Waterfalls in Michigan’s U.P. – Taquamenon, Bond Falls & Black River Jewels

September 2018 – After taking our RV along the southern shore of Lake Superior in Wisconsin, we arrived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a place known for spectacular waterfalls.

Happy campers at Bond Falls Waterfall Michigan Upper Peninsula cascade

Three happy campers at Bond Falls in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula


There are so many waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that it is really hard to decide which ones to see. We started with a cluster of small waterfalls that lie along the Black River in the northwest corner of the U.P. next to the shores of Lake Superior.

The five waterfalls — Rainbow, Gorge, Sandstone, Potawatomi and Conglomerate — are all within a few miles of each other and there is a rustic dry camping campground nearby.

The hike to each waterfall is a very short jaunt through the woods, and we headed to Gorge Falls first.

Hike to Gorge Falls at Black River Michigan-min

Buddy waits for the picture taking slow pokes that are hiking behind him on the way to Gorge Falls.

GORGE FALLS

After a brief hike through the woods, we heard the roar of Gorge Falls as we descended the long staircase down to its base. Then we saw a beautiful rush of water falling down the rocks in front of us.

Hike to Gorge Falls Black River Michigan-min

Gorgeous Gorge Falls

Gorge Falls Black River Michigan-min

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SANDSTONE FALLS

Gorge Falls is right next door to Potawatomi Falls, but it was Sandstone Falls just a short ways away that we liked most of this group of waterfalls on the Black River.

Sandstone Falls is special because rather than a vertical hike to the top or bottom of a steep waterfall you can climb all over the wonderful flat and wide rocks to view the multiple smaller cascades from many angles. A hiker we met on the trail told us his kids love to swim at Sandstone Falls.

As soon as we got there and began clambering around on the rocks I was entranced by the millions of white bubbles that were floating downstream.

The bubbles had come from the froth and foam of bigger waterfall upstream, and they floated at varying speeds down the river. A slow shutter speed showed the magic of this bubbly dance.

Sandstone Falls Black River Michigan-min

Cool bubble patterns at Sandstone Falls.

Sandstone Falls Black River Michigan-min

In one part of the falls the bubbles were swirling in a circle like a pin wheel.

A little further downstream a series of cascades flowed between the rocks.

Sandstone Falls Black River Michigan-min

Sandstone Falls.

Sandstone Falls Black River Michigan-min

We loved climbing on the flat rocks along these cascades at Sandstone Falls.

Black River Michigan Sandstone Falls-min

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After an exhilarating waterfall hike (or two) there’s nothing like a nice cold frosty brew. It didn’t take us long to discover the many flavorful craft beers made in the Upper Peninsula by Upper Hand Brewery. One of our favorites was a pale ale called Yooper which is the local term for people who live in the U.P.

Yooper Beer by Upper Hand Brewery-min

Yooper is a yummy pale ale named for the people who live in the U.P. !



RAINBOW FALLS

At the mouth of the Black River where it dumps its inky brown tannin-filled water into the blue water of Lake Superior there’s a small marina at Black River Harbor and a cool suspension bridge that crosses the river.

Suspension bridge Black River Harbor Michigan-min

There’s a fun suspension foot bridge over the Black River near the harbor.

The best views of Rainbow Falls are reached by hiking through the woods from the suspension bridge at Black River Harbor. We headed into the woods one morning as mist still hung heavy in the air.

Woods hiking trail Black River Harbor Michigan-min

Our trail through the woods on the way to Rainbow Falls.

This trail from Black River Harbor to Rainbow Falls is part of the 4,600 mile long North Country Trail that stretches through seven northern states from North Dakota to New York. Like the more famous Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, this is a trail that can be hiked in tiny sections — like going from Black River Harbor to Rainbow Falls as we were doing — or can be through-hiked from one end to the other over the course of many weeks.

We passed a trail box that contained maps and info and a sign-in book for hikers doing big adventurous hikes on this trail. We got a thrill looking into the box and imagining what it takes to do such a hike.

A few years back when we were doing a waterfall hike that crossed the Appalachian Trail, we met a fellow at the intersection of the two trails who was doing a through-hike on the Appalachian Trail. We’d been intrigued to see him carrying a very small pack for his four month adventure and to discover that his hiking boots were still holding up after hiking a third of the Appalachian Trail (700 miles) so far (blog post here).

Trail box North Country Trail Black River Harbor Michigan-min

The Black River Harbor to Rainbow Falls hiking trail is part of the 4,600 mile North Country Trail.
This weather-proof metal trail box held goodies for through-hikers.

Hiking the North Country Trail sounds very exciting, but we were content with a brief mile and a half hike out to Rainbow Falls.

Rainbow Waterfall Black River Michigan-min

Rainbow Falls

As we stood taking photos of the falls a woman appeared across from us on the other side of the cascade at the top of the falls, phone in hand. She took a selfie and then she suddenly jumped from one rock to another over a part of the waterfall.

Holy smokes!

She seemed to think nothing of it, but this is a remote spot and the bottom of the falls was a long way down. We were the only ones in the area, and I doubt she knew we were there because the woods were very thick and we weren’t standing near the edge.

Brave jumper Rainbow Falls Black River Michigan-min

This could have been the last photo of this woman.

Closer to the ground, and much more rooted to it, Mark found a cluster of mushrooms standing between some red leaves that had fallen.

Toadstools and fall leaves Black River Harbor Michigan-min

Mark discovered a cluster of mushrooms on the ground.

Lying on the ground and shooting up at the undersides of the mushroom caps gave a wonderful effect.

Mushrooms in the forest near Black River Michigan-min

Shooting up at the bottoms of the mushroom caps seemed to capture their mushroom essence better than shooting down on them from above.

Even though all these cool woodsy things like waterfalls and mushrooms were just steps from Lake Superior, we hadn’t felt the lake’s presence at all during our stay.

However, a leisurely walk around nearby Black River Harbor took us to a nice sandy beach that was a delightful contrast to the thick woods that had dominated our lives for a few days.

Lake Superior Black River Harbor Recreation Area-min

Once you get clear of the woods, Lake Superior is right there.

The water in Lake Superior was surprisingly warm, and we tossed a stick out a little ways to see if Buddy would swim out to retrieve it. Sure enough, he did a few dog paddle strokes, but rather than swim back to shore he swam over to a nearby log and climbed out of the water as quickly as he could and walked on the log back on it to the sand!

Puppy climbs out of Lake Superior with stick x

Smart pup took a shortcut and climbed up on a log to walk back rather than swim to shore!

BOND FALLS

The Black River waterfalls are not well known, but Bond Falls, about 75 miles away, is one of the most popular destinations in Michigan’s entire Upper Peninsula. And rightfully so.

Bond Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Bond Falls is one of the most famous waterfalls in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.


A walking path and boardwalk takes visitors from the base of the falls up along one side to several smaller cascades. It is these cozier spots that attract photographers, and many a Michigan travel brochure or waterfall field guide sports a cover or centerfold photo from here.

Michigan Upper Peninsula Waterfalls Bond Falls_-min

A smaller cascade above the main waterfall is a beautiful little spot.

Even though Mark and I often take photos standing shoulder to shoulder, our results are usually very different. This time we each instinctively gravitated to different shutter speeds…

Bond Falls Waterfall Michigan Upper Peninsula cascade-min

I kept the shutter open for 2.5 seconds for a super silky and fluffy look.

Bond Falls Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Mark used a shutter speed of 1/6 second for a more crisp impression of the scene.

We loved Bond Falls and visited several times at different hours of the day. Families with kids and old folks made their way up and down the path alongside the falls all the time, and most had been there before.

One older gal stopped to talk with me and told me she had grown up in the area 65 years ago and that she and her siblings had swum in the calmer parts of Bond Falls as kids. That wouldn’t be allowed today, but her eyes twinkled as she reminisced about being a little girl and calling this place home.

Peace in Bond Falls in Autumn Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

We met a woman who grew up swimming here above the waterfall at Bond Falls. How wonderful!

TAQUAMENON FALLS

One of the most dramatic waterfalls in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is Taquamenon Falls over in the northeast corner of the peninsula. When we walked out on the path to the falls and got our first glimpse through the autumn leaves, my jaw dropped and I set up to take a shot immediately.

A young couple coming back from the hike down to the falls saw my tripod and camera gear and asked me if this was the best place to photograph the falls.

I laughed and said I had no idea. This was the first I’d seen of them! But it was very beautiful…

Taquamenon Falls Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Our first glimpse of Taquamenon Falls

A little further on there was another view of the waterfall wrapped in fall colors.

Taquamenon Falls waterfall Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Taquamenon Falls

We followed the path towards the falls and came across a sign that explained what to expect as we descended a long ways down to get a close-up view of Taquamenon Falls. We had to laugh when we read it!

94 Steps to the Brink of Taquamenon Falls-min

If only we always got such a simple warning when we’re about to face disaster!

At The Brink we got a lovely sidelong view of Taquamenon Falls.

Taquamenon Falls Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Taquamenon Falls at The Brink

We climbed back up the 94 steps from The Brink and headed out on the path to The Gorge. This gave us a wonderful view of the falls from another vantage point.

Taquamenon Falls Michigan Upper Peninsula Waterfall-min

Taquamenon Falls as seen from The Gorge.

If you are a fan of waterfalls, as we are, the U.P. is a fantastic place to go waterfall hunting. These were just a few of dozens of waterfalls we could have seen, and I know we missed some beauties that we’ll have to check out another time. But we were delighted by the variety of the falls we saw and the fun hikes and walks we took to get to them.

Fifth wheel RV Black River Harbor Campground Michigan-min

Black River Campground.

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Huay Mae Khamin – Thailand’s Most Beautiful Waterfall – Mellow Adventures

January 2017 – After we finished hiking Erawan Waterfall in Kanchanaburi Thailand, our tour guides from Mellow Adventures took us to a second and even more breathtaking waterfall deep in the jungle.

Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall Sri Nakarin Dam National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall – Breathtaking!

But before we hopped in the car to drive there, Mellow Adventures treated us to an amazing Thai lunch.

Back when I had been planning our tours with Steffen, the owner of Mellow Adventures, he had added a restaurant stop for lunch as part of our itinerary. However, I wasn’t keen on giving up precious time at the waterfalls to sit down for lunch at a restaurant.

“We can grab something on the run,” I said, explaining that we aren’t foodies and we wanted to maximize our time at the waterfalls.

However, Steffen insisted that food is an important aspect of Thai culture, almost to the point of being a national pastime, and he wanted to give us a proper in introduction to Thai cooking. So, as soon as we finished hiking, he took us to his favorite place tucked into a row of informal restaurants that line the edge of the parking lot at Erawan National Park.

Restaurants at Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

Souvenir shops and eateries at Erawan National Park

Steffen started eagerly going back and forth in Thai with our guide Mai about what to order, and in no time Mai had written out a whole slew of beautiful Thai letters on a piece of paper. She handed it to the waitress, and in minutes, the most delicious array of platters arrived at our table.

With fried rice as a base, we had several yummy dishes that were so tasty we asked Mai to write them down for us in Thai so we could order them easily on our own during the rest of our stay in Thailand! Thai food connoisseurs might laugh, but this was a godsend for us!

Thai food order for restaurant in Kanchanaburi

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Back on the road, we headed deeper into the jungle to our next destination: Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall in Sri Nakarin National Park.

This part of Thailand is very hilly, and we were soon driving up and down very steep grades. Unlike America, where the Department of Transportation places signs for steep inclines only at the tops of mountains to warn drivers about the descent ahead, we saw signs warning about steepness going both up and downhill.

12% grade driving steep hills in Kanchanaburi Thailand

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And no wonder. At 12% and 14%, these hills were very steep!

Driving steep hills 14% grade Kanchanaburi Thailand

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At last we arrived at Sri Nakarin Dam National Park, home of Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall.

Huay Mae khamin Waterfall National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand Entrance gate

Entrance to Huay Maekhamin Waterfall.

Because the Thai language has its own alphabet, words often end up with multiple spellings when the Roman alphabet is used instead. Sure enough, the waterfall had different spellings on the different signs out front: “Huay Maekamin” and “Huay Maekhamin” (with an “h” in there). The waterfall is often written as three words too: Huay Mae Khamin.

Huay Maekamin Waterfall Sign National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

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When we pulled up to the entrance gate, Steffen asked the rangers if the National Park was busy. It was midday, afterall, which is the peak time for tourists.

“No,” the ranger replied, “There is no one here.”

What a difference from Erawan Waterfall where we had to arrive super early in the morning to beat the crowds!

Sri Nakarin Dam National Park Entrance Kanchanaburi Thailand

All is quiet at this National Park.

Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall is a gem of a waterfall that hasn’t yet made it onto Thailand’s tourism radar.

Steffen explained to me that he often combines a visit to Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall with a camping trip in the jungle as part of a multi-day trek to the Burmese border that goes through tiny rural villages that are quintessentially Thai and have no tourism whatsoever.

As he described that experience, I suddenly wished we’d arranged for a multi-day camping tour with Mellow Adventures. Next time!!

Vines and jungle Sri Nakarin Dam National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

The jungle is full of big, twisty vines.

The hike to the waterfall took us past wonderfully long and thick vines and a hollowed out tree that Mark couldn’t resist climbing into.

Hollow in a tree Khuean Srinagarindra National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

Tree house!

All around us were dense clumps of very thick bamboo stalks. Bamboo is technically a grass, and it grows easily and densely in the Kanchanaburi jungle

Bamboo Grove Khuean Srinagarindra National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

A grove of bamboo stalks and a sign, “Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints.”

As I stood close to the bamboo stalks, I discovered they all had graffiti on them, most of it in Thai lettering! How cool is that?!

Bamboo Graffiti Sri Nakarin Dam National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

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The beautiful and ornate Thai letters were carved onto the stalks and painted on as well.

Thai graffiti on a bamboo tree Khuean Srinagarindra National ParkKanchanaburi Thailand

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I guess lovers declare their affection for each other on all kinds of trees all over the world in every language.

Thai graffiti on bamboo tree Sri Nakarin Dam National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

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Soon we heard the tell-tale sound of rushing water, and in moments we arrived at the first set of falls. Wow!

Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall Srinikarin Dam National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

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Unlike Erawan Falls, which is a hike from the lowest cascade to the highest, the hiking trail to Huay Maekhamin Waterfall brings you directly to the fourth of its seven tiers.

Huay Maekhamin Waterfall Khuean Srinagarindra National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

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The water rushed over the flat slabs of limestone creating exquisite mini waterfalls.

Huay Mae khamin Waterfall Sri Nakarin Dam National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

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We were mesmerized by the shapes of the falls and the trees surrounding them.

Huay Mae khamin Waterfall Sri Nakarin Dam National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

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Tree roots Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall Khuean Srinagarindra National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

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Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall Sri Nakarin Dam National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

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We had the place to ourselves, and we wandered all over the rocks and between the trees getting pics of each other in this glorious spot.

Steffen Mellow Adventures Tour to Huay Maekhamin Waterfall Khuean Srinagarindra National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

Steffen, owner of Mellow Adventures.

Mellow Adventures Tour Huay Maekhamin Waterfall Sri Nakarin Dam National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

Selfie!

Huay Maekhamin Waterfall has seven tiers, and we had hiked direclty from the parknig lot to the 4th tier. From there we could hike down to see levels 3, 2 and 1 or we could drive around to another entrance area to see the top levels.

Our guide Mai felt that the seventh tier at the top of Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall was the most picturesque, so we decided to go straight there. How right she was!

Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall Sri Nakarin Dam National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand Mellow Adventures

Top level of Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall.

We were bewitched. This was the waterfall image I had carried in my mind all the way from Phoenix, Arizona, where we had left our trailer in storage and our full-time RV lifestyle behind.

Turquoise pools Huay Maekhamin Waterfall Khuean Srinagarindra National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

Travertine pools.

The waterfall images were framed by rich green jungle trees, and sprays of water fell from ledge to ledge and from pool to pool.

As much as we loved Erawan Waterfall, for me, this spot at the top of Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall was even more magnificent. I half expected fairies to emerge on the waterfall ledges or for angels to start singing!

Green pools Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall Sri Nakarin Dam National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

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At that moment a jungle bird landed on a branch right in front of me and began to sing his heart out.

I listened for a while, mesmerized by his bright colors and vibrant song as his warbling and sweet songs filled the forest. I found out later he was a White Rumped Shama.

Tucked between the leaves we spotted a beautiful wildflower.

Wildflower Huay Maekhamin Waterfall National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

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But it was the lush jungle pools and delicate sprays of waterfalls that will forever stay in our memory from our visit to Huay Maekhamin Waterfall.

Best Waterfall in Thailand Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall Khuean Srinagarindra National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

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Thailand has many stunning waterfalls, and lots of pre-packaged commercial tours take bus loads of tourists to visit them, especially the nearby Sai Yok Yai waterfall in Sai Yok National Park.

But the most beautiful waterfall in all of Thailand could easily be Huay Maekamin Waterfall, and amazingly, it isn’t promoted or dominated by the big commercial tour companies.

Most Beautiful waterfall in Thailand Huay Mae khamin Waterfall Khuean Srinagarindra National Park Kanchanaburi

7th Tier Huay Maekamin Waterfall.

What a thrill it was to work with Mellow Adventures to create a personalized waterfall tour and experience two of Thailand’s best waterfalls, Erawan Waterfall and Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall, and have them all to ourselves!!

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Erawan Falls – Jewel of Erawan National Park – with Mellow Adventures

January 2017 – When I started planning our month-long trip to Thailand, I wanted to be sure we saw some truly spectacular places. After doing many image searches for things like “the most beautiful places in Thailand,” I came across a photo of a waterfall that took my breath away.

Erawan Waterfall Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

One tier of Erawan Falls at Erawan National Park in Kanchanaburi Thailand

I found out it was Erawan Waterfall which is located in Erawan National Park in Thailand’s province of Kanchanaburi. Not only did this waterfall look like something out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the name sounded like it too!

Wondering if there were other gems like this in the province of Kanchanaburi, I found an image of Huay Maekhamin Waterfall in Khuean Srinagarindra National Park. If it was possible, that waterfall seemed even more stunning but was even more remote.

I wanted to be sure we would see these exotic waterfalls without any crowds, at our own pace and on our own terms, and I quickly realized it would not only be more efficient but would be more fun and we’d get more out of our experience if we worked with a professional and personal tour guide service.

Mellow Adventures, a company that has achieved TripAdvisor’s highest standard — the Certificate of Excellence — offers fully customized, private tours in Kanchanaburi that are designed to meet whatever unusual plans a traveler might have. When I emailed them that we wanted to be at Erawan Waterfall long before any of the commercial tour groups showed up, I got an email back saying: “We’ll pick you up at your hotel at 6:30 a.m.”

Perfect!

Erawan Waterfall Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

Erawan Waterfall

Not every vacationer wants to have an appointment at that hour, but we were on a mission to hike alongside these cascades without encountering anyone else on the trail, and we were thrilled at the prospect of photographing the many tiers of Erawan Falls for a few hours in total solitude.

The owner of Mellow Adventures, Steffen, is Norwegian and he is fluent in English and German and speaks Thai as well. He responded to my emails from the US very quickly, and in no time we devised a plan for two days of custom tours that would take us to both Erawan Waterfall and Huay Maekhamin Waterfall and also include a tour of a remote cave, kayaking on a river in the jungle and even sampling some good Thai food which he felt was critical to appreciating Thai culture.

When we finally met in person (rather bleary eyed) at 6:30 a.m. on the appointed morning, he introduced us to Mai, a young woman who had been a tour guide in Kanchanburi and at Erawan National Park for seven years before she joined the Mellow Adventures team last year.

As we drove to Erawan National Park together, we passed through an area that has several elephant encounter sanctuaries. Even though an elephant encounter wasn’t on our itinerary, it was fun to see the signs for these places on the road!

Elephant road sign in Kanchanaburi Thailand

An elephant road sign – How cool is that?!

Elephant road sign Kanchanaburi Thailand

…and with Thai writing to boot!!

Elephants are very important and much beloved in Thailand, and we saw many creative elephant decorations along the way, including elephant street lights!

Elephant lamp post decoration Kanchanaburi Thailand

Elephants decorate lots of things in Thailand.

Mai explained to us that the elephant is an integral part of Erawan National Park. In Hindu and Buddhist traditions, the god of thunder, lightning and rainstorms, Indra, rides a huge white elephant across the sky. This elephant has three heads and is known as “Erawan” in Thai.

At Erawan Falls, the highest of the waterfall’s seven tiers has three parallel cascades that resemble the trunks of three elephant heads.

Sign for Erawan Waterfall Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

Erawan Waterfall is named for a three headed elephant that is part of both Hindu and Thai mythological traditions.

In no time we reached the entrance to Erawan National Park and the Visitors Center.

Erawan National Park Entrance Sign Kanchanaburi Thailand

Now here’s a cool National Park sign!

Erawan National Park Visitors Center

The Visitors Center for Erawan National Park.

Our guide, Mai, has hiked to the top of Erawan Falls many dozens of times, and she described what we would see at each level as we hiked in. Erawan Waterfall is an extremely popular place to swim, as the waterfalls have many shallow pools filled with warm, turquoise water. There are posted guidelines for swimwear, but we found out later they aren’t strictly enforced.

Erawan Falls sign Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

This way to the waterfall — and please dress modestly if you go swimming!

The beginning of the trail is a wide, paved path, and it wandered through the jungle.

Hike to Erawan Falls Kanchanaburi Thailand

The hike began with an easy stroll on a paved trail.

Soon, we heard the sounds of rushing water, and then suddenly we saw the lowest part of the falls in front of us. The water was cascading from one flat slab of rock down onto the next.

Prettiest Waterfall in Thailand Erawan Waterfall Kanchanaburi Thailand

The lowest part of Erawan Falls has many wide, flat travertine slabs that form turquoise pools.

We ran to the water in glee, quickly scouting out the best angles to frame this tropical jewel.

Most beautiful waterfall in Thailand Erawan Falls Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi_

Look at those tree roots!

The pools of aquamarine water were so inviting, it seemed like a fairy land.

Best waterfall in Thailand Erawan Waterfall Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

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Erawan Falls is actually a series of seven waterfalls, each with its own personality and flair. The hike begins at the lowest level and gradually climbs to the top, passing by each level on the way.

Erawan Waterfall Pool at Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

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As we hiked from one level up to the next, we found ourselves in the most deliciously thick jungle. The leaves of one plant were absolutely enormous!

Huge jungle leaves Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

The jungle leaves are huge and give great shade

We just loved the shapes of the rocks along these falls. There were so many places where the water formed a shallow pool on a flat rock and then fell over the edge, like Nature’s most perfect infinity pool.

Erawan Falls

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The hiking trail wandered alongside the stream as we climbed higher and higher, and we got glimpses between the trees of the water spilling over the rocks here and there.

Most spectacular waterfall in Thailand Erawan Waterfall Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

We see a portion of the falls through the jungle trees.

At one point on the trail we came to a tree that was completely adorned in brightly colored women’s dresses. Mai explained to us that these dresses had been placed there as a token of thanks to the tree spirit Ta Kien Tong.

She told us that many Thai people ask this goddess for help or for blessings in their lives. When she responds by giving them what they requested, they show their appreciation by bringing her a beautiful dress.

Appreciative people said thanks to the tree goddess Ta Kien Tong by giving her a beautiful dress

The many dresses on this tree were placed here in thanks for blessings and good fortune that had been granted by the tree goddess, Ta Kien Tong.

The trees in the jungle are wonderfully gnarled with lots of exposed roots, and one had a fabulously twisted vine growing up its trunk.

Vine on a tree trunk

A twisted vine climbs the trunk of a tree.

Some vines are so strong they make a natural swing.

Swinging on a vine Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

Our guide Mai enjoys a brief swing on a jungle vine.

As we ascended the hiking trail from one level of Erawan Waterfall to the next, we found beautiful surprises at every turn.

Top waterfall in Thailand Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

Each tier of Erawan Falls was different.

The water was so clear in some places that we could see fish swimming just below the surface.

Fish at Erawan Waterfall Kanchanaburi Thailand

Fish were swimming at the base of the falls in some places.

The aquamarine pools were so inviting…

Turquoise pool Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

Gnarled roots of the jungle embrace the rocks in a turquoise pool.

Favorite waterfall in Thailand Erawan Waterfall Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

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The jungle was filled with unusual plants that we didn’t recognize and we saw some magnificent flowers too.

Exotic tropical flower Erawan National Park

Exquisite!

Perhaps the most wonderful surprise for me came as I turned a corner in the trail and looked up to see this image right in front of me:

Erawan Falls National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

We rounded a bend to see this view!

We crept closer, tip-toeing between the exposed and curving tree roots.

Stunning Erawan waterfall Kanchanaburi Thailand

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Again, we saw fish swimming near the edges of the turquoise pool.

Most beautiful waterfall Erawan Falls Kanchanaburi Thailand

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This was just too gorgeous — time for a selfie!

Travelers at Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

Two very happy campers at Erawan Falls!

The trail had switched from pavement to well packed dirt a while ago, and we were glad to have sturdy trail running shoes rather than flip-flops to hike in. Now the trail suddenly headed straight up a long set of stairs.

Stairs to waterfall Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand_

A long staircase climbed up the hill to the next tier.

And at the top was another stunning pool surrounded by ancient trees with wonderful claw-like roots.

Swimming pools Erawan Falls Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

What an exotic place!

I moved a little to one side, and again, I was blown away by the beauty of Erawan Falls.

Cascade at Erawan Waterfall Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

We loved the endlessly changing cascades and pools.

We were now at Level 6 of the seven levels of the waterfall, and we paused to take stock. We had more hiking planned for the afternoon, and it was already very late in the morning.

It had taken us over three hours just to get this far, because we were so busy taking photos.

Sign for 6th level Erawan Falls Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

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The seventh level of Erawan Waterfall is where the three namesake falls — the trunks of the three headed elephant — can be seen. However, because there hadn’t been much rain lately, Mai said they didn’t have much water.

Our cameras were already bursting at the seams with all the photos we’d taken, and the hike to the seventh level would involve some scrambling to reach, so we opted to turn around at this point and head back down.

What a shock it was to see how crowded the trail had become at the lower levels and to see all the people swimming in the pools. The gentle spirit of stillness and solitude we had savored all morning was gone. But the pools sure looked refreshing!

Swimming at Erawan Waterfall Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

A few hours earlier we had been alone at this spot!

As we hiked back towards the parking lot, we were surprised to see a warning sign for a cobra!!

Cobra sign Kanchanaburi Thailand

We’ve never seen an animal sign like this one before — yikes!

We didn’t see any snakes, but the flowers were lovely.

Beautiful flowers

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At this point, we had completed only half of our first day of tours with Mellow Adventures, and we had a lot more in store!

There’s more info and more links for Erawan National Park, Kanchanaburi and Mellow Adventures below…

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Lower Calf Creek Falls Hike – Grand Staircase Escalante Nat’l Monument

September 2016 – Scenic Byway 12 in Utah is an All American Road that makes for a truly spectacular RV adventure. There are lots of sidetrips and things to do along the way, and one that we just loved was the hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

Waterfall Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

The waterfall at Lower Calf Creek Falls

This is an easy 6 mile roundtrip hike that can be very hot at midday, so we started just as the trail was beginning to get light enough to see.

Trail to Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

We began our hike very early.

The Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail goes along Calf Creek. After passing through areas where very thick and tall underbrush not only surrounded us but rose above us on all sides, the trail emerged alongside a fabulous rock wall that was naturally striped with desert varnish.

Hiking to Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

Enormous cliffs covered with the vertical striping of “desert varnish”

Gradually, in places, the sun began to rise, and we found ourselves amid beautiful red rock formations.

Hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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The trail cut across open grasslands.

Hiking trail to Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

Sun and shadow on Lower Calf Creek Falls.

And then it wandered across wide flat expanses of red rocks.

Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah Hike

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Birds were singing in the underbrush down by the creek, and at our feet we saw little lizards scurrying around.

Lizard Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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The canyon walls surrounding Calf Creek towered above us, and a lush valley of thick green vegetation grew along the banks of the creek.

Hike Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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Finally, after three miles of walking, we emerged at Lower Calf Creek Falls.

Waterfall Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

Lower Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

This is a fabulous waterfall that plunges straight down from a notch in the cliffs above, forming a narrow vertical stream of water.

Hustling out on the trail before sunrise had ensured that when we got to Calf Creek Falls we were the only people there.

Waterfall of Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

The waterfall plunges into a pool at its base.

So we did the thing you just have to do in scenic places these days and we got a selfie!

Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

Towering canyon walls and their waterfall embrace us on the sandy beach.

How fabulous it was to have the entire place to ourselves and to be able to play with the waterfall’s reflections in pools and puddles along the sandy beach.

Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

Reflections…

Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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Gradually, the sun rose higher in the sky, lighting the upper parts of waterfall and the rocky walls.

Waterfall reflection Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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Sunrise on Waterfall Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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And then bright sunshine lit up the entire waterfall and we stepped back into the shadows of the natural arch formed by trees over the creek downstream.

Shadows Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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As the sun shone brighter and brighter, gradually illuminating the trees that seemed to be kneeling in reverence at the base of this magnificent waterfall, hikers began to trickle in from the trail. What an incredible view greeted them!

Sunshine waterfall Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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Eventually, we were ready to hike back out again, and we began to traverse the slabs of red rocks.

Hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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The scenery was exotic…

Red rocks Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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And we were joined on the trail by lots of other hikers.

Hikers Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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We noticed beautiful wildflowers growing here and there. Some were trailside down by our feet…

Wildflowers Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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And others looked out across the lush creek valley at the enormous cliffs on the other side.

Wildflowers hike Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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For RVers that have an RV with a strong engine, an RV trip on Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 is an absolute must, along with a hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls.

RV campground Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

Calf Creek campground has some very cool campsites in the red rocks.

The BLM’s Calf Creek Campground is a fabulous place to camp for small and medium sized RVs. Bigger RVs can find a nice spot to stay in RV parks that are in the towns along the way. There are links below.

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Bryce Canyon National Park – “Mossy Cave” – Mystery Waterfall!

September 2016 – Just as headlines sell news stories, the same thing is true with hiking trails at the National Parks.

Red rock pinnacles Mossy Cave Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Bryce Canyon has beautiful red rock hoodoos everywhere, even on the less visited trails.

At Bryce Canyon National Park there are lots of great hiking trails and overlooks with fabulously inviting names like: Fairyland Trail, Inspiration Point, Sunrise and Sunset Points and Peek-a-boo Trail to name a few.

Colorful trees and red rocks Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Wonderful colors on the Mossy Cave hike.

But up in the northeast corner of Bryce Canyon National Park, well off the beaten path, and not even on the main drive through the Park, there’s a hiking trail called Mossy Cave. This is an interesting name, perhaps, but it sure didn’t jump out at us and beg us to come check it out!

Bridge at Mossy Cave Trail Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

The Mossy Cave trail crosses a cool bridge at the beginning of the hike.

I wonder if because of this rather drab sounding name, other visitors respond like we do and don’t bother to drive outside the Park and around to its far northeastern edge to find out what Mossy Cave is all about.

Whatever the cause, this hiking trail is very lightly used compared to the other more popular trails at Bryce Canyon National Park.

Red rock windows Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

“Windows” appeared high above us among the red rock formations.

My suspicion is that if this trail bore the name “Waterfall Cascades” or “Glittering Pools,” both of which is has, the trail would be overrun with visitors!

How fortunate that the feature this trail is named after is the other thing you’ll see on the hike — a shallow overhang that seeps water and is covered with various types of moss — instead of the beautiful waterfall!

Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

The waterfall on the Mossy Cave hike takes a lot of people by surprise!

Mossy Cave Trail Waterfall Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

A beautiful waterfall in the desert!

To a naturalist or biology expert, the mossy cave is probably the more fascinating feature on this trail. And photos we’ve seen of icicles in the cave during the winter are beautiful.

However, to everyday hikers and tourists, it is the waterfall and cascades upstream from it that are the real draw!

Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah Waterfall

Who knew Bryce Canyon had a waterfall?!

The branch canyon that Mossy Cave is in is called Water Canyon, and rightfully so. In the early 1890’s, mormon pioneers diverted some of the East Fork of the Sevier River to flow through here so they could use the water for irrigation purposes. With picks and shovels they carved a ditch and let the water flow.

Mossy Cave Trail Waterfall Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Silky falls and pools.

So, it is not a natural water course. But the waterfall itself is totally natural, and the water drops down over a red rock overhang as if this year-round stream were meant to be here and had been here all along!

Mossy Cave Waterfall Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

A rush of water over the desert rocks.

The overhang is fairly large, so Mark slipped in behind it to get some very cool images.

Hiking under the waterfall Mossy Cave Trail Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

The overhang makes it easy to walk under this waterfall.

Under waterfall Mossy Cave Trail Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

View from under the waterfall on the Mossy Cave hike.

View under waterfall Mossy Cave Trail Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

How refreshing on a hot day!

We walked upstream from the main waterfall and found that the stream is a babbling brook for quite a distance, tripping over stones and rocks along the way.

Stream Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

We turned the corner at the waterfall and found the hike continues upstream.

There are other smaller waterfalls too.

Waterfall Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Looking upstream.

Mossy Cave Waterfall Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

We discovered another smaller waterfall too.

We wandered back down the trail to a fork and took the path leading to the Mossy Cave. A short distance down the trail we came to the cave. The water was seeping through the rocks in such quantities that it was dripping from the roof of the cave onto the gravel floor below. Patches of moss covered the rocks, and the air was cool. The trail didn’t go inside the cave, but we could stand on one side and peer in.

Water seeps through rock and drips down moss in Mossy Cave Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Water seeps through the rocks and drips from the moss at Mossy Cave.

We ended up doing the Mossy Cave hike several times during our stay in Bryce Canyon. It is a short and easy trail that is lovely in both morning and afternoon light. And there are some wonderful hoodoos high up on the ridges.

Red rock window Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

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One morning, as the sun was rising, Mark caught a fantastic starburst in one of the red rock windows.

Starburst Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

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If you have already enjoyed some of the major hikes and overlooks at Bryce Canyon National Park, the Mossy Cave trail makes for a very pleasant trek. And on a hot day, what could be better than hanging around a waterfall!

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Jasper National Park – Columbia Icefields & Athabasca Falls

May 2016 – During our RV travels through the Canadian Rockies, we explored the southern half of the Icefields Parkway a lot because it was easily accessible from our camping spot in Lake Louise. The beauty of the scenery on the Parkway astonished us every time.

Icefields Parkway Jasper National Park Alberta Canada

The Icefields Parkway was stunning every time we drove it.

But at last we struck out and drove the whole thing up to the town of Jasper.

RV travel Icefields Parkway Jasper National Park Alberta Canada

What a great scenic drive!

The Icefields Parkway is about 150 miles long, and every turn opened up another spectacular view.

Rocky Mountains Icefields Parkway Jasper National Park Alberta Canada

We never got tired of driving the Icefields Parkway!

The funny thing in this part of the Canadian Rockies is that two of the National Parks, Yoho and Kootenay, are in the province of British Columbia while the other two, Banff and Jasper, are in the province of Alberta. They all abut each other, but they are on the eastern and western borders of those two provinces.

The southern half of the Icefields Parkway is in Banff National Park, and eventually we came to the northern border of that park and crossed into Jasper National Park. The snow made fantastic patterns on the mountains.

Snow Icefields Parkway Jasper National Park Alberta Canada

Entering Jasper National Park, the snow created beautiful patterns on the mountains.

Snowcapped mountains Icefields Parkway Jasper National Park Alberta Canada

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The main attraction in the central portion of the Icefields Parkway, in Jasper National Park, is the Columbia Icefields. As we approached, we could see thick blankets of snow on the mountain peaks.

Glacier on the Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Canada

The snow was really deep near the tops of some of the mountains.

In places the snow was piled extremely high and was sheered off in a vertical wall as if it had been plowed. But those vertical walls of snow had to be a few hundred feet high! Some of the ice in these snow piles was turquoise.

Snow on Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Canada

Talk about a thick blanket of snow!

There was lots of avalanche activity in the mountain tops, and in some places ice and snow tumbled down.

Avalanche on the Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Avalanche!

When we stopped and got out of the truck, we could hear the thunderous rumble of avalanches way up high.

Snow avalanche Canadian Rocky Mountains

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The Columbia Icefields is an area of true glaciers — enormous bodies of ice that flow across the land, crushing the earth beneath them into a fine powder, and staying frozen year round.

There is a massive visitors center at the Columbia Icefields, and folks went up on the deck to take in the view and get photos.

RV Columbia Icefields Jasper National Park Alberta Canada Rocky Mountains

Glaciers and avalanches make a great backdrop for a photo!

Down in the parking lot, dozens of tour buses were lined up waiting to take people out to the glaciers. This wasn’t quite what we expected.

Tour buses Columbia Icefields Parkway Jasper National Park Alberta Canada

Tour buses line up at the visitors center to take tourists out to the Columbia Icefields.

There were snowcat excursions that took people out onto the glaciers to drive around and walk around on the ice.

Snowcat tours Columbia Icefields Jasper National Park Alberta Canada

The Snowcats drive out onto the glacier.

We must have arrived just after a bunch of tour buses got there because there were throngs of people walking between the visitors center and the parking lot. Inside the visitors center there was an almost impenetrable crowd of people watching several big screen TVs that were showing videos of what you’d experience on the glacier excursions. To one side there was a very long line of people buying tickets.

This place is incredibly popular! And very few people were speaking English with a North American accent of any kind!!

Outside, we watched the tour buses disappear into the distance on the road that led out to the icefields.

Tour buses on the Columbia Icefields Jasper National Park Alberta Canada

Three tour buses head out to the Columbia Icefields from the visitors center.

We had been enjoying a more solitary experience as we had driven the parkway that morning, soaking in the views without a narrator or crowd of companions, and we weren’t in a full-on tourism kind of mood. So we opted to save a glacier excursion for another visit.

One thing that intrigued us about the Icefields Parkway is that the highest part of the entire road and the highest mountain peaks are all in the southern end in the Banff National Park half, and they aren’t all that high.

Even though the Parkway offers the most spectacular mountain scenery we have seen in North America, the Bow Lake summit in the southern half of the Parkway, which is the highest summit of any paved road in Canada, is just 6,800 feet above sea level, while the village of Lake Louise sits at just 5,249 feet. Both of these are lower than Flagstaff, Arizona, which is around 7,000 feet!

Surprisingly, the Red Mountain Pass outside of Ouray, Colorado, traverses a summit of 11,000 feet, and the rim overlooks at Cedar Breaks National Park amphitheater in Utah are at 10,000 feet. But nowhere have we seen jagged peaks and towering mountains like those around Banff.

As we drove north towards Jasper, our elevation gradually dropped to just 3,500 feet, and the snow began to disappear from the mountains.

Icefields Parkway Jasper National Park Alberta Canada

As we approached Jasper, the mountains lost their snow.

They towered over us in glorious splendor, but there were none of the snowcapped peaks we had been living with for the last few weeks!

Icefields Parkway Jasper National Park Alberta Canada

The Jasper National Park portion of the Icefields Parkway.

We stopped to photograph a wonderful waterfall that was right next to the parkway.

Waterfall Icefields Parkway Jasper National Park Alberta Canada Rocky Mountains

A waterfall by the side of the road caught our eye.

And then we arrived at Athabasca Falls, a place with such a great name we just had to check it out!

Athabasca Falls has lots of wonderful short trails that wander all around the river and falls, offering a wide variety of views, and some fabulous winding stairs weave between the rock walls. Everyone stopped at the top of these stairs on their way down to get a photo. We did too!

Athabasca Falls Stairway Jasper National Park Canada

Curvy stairs and rocks… so cool!

Once we got down below the falls, we had a fantastic view looking back up at them and the bridge that crosses over them. A rain shower had just passed through, and all the vegetation and moss was glowing.

Athabasca Falls Jasper National Park Alberta Canada Rocky Mountains

Lush vegetation surrounds Athabasca Falls.

The waterfall itself is not very tall or long but the water crashes down with great force through a picturesque canyon.

Athabasca Falls Jasper National Park Alberta Canada Rocky Mountains

Athabasca Falls.

The sound of the water slipping over the edge from the serene river upstream is very loud, and the power of the rushing water is extraordinary. I suspect the copious recent rains and spring run-off added to the water flow and made it especially impressive.

Athabasca Falls Jasper National Park Alberta Canada Rocky Mountains

You could hear the sound of Athabasca Falls from quite a distance away.

I wandered down a pretty wooded trail on the far side of the waterfall and found myself a little upstream of the thundering falls where the river was much more placid. It flowed quickly but not at a sprinter’s pace.

The trail went right along the water’s edge. Suddenly I saw a warning sign and some caution tape strung between two trees. Underneath there was a lovingly made ceramic plaque that had a heart and stars and moons on it and the name Justin in big letters.

Athabasca Falls Jasper National Park Alberta Canada Rocky Mountains

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On the other side of the trail I saw another sign that memorialized a young man named Justin who, at 24 years of age in 2012, ventured a little too close to the edge and was swept away over the falls.

I looked at the rapidly flowing water just behind the plaque and the inviting way the light was playing around the tree trunks at the water’s edge. I felt that curious and familiar lure to reach down and dip my hand in the swirling water.

Chills went up my spine.

I wandered back to the heart of the falls and suddenly saw them with a new and very cautious eye.

Rainbow Athabasca Falls Jasper National Park Alberta Canada Rocky Mountains 2

The power of these falls was a little unnerving after seeing the family memorial for Justin.

The force of that water was staggering!

Waterfall Athabasca Falls Jasper National Park Alberta Canada Rocky Mountains

Yikes!

Books have been written about the dramatic ways people die in the National Parks, but this tiny, tearful yet smiling memorial on the edge of a little used trail told a much more vivid story than the words in any book ever could.

I gathered myself together and wandered around until I found Mark at a gorgeous viewpoint overlooking the narrow canyon. He snagged a beautiful shot.

Dawn Athabasca Falls Jasper National Park Alberta Canada Rocky Mountains

Dawn at Athabasca Falls

We returned to Athabasca Falls at dawn one morning to catch the soft light filtering through the mist as it hovered above the water.

Sunrise Athabasca Falls Jasper National Park Alberta Canada Rocky Mountains

Sunrise and mist at daybreak.

The peacefulness of the falls at that early hour was magical.

Dawn Athabasca Falls Jasper National Park Alberta Canada Rocky Mountains

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As always, 24/7, the thunderous roar of the water filled the air everywhere, giving the place an incredibly noisy soundtrack. But besides us and a ranger and another pair of early risers, the woods were utterly still.

Sunrise Athabasca Falls Jasper National Park Alberta Canada Rocky Mountains

Sunrise paints the sky and water in pastel colors.

Below the falls the water was flat and playfully swirled around in big sweeping eddies as it made its way downstream.

Sunrise Athabasca Falls Jasper National Park Alberta Canada Rocky Mountains

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Later in the day, the water in that spot turned a milky shade of jade. The horizontally striped yellow and orange rock cliffs on the far side of the river made a striking contrast to the water.

Athabasca Falls Jasper National Park Alberta Canada Rocky Mountains

As the sun rose, the Athabasca River became jade green.

There is a rocky beach of sorts at this spot below the falls, and we wandered around on the rocks for a bit. Someone — or a group of someones — had built fifty or more rock cairns in the shape of little people all over the beach.

It was an intriguing sight that must have a very cool story behind it, but there were no other clues about its meaning or origins… just a thick collection of little rock people standing around, facing in all directions, arms out.

[Note: Several readers contacted us after reading this post to let us know these cairns are “Inuksuks” (there are various spellings) that have their origins with the indigenous people of the far north.]

Rock cairns Athabasca Falls Jasper National Park Alberta Canada Rocky Mountains

Someone had made 50 or so rock cairns by the water’s edge. Many looked like people!
We learned after publishing this post that these are “Inuksuks.”

When we got back to the parking lot there was a group of people standing around there too, but these folks were all aiming their cameras at our trailer! As we got closer, we realized why. Someone had parked a tiny teardrop trailer right next to our buggy, and the two looked very cute together.

Big and little RV trailer

Are these trailers the same species??

The people with the cameras were all from Europe, and the idea of lugging around a trailer as huge as ours struck them as a funny and quirky oddity that’s appropriately peculiar to the New World where large roads and long distances are common.

As we chatted about RVs on both sides of the pond, and showed them the inside of our rig, they busily uploaded their pics of the big-and-little-brother trailers from their phones to Facebook for friends and family back in Germany and the Czech Republic (which our newfound friends informed us had just acquired the new name of Czechia a few weeks prior).

What a crazy, instantaneous and in-the-moment world this is!!

The folks with the teardrop trailer returned. They hailed from Tennessee and were headed to Alaska on a four month tour. We hopped in our truck and carried on towards the town of Jasper.

As our many posts from the Canadian Rockies have shown, the National Parks at the heart of the most dramatic of the Rocky Mountains are a great area for RV travelers to explore. Scroll down for some links to help you plan your bucket list trip!!

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Watkins Glen State Park NY – Absolutely Breathtaking!

August 2015 — During our stay in the beautiful Finger Lakes of New York we enjoyed several weeks of thrills in August.

Photographing Hector Falls Finger Lakes New York

Glorious Hector Falls in the Finger Lakes of New York

We enjoyed watching the Amish families in their horses and buggies and we discovered lots of waterfalls at the south end of Seneca and Cayuga Lakes.

One day we decided to set off and see the mother lode of them all at Watkins Glen State Park. On our way there, we both noticed a waterfall out of the corner of our eye as we zipped by. It was Hector Falls, and Mark brought the truck to a screeching halt so we could see it up close.

Hector Falls Finger Lakes New York

Hector Falls is a wide waterfall that slips under the highway…

What a beautiful waterfall. It is right by the side of the road, and it even slips underneath the highway below a bridge where it stair steps down a series of wide, flat shelves.

Hector Falls stair stepping cascade Finger Lakes New York

Stair steps of waterfalls beneath the highway at Hector Falls.

Mark spotted a beautiful flower growing in the underbrush too.

Flower

What a unique flower!

When we got to Watkins Glen State Park, the skies began to threaten. But we forged ahead anyway, walking along the Gorge Trail that follows the carvings made by Glen Creek in the soft sedimentary rock. Almost immediately, we found ourselves in a fabulous canyon filled with a pretty waterfall with a stone bridge crossing the creek.

Bridge Watkins Glen Ithaca New York

We were rewarded with a fantastic waterfall
and stone bridge right off the bat!

The heavens decided not to spare anyone on the trail that day, and a deluge soon fell. Savvy New Yorkers had come with their umbrellas. They know how unpredictable the weather can be. We had our ponchos, but they were hardly enough, so we hunted for rock overhangs here and there, crowding in with other hikers to find whatever protection we could as the rain fell in buckets.

Watkins Glen stone stairs and bridge New York

The heavens opened up repeatedly during our hike.

Now and then the rain subsided and we could make our way further down the trail. The canyon walls fell away for a while and the creek flattened out into a beautiful mirror that reflected the thick green foliage around it.

Stream in Watkins Glen State Park New York

The views in Watkins Glen are ever-changing
and truly stunning.

There were waterfalls everywhere, big and small.

Waterfall Watkins Glen Gorge Trail New York

Water spills over the rocks.

The waterfall at Cavern Cascade was tall and straight. This one was lots of fun because the trail went behind it!

Cavern Cascade Waterfall Watkins Glen Gorge Trail New York

Cavern Cascade is a dramatic vertical drop!

Cavern Cascade Watkins Glen Waterfalls Gorge New York

The Gorge Trail scoots behind Cavern Cascade and goes
behind several other waterfalls too!

The lush foliage and flat creek lured us forward until the rains came again.

Watkins Glen State Park Finger Lakes New York

Serenity between the wild falls.

This time it was quite a downpour, but somehow we found a spot to hide and stay relatively dry. Mark looked up and saw some berries hanging on a branch and got the most creative image of them with the rain streaming down behind them.

Rain on berries Watkins Glen State Park New York

Looking out from our hiding spot along the rock wall, Mark sees a wonderful photo op!

Once the rains released us — and all the other hikers that had been tucked against the sheer rock walls with us — we followed the trail as it snaked along the most spectacular curves of a narrow canyon.

The Narrows Watkins Glen Gorge Finger Lakes New York

The Narrows was carved over millennia
by patient Glen Creek.

The rocks had been expertly cut by the creek over millions of years, and small waterfalls fell into crystal pools right next to our path.

Waterfalls at Watkins Glen State Park New York

The waterfalls fell in cascades.

If we had been frustrated by the rain two minutes before, we were imminently grateful for it now, because there was no sunshine to make hotspots of light on the rocks.

Watkins Glen State Park cascades and waterfalls New York

We were so fortunate to have a day with brooding skies, rain and all!

The dull, flat light created by the black skies was absolutely perfect for our photos.

Rainbow Falls Watkins Glen Gorge New York

Rainbow Falls let loose a fine stream of diamonds up top.

The heavy downpours made the water run faster too. At Rainbow Falls the thin strand of diamonds falling from the highest rocks was absolutely stunning. We were in awe that Watkins Glen was such a jewel in the Finger Lakes, and my jaw dropped as I saw the photos taking shape on the back of my camera.

Rainbow Falls Watkins Glen State Park Gorge Trail New York

I couldn’t believe my eyes when this appeared
on the back of my camera!

Afterwards, flushed with excitement, we stopped for an ice cream cone at the Snack Shack. The rain was still falling, but a little cupola near the state park entrance was a perfect hideaway. We ate our cones in utter contentment. What a special place — and what a special day!

Snack Shack Watkins Glen State Park New York

Wet, tired and incredibly happy, we capped a perfect day with an ice cream cone.

The New York Finger Lakes are a wonderful area for an RV road trip, and Watkins Glen State Park is truly a “must see” destination while you’re there. For RVers headed that way, our links below might help you plan your travels.

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Waterfalls, Wildlife & Wineries in New York’s Finger Lakes

August 2015 – The Finger Lakes region in New York really surprised us with its serenity and beauty. Not only did we find a really fun town in Seneca Falls where boaters pull in and tie up on the along the river, but we were enchanted by the pretty scenery along Seneca and Cayuga Lakes themselves.

Seneca Lake New York at Sunset

Beautiful view of Seneca Lake

At one time the Finger Lakes were a rural escape for downstate New Yorkers that wanted to get out into the countryside upstate. There are some lovely old mansions along the edge of Seneca Lake and our friends took us on some wonderful back roads to see them.

Finger Lakes New York summer mansion

There are many beautiful old mansions near the lakes

Finger Lakes NY mansion of yesteryear_

Not a bad place to get away from the city!

As we were admiring the mansions, we suddenly noticed some deer in a field. Looking closer, we realized they were two spotted fawns and a red fox, walking slowly, all together! What total luck!!

Mark and I jumped into action hoping they wouldn’t bolt. We were absolutely amazed when they calmly stopped (the fox even sat down!) and turned to look right at us for a minute or two, all three of them! Then they moseyed on their way across the field and into the woods, still together.

Fawns and fox Finger Lakes New York

We were astonished as this trio stopped to look at us and then slowly walked on — together!

We moseyed on our way too. Just a few minutes later we glanced over at a meadow and saw a doe and her pure white fawn staring at us.

White deer fawn and its mother Finger Lakes New York

Our jaws still hanging open from seeing the fawns and the fox, we spotted a mama deer with her pure white baby.

These Seneca White Deer are not albinos, and they are unique to this area. We could not believe our eyes and out good luck at seeing one up close! Somehow, the calmness of this region seems to apply to the wildlife too, and the white fawn looked right at us for a long time. Then it turned and, together with mama, bounded off into the woods.

White deer of the Finger Lakes New York

A Seneca White Deer!

What a place!

Sunset and sailboat Finger Lakes New York

We were captivated by the peacefulness of this area.

This is a very rural area, and small farms owned by both Amish and Mennonite familes dot the landscape. I just loved the wide sweeping fields with the little barns and silos and farm houses tucked into the corners between them.

Amish farm Finger Lakes New York

There are small Amish and Mennonite farms everywhere.

Farm homestead FInger Lakes New York

Driving the countryside gave us a flavor of what rural America was like once up on a time.

Cows and Amish farm Finger Lakes New York

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These small farms raise livestock and corn and soy, but a new crop that is quicly sweeping through the region is grapes. There is a rapidly growing wine industry in the Finger Lakes, and there is a beautiful winery every half mile or so on just about every road. For wine enthusiasts, you could spend an entire season out here getting to know all the different growers and their products.

We visited the Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery. It is unique because there is a Winery side of the business and a Brewery side. So, whether you want to sample fine wines or microbrews, it’s just a matter of going in the right door!

Wagner Winery and Brewery Seneca Lake New York

Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery AND Wagner Valley Brewery — two for one!

Out back there is a wonderful grassy lawn filled with picnic benches as well as a huge shaded deck overlooking the lawn and Seneca Lake. We kicked back with a tasty brew and savored the late afternoon.

Grape vines Wagner Winery Seneca Lake New York

There is a fantastic shaded deck behind the winery/brewery overlooking picnic tables and Seneca Lake

We discovered that this is a very popular area for Bachelorette parties. Not for Bachelor parties — those guys seem to have something different in mind when they want to get wild, so they go to other kinds of establishments — but local bachelorettes just love to rent a stretch limousine and take a tour of the Finger Lakes vineyards.

How fun it was to look over and see a crew of beautiful young women lined up for a photo. It turned out this was the second stop on their tour — we had seen the limo driver napping in the limo in the parking lot when we came in — and these young beauties were really living it up.

They were wearing matching tank tops, with the bride in white (there was no mistaking her — her shirt said “Bride” right on it). The bridesmaids wore navy blue, each with her role in the wedding printed on the front too.

Bride and bridesmaids Bachelorette party Finger Lakes New York

These gals were having way too much fun!

I sighed watching them, wishing I had been there, and done that, and had the shirt!!

We carried on, with images of beautiful weddings floating around in my brain, and we found there are cute towns all around the Finger Lakes regions.

Waterloo New York Main Street

Waterloo

Waterloo and Ovid both have pretty main streets.

Ovid New York Main Street

Ovid (pronounced “Oh Vid” not “Ah Vid”)

And in Ovid’s town square there are three brick buildings in a row that each have four white columns out front. These historic government buildings are fondly called the Three Bears by the locals!

Three bears Ovid New York

The Three Bears

The Finger Lakes are also known for their beautiful waterfalls, and there is quite a selection to see. The Taughannock Falls are very tall.

Taughannock Falls with people Ithaca New York

Taughannock Falls – Wow!

Right across from the falls is a viewing area where you can get a good closeup look.

Taughannock Falls Finger Lakes New York

A closer view…

Over in Ithaca, home of Cornell University, there is a beautiful waterfall in the Ithaca Natural Area. We got lost on our way there, driving the tiny roads between all the fraternities and going up and down some steep roads. But it was worth all the wrong turns once we got there.

Unfortunately, we had run out of steam by the time we finished playing there, and we never got to the more famous Triphammer waterfall that is right in the middle of the Cornell campus, apparently at the intersection of University and East avenues. Oh well, next time!!

Ithaca Falls Natural Area New York Finger Lakes

Ithaca Falls Natural Area – a great spot to clear your head after finals at Cornell!

The Finger Lakes are a charming place for an RV roadtrip, offering not only waterfalls and wineries but a glimpse of America’s quiet and rural past that is very hard to find.

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Shenandoah National Park, Virginia – Climbs & Falls!

June, 2015 – The Blue Ridge Parkway connects Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina with Shenandoah National Park in Virginia where the Parkway morphs into Skyline Drive. The difference between the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive is very subtle, as both of these long drives is a winding, hilly road under a canopy of green trees.

RV driving Skyline Drive Shenandoah National Park Virginia

Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park

As we drove on Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive, we began seeing more rock faces on the sides of the road, and there were more open areas where the views opened up.

Unlike the Blue Ridge Parkway where many scenic overlooks actually have no view at all because overgrown trees stand in the way, Shenandoah National Park’s scenic viewpoints all feature a real view. We saw some lovely vistas of mountains fading off into the distance. This difference may be due, in part, to the fact that the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is managed by the National Park Service, is free for all travelers to use, whereas Shenandoah NP, which Skyline Drive traverses, charges the usual National Park fees.

Mountains in Shenandoah National Park Virginia

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find that
going to the mountains is going home.” — John Muir, 1914

When all the great national parks in the western states were being built in the early 1900’s, there was a desire in the eastern states to create a similar park that set aside beautiful lands and made them available to people for recreation. The tricky part was that most land was already privately owned. Shenandoah was created in 1935 through government acquisition of private land by eminent domain. Before it was even officially open, the crowds arriving from Washington, DC, and other nearby cities to enjoy the great outdoors were staggering.

Traffic in Shenandoah National Park Virginia

A Shenandoah scenic overlook circa 1935

The crowds can be overwhelming today too, and at a few of the hiking trailheads we found it was nearly impossible to find a parking space. Just like the Blue Ridge Parkway, this is a road that is loved by motorcyclists as well as motorists, and we saw many groups of them out having a ball on these twisty mountain roads.

Motorcycles on Skyline Drive Shenandoah National Park Virginia

Skyline Drive is a favorite with motorcycles

There is still plenty of peace and quiet and wildlife in Shenandoah, however. We saw lots of deer, including one that sprinted across the road in front of us. Even more exciting, on one of our hikes Mark spotted a black bear just 100 feet from the trail. We both tried like crazy to get a good photo, but he kept his rump to us and a thousand skinny tree branches obscured our view of him. Oh well. It was still really cool to watch him going about his business in the woods.

Deer crossing Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park

We saw lots of wildlife in Shenandoah

We decided to do one waterfall hike in Shenandoah to wrap up our waterfall theme on this leg of our travels. We had just about had our fill of waterfalls — who would have thought that was possible back in the Smokies? — but we had room for one more.

Dark Hollow Falls is a beautiful waterfall that has an upper section and a lower section. We hiked down from the top (although lots of people came via a different, easier route), and the view looking up at the upper falls was wonderful.

Dark Hollow Falls Shenandoah National Park Virginia

The upper falls at Dark Hollow

We were there on a Sunday, and the crowds were thick. People waited and took turns getting photos of themselves standing on the rocks at the base of the waterfall, and the trails were loaded with people of all ages.

The hike down from there to the lower falls was easy and the lower falls were very pretty too.

Dark Hollow Falls Shenandoah National Park Virginia

Dark Hollow Falls lower waterfalls

Dark Hollow Falls Virginia Shenandoah National Park

The lower falls at Dark Hollow

Dark Hollow Falls Virginia Blue Ridge Parkway

Lower waterfall at Dark Hollow Falls

We also hiked to Mary’s Rock. This time we went midweek, and we were the only ones on the trail. There was a lot of activity in the woods around us, however. Squirrels made noises in the underbrush and songbirds filled the air with beautiful warbling.

Hike to Mary's Rock Shenandoah National Park Virginia

The hike to Mary’s Rock goes through some wonderful woods

Ferns in Shenandoah National Park Virginia

A trio of ferns against a tree

Leaves

Beautiful leaf patterns

We came across a strange rock chimney standing in the middle of the woods. There was no plaque or marker on it. Just the chimney standing there. Adding another odd note to this weird orphaned chimney, we found a brand new Keene sandal sitting right in the middle of the trail. Hmmm… something old and something new!

Mary's Rock Summit Hike Chimney

We came across an unexpected chimney and a new lone Keene sandal

After taking a left turn near the end of the hike, the trail suddenly opened up, and we were staring at Mary’s Rock and the vast rolling green hills beyond and far below.

Mary's Rock Summit Shenandoah National Park Virginia

The summit of Mary’s Rock

There were lots of big boulders all around, and we had fun scrambling to different peaks and pinnacles.

Standing atop Mary's Rock Summit Shenandoah National Park VIrginia

There are great views from the tippy top!!

Mary’s Rock is at the north end of Shenandoah National Park, and this hike was our last foray into the ribbon of national park lands that stretches nearly 500 miles from Cherokee, North Carolina to Front Royal, Virginia.

Summit of Mary's Rock Hike Shenandoah National Park Virginia

Happy hikers

We had finished our nearly four week trek north along this unique strip of lush mountains, and as we put away our hiking shoes and camelbacks for the last time, we knew we’d barely scratched the surface of this rich area. We’ll be back for sure! But for now, it was time to switch mental gears to get ready for our upcoming summer RV adventures that awaited us far to the north.

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Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia) – Waterfalls & Rhododendrons

May, 2015 – As we took our RV north through Virginia, hopping on and off the Blue Ridge Parkway, we followed the blooming of the rhododendrons as they blossomed first in the south and then in the north. In fact, we followed the rhododendron bloom all the way from the Smokies to northern Maine over the course of five weeks! We also decided to contine the travel theme we had begun in the southern part of the parkway in North Carolina: Waterfalls.

Rhododendron selife Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Lavender rhododendrons and stairs defined our Blue Ridge Parkway waterfall hikes in Virginia

Seeing waterfall pics is very inspiring, but actually getting to them on a hiking trail usually involves a lot of vertical hiking, either climbing up to the top of a waterfall or scrambling down to the bottom of one. We got some great stair-stepping workouts on our quest for beautiful waterfalls in the Virginia portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway!

APPLE ORCHARD FALLS

The first waterfall we went to was Apple Orchard Falls. This hiking trail crosses the Appalachian Trail, and we were astonished as we approached the intersection with the Appalachian Trail to meet a fellow who was spending his summer hiking from Georgia to Maine!

This hiker, Brian, was traveling light for a 4 month walk in the woods, but he said he was doing great. Unlike most of his fellow hikers, he hadn’t had to replace his hiking shoes yet, and he’d knocked out 770 miles of the trek with another 1,400 or so to go before he reached Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

Appalachian Trail Through Hiker Brian (Porkchop)

Brian is walking from Georgia to Maine this summer, and we met him 1/3 of the way into his trip.

We bounded down the trail to the bottom of Apple Orchard Falls after that encounter, so excited to have met an Appalachian Trail through-hiker in the middle of his journey. At the bottom we found a pretty waterfall cascading over the rocks.

Apple Orchard Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Apple Orchard Falls

Better yet, there were rhododendrons blooming all around the lower part of the waterfall and even more along the stream that fell loosely over the rocks into the woods. We were in seventh heaven running around taking pics. In no time we were in our own worlds, totally separated. It was long after we were out of sight of each other that we realized we’d left our trusty two-way radios in the truck. I had no idea where Mark went, but I followed the rhododendrons!

Rhododendrons Apple Orchard Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Rhododendrons were blooming all over the place

Rhododendrons are a magnificent flower, and I crouched and crawled and snuck under branches along the river banks to try to find places to get pics of them with flowing water. I couldn’t believe they grew wild in such abundance. Everywhere I looked, they were in all stages of bloom:

04 406 Rhododendron blooming 1

05 406 rhododendron blooming 2

06 701 Rhododendron blooming 5

07 701 Rhododendron blooming 6

When I’d had my fill of rhododendrons and waterfalls, I hiked back to where I’d last seen Mark at the bottom of the falls. I searched around there for a long time wondering where he’d disappeared to along the creek. I yelled his name, bunches of times, but there was no answer. Oh no!

The return hike to the truck was a one and a half miles or so straight uphill. This trail was STEEP, and I was torn. Should I stay at the bottom? Should I go back to the top?

I finally decided to take the chance that he had gone back to the top. It was late, after all, and if he couldn’t find me I figured he’d return to the truck up top. I hiked nervously straight uphill, sweat pouring down my back.

What if he wasn’t at the top? I wondered. Would it make sense to go back down to the bottom to look for him? And what if I couldn’t find him down at the bottom? Should I then hike back up again?

At exactly what point would I try to get help? And how many miles away would help be? And would those helpful people then hike to the bottom to look for him this late in the day or wait til tomorrow? What if he’d gotten injured and couldn’t move? My imagination ran wild.

Apple Orchard Falls Blue Ridge Parkway VIrginia

Apple Orchard Falls

I continued yelling for him periodically, morosely envisioning the headlines, “Dead hiker found at waterfall, two-way radios found in truck.” How foolish of us!

As I hiked the last 100 yards straight uphill I craned my neck looking for the truck. When I finally caught a glimpse of it just beyond the last tree, I saw the door was open and Mark’s smiling face poked out from behind it and we both ran and gave each other a huge hug. What a relief!

Fallingwater Cascade Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Fallingwater Cascades — with overhanging rhododendrons

FALLINGWATER CASCADES

The next hike proved much more straight forward. Fallingwater Cascades is just five miles away from Apple Orchard Falls, and is a much shorter and easier hike.

Fallingwater Falls rhododendrons Virginia

Fallingwater Cascades

The rhododendrons were blooming here too, but I stayed on the trail this time. The waterfalls were lovely.

Fallingwater Falls Virginia

Fallingwater Cascades

CRABTREE FALLS

Our final waterfall hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia was Crabtree Falls. When we saw the name of this waterfall we did a doubletake because we had already hiked a Crabtree Falls in the North Carolina part of the Blue Ridge Parkway a week or so ago.

12 406 Fallingwater Waterfall Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

So we were surprised when the gal at the visitors center who told us about Crabtree Falls in Virginia had never heard of the one in North Carolina. However, the Virginia falls is the tallest waterfall in the east, a claim to fame the North Carolina Crabtree Falls doesn’t have.

Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia lower waterfall

Crabtree Falls — Lower falls

We found out that when you hike the tallest waterfall in the east, you are in for a LOT of stair climbing. Crabtree Falls consists of three waterfalls sections that are each unique, and between each section there are staircases and some steep trails.

Crabtree Falls hiking trail Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Not only is this hike steep, but there are a ton of stairs!

Each staircase brought us to more waterfalls.

Lower Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Crabtree Falls

And then we climbed more stairs!! Some stairs were built into the trail. Others were just plain old staircases!

Hiking trail stairs Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

In some places the stairs look natural, and in some places they are just staircases.

After the stairs we saw another bit of the waterfall. Different shape. Same falls!

Middle Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Crabtree Falls

As we climbed higher, we got more and more tired. And obviously the rangers did too, because up near the top they quit building stairs and just let the tree roots be the stair cases!

Root staircase Crabtree Falls Virginia

Nature’s Staircase!

At the very top of the waterfall, the stream flowed between the rhododendron bushes and then fell right out in front of them. Just beautiful. And this time, since we had started the hike at the bottom and had climbed to the top, we gleefully ended our hike by descending down the stairs instead of trudging up!!

Top Crabtree Falls Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

Crabtree Falls

If you take your RV along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the parkway itself is fine for driving except for two low bridges at the far south end in North Carolina.

No matter where you drive in this area, be prepared for steep hills. We were very grateful driving in these hills to have recently outfitted our truck with a diesel engine tuner to improve its towing power and to have outfitted our trailer with electric over hydraulic disc brakes.

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