If you’re looking to add flavor and “oomph” to your time on the trail, bananas are a great choice as a hiking snack. Why? Well, among other things, bananas are a great source of vitamin B6, manganese, vitamin C, potassium, dietary fiber, potassium, biotin, and copper. Bananas are one of the world’s healthiest foods. They’re also a great add-in to trail mix.
Unfortunately, bananas are difficult to cart around in a backpack. They’re oddly shaped and bulky. They bruise easily, resulting in banana mush. These problems can be solved if you dry bananas by slicing them and slow baking them in an oven to create banana chips. (I recommend this over using a dehydrator, which tends to crank out mini hockey pucks.)
Here’s how we do it:
- Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees
- Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray
- Slice a banana in thin slices, about one-quarter of an inch thick
- Dip slices in lemon juice and place on baking sheet (very important step or you’ll wind up with little black hockey pucks)
- Bake, turning over once or twice, until banana slices are golden brown and crispy. About 8 hours.
- Remove from oven. Cool and add to your favorite homemade trail mix.
That’s it! Ovens and wattage vary, so be sure to check your banana slices often so they don’t overbake.
For more, see: Cheapskate Guide to Terrific Trail Mix.
What’s your favorite add-in? Share in the Comments section.
Getting ready to enjoy the Great Outdoors may pose a challenge if your bank account’s a little light. But don’t let that stop you. Here are seven ways to save money while gearing up for your next outdoor adventure.
Do I need it?
1) First, limit your purchases to what you need. Make a list. Avoid impulse buying. Have a plan. Be realistic. Set a budget and stick to it. For example, you probably don’t need a backpack designed for a six-week European tour if you’re heading out on a two-hour day hike. (Tip: Load your pack and carry it around the mall for a couple hours prior to your trip. Then reduce and repack.)
Likewise, don’t purchase something just because it looks or sounds cool. Those Amazon-tested, mother approved hiking boots/hip waders built to outlast Armageddon may look pretty chic on the mannequin. Ditto that designer, Alpaca-lined fleece that’d keep a penguin warm inside an igloo. But unless you’re a penguin planning on igloo lodging or outlasting Armageddon, you can probably pass up those painful price tags.
Similarly, don’t assume you can’t live without high-end gear with price tags rivaling a down payment on a tropical island. You don’t want to drop $599 on a Sidewinder SV Arc’teryx jacket and find you don’t like it. A $35 fleece from Big 5 or waterproof boots from the Cabelas bargain cave will do fine. You can always “buy up” once you know what you like and what works best for you.
Know where you can save and where you shouldn’t.
2) DO NOT scrimp on anything related to survival gear or personal safety. For example, if you’re planning on rappelling down El Capitan, you probably don’t want to get ropes or carabiners at Fast Eddy’s Slightly Used Climbing Gear.
Also, don’t scrimp on your base layer, worn next to the skin. Remember, “cotton kills.” That’s because cotton gets soaked and holds moisture next to the body, significantly increasing your risk of hypothermia. Invest in a quality base layer designed to wick moisture away from your body. I recommend Under Armour. Lightweight, durable and reasonably priced.
3) Food. Entire industries have sprung up around designer hiking/ camping/back packing eats. You can practically buy a round-trip ticket to the moon on what some of these fancy, pre-packaged items cost. So don’t. A ziploc of GORP (Good Ole Raisins and Peanuts) is just as good as that dehydrated champagne and caviar. At a fraction of the cost. For more, see The Cheapskate Guide to Trail Snacks and Camp Cooking Made Easy.
4) Hydration. Some “outdoor” beverage manufacturers promise more power than a locomotive or the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound if you drink their product. Fine. But water works fine, too. It’s also free.
5) Shop on-line. Check out sales and on-line discounts. We snagged two pairs of quality waterproof gaiters for less than $10 off eBay (regularly $75), including shipping. Also see: Where to Buy Inexpensive Hiking Gear.
6) Technology. You can drop a boatload of dough on every fancy, new-fangled trail techno doo-dad out there. But you don’t have to. Keep it simple and you’ll save money. I’ll take an old fashioned topo map and a compass over GPS any day. Need an emergency fire starter? Put a couple Vaseline-soaked cotton balls or a piece of bicycle inner tube into an empty plastic film canister + matches in a waterproof container. You’re good to go. And so on.
7) Avoid name brands if feasible (without sacrificing quality.) You can sink your children’s inheritance into North Face, Gore-Tex or Patagonia products. If you have the resources to do so, go for it. But there are plenty of less expensive options. We’ve found Coleman gear – everything from tents and sleeping bags to lanterns and cook stoves – to be reliable, durable, and affordable.
Bottom line: You can wipe out your children’s college fund getting ready for your next outdoor expedition. But you don’t have to. Unless Howard Hughes is a good friend or you’re ready to mortgage your firstborn, a little research, inspiration, motivation and elbow grease can get you well outfitted for the outdoors without breaking your bank in the process.
What would you add?
Every once in a while those “spur of the moment” ideas pan out pretty well. Like The Oregon Garden. We visited there recently. On a fluke.
Located about 20 miles east of Salem in the little town of Silverton, The Oregon Garden is easy to miss. Don’t. Because I’ve been to downtown Salem. Ditto the Capitol Building. If you haven’t visited either, you haven’t missed a blessed thing. The Oregon Garden, however, is another story. We just happened to see the sign on the highway on the way back from a hiking excursion.
Opened in 1999, the garden’s 80 acres include a variety of plant species and habitats and the only Frank Lloyd Wright home in Oregon. The grounds are bursting with color, fountains, fragrance, trails, and over a dozen themed botanical gardens. These include fuchsia, conifer, rose, water, sensory, Northwest, “Lewis & Clark” and “Best of the West” gardens. Also garden art, wetlands, a rediscovery forest, and a kids’ garden.
The spacious grounds also feature a “secret garden.” It’s not on the map. But if you’re familiar with Frances Hodgson Burnett – I read the book twice – you can find it.
We only had a couple hours. And it was ninety degrees out. But you can easily spend a day roaming the garden’s gently rolling hills, carefully manicured lawns, oak grove, Rediscovery Forest (15 acres), and walking trails. There’s also a Tropical House and an amphitheater. If you’re not up for walking, take the tram. It’s free.
Other stand-outs include the Silverton Market Garden and the Pet-Friendly Gardens. Almost 150 different agricultural products are grown in the former, including berries, grapes, grass seed and hops. A beautiful, serene place to spend an hour or two. Or a couple months.
The Pet-Friendly Garden showcases plants that are friendly and those that are toxic to animals. Also two statues of beloved pets: Max the yellow Lab and a collie, “Bobbie the Wonder Dog.” Sweet!
No time to visit The Oregon Garden? Don’t worry. You can wander through here. I won’t even charge admission:
879 W. Main Street, Silverton, Oregon. Open seven days a week, 365 days a year. Admission is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors (60+). Directions.
Tell a friend.
People sometimes ask, “What’s the best season for hiking?” The answer is: That depends. On weather. On calendars. On where you want to go, see, and how much time you have.
For us, fall gets the nod for Finest Hiking Season.
By “fall” I mean that brief “Indian Summer” time between mid-September to mid or late-October, when one glorious, gilded day glides into the next. Temperatures drop. Trees change clothes. Cherry-cheeked winds scrub cyan skies. Trails clogged with crowds a few short weeks ago are quiet and nearly deserted.
You can sometimes push the time frame into November. But the window is brief, so you have to be quick. And keep an eye on the weather.
This is especially true at Mount Rainier, where notoriously unpredictable weather can get even more unpredictable. Think dry, cozy tent site turning into the Okeefenokee overnight (don’t ask how I know that).
Here are some of the perks you get when hiking the Pacific Northwest during fall:
Located about 25 windy miles east of Salem, Silver Falls State Park’s 9,000 acres offer camping, picnicking, a historic district, conference center, and 25 miles of multi-use trails friendly to horses, hikers, hikers with dogs, trail runners and mountain bikers. (Some trails are restricted. Be sure to check signage.)
The highlight of this park is the Trail of Ten Falls. We’re talking serious Wow Factor here.
This nationally recognized hiking trail snakes through a series of waterfalls along a rocky canyon thick with ferns, Big Leaf Maples, Western hemlock, Douglas fir and Alder trees. You pass behind several of the canyon’s most impressive gushers. (Hello, Hawkeye!)
The total loop trail is about nine miles. It offers several connecting points for shorter hikes, depending on what you want to see and how much time you have. For the best “Wow!” factor, you’ll probably want to start from the Stone Circle in the South Falls Day Use Area. Proceed along the Canyon Trail.
This trail might also double as the “International Trail.” The day we hiked this loop, we met hikers from half a dozen different states as well as Canada, Poland, France, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, and the U.K. Also the entire coaching staff of the University of Minnesota.
Official signage pegs the Trail of Ten Falls as “moderately difficult.” Nah. The trail includes some ups and downs and a few switchbacks. But the climbs are relatively short. The grades are mild. It’s a pretty easy hike for anyone in halfway decent shape. (If you’re not in halfway decent shape and tackle this trail, I won’t say “I told you so.” But I did tell you so.)
Also, the “No Trail” or “Stay Behind Rails” signs/barricades are there for a reason.
Arrive early to avoid crowds, especially on clear, sunny summer weekends. We arrived just after opening – at 8:00 a.m. – and had the trail to ourselves for a couple hours. There’s a $5.00 day use fee. Self-pay stations are located in parking lots.
And yes, on the west and north portions of the trail, a river runs through it. You’ll have to drive a ways for Missoula.
Outdoor opportunities are so abundant in the Golden State, it may be hard to know where to start. The following picks are based on personal visits and first-hand experience. They combine the best in outdoor recreation, ease of access, a wide variety of activities, and sheer spectacular-ness (new word I just made up).
Here, in no particular order, are my highly subjective, 100% unscientific picks for 8 Best Outdoor Sites in California:
- Yosemite National Park – central Sierra Nevada.
Almost 1,200 miles of Serious Wow! with high Sierra mountains, deep canyons, soaring Sequoias, spectacular waterfalls, idyllic meadows, and granite behemoths.
Tip: Unless you’re fond of hordes and masses, avoid the valley floor during peak season. Focus on the Tuolumne Meadows and the Tioga Lake area. It’s higher, cooler, and not quite as crammed. Great hiking, picnicking and outdoor opportunities. Roughly six hours north of Los Angeles and about 4 – 5 hours south of the San Francisco/Bay Area.
- Sequoia & Kings Canyon – southern Sierra Nevadas, east of the San Joaquin Valley.
Rugged terrain and deep canyons crochet rushing rivers, majestic mountains and the world’s largest trees. Like the humungous General Grant Tree. Lots of camping, hiking, fishing, and picnicking opportunities. Four lodges operate inside the park. Also a couple old favorites: Hume Lake and Grant Grove. Fresno County, central California.
- June Lake Loop – eastern Sierra Nevadas.
Dubbed the “Switzerland of California,” the loop includes a total of four lakes including Silver Lake and Grant Lake. It has a variety of resorts, campgrounds, and restaurants. Also hiking, climbing, fishing, camping, swimming, water skiing, snowboarding and snow skiing. Surrounded by the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Mono Lake, Yosemite National Park, Bodie, Bishop, Mammoth and Bridgeport. A family favorite since 1973.
Fishing Tip: If you don’t catch anything in the lakes, try Rush Creek. Other tip: Fern Lake. The trail is steep, but this secluded high mountain lake offers one of the best canyon panoramas in the Sierras.
- McGee Creek Pack Station – Eastern Sierras, north of Bishop near Crowley Lake.
An outdoor adventure into the High Sierra backcountry of the John Muir Wilderness where pack mules do all the “heavy lifting.” Fishing, hiking, saddle horses, and all the fresh air your lungs can suck in. What’s not to love? About a 5 – 6 hour drive north of Los Angeles.
- Monterey Peninsula – central California. Includes the cities of Monterey, Carmel, and Pacific Grove.
If you veins bleed saltwater, this is the place. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve has miles of ocean-hugging trails. Don’t miss Seventeen Mile Drive or the touch pools and outdoor tank at the Monterey Bay Aquarium . (Close second: Catalina Island. Resist the harbor-hugging tourist traps at Avalon and head inland for great hiking and spectacular ocean views.)
- Mount San Jacinto State Park, Palm Springs area
At 10,834 feet above sea level, Mount San Jacinto is the second highest mountain range in Southern California. Home to superb granite peaks, subalpine forests, and fern-lined mountain meadows plus two drive-in campgrounds. Also a really cool aerial tram. About a two hour drive from both Los Angeles and San Diego.
Tip: You may not want to visit during the summer, unless you’re melt-proof.
- Big Bear – Southern California
Located at about 7,000 elev. in the San Bernardino Mountains, this locale’s taglines are Small Town, Big Adventure and Live It. Up. They’re not kidding. Hiking, camping, fishing, kayaking, parasailing, rock climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding… About 2 ½ hours from Los Angeles or Orange County and about 3 hours from San Diego.
A mild Mediterranean climate with truckloads of sunshine year-round. Need I say more?
Are you packing yet? What would you add?
If you’re scouting some awesome West Coast-hugging hikes offering everything from stunning mountain vistas to jaw-dropping ocean views, check out northwest Oregon. Here are our top three hikes from Astoria to Tillamook:
Fort to Sea Trail – near Warrenton, OR
Distance: About 13 miles, round trip
Elevation Gain: 659 ft.
Yes, it’s kind of a long trail if you do the whole thing, starting at the Fort Clatsop Visitor Center out to Sunset Beach and back. Dotted with wooded pasture and small lakes, the trail includes hoofin’ it through deep forest up and over Clatsop Ridge. But the ridge isn’t that steep. Really. Besides. Where else can you cross under Highway 101, pass the oldest Presbyterian Church in continuous existence west of the Rocky Mountains, and chug through a real, live cow pasture – with real, live cows – en route to the beach? (I am not making this up.)
The Fort to Sea trail is a beautiful hike, well worth the time. Unless you’re the Roadrunner, plan on a full day. Leashed dogs okay.
Saddle Mountain – near Seaside, OR
Distance: 4.3 miles, round trip
Elevation Gain: 1,968 ft.
This popular out-and-back hike to the highest point in NW Oregon includes a commanding panorama from the ocean to Mount Saint Helens and hillsides flush with wildflowers.
The last half mile or so is steep, exposed, and not exactly acrophobe-friendly. Wear a hat. Use sunscreen. Bring plenty of water. One other thing. The cable guards along the final portion of this trail are there for a reason. Use them. (You’ll understand if you tackle this trail on a windy day.)
Distance: 12.50 miles, round trip
Elevation Gain: 3,293 ft.
Located near Cannon Beach, this trail climbs, dips and switchbacks, but not severely. The longer trail winds through a thick forest and hugs the coast most of the way, offering stunning peek-a-boo views of the Pacific.
We hiked this trail in November. Not exactly a stroke of genius. You could hang meat in the winds catapulting off the water onto the headland. At least we were properly outfitted.
Anyway, don’t forget to take a gander at the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. It reminded us of the Chateau d’If (you’ll get that if you’re up on your Alexandre Dumas.) You can cheat and try to snag a view from Indian Beach if you brought binoculars and 20/20 vision. But the best view is from the overlook off the main trail on the headland.
Camp 18 Restaurant – Elsie, Oregon. Near Seaside-ish.
Throwin’ this in for free.
First off, this restaurant is out in the middle of pickin’ nowhere. I mean, it’s not quite at the Edge of the World. But you can see it from the dining room.
The food is adequate. But the décor – both inside and out – is a hoot and a half. Think humungous log cabin, tall timber, mini-museum and northwest logging. Did I mention the fireplace and life-sized, wood-carved bears?
On your way to and from the Oregon Coast via State Highway 26. Between Portland and Seaside / Cannon Beach.
Are we there yet?
- Texas summers are hotter than hell
- The best parking spot isn’t determined by proximity to the store entrance, but to shade
- The Medina Apple Festival
- The Guadalupe River is warm
- Sweet tea
- You can drive for days without ever leaving the state
- The Alamo is air-conditioned inside. The San Antonio Riverwalk isn’t
- Sharing the street with saddle horses in downtown Bandera
- “Ya’ll” is singular. “All ya’ll” is plural
- The Kendall County Fair and Rodeo are the Real Deal
- Armadillos are nocturnal. Remember that if you’re on the road after dark
- Texas Longhorns are huge
- Scorpions (don’t ask)
Also, Texans are a “Breed Apart.” They’ll tell you so. Every chance they get.
Texans ride tall. Eat hearty. Smile quickly. They’re rightly famous for their warm hospitality and generosity. Texans are also resilient and fiercely independent.
If I know Texans, they’ll weather Hurricane Harvey just fine and come back stronger than ever. But they could use your help.
Please consider Samaritan’s Purse. A world-renowned Christian disaster relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse is on the scene in Texas, providing tangible help and hope for thousands hard hit by Hurricane Harvey. Find out how you can help here.
Thanks and God Bless Texas!
Oregon’s Fort-to-Sea Trail is really two hikes in one. About 13.5 miles round trip, this out and back trail includes a switchbacky hike through a lush forest and a few miles through a flat, unshaded, browned-out stretch of cow pasture.
Starting at Fort Clatsop, the trail climbs mildly for about a mile to its first branch-off option, the Kwis-Kwis Trail. Veer right to take the Kwis Kwis Trail to Sunset Beach, or veer left at the sign and take the trail over Clatsop Ridge to Sunset Beach. Both options re-unite near the Skipannon River. We’ve done both.
The Kwis Kwis option is arguably less steep but more circuitous. It’s also quieter and less crowded. On the other hand, the well-marked Sunset Beach trail includes a fine overlook of the ocean at Clatsop Ridge at about 1.5 miles before a switchbacky descent off the ridge. Both trails are well-shaded and join up shortly before the muddy Skipannon River. They merge into a single trail toward the sea.
Just after the four mile mark, the re-united trail passes under Highway 101 via tunnel. It winds past a quaint red-brick church that’s one of the oldest continuously operating Presbyterian churches in America.
You hit the first of nine cattle gates just past the church. About two miles, this stretch of trail snakes through an open cow pasture. It’s treeless and shadeless. We call it “The Frying Pan.” During summer, it’s cooking. You’ll want to plan your hike so that you either clear this two-mile stretch before noon or tackle it after the heat of the day.
Clear The Frying Pan and continue across an asphalt road and a bridge through a patchy wood to the beach. You’ll hear the ocean before you see it. Once you hit the wood, you’re within a few minutes of the Sunset Beach parking lot. There’s a picnic table, bathrooms, and signage.
From the beach parking lot, it’s about one-third of a mile to the beach. Post-parking lot, the trail meanders through tall, thick grass onto a choice beach (also no shade). On a clear day, you can see Tillamook Head. The beach is a nice lunch stop. Then it’s turn around and retrace your steps for 6.5 miles back to the Fort Clatsop start.
Don’t let the RT distance – 13 miles – deter you. Yep, it’s a lot of miles. If you take the Sunset Beach loop, the return trip includes a good climb up and over Clatsop Ridge. You’ll want to save some energy for this switchbacky climb. Once you hit the vertical pillar in the middle of the hike up and out, you’re almost to the ridge overlook and level ground. It’s an easy 1.5 miles back to the parking lot from the overlook.
The Fort-to-Sea Trail doesn’t include any eye-popping mountain vistas, cascading waterfalls, glassy alpine tarns, or Renoir-petaled meadows. But it’s scenic and interesting in its own rite and traces the route of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery from Fort Clatsop to the sea. The sense of accomplishment after completing this hike is significant. (Insert fist-bump here.)
Plan on a full day for this hike. We’ve done it start-to-finish in about five hours. But we usually allot six to seven hours to accommodate additional meandering, picture-taking, or beach-combing.
We rate this hike as “Moderate” due to the overall mileage and the climb out on the way back. Note that the climb isn’t particularly steep and it’s relatively short. Also, this trail is mostly at sea level. Much of it is flat or nearly flat and an easy walk. However, the climb up and over Clatsop Ridge on the return may be a challenge. That’s because you’ve already done about ten miles at this point and the ‘ole hoofers may be barking. Save some energy for this portion and you’ll be fine.
Distance: About 12 -13 miles, RT
Wind along a conifer-bristled ridge to an idyllic mountain meadow cross-hatched with mini waterfalls, wildflowers, and choice views of Windy Ridge and Mounts Saint Helens, Adams, and Rainier.
Starting on the opposite side of the Boundary Line viewpoint across from the parking lot on Forest Road 99 out of Randle, the rugged Bear Meadow trail cuts through a well-shaded forest along a ridge overlooking the 1980 blast area, then descends to a beautiful meadow.
Overgrown and sorely neglected, this trail doesn’t look like it’s had any real attention since Daniel Boone cleared the Cumberland Gap. The trail head is well marked, but that’s about it as far as signage goes.
After crossing the road to the trail head, the trail begins with a gentle climb roughly paralleling Forest Road 99. It turns away from the road, crosses a slight draw, and starts climbing at about one mile. Also at this point, there’s a junction. And no signs indicating what’s what. Turn left at the first switchbsck to continue to Bear Meadow. The trail mostly levels our along this side of the ridge. There’s some undulation, but no hard climbing. You’ll pass three small waterfalls and scramble over or under numerous downed logs. Turn around occasionally for peek – a – boo mountain views.
Note that although the initial portion of this hike is through thick forest and good shade, the final stretch was affected by the 1980 eruption. That is, no big trees. And little to no shade. The switchbacky descent into Bear Meadow, though not particularly steep, is exposed, in direct sun. If you hike this trail in summer, plan on an early start. Wear a hat. Slather on the sunscreen. Also, this is a “dry trail,” with little or no water sources. BYO H2O.
Keep in mind that the return hike may be challenging. Much of it is in direct sun, over a lousy trail. Be sure to fuel up the after-burners.
The BearMeadow trail would get higher marks if it was in better shape. Unfortunately, this scenic trail is in deplorable condition. It’s littered with fallen logs, many of them sizeable, especially on the northwest-facing side of the ridge heading down to Bear Meadow. Choked with overgrown bushes and brambles in places, the trail all but disappears more than once. A hiker has to push through shoulder-high foliage to regain the trail on the far side of the ridge. As the trail narrows to ribbon-width, it sometimes disappears into a mere suggestion. The bridge is also out at Bear Meadow.
When we hiked this trail in July, mosquitoes were minimal. But black flies were out in force and voracious.
As previously noted, signage is non-existent after a lone posting on a tree at about Mile 1 indicating the Forest Service Road is 5.5 miles further. Inexperienced hikers may easily get lost or confused as a result.
Indeed, the Bear Meadow trail has the dubious distinction of being the worst maintained, most neglected trail I’ve hiked in a decade. Maybe more. If you’re up for a rough trail, however, the hardy hiker will appreciate the from-here-to-eternity vistas, truckloads of emerald green, wildflowers by the bushel, and endless blue skies.
Hike to Bear Meadow on You Tube: