Nestled between the neighborhoods in Orange, CA lies 340 acres of beautiful park known as Peters Canyon Regional Park. Here, you’ll find a decent size reservoir, miles of hiking and biking trails, and great wildlife and bird watching opportunities. There is also another thing that you’ll find lots of… people.

Peters Canyon Hike at a Glance

  • Trailhead – Jamboree and Peters Canyon Road, Orange, CA
  • Roundtrip Distance – 5.41 miles
  • Time – 2 to 2.5 hours
  • Difficulty – Moderate
  • Elevation Gain – 823 feet
  • Pet Friendly – Yes, on leash
  • Parking Fees – $3

To get there, take the exit for Jamboree Road and head east for about 5 miles. Turn left and at Peters Canyon Road and the parking lot will be on your left. We arrived on a Saturday morning just before 8:30 am and were lucky to get one of the last parking spots in the lot. There is no parking on the street here so if the lot is full, you probably don’t want to hike here anyways because it will be busy. Parking is $3 at the parking machines or included with an annual OC Parks pass.

From the parking lot, walk south (heading back in the direction of Jamboree Road) past the ranger station and through the wood chip lot. You will see the trail entrance just past the ranger station. From here, the trail is relatively easy to follow, but there are a few areas to navigate.

The first is when you get to the hill in the below picture. Stay left and go straight up the hill. You will go up and over this and then be on a ridgeline for a while. Stay on the main trail, which will pass by some very nice houses on the left. I would have given anything to jump in one of their pools after all that elevation gain.

The first split in trail. Here you will want to head left and straight up the big hill in the picture.

The trail will eventually steer you right, but if you stay on the main trail, you won’t have any issues. You’ll then begin to descend through a beautiful eucalyptus grove. At the bottom of this hill, you’ll pass through a break in the wood rail fence, see some port-a-pottys, and then the trail will pick back up to the right, as pictured below. This was my favorite part of the trail. It was wide (which was very welcome with COVID), shaded, and had some pretty scenery.

Picking the trail back up after the port-a-pottys at the bottom of the eucalyptus hill.
Fairly wide trail here, but as you can see, still a lot of people. Don’t go on a Saturday morning!

This trail will eventually meet right up with where you headed left to go up the big hill. You can either go back the same way you came, or do what we did, and go left which will take you below the reservoir. You’ll climb a hill with a cool cactus garden, and then be rewarded with an awesome view of the reservoir (which oddly enough, I didn’t get a single picture of!).

Climbing up the hill through the cactus.

You’re on the home stretch at this point and will pass through some marsh lands before arriving back at the parking lot.

Overall, I liked this hike and would definitely do it again, just not on a weekend with the current pandemic. There were way too many people for my comfort level, not enough masks, and hikers that didn’t feel the need to give you any space as you crossed each other’s paths. If you do this hike, I hope you have a safe and enjoyable time. It is beautiful and a great workout! Cheers to happy and healthy trails.

In the hills above southern Orange County, you’ll find an abundance of trails for hikers and mountain bikers alike in the San Juan Capistrano Recreational Trail System. One of the more popular trails because of its stunning views and flagpole at the end is Patriot Hill, which is also fondly called the Rollercoaster Trail because the many ups and downs.

Patriot Hill Hike at a Glance

  • Trailhead – End of Camino de los Mares in San Clemente, CA
  • Roundtrip Distance – 4.7 miles
  • Time – 2 hours
  • Difficulty – Moderate
  • Elevation Gain – 787 feet
  • Pet Friendly – Yes, on leash

There are a few different trailheads you can access this hike from, but we decided to enter at the end of Camino de los Mares in San Clemente as directed by AllTrails.com. The information on AllTrails says you cannot park on Camino de los Mares, but there is a sign clearly stating you can, except from dusk till dawn. I am guessing the information on AllTrails is old.

Parking and trail entrance at the end of Camino de los Mares.

I would still recommend using the map on AllTrails for this hike though. There are several forks and offshoots in this trail system, so you’ll want to make sure you stay on the right trail. There is cell reception in the area, so you shouldn’t have any trouble following along on your phone.

To start, you’ll pass through the entrance on the side of the gate where Camino de los Mares dead-ends. The trail quickly starts climbing and will continue uphill for the first mile of your hike. At this point, you’ll also get to a fork in the trail where you can choose to go left or right around the mountain standing between you and Patriot Hill. Alternatively, you could also go straight up and over following a very steep side trail. We went right, but you could go either way, as they will eventually meet up at the final trail and sign to Patriot Hill.

Starting to climb going up the North los Mares Trail.
After the first climb when the trail meets the ridgeline, you’ll be able to see the ocean in the distance.

The final push to the flagpole has some fun little roller hills and then you’ll be greeted with a great view of the ocean and Dana Point Harbor. Along with the flagpole, there is also a picnic table and mailbox at the top. I have no idea why there is a mailbox or what’s in it. I didn’t want to touch it because, well, COVID, but might have to see what’s in there after the pandemic and we aren’t total germaphobes. Let me know if you’ve opened it and know what’s in there!

View of the last rolling hills and the flagpole in the distance on the right side of the picture.
Where the loop meets up and you take the trail with the final rolling hills to the flagpole.
Taking in the views from the top of Patriot Hill. The mailbox is just left of the flagpole in this picture.

We hiked this trail in January, but definitely plan to come back in the spring when the wildflowers are in bloom. It was pretty dry this time of year, but I can imagine what a beautiful trail it is after the mustard has bloomed. All in all, we’re glad we found this fun little hike and would recommend for it’s views and good workout.

In the north end of Joshua Tree National Park, you’ll find one of five fan palm oases in the park. Here, there are cracks in the hard earth’s surface that have forced water to the top and provide the opportunity for beautiful and lush fan palms to thrive in an otherwise inhospitable environment. The shade, water, and vegetation creates a welcome sight for desert critters and hikers alike.

Fortynine Palms Hike at a Glance

  • Trailhead – Fortynine Palms Road from Twentynine Palms Highway
  • Roundtrip Distance – 3.1 miles
  • Time – 2 hours
  • Difficulty – Moderate
  • Elevation Gain – 636 feet
  • Pet Friendly – No, pets are prohibited on the trail

The Fortynine Palms Oasis is accessible from a trailhead that is just to the west of the north entrance of the park in Twentynine Palms. (I know, Fortynine Palms Oasis, Twentynine Palms town… someone was on a roll or just ran out of creative ideas). If you are driving through Twentynine Palms, head south on Canyon Road, which will eventually turn into Fortynine Palms Road. You don’t actually have to go through a park entrance to access the trailhead, so you don’t have to pay a park fee for this hike.

Fortynine Palms Road eventually dead-ends at a parking lot where you’ll find the trailhead sign and a pit toilet. There isn’t a ton of parking here and there isn’t really anywhere to park on the side of the road, so make sure you get here early.

Not only do you want to get to the trailhead early for parking, but also for the heat. When we hiked this in December, we got to the trailhead around 9:00 am and there was still a fair amount of parking. The weather was also mild and forecasted for the mid-70s that day. There are numerous signs at the trailhead with warnings about hiking in the the heat. The entire trail is exposed, so you definitely don’t want to do this in the middle of a summer day.

Immediately after you start hiking, you will begin ascending up and over a small(ish) mountain. There really isn’t much flat on this trail. It’s up and down to the oasis, and then the same thing in reverse on the way back. The trail is in good condition and well-maintained, so you can easily do this with a good pair of shoes. Hiking boots and poles aren’t really necessary, unless of course, you think they’ll help you personally.

Along the trail, you’ll see some nice views of Twentynine Palms and the surrounding area. There are also various species of cactus and desert brush, although there aren’t any Joshua trees in this area. After about a mile of hiking, you’ll see the oasis come into view. It’s quite the sight to see at the base of a mountain in the middle of a very dry and barren desert landscape.

Upon arriving at the oasis, you’ll be greeted with cool temperatures (at least we were), all sorts of birds, and lush vegetation. Although it’s called an oasis, don’t expect to see a big pool of water like you would in the movies. The water here is scarce and just enough for the animals to drink and palms to grow.

We were hoping to see some bighorn sheep in the area, but a ranger we passed on the trail said that they avoid people and there were some “loud” hikers ahead of us that were probably keeping them away. If you keep your voices down as you are hiking to the oasis, you might just get lucky enough to spot some of these awesome creatures. In addition to keeping your voice down, be sure to pay attention to signs warning you not scramble down into the actual oasis. It is a very environmentally sensitive area and many animals depend on it to survive. Obeying these signs will help ensure that the oasis can thrive for years to come.

All-in-all, I would recommend this hike if you’ve never seen an oasis before, which I had not. It’s pretty amazing to see something like that growing where you wouldn’t imagine lush, green vegetation. It’s also fairly accessible at only three miles roundtrip, so you’ll still have time left in the day to explore other areas in the park. For some ideas, check out my other post on Joshua Tree National Park.

The fan palms are full of all sorts of birds that use them for shelter and eat their fruit.
Fortynine Palms Oasis tucked against the mountain.
Three of the Fortynine Palms. Just kidding, I have no idea how many fan palms there are here. Probably way more than fortynine.
Image showing large cluster of fan palms at Fortynine Palms Oasis in Joshua Tree National Park.
Fortynine Palms Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park

A little over two hours east of Los Angeles, you’ll find Joshua Tree National Park and some of the most incredible desert landscape in Southern California. The park runs 60 miles west to east and 30 miles north to south. Within its boundaries, there are two separate and distinct deserts – the Mojave and the Colorado. In the northeast Mojave desert section, you’ll see whimsical Joshua trees and large boulder formations that look like they belong on Mars. In my opinion, this is the most beautiful section of the park. In the southwest Colorado desert area, you’ll find a much more vast landscape that makes you feel like you are the only person on earth.

The best time to visit the park is from October to May because temperatures are cooler, but this is also the busiest time of year in the park. If you’re planning on camping at one of Joshua Tree’s five reservation campgrounds, I would highly recommend that you secure your reservation six months in advance at recreation.gov. There are also three first-come, first-serve campgrounds, but these fill up fast in the winter/spring.

Short GoPro video of our time in Joshua Tree National Park, exploring Jumbo Rocks Campground, and making an incredible pizza in the Dutch oven.

Jumbo Rocks Campground

We were fairly lucky and got our reservation for the first weekend in December at Jumbo Rocks Campground a couple of months in advance. This campground has 124 sites and will run you $20/night. Each site has a picnic table, firepit, BBQ, and there are several pit toilets throughout the campground. We absolutely loved staying here and will definitely be back. There are some amazing rock formations and Joshua trees that make it one of the most beautiful desert campgrounds I have ever visited.

Sunset from our campsite at Jumbo Rocks Campground.

We were at campsite 107, which was more exposed. Although it wasn’t bad, I would definitely try for a campsite that is up against one of the cool rock formations next time. Some of the sites that looked the best were: 2-5, 10, 11, 80, 81, 88, 89, 113, and 115. The more exposed sites, including ours, seemed a little stacked on top of each other (cue hearing your neighbors’ snores and other bodily functions). Because we were there during COVID-19, there were no other campers in the three sites surrounding ours, and I am glad there weren’t. It would have made for a much different, and far less private, experience.

Our campsite 107 in the foreground and empty campsite 106 behind it.

One bonus of this campground is that there is a trailhead for a short 1.5 mile roundtrip hike to fascinating Skull Rock. The trail is beautiful and there are signposts along the way that callout different plant species and list other fun information about the area. Skull Rock is a very popular attraction during the day (for good reason, it is really cool!), so having this kind of proximity to the rock means that you can visit during the early morning or late in the day when there will be less people stopping that are driving through the park. I highly recommend being there for golden hour right before the sun sets. The lighting on the rocks is beautiful.

Trail to Skull Rock from Jumbo Rocks Campground.
Brian picking Skull Rock’s nose.
Rock formations along the trail to Skull Rock.

Places to Explore

For other places to explore during your stay, below are a few things we did, but there is also so much more!

  • Geology Tour Road – This is a 4-wheel drive 18-mile roundtrip road that passes through some beautiful rock formations and Joshua trees. Where the road ends and circles back around, there is an option to continue further on Berdoo Canyon Road. When we were looking at the map, we figured that we could continue on this road and make it all the way to Dillon Road and onto Palm Springs for the day. Unfortunately, we were wrong and had to turn around after a few white knuckle moments and coming to a section that had a large boulder and drop to navigate. We probably could have made it all the way in the Jeep, but in our Toyota Rav4, we were not willing to risk it. Or should I say, Brian knew better than scratching up (and maybe doing worse) to my brand new shiny car. Smart husband.
  • Cap Rock Nature Trail – A little quieter than some of the other nature trails, this .4 mile trail leads around some impressive rock formations. I would definitely suggest stopping here and taking time to meander through the rocks and Joshua trees. There are some awesome photo ops.
  • Hidden Valley Nature Trail – This is one of the more popular places to stop for great rock formations and Joshua trees. We parked a ways away on the main road and walked toward the 1 mile nature trail but decided to turn around because I left my mask in the car and it looked fairly busy (#COVIDproblems). We still managed to get some great pictures along the way though.
  • Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail (pronounced choy-ya) – If you are this far south in the park, make a point to stop at this quick .25 mile trail that weaves through thousands of cholla cactus. Although the Teddy Bear Cholla look soft and fuzzy (yes that is their real name), absolutely do NOT touch them unless you want to be pulling out their barbs with one of the needle nose pliers that were so thoughtfully placed at the trail entrance.
  • Split Rock – Honestly, this was a little underwhelming compared to the other places to see in the park. If you’re just looking for things to kill time, then I’d say go ahead and drive on the short dirt road to see this. But, if you’re trying to choose between other things to do, I would choose other things.
  • 49 Palms Oasis Hike – Read my separate blog post about this fun hike here.

If you have time, I would suggest driving all the way through the park to experience the change in scenery that comes with the transition from the Mojave to the Colorado desert. If you are more limited on time, a really nice little 25 mile tour would be entering through the north entrance (it is less busy than the west entrance), and following Park Boulevard all the way through and exiting the west entrance. You’ll pass by Skull Rock, Cap Rock, and Hidden Valley, all referenced above. This is also where you will see the most Joshua trees and impressive rock formations throughout the entire park.

Although this was our first time to Joshua Tree, I can’t wait to go back and add to the list above. Let me know if you’ve been to Joshua Tree and have any suggestions for places to explore.

Cap Rock. If you look really closely, you can see climbers getting ready to ascend toward the mid-left bottom of the rock.
Rock formations and Joshua Trees on the way to Hidden Valley.
Cholla Cactus Garden. We didn’t see any bees when we were there in December.
Brian walking through the Cholla Cactus Garden.
Split Rock.
Joshua Tree sunset from Jumbo Rocks Campground.

This is the second year in a row that we have decided to skip the crowded beaches and head to the mountains for a very quiet Fourth of July. When we planned this trip several months ago, we thought, ‘what’s a better place than heading to American Lake in Desolation Wilderness to celebrate our country’s birthday?’

I had stumbled upon American Lake five years earlier when on a backpacking trip to nearby Lake of the Woods. I remember thinking it would be a great place to camp and made a point to return there, which is exactly what we did this weekend and it could not have been more perfect.

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“Third time’s the charm” has never had as much meaning as it did this past weekend. The last two years in a row I have had permits to backpack Big Pine Lakes, but for reasons due to weather, fire, and Elton John, they have all been cancelled (and yes, Elton was totally worth it on his Yellow Brick Road tour). This past weekend, those backpacking dreams came true and I laid my eyes on what might be one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen.

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All-in-all, our three days in Utah could not have worked out better. Some of our adventures were: hiking to Scout Lookout and Angels Landing, wading through the Narrows, exploring Belly of the Dragon, playing on the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, scrambling up to (and down from) the Kanab Sand Caves, viewing Bryce Canyon at sunrise, and wandering through Snow Canyon.

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I’m still on a high from my backpacking trip on the Lost Coast Trail this past week. You can read about that adventure here. One of the things that I didn’t include in my original post is what I ate, but it is definitely not something to be overlooked. Finding delicious ways to stay fueled on the trail can be tricky, but with a simple dehydrator, you can make some awesome recipes, like the one below.

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The Lost Coast Trail stretches a rugged section of the Northern California coastline where the redwoods meet the sea. It begins at the mouth of the Mattole River and travels south to Usal Beach. There are two sections of the trail. The north section is 25 miles and follows the beach from the Mattole trailhead to Black Sands Beach.  The south section begins at Hidden Valley and travels 29 miles south atop the ocean cliffs and redwood forests. This past week, I had the opportunity to backpack the northern section with one of my closest girlfriends. What follows is a video of our trip and a written summary with some tips and learnings from our journey.

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For the longest time I have dreamed of exploring the Oregon coast and Redwood National Park in Northern California. This past weekend, we made a quick trip, but were sure to get in every ounce of adventure we could in the short amount of time we had. We were also able to get in a precious visit with one of my longest and closest friends who just had a baby. Below are some of the highlights from our trip. I can’t wait to go back!

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There’s no better compliment from Brian than, “this is blog worthy,” when I am experimenting with a new recipe. The inspiration for this recipe originally came from a Cooking Light email that landed in my inbox, but there was one thing wrong. It called for an InstaPot. I haven’t quite jumped on the InstaPot bandwagon yet, but this recipe still sounded like I needed to give it a try. It was a cold winter night and I needed a fiesta in my mouth!

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It’s that time of year again. The time of year where it seems like every person who has a blog or social media presence is posting about one of two things: 1) a review of the previous year, or 2) what their goals are for the coming year. While cliche, I do think that reflection and goal-setting are an important part of personal development. I also believe that there is something to be said about making those things public. If you’ve announced the ways you plan to grow and develop to the entire world, you’re that much more likely to do it, right? It’s worth a try.

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