With travel put on hold indefinitely due to COVID-19, National Parks have been the perfect refuge for local road trips. These are a few of the 62 National Parks worth making the trek for, and to help temporarily fulfill our wanderlust.
When you think of a landscape in the American Southwest, Moab, Utah, easily fills that image. With over 2,000 arches to explore, this sandstone saturated setting is an adventurer’s dream. Delicate Arch, Balanced Rock, Double Arch, and Park Avenue are just a few of the many recommended sights that will awe you in the desert.
It might feel like you landed on a different planet when visiting Badlands National Park in South Dakota. The built-in walking paths spill out into expansive contours of unique rock formations. Take in the impressive spires and spend the day feeling out of this world. There’s a good chance you might even run into Bighorn Sheep, but hopefully from a distance.
Walking among the hoodoos on the Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail is a surreal experience. You will be thrust into the thick depths of the orange canyon, all while taking in the up close and mesmerizing perspectives of the crusted compositions. It all culminates to a jaw-dropping view of Thor’s hammer.
It’s all about the dramatic views. “Island in the Sky” is a very suitable name for an area of this park. Overlooks will have you peering into the cores of craters that look like huge imprints left behind from something extraterrestrial. For one of the most epic settings in the National Park System, make sure to take in the scene of Mesa Arch, an easy 0.7 mile trail.
When you ask someone where they want to travel, one of the answers will likely be, “The Grand Canyon.” As you amble towards one of the rims, you will take in one of the most monumental panoramas you’ll ever see. The first thing one does when seeing the Grand Canyon is to simply stare and marvel at this wonder. Take things to the next level with a rafting trip on the Colorado River.
If you are seeking solitude and yearning for the mountains, Grand Teton might be the perfect escape. The Teton mountain range naturally shows off its snow-capped stunning beauty via mirror reflections in its many majestic lakes. Close to Jackson Hole and adjacent to Yellowstone, it’s a park for all seasons but is particularly striking in the Fall. You might even experience a chance encounter with a moose, and where better to do that than in Moose, WY, where the Tetons are located.
These famous trees dot the desert landscape in southern California. It gets hot in this arid climate so it’s always most pleasant to visit in the winter, or spring, which is a notably great time to wander about as wild flowers are in full bloom. The Cholla Cactus Garden makes for a memorable sunset site while Barker Dam, Skull Rock, and Wall Street Mill are other hotspots to uncover.
The Rockies are a quick ride from Denver, and makes a perfect day trip. There are bounds of nature sights, impressive lakes, and mountains to seek out. Elk will be plentiful and like to take their time crossing the streets in nearby Estes Park. It starts snowing early in Colorado so if you don’t feel like snowshoeing on the sometimes ice-covered trails, it’s recommended to visit before winter arrives.
Easily accessible from Los Angeles or San Francisco, this is where to go if you want to be wowed by huge trees. The impressive giant Redwoods will make one feel teeny-tiny when taking in the scope of their size. If a change of scenery from trees is needed, there are endless meadows to discover. Home to the world’s largest tree by volume, this is where the famous General Sherman tree lives. Crescent Meadow, Tokopah Falls, and the Congress Trail, are other must-see spots.
One of the only accessible National Parks to east coasters, Shenandoah is an underrated gem. Popular with those who live in Washington, DC, a drive on Skyline Drive in the Blue Ridge mountains is a necessity when visiting this park. It’s also perfect for leaf peeping, where one can enjoy the changing autumn colors. From easy to challenging, there are some great hiking options. Old Rag is the summit to ascend, which at 10.2 miles, will take a full day. Stony Man and Dark Hollow Falls are easier ones to climb, and should be added to your list.
There’s a reason why Yellowstone became the first National Park in 1872. It’s beauty, diversity, and vast landscapes easily makes this park a one-of-a-kind experience. Grand Prismatic Spring and Old Faithful might be famous geysers, but there are 500 hot springs in total. Waterfalls and wildlife are in abundance and the best spot to get your bison fix (from a distance) is in Hayden Valley.
In the land of waterfalls, there seems to be an impressive one in every direction. Some of the most famous viewpoints in the National Park System call Yosemite home such as Tunnel View, and Glacier Point. There’s a lot of ground and distance to cover in this park so a few days spent exploring is recommended, especially if you want to see past Yosemite Valley in the picturesque but less busy area of Tuolumne Meadows, and the many alpine lakes peppered throughout the park.
Visiting Zion feels like you were suddenly transported back in time to the Mesozoic Era. The spectacular overlooks commonly have astounding canyons that include varied red sedimentary rocks. Less commonly known, are the ample water features ranging from waterfalls, rivers, and creeks. This is a park for thrill-seekers as the two most popular hikes are Angel’s Landing and The Narrows, though there really is something for everyone.
There are so many amazing National Parks that are worth your time and these are just a few that will impress and bring some much-needed solace to your inner travel itch. With Fall quickly approaching and leaves soon to change, it’s the perfect time to jump in the car, hit the road, and surround yourself in nature amongst sensational surroundings.
“Milk powder is the most complete form of protein,” said Jakob nodding sagely. Just the day before he had tried to argue with the same air of authority that Trump was a feminist. “I’ve brought 2kgs of it with me to give me energy, you should have done the same.”
He shovelled spoonful after spoonful of cement-like gruel messily into his mouth. His stomach was visibly bloating and straining against his down jacket; milk powder was crusting around the corner of his lips. Jakob was a very good looking boy (and he knew it) but watching the powder crusting around the corners of his mouth and dribbling down his chin was more than a little repulsive. He spoke with the pompous, unfounded confidence unique to white males.
It was the second day of the four day Huemul Circuit in Argentinian Patagonia. Although not particularly long hike it is lauded as one of the most difficult, but also most spectacular, in the whole of Patagonia. It involved ziplining over gorges, hiking over a glacier, near vertical climbs on slippery ground and breakneck descents. The views were some of the most mind blowing I’d ever seen.
What had also been mind blowing had been the amount of bullshit spouted by the two boys accompanying us. Patronising comments, dubious ‘facts’ and a grotesque amount of mansplaining.
“That’s not how you pitch a tent,” said Noam dictatorially on the first evening, hovering over us both like a gangly praying mantis. “Hammer the pegs in at more of an angle. You want them at about 70 degrees.”
We were both seasoned campers. Anne was travelling on a strict budget and had virtually lived in her tent over the winter. But Noam always knew best.
“I know a better way to roll up your sleeping bag,” he said condescendingly. “Adjust the straps more on your backpack like this to spread the weight more evenly. What brand are your hiking boots? You’re going to struggle. I’m amazed that your feet aren’t covered in blisters already. I thought about buying that sort of stove and then decided this one would be much better.”
Of the other 20 or so hikers on the trail at the same time as us, a good three quarters were male. One or two girls were hiking with their boyfriends and there was one other mixed group of four like ours with two women and two men. There were several pairs of boys, and boys hiking solo. No girl groups and no girls hiking alone, although the other girls that we met seemed to be as experienced or more so than their male companions.
I read an article once which claimed that statistically women tend to only apply for a job when they have 100% of the qualifications whereas men will confidently apply with 60% and it always stuck in my head. I wondered whether this was the same when it came to hiking, whether women would only set off if they were 100% sure of their capabilities, and that the only reason that there weren’t many girls on the trail was due to a lack of confidence.
“We should tie our food to trees so that the mice don’t get it,” said Jakob one evening. “We can use your dental floss.” We were camped by the side of a glacier and wildlife, even the huemul deer that the trek was named after, had been noticeably absent. The wind was so strong that at moments it had snatched our voices as soon as we opened our mouths, leaving us bellowing wordlessly at each other. We’d lost a plate and pan lid to the fierce wind whilst washing up in the river and we had had to duct tape together one of Anne’s tent poles that had snapped under the strain. But sure, Jakob’s suggestion of tying all our edibles to a tree using a piece of floss seemed like a great idea.
Anne and I stowed our own drybags of food safely inside the tent and watched half amused, half exasperated as Jakob constructed an elaborate cat’s cradle of dental floss and made several futile attempts to attach his box of milk powder to a branch.
On the final day of the trek we rose before the sun. We were camped at a place known as the Bay of Icebergs. The early morning light illuminated icebergs shaped like enormous chess pieces which calved and flipped over in front of us with thunderous bangs, exposing turquoise underbellies. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.
“Why are you hiking with those idiots?” asked a Dutch boy we’d met on the trek, perched on the rock next to me. “You know that you could do this without them.”
The day before we had only just made it to camp before the sun set. We’d ended up waiting for several hours for Jakob who had eaten far too much breakfast, suffered from indigestion and had to wait for his stitch to pass.
It made me think. Anne and I had been waiting for the boys the whole time. We both hiked and camped regularly. So why did we need two not particularly big and not particularly strong men who certainly had no more than 60% of the skills required to survive in the wild to chaperone us?
That morning we ran naked into the lake underneath the rising sun and swam amongst the bergs. We made coffee and sat on the pebble beach watching the slow yet steady progress of an iceberg shaped like a slug making its way across the bay and as we sat there we made a pact with each other that from that point forward we would hike with other girls or we would hike alone. We had had enough of male ego.
The first time that I set off on a multi day hike alone I was filled with self doubt but I was determined. Of course hiking with someone else is always safer, but there is no reason whatsoever why I need a man to escort me on a hike. Since I’ve been hiking solo or with other girls I’ve met far more people, enjoyed myself so much more, and I’ve been able to pitch a tent without having the angle of the tent pegs scrutinised.
All that I needed to do was take the male ego out of the equation.
Patagonia is one of the wonders of the world that you don’t want to miss; a region in South America at the most southern tip of the world before reaching Antarctica. Southern Patagonia, stretching across Chile and Argentina, has long lured travelers to what is very nearly the end of the world.
There are many options and routes that you can choose from when planning your trip depending on where you’re starting and how much time you have.
Torres del Paine National Park in Chile and Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park are the region’s top highlights. For a complete journey through Patagonia, combine visits to both halves of the region; crossing the border from Argentina over to Chile.
There is a fair amount of research you must do in order to make your experience run smoothly, but I’ve provided some very useful tips and tricks that will be sure to make your planning a heck of a lot easier!
When To Go
The first thing you need to plan around is what time of year you’re looking to go. The weather in Patagonia can be extremely temperamental at any time of the year, but will be especially unpleasant during the winter months of the southern hemisphere; June – August being the coldest months.
The best time to visit Patagonia is during the spring and summer months when the weather is warmer, drier, and more predictable than the cooler months.
A lot of people enjoy hiking in the snow, but I found the summer to be a very enjoyable time to hike and camp. This also means less “warm” gear that you’ll have to lug with you if you go during the summer months, i.e. December – March.
Planning Your Route Through Patagonia
The first thing you need to figure out is how much time you have, and what hikes/places you want to see in order to create your itinerary.
If you don’t know where to begin, there are a few major destinations in Patagonia – starting in Bariloche; the furthest north part of Argentinian Patagonia and the closest city to Mendoza and Buenos Aires; both of which have international airports.
LATAM and Sky Airlines are the two major low-cost airlines flying to Southern Patagonia, with flights ranging from $50-$130 depending on the distance and the season; December – March being more expensive.
I spent two weeks in Buenos Aires before beginning my journey through Patagonia, wandering around the city, exploring the Argentinian capital and preparing for the upcoming weeks of adventures.
Bariloche, on the banks of the immense Nahuel Huapi lake, is a major town, and a base for trekking and mountain biking. Bariloche offers everything from short walks to waterfalls to one-day hikes to excruciating multi-day treks.
While Bariloche is famous for the lake in the summer, it is also famous for winter sports. Every July – September tourists travel here from both hemispheres looking for their “endless winter”. At any time of year, this laid-back mountain town is the perfect start to your Patagonian journey.
Most people start off from Bariloche which is where the majority of buses arrive from Buenos Aires. You can also fly into Bariloche, which is slightly more expensive ($220 vs $110), but will get you there much quicker.
The flight from Buenos Aires to Bariloche takes about an hour and a half, whereas the bus takes 20 – 22 hours. The bus is a unique way to see the countryside through Argentina, but it depends on your preferences, budget, and time constraints. I personally chose to fly, but every traveler is different!
What To Do
Apurabici rents bikes for $15 a day and organizes half-day guided rides along mountain trails for $50pp. I recommend staying in Bariloche for at least a couple of nights so you can do a few different activities.
Bariloche is known for the Route of the Seven Lakes, which is one of the most popular hikes/drives to do while visiting Patagonia.
The trail goes from Bariloche to San Martin de Los Andes and is roughly 100 km. This route can be done by car, bus, bike or in parts by hiking. It can take a couple of days or a week depending on how much time you have. There are a number of hiking routes to choose from as well as boat tours.
One of the best things about going to Patagonia in the summer months is that if it’s warm enough (or you work up enough of a sweat) you can jump in the glacial water. This water is the clearest, sparkling turquoise water that I’ve ever seen, but don’t be fooled by the warm temperature in the air – the water is freezing! However also a nice, refreshing pick-me-up after a long hike or bike ride around the lake.
Camping or Accommodation
Where to stay while doing the trail will depend on your budget and sense of adventure. Hostels are abundant as well as camping spots, either free or of charge.
If you’re simply exploring the town, Bonita Lake House and Perikos are very affordable ($45/night) options if you’re looking for a relaxed hostel on the lake. Gran Hotel Panamericano is a charming hotel in the countryside, a short distance from the center of Bariloche with rates starting at $59/night.
During the summer months, aka peak season from December – March, I would recommend booking all accommodation in advance.
Los Glaciares National Park
Continuing south, you arrive – eventually – in the extraordinarily beautiful Los Glaciares, the largest protected area in Argentina composed of glaciers, mountains, lakes, and forests, including a vast portion of the Andes mountain range.
The main attractions are the towering Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre peaks at its northern end, and the huge, turquoise-coloured Lago Argentino to the south.
El Calafate is a funky, small town right on Lago Argentino, the largest freshwater lake in the country. With a range of traveler services such as biking, kayaking, and organized tours to Perito Moreno Glacier, it’s a fun place to be with all the ideal tourist facilities.
Its strategic location between El Chaltén and Torres del Paine (Chile) makes it an inevitable stop for those in transit. I immediately sensed that El Calafate had the feel of a ski-resort village with its colorful, timber buildings; boasting a ton of restaurants and bars.
For dinner be sure to check out Pura Vida – offering Argentine “home cooking”, or for a more decadent and intimate experience at a slightly higher price, Mi Rancho. Fuel up on fresh donuts, croque monsieurs, and Colombian espresso for breakfast at Olivia, an adorable cafe in a loungy setting.
What To Do
Many travelers come to El Calafate to see the lake’s world famous glacier, Perito Moreno; it’s world-famous because the ice expands until the warmer waters beneath undermine it, causing an explosion and sending tsunami-like waves out into the surrounding water.
Perito Moreno Glacier is an hour drive from El Calafate. You can easily book transportation through a tour agency or through your hostel/hotel. These tours cost around $24 roundtrip with an entrance fee cost of $20 (CASH ONLY.)
**Make sure that you have an ample amount of cash before traveling through Patagonia. ATMs can be finicky and sometimes won’t dispense cash. There are plenty of money exchanges around so you can pay in the local currency.
If you have a extra day, or just don’t feel like doing a full day excursion, you can rent a bike in town and ride around the lake. (I say around, but realistically you won’t get too far as the lake is massive.) I rented a bike for two hours ($8), but I recommend renting for at least three so you won’t be in a rush to get back.
From the center of town, you can bike along the road to a point that separates the inlet where the many different species of birds hang out (a cool place to bird watch, yet a place you don’t want to swim) from the main part of the lake where you can swim… if you dare jump in the glacial water! Disclaimer: not for the faint of heart.
Another popular destination in this region is the trekking mecca El Chaltén, a three-hour drive from El Calafate Airport. El Chalten is a small hiking village located directly in Los Glaciares National Park at the base of the mountains.
Although there is no airport here, the closest airport is in El Calafate. Frequent minibuses connect El Chaltén to El Calafate, a three-hour journey through the sprawling national park. There are a few different companies, but you might want to plan your flight time around the shuttle times if you’re planning to head to El Chalten from the airport.
The shuttle company I booked at the airport was called Las Lengas and left El Calafate at 1 pm, arriving to El Chalten at 4 pm; (I booked an early flight out of Bariloche to arrive in El Calafate by 12:30 pm.)
The shuttle dropped me off at the bed & breakfast, and picked me back up 4 days later to bring me back to the hotel in El Calafate.
Roundtrip this semi-private shuttle cost $50 pp, and stopped at a cool river-side hotel/café/shop halfway through the trip for 20 mins so you could get out, stretch your legs, and grab a souvenir or coffee.
**You don’t have to book the roundtrip option, but it is easiest considering you’ll have to come back to El Calafate to fly out to your next destination.
What To Do
El Chalten is the home of the esteemed Fitz Roy – a towering peak with a number of hiking, climbing, and rafting adventures to choose from. There is another main attraction in Los Glaciares National Park called Cerro Torre, the second largest peak to hike (following Fitz Roy) with a number of trails, and a sparkling glacial lake with turquoise icebergs.
At the north end of the National Park these are the two highest peaks of the mountain range, which together with forests, glaciers and lakes, create one of the most extraordinary sights to see in our country. The two major hikes to see these peaks are called Laguna Torre and Laguna de Los Tres.
Most people do a hike of some sort, but it’s not for everyone. Alternatively, you can relax in this picturesque backpacker town, admiring the views, the condors and the craft beers.
Despite the size, there are a surprising number of cafes, restaurants, and bars of all types of cuisine. I spent 4 nights here and tried a handful of amazing places ranging from burgers and beers, to traditional Patagonian cuisine loaded with hearty portions of meat and potatoes, to a vegan café with fresh salads and juices.
La Vineria has a great selection of ales and Patagonian wines. Across the street, enjoy traditional Argentinian cuisine in a cozy log cabin at La Senyara. For a vegetarian/vegan meal, Curcuma.
Crossing The Border: Argentina – Chile
Traveling between Chile and Argentina can be done easily by land or sea. Unfortunately, there are no flights between Puerto Natales (the base of Torres del Paine) to El Calafate. For an overland trip, you’ll need to organize a private transfer or catch a bus.
The drive takes approximately six hours cross the border between Argentina and Chile. Buy your bus ticket to Puerto Natales through your hostel in El Calafate, or head straight to the bus station and buy it through one of the tour companies.
There are several reputable bus companies that connect Puerto Natales and El Calafate, including Buses Fernandez, Buses Sur, Buses Pacheco, Turismo Zaahj, and Cootra. They run daily services that depart between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.
The transfer takes five-seven hours – depending on the time spent at customs – and the cost of the ticket is $20 one way. These buses are pretty spacious and equipped with a bathroom, so as long as you have some water and snacks, you should be good to go for your journey across the border!
Puerto Natales is the home of Torres del Paine, a huge mountain range famous for its “three peaks”, rising high at 3,500 meters, and another stop on the journey south through Patagonia.
This park is very different from the parks I hiked in Argentina. Unlike in Los Glaciares, you must drive to the park or take a bus (public or tour shuttle.) The drive from Puerto Natales to the entrance of the park takes 1.5 hours.
There is an entrance fee to get into the park of 21,000 Chilean pesos, about $32. You must bring this amount IN CASH to the park the day of your hike, or you will not be permitted entry.
This park is a huge, protected national forest – such is Los Glaciares National Park – but has experienced many more natural disasters due to human caused forest fires over the years destroying the land, and is therefore more strictly protected.
The most popular day hike that people do is called Base Torres, which takes you to the lake at the base of the three peaks. The hike is about 18 km roundtrip to the lake and back. You can take a bus from Puerto Natales in the morning, which will then give you a time to meet back at the starting point later in the afternoon.
**MAKE sure you plan your time accordingly so that you don’t miss your return bus back to town.
There are larger hikes such as the “W Circuit” or the “O Circuit” that usually take people three to four days, with a few options for camping sites along the way. Make sure you take a map with you and know where you’re going ahead of time.
You can also book a full tour of the park through a few different agencies in Puerto Natales near the main plaza. This tour costs about $45 and is a full 12-hour guided tour on a shuttle through the entire park.
This option is great because you get to see so much more than you would from the one day hike. There are 10 viewpoints along the tour, with a two hour stop for lunch and exploring at Lago Grey; an amazing lake with glaciers right up along the beach.
I booked this full day tour through Go Calafate. I was picked up at my hostel at 7:45 am, and dropped back off at the main plaza in Puerto Natales at 7:30 pm, so plan accordingly with your meals of the day!
Ushuaia is a resort town in Argentina located on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, the southernmost tip of South America, nicknamed the “End of the World” and is the last stop of the Patagonian journey.
Apart from being the gateway to Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuaia is also the port to sail across Drake’s Passage into Antarctica, an unforgettable adventure that I hope to experience someday! These tours range from $5,000 – $10,000 for a cruise ship to the white continent.
The walk to the glacier is quite long; many people prefer to get an inexpensive taxi from the town to the base, and then hike or get the chairlift (often only running in summer) from there.
Tierra del Fuego
Tierra del Fuego National Park, 11 miles (18km) from Ushuaia, is the final must-see of Patagonia for nature and outdoor lovers.
Buses leave from Ushuaia roughly every hour, although it is recommended to depart early in the morning if you are planning on hiking in the park. Visitors must pay an entrance fee of $14 USD.
There are many well-marked trails and short hikes for those wishing to spend the day exploring the park independently.
For those who want to see a bit more, longer trails and hikes are available; Sheep’s Pass takes two days, whereas a longer trek of four days can be done on the Sierra Valdivieso Circuit. The park also has two beautiful lakes and some waterfalls.
There is something about slowing down from 100 to 5km per hour that makes you experience the world differently. The Camino de Santiago (St. James’ Way) is a pilgrimage route across Spain, leading to the Galician city of Santiago de Compostela. Legend has it the remains of the Apostol St. James are kept in the city’s grandiose Cathedral and although this pilgrimage started as a religious route over a thousand years ago, nowadays there is a plethora of reasons amongst peregrinos for walking the Camino.
I embarked on this adventure twice: the first time in 2012 when I walked solo almost 900km (560 miles) and the second time in 2016 when I walked 350km along a different route with my partner.
If you’re considering walking this route for whichever length of time, below are some tips that will help you prepare. This was a life changing experience and I can’t recommend it enough! Whether on your own or with family/friends/partner this pilgrimage is an unforgettable experience.
Choose Your Route Wisely
There are many roads that lead to Santiago and not all are created equal. My first Camino took 5 weeks (Camino Frances) starting in the French city of St. Jean Pied de Port, crossing over the Pyrenees, across Spain and reaching the west coast at Finisterra (if you wish to continue past Santiago, highly recommended). The second Camino lasted 2 weeks (Camino Primitivo) which starts in Oviedo and consists on hiking mountains for the first week until it merges with the Camino Frances.
You may start and stop wherever you want, you don’t have to pay for it and can choose any route to fit your needs.
Pro Tip: you need to walk at least 100 kms to receive the ‘Compostela’, a certificate that proves you’ve done the pilgrimage. This certificate is a reproduction of the original certificate pilgrims used to get a thousand years ago, and it’s written in Latin.
Choose The Right Time Of The Year
The experience can be very different depending on the time of year you walk. If you go in winter, there are parts of the mountains you can’t hike because it’s too dangerous. If you go in Autumn it rains a lot, Spring can be quite crowded but the weather is very pleasant. I went in the height of summer, August, both times because it was convenient for my work schedule, and while it was a good time to go (hardly any rain) it was also very tough in certain areas. If you’re hiking the mountains it’s nice and cool in the summer, with temperatures in the mid 20s Celsius. But if you’re hiking in the ‘Meseta’ (a desert-like area in the middle of Spain) the temperature can reach 45 degrees and it can be very dangerous to walk past noon, therefore you need to start your daily walk at 4am. Bear this in mind!
Plan Your Overnight Stops
On average, one walks between 6 and 8 hours a day, which is the equivalent of about 30kms depending on terrain (the trail is very well signposted). Along the route you have albergues… which are pilgrim hostels, most of which are not more than €10 a night, some less and some even free. These albergues can house anything from 200 people in one hall or 10, you never know what you’ll get! These are solely for the use of pilgrims. You must present your ‘pilgrim passport’ which is stamped at every albergueas proof that you’re walking.
In the summer these hostels can get crowded quickly so make sure you plan where you’ll stay and try to get there early. But don’t let it become a race, just be prepared to sleep outdoors sometimes!
Pro Tip: There are also private pilgrim hostels, which are somewhat fancier and more expensive, but ‘snoring’ free!
Pack Wisely, And Light!
This is crucial. Your backpack should be 10% of your body weight, your knees will thank you for it. Make sure your backpack is comfortable and take only the very basic essentials!
What to pack: 2 of everything – underwear, t-shirt, shorts, socks, etc. (this will vary depending on season). Microfiber towel (cotton is too heavy when wet), basic toiletries, no makeup, first aid kit, sun cream, hat, flip-flops and a sleeping bag.
Pro Tip: take Vaseline to lather your feet at the start of the day, this will prevent blisters! Also take bedbug spray, I learned the hard (and itchy) way.
Prepare Physically & Psychologically (…and learn a bit of Spanish!)
You don’t need to be an athlete, but it’s better to have some level of fitness as you will be walking/hiking for 8 hours a day. That being said, regardless of how fit you are, it’s guaranteed that every muscle in your body will ache at some point. If you walk solo you will have a lot of time to be with yourself, which is a wonderful thing but it can also be very emotionally and psychologically taxing, just enjoy the ride! 5 weeks on my own was tough at times but also incredibly rewarding and a life changing experience.
You will meet a lot of wonderful people along the way, and will never be truly ‘alone’ unless you want to. The Camino is very safe but take basic precautions from pickpockets at hostels, other than that it’s safe for women. If in doubt, stick with a group!
Pro tip: learn basic Spanish, some people will speak English but you will go through some remote villages where basic phrases will be very useful!
If you’re thinking of doing this walk, think no more! It will be worth it, no question. It will be rewarding, painful, eye-opening, tiring, heart-opening and all of it worth it. You will see some incredible landscape, meet amazing people, eat great food and prove to yourself that you can achieve whatever you set your mind to. What’s not to like? Buen Camino!
When I saw a photo of the Haiku Stairs for the first time, I said myself : ” No way, I have to get there one day!” It was an epic view – so epic that it seemed almost unreal and I couldn’t help thinking the photo was photoshopped… But after watching a few videos I knew it wasn’t.
The Haiku Stairs, also known as the Stairway to Heaven, is a hiking trail on the Oahu Island, Hawaii. In fact it’s a military object constructed during the Second World War and used to provide the fast access to the radio station on the top of the mountain. Today it’s not used by the army anymore and the staircase became one of the main tourist attractions on the island.
An important thing about the Haiku Stairs : this hike is illegal and one risks to get a fine for doing it. The amount of this fine isn’t quite clear, different people talk of the fines between 600 and 1500 US dollars. The reason is a long-term dispute between the owner of the land and the local authorities. So formally hiking the Stairway to Heaven is prohibited and there’s a risk to be caught by police.
I was totally conscious of these facts when making my decision to climb the Haiku Stairs but two thoughts determined my choice. First, there’s no real harm to anybody caused by this hike – no damage to the nature or somebody’s property, no risk to life or health. Second, I didn’t find any stories about getting a fine told in the first person ; they’re always about ‘a friend of a friend’. For these two reasons I decided to take a risk and do the most incredible hike in my life!
Was it hard ? Yes, it was – I got up at 3a.m., drove to another side of the island (the exact destination point is 46475 Kuneki street, Kaneohe), found a way through the jungle, avoided the security guard and climbed for one hour and a half in the darkness, using only a head light. Some parts of the staircase are damaged and you have to be very careful when passing them. Another danger – humidity: the metal stairs and railings are covered with the night dew and very slippery! I didn’t take any gloves and regretted it badly.
You don’t need to be in a super shape to do this hike but it’s quite challenging. If you are not sure of your physical condition, better to plan at least two hours for getting to the top. I was out of breath when I reached the final point of the Haiku Stairs, even though I workout every day and get used to long jogs…
Is it worth the effort? My answer is yes, no doubts about that!
It was still night when I achieved the top. In the darkness I could only see the faint lights of the highway far below. I sat on the humid metal stairs and waited. The sky became clearer slowly and I began to perceive the coast. It was time to switch on my camera and start taking photos but I was so fascinated by the view that could only stay motionless and observe. Suddenly the golden light lit the mountainside and I finally woke up, grabbed my camera and started to shoot… It only lasted a few minutes, and immediately after sunrise the clouds covered the mountaintop, creating moody and mysterious atmosphere. I was incredibly lucky to catch both the sunrise and the cloudy weather ! I honestly can’t decide which one is better for the photos…
When I was looking at the stairs following the edge of the mountain, it suddenly struck my mind that initially they were an important military object. Have the soldiers who climbed those stairs during the war ever noticed the beauty of the landscape ? Have they ever felt the powerfulness of nature and the greatness of the World ? I’m sure they have, despite the danger and risk they were running. That view many years ago has filled, I thought, the fighters’ hearts with proudness for their Motherland. And today we feel the same admiration and marvel as they felt.
Going down is surprisingly harder than climbing up. First, by night you don’t see the emptiness behind you and second, it starts to get hot very quickly after 9a.m. I seriously wonder how some people manage to do this way during a bright time of the day – they should suffer a lot under the pitiless rays of sun!
The Stairway to Heaven hiking isn’t an ordinary thing to do on Hawaii. It’s a challenge, an adventure, an experience, a risk… But a chance to find yourself in a wonderland, even if for just a few hours, is priceless. That sunrise on the top of the Haiku Stairs is a prize trophy in my sunrise collection and if I lived on Oahu I know I would do this hike again and again, just to see the golden rays of sun on the mountaintop.