italy

11 days / tuscany / lucca / venice / rome

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It didn’t take long for me and Joe to decide on Italy as the destination for our first anniversary trip. Italy is the country that you see over and over again on all the travel lists, neither of us had been before, and with us both now having the last name Moccia, we thought it was time.

Narrowing the trip down to four to five locations within Italy, however, was much harder.

After flying into Rome, we picked up a rental car and made our way to the beautiful rolling hills of Tuscany. Stop number one was Civita di Bagnoregio, a tiny town that is quite literally falling off a cliff and can only be accessed by a footbridge.

We wandered through the cobblestone streets of this 2,500 year-old town, and shared a slow lunch in a beautiful Etruscan cave/wine cellar at Alma Civita. It was the perfect introduction to Italy.

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Our first three nights were spent at Podere San Lorenzo, an agriturismo on a working olive farm in the heart of Tuscany. Every morning, we’d have cappuccinos with breakfast in the property’s restored 12th Century Franciscan chapel. And at night, we’d return to the chapel to join the other guests for a delicious multi-course dinner.

One evening, we took a cooking class and helped prepare dinner, which included homemade pasta, quiche with zucchini blossoms (that I still have dreams about), arista al latta (pork loin cooked in milk) for the meat-eaters, a boozy tiramisu, and lots and lots of wine.

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One day, we explored Volterra, a medieval, walled town just 4km from our agriturismo. Another day, we took a trip to Siena, where we immediately found ourselves immersed in a lively contrada parade flooding the city streets.

The rivaling neighborhoods were decked out in their wards’ costumes with flags waving and drums echoing. The parade was a small preview of the city’s excitement and chaos during the Palio horse race that takes place every summer in the town piazza. To take a beat after the sensory overload, we had a quiet lunch at a sunny pizzeria overlooking the city.

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Our agriturismo property was gorgeous. One afternoon, I wasted hours curled up with a book (i.e. napping) on a lounge chair in an olive grove by a spring-fed pool. Joe was brave enough to take a dip in the brisk pool another evening.

The window in our room overlooked a hilltop jutting up over the valley, and on our our last morning in Tuscany, we hiked up to the top and found abandoned Etruscan ruins.

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Our next few nights were spent at a lovely airbnb in Lucca. Lucca is known for the still-intact, Renaissance-era walls surrounding the city.

The first night in town, we took a stroll along the park-like walls to get acquainted with the city, before having negronis and pasta in the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro.

Our most memorable — albeit slightly-fuzzy — evening of the trip was spent in Lucca. After having slices at Pizzeria da Felice, we grabbed wine from a wine bar/bike shop called Ciclo Divino and people-watched in a little square where the Italian hipsters hang out. Wanting a nightcap, we popped into an unassuming wine bar called Vinarkia Della Pavona. The charming bartender, Pablo, decided our night was just beginning and declined our request for digestifs. Instead, he served us his own curated selection of drinks. Cocktails were drank. Shots were taken. Dance parties were had. Rolled cigarettes were smoked (when in Rome… er Lucca).

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From Lucca, we took a day trip to Cinque Terre.

We parked in Monterosso, fueled up with gelato, and took a scenic — and sweaty — hike to Vernazza, where we rewarded ourselves with pasta and wine by the harbor.

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We dropped off our rental car outside of Venice and released a giant sigh of relief for having returned it in one piece. Our introduction to Venice was on the vaporetto (water bus); floating by the crumbling palaces along the Grand Canal on our way in was pretty surreal.

Venice is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and though it’s far from undiscovered, there are still so many quiet canals to explore. We hit the main sites, like the Piazza San Marco and Saint Mark’s Basilica; perused modern art at The Peggy Guggenheim Collection; and of course took a ride on a gondola.

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One evening, we did a cocktail crawl that started at the uber-fancy Bar Longhi in the Gritti Palace. Cozily perched at the marble bar, we sipped cocktails and noshed on bar snacks, while watching a torrential downpour take over the Grand Canal right outside.

Afterwards, we changed pace and next headed to Osteria All’Alba’s graffiti covered bar for live music, and ended the evening with drinks at the hip, local hangout, Osteria da Filo.

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Upon checking out of the lovely Hotel Flora, we hopped on a train to Bologna. Here we stayed in our own private tower (!!!).

Even though we only had one night in Bologna, we climbed to the roof of the tower to watch both the sunset and sunrise. Bologna is very young, gritty, and lively, and it was a breath of fresh air to visit compared with some of the more tourist-infested areas.

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For the final leg of our trip, we hopped back on the train to Rome. Rome needs no introduction. But having heard mixed reviews of the city, it really exceeded my expectations.

We stayed at an airbnb in Trastevere, which is an adorable neighborhood on the other side of the Tiber River from all the crazy tourist action. The charming cobblestone streets in Trastevere are lined with cafes, and we loved every place we visited in the neighborhood.

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One evening, we were walking home from dinner along a quiet residential street when we heard men singing.

We turned the corner to find a propped-open door to a room (clubhouse?) full of old Italian men, belting out traditional Italian ballots and bar songs at the top of their lungs, in what felt like a scene out of movie. They indulged us, and let us linger outside for a few songs, totally giddy over the whole scene in front of us.

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On our very last evening, we climbed up the Gianicolo hill in Trastevere and watched the sunset overlooking Rome, negronis in hand.

Sweet, sweet Italy. You stole our hearts.

Video

our wedding video

 

We got hitched on March 12, 2016 at Long View Gallery in Washington, DC.

Joe’s friend and colleague Andrew Labens shot our wedding day, and Joe cut it into a short video. He aimed to have it ready for our one-year anniversary — life got in the way a bit, but it was ready one week later.

We are so grateful to have these memories caught on film, and it was so much fun to pour over the footage, relive the day, and discover all the little moments that we missed in the whirlwind the first time around.

costa rican honeymoon

11 days / arenal volcano / cloud forest / nicoya peninsula

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In March 2016, Joe and I spent 11 days exploring Costa Rica on our honeymoon.

After a busy wedding week, we spent the first three days of our trip indulging in some R&R at the very honeymoon-appropriate Nayara Spa and Resort near La Fortuna. Resorts are not usually our vacation vibe, but we took an exception this time and rented a private casita with views of the Arenal Volcano.

We started our days with the freshest fruit and tastiest Costa Rican coffee in the outdoor dining room, followed by a yoga class in the rain forest.

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One day, we visited the La Fortuna Waterfall. To get away from the other tourists, we crossed the river and discovered a trail that led us over swinging bridges and up to an unused zip-line platform. We had a picnic overlooking the valley, with the falls far in the distance.

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Another morning, we spent hours dodging iguanas and flopping around the cheesy (but amazing) hot spring waterfalls at Tabacon Springs.

One night, a bellman took us out on his golf cart to explore the grounds and spot some nocturnal rain forest creatures. We zipped around the tropical gardens, and he pointed out these crazy nesting bats under giant banana leaves and identified the different frog species. I went nuts over the adorable red-eyed tree frog.

The next night, after a few cocktails, Joe and I decided we could be nature guides too, and went on our own, much less successful frog hunt.

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Leaving Nayara, we drove three hours around Lake Arenal toward Monteverde, making a pit stop to hike down to the Viento Fresco Waterfalls. I took a nice tumble down the trail and created a colorful battle wound on my leg to last me the remainder of our honeymoon.

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Our next two nights were spent in a hand-built hideaway near the quaint — yet lively — backpacking town of Santa Elena. There was warm banana bread and freshly squeezed passion fruit juice waiting for us upon arrival, and after just a few minutes on the property, our hosts, Beth and Manolo, asked us if we wanted to see a female sloth hanging in the yard. Yes, please.

Manolo is a naturalist guide, and the next morning he took us on a guided tour through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. We saw the famed Resplendent Quetzal, a white-nosed coati, and hundreds of hummingbirds. Afterwards, we had lunch at Taco Taco in Santa Elena (tempura avocado for the win!) and spent the afternoon on a zip-line canopy tour at Selvatura Park.

Even though our cabin was down a long, bumpy dirt road in what felt like the middle of the forest, one night we had pizza delivered (!!!) via motorbike. We fell asleep under blankets in the hammock with the rain forest buzzing loudly around us.

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From Monteverde, we headed west toward the coast; our next destination was Mal Pais at the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula.

It is nearly impossible to drive down the peninsula due to poor road conditions, so we chose to ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera. But with the language barrier, the process of successfully getting our car onto the ferry was an experience in and of itself. (Tip: one person has to sit with the car in line, while a second person goes to a bakery to buy the ferry ticket.)

The couple in the car in front of us was having an equally difficult time figuring the process out, and after putting our four heads together, we all made it onto the boat and shared celebratory beers on the ride over.

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Back in the car, we stopped and had lunch in the surf village of Montezuma, before making our way to our home for the next four nights, a hilltop casita with 180 degree views of the ocean.

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Our hosts, Phil and Julie, and their three street-dog rescue pups greeted us with a warm welcome. Upon their strong recommendation, we rented ATV’s for transportation during our time on the peninsula, and it was the best call we made the whole trip. We geared up with bandana masks and zoomed over miles and miles of bumpy dirt roads to explore the tiny towns and beaches.

One night, Phil and Julie invited us to the property’s beautiful main house for sundowners, and we ended up sharing stories for hours. The next day, they led us on an ATV excursion across farmland, through the Bongo River, and over beaches, stopping to point out dozens of howler monkeys gorging on mangoes in the trees above us.

Every morning, a fresh fruit, yogurt, and granola bowl was delivered to our casita. I could not get over how incredible the fruit was in Costa Rica, and became mildly obsessed with mangoes and plantains as a result of this trip.

One morning, we sipped coffee and followed a group of Capuchin monkeys making their way through the property.

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Mal Pais is next door to Santa Teresa, a vibrant surf town. Although the main strip is just a dirt road, there is a surprisingly impressive food scene in these two towns. We had piña coladas with hermit crabs shuffling around our feet at Carcolas, Vietnamese spring rolls and curry at Katana, and the most delicious salad I’ve ever eaten at the Panaderia in Cuyana.

One afternoon, a couple who had returned to Costa Rica many years after honeymooning there themselves treated us to drinks at the Ylang Ylang in Montezuma.

It was hard saying goodbye to this little slice of paradise. If we ever come back to Costa Rica, we decided Mal Pais would be the place we return.

Pura vida!

iceland’s ring road

12 days / iceland / ring road / reykjavik

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In May 2015, Joe and I spent 12 days exploring Iceland’s Ring Road.

Iceland has gotten some serious hype these last few years, thanks to a big push by Iceland’s tourism industry and the free Icelandair stopover. But based on the images of Icelandic landscapes and waterfalls flooding my Instagram feed, the effort appears to be paying off. And we — like the many, many other tourists who have visited this strange land — think Iceland is just magical.

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We had a red-eye flight that arrived in Reykjavik at six in the morning on May 21. There are a handful of must-see natural wonders within a short drive from Reykjavik, but these sites tend to be more touristy than the rest of Iceland. Knowing we were tackling the entire Ring Road — the 830 mile loop that encircles Iceland — we wanted to hit this area pretty quickly. After picking up our rental car, we swung through the Golden Circle, visiting the geyser of all geysers and the iconic Gulfoss waterfall.

Our first two night were spent at the Hrifunes Guesthouse, an adorable inn in Southern Iceland. We shared home cooked meals at the guesthouse with a slew of other tourists — mostly American — also staying there.

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Hrifunes was a great jumping off spot to some incredible places in Southern Iceland. We visited the airplane wreckage on Sólheimasandur. We wandered through the cemetery overlooking the town of Vik, and took photos of the basalt columns and caves on Vik’s black sand beaches. We swam in the murky green, hot spring-fed waters of the Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool, supposedly the oldest pool still standing in Iceland.

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We hiked behind Skogafoss and found some of the most incredible landscapes — not a soul in sight. We visited the Skogar Folk Museum and met a friendly Icelander, who emailed us a curated list of his favorite hidden spots for our time spent on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula at the end of the trip. Southern Iceland didn’t disappoint.

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After exploring the south for a few days, we headed northeast.

You quickly learn when driving on Route 1 that waterfalls are truly everywhere. Joe and I had a game where we would shout ‘FOSS!’ – the Icelandic word for waterfall — every time we spotted one appearing in the distance.

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We visited Jokulsarlon, a beautiful blue glacial lagoon right off Route 1. Then traveled the steep, cliffside roads winding through the East Fjords for hours, and at one point drove over a pure-white mountaintop that I swear was plucked out of the North Pole.

We landed in Seydisfjordur, quite possibly my favorite town in Iceland, and checked into Hotel Aldan for the night. We had a delicious and romantic dinner at the hotel restaurant.

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After breakfast, we took a walk through Seydisfjordur and departed for Akuryeri. Somewhere between Seydisfjordur and the fuming geothermal fields of Hverir, Joe gave me the biggest surprise of my life when he asked me to marry him in the middle of the Ring Road (just a minute or so after the photo above was taken).

In the post-proposal blur, we hopped back in the car and headed to Hverir, where we were surrounded by bubbling and smoking geothermal mud pools. The site was a bit much for me to handle at that moment, and I opted to sit in the car to look at the new addition to my finger and try to comprehend what just happened.

After driving some more, I convinced Joe to break the rules (law?) and swim in the almost-too-hot hot spring caves of Grjotagja (do it if you get the chance). And we picked up a souvenir at the Goðafoss waterfall before heading up to in Akuryeri, the second largest ‘city’ in Iceland.

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Our next three nights were spent at a lovely Airbnb home, where we had a hot tub overlooking the town. Joe still talks about the takeout we got from the Indian Curry Hut in Akuryeri.

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Akuryeri was the perfect homebase for a whale-watching tour in Húsavik. We got up close and personal with two humpback whales and saw swarms of quirky puffins diving in and out of the ocean.

We spent another afternoon soaking in the geothermal pools at the Myvatn Nature Baths, the less-crowded, little sister of the Blue Lagoon.

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After our time in Akuryeri, we headed toward the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, where we stayed at a cozy Airbnb in the town of Stykkishólmur for two nights. We had drinks at a lively little restaurant called Sjávarpakkhúsið. Afterwards, we walked up to the lighthouse overlooking town, and sat admiring the colorful houses and breathtaking views of the Western Fjords. Since the sun doesn’t set in the summertime, we had hours of what photographers call the ‘golden hour’ late into the night.

We spent one day driving the full loop around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. The peninsula hosts a huge glacier called Snæfellsjökull, which you can see from many parts of the road and apparently can even drive on — though we didn’t attempt any shenanigans like this due to our questionable rental insurance coverage.

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There is so much to see while exploring this peninsula. We watched seals splash around near Ytri Tunga. We filled our water bottles with magical water from a fountain on a farm called Ölkelda, (word on the street is that this water healed Vikings for hundreds of years). We visited the pebble-stone beach of Djúpalón, and filled our pockets with pebbles that hold glacier-fueled positive energy. We bird-watched on the cliffs of a cute fishing village called Grundarfjörður.

We stopped by Hotel Budir — the one place in Iceland I have insisted we visit again at some point in our lives. This is the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever seen, next to the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen (side note: we seriously considered eloping here). If you visit, make sure to pop into the witch’s workshop next to the hotel.

Joe and I agreed our very favorite part of our trip to Iceland was visiting a natural hot spring in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere, somewhere between Snaefellsnes Peninsula and Reykjavik. Our friend at the Skogar Museum gave us step-by-step directions (e.g. Go through a pasture, down 3 kilometres of dirt roads, through a gate, another few kilometres of dirt roads, turn at the wooden post…) to this secret pool — we had it all to ourselves, so we cracked open some beers and took it all in.

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In Reykjavik, we checked into a flat for our last two nights in Iceland. We had some excellent meals — particularly enjoying Glo, which had some of the freshest food we found in Iceland, Ramen Momo, and C is for Cookie. We watched a school performance in the beautiful Harpa Concert Hall, took an elevator to the top of Hallgrimskirkja for views of the colorful roofs covering the city, and browsed the many handmade sweaters in the Reykjavik flea market.

Our final morning in Iceland was spent pretending to be locals at a public swimming pool. Iceland is known for its incredibly clean and beautiful geothermally-heated public pools, and you really can’t go to Iceland without visiting at least one of them.

Oh, Iceland. You’ll have a little piece of my heart forever.

oregon and california roadtrip

11 days / portland / crater lake / redwoods / yosemite / san francisco

On July 31, Joe and I set off on a roadtrip through Southern Oregon and Northern California.

The first four days of our trip were spent with some of our best friends at Pickathon, a small music festival in Happy Valley, Oregon. Pickathon could be a post all on its own. This New York Times piece captures it much better than I ever could. But really, it’s something you just have to experience for yourself.

In 2012, we did the northern version of this post-Pickathon roadtrip and traveled from Portland up the Oregon Coast to Seattle and then Vancouver. We fell in love with the Pacific Northwest and made a promise to do the Southern version of the roadtrip next time we came out this way.

So after Pickathon, we picked up a little red Toyota Yaris, and headed south to Rogue River, Oregon, where we spent two nights in an airstream on an off-the-grid goat farm. The first morning, we woke up to roosters crowing and wild turkeys in our front yard. Our host, G, let us tag along for the morning goat feeding and let us try our hand at milking a (very patient and tolerant) lady goat.

After our morning on the farm, we took a day trip to Crater Lake National Park. G suggested we make a stop at National Creek Falls on the way. There is a .8 mile hike not far off of HWY 230 down to the falls, and when we got down there, we had the waterfall all to ourselves. And it was straight out of FernGully!

Crater Lake was as breathtaking as I’d imagined. The lake was created from an imploded volcano more 7,700 years ago and is the deepest lake in the country. We took a short hike along the lake, had a picnic, and soaked it all in.

On our way back to the airstream, we made a stop at the Rogue River gorge. Even though it was summertime and the river was low, the water shoots through this gorge so incredibly fast and down multiple falls — I’ve never seen anything like it.

We spent Wednesday traveling down the 101 through the redwoods and along the coast. When we spotted our first gigantic redwood tree, Joe and I both gasped. They really are just so big and magical.

Along the way, we stopped at Eel River Brewing for a flight and a bite, cruised through the Avenue of the Giants, and stopped for a hike on the Rockefeller Loop — a short trail through the redwoods that I discovered after watching this beautiful video.

Wednesday night we arranged to stay in a little house in Mendocino. As we were driving along the coast almost to our destination, the sun started going down. We waited until the last possible minute to pull over, chanced it on a random pull-off, and ran down a long, wooded path hoping to find sand at the other end in time for the sunset. We did, and it took our breath away.

Mendocino is a sweet little coastal town that I would have loved to explore more, but after a good meal and drink at the local bar, and a good night’s sleep, we had a 7+ hour drive with Yosemite waiting for us at the other end.

We spent two nights in a tent cabin in Yosemite’s Curry Village. Yosemite was an experience not only for the obviously reasons (it’s kiiiinda pretty, y’all), but also just for people watching.

When I planned the trip, my goal was to talk Joe into doing Half Dome with me. I put in for a permit to do the hike (it is THE hike to do in Yosemite, but requires a permit to get up the cables at the end of the hike). However, there was a ball-dropping on my end and I didn’t accept the permit in time (don’t want to talk about it), so we didn’t get to do Half Dome. Instead, we hiked the first part of the trail up to the top of Vernal and Nevada Falls and then down the John Muir trail. It was still a decent workout and the views were crazy awesome at the top. Joe took a few dips in the water along the way.

Side note: the squirrels in Yosemite are nuts. One walked straight up to me while I was sitting by Nevada Falls, and put his little paws (are they paws?) on my thigh to see if I had a snack for him. I had to use so much self restraint not to reach out and pet his little head. Also, Joe saw another bear. Like for real, for real this time. He took a 4 a.m. trip to the bath house and guess who was also making a 4 a.m. trip through Curry Village while it was all dark and quiet? Mr. Bear, that’s who. Current bear sightings: Joe: 2, Julia: 0. This is starting to get ridiculous.

On Saturday morning, we explored the Mariposa Grove of the Giant Sequoia, before heading out of the Yosemite. There was a big wildfire in Yosemite while we were there, and for the most part it didn’t affect us other than the occasional campfire-like smell in the air. But on our drive out of the park, the view was super smokey.

We stopped through a town called Mariposa not far outside of Yosemite and met some friendly folks at the Prospectors Brewing Company. We really loved this cute little town, and decided to ask about staying the night at the inn there. But they were all booked up, so we headed back to the coast. We spent the night in Half Moon Bay, where we hit up the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company for some beers before dinner. Our inn overlooked the foggy harbor and we could hear the foghorn blowing faintly in the distance all night (note: foghorn sounds all night — not as charming as one would think). Then we hopped up to San Francisco on Sunday morning, where we caught up with good friends, had brunch in the Mission, explored a little bit of the city, and had a great dinner in Berkeley. We flew out on Monday morning.

At the beginning of this trip, Joe and I had the idea to not allow ourselves to look at any photos or videos we’d taken until we were on our flight back home. There was something so gratifying about waiting to look through all the memories. We came across things we’d totally forgotten about — it was like the good ol’ days when you had to wait to get your photos developed to see what you captured. Definitely a tradition I’d like to continue for future adventures.

backpacking dolly sods

2 days in WV / monongahela national forest / july 4th

Joe, Charley, and I took our first backpacking trip over the 4th of July weekend in the Dolly Sods Wilderness of the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia.

We set off from the Red Creek trailhead and hiked in a little more than 4 miles, passing the Little Stonecoal and Big Stonecoal junctions along the way. We (accidentally) bypassed the Red Creek crossing and came upon a site overlooking a waterfall with a firepit and a few rock recliners. We decided this was our spot for the night and setup camp.

A group of hikers we met earlier on the trail told us about an “Olympic-sized swimming hole” up the trail past the Breathed Mountain Trail junction in an area called The Forks. After setting up camp, we planned to take an excursion to this so-called Olympic-sized swimming hole, so we set off on what we thought was the Red Creek Trail (spoiler: it wasn’t). We hiked for about a mile uphill taking a bunch of switchbacks before we realized we were actually on the Fisher Spring Run Trail, not the Red Creek Trail. We hiked back down to the site, took a breather, and then set back off on the real Red Creek Trail.

After losing about an hour on our unintentional detour, we stepped up the pace to get up to The Forks and back before it got dark. Joe and Charley were up ahead when I saw them both freeze in their tracks. They spotted a bear (or a “giant-fuzzy-black-carpet-thing-that-moved”) off of the trail. I debated walking up to the edge to see the bear for myself, but chickened out (which I regretted because a) obviously I wanted to see a bear, but more importantly b) I wanted to confirm that this was different than the “moose” Joe spotted in Vermont). We decided to turn around and walk back down the trail, singing and chanting loudly the whole time — “hideeyy-hooo, just walking along, not bothering anyone” — to fend off any bears, which i’m sure was COMPLETELY necessary.

Plan B was to take the Rocky Point Trail over to a beautiful lookout point known as Lions Head. We took Rocky Point for a few miles, before deciding that we were too short on daylight and turning around to head back to camp. Excursion attempts 1 and 2 were both fails, but we enjoyed the journey anyway.

Back at the site, we built a fire, filtered some water from the waterfalls, and made a delicious ramen dinner. I packed a beer in and Joe brought a little whiskey, so we rewarded ourselves for surviving day 1.


We woke up early determined to make it up to The Forks. We made breakfast and were on the trail by 9. We hiked up the Red Creek Trail for about 3 miles, past the Breathed Mountain Trail, and made it to The Forks. This is a beautiful area where a few different rivers and streams meet up. There is a series of waterfalls and swimming holes, and there are some great spots to camp (noted for our next trip). We did find one rather large swimming hole, but calling it “Olympic-sized” was pretty generous.

After visiting The Forks, we backtracked down the Red Creek trail and took the steep Breathed Mountain Trail up 1/3 mile to “the sods” — this is a sweeping vista created from logging and wildfires back in the late-1800’s and early 1900’s. Dolly Sods is known for this unique landscape, which is typically only found farther North in Canada.

After visiting the sods, we hiked back to our site to break down camp. Joe took a dip in the waterfall by our site, and then we headed out with our packs. Charley had trouble pacing himself throughout the trip, so by the time we were hiking out, he was exhausted like I’ve never seen him, sprawling out on the trail any second he got.

We made it to the car around 4 p.m. and ended our trip with the best burritos of our lives (or perhaps we were just extremely hungry) at Hellbender Burritos in Davis, WV.