Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim

Our Trip At a Glance 

How we got there: AUS > LAS > Rental Car to North Rim
Before the hike: North Kaibab Lodge (North Rim)
After the hike: Maswick Lodge (South Rim)
Hike Stats: 24 Miles over 3 days, roughly 10k feet of elevation change
Itinerary: North Kaibab Trailhead > Cottonwood Campground > Bright Angel Campground > Bright Angel Trailhead
Day 1: started at 6:30 am, finished at 10:45 am
Day 2: started at 6:00 am, finished at 9:15 am
Day 3: started at 5:50 am, finished at 11:50 am
Favorite part: Ribbon Falls
Worst part: 3-mile Rest house to Bright Angel Trailhead (so many tourists!) 

 

Day 1: View from the North Kaibab trail

Day 1: View from the North Kaibab trail

Step 1: Choosing Your Itinerary

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There are several possible itineraries for this hike and there are many variables that might dictate which you choose. I've included our itinerary below, as well as some other information which might help you choose which is best for you. 

The Rims: 

You can start your hike from the North or South Rim. While the South Rim of the park is open 24/7/365, the services at the North Rim close during the winter. 

There is one entry to the trail on the North side via the North Kaibab Trailhead. Closer to the South Rim, the trail splits in two and connects with the Rim via the Bright Angel Trail or the South Kaibab Trail. The South Kaibab trail is slightly steeper than the Bright Angel trail. It's also less trafficked and has fewer water sources. 

Day 1: View from the North Kaibab trail

Day 1: View from the North Kaibab trail

The Campgrounds:

There are 3 campgrounds along this hike as well as Phantom Ranch Lodge. You must have a permit to stay at any of the campsites. Reservations for Phantom Ranch Lodge can be hard to come by and tend to fill up a year in advance. 

Each campsite features a picnic table, food storage boxes, and a pole to hang empty packs. 

Cottonwood Campground:

  • Located 6.8 miles from North Kaibab Trailhead.
  • 1.5 miles from Ribbon Falls - an absolute must do on this hike and a great place to spend a few hours after you're done hiking for the day.
  • Composting toilets and drinking water available.
  • Campsites 10 and 4 offered the best shade which was very important for a Summer hike. 10 is close to the drinking water and toilets. None of the other campsites had tree cover. 
  • There is a great place to swim near the ranger station.
Campsite #10 at Cottonwood Campground provided a decent amount of shade throughout the day.

Campsite #10 at Cottonwood Campground provided a decent amount of shade throughout the day.

Bright Angel Campground:

  • Located 14 miles from North Kaibab Trailhead, 9.5 miles from Bright Angel Trailhead, 7 miles from South Kaibab Trailhead.
  • Flushing toilets and drinking water available.
  • More shady campsites than Cottonwood. Site 20 offered shade for most of the day and was close to drinking water and bathrooms. 
  • Bright Angel Creek runs directly next to the campground and is a great place to relax and cool off. Boat Beach is also a short walk past the campground and offers an up close view of the mighty Colorado River. 
  • Only a short walk to the Phantom Ranch Cantina which is open to all hikers, not just guests of Phantom Ranch. 
Campsite #20 at Bright Angel Campground. Bright Angel Creek is off to the right. 

Campsite #20 at Bright Angel Campground. Bright Angel Creek is off to the right. 

Bright Angel Creek runs to the right of the campground. 

Bright Angel Creek runs to the right of the campground. 

Phantom Ranch Lodge:

  • Located right next to Bright Angel Campground at the bottom of the canyon, the lodge offers heated/cooled dorms and cabins. 
  • The Cantina is a little slice of heaven during the Summer months. You can buy a cold beer or tea/lemonade and other snacks. They also sell postcards and stamps which are brought out of the canyon by mule (remember to write down any addresses you may need ahead of time). 
  • The Cantina also offers meals which you can reserve online. We really enjoyed the stew (unlimited servings accompanied by cornbread and salad) on the night we stayed at Bright Angel Campground. 
View of the Colorado River from Boat Beach, a short walk from Bright Angel Campground. Bridge to South Kaibab trail in the distance. 

View of the Colorado River from Boat Beach, a short walk from Bright Angel Campground. Bridge to South Kaibab trail in the distance. 

Indian Gardens Campground:

  • 4.9 miles from Bright Angel Trailhead
  • We did not stay at this campground so I can't offer much information about it other than it appears the campsites were in a lush and shady area.
  • It seemed to be much more trafficked since it's the closest campground to the top of the South Rim. 
Day 3 on the approach to Indian Gardens Campground 

Day 3 on the approach to Indian Gardens Campground 

Our Itinerary:

Day 1: North Kaibab Trailhead to Cottonwood Campground (6.8 miles, 4,161 ft elevation loss)
Day 2: Cottonwood Campground to Bright Angel Campground (7.2 miles, 1,600 ft elevation loss)
Day 3: Bright Angel Campground to Bright Angel Trailhead (9.5 miles, 4,380 ft elevation gain)

Our itinerary allowed us to make the most of our time in the canyon. The pace was easy and we had a good chunk of time to relax each day and enjoy being in such an amazing place. 

It was nice to end on the South Rim which has more lodging and food options if you want to stick around after your hike. That burger and beer at Bright Angel Cafe after the hike really hit the spot. My only complaint was that the hustle and bustle of the South Rim was a bit jarring to come back to after two nights of tranquility in the bottom of the canyon. The North Rim may have been less so. 

Day 1: Ribbon Falls. Our photos really don't do it justice. 

Day 1: Ribbon Falls. Our photos really don't do it justice. 

Day 2: View from top of Ribbon Falls

Day 2: View from top of Ribbon Falls

Which itinerary should you choose? 

How much time do you want to spend in the canyon? 

Overall, the hike is fairly short and you have to make the tradeoff between logging high mileage each day and spending time. We could easily have done this hike in two days but I am really glad we didn't. While it can feel great to accomplish something like the Rim to Rim in as short a time as possible, I would argue that you'll regret not slowing down and enjoying yourself.

One way to add more time in the canyon and mileage to your hike is to do a Rim to Rim to Rim hike. This also removes the need to get transportation back to your car at the end of the hike. 

Day 2: Heading out from Cottonwood Campground 

Day 2: Heading out from Cottonwood Campground 

Day 2: Walking through the canyon

Day 2: Walking through the canyon

How fit are you? 

To an experienced hiker or backpacker, this hike is not difficult. I would recommend our itinerary even to a novice hiker. Coming out of the canyon is by far the hardest part. However, if you really want to take it easy you might consider grabbing a night at each campsite along the way. Keep in mind you can only stay at each campsite for a maximum of two nights (consecutive or non-consecutive) for each hike. 

Day 2

Day 2

When do you want to go? 

Ultimately, the itinerary you get will depend on availability. Permit request success rates vary drastically during different times of the year (see When to Apply below). 

The canyon is home to some pretty intense weather and you'll want to be aware and prepared for the temperatures you might see during your hike. The average temperatures might also dictate how long you want your hike to take or which Rim you start/end on. Remember, the North Rim has limited services during the winter and snow often closes the main road to get into the North side of the park. 

Day 3: Crossing over the Colorado River

Day 3: Crossing over the Colorado River

Day 3: Looking back over the Silver Bridge after crossing the Colorado River

Day 3: Looking back over the Silver Bridge after crossing the Colorado River

Step 2: Secure Your Permit 

I've found that figuring out and then landing permits for backcountry hikes is the most tedious part of the entire planning process. It seems each park has a different system and lengths between requesting a permit and hearing back. All in all, the permitting process for a Rim to Rim hike isn't too complicated and we heard back very quickly. 

Do I need a permit?
If you are aiming to do a Rim to Rim hike over multiple days, you'll need a permit. The park requires permits for any camping outside of the established campgrounds on the North and South Rim. 

When to Apply: 
There is a period of about ten days at the end of each month within which you can apply for permits for hikes starting roughly five months later. For example, if you want to hike in June, you can apply for earliest consideration between January 20th and February 1st. Equal consideration is given to all requests submitted in this time period. According to the park website, requests are combined together into one pile, duplicates are removed, and then processing begins using a computer-generated random order. 

If you want a good chance of securing a permit, you should apply during this earliest consideration period. Success rates for backcountry requests submitted on the earliest allowed date are published in the Backcountry Use Statistics Report. Success rates for the hotter summer months are close to 100%, while the more temperate Fall months drop below 60%.

Taken from the GCNP website. Always double check the park website for the most up to date information about permits as the system is subject to change. 

Taken from the GCNP website. Always double check the park website for the most up to date information about permits as the system is subject to change. 

How to Apply:
You can find all relevant information for how to apply on the permit request form itself. 
You'll have to fax or mail it in since they don't accept email or phone requests. You can also drop it off in person at either of the Backcountry Permit Offices in the park. 

Day 3: Between Cottonwood Campground and Indian Gardens

Day 3: Between Cottonwood Campground and Indian Gardens

Day 3: Looking down over the trail we've just hiked.

Day 3: Looking down over the trail we've just hiked.

Step 3: Transportation & Lodging 

Once you have your permit you can start planning transportation to and from the trailheads as well as lodging for before and after your hike. 

Getting back to your car:

We parked our car on the North Rim and ended our hike on the South Rim. The only option we found for transportation back to the North Rim was the Trans Canyon Shuttle. It was a fantastic service. There are pick-up times twice a day from each rim. We took the 8am shuttle the day after our hike. It takes about four hours to travel between the rims and the shuttle made two rest stops along the way. They offer unlimited seat availability (not sure how they do this!) and can accommodate you on any date as long as you book in advance. 

Lodging before and after:

Lodging in the actual park can be hard to come by unless you're booking far in advance. When we first received our permits in February for our June hike, all lodges in the park were completely full up for our dates.

Most of the lodges in and around the park have generous cancellation policies. I suggest booking as far in advance as you can, even if you don't have your permit yet. You can always cancel if you don't get a permit or if you get different dates than your original request.

We stayed at the Kaibab Lodge the night before our hike. It was fine for one night's stay and was only a 30 minute drive to the trailhead. Another option was Jacob Lake Inn, which was slightly farther away (they also make some pretty damn good cookies). I called again the week before and thankfully there had been some cancellations at Maswick Lodge on the South Rim for the dates we needed. Don't expect much from these lodges; they're basically motels and are far from fancy. After camping for a few days, you won't even notice. 

Day 3: View from Bright Angel Trail

Day 3: View from Bright Angel Trail

Day 3: Mules headed down the Bright Angel trail into the canyon. 

Day 3: Mules headed down the Bright Angel trail into the canyon. 

Learn before you go

This was my first trip to the Grand Canyon and I was absolutely blown away. The view from the top of the Canyon is awesome in the most basic sense of the word. The tranquility and timelessness you experience at the bottom is something I've never felt before. We were there for only 3 days, but that was enough time for me to absolutely fall in love with the place. Since returning from our trip, I've tried to learn as much as I can about the Canyon and I've found some resources that I wish I had read before our hike. 

The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon

As the title suggests, this book tells the story of the fastest boat ride ever down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Not only is it a thrilling read, but it teaches you a ton about the history and exploration of the Grand Canyon. 

National Geographic: Are We Losing the Grand Canyon? 

Written by the same author as The Emerald Mile, this article details two men's 650 mile hike through the Grand Canyon and goes in-depth about the conservation battles currently being fought to protect the area. The Dirtbag Diaries Podcast episode titled Mileposts — Greater than the Sum of its Parts also discusses this same trip and the challenges the two men endured to complete the hike. 

To learn more about the current threats to the Grand Canyon and what you can do to help, visit: savetheconfluence.com.

Hiking Buddies! 

Hiking Buddies! 

Miscellaneous Tips and Tricks

  • If you're going in the Summer months, you can go without a tent or sleeping bag to save weight in your pack. You can still be comfortable with just a sleeping pad and light blanket (I brought my Rumpl and didn't even need to use it). 
  • The hike is short enough that you can also easily go without a stove, especially if you reserve a meal at Phantom Ranch.
  • Give yourself time to hang out at Ribbon Falls. Sure, you can drop by on your way to or from Cottonwood Campground, but it was amazing to spend a couple of hours there during the hottest part of the day.
  • There is food storage at the campsites so you don't have to worry about bringing your own food storage options. 
  • Best campsites: Sites 10 and 4 at Cottonwood, site 20 at Bright Angel. 
  • Last minute cancellations are your friend. If you're not able to get lodge reservations or food reservations at Phantom Ranch, call a few days before your trip to see if anyone has canceled. This was how we were able to get accommodations at Maswick Lodge and our stew dinners at Phantom Ranch. 
  • The stew dinner at Phantom Ranch was definitely worth it. We heard from other campers that the steak dinner was just so so. 
  • Phantom Ranch Cantina is a little slice of heaven. The ice cold lemonade and beer were extremely enjoyable after being in the heat all day. 
  • It gets hot in the Summer - like seriously hot. It is generally 20 degrees hotter at the bottom of the canyon than it is at the top. Do some research about desert hiking and come prepared with proper clothing and lots of salty snacks and water. We left camp no later than 6am each day to avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day. 

 

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Discovering Nature

Where were you when you discovered your love for nature?

This discovery came slowly for me. I grew up in the suburbs of San Antonio, the seventh most populated city in the US. While I spent a lot of time outside growing up, my activities centered mostly around team sports. A few RV camping trips with my grandparents and extended family were fun but made no lasting impression. 

I was 24 when my boyfriend (now husband) Taylor suggested we tack a visit to Colorado onto the end of another trip we were taking to Washington DC. I agreed, and before I knew it we were driving through Estes Park on our way to Rocky Mountain National Park. At this point, I was more excited to see the famous Stanley Hotel (which had served as inspiration for Stephen King's novel The Shining) than I was for our hike. 

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Taylor had done some research and picked a 9-mile hike for us to do named Sky Pond. The hike begins at Glacier Gorge Trailhead, one of the more popular parts of the park. Because of this, we started the hike surrounded by other park visitors, many of which dropped off about a mile in at Alberta Falls. The chatter of other people died away as we continued on and the trail became continually more challenging. Not used to the elevation, I trailed several steps behind Taylor for most of the hike. 

Loch Vale aka The Loch, about 3 miles into the Sky Pond hike

Loch Vale aka The Loch, about 3 miles into the Sky Pond hike

About four miles from the trailhead we reached the base of Timberline Falls. From there, the trail went directly up the side of the waterfall. This required us to climb/scramble about 100 feet up. The climb wasn't too difficult, but I found it exhilarating. Once at the top, we found the Lake of Glass and amazing views of several surrounding peaks. Despite the many people we had started the hike with, we were the only ones who had climbed the falls and we had this beautiful piece of nature all to ourselves. 

Lake of Glass, Rocky Mountain National Park 

Lake of Glass, Rocky Mountain National Park 

That moment at Lake of Glass stands out vividly in my memory. The feeling of accomplishment of having made it to the top, the slight fatigue from the hike, the solitude, and the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains formed an intoxicating combination. This was the moment I fell in love with the outdoors. 

Where were you? 

Heading down from Lake of Glass

Heading down from Lake of Glass

Lessons Learned in Lost Maples

Screeeeeeee!

I sit bolt upright in the tent.

What was that?

“Sounds like a hog,” Taylor says. The unnatural squealing echoes again in the distance followed by deeper, guttural grunts.

“Oh. Ok.” Just pigs. No big deal. They sound far away anyways. Totally harmless.

It was New Year’s Eve 2015 and we were visiting Lost Maples State Natural Area for the first time. This was our first solo camping trip as a couple - my first hike-in camping experience - and both of us were excited to celebrate the new year under the stars. Unfortunately, the cold weather and lack of fire (no fires allowed in hike-in campsites at Lost Maples) had led to us crawling into our tent as soon as darkness fell.

I lie back down, grab my kindle, and try to rig it so I can read with as little of my body exposed as possible. It’s 20-ish degrees, I’m freezing, and just generally not having a fantastic time. My feet, wrapped in two pairs of thick wool socks, still feel frozen.

It’s the first of what is supposed to be three nights camping, and I’m seriously lacking the commitment that I’ll need to make it through the next two nights. I’m going over all the reasons why we should leave tomorrow and weighing which ones would convince Taylor to end our trip early. I land on the fact that the dog – our Catahoula Pitbull mix named Coca – looks like she’s having an even less fun time than I am. She’s shivering despite being wedged between us with several blankets. Clearly, she’s missing her warm couch and wondering why we’ve decided to punish her this way.

I’m finally starting to feel sleepy and thinking if I try really hard maybe I can fall asleep despite the cold. I close my eyes. Several moments later I hear a twig snap outside. I can feel Coca and Taylor move next to me.

Snort Snort Snort, Craaaaaack, Rustle Rustle, Snort Snort!

These new noises are mere feet from the tent. Screeeeeeee! goes the hog in the distance.

Something nudges the tent by our feet. We both sit bolt upright. Another twig cracks from the opposite side of the tent, followed by several more snorts and grunts. Our tent is surrounded by wild hogs.

One of us turns our headlamp on, hoping it won’t spur the hogs into a wild tent-attacking frenzy. We urgently begin whispering, hatching a plan.

How do you handle hogs? Can you scare them away? Or will they attack?
No idea.
Shit. Why are they so close to the tent?
Umm. We have food in the tent.
Oh yeah. Oops.
Shit.
Yeah.

We had naively thought that there was nothing in the area that would be drawn to our meager food rations, most of which was pre-packaged and in Ziploc bags. Maybe a possum or a raccoon, but nothing that would cause us a real issue. Not several huge hogs with razor sharp tusks (ok maybe my imagination was running away from me). We now found ourselves eye level with who knows how many wild hogs, with only a thin layer of nylon tent between us and them.

After what feels like an eternity sitting in silence waiting, we realize our late-night guests are not in a rush to leave. Our ferocious hog hunting dog is literally shaking from cold and/or fear between the two of us. She hasn’t made a move. We’re thankful for this, since we’re not sure if hogs would be scared or react defensively to a dog’s bark from inside a tent. After what seems like an eternity, we take a chance and decide to try to scare them away by making a bunch of noise. I wait for a razor-sharp tusk to tear its way through our tent wall, but thankfully that doesn’t happen. We hear them walk away and after a few minutes, the coast seems to be clear. Taylor carefully gets out of the tent and ties our food up in a nearby tree.

We had a fitful night’s sleep. I kept waking up because my feet were so cold. The dog was shivering. In the morning, we packed up camp. We enjoyed the park for the rest of the day and then headed home to sleep in our warm bed.

This wasn’t what I would call my favorite camping trip, but I learned several valuable lessons. Some of these may seem like common sense, but if you’re new to camping you may not even think about these.

Lost Maples gets its name from the many maple trees, making Autumn an amazing time to visit. Check out their Instagram for some really beautiful photos of the fall foliage. 

Lost Maples gets its name from the many maple trees, making Autumn an amazing time to visit. Check out their Instagram for some really beautiful photos of the fall foliage. 

Lesson 1: Proper Food Storage and Handling

For people who camp or hike on a regular basis, not keeping food in your tent is a no brainer. As a newbie to camping, I didn’t even think about it. Our close encounter with the hogs ensured that I’ll never do that again, especially when hike-in or backcountry camping where there are likely to be animals outside of possums and raccoons.

Using proper food storage and/or hanging your food from a tree overnight or anytime you leave it unaccompanied is key. This also extends to other smelly items you might be carrying, like toothpaste or sunscreen. You’ll also want to dump any water used for cooking or washing dishes at least 200 feet away from your campsite.

If you’re car camping in a place without bears, a cooler works as a great storage container, but raccoons and possums can still easily open them. Put something heavy on the lid or keep it in the car overnight.

If you’re hike-in or backcountry camping, you can use a bear bag or canister or an odor-proof bag like OPSAK bags. Use a rope to hang your food from a tree. You can tie a rock or other heavy item to the end of the rope to help you throw it over a high limb. Once over, attach your food bag and hoist it into the air. You want it high enough and far enough away from the tree trunk that animals can’t reach it (think about a bear on its hind legs!). Tie the rest of the rope around the tree trunk to secure it.

Always check online to see if the place you’re visiting has special rules around food storage.  

The pigs outside of our tent probably looked a lot like this one. Not as scary as I imagined!

The pigs outside of our tent probably looked a lot like this one. Not as scary as I imagined!

Lesson 2: Know the local wildlife and how to handle an encounter

Aside from knowing how to protect your food from the local wildlife, you should also be knowledgeable on how best to handle a direct encounter. Upon arrival at the park, Taylor asked the ranger if there were any wildlife we should be aware of. There was no mention of hogs. Despite this, we should have been prepared and known how to react. 

We were lucky that our animal encounter was not actually super dangerous. I looked it up after the trip, and feral hogs of this kind prefer to avoid humans and generally don't attack unless cornered or protecting their young. All the same, if you come across them, it's best to keep your distance.

Lesson 3: Weather ratings for gear are a thing, and they matter

Ok, so 20 degrees Fahrenheit isn’t that cold, but it’s rare for it to get that cold in this area of Texas. Not only do I hate the cold, but I also didn’t have the right equipment to be comfortable in that temperature. Turns out, my bag was a summer season bag and was only rated for 35 degrees and higher. This is normally a perfect bag for camping in Texas, but the cold took us by surprise.

I also learned the value of checking average lows and highs before I plan a trip, as well as checking forecasts a week out so I can be sure to pack the right gear. 

Lesson 4: Don't Expect Perfection

Had I let this experience color my entire outlook on camping, I would not have been eager to plan my next trip. I took this for what it was - poor planning - and learned from the experience. Part of the fun is learning along the way. If you head out on your first camping trip and have a less than ideal time, try again. Take what you learned and put that knowledge towards making your next trip better. 

Summary:

  1. Learn proper food handling and storage to avoid having animals enter your camp and attempt to get into your food stores.
  2. Research the local wildlife and how best to safely manage a direct encounter.
  3. Check the weather before you go and make sure your gear is rated for the conditions you might encounter.
  4. Not every trip will go perfectly, and that's ok. Take what you learn and apply it to your next trip. 
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Happy Campers: Tips for Beginner's Part II

There is so much information out there about camping equipment and it can be a bit overwhelming for would-be campers. Don't let them fool you; camping is not that complicated. There are a few basics that you need and everything else is a nice-to-have. In this post, I've included a few tips for newbies who are thinking about setting up camp for the first time.

Borrow or Rent equipment

Camping is a cheap activity but only after you've stocked up on all the equipment you need. It can be tough to spend a bunch of money up front if you're not even sure if you're going to like it or do it often. I recommend either borrowing equipment from a generous friend or renting the equipment. Companies like Logistics in Nature (serves Austin/Houston area) and Lower Gear will rent equipment for you for a fraction of what it would cost you to go out and buy all your own.

If you do decide to buy equipment rather than borrowing or renting, don't do what I did and just go buy the cheapest of each item. If you enjoy camping, you'll just end up re-buying everything because you bought crappy stuff the first time around. Take the time to do a little research first. I often use Outdoor Gear Lab to help make decisions in this department and they haven't steered me wrong yet.

Some of my must have gear for each camping trip. My new Rumpl puffy blanket is amazing for Texas camping; it keeps you warm but isn't as hot as a sleeping bag can be. 

Some of my must have gear for each camping trip. My new Rumpl puffy blanket is amazing for Texas camping; it keeps you warm but isn't as hot as a sleeping bag can be. 

Don't skimp on the Sleeping Pad

Just because you're sleeping outside doesn't mean you have to be uncomfortable. A good sleeping pad will go a long way to help you catch all the zzzz's. Skimp on the sleeping pad and you'll find yourself crawling out of your tent in the morning having not caught a wink, swearing off camping and hoping your campmates have already started on the coffee. Speaking of coffee, that's another piece of vital camping equipment I wouldn't be caught without; but that's for another post.

I've tried a few different sleeping pads and I've landed on the Big Agnes Q-Core. It's super light, compact, and is about four inches thick when inflated. I'm a side sleeper so the extra cushion keeps my hips from digging into the ground. My only complaint is that it's a bit loud when you move around on it. If you want to read more about selecting the right sleeping pad for you, I recommend checking out REI's post here.

When I'm car camping, I bring a real pillow as well. Ok, maybe sometimes more than one pillow. That's one of the upsides of car camping! Bring all the pillows!

Let there be light!

It's sometimes easy to forget since we live most of our lives under fluorescent lighting, but it actually gets dark outside. Like, really dark. Like, holy crap that bush just moved are we about to get attacked by a pack of rabid coyotes who were drawn by the smell of our delicious hot-dogs dark. Bring a headlamp, and you'll easily be able to tell that the rabid coyotes are actually just a small raccoon who is trying to steal your dog's food from under the picnic table. Pro tip: most headlamps have a regular light and a red light on them; use the red setting to avoid blinding your fellow campers.

It's also a huge pain to set up camp once it's already dark, especially if you aren't practiced. Get to camp before dark so you have plenty of sunlight and don't have to rely on headlamps or flashlights.

Learn as you go

I can give you all the tips in the world, but you're still going to forget the toilet paper, the matches, or some other piece of equipment. Don't stress about it. Part of the fun is developing your own camping style and learning your own tricks. The bottom line is you don't need to be an expert to camp. You belong outside! Get out there. 

Hammocks are a great addition to your campsite! 

Hammocks are a great addition to your campsite! 

The Texas Diaries: Pedernales Falls Edition

“Is that the turnoff?” Taylor asked as we were nearing the end of our ninth mile.

“No, I don't think so. I think we have a bit farther to go.” I managed to get this sentence out between gulps of air.

We had just run most of the aptly named Juniper Ridge Trail in Pedernales Falls State Park. My plan had been to run six miles and here I was, somehow closing in on ten. I was impressed with myself, but also more than ready to be done and back at the car where our lunch and cold waters waited for us.

Turns out, I was wrong. That was the turnoff to the parking lot. As we finished our second loop around the top of Wolf Mountain, Taylor starts laughing uncontrollably at the bewildered look on my face as I realized we had just run an extra loop.

Despite our (really, my) lack of direction, Pedernales Falls State Park (pronounced "Perd-n-Alice" by the locals) has become one of our go-to places for trail running, hiking, and camping. Less than 45 minutes from downtown Austin, it makes for the perfect day or weekend trip.

Campsite #4 

Campsite #4 

Camping

I absolutely love camping at Pedernales Falls. Surrounded by woods of juniper and oak trees, the drive-in campsites provide quite a bit of privacy and ample places to hang your hammock. They're also really large, giving you plenty of room if you want to bring a group of friends (limit of 8 people per site). You'll find bathrooms with flushing toilets, sinks, and showers a short walk from where you pitch your tent. The 69 drive-in campsites offer water spigots, electricity, a picnic table, a lantern post, and a fire ring with grill. Don't let the high number of campsites fool you; you'll need to book far in advance if you want to get a drive-in campsite on the weekend during Texas' temperate months.

The park also offers hike-in campsites. These are about two miles from where you park your car. There is a four person limit to these sites - it's unclear exactly how many there are - but you do have the luxury of a composting toilet nearby. Unfortunately, no fires are allowed in these campsites.

Trail Running

The park offers about 25 miles of trails that wind through juniper woods and over stream crossings. Juniper Ridge Trail is our favorite running trail in the park. Just shy of 9 miles, it connects with many other trails, including the popular Wolf Mountain Trail. It's almost completely shaded (great for the Texas heat!) and technical enough to be challenging but not technical enough to kill you. It's also the only official mountain bike trail in the park. I haven't yet met a trail in that park that wasn't good for both hiking and trail running.

Pedernales Falls

Pedernales Falls

The Falls

A post about Pedernales Falls State Park wouldn't be complete if it didn't mention the park's namesake. Pedernales Falls is one of the most beautiful natural features in the area (and therefore one of the most popular parts of the park). The emerald green river drops 50 feet in elevation over a distance of about 3,000 feet, gently flowing over layers of limestone. It's prone to flash floods, meaning the tranquil river can become a life threatening deluge in less than five minutes.

The Pedernales River right before the Falls 

The Pedernales River right before the Falls 

Part of the Falls

Part of the Falls

Takeaways

  • Drive-in camping here affords a decent amount of privacy and close proximity to luxuries like flushing toilets and showers.
  • If you're into trail running or hiking, you absolutely need to check this place out.
  • This park is well worth a day trip from Austin. Bring a picnic lunch, take a hike, and experience the beauty of the falls.
  • Nearby Dripping Springs also offers several breweries, wineries, and distilleries if you're into drinking on patios and want to have some adult beverages after visiting the park.
  • Book camping reservations well in advance if you're hoping for a weekend in the Spring or Fall. Keep in mind that the park often reaches capacity on these weekends so get there early if you're just doing a day trip.
Hanging out at the Falls with our dog Coca. 

Hanging out at the Falls with our dog Coca. 

Happy Campers: Tips for Beginners Part 1

Camping sounds like it would be simple, and in many ways it is. You literally go outside, bring some food and water, pitch a tent and voila, you're officially camping! Realistically, it's a bit more complicated than that and can be daunting if you're a first timer. Not knowing where to go, what type of equipment to buy, or even basic camping etiquette can be enough to keep people from joining the camping club. That, my friend, is a travesty. I hope my Happy Campers series of posts will help you overcome any anxiety and answer any questions you may have about your first camping experience.

In this post, we'll answer the question: What type of camping do you want to do? If you're new to camping and just wanting to explore the outdoors, you're likely thinking about what I've dubbed car camping. I'll explain what I mean by that below. However, I still think it's useful to know about the different types of camping so you can keep them in mind when you buy equipment. I'll cover a basic equipment list, camping etiquette, and more in later posts.

Furry friends and yard games are some of the extras you can bring along when car camping. 

Furry friends and yard games are some of the extras you can bring along when car camping. 

Car Camping aka Glamping

Roughing It Rating: 3/10

Car camping is the most casual of the three types of camping I'm discussing in this post. You can pack up your car with as much crap as it will fit and drive it right up to your campsite. Will we need two packs of blue gatorade this weekend? SURE throw it on in! You don't have to worry too much about weight or space and you can afford to bring luxuries like a huge tent and queen sized air mattress. You usually set up your tent within 25 feet of your car. Many state park campsites will have water spigots at each site and toilets and showers within walking distance. It's basically like hanging out in your house but you get to see the stars and have a campfire instead of watching tv.

Go car camping if:

  • You're new to the outdoors and camping and want to get your feet wet
  • You want certain comforts like running water and toilets
  • You don't mind if there are other campers nearby
  • You have heavy equipment or luxury items that you don't want to carry far (24 pack of beer anyone?)
  • You want to bring your dog or small children (note: always check with your park ahead of time since pet allowance will vary. Some parks also allow dogs in their hike-in and backcountry campsites)
Glamping at it's finest with our Tepui Rooftop Tent. It's amazing y'all. #teamtepui 

Glamping at it's finest with our Tepui Rooftop Tent. It's amazing y'all. #teamtepui 

Walk-in or Hike-in Camping

Roughing It Rating: 5/10

Walk or Hike in campsites are generally a far enough distance from where you park your car that you don't want to have to make multiple trips. I've been to parks where the distances vary from a couple hundred yards to up to 3 miles. Hike in campsites often don't allow fires so you'll need to bring enough water and food that doesn't require cooking (or bring a portable stove like a Jetboil). You've also got a 50/50 chance that there is a composting toilet nearby. Be prepared to pee in the woods (Ladies, I've got a post coming for you specifically about how to do that without peeing on your shoes).

Go Hike-In camping if:

  • You want to experience nature away from everyday comforts
  • You'd like a bit more privacy from other campers
  • You don't mind carrying your gear the distance to your campsite and back
  • You're fine not having running water or toilets (note: some hike-in campsites will have composting toilets nearby)
  • You're ok with not having a fire

Backcountry Camping:

Roughing It Rating: 8/10

On the scale of Glamping to Roughing It, backcountry camping is full on Rough City. You're living out of your pack on these trips and potentially hiking long distances each day between campsites. Does a bear shit in the woods? Yes, and so will you on this type of camping trip. You might even get to see a bear. I wouldn't recommend backcountry camping for your first camping experience; however, I would argue the rewards of this type of camping are far higher than the other two.

Go Backcountry Camping if:

  • You want to experience the outdoors in all it's glory
  • You want privacy and are ok with not seeing another person outside of your camping party for long periods of time
  • You're ready and willing to carry everything you'll need in your pack
  • You feel comfortable with basic outdoor skills like food storage and Leave No Trace principles

Stay tuned for my future Happy Camper posts where I'll cover the basics for each of the above types of camping.No matter what type of camping you decide to do, just get out there.

Nature is calling. 

NatureisCalling.jpg

Camping Recipes: Southwestern Chicken Packets

My number one rule for cooking while camping is this: Foil is your friend. You can pretty much throw anything you want into a foil packet and toss it over your campfire coals to cook. Prep is simple and clean up is easy. We tried this recipe a few weekends ago while camping in Colorado Bend State Park and it was delicious.

You can also throw the foil packets directly into the fire if you don't have a griddle. 

You can also throw the foil packets directly into the fire if you don't have a griddle. 

Ingredients

The amount of each ingredient can vary based on your personal preference. The amount listed below will make 4 servings.

  • 4 skinless chicken breast
  • 1 can of black beans
  • 3 cups of corn (we used frozen)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of pepper
  • salsa
  • shredded cheese
  • cilantro (as much or as little as you want)
  • guacamole or sour cream for topping

Prep

  • Mix the beans, corn, salt, pepper, and cilantro in a bowl
  • Cut each chicken breast into smaller strips, season with salt and pepper
  • Cut 8 pieces of aluminum foil, roughly 12 inches long each
  • Distribute bean/corn mixture evenly across 4 pieces of foil
  • Add one chicken breast (3-4 strips) to each foil
  • You can choose to add cheese and salsa to the foil packets. We threw them in the cooler and added them after cooking the packets.
  • Use the other 4 pieces of foil to cover the others, folding the sides over several times to create a packet

Cook

Throw the chicken packets directly onto your campfire coals. You can also cook over a charcoal grill if that is readily available. Cook for about 25 - 30 minutes, flipping the packets every few minutes. Add cheese and salsa if you did not originally include in the packets. Top with guacamole and/or sour cream and then stuff your face with this delicious and easy meal.
 

Animal Encounters of the Raccoon Kind

Coca, our Catahoula Pitbull mix, sighs deeply as she settles into the dirt on the far side of our campfire. She's close enough to feel the warmth of the fire but far enough away so the smoke doesn't get into her spotted nose. It's now fully dark, and the four of us (myself, my husband Taylor, and two of our best friends, Garret and Justin) all have our eyes pointed towards the night sky. We're extremely lucky that it's a clear night and the stars are shining bright. We're all trying to point out constellations that we know...which isn't many. We definitely see the Big Dipper and maybe something that might be Orion's Belt. Either way, it's beautiful and calming, a sight that we don't get to see much of back home in Austin.

We're thoroughly enjoying the night. The fire is mesmerizing. We take turns staring into it and gazing up to appreciate the stars. The conversation is good. At some point, we hear Coca behind us. She's pushing her metal bowls around which we've left full of water and dog food under the nearby picnic table. The noise intensifies.

“Wow, Coca must be hungry,” Justin comments. There's a pause as we all slowly turn our heads away from the noise to the complete opposite direction where Coca still lies, curled up in a ball and almost asleep. Then it dawns on us, and we all quickly turn our headlamps on, searching the darkness under the picnic table.

The Raccoon freezes. We freeze. Its eyes glow creepily in the light from our headlamps. It's been eating the dog food that we left for Coca not ten feet away from us. A few seconds go by where no one moves. Then, Mr. Raccoon turns tail and runs, his fat butt swaying back and forth as he goes. We can tell this raccoon is used to the late night snacks it steals from the campers in this park.

He gives us one final look over his shoulder as he disappears into the darkness.
 

Coca, our Catahoula Pitbull Mix

The Texas Diaries: Colorado Bend State Park Edition

Nothing beats the feeling of packing up the car and heading out for a weekend of camping on a beautiful Spring day. Windows down, dog panting in the the backseat, we played hooky from work on Friday to head out to nearby Colorado Bend State Park for the first time. As we pulled up to the park entrance around 2pm, a line of cars and two park rangers greeted us. The park was full and closed for day-use until at least 4pm. Looking around at the cars pulled over on the side of the road who were waiting to get into the park, we could see a lot of surly faces. Thankfully, our camping reservations had secured us entrance. We breathed a sigh of relief as the entrance gate swung open for us and we left those unhappy non-campers in our dust.

Our first trip to Colorado Bend State Park did not disappoint. Just under two hours Northwest of Austin, the short drive is more than worth it. We couldn't believe what we had been missing out on all this time. The park offers some great hiking (our favorite outdoor activity) as well as a range of other activities including fishing, swimming, paddling, bird watching, and even guided cave tours. Located in Bend, Texas, the park literally sits on a bend in the Colorado River. Many of the campsites offer a beautiful view of the slow moving river backed by steep, rocky hills. Every so often we could see a Yucca plant in bloom. The huge yellowish-white blooms, combined with the various other wildflowers and butterflies dotting the landscape, really made it feel like Spring.

View of the lazy Coloroado River from our campsite. Coca the Catahoula basks in the springtime sun. 

View of the lazy Coloroado River from our campsite. Coca the Catahoula basks in the springtime sun. 

Yucca plant in bloom

What's the camping situation? 

The park has two main sections for camping. The biggest camping area is about six miles into the park, near park headquarters. With roughly 50 campsites available in this area (only 15 of which are drive-in) you have to book far in advance to get a weekend reservation when the weather is mild. For our mid-March trip, I made a reservation in early October. We're finding that Spring/Fall weekend camping in Texas requires reservations very far in advance. The reason for this is obvious, but makes last minute camping in most State Parks nearly impossible. We've begun regularly making reservations several months in advance. You can make a reservation at Colorado Bend or any other state park by visiting this link.

The park offers drive-in, walk-in, and group sites. For the drive-in sites, you should expect little to no privacy from your neighbors in the next campsite over. They are very close together and there are no trees in between to offer even a tiny bit of separation. I have to admit we were a little disappointed that our campsite didn't have any trees on which to hang our hammocks.

If you want a little more distance from your fellow campers like we do, the walk-in sites might be a better option. They vary in distance from their designated parking spots but are still fairly close. I would guesstimate no farther than 100 yards at the very farthest for the river area campsites. There still isn't a ton of tree cover to offer privacy, but they are more spread out than the drive-in.

Each campsite has a fire ring and a “lantern holder,” which most people use to hang their trash. There are a few potable water spigots in the area but not at each campsite. There are also a few composting toilets scattered throughout the camping areas but no flush toilets or indoor showers or sinks.

The other main area for camping in the park is the Windmill backpack camping area. These campsites are roughly a mile from parking, do not have river access, and are in a completely different part of the park than the rest of the campsites. We didn't visit this area of the park so we unfortunately cannot comment on these campsites.

And Hiking?

There are over 35 miles of trails in this park and we can't wait to go back so we can piece together a few more. The main trails we hiked were Spicewood Springs trail and Spicewood Springs Canyon. The two trails make a loop that first crisscross over the creek and then follow a ridge that has spectacular views of the creek, the Colorado River, and the surrounding area. At just under 4.5 miles from trailhead to trailhead, this very manageable hike is jam packed with water crossings that make you want to stop and cool off in the emerald green waters.

This hike is listed as challenging on the Park's website and map, but we would characterize it as moderate. It's fairly short, has a few tricky creek crossings, but is mostly flat and shady. We would recommend wearing shoes that you don't mind getting wet. This makes the numerous water crossings less tricky.

One of the first creek crossings on the Spicewood Springs Trail 

Some small waterfalls on the Spicewood Springs trail 

Takeaways:

  • Get out there! This park is well worth the short drive from Austin, even for a day trip. 
  • Book camping reservations far in advance for Spring/Fall weekends
  • For day use, get to the park early to avoid the disappointment of being turned away because the park is full
  • Don't be afraid of the walk-in campsites if you want a little more privacy from other campers
  • The hikes don't require heavy duty hiking boots but we recommend at least wearing waterproof boots or shoes you don't mind getting wet