Beginner’s Trail Guide: Devils Garden at Arches National Park

I’m not going to lie, Devils Garden tested me. Not so much my physical strength, but my willingness to get out of my comfort zone and push my boundaries. The hike to Double O Arch is absolutely doable for beginners (or it wouldn’t be so popular) but if you have a fear of heights, it will push you.

That being said, I whole-heartedly encourage you to let this hike be a way to get out of your comfort zone in a safe, exciting, and stunningly beautiful setting. Hiking Devils Garden is challenging without being overwhelming and doesn’t have the huge crowds of Delicate Arch.

How do I get there?

Devils Garden is in Arches National Park, located outside of Moab, Utah. There’s a campground at Devils Garden, so if you’re planning a trip, reserve your campsite early and stay right in the park!

If you’re driving from Denver, it’s five and a half hours without traffic, closer to six. Stop in Fruita for a pick-me-up before you cross into Utah! Moab is just under four hours from Salt Lake, but I’ve never driven that direction, so I can’t give you any pointers.

If you’re coming from Colorado, it’s a different story! Make sure to take the scenic route instead of I-70 the entire way. After you get into Utah, take the Cisco exit and follow Highway 128. This will at first seem like a very sketchy road that will definitely not take you anywhere – it’s not paved and it can be rutted out. But after a few miles, the pavement returns, the red rock canyons surrounding the Colorado River open up, and it’s just gorgeous.

Where do I go?

You gotta drive alllll the way through the park to the end of the road. But there’s only one road so it’s hard to get lost. It’s paved the whole way and driving through Arches is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. You feel like you’re on another planet!

There are two beginner-friendly options for hiking around Devils Garden (honestly, why do they call it this? It sounds terrifying). The hike to Landscape Arch (pictured below) is just under two miles round-trip, is very flat, and is all on smooth, gravel or sand pathways.

You can add on mileage with side trails to see other arches, but there’s a ton of scenery from the main trail so don’t feel like you’re missing out. If you want to get really wild, you can opt for the primitive trail back from Double O that puts you at just over 7 miles. You may also want to opt for another blog because that level of adventure was not something I was looking to get into.

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Landscape Arch, the first stop on the trail. If you’re looking for a shorter distance and totally tame trail, you can go out to Landscape and then just turn around.

The other beginner-friendly option is the hike to Double O Arch. This is technically listed as “strenuous” on the national park website. It’s 4.2 miles with a few steep sections. The most strenuous part is that you have to climb up on the rock fins. Like I said, it’s doable. But a little bit outside my comfort zone!

The first mile of Devils Garden is super tame, but once you pass Landscape Arch there’s a lot of “trail” that’s actually just slick sandstone that you’re climbing up and over. It was a little intimidating, but definitely something beginners can handle (see below).

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The part that I thought was a fun challenge since there was no immediate way to fall to your death. Also this was NOT considered the primitive trail, which is how I knew I did not want to do the primitive trail.

But then you get to the “rock fin” about two-thirds of the way in.

This was when my fear sweats kicked in. You’re on a four- to five-foot-wide “fin” of rock that comes out of the ground and takes you up and over to Double O Arch….with a nice big drop-off on one side.

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The photo doesn’t do it justice, but there are drop-offs on each side of Billy. The right side is particularly…exciting to look over.

I know my fear of heights is a ridiculous trick my brain is playing on me, but part of the phobia that sets in is vertigo, which only increases my fear that I’m going to plummet to my death.

I was comforted by the fact that I could look to the left side (on the way out, right side on the way back) of the rock fin to a much more tame drop-off. The north side is the doozy, although literally thousands of people do it every day and don’t die or fall off.

That is the comforting mantra I soothed myself with as I baby-stepped my way across. I may have looked like a drunk baby horse learning to walk thanks to my white-knuckled grip on my hiking poles, but I did it!

Could you skip the rock fin and just turn around? Yes, and you could still have a nice hike up to Partition Arch that may be less intimidating.

But SO.MANY.PEOPLE. do this trail and are totally fine. I wanted to push myself and not wimp out. I suggest you do the same because the pay-off at the end (Double O Arch) is pretty great, in addition to the feeling of badassery you will have. HOWEVER, do not be ashamed if you can’t do it. Just trying is brave, and you should be proud of yourself for trying something at all that scares you, no matter how far you get.

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Lunch at Double O Arch at the end of the trail.

What should I wear and bring?

There’s essentially no shade. There will be some shadows among the rocks in the morning, but once the sun gets nice and high, it also gets nice and hot. This is manageable when the high is 71 (like it is in April). Not so much when it’s 107 (like it is in June).

If you go in springtime, it will likely be chilly in the morning and you’ll be inclined to wear a bunch of layers. Learn from my mistakes. Don’t do that. Especially if it’s sunny. You’ll end up jamming them all in your backpack and cursing yourself for wearing two long-sleeved layers on a hike through the desert.

I ended upwearing a light long-sleeve shirt, capri-length exercise leggings, a hat, and sunglasses. I also wore trail running shoes for the hike, but I wish I had worn my hiking boots and had a little bit more support on the uneven rocks later on. I saw all kinds of footwear out there, though, so wear whatever is comfortable and a little grippy!

I would highly recommend bringing at least one liter of water with you. It’s super dry in the desert, and I’m always surprised by how much water I end up drinking. Double O Arch is a great spot for lunch, so pack some food to enjoy there, too. Remember to bring everything back out with you, including all of your trash.

Is it crowded?

Being an iconic national park, Arches is also super crowded. We got to the trailhead by 10, which I honestly was worried was going to be too late. In April, it wasn’t, but by the time we were done hiking, the parking lot was packed and there was a line of cars waiting for spots.

The campground around the corner from the trailhead was closed for construction when I did this hike. That was generally a bummer since we couldn’t camp in the park, I think it helped with the number of people getting an early start on the trail. Now that it’s back open, it’ll probably be even more busy.

Anything else I should know?

It costs $30 per car to get into the park, and if you’re planning on visiting five or more parks in one year, it’s more cost-effective to spring for the annual pass. If you’re planning on going to Canyonlands as well, then you could opt for the Southeast Utah Parks Pass, which is valid for one month and gets you into Canyonlands, Arches, and Natural Bridges as many times as you want for $55.

If you’re planning a long weekend in Moab, check out my travel guide and itinerary >>

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Double O Arch, the pay-off at the end of the hike.

Beginner’s Trail Guide: Hiking Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument was the first stop during my summer 2016 road trip, and I quickly realized that this area of Colorado is best visited at literally any other time of year than when I went in June with my husband. (Ok, July and August are probably even hotter)

But the scenery? Totally worth the 6 a.m. wake up call.

This post was updated during the COVID-19 pandemic, so please recreate responsibly. Follow all CDC and local guidelines for traveling, and at the absolute bare minimum, bring and wear a mask properly (that means over your nose and your mouth). I would recommend skipping the inside of the Visitors Center during the pandemic to avoid indoor spaces with others.

How do I get there?

Colorado National Monument is in between Fruita and Grand Junction on the Western Slope of Colorado.

From Denver, it’s a four-hour drive across the state on I-70. If you’re coming all the way from Denver, I recommend camping at Saddlehorn the night before so you can get an early start. This obviously isn’t a day trip from Denver, and spending a night under the stars in Saddlehorn is a great road trip stop!

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Admission is $25, or included if you have an annual National Park Service pass (aka the America the Beautiful pass). You can pay by credit card or cash at either entrance. If you are entering the park before rangers are manning the entrances, please make sure to pay on your way out!

The hiking options covered in this guide are closer to the West Entrance outside of Fruita. If you spent the night in Grand Junction or Palisade, you can make it a day trip to Fruita by driving in the East Entrance, hiking along the way, and then getting breakfast or lunch in Fruita. My breakfast go-to is Best Slope Coffee, and lunch is a no-brainer. You have to stop at Hot Tomato Pizza!

Where do I go?

The most beginner-friendly option is taking several short hikes at different points around the monument. Each of these hikes are half a mile one-way (or less!), with only one involving any sort of descent/uphill hiking.

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Stop 1: Window Rock Nature Trail

Starting at the West Entrance, begin at the quarter-mile (one-way) Window Rock Nature Trail. You get incredible views of the monument and sweeping panoramas of the Grand Valley.

Stop 2: Visitors Center and Canyon Rim Trail

Next, hit up the visitors center (for gifts or for guidance). This is a great place to fill up your water bottles and make a pit stop at the bathrooms. The Canyon Rim Trail leaves from the back of the Visitors Center and follows the rim of the Monument.

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Stop 3: Otto’s Trail

Hop back in the car and drive to Otto’s Trail, which takes you out on one of the rock formation you can see from Canyon Rim. This trail also has incredible views at the end, but the overlook is a doozy if you’re afraid of heights. It’s completely safe, and in my opinion, totally worth pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

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View from Otto’s Trail

Stop 4: Upper Monument

Next stop is the Upper Monument Trail parking area. This trailhead will take you to the Coke’s Oven area. It looks like a straight line on the map but is actually pretty switchback-ey at first, descending pretty quickly into the canyon. You don’t get to the floor, and it flattens out after a few minutes.

Don’t panic, you won’t accidentally ending up on the super long trail that goes down to the bottom of the monument (I totally didn’t panic about that. TOTALLY). The trail is still manageable for beginners – the climb back up on your way out is short and very doable.

Coke’s Oven was also the best trail for viewing the monument’s most plentiful wildlife, the collared lizard. I couldn’t get any good photos of them, but they were everywhere! In a cool way, not in a make-your-skin-crawl kind of way. And this is coming from someone with a pretty big reptile phobia.

Stop 5: Ute Canyon Overlook

Those four trails took Billy and I about an hour and a half. If you have one more scenic view in you, stop at the Ute Canyon Overlook on your way back to the East Entrance. (Or, if you’re starting at the East Entrance, stop here first!)

The views are incredible, and just a short walk from the car (you can almost see the overlook from where you park).

One of the views from the Ute Canyon Overlook, featuring my dad!

What are the trails like?

Each of these trails is no more than a half-mile in length (one-way). With the exception of the Coke’s Oven trail, they’re all also completely flat. You can see the Coke Ovens from the Overlook just west of the Upper Monument Trail parking area if you don’t want to do any hills.

The trails aren’t paved, but they aren’t rocky either. You either hike along fairly even dirt, or on smooth rock (like in the above picture from the Ute Canyon Overlook). The Canyon Rim Trail at the Visitors Center is the only one that’s tricky to follow. Since everything is the same color in the desert, it’s not always super obvious where the trail is. Keep an eye out for a slightly more worn path. Luckily, you’re always between the canyon rim and the road, so it’s not nearly impossible to get lost.

What should I wear and bring?

Above all else, sun protection and water. There is no shade anywhere and it is extremely dry (you’re in the desert, after all!). Here is what I bring every hike >>

If you have them, binoculars are also a great companion. There is a ton of bird life in the Monument, plus binoculars can help you explore the rock formations from afar.

Is it crowded?

Not particularly. Colorado National Monument is still a hidden gem, so you won’t have to contend with many crowds (especially compared to Front Range trails near Denver).

Anything else I should know?

We visited for the first time in June, which in retrospect was not the best time of year. The highs were in the upper 90s, so we were on the trail by 6:30 a.m. It turned out we not only needed to beat the heat, but also the insects. The early wake-up call was totally worth it – by 8:30 a.m. it was blazing and the bugs were out in force!

Spring or fall are much more mild times to visit. I’ve since been back to the Monument in April, which I think is the best time to go. You get a little break from the chilly winter! Fall would also be a lovely mild reprieve before winter really sets in!

In both shoulder seasons (fall and spring), snow is a possibility on your drive from Denver. You have to drive through the Eisenhower Tunnel as well as over Vail Pass. Check the weather across the state before you leave. It can be snowing on one part of your drive and perfectly sunny on another!

If you’re looking to spend more time in the Grand Valley, Palisade has wineries, vineyards, and of course, peach orchards (the best time of year for peaches is the hottest, though). Grand Junction’s Main Street is very cute and Fruita is a renowned mountain biking destination. The Colorado River meanders through the entire valley, making it a prime spot for beginner-friendly, laid-back rafting as well!

Beginner’s guide to saving money on outdoor gear

Outdoor gear is effing expensive. There’s almost no getting around it. Well, almost. Fear not, my fellow sticker-shocked outdoors beginners – there are ways to save some cash while gearing up.

First, a word on getting ALL THE STUFF

If you want to go on a hike for a few hours, you do need to be prepared. You do not need Fancy Shmancy Gear. Do your homework on what the trail is like, bring some water, don’t wear flipflops, be careful. But other than that, you probably already have everything you need to go hiking. I hike with my normal, non-hiking backpack all the time. I wear cotton tshirts hiking and it doesn’t kill me.

There are other outdoor activities where it’s a little harder to get by without gear, like camping. So if you’ve decided you do need some gear, but don’t want to break the bank, you have options besides buying everything new (obviously the most expensive way to do it).

Deciding when to splurge and when to save

Always *try* the cheaper brand. More generic brands like REI’s Co-op brand continue to get better and better, and REI most often has sales and coupons for its own brand. I have their knock-off of the Patagonia Nanopuff and see no difference between it and my husband’s actual Patagonia. My running shirts from Target are my favorite ones, and I paid $12 for each of them.

Decide what features are non-negotiable to you. Patagonia and SmartWool will always have cooler colors and designs and more features. There will always be a fancier model. But if you aren’t camping in extreme conditions, or doing a higher-risk activity like rock climbing, you can probably get by with a less expensive brand.

One argument for a name brand is that they can last longer, so they can become more cost effective over time.

For example, Darn Tough socks are double the price of REI’s brand. But I wear them all the time, and after six years of use they are still in excellent condition, so I haven’t bought hiking socks in six years. On the other hand, my husband went for the way-cheaper REI sleeping pad for an upcoming backpacking trip because he’s just dipping his toe in the backpacking waters.

If you’ve tried the less expensive brand and it doesn’t fit as well, doesn’t have features you’ve decided are non-negotiable, or if reviews clearly show it’s not as long-lasting, it can be time to splurge. And, if you’re in time crunch and can’t wait for a sale, you may have to pony up.

BUT if you can play the long game, you may not have to pay full price.

Buy last year’s model

Trail running shoes are a splurge for me. I have found the ones I like, and I only run in those (Brooks Cascadia if you’re curious). I bought a pair for full price at the beginning of the year, but I also know that I will only run in these shoes for the foreseeable future. So I check for sales regularly.

Low and behold, Brooks has come out with the Cascadia 15 and is now dumping all the 14s. I love the 14s, so I kept watching the price until I saw them at REI for 50% off this month. I don’t need another pair yet, but it’s rare to find this good of a deal, so I snag them and they can live in my basement until I need them. (I personally haven’t experience a degradation in materials like some shoe snobs claim happens over time.)

Wait for sales and discounts

I know everyone needs another email newsletter like they need a hole in the head, but it’s a great way to get free shipping and first dibs on sales items.

Retroactive price checks

Even if you’ve already bought your item, keep an eye on what goes on sale. If something you bought goes on sales within 14 days, you can get a refund at REI for the price difference. I’ve retroactively saved between 20-30% on items I paid full price for just by flipping through the sale catalog that came to my house. Other brands may have similar policies.

Online flash sales

For those of you that have a penchant for flash deals, I highly recommend you check out Steep and Cheap. It’s a flash sale site specifically for outdoor gear. Unlike many mainstream flash sale sites (I’m looking at you, Zulily), you can return any product you get on Steep and Cheap within 30 days, no questions asked.

Places that aren’t REI

Backcountry is an online site that has full price gear, but also has great sales. They also have a pretty robust influencer marketing program, so almost any ~outdoor influencer~ on Instagram will have a discount code for your first purchase (my personal favorites are @themirnavator and @carolinegliech).

MooseJaw is another online option with killer sales.

Buy second-hand or used gear

This option has the added benefit of being earth-friendly since you are recycling and reusing gear! It’s most helpful if you know exactly what you’re looking for, otherwise it can get a little overwhelming to peruse shops and online forums.

Local shops

Obviously, right now it’s harder to shop in person thanks to coronavirus. There’s a local shop in Denver called Wilderness Exchange that I highly recommend for normal times (I’m personally not comfortable shopping indoors yet, so I can’t in good faith tell you to do that).

A quick Google search can tell you whether you have a used gear shop near you, and many shops have pivoted to online sales to make it through coronavirus.

Navigating the Interwebs

The Internet has made it infinitely easier to find used gear. Poshmark (for clothes), Facebook, and good ol’ Ebay and Craigs List can be treasure troves of used gear.

Facebook Groups and Marketplace

Groups such as Patagonia B/S/T on Facebook are helpful to peruse regularly even if you don’t have your eye on something specific. You can also search the group for an item you want. I bought a hat there for Baby OB that was in great condition and was half price!

I also see posts all the time for giveaways/used gear in my local moms group and the huge trail running women group I’m part of. You can also find new gear at a discount. A lot of people would rather resell something online then deal with the rigamarole of returns. I don’t personally understand this, but I will happily benefit from it. Don’t forget to search Facebook Marketplace, too!

Instagram Consignment

I also recently found @isellaoutdoor consigment on Instagram. Isella is specifically working to combat this toxic culture of “have all the nicest best new things or get made fun of,” which I LOVE. They are based in Washington state but will ship anywhere in the U.S. All buyers and sellers are welcome!

REI Used Gear

REI recently created a used gear site where you can find second-hand camping and hiking gear, along with clothes and shoes. By the time you add shipping, sometimes the deals aren’t all that great compared to what you can get a new item on sale for. But if buying secondhand is really important to you values-wise, this is another option.

Kids Gear

WildKind is a new, membership-based website for information about getting outside with kids. I think their $70/year membership is fairly priced for the library of information you get, but you also get discount codes for gear. WildKind also offers scholarships for free memberships if you’re unable to pay for one.

They also are launching WildKind closet, which is a free gear loaner library. Outdoor Beginners with kiddos can find out more here.

Is an REI Membership worth it?

If you’re already shopping a lot at REI, it can be worth it to become a member. It’s $20 for your lifetime, and you do make that back very easily in your annual dividend.

However, there are a lot of exemptions, so I don’t think it’s quite as necessary as I used to. For example, you don’t earn a dividend for anything on sale. And I buy 90% of my stuff on sale, so in the last few years my dividend has been less than $10. There’s also exemptions for a lot of expensive items, so my splurges (like a running stroller and a new North Face jacket) didn’t count toward the dividend either.

That said, you get more codes for sales as a member, so it probably evens out.

You also get discounts on gear rentals, ski and bike repair, and REI trips and training classes. The benefit of this also depends on your local resources. In Denver, there are tons of local shops with gear rentals often half the price of REI (or at least cheaper than the member discount). That hasn’t been the case with bike repairs and cleaning, so I have benefited from that discount.

One member-specific benefit is the REI Garage Sale, which is currently suspended due to COVID-19.

But for normal times, everything at the garage sale has been used and returned, so it’s all heavily discounted. The key is going with specific items in mind and getting there early. The sale is just a giant room of stuff that’s loosely organized by category, so it’s easy to get distracted or overwhelmed. However, this is an investment in your time that you may just not be able (or willing) to make.

How to get cash back on full-price purchases

If you’re going to be paying full price, consider an Active Junky account, which is a free way to earn cash back on your purchase. They have hundreds of partners, including Cabela’s, REI, Nike, and a bunch of other big brands. The percentage you get back varies with the brand, but since it’s completely free there’s no reason not to try it out. There are no hidden fees and it’s free forever!

The Bottom Line

Even generic brands aren’t all that cheap. Outdoor gear involves an investment, but fortunately more options are emerging for used and loaner gear. Even if you aren’t investing as much money, time is involved in watching for deals and discounts. There’s no way around it.

Get out there in what you have. You can wear jeans hiking if you want to. You can wear whatever you have in your closet for just a few hours (or less), no matter what Instagram says. Rent what you don’t have instead of buying everything new. Just get out there and try it!

Beginner’s Trail Guide: Easy Trails in Leadville, Colorado

Leadville, Colorado is an awesome escape from the summer heat. But 10,000 feet of elevation makes hiking and trail running a LOT more difficult, particularly if you’re trudging up the side of a mountain. I used to think the only beginner-friendly options were simply running around town (which is honestly still quite hilly). That is, until I got some local insight (thanks @scoutycowdog!).

The Interlaken trail and Turquoise Lake trail are both lovely, rolling trails with beautiful lake and mountain views. Both are popular for this reason, but if you leave early or head out on a weekday, you’ll have a great beginner-friendly hike or trail run! I spent about two hours hiking each trail, one with an 18-pound baby in a backpack, and covered between four and five miles fairly easily (my legs were tired afterward but the hikes themselves were manageable!).

This blog was originally written in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Please follow local and CDC travel and safety guidelines to be respectful and stay safe. At the bare minimum, bring and properly wear a mask!

Are Interlaken and Turquoise Lake basically the same hike?

Yes and no. Both are (relatively) flat trails along a lake that is bordered by stunning mountains. They are both out-and-back trails, meaning you walk to a certain point and then turn around and come back the same way. Turquoise Lake is technically a loop, but it’s more than 10 miles around, so I assume if you’re reading this beginner-friendly blog you’re not doing the entire loop!

There are differences between the two trails, though, which is why I enjoyed doing both of them.

Views of Turquoise Lake from the Turquoise Lake Nature Trail

Turquoise Lake is almost totally flat. There is slightly easier beach access. It’s basically right in town. You will see more people because the trail goes along some campgrounds and crosses the parking lot for the boat ramp. The road to get there is significantly easier to drive on. This hike is pick-your-own length. Just walk as far as you want to go and then turn around!

Views of Twin Lakes from the Interlaken Trail outside of Leadville and Buena Vista, CO

Interlaken is 20 minutes outside of Leadville. It’s hillier. The access road requires a higher-clearance vehicle (our Forester was fine). There’s a very cool historic site that you hike to (the old Interlaken resort). And just beyond that is a meadow with absolutely stunning views of the surrounding peaks. If you walk to this meadow and back, it’s just under five miles. It took us just over two hours.

Both are fantastic options for beginner hiking or trail running, so if you have the time, why not do both?!

How do I get there?

Turquoise Lake can be accessed from multiple points around town. We drove to the south end where Matchless Boat Ramp is, which was a 12-minute drive from in town. The road is paved the entire way and very easy to drive on. If there are parking spots available along Route 9C, you can park there to access the trail. If you’re leaving from the boat ramp, head to the north side (to the right if you’re facing the lake) and you’ll see the trail heading out from that end of the parking lot.

The Interlaken trailhead is just outside of town in Twin Lakes. It’s a 20-minute drive on paved, flat roads until the last half-mile when you get off of the main road into Twin Lakes. The road gets very hilly and rocky, and I wouldn’t recommend driving it in a car with low clearance. Alternatively, you can add a half-mile onto your hike and park in the lot on Route 25, which is easily accessible by any car (but still requires driving a short distance on a dirt road).

Where do I go?

Turquoise Lake has just one trail that goes around the lake, so it’s not hard to find or stay on. Because of all the beach access, there are a lot of meandering social trails down to the shore, but they all hook back up to the main nature trail.

The only point that was truly confusing was when there was actually a sign for the trail near the campgrounds. It pointed away from the lake but said that the nature trail continued that way. We walked a short ways in that direction before realizing it was definitely the wrong way. Maybe it led back to one of the campgrounds? Regardless, when in doubt, stick close to the lake and you can’t go wrong.

Interlaken runs along the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, so there are a few intersections along the way. There’s only one way to go from the parking lot, so getting started is easy. There are a few forks for the Colorado Trail or CDT, but stay to the right and you’ll be headed the right direction. This is also considered the Collegiate Peaks East segment, so follow signs for that when they pop up.

Make sure to keep walking past the first historical building you see. This is the Dexter Cabin; I thought it was the actual hotel and was ready to turn around. Not only is the second site where the Interlaken Hotel is very cool, but if you walk just past that, you hit a meadow with absolutely spectacular views (see the image at the beginning of this blog post). Don’t turn around early and miss it!

What is the trail like?

Both trails are a few feet wide, dirt paths with rocks and roots.

Turquoise Lake has almost zero rocks and very little elevation change. There is one very small hill just south of the boat ramp, and one or two spots with some roots sticking out. There were two downed trees across the path as of August 2020. One that you had to limbo under and the other that you had to step over. Both were manageable, although I had a baby in a backpack on, so limbo-ing required some guidance from my husband and liberal use of my hiking poles to stay upright!

The steepest hill on the Interlaken Trail in Twin Lakes, CO

Interlaken has three hills that are steep but short. Even if you take a lot of breaks, they wouldn’t take more than 3-5 minutes to get up. You’ll be hiking up them on your way back, so you’ll be going downhill on the way out. The hills are the rockiest parts, and otherwise the trail is quite smooth. There are a few points where one side of the trail steeply drops off and slopes down into the reservoir, but the likelihood of you tripping, falling, and tumbling down the hill is slim to none.

What should I wear and bring?

Plenty of water! You’re at 10,000 feet, so it’s very very easy to get dehydrated or forget to drink enough water. I would define “plenty” as one liter per person.

I also recommend a hat, sunglasses, and liberally applied sunscreen. The sun doesn’t mess around at 10,000 feet! You’ll burn faster than you would at lower elevation. Find safer sunscreen on this website. I like this sunscreen from Thinkbaby (for adults and kids). If you have darker skin, it does leave a pretty significant cast, but I have heard good things about Black Girl Sunscreen.

Also, because we’re in COVID-19 times, bring and properly wear a mask! That means over your mouth AND your nose. It’s easiest to wear a Buff or other neck gaiter and just pull it up or down as you run into people. We forgot those and wore regular fabric masks, which were a little less convenient to take on and off a bunch, but of course worth it!

These are both popular trails and you WILL run into other people. You definitely will not always be able to get six feet apart to pass, so wearing a mask is critical. Try not to touch any of the signs/plaques along the way, and if you do, hand sanitize!

I wore trail running shoes for both of these hikes, which was perfectly adequate. You can of course wear hiking boots if you have them! If you don’t have trail shoes, just regular sneakers will do but be careful going downhill since you have a little less traction. At no point will you be getting your feet wet, so don’t worry about that.

For more information on what you should bring hiking no matter what trail you’re on, read my previous post here.

Is it crowded?

Busy, yes. Crowded, no. (Particularly if you are from Denver and judging based on those trails)

You will definitely see other people and you won’t be by yourself. The later in the day you go, the busier it gets. When we hiked Interlaken, the mountain bike traffic also picked up significantly around 10:30 am. We started both trails around 9 am and enjoyed nice, cool weather, and very little company.

Anything else I should know?

Neither trailheads have maps at them, so an app like AllTrails can be useful in keeping track of where to go. I have T-Mobile and had service the entire time on both hikes, so you should be able to refer to any map on your phone while you’re out there.

There’s a bathroom at the boat ramp of Turquoise Lake. I didn’t see a bathroom when we were at Interlaken. There are campgrounds near by, so I’m sure you could find one in the general vicinity before or after your hike, but be prepared to pee in the woods if you need to! For my fellow ladies, this requires being okay with getting some pee on your heels (unless you can find a tree to hang onto while you lean back and squat!).

If you want to make a day of it in Twin Lakes (where Interlaken is), drive into the very small town of Twin Lakes after your hike and stop at Punky’s Food Truck for BBQ. Don’t miss the curly fries!!

We didn’t see any wildlife while we were out, but being Bear Aware is always a must in Colorado. There are also people backpacking throughout the Colorado and Continental Divide trails, so if you stumble upon anyone’s campsite, be respectful!

Beginner’s guide to your first road trip with a baby

This post was originally written before the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. It was updated when we traveled locally in our state, taking every precaution we could. Please travel and recreate responsibly based on your local area’s restrictions as well as guidelines for your destination. This website is a great resource.

By the time Baby OB was two months old, I was getting stir crazy. But jumping in the car when a newborn seemed intimidating. Fortunately, my husband was game to jump in and just try it. Since that first trip, we’ve driven across the country (thanks COVID) and gone on a camper van trip around Colorado. Here are my tips and tricks for getting on the road with baby in tow.

Route planning

First, decide how far you want to go. This depends a LOT on your baby’s sleep and feeding schedule, plus your tolerance for turning around and going home if thing turns into a sh*tshow (literal or figurative). Always give yourself some buffer time for how long you will actually be in the car.

At two months old, Baby OB could care less where or when they slept, so it made the road trip pretty smooth even though we ended up driving almost double our planned amount on the first night.

But by seven months old (our second road trip), Baby OB was adamant about not being in the car close to bed time. We left Denver hours after our goal departure time thanks to some rental van snafus, so we were still cruising down the highway an hour from the campground when the screaming started. Fortunately, my husband getting in the backseat worked out. Make sure this is an option for you too! In our regular car, we do have to shuffle things around a bit to fit in the backseat, but in a campervan we could just pop into the backseat without even stopping!

First of all, be okay with breaking your routine/schedule because it will likely all go down the toilet. The first trip, we left home right around bedtime and tried to get back home by bedtime. It went pretty smoothly, but that could’ve been luck and certainly was helped by the fact Baby OB loved sleeping in the car at the time.

What time to leave

For our first trip, we left in the evening, but before Baby OB’s bedtime (8:30 pm at the time). They were car-sleeping champs, plus we couldn’t leave any earlier because my husband had worked that day. Baby OB slept in the car for hours and it was actually really nice time for my husband and I to catch up!

For the second trip, this was not going to fly. Baby OB had recently decided that being in the car past 5 pm was reason for a major meltdown. We aimed to leave between their two naps, around mid-day. We ended up leaving WAY late and were still in the car at 5 pm. This meant my husband was climbing into the back of the van to entertain Baby OB until we got to the campground. He was pretty wiped out at the end, because it was basically nonstop singing/clapping/toy swapping.

If you have an older baby, I would recommend trying to leave between the two naps. Unless your baby can sleep in the car well, it’s not worth trying to nap or do bedtime on the road!

Where and how does baby sleep?

Naptime

I’m going to say it again. This is not the time for schedules/keeping to your normal routine. You can certainly endeavor to stick to them as closely as possible, but at least for us, it was less stressful to just go with the flow and feed/put down for naps based on Baby OB’s cues.

At two months old, naptime looked like Baby OB sleeping in the carrier and car all day, and that was okay with us. They had almost no routine or schedule anyways.

At six months old, this looked like a morning (short) nap in the backpack while we hiked and then a normal length nap at some point in the afternoon when they started yawning.

Bedtime

Our second trip, Baby OB was up two hours past their normal bedtime and still rocking on the day we left. Naturally they did not sleep in two hours the next morning, but a couple days in and they were back on schedule (for bed time at least).

I will also acknowledge that this isn’t easy. The first trip, I had a really hard time breaking from the routine we had started to build because I was worried about being a bad parent/not giving Baby OB what they needed. From what I hear, that never really goes away, but this was really good practice in following Baby OB’s cues instead of worrying about all the “what ifs” without even trying. It was hard, but good.

Ok, so where do you put them at bedtime?

We don’t co-sleep, and haven’t attempted co-sleeping while camping or road tripping. No judgment if you do, but just a head’s up that these suggestions don’t include co-sleeping!

If you’re staying in a hotel

Our first trip was only one night in a hotel, so we just brought all of our normal stuff with us since we had room in the car. During the day, all the naps were happening either in the car seat or the carrier because this was possible for us at two months old.

We don’t use a travel crib/bassinet, we just have an all-in-one that I love. The Guava Lotus Crib + Bassinet packs down into a backpack, is super light, and takes about five minutes to break down or set up.

I am well aware that the $300 price tag looks steep, but we sprang for it because that’s the only bed we’re using. We don’t have a separate bassinet, crib, or pack n play. The Guava does all of those things!

We set up the Guava in the far corner of the hotel room, plugged in the white noise machine we use, and that was it…except that Baby OB is a SUPER noisy sleeper. My husband and I had already kicked them out of our room at home, so having to go back to sharing a room resulted in very little sleep for both of us.

In retrospect, I might’ve put the white noise machine right next to us instead of right next to the bassinet so that we could’ve drowned out his snoring a little better. I also would’ve packed ear plugs!

If you’re camping

We’ve yet to pilot sleeping in a tent, but I can give you some advice for a campervan that could translate to a tent if yours is big enough (our tent is not, which is why we haven’t tried it!).

Baby OB spent five days sleeping in a Kidco Peapod, however on the last day of our trip I found the tag that said this product is not supposed to be used for children under one year. So use at your own risk!

A week before we left, we started putting Baby OB in the Peapod for naps, bedtime, and then ultimately every time they slept. In my mind, this made sure it wouldn’t be a big shock when we pulled out the Peapod away from home.

The Peapod lived on the floor of the van in front of our bed, so once again we were all sleeping in the same room. Fortunately, Baby OB was quieter overnight by this age (eight months). Unfortunately, we didn’t realize how early they actually woke up. At home, we don’t hear them until 7 am. Apparently they actually wake up at 6 and just babble until then! We had a lot of early mornings camping.

We put up blinds all around the van to help keep it dark (they went to bed more than an hour before sunset). By the time we were going to bed, Baby OB was so zonked they didn’t even hear us come in the back of the van (or noisily shut the door).

I was very worried about Baby OB just *not* going to sleep. I was prepared to pull out all the stops that we don’t at home – rocking to sleep, nursing to sleep, holding him, singing forever, whatever it took! Fortunately it didn’t come to that, and there was only one night that he took a little longer to settle down.

Both trips it only took 1-2 days at home for them to catch up on sleep and be back in their normal routine.

How to navigate eating

There isn’t a convenient way to feed an infant because they are ALWAYS eating (or at least it feels that way). Feeding on the road was all over the place and on-demand, which was outside our normal routine too.

For both trips, breastfeeding was still working for me, so we decided to not bring any bottles or my pump to cut down on how much stuff we had.

I mostly nursed Baby OB in the car or van. I personally find it easier to wedge an elbow on the door handle or car seat to help support them instead of having them just in my lap in a restaurant. If you’re feeding in a restaurant, though, make sure to ask for or snag a booth for more privacy (if you want it). I wasn’t a fan of whipping out my boob in the middle of this one very small, open coffee shop, but then managed to sneak into a booth. No one even noticed!

Note: our first road trip happened before the coronavirus became a pandemic in the United States. If you are reading this during the coronavirus outbreak, I do not recommend eating in restaurants even if they are open and particularly if you have traveled there from a different community.

For the first road trip, I packed the Boppy. I only used it once or twice, and it ended up being more of a pain in the car then I thought it would be. I would skip it!

Even with the Boppy, there were times that Baby OB wasn’t totally comfortable. During our first road trip, they definitely didn’t eat as much as normal. But by the night we came back, they just had a big meal before bed and then were totally fine. Plus, the only way to get them comfortable eating on the go is…eating on the go. By the time we went out at eight months, eating on the go was pretty easy for them.

I’ve quit breastfeeding ahead of our next trip, and I realize that my initial concerns about formulas and bottles being in convenient was totally unfounded. It’ll be easy to pack one bottle and make that work all day, plus the formula container doesn’t take up much space. Just bring lots of potable water!

If your baby has started on solids, I personally have found that making food ahead of time has been more convenient. We brought four mason jars of homemade baby food for a five-day trip. We kept them in a cooler the entire time and it ended up being way less messy than pouch purees, plus it was more cost-effective. I was also pleasantly surprised that it didn’t take more than 30 minutes to blend up a bunch of stuff at home and pack it.

I would’ve loved to have a travel high chair once Baby OB was eating solids. This could’ve also been a useful place to park him, which we didn’t really have in the campervan since he kept rolling and bonking his head on the hard walls of the van.

The Ciao Baby chair a friend handed down to us didn’t really work unfortunately. Baby OB was always slumped over in it, and getting their chunky legs in and out of the poorly placed (in my opinion) straps resulted in so many curse words at home that I never even brought it on the road with us. I want to try this one next road trip.

How to navigate rest stops

Depending on how long your drive is, and your baby’s personality, they may want a break. After spending all day in the carrier or the car seat, Baby OB got very sick of being in the car seat during dinner (before coronavirus). I finished eating first, so I just held him in my lap while my husband finished up and that was fortunately all he needed.

All that time in the car seat did end up irritating Baby OB’s sensitive skin, though. We didn’t know they had ezcema before we left, but we certainly did by the time we got home! Our pediatrician prescribed some steroid cream that cleared it up.

We didn’t pick noisy restaurants (before coronavirus) on purpose, but it ended up helping a LOT because no one notices a crying baby in an already noisy restaurant.

In the coronavirus world, we’ve made the most of town parks and other outdoor places to stop. Bring a picnic blanket with you to make sure you’ve got somewhere to set them down! When we drove to Illinois (7 hour days in the car), just 15-30 minutes of tummy time/sitting time in a park would rejuvenate Baby OB for several hours!

But what are they supposed to do for all that time in the car?

At two months old, Baby OB wasn’t super interested in toys and pretty much just slept any time they were in the car. We decided to throw the sleep schedule out the window for the two days we were gone, and it worked out totally fine for us. I like to think it was helpful in making Baby OB a bit more flexible!

When Baby OB was less than two months old, having one of us in the back wasn’t helpful at all. It didn’t do anything to stop the crying, so we decided on that road trip to both stay up front.

Now that they’re older, though, one of us usually ends up getting in the back at some point, even if it’s just to keep them company! We bring 6-8 toys (I especially love this Bug Jug since you can fit lots of toys inside it), 2-3 books, and reserve teething biscuits for a special car treat.

It’s not going to be easy, but it is going to be worth it! Drink lots of coffee and enjoy the immeasurable happiness that comes from the good moments. Take a deep breath in the bad moments.

What to pack

Clothing

  • Double the clothes you think you will need (in case of poosplosion) and plenty of layers.
  • Our first road trip was an overnight in February in Colorado, so I brought:
    • 4 onesies (long sleeve with covered feet) – these were their base layer for every outfit
    • 2 hoodies
    • 2 pairs of pants, to layer on top of onesies with the hoodies as needed
    • 2 pairs of slippers (we use these instead of socks)
    • Beanie/warm hat
  • Our second road trip was five nights in July in Colorado, and poosplosions were no longer a problem, so I brought:
    • Four light-weight, long-sleeve, footed onesies
    • Two short-sleeve bodysuits
    • One sweatshirt
    • One pair of sweatpants
    • Warm hat, slippers, and fleece bunting for the cold mornings

Bedtime

  • Bed + fitted sheet that smells like home OR Peapod
  • White noise machine (ours is a plug-in, so we left this at home for camping)
  • Sleep sack (fleece for night and sleeveless for daytime if you’re camping)

Eating

  • 4 mason jars of homemade baby food
  • Bib and baby spoon
  • 1 box of teething biscuits for driving (if your baby is old enough)
  • 1-2 bottles (if you’re using them, I would only attempt this for formula)
    • Bring a travel size dish soap and some extra potable water to rinse out
  • Travel high chair

Supplies + Gear

  • Diapers and wipes
  • Portable changing pad
  • 2 burp cloths
  • 1 muslin blanket (use for extra layer, wiping drool, shielding from the sun, etc)
  • Baby carrier (we brought a stroller frame just in case but it would’ve been a major pain everywhere we stopped and we never used it)
  • For hiking, we brought:
    • Thule hiking backpack, but you can also just use a carrier!
    • Baby sunscreen
    • Mosquito net for the backpack/carrier

First Aid

  • Baby Tylenol
  • Snot sucker/Nose Frida
  • Lotion
  • Cortisol ointment for any random rashes
  • Thermometer

Related Posts

What to bring trail running when you’re just starting out

I had a complex for a long time that I wasn’t running far enough to justify packing a backpack when I went trail running. Eventually, I realized I was getting really thirsty and hungry and I just stopped caring. If you find yourself wanting to bring a hydration vest or pack along with you, don’t be shy! Here are some beginner tips for what to bring with you.

The basics

Bring your phone. Even if you don’t take it out at all for pictures and running is your time to unplug, bring your phone with you so you can get help if you need it.

I would not recommend bringing headphones. I know there are companies out there that say you can still be aware of your surroundings with their specially designed headphones, but honestly if you’re trail running, I don’t think you should be wearing headphones.

You aren’t the only other person out on a trail, and a mountain biker or other trail user might need to get by you. You don’t want to startle any equestrians, either. Also, even though you’re unlikely to have a wildlife encounter, you should be aware of what’s going on around you just in case. You can’t do that with headphones in.

Bring your id and health insurance card. In case something happens to you and you need medical assistance. If you have any health conditions that medical professionals need to know about in an emergency, make sure that’s also stored with your insurance card and id (or wear a bracelet with the information on it).

First aid

Pack a few simple first aid supplies, even if you’re not going very far. It can be really handy to have things in a pinch (especially if that pinch is poop-related). I just pack a couple of each things (1-2 doses, a handful of Band-Aids, etc) and put it all in a little Ziploc bag.

  • Benadryl (Billy found out the hard way he was allergic to something in a park we ran in. This was a lifesaver for making it back to the car!)
  • Immodium or Tums/ginger pills/digestion aid of choice
  • Band-Aids
  • Antiseptic wipes

I also bring a little travel-size hand sanitizer since most bathrooms at trailheads don’t have running water and soap. Also helpful if you’re eating gels and you get them on your hands – those bad boys are sticky!

Water and electrolytes

It can be a tricky balance between packing plenty of water and then having to cart around said water. Water is heavy, but I recommend over-packing the first few times until you can dial in how much you’ll need.

I’m not a nutrition expert by any means, so I Googled how much water you “should” bring. Most guidelines I found online for water and food were based on mileage, but when you’re first starting out it can take you a lot longer to do “only a few” miles. Pack your water based on how long you’ll be out and your own level of thirst.

Depending on your pack, you may have space for a reservoir in the back or water bottles up front on your chest. It’s personal preference which way you pack your water. If you do bring bottles, or if you have an extra bottle, it can be nice to fill one with electrolytes if you’re sweating a lot or going to be out for an hour or more.

My first few trail runs on my own were on a 3.8-mile loop that took me about 45 minutes. I get really really thirsty, so I always packed a half-liter of water. When I was training for a half marathon and my long road runs were about an hour or longer, I started packing electrolytes and it made a big difference in how fatigued I felt. I got this small 250mL soft bottle since I didn’t need *that* much.

Food and snacks

Have a little something with you in case you have a tough day and are out longer than you thought you would be. Again, I am not a nutrition or medical professional, but I never leave home with out some sort of sustenance.

My go-to is Clif Shot Bloks (without caffeine). I always make sure to have at least half a sleeve with me. If I’m out for less than an hour, I typically don’t need to eat anything, but listen to your body! There’s no shame in packing plenty of snacks.

Gels are easy to digest, which is why they are very popular. But be prepared for trial and error with flavors and brands. I discovered the hard way that I can only tolerate citrus flavors with minimal or no caffeine, and I stuck with Clif because they were cheaper than other brands.

You can also bring normal human food with you. Fig Newtons, applesauce, and PB&J sandwiches are all great options (you could also just keep these back in the car). I’ve also heard of people packing baby food/purees. I haven’t personally tried this, but Billy did get some purees that weren’t much different from applesauce and he liked them. Baby food is weirdly expensive, though, so keep that in mind.

Eating while running is unfortunately one giant experiment to find out what works the best for you. It took me five or six times of running more than an hour to figure out what wouldn’t give me a terrible stomachache (or what wasn’t enough to fill my stomach). Try running snacks, try regular food, and find out what you like! Personally, the running snacks are a fun treat that make me look forward to running. You don’t always need a scientific reason to do one or the other!

Other equipment

Depending on the terrain and time of year, you may want to bring microspikes or another traction option. Obviously, these cost money, so I consider them an optional upgrade (aka great Christmas gift) to help you get outside year-round.

The trail running world tends to debate over whether using hiking poles makes you a “real” runner or not. Some people hate them, some people love them. They are also expensive, so I don’t consider them required equipment either.

Poles make hills easier, but are another thing to tote around, so it also depends on how much stuff you want to bring with you. I like having them for longer runs, especially as a beginner on very hilly Colorado trails. But I was also doing just fine before I got them for Christmas!

I also like to bring an extra layer with me (or leave room to stash one) during fall/spring/winter when the temperature can fluctuate wildly. Throwing a pair of gloves into your pack is never a bad idea if you’re on the fence!

The bottom line

Pack based on how long you think you’ll be out (worst case scenario), not how many miles you’re running. Overpack at first while you figure out how much you need. Experiment with what your stomach likes. Don’t forget a few Band-Aids.

And as always, have fun!

Denver Beginner Running Guide: Wash Park, Cheesman Park, and City Park loops

Denver has no shortage of amazing running routes, mostly thanks to the ginormous parks around the city.

Washington Park (Wash Park to locals), Cheesman Park, and City Park are three of the most popular running destinations in Denver. Each has a crushed gravel path that’s great for running in addition to paved paths and loops of varying distance. All are beginner-friendly, but each have their own pros and cons. Keep scrolling to pick the one for you!

Cheesman Park

Location: Capitol Hill, between 13th and 8th (north/south) and Humboldt and Race (west/east).

Distance of Gravel Loop: 1.43 miles

Bathrooms: Port-o-potties in the southwest corner and by the pavilion (looks like the Lincoln Memorial) during winter; additional port-o-potties during the summer on the western side of the park along the paved path. Bring hand sanitizer!

Water: No public water fountains (that I’ve found).

If you want to run to Cheesman, you’ll be running uphill there and downhill on the way back no matter what direction you’re coming from. If you’re starting your run at the park, the east side is the high point (the side next to the Botanic Garden with the by the Lincoln Memorial-looking pavilion).

It’s also uphill in both directions around the park. I recommend running counter-clockwise (when you’re looking at the park on a map) because it’s slightly easier. In my experience, running clockwise felt like a longer, steeper uphill (and running counter-clockwise lets you cruise down that instead).

You’re treated to mountain views at the high point in the park as well as views into the Botanic Garden. This is especially cool during the holiday season when they have the Blossoms of Light displays lit up after sunset. You get to run through a grove of massive pine trees, which my husband and I love so much we chose it for our wedding and maternity photos (two separate occasions, to clarify how much we like it).

Cheesman Park’s biggest perk is that it has no bodies of water. Hear me out, I know how pretty lakes are. But lakes bring geese. And geese bring poop. Plus I’m kind of scared of them. At Cheesman, there’s no poop and no birds. It’s great.

Cheesman is also very easy to find your way around if you take the gravel exterior loop (1.4 miles). There is only one way to go if you follow the gravel. The interior paved loops can be a little more confusing, but overall the park is small enough (the smallest of the three in this post) that you can easily figure out where you’re headed.

Occasionally, the city closes the park to car traffic, but don’t bank on being able to run on the road at Cheesman. The park has a lot of cars cutting through it as well as a bus route. Stick to the sidewalks and gravel path to be safe.

If you’re training for longer distances, combining Cheesman and City Parks will get you to 6.2 miles (a 10k). Combining Cheesman and Wash Park gets you to 8 miles. Distance assumes one lap around Cheesman at the beginning of the run.

City Park

Location: City Park is also the name of a neighborhood. The park itself is located between 17th and 23rd (north/south) and York and Colorado (west/east).

Distance of Gravel Loop: 3.1 miles

Bathrooms: Actual bathrooms at the pavilion in the middle of the park (may or may not be open year-round).

Water: Also found at the pavilion.

City Park’s Mile High Loop is a nice even 5k on a crushed gravel path. However, following the gravel path to get to that even 5k has been incredibly challenging for me. Even after years of running in the park, I still find myself on the wrong loop (there are tons of interior looping paths). Do your best to follow the very short concrete markers that say Mile High Loop.

For reference, I took this photo squatting on the ground.

It’s especially tricky to stay on course by the Museum of Nature and Science. Turn left off the sidewalk onto the gravel path before you reach the entrance of the museum. You should be running along the south side of the museum and end up at the back of it. You should also be running along the backside of the zoo, not the front.

The north side of the park is higher than the south side. I’ve run around the park in both directions and don’t find one more difficult then the other, but running north along either Colorado Boulevard or York Street will be uphill. The downside of City Park is having to run along those two segments since both roads have a ton of traffic. You can always make your own loop to avoid these once you’re more familiar with the park!

Parts of the interior road around the park allow cars. The road around the lake does not, but everywhere else is open to cars and there is a far amount of traffic cutting through the park. I stick to the gravel path for this reason.

In the summertime, be mindful of City Park Jazz (Sunday nights June-August). The park is completely packed, so make sure you’re out of there well before 6 pm on summer Sundays. If you’re looking for a post-run pick-me-up in the morning or afternoon, stop at Cafe Miriam just across from City Park’s entrance on York Street.

If you’re training for longer distances, combining Cheesman and City Parks will get you to 6.2 miles (a 10k). Distance assumes one lap around Cheesman at the beginning of the run.

Washington (Wash) Park

Location: Wash Park is also the name of a neighborhood. The park itself is located between Virginia and Louisiana (north/south) and Downing and Franklin (west/east).

Distance of Gravel Loop: 2.5 miles

Bathrooms: There’s a port-o-potty by the north entrance to the park outside of the Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado office. There’s also a port-o-potty between the boathouse and rec center that are in the middle of the park. If you have a Denver rec center membership, you can use the bathrooms at the Wash Park rec center.

Water: I’ve never stumbled upon public water fountains, but you should be able to find some at the rec center.

For some reason, Wash Park’s loop feels like the biggest to me even though it’s not. Like City Park, you get amazing mountain views on the east side of the park. Unlike City Park, the gravel loop is easy to follow and just goes around the perimeter of the park.

Wash Park also has the largest non-vehicle road, which can come in clutch in the winter time. You do have to share with bikes, rollerbladers, etc, but the loop is only .25 miles shorter and won’t be muddy. There is one short segment of the road by the rec center that does allow cars (so people can get to the rec center) but otherwise it’s really nice to have a totally car-free loop!

Wash Park does seem to attract the masses more than the other two. Cheesman and City Park certainly get busy, but for some reason I’ve always seen the most people at Wash Park on the weekends. There’s also seemingly always a 5k happening there, so be prepared to run into that on Saturday mornings year-round.

I’ve only run counter-clockwise around the park, and the entire loop is pretty flat. There’s a very slight incline on the southern end if you’re traveling east, but overall this park doesn’t have any big hills like Cheesman or sustained uphill like City Park.

If you’re training for longer distances, combining Cheesman and Wash Park gets you to 8 miles. Distance assumes one lap around Cheesman at the beginning of the run.

The bottom line

Cheesman is the hilliest, Wash Park is the busiest, and City Park is the biggest (and hardest to find your way around). All three are part of every Denverite’s running routes for good reason! Enjoy your run, and as always, let me know in the comments if I missed anything.

How to snowshoe with a baby

When getting out of the house to walk around the block feels complicated, getting back (or starting) outdoor adventures with a new baby can feel downright impossible. But I was determined to rip off the Band-Aid and figure out outdoorsy adventures with baby in tow.

Our Saturday snowshoe was a success, due in no small part to being incredibly lucky with no poo-splosions (we forgot a back-up outfit). A few things we did have control over also helped – keeping our expectations low, planning ahead, and going with the flow. Basically no different than the rest of parenthood!

Keeping baby warm

First and foremost, how the heck did we keep a two-month-old baby warm? Well, we picked a warm day. It was no accident we decided to go snowshoeing on a day that was sunny and 40. degrees! This was key for our first time out (for my anxiety and for ease of dressing Baby OB).

Just like adults, babies need a moisture-wicking baselayer. In case baby does actually manage to get too warm, you don’t want them to stay wet if they start sweating. Cotton stays wet and non-cotton/synthetic fabrics dry more quickly.

Where the heck do you find baby baselayers? Well, you can spring for some from Patagonia (they are 50% off as of 2/19/20!) or you can just put them in a onesie that isn’t cotton. Even with the “warm” weather of 40 degrees, I was still paranoid that Baby OB would get cold. I dressed them in a short-sleeved synthetic onesie (no legs) and then added a long-sleeved synthetic onesie that covered his legs.

Also just like adults, layers are key! For a middle layer, I added a sweater that my aunt knit for us. If you have a baby hoodie or really anything else that’s big enough to add on top of the onesie, just use that.

I used the beanie we got at the hospital and made sure tootsies stayed warm with these slippers (which we also already had and are 100 times easier than socks, so I highly recommend them).

The outermost layer we use is this fleece bear suit from Columbia (it’s the Tiny Bear II, on sale as of 2/19/20). It’s been our go-to for walks and other outdoorsy time this winter. Baby OB loves getting snuggled in it and it keeps them super warm. I use the hood on top of the beanie and/or sunhat to make sure they stay toasty. I didn’t get a puffy/water-resistant snowsuit (aka bunting) because we are far from them crawling around in the snow – and if it was precipitating, we wouldn’t have gone snowshoeing anyways.

While you’re out, make sure to check and make sure baby is staying warm. It’s easy for their hands and feet to get chilly, even if they’re covered up by multiple layers. I packed handwarmers to stuff in the carrier just in case, but on this particular day Baby OB was just fine with hands tucked inside the carrier.

Sun protection

This sun hat from Target has already been a huge help with the Colorado sun not blasting Baby OB in the eyes. I put it on over the beanie, but under the hood of the bear suit.

Target also has baby sunglasses, but I haven’t given those a try yet since Baby OB’s head is very tiny still.

How to carry baby

I use Beco’s Gemini soft carrier all of the time – running errands, neighborhood walks, wherever taking a stroller would be a pain/unwieldy (so almost everywhere!). Baby OB isn’t old enough for the big backpack carriers, but they are also very expensive, so if you already have a cheaper soft carrier or wrap that you’re comfortable with, use that!

My husband strapped on Baby OB because I’m still not strong enough postpartum to carry him while hiking. I always recommend poles for snowshoeing, but with the extra weight, you will DEFINITELY appreciate having them!

Picking a baby-appropriate trail

You don’t want to be too far from civilization, especially in winter time when road conditions can be a toss-up. We went to Staunton State Park because we knew the state would have plowed, it was a popular enough location that we wouldn’t be alone, and we were less than an hour from Denver and only 15 minutes from the closest town.

If you’re also in Denver, I highly recommend Staunton for your first family winter adventure! We did part of the Staunton Ranch trail. The Davis Ponds loop is also a great option for a three-mile trek.

In general, when choosing a trail, remember that snowshoeing is harder than regular hiking. And that whoever has baby on will have a harder time too! Choose something that is relatively flat and be realistic about how far you can hike, whether as the person who has recently given birth or the person toting around the baby. For reference, it took us an hour and 15 minutes to snowshoe for two miles on a relatively flat trail at 8,300 feet of elevation. And I was TIRED after.

How to feed baby on the go

If it works out scheduling-wise, feeding baby at the trailhead will buy you the most time to actually go snowshoeing.

I fed baby at the trailhead to buy us as much time as possible on the trail and to reduce the likelihood that I would have to whip out a boob in winter weather. It wasn’t easy, since I’m used to having a Boppy and being on our couch in a robe, but practicing is the only way to make it easier to feed on the go!

To make it a little easier, I wore as few layers on top as possible. Just one base layer (that was relatively loose), a fleece jacket, and then my winter coat. These nursing bras have also been good sports bras since they are moisture-wicking and you can swap the straps to cross in the back for a little extra support. For arm support, I wedged myself between the carseat and the door handle (we have our car seat in the middle of our Subaru Forester).

If you need to bring a bottle (of milk or formula), you could prep it at home and then stick it in an insulated travel mug. I happen to have a Yeti that was a work gift, which is large enough to fit Lansinoh Momma bottles and keeps them warm for several hours. Alternatively, you could put warm water in any insulated travel mug you have and prep formula at the trailhead.

Changing diapers on the go

The poop gods were smiling on us this day, because we forgot a back-up outfit in case of a blowout. We got very lucky and no such blowout occurred, but don’t push your luck! The first time we went hiking, we got to the trailhead only to discover Baby OB was leaking poo all over me. A back-up outfit was necessary (as is hand sanitizer).

This travel diaper pad has been everything we need. It fits easily in a backpack (I bring it with us on the trail just in case) or you can just toss it in the backseat of the car. To change Baby OB in the car, I put the diaper pad part on my lap and use myself as the changing table so that I can keep the doors closed. Nothing makes a baby scream like the cold winter air on their nether regions!

Our winter adventure packing list

Okay, that was a lot. Doing anything with a baby feels like a lot, it turns out. Here’s a quick recap on what to bring:

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Diaper bag (diapers, wipes, burp cloth, something to put baby on to change them)
  • Back-up base layer for baby
  • Bottles + formula as needed
  • Soft carrier
  • Snowshoes + poles for you of course
  • My complete hiking checklist is here for any outdoor adventure!

And what baby should wear:

  • Base layer of synthetic fabric (ie a long-sleeve onesie with legs that isn’t made of cotton)
  • Slippers
  • Hoodie or sweater
  • Fleece outersuit like the Tiny Bear II
  • Beanie
  • Sunhat (if applicable to the weather)

Head out on your easy, close-to-home trail and report back! Especially if I missed something. You can do it, outdoor parent beginners!

Beginner Trail Guide: The Manitou Incline

The Manitou Incline, or just “The Incline” as it’s more commonly known, is one of the more famous (infamous?) trails in Colorado. But it’s really hard to find any information about it, and all the folklore about how steep and challenging it is can make it seem totally out of your league as a beginner. I’ve hauled myself up it twice, once as a total beginner and once as a slightly-more-fit beginner.

My favorite part about the Incline is that there are legitimately ALL KINDS taking it on. Crazy fit people, total beginners, all body sizes, all ages, moms with kids, teenagers, literally everyone you could think of. People are struggling, people are making it look easy, everyone is just on their own journey.

Going up the Incline is one mile. The most beginner-friendly option to get back down is to take the Barr Trail, which is an additional 3.1 miles, putting you at just over four miles round-trip for this uniquely challenging trail.

How do I get there?

The Incline is just outside of Manitou Springs, which is about an hour and a half south of Denver. It’s an easy drive until the very end, when you’re on a narrow (but paved) road up to the Incline. This part only gets tricky because it’s extremely crowded on the weekend. If at all possible, go to the Incline on a weekday to avoid this (and even then, it can still be crowded).

It costs $10 as of 2019 to park in the lot at the bottom of the Barr Trail, which is also where the Incline starts from. There’s a free shuttle that leaves from elsewhere in town, but I haven’t experimented with that. Considering the trail itself is free to access and is expensive to maintain, $10 is a reasonable fee (in my opinion). Make sure you have a credit card handy to pay!

Where do I go?

There is only one way to go – up! The beginning of the trail is very well marked and there’s only one way to go once you get started. About 2/3 up the trail, there is a bail-out option for you take the Barr Trail back down. At this point, you are 80% of the way there, so I was too stubborn to take the bail-out. I was just too close to finishing to not go all the way. But if you need the bail-out, it’s an option. The Incline is one-mile long one way.

There are two options for getting back down: the way you came up, which is too steep for my liking, and the Barr Trail. The trail is 3.1 miles long, zig-zagging back down from the top of the Incline. It’s tricky because it’s downhill the entire way, so your knees and quads take a bit of a beating. But it’s also very beautiful, and in my opinion, a nice jog back down. Follow signs for the Barr Trail, not Pikes Peak or Barr Camp, which will only take you higher up (the last thing you want at that point).

There are port-o-potties in the parking lot, and nothing at the top of Incline except for a great photo op.

What is the trail like?

It’s obviously difficult. But make it your own challenge. Like I said, there are all kinds of people taking it on. You’ll get passed by people older than you, fitter than you, and carrying kids on their back. You might pass other people yourself. It doesn’t matter – take your time, pace yourself, and see what you can do!

There are railroad ties that make the entire trail like nature’s Stairmaster, which actually makes it easier to climb up the whole thing. You don’t have to worry about sliding back down on the steep parts because it’s basically a staircase.

There are a few parts with wider steps of metal grating that help the trail drain properly. If you’re using hiking poles, be careful not to get them stuck in there. There are also plenty of points where you can pull over on the side if you need a break or to get out of the way for faster hikers. The trail is a consistent width all the way up that makes it easy for people to pass if you’re at a point that there isn’t a place to actually get off the trail. Just try to get as far over the right as possible when you do need to take a breather.

There’s a false summit that you can see right away. You’ll look at it and think there is absolutely no way that it isn’t the real summit. I didn’t believe people when they pointed it out to me. But please believe me, there is more to come after what looks like the top. Don’t be fooled – that was pretty emotionally crushing to me the first time I did it.

The start of the Incline. At the bottom of the picture, you can see one of the wider metal grates. The railroad ties continue all the way up the trail. At the top of the photo is the false summit – see how hard it is to believe that that isn’t the top?! But I promise, it’s not. This was on a weekday in May, which gives you an idea of crowds too.

Assuming you take the Barr Trail back down, which is the most beginner-friendly option, there are parts that get a little rocky and technical, but nothing too advanced. It’s downhill the entire way and controlling your speed can be difficult, so your quads will be a-burning by the time you’re done.

It took me 40 minutes to get up the Incline the second time I did it, including multiple breaks. I was able to run down the Barr Trail in about the same amount of time. For context, I was running pretty regularly at this point preparing for a four-mile section of the Colfax Marathon Relay – averaging two or more 2-3 mile runs per week. I only provide my time for your planning purposes – remember, this is all about challenging yourself and seeing what you can do personally. Plan on being out for two or more hours just to be safe.

For some reason, I only recorded my hike up and not my run down, but you can see the Barr Trail zig-zagging its way back to the parking lot at the bottom of the screenshot. The way up is just as advertised – a mile straight up!

There’s very little shade on any part of the trail, which means it’s a great option for winter (assuming it’s dry) or spring. If you go in the summer, start early to beat the heat!

What should I wear and bring?

Because there is no shade, make sure to slather on plenty of sunblock and wear a hat and sunglasses.

I’ve done the Incline on a warm, sunny day in December and a cloudy day in May, both of which were ideal weather. I wore shorts and a t-shirt both times, but could’ve used a long-sleeved layer for the way back down (particularly the time I hiked down). Because the hike up is so strenuous, I would recommend wearing your grippiest running shoes so you aren’t bogged down with the weight of hiking boots. For this reason, and because I planned on jogging down, I wore my trail running shoes (last year’s model is currently 50% off at REI!).

Hiking poles will certainly make your life easier, particularly helping out your knees on the way down. But the trail is at no point technical enough that you would absolutely NEED them. In the winter, if it’s icy, you might want some extra traction like microspikes.

I regretted not bringing water with me the first time I did the Incline. The second time, I wore my running vest and brought water and snacks (just in case, I always have snacks just in case) as well as chapstick with SPF in it and a long-sleeve shirt. I did my best to pack light since I certainly didn’t want to make going up the Incline any harder than necessary by having a heavy backpack!

Is it crowded?

Yes. Even on the weekdays, there has always been a crowd when I’ve done the Incline! On the weekdays, it’s totally manageable. I was in no way alone either time I’ve done the trail, but people were at least pretty spread out.

I imagine the weekends would be much more challenging, mostly because the road the Incline is on wasn’t built to handle the huge crowds it attracts. I’ve been lucky to do the Incline as part of my workday both times, so I haven’t had to contend with Saturday or Sunday crowds in the parking lot or on the trail.

Anything else I should know?

While I believe almost anyone can do the Incline if they take their time, I don’t think it’s a good idea for someone visiting from sea level unless you are already VERY fit. Colorado altitude can kick your butt on a regular hike, but adding on a hike that is a mile straight up probably isn’t the best idea.

However, if you’re already in Denver or elsewhere in Colorado, it’s less of an extreme. The hike is definitely very challenging, but like any hike, as long as you take your time, listen to your body, and give yourself enough time to complete it in good weather and during the daytime, it’s worth a try. Age and body type aren’t the best predictors of how physically fit someone is, but I’ve seen people of all ages, weights, and fitness levels (based on how out of breath they are when I see them) trying it out.

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