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Insider’s Guide to Acadia National Park

RootsRated posted this July 24th, 2016

Maine’s rocky coastline, rolling mountains and dense wilderness all converge in the northeast corner of the state to create the serene yet vibrant area of Acadia National Park. It is composed of 47,000 acres, and is home to the highest coastal peak on the Atlantic seaboard of the United States. The park’s rugged beauty and accessible scenic areas attract more than two million visitors per year.

Acadia came to be in three stages, first established as Sieur de Monts National Monument in July of 1916, then Lafayette National Park in 1919, and finally Acadia National Park in 1929 with the addition of the Schoodic Peninsula. With the official “birthday” in 1916, 2016 marks the park’s centennial anniversary.

Classic Adventures

Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain.

Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain.

Laura Stockman

With more than 127 miles of hiking trails , there is plenty of terrain to tread in Acadia National Park. Challenge yourself with the 2.4-mile round-trip Cadillac Mountain trail, or for a shorter adventure, take the Beehive Loop — a steep hike, 1.6-mile round-trip hike featuring iron rungs and expansive views of Sand Beach and the surrounding islands.

Ocean Path is a moderate, 4.4-mile hike with many scenic stopping points that primarily follows along Park Loop Road. Start near the Sand Beach parking lot and the path with bring you to Thunder Hole, by Monument Cove, through the forest to a bell buoy, and by the Otter Cliffs. Hikers can follow the trail back, or catch the Island Explorer for a ride to the next location. For an easier hike, follow Jordan Pond Path along the shores of Jordan Pond.

The carriage roads are prime biking spots in Acadia. Forty-five miles of rustic roads weave around the mountains and valley of the park, providing bikers of all skill levels with scenic views. The carriage roads can also be enjoyed by walkers and horseback riders. Bring your own horse, or ride a horse from Wildwood Stables.

Take out your own sea kayak or canoe through the Porcupine Islands to explore the coastline, or join a guided trip. The area is also full of saltwater and freshwater fishing opportunities for a variety of species such as brook trout, lake trout, landlocked salmon and smallmouth bass. A fishing license are required, and can be purchased at many area retailers, and online.

For experienced rock climbers, areas like Otter Cliff and Great Head offer sea cliff-climbing. At Otter Cliffs, the park maintains fixed anchors on top that must be used instead of trees to belay several climbs. Climbers going to these areas should know tide and weather forecasts. Central Slabs is another climbing area in the park, offering more beginner routes.

Secrets of the Park

Beachside parking at Acadia.

Beachside parking at Acadia.

James M. Brabson

While many guests believe Sand Beach is the only beach at Acadia, Echo Lake Beach is another beach for sunning and swimming , and has somewhat warmer waters. Both Sand and Echo Lake beaches are staffed with lifeguards during the summer season. Little Hunters Beach is another favorite, just off of Park Loop Road with less people and no lifeguard.

The park may be busiest during the summer months and into fall, but it is open year-round. During the winter, parks of the Carriage Roads are groomed and available for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Drive your snowmobile on the Park Loop Road or up Cadillac Mountain, ice fish, winter camp, or go for a snowy hike.

Less frequented hiking trails can be found on the quiet side of Mount Desert Island, west of Somes Sound. Try out St. Sauveur Mountain, Beech Cliff Loop or Bernard Mountain Loop.

Some people stay on Mount Desert Island without venturing to the less congested Schoodic Peninsula when visiting the park. Schoodic has a new trail system, and is a one-hour drive from Bar Harbor, or a one hour ferry and Island Explorer ride from Bar Harbor during peak season.

Fall colors are generally best mid-October, so it’s a nice time to visit because crowds are lighter with kids back in school. Acadia also has hundreds of species of birds (the record for species of birds encountered is 338) and is considered to be a premier bird-watching area.

Immerse Yourself

Acadia coast.

Acadia coast.

Peter Rintels

The Park Loop Road is a scenic drive that meanders along the coastline, featuring 27 miles of viewpoints. The road begins at Hulls Cove Visitor Center, and grants access to Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Otter Cliffs, Jordan Pond and Cadillac Mountain. To avoid crowds, drive to the top of Cadillac either before 11 a.m. or after 4 p.m.

Make reservations for a two-and-a-half hour narrated bus tour. It includes three 15-minute stops, including one on Cadillac Mountain, from May through October.

Small sea creatures make for fun discoveries while tidepooling. At low tide, visit the kid-friendly Bar Island Sand Bar to look into the pools for treasures, or Ship Harbor and Wonderland on the west side of Mount Desert Island.

Enjoy lunch picnic-style on a mountain summit or on the ocean’s shore, or head to one of the park’s many picnic area’s, complete with picnic tables and fireplaces. To experience the park at night, head to Sand Beach for a moonlit walk, or find a special spot for stargazing.

Popovers and tea have been served at the Jordan Pond House since the 1890s. Afternoon tea continues to be a tradition today. Mid-day wait times can be long, so visit for tea in the late-morning or early evening.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Visit

Autumn colors.

Autumn colors.

James M. Brabson

  • Acadia’s busy season is from Memorial Day Weekend through the fall, or “leaf peeping” season. To enjoy the park with less people, visit early morning or late afternoon.

  • Park Loop Road is closed annually December 1 through April 15. Two short sections of the road remain open year-round.

  • Buy your Acadia National Park pass online, at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, or at a handful of local sites listed on the park’s website. This the first year that visitors can buy the 7-day pass and the annual pass online.

  • The park is very dog friendly, featuring 100 miles of hiking trails and and 45 miles of carriage roads where pets are permitted.

  • Acadia’s free shuttle system, the Island Explorer, operates from June 23 through Columbus Day. It brings visitors to spots in the park including hotels, inns and campgrounds, with stops that include Acadia Mountain, Bubble Rock, Parkman Mountain and the Cadillac North Ridge Trail.

  • With 127 miles of hiking trails, it is important to buy a trail map at a local outfitter or the visitor’s center and to closely plan out routes with it.

  • Blackwoods, Seawall and Schoodic Woods campgrounds are all located on Mount Desert Island. Duck Harbor Campground is located on Isle au Haut and is inaccessible to automobiles. Wildwood Stables Campground is on Mount Desert Island and is open only to visitors with stock animals. Reservations are recommended May through October. National Recreation Reservation Service handles reservations, not the park, by phone at 877-444-6777 or at recreation.gov.

  • Special use permits for events, commercial photography, weddings and more are to be applied for through a form on the park’s website.

Originally written by RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Liza Daly


Insider’s Guide to Cuyahoga Valley National Park

RootsRated posted this July 24th, 2016

Though it’s located between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley National Park feels like a lush escape from urban reality. The park, which was recently deemed a national park in 2000, protects roughly 33,000 acres along the Cuyahoga River in northeastern Ohio. More than 125 miles of hiking trails wind throughout the park, passing through low-density forests, wetlands, and fields.

The park’s spectacular waterfalls are surrounded by deep green leaves that turn brilliant shades of gold and orange each fall. It’s a destination for birders, with two sanctuaries for Great Blue Heron, and a serene setting for catching a glimpse of a beaver or a river otter. It’s also a history-lover’s paradise, with a handful of historic structures built in the 1800s that are still in use today.

Classic Adventures

One of the most popular trails in the park is the Brandywine Gorge Trail , a 1.5-mile loop that allows hikers to explore Brandywine Creek and the spectacular Brandywine Falls, a 65-foot waterfall that looks like a bridal veil. This loop climbs 160 feet from start to finish and is best for hikers looking for a moderate or difficult trail.

The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail is a popular running, walking and biking trail that traverses through the park. This level, hard-packed trail follows the historic route of the Ohio & Erie Canal for 20 miles within the park. It’s the same path mules used from 1827 to 1913 to pull canal boats loaded with passengers and other items. Today, the path connects with several stops on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

If you’re short on time, consider the half-mile Buckeye Trail to Blue Hen Falls. This route, which gains 80 feet in elevation through tall grasses and oak trees, ends at an overhanging plate of sandstone with a small stream that falls 15 feet.

In the winter, hike the 2.2-mile Ledges Trail and catch a glimpse of dramatic icicle formations on the rocks. The trail also gives hikers a sweeping west-facing view across the valley at the Ledges Overlook. On this route, you’ll pass by moss-covered rocks, ferns, petroglyphs dating back to the 1900s and Ice Box Cave.

Brandywin Falls at Cuyahoga National Park.

Brandywin Falls at Cuyahoga National Park.

Secrets of the Park

In the winter, park crews don’t plow the Towpath Trail , which makes it perfect for cross-country skiing. Plus, this trail is open 24 hours so you can explore after dark in solitude.

The park has a fascinating beaver marsh just north of the Ira Trailhead. Trek here to see the work of local beavers, who have made dams with mud and sticks. The best time to catch these critters in action is mid-evening. The marsh is also home to dozens of bird species, including nesting waterfowl, orioles, wrens and sparrows. The Tree Farm Trail is a 2.75-mile loop that starts and ends at Horseshoe Pond. Here, you’ll hike rolling hills and see evergreens, hardwoods and a local family’s Christmas tree farm. Chances are  you’ll spot deer, fox, coyotes and birds, including bald eagles, woodpeckers and yellow warblers, on this moderate difficulty hike.

Combine the Salt Run Trail and the Lake Trail for a 4.3-mile loop through lightly trafficked woodlands. This hilly, moderate trail is perfect for hiking and trail running. Plus, you’ll hike past Kendall Lake, the largest lake in the park. Kendall Lake is teeming with catfish, bass and bluegill, and it’s home to beavers, owls, Canada geese and other birds. The Furnace Run Trail is a hidden gem and a great workout, especially if you’re short on time. This 2.5-mile loop has a steep start with more than 90 stairs and then flattens out through a forest. On this hike, you’ll hear black-capped chickadees and see plenty of chipmunks and rabbits.

If you’ve never seen a Great Blue Heron up close, you’re in luck. Cuyahoga Valley National Park has two sanctuaries, including the Bath Road Heronry. Herons stand four feet tall and have a wingspan that can reach seven feet. Up to 300 nesting parents and fledglings make their home here each year. Bring binoculars and visit in March or April for the best views of the babies.


Immerse Yourself

Ohio’s statewide Buckeye Trail makes a 1,400-mile loop around the state—and part of the trail goes through Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Consider the 12.6-mile stretch between Station Road Bridge (which makes for a great photo opportunity) and Boston, a quaint, historic village of 1,300 people. This easy route goes through the heart of the park and ends at the Boston Store Visitor Center, which is a former warehouse and boarding house built in the 1830s.

At 4.5 miles, the Wetmore Trail is quiet, tranquil and green. This hilly, technical trail is shared by hikers, runners, equestrians and snowshoers in the winter. It’s irregular and narrow in spots, and the terrain changes from gravel to clay to dirt, which makes for a challenging hike. See the park in a totally different way from the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad , which runs throughout the park. You can buy an all-day pass and get on and off the train a much as you’d like. You can also bike around the park and board the train back to your destination.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Visit

  • Visit the park in the fall for views of gold, orange, and red leaves.  Visit in the winter for great cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding and hiking options.
  • Return to Brandywine Falls at various times throughout the year to see it change. In the winter, it turns to majestic ice. Immediately after storms, water gushes over the falls.
  • Learn what poison ivy looks like before you hike. The glossy plant has three pointed leaves, which are red when they first emerge in the spring and green during the summer.
  • Protect yourself against ticks. Wear long pants and tuck them into your socks or shoes. Wear light-colored clothing, which makes them easier to spot. Check out our Debug Styles for Men and Women   for clothing with built in Insect Shield.

Originally written by RootsRated.


Trail to Tavern San Diego

dweber posted this July 23rd, 2016

As part of our Trail to Tavern series, we reached out to one of our favorite road warriors, Katherine, to see if she had made her way to any local trails and taverns around the country lately. Last month she sent word from Florida, and this month she and her beau hit up the bottle shops and breweries in San Diego, CA. Enjoy responsibly.


We live in Illinois when we’re not living on 4 wheels. Recently we packed up and called Arizona home for a month. Itching for some salt water (that wasn’t sweat…) we decided to visit some friends in LA then check out the beer scene in San Diego. We’re beer people and have heard through the hops-line that there was a plethora of good beer in the San Diego area. On a whim, we ended up finding a spot to stay in Escondido and quickly found that any time you mention “Escondido” to anyone in Southern California they say, “You’re going to visit Stone Brewing, right?”


At Stone Brewing, the first thing that hits you is the massive tap room. The ceiling must go up 2-3 stories, with plants and water features throughout the building. You sort of feel like you’re in a terrarium. A beer terrarium. There’s also a lovely outdoor area that’s great for kids to run around in the gardens. Take a brewery tour (thought they fill up quick on the weekends, it’s first-come first-served) or just relax in the gardens and eat up. You cant go wrong with anything on tap at Stone. They’re really into organic ingredients in their beer and they actually bought a farm specifically to grow organic veggies for their bistro. That’s pretty cool.


A 15-minute drive from the brewery leads you to the trailhead at Lake Hodges. Lake Hodges isn’t actually a lake – it’s a reservoir – so you can’t swim in it, but there are lots of great trails that loop around the lake. Just a word to the wise – it gets pretty hot in the summertime. So pack a lot of water and if you get sweaty, you’re just an IPA away from Stone Brewing.


Next up was Toolbox Brewing Company, one of the most unique and special breweries we’ve been to. Their tap handles were made of tools (reminiscent of the San Diego Skyline), and the overall design of the place reminded me of an extremely clean mechanic’s shop! And I’m a sucker for a wall of beautiful barrels. We sat at the bar and got the rundown on their experimental recipes (wild yeast, anyone?).  A quick peak in the back shows the unlikely combo of beer steins and petri dishes scattered at various brewing stations. These guys have something really cool going on.  I gotta throw some love toward the Bog Sauce – a cranberry and raspberry Berliner weisse. Apparently they make a cucumber version too, so we’ll just have to come back after a day at the beach – Carlsbad is just a few miles up the road!


Modern Times Flavordome in North Park has an Alice and Wonderland thing going on. Lampshades hang from the ceilings, floppy discs cover the walls, old VHS videos have been turned into a bar and you don’t know whether to get beer or coffee. What kind of bar is this?? A Modern one. Sidle up to the bar and oder a flight, first thing – they serve flights in old wooden cigar boxes! Then give yourself a shot of energy with a nice cold brew over ice. Anywhere that brews their own beer and roasts their own coffee is A-OK with us. They don’t serve food, but pack a picnic or get delivery from nearby restaurants because you’ll want to stick around a while – they have 16 beers on tap and change them up regularly. If they have the Guava Gose when you’re there, DO IT.


Our last stop in SD was Council Brewing – a small batch brewery with big ‘ol flavor. I knew I would love it when we walked in and were greeted by a gigantic wall of barrels! Aside from making for great photo-ops, I’ve heard that old barrels make good beer, too – good beer takes time to age. Aged beers like tart saisons, my favorite.

You’ll see the word “beatitude” all over  the place. Beatitude is the French word for bliss, which is what you’ll experience when you dive into one of the sour beers. We tried several sour fruit beers under the Beatitude line, and loved absolutely everything we had (though the Prickly Pear was exceptional!). I love a good IPA as much as the next girl, but sometimes something tart just hits the spot when it’s too hot for hops. A great open space and nice patio, only bummer is that you can only get Council Beer in the SD area! Stock up while you’re here and be sure to stop by anytime you’re in the area. These guys are only getting better with age.



The Mariposa Margarita

dweber posted this July 20th, 2016

Grapefruit+Cocktail+RecipeButterflies are to caterpillars what tequila is to agave plants: a magical transformation resulting in pure delight! In honor of National Tequila Day on July 24, we’re whipping up the Mariposa Margarita. Modified from our friend’s at Lily the Wandering Gypsy, the Mariposa Margarita (mariposa means butterfly in Spanish) is equal parts sweet, tart and pure delight. ¡Salud!

The Mariposa Margarita 

1 part grapefruit juice (fresh squeezed is best)
1 part club soda
1 oz. tequila (we like Hornitos blanco)
1 tsp. organic agave nectar
Organic cane sugar for rim

To sugar the rim, rub the rim with a slice of grapefruit and dip the glass in a plate of sugar. The sugar complements the tart perfectly.

Fill your glass half full with ice. Now order is important: Pour in the grapefruit juice, tequila, agave nectar and top off with club soda. Garnish with a wedge of grapefruit and viva la fiesta!


Great American Road Trips

dweber posted this July 20th, 2016

Roadside diners, Main Streets, purple mountains majesty, local radio stations, amber waves of grain…. We love a good summer road trip. It’s the perfect mix of nostalgia and nomad, where rubber meets the road meets the boiled peanut hawker on I-40. Saddle up your trusty 4-wheeled steed (or 2-wheeled, if you’re gutsy), and hit the open road. Here are a few of our favorite great American Road Trips:

Carlsbad Caverns, NM. John Fowler.

The Ultimate New Mexico Road Trip

New Mexico, a land of desert, green chile, sand dunes, hot springs and caves doesn’t get nearly enough credit. The ‘Land of Enchantment’ is a bona fide mecca for exploration, discovery, scenic (and dull) stretches of highway, UFO’s, and endless adventure. This 7-day road trip itinerary takes you from Denver to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, a stopover in gorgeous Taos, to the natural hot springs of Jemez Valley, over to White Sands National Monument, down to otherworldly Carlsbad Caverns National Park, then back up to Santa Fe via Roswell – because what’s a trip to NM without a trip to UFO country?


Black Canyon and Gunnison River, CO. Terry Foote.

Quintessential Colorado 

To many, Denver is the true gateway to the West. Like so many early frontiersmen, who reached the western edge of the High Plains and gazed upon the Front Range in both terror and excitement, the Mile High City (Denver) still acts as the ultimate springboard for Colorado adventure. Combine the glory of the open road with the solace of the mountains on this 7-day journey from Denver over some of the nation’s most scenic highways. Head south out of Denver to the Collegiate Peaks, through the Sawatch Range to Crested Butte, marvel at Gunnison National Park, sip wine in Grand Valley, float the Yampa River, relax in Steamboat Springs, hike Estes Park (and a drink at The Shining‘s Stanley Hotel) and watch the sunset over the Flatirons on Day 7. Are we there yet?


Shi Shi Beach on the Olympic Coast, WA. Scott Neilson.

Light Out From Seattle 

One of the best things about Seattle is how many beautiful places are within easy reach, but some of the Pacific Northwest’s most amazing areas are far enough from Seattle that they require a whole weekend (at least) to explore them. Take the North Cascades National Scenic Highway (Hwy 20) east toward Methow Valley. Take a ferry across the sound and start up the Olympic Coast for a weekend of clamming, hiking and camping on the beach if you’ve got a good sleeping bag. Sneak across the Canadian border to Squamish to hike to the top of Stawamus Chief. Fill up on oysters and embrace Washington’s surf culture (yes, they have one) in the Westport. Take a week off and connect all 4 weekend getaways into one great road trip.


Amish buggy in Lancaster County, PA.

American History in Pennyslvania

You can’t help but feel patriotic when you roll through the Keystone State. Surrounded by 6 states and with the great Appalachian Mountains running right through the middle, there’s no shortage of Americana in PA. For history buffs and lovers of all things kitsch, start in the City of Brotherly Love – birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution, and the resting place of the Liberty Bell. People-watch in Franklin Sqaure and hit up the nation’s oldest bars for a cold one. Head out of of the city on Route 30 for a scenic drive through the little farm towns that make up the fabric of the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside (“Dutch”refers to the German culture brought over by Protestant immigrants in the 17th century). Lancaster County is the seat of Amish Country and home to the Lancaster Central Market; pop in on Fridays for local shoo-fly-pie and chicken corn soup. Hop back on the 30 toward Gettysburg. Spend a few hours exploring the battlefields. Hook up with the Appalachian Trail via Caledonia State Park and spend a few nights camping on the great AT.


Not actually in the Midwest, but how about that Cabazon Dinosaur?! Say “Cheese!”

Hidden Gems of the Midwest 

What’s a road trip without a pit stop at the “World’s Largest” roadside attraction? Luckily, the land of 1,000 lakes also seems to have a thousand pit stops. What the Midwest lacks in elevation, it more than makes up for with quirky, memorable sights and attractions. Here are 11 detours you should add to any trip through Middle America. Native American effigies, massive waterfalls, manicured gardens, the National Mustard Museum and even the American Gothic house. Smile for the camera!


Books To Inspire Outdoor Adventure

Sydney Luca-Lion posted this July 19th, 2016

Feeling like your adventure spirit has been a little lagging lately?

Caught up in the humdrum of your everyday life? We have something that might help. Here is a list of books full of all the wonder and inspiration that the natural world can hold. There are stories of survival, of loss and redemption, and an overall celebration of the nature that sustains us. Pick a book or two or all, and get reading. When you’re done, we bet you’ll be ready to pack a bag and head out on your next adventure.

The mountains are calling and I must go. ~John Muir

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac (1958)

kerouacThis is an autobiographical novel written by Beat author Jack Kerouac, which recounts the story of Ray Smith (modelled after Kerouac himself) and his adventures as a mountaineer, hitchhiker, and aspiring Buddhist. Kerouac’s characters attend poetry slams, drink too much wine, and find solitude in the high Sierras and on Desolation Peak in Washington State, all while seeking a greater Truth. Kerouac describes how we can all feel outside by the water on a perfect summer evening: “Happy. Just in my swim shorts, barefooted, wild-haired, in the red fire dark, singing, swigging wine, spitting, jumping, running—that’s the way to live. All alone and free in the soft sands of the beach by the sigh of the sea out there…”


Wild by Cheryl Strayed (2012)

wildYou’ve probably heard of this story and maybe even saw the movie, but here we are encouraging you to read the book. Strayed tells the story of her 1,000+ mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail which often features flashbacks to her life before the hike. We cheer Cheryl on her journey from grief and loss to ultimate strength and healing, all the while finding resonance with both her inner struggle and the hard truth of the trail. The PCT has seen a lot more traffic due to this book and we can understand why. “It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental.”


Wilderness Essays by John Muir (1980)

muirWe hope you’ve heard of John Muir. He’s kind of a big deal in the nature world- father of the National Park System and all that. He is also a great writer, and few can rival his love for the outdoors. Wilderness Essays is exactly what it sounds like, a collection of passionate and beautifully written essays that describe the intimate and vital connection between the human and natural world. We hope you take the time to read a few of these essays and do all you can in protecting and conserving the world Muir held so dear. As he said, “I care to live only to entice people to look at Nature’s loveliness.”



A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There by Aldo Leopold (1949)

aldoThis book is a collection of essays by Leopold in which he advocated for the responsible relationship between people and the land that they inhabit. It’s a mixture of philosophy, conservation advocacy and beautiful portraits of the natural world that will inspire to take a look around your own backyard and find wonder. “No matter how intently one studies the hundred little dramas of the woods and meadows, one can never learn all the salient facts about any one of them.”


Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson (1995)

trcksYears before Cheryl Strayed was hiking the PCT, Robyn Davidson journeyed 1,700 miles across the perilous deserts of west Australia with four camels and a dog. Her journey was grueling, full of poisonous animals, scorching heat, and threatening people, as well as extraordinary courage.

Davidson demonstrates a deep love of the Australian landscape and its indigenous people, and reminds us that we are all capable of more than we might believe. “The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavour is taking the first step, making the first decision.”


New and Selected Poems Volumes One and Two by Mary Oliver (1993)

oliverMary Oliver is one of the most famous contemporary American poets and her poems focus mostly on her experiences in the outdoors. She reminds us of the wonder that can be found in our back yards and encourages us to live our fullest life.

“When loneliness comes stalking, go into the fields,
consider the orderliness of the world.
Notice something you have never noticed before,
like the tambourine sound of the snow-cricket
whose pale green body is no longer than your thumb.

Stare hard at the hummingbird, in the summer rain,
shaking the water-sparks from its wings. (from ‘The Leaf and the Could’)

Photography- for those of you who think a picture is worth a thousand words:
Genesis by Sebastião Salgado (2013)

genesisGenesis is a collection of photographs taken by the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. Salgado spent nine years trekking across the globe to the last wild places on the earth in order to capture disappearing habitats, animals and people. The photographs are all black and white and show a world of stunning beauty, a world that “we must hold and protect.”



A Sneak Peek of Fall

dweber posted this July 19th, 2016

Greetings from Fall! It’s been a while since we’ve felt a chill in the air, saw the sun sit low in the sky, golden sunsets that lit the road ahead… We’re headed  full steam for Autumn, but in the meantime, we’ll take the slow drive. Wish you were here, but see you in a few weeks! – The Toads


Roadside snack stop means roadside writers’ workshop.


Independence, CA. Population: 669


Just popped in to say hello to Fossil Falls, CA. Just off Highway 395.


We do our best thinking in red dresses.


Take me home, country road.

Catch the whole Fall Collection on July 26!


How to Travel Like a Local

RootsRated posted this July 11th, 2016

We’ve entered into a new age of travel: People want true immersion in local culture versus observing it from the lap of luxury. Gone are the days of the one-size-fits all tour packages, cheesy tourist traps, or typical sightseeing spots. Here to stay is traveling like a local. Discovering how the people really live—where they eat, what they do, where they go—is almost guaranteed to offer a richer travel experience. Whether you’re visiting a large metropolis, charming mountain town, or new country for the first time, you can blend in (or at least try to). Here are our tips to help you travel like a local, no matter where you’re headed on your next trip.

Ditch the Tour Packages

Who really wants to shuffle on and off a stuffy bus all day? While tour packages and bus tours have a place in travel, it’s usually not among the more adventurous set, who want to experience their destination in person rather than through a rear window. Yes, it will require more planning and legwork, but your trip will be far more memorable. Get a book (yes, an actual book) and dig into the place you’re headed. Then do some google searches and see what sorts of blogs or articles turn up. You’ll have a whole list of places to see. Check out wikipedia and get some history under your belt. You just became your own tour guide – and the best past is that no one will hurry you along when you’re soaking it all in.

Tap Into Local Knowledge

Before you hit the road, check out Instagram feeds and blogs of in-the-know locals who live where you’re heading (checking out relative hashtags is a good place to start). Chefs, outdoor lovers, travel writers, and cocktail enthusiasts, just to name a few, are the kind of folks who love to dish on what makes their town great. Once you’re in town, don’t be afraid to talk to the locals. Baristas, bar tenders, staff at outdoor shops and hotel concierges are generally happy to offer up local tips. These folks work at establishments that are the true town-centers, so they attract people with a lot of local pride. They’ll send you straight to the good stuff: the authentic burrito joint, the hippest basement bar, the most secret swimming hole – if it’s off the beaten path, they’ll know where to go. And if you just cant wait until you’re traveling, websites like RootsRated.com compile intel from in-the-know locals on where to find the best hiking, biking, paddling and post-adventure pints in cities across the country.


Take the Backroads

Interstates are great for getting to your destination in a hurry. But tiny, two-lane country roads offer an adventure within themselves and let you experience an aspect of local culture you just can’t get blasting down the highway at 70 mph. Chat with the farmer while you pick up some local honey or jams at the roadside stand. Stop at an old-school diner for a milkshake and mingle with the locals at the counter. Taking the road less traveled almost always means a chance to interact with local folks.

Listen to Local Radio

While you’re on a road trip, take a break from your playlist and tune in to the local airwaves. It’s a cultural lesson to discover the different types of music depending on where you are. In Nevada, for instance, old-timey country seems to dominate local stations, so much so that you’ll probably have a few ballads memorized by the end of your journey. Bonus: When you roll into town, you’ll have inspiration for what to sing at the local karaoke bar.

View from room.

View from room. Basheer Tome

Consider Staying in a Hostel or House Rental

Don’t brush off hostels as hubs solely for the backpacker set: In recent years, many hostels, especially those in big cities, have spruced up their digs, offering private rooms, more sophisticated lobbies, and even concierge services. Hostels typically offer more local flavor than chain hotels: Check out the posters and fliers that showcase local events happening around town. You’ll also probably meet some fellow travelers to hit the town with. And there’s a reason that home rentals like Airbnb and VRBO.com have exploded as of late: you can’t beat staying in a local’s home to feel like, well, a local.

Visit a Local Supermarket

For a true microcosm of your destination, head straight to a neighborhood market (not a national chain). Not only can you stock up on staples like fruit, snacks and drinks, you’ll get a real taste for local culture by seeing what they eat. Oh, and local delicacies—whether it’s fried grasshoppers in the Yucatan or fiery hot sauce in Thailand—make authentic and affordable souvenirs.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Lost

Have a general roadmap of a plan, but know that it’s not totally necessary to have a step-by-step itinerary mapped out. This isn’t summer camp after all, and it’s important when you’re traveling to leave a little room for serendipity to really dig into what makes a place tick. Linger in a coffeeshop, or take the longer route on that hike. Have a little faith in flexibility. More often than not things tend to work out, and you’ll have a helluva story to tell!

Walking through town.

Walking through town. Basheer Tome

Originally written by RootsRated for Toad&Co. Featured image provided by Basheer Tome

Wandering in front of the high one, Denali.

Demystifying Denali: Insider’s Guide to Denali National Park

RootsRated posted this July 6th, 2016

Six million acres—and only a solitary road from which to explore it all. Alaska’s Denali National Park conjures up images of primitive wilderness, extreme solitude, and unmatched natural beauty. It’s a land where lush, green forests gently give way to rolling hills of colorful tundra, that collide abruptly with icy glaciers and unforgiving rock. Where the “Big 5” outnumber humans: moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves and bears (oh my!). It’s the third largest national park in the country and Denali (formerly known as Mount McKinley) is the tallest peak in North America (20,322-foot) and the third highest mountain of the seven continental high points. We understand that it’s a bit daunting.

When you unpack Denali, you’ll find that it’s actually pretty accessible. Though it hasn’t always been that way. In 1897, a prospector named the mountain after then-president William McKinley. Woodrow Wilson christened the area Mount McKinley National Park in 1917. Then in 1980, Mount McKinley National Park was combined with Denali National Monument to became Denali National Park and Preserve, tripling in size. The word “Denali” means “the high one” in local Athabaskan language.

Within the park’s massive borders, Denali is home to more than 1,500 species of vegetation, 166 species of birds, 14 species of fish, the “Big 5,” fox, beaver, lynx and one hardy frog. Visitors trek through coniferous forests of black and white birch, wide-open meadows filled with multicolored wildflowers, and plenty of edibles like raspberries, lingonberries and Alaska’s famous blueberries. You can glimpse most of these natural treasures along the 92-mile road running east to west. During the summer, passenger cars are only allowed to mile 15 at the Savage River trailhead, or to mile 29 if camping at Teklanika campground. Walkers or cyclists can travel as far as they are willing and able. After mile 15, green buses shuttle visitors through the park via the hop-on, hop-off system – the drivers will drop off or pick up anywhere along the road.

Classic Adventures

A very focused grizzly bear in Denali National Park & Preserve.

A very focused grizzly bear in Denali National Park & Preserve. Denali National Park and Preserve


For those looking for a casual introduction to the park, head to Horseshoe Lake Trail. This popular trail begins right near the visitor’s center, and wanders through aspen and spruce forest. Walk for 1.5 miles to an overlook above Horseshoe Lake, with a spectacular view of the Nenana river and the surrounding mountains. There’s a good chance you’ll spot moose and beavers.

For an uptick in length and difficulty, seek out the Mount Healy Overlook Trail starting near the Murie Science and Learning Center at mile 1.4. It’s about 5 miles long with a 1,700-foot elevation gain, with some very steep sections (takes about 3-4 hours). The reward is fantastic panoramic views of the entrance area, the Nenana River Valley, Healy Ridge, and on a clear day, Denali itself, looming above the tundra 80 miles to the southwest. The hike starts out in forest, then opens up, giving hikers their first taste of hiking across tundra. For longer day hikes, or shorter backpacking trips, or if a long bus ride doesn’t sound fun, look at areas within the first 15 miles of the park road (units 1-5, 24-27), they’re accessible from the free Savage River Shuttle.

Climbing Denali is one of the world’s greatest mountaineering expeditions. While “only” the third highest summit of the 7 continental highpoints, it’s infamous for some of the most ferocious weather on earth, and its extreme distance from the equator and low pressure from the Arctic oddly tricks the body into thinking it’s higher. It’s also “taller” than Everest, with the summit standing about 18,000 feet above its base camp on the Alaskan plain (elevation gain from Everest base camp is a mere 11,000 ft). This is not for the fair-weather climber so look into other climbing options if Denali is slightly out if your range of expertise. There are about 70 alpine routes in the park. We like the Southwest Ridge of Mt. Francis for a classic moderate alpine route that can be done in a day (expect steep snow and some 5.8 rock climbing).

Secrets of the Park

A rainbow of ground colors in early autumn.

A rainbow of ground colors in early autumn. Denali National Park and Preserve


Seeing the park from two wheels should be on the bucket list of any cyclist. After mile 15, the road turns to crushed gravel and traffic thins considerably. Bike racks are available at campgrounds, visitor centers or the Toklat Road Camp. If camping in the backcountry, bikes must be 25 yards off the road and hidden from view. Bikepackers need a backcountry permit and a bear-box, or they can just ride between campgrounds. The 92 miles to the end has almost 11,000 feet of total elevation gain. On a related note, many of the shuttle buses have bike racks. Water is only available at Eielson Visitor’s Center at mile 66, so pack a water filter. The park service begins plowing the road to mile 30 in late March, and the buses don’t start running until May 20. So if serenity (and a killer calf workout) is what you seek, April is a perfect time to enjoy traffic-free cycling.

And don’t discount the winter months. Winter is a magical time to visit, with cross-country skiing, dog sledding, snowmobiling, winter camping and fat-biking among the favorite activities. The road is only open up to about mile three, so if visitors want to get farther, you’re on your own. The winter visitor center is open daily from 9am to 4:30pm and lends out snowshoes for free.

Immerse Yourself

The dreamlike landscape of Denali National Park.

The dreamlike landscape of Denali National Park. Denali National Park and Preserve


Denali’s main draw is trekking across wide open, trail-less wilderness. The park is broken into backcountry units. From April 15 to October 15, visitors pick a unit based on availability. To prevent any single area from becoming over-crowded, only a certain number of free permits are doled out for a given unit each day. Do some planning, but be sure to have a plan B and C in mind. It’s imperative to remain flexible until actually at the park since permits cannot be reserved in advance. Day hikers do not need a permit. A good strategy is to pick the length bus ride you’re willing to do, then consider what units are around it and available.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Visit

The northern lights streak across the sky.

The northern lights streak across the sky. Denali National Park and Preserve


Keep travel time to the park in mind. It’s five hours by car from Anchorage and two from Fairbanks. Then, consider the time on the park road – it takes about six hours by bus to get to the end at Kantishna. The Eielson Visitor’s Center is about four hours in. Allow one full day to arrive, get permits and bus tickets. You’ll have to watch an interesting video on bear and backcountry safety to get your permit. They’ll also loan you a bear-resistant food container, if needed. Riley Creek Campground is a convenient place to camp the first and last nights, since they take advance reservations. Some final thoughts:

    • Visit Denali in late August for once-in-a-lifetime fall colors that words simply cannot describe.
    • The Aurora Borealis is often seen in the park! Best months for the best chances: December through March.
    • The backcountry unit system does not apply during the winter and shoulder-seasons; visitors may camp anywhere.
    • Snow is possible during any month, be well prepared. We repeat: IT’S ALWAYS SNOW SEASON. 
    • Photographers should bring wide lenses for views, and long lenses for wildlife. Stony Hill Overlook is a good place to see both. The best chance to see the summit is in the morning (afternoons bring clouds… maybe snow too).
    • Be conservative with distance/time estimates. Since most of the hiking is off-trail, travel is much, much slower.
    • In June, the sun sets around midnight and rises around 4am, and it never really gets dark, bring an eye mask for better sleep. 

Worry About Bears, Not Your Clothes


Women’s Outdoor Joy Tank $35, Viatrix Short $65, Fly-By-Night Jacket $129

Men’s Wonderer LS Shirt $79, Rover Short $75, Motile SS Polo $52,  Transverse Shirt Jac $119

Originally written by RootsRated.

Trek Across Maine

dweber posted this July 5th, 2016
There’s a reason our tagline is “Keep Good Company.” Everything is a little bit better when you’ve got someone to share it with. Or hundreds of people. That’s how our gal Courtney Edmands felt when she completed Trek Across Maine, a 180 mile bike ride to benefit the American Lung Association. Courtney is one of the Toads at our Freeport, ME store. She’s equal parts heart and spunk, and someone whom we feel pretty darn lucky to keep company with. Here’s a snapshot into her Trek Across Maine. Ride on, Courtney!


180 miles wound through rural towns of Downeast Maine, amongst stunning golden meadows and mountain views, over bridges and alongside rivers. From Sunday River in Bethel, ME to the Atlantic coast in Belfast, sleepy vistas jolted awake as 2,000 cyclists put petal to pavement for the Trek Across Maine event over Father’s Day weekend. With clear, sunny skies and a steady stream of like minded folks by my side, the road was my ultimate happy place (even during mile 101).

In it’s 32nd year, Trek Across Maine is a 3 day ride from mountains to the sea that benefits the American Lung Association. It’s an event that we Mainers look forward to every year. Participants from outdoor sporting companies, bike vendors, local hospitals and individuals from across the state come together to bike for a cause. view

Taking a leap out of my comfort zone, I signed up for the life changing experience. It was inspiring to see the collaboration efforts amongst all the different communities. Dedicated staff and volunteers created a stunning, well laid out course with all the necessities we needed along the way. Crowds came out to cheer us on as we rode through little towns. And friends and family heard our call to donate, no matter how much, to the cause that we were supporting. It really does take a village. That and some well-greased gears.

Over the 3 days I pushed my physical and mental limits. When the horn was blown at Sunday River on Day 1, all 2,000 of us started down the path together. Motivating music and encouraging cheers faded into sounds of wild wind, clicking gears and calls of “On your left!” Hours of road signs, kitschy local advertising and wide open spaces gave way to mind games of endurance. And every so often I was confronted with the true danger of the road: holding a long breath while zipping past a hefty cow farm!

But boy, did we celebrate at the end of the day! After 60 or so miles each day, we’d roll into the final stop with sore feet and happy hearts. Exhausted but never too tired for a cold beer, we would find our way to the local live bar. At the end of Day 1, we made our way to The Dugout in Farmington, ME where we enjCourtneyEoyed perhaps the most refreshing beer to date (but after 60 miles on a bike, just about all refreshments have new meaning). Over local Allagash White and Frye’s Leap IPA from Sebago Brewing, we reminisced on the great landscapes we’d just rolled through. Folks swam in the river, cheersed in the beer tent and spent some time tuning up their trusty steeds. It wasn’t completely rugged, but there’s certainty in remembering 60 miles are ahead the next morning…

So we woke up, legs bound to bicycle, and the only option was to keep cranking chain. Ten miles turned into child’s play, being “just around the corner” from the next check point. We’d hear hoots and hollers up ahead when riders at the top of the hill had made it, encouraging us to keep on keepin’ on. After hours on the road, you realize you might be on the same path as everyone else, but the adventure has become your own.

Three days later, the aches and pains gave way to gratitude. I was proud of myself and proud of everyone for making the trek across Maine, and I was proud to support such a great cause. Knowing that we made an impact on The American Lung Association made that last ride across the finish line that much sweeter.

And in case you were curious, why yes I DID bike in a skirt! I will say the Toad&Co Whirlwind Skirt was, and continues to be, one of the best “bike to beer” pieces I’ve ever owned. To be able to wear it over cycling shorts and transition comfortably to a more dressy dinner piece in one swift motion… incredible! I receive compliments to this day when I wear it (which is embarrassingly often). If it’s good enough for the bike path, it’s good enough for me!

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