where five medieval coastal villages, each with its own dialect and 10474478066?profile=originalidentity, enchant visitors.  Come for the swimming, the sun, the wine, and for hiking.

The car-free villages are connected by a web of trails.  They are close enough for hiking to multiple villages in a day and returning to your base by ferry or rail.  We chose to take it slow, to connect to this land in an intimate way, to hike from south to north, staying overnight in each village along the way. 

Summer along this coast can be sweltering and crowded.  April, May, September, 10474478460?profile=originaland October are prime months for a relaxing visit.  We hiked Cinque Terre in October.  While sipping a latte at a sidewalk café, we were able to book our rooms on-line a day or two in advance.  (For lodging and transportation information, see below.)

 

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore is Cinque Terre’s southernmost town.  Arriving by train from La Spezia, we walked to the harbor down the ravine that forms the main street. 10474478288?profile=original Ancient pastel multi-storied houses, built into steep hillsides, line the street.  Small fishing boats were stacked in the piazza at the base of the harbor.

          After checking into our hotel, we headed to the rocky beach for an afternoon swim in the warm, aquamarine sea.  That evening we explored the town, stopping at a sidewalk cafés where we were introduced to Cinque Terre wine – white, crisp, and dry.  We dined, as we 10474478092?profile=originaldid every night on this journey, on the fresh catch-of-the-day.

 

Hiking Day #1 Riomaggiore to Manarola

The coastal trail, Via dell’Amore, is closed due to landslides.  When it was open, the paved and flat walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola took 20 minutes.  Ladies strolled it in high heels!  It is projected to reopen in 2018.

          The route now takes trail 531 by walking up through town, past the train station.  Climb Via Signorini around a hairpin turn and follow the sign for “Manarola” leading you along a narrow road.  The trailhead marker is on the left. 10474478664?profile=original It is always easy to find the trailheads by asking at the tourist office where you can also pick up a map.  Or you can ask a local.  Even if you don’t speak Italian, they will see that you are a hiker and point you in the right direction.

          This is the most challenging of all the trails we hiked in Cinque Terre.  It starts with a long, steep ascent.  For me, this is the most difficult type of trail – tall stone steps, 12-18 inches high.  It is good to wear hiking boots, and we were grateful to have our hiking poles.

 10474478867?profile=original         The climb is worth the effort.  The trail ascends through land cultivated for centuries.  These venerable trails were originated by farmers in Roman times who climbed to their terraced gardens and vineyards.  Farmers still use them today.  The autumn plots were dense with lettuce, onions, and huge squash.  Lemons ripened and the grape harvest was winding up.

          As you ascend, beautiful views unfold of forested mountains, the undulating coastline, villages clinging to the cliffs, and the Ligurian Sea.  Not a good trail for 10474478690?profile=originalthose with vertigo, at times the narrow path is wedged between a stone wall and a precipitous cliff.  Descend into Manarola on steep stairs.  The hike should take 1.5-3 hours.

 

Manarola

The brightly colored houses of Manarola wind down a narrow ravine and extend to a rocky promontory overlooking the sea.  Small fishing boats line the street near the 10474479066?profile=originalharbor.  The concrete pier and adjacent rocks are a great place to swim.

          A peaceful fishing village famous for its wine, it has several wine shops and restaurants.  Tourists come in for short visits by train or ferry, but it is quiet and serene after sunset. 

          We took an evening stroll and stopped at a wine shop.  Antonio was behind the bar of the shop his grandfather opened in 1958.  He served us a selection from nearby vineyards along with the typical snacks – olives, capers, and nuts.  Somehow the10474478892?profile=original wine was even more delicious knowing it might have come from the vineyards we had hiked through that day.

         

Hiking Day #2 Manarola to Corniglia

The low coastal trail from Manarola to Corniglia is also closed due to landslides, so our trail heads for the hills.  The ascent is steep, but easier than the first day because the steps are shorter.

 10474479267?profile=original         It climbs to Volastra, passing through vineyards on timeworn terraced paths.  The grapes had been harvested, and the vines were turning to yellow.  Olive groves were leaden, and olives dropped into nets below the trees.

          You can stop at a restaurant in Volastra for refreshments.  The trail then winds for a long flat stretch in and out of the woods.  There are spectacular views of the coastline north and south where you can spot all five villages.  The hike is 3.2km10474479093?profile=original and should take 1.5 - 2.5 hours.

 

Corniglia

The smallest of the five villages, Corniglia has a unique non-touristed quality.  Set on cliffs, 100 meters above the sea, it is the only Cinque Terre village where the ferry doesn’t stop.

 10474479468?profile=original         A deep ravine divides the town.  It has a central square and one main street with shops and restaurants.  Corniglia’s wine was the most celebrated during Roman times, and it is still delicious 2,000 years later.  After sunset, the village has a quiet, timeless feel. 

 

Hiking Day #3 Corniglia to Vernazza

Take the main street north out of town.  The trail climbs, but it is a gradual ascent with breathtaking views looking back to Corniglia and Manarola.  It passes through10474478486?profile=original vineyards and groves of scrub oaks.  Prickly pear cactus and century plants with long flower stalks cling to steep mountainsides.

          We took a break near the top of the trail at a little shop that serves snacks and cold drinks with a deck overlooking the beautiful coastline.  Hikers from Europe and the Americas had also stopped.  We lingered, sharing stories of European hiking adventures.

 10474479661?profile=original         The trail descends steeply into Vernazza with a series of sharp switchbacks.  Rock steps on the trail were slippery from the last night’s rain.  It required more mindful hiking.  The hike is 3.6km and should take 1.5 – 2.5 hours.

 

Vernazza

Like other Cinque Terre villages, Vernazza is built along a ravine where mountain runoff flows to the sea.  Yellow and rose houses climb the hillside.  Shops and restaurants line the10474479686?profile=original main street that is built over the ravine.  On October 25, 2011 a freak torrential downpour brought rivers of mud flooding the streets of Vernazza, wiping out the railroad tracks and burying shops and houses under 13 feet of muck and debris.

          It took months to dig out, but the village has recovered.  Vernazza’s rocky peninsula, topped by a castle, extends into the sea.  A concrete and rock breakwater forms a tranquil harbor.  High seas pounded the rocks during 10474479861?profile=originalour visit, and most of the fishing boats were pulled up onto the piazza. 

We explored the town, climbing to the old cemetery.  Walls of vaults held the remains of loved ones with photographs of those who had died in more recent decades.  They give a sense of village and family life over the years.

After a walk on the rocky beach, we watched the sunset from a sidewalk café on the harbor piazza.  Waves crashed on the rocks and cascaded over the seawall.  Then we climbed stairs of the peninsula to a restaurant overlooking the sea where we 10474479292?profile=originaldined Italian style, a two hour feast of salad, pasta, clams, sea bass, and Cinque Terre wine.

Hiking Day #4 Vernazza to Monterosso al Mare

This may be the most popular section of the Cinque Terre trails and for good reason.  The trail ascends steep steps then winds along the mountainside with the most awe-inspiring views of all five villages and the coast.  There are segments of the trail only wide enough for one person.  Hikers are traveling in both directions, so there may be periodic traffic jams.

10474479886?profile=original          Monterosso al Mare comes into view, set in a picturesque cove with a crescent coastline leading to a monolithic rocky peninsula.  Enter the fifth village on a walkway built into the cliff face, a dramatic finale to a hike along the Italian Riviera.

 

Monterosso al Mare

Arriving in Monterosso al Mare after hiking Cinque Terre feels like leaving an10474479493?profile=original ancient world and reentering the 21st Century, although a very pleasant version of it.  A resort town with large hotels and a long sandy beach, it is the most visited of the five villages.

          The old and new sections of town are linked by a pedestrian tunnel.  Explore Monterosso al Mare with a visit to the partially ruined Genoese castle and the church of San Francesco, built in 1622, which 10474480468?profile=originalhouses a painting of the crucifixion attributed to Van Dyke.  Then enjoy the beach and nightlife.

 

Transportation

Driving the winding roads of Cinque Terre can be thrilling if you are not subject to carsickness.  The towns are car-free, but each has parking on the outskirts.  You may pay a hefty fee to park within 1 km of your inn or you might find a free spot further away.  Park once and then get around by train, ferry, or on foot.

          Take the train from La Spezia or Genova.  Each village has a train station, and10474480493?profile=original local trains run 1-2 times an hour in each direction.  Tickets cost 1.5 – 3 euros.

          Travel by ferry between all the villages except Croniglia.  It is a spectacular way to explore the coast.  Hike to one or two villages, 10474480263?profile=originaland return to your home base by train or ferry.

 

Lodging

We hiked Cinque Terre in October, and we were able to book a room one or two days in advance.  If you are traveling during the busy summer season, make your bookings several weeks ahead.  The most popular methods are Booking.com, Airbnb, or the recommendations of Rick Steves and Lonely Planet.

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