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Tag: National Forest

Exploring Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier is a part of the Tongass National Forest in Southeastern Alaska and is located about 12 miles from downtown Juneau. Our Glacier and Whale Watch tour through Alaska Tales, took us first to Mendenhall Glacier before heading to the harbor to catch the whale watching tour.

Mendenhall Glacier is currently 13 miles long and has receded about 1.75 miles since 1929. In 2012, the retreating glacier exposed tree trunks and logs that have been dated to 1,200 and 2,350 years old and are teaching scientists about the ecosystem of Alaska before the glacier formed.

The Visitor Center at Mendenhall Glacier was the first U.S. Forest Service visitor center built in the United States in 1962. Exhibits in the visitor center cover the history of the glacier including what it looked like in 1794 versus today. There are also exhibits about the local wildlife including bears, mountain goats, and salmon.

One of the most popular hikes at Mendenhall Glacier is the Nugget Falls Trail. It is a 2-mile round trip hike from the visitor center and takes you to scenic Nugget Falls. It is a fairly easy, gravel trail and the forest service says the hike takes about an hour on average.

Mendenhall Glacier Sign

Unfortunately, our tour only gave us an hour to explore Mendenhall Glacier and we spend about ten minutes waiting for a bus parking spot to open up, so we didn’t have as much time to explore as we were hoping. We’re fast walkers and could probably make it to the falls and back in less than the hour that the forest service says the hike will take, but we didn’t want to miss the bus that was taking us to the boat to go whale watching. So, we ended up doing the 1/3 mile photo point trail instead. This short trail is the perfect spot to capture the glacier.

I wish our tour would have been set up so that we did the whale watching first and then had time to explore the Mendenhall Glacier area. It would’ve been great to just take as much time as wanted and then got on the next bus headed back to town. I guess, that’s why a lot of people rent cars when they’re in Juneau. Then you could spend as much time as you’d like exploring the trails. I guess we’ll just have to make a return trip to Juneau sometime!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Mendenhall Glaicer Pinterest Graphic

Mendenhall Glaicer Pinterest Graphic

Wordless Wednesday: La Coca Falls

La Coca Falls

Wordless Wednesday: El Yunque

El Yunque Mountains

Hiking El Yunque National Forest

El Yunque Vista

El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest system. El Yunque is located near Rio Grande and is a 35-minute drive from the San Juan area. El Yunque is one of the most popular attractions on the island. Just like many of the national parks we visited last summer, a $2 reservation is required to drive into the National Forest. Reservations can be made up to a month in advance at Recreation.gov.

Posing at La Coca Falls

Once you get into the national forest, there are several places to get out and explore. The first is La Coca Falls (left), which is a large waterfall right at the side of the road. With an 85 foot drop, La Coca Falls is a great introduction to the rainforest and a wonderful photo opportunity.

The next stop is Yokahu tower (right). Built in the 1960s, Yokahu tower offers a 360-degree view of the rainforest and the coastline. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Virgin Islands. The forest service offers a concession stand in the tower and if you have a National Park passport, they have a stamp here.

Yokahu TowerWhen planning this trip, the La Mina Falls trail looked like one of the best, easier hikes in El Yunque, but unfortunately, it has not reopened after hurricane Maria. So, we decided to hike the Mt. Britton trail. When we visited, the road through the forest was closed at the picnic area, so that added an extra mile to this hike. According to the forest service’s Facebook page, the road should be closed farther down than it actually was when we visited. The roads through the forest are steep and winding and hiking on the road felt more difficult than the trail itself. If you are planning to hike the El Yunque or Mt. Britton trails, just be aware that the road closure adds additional mileage.

Mt. Britton TowerOnce on the trail, it was a beautiful trek through lush, tropical greenery. The trail is a 1.3 mile hike (0.8 miles each way) with 650 foot elevation gain. The forest service says this hike takes 45 minutes each way, but we went down much quicker than that! This is a steep hike so it can be tough on the knees. Make sure you have shoes with good traction as rain is frequent in the rainforest. The Mt. Britton tower (left) at the end of the trail, was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s and offers beautiful views of Puerto Rico, The Caribbean, and the Atlantic. The view from the top (top) makes the climb worth it!

Mt. Britton Tower from Below

We climbed all the way to that tower!

If you are staying in Puerto Rico for any length of time, you definitely have to check out El Yunque! With the current road construction, the forest service is limiting reservations even more. If you are unable to get a reservation, there are many tour companies that take visitors to El Yunque.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Island a Day Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Best Campgrounds in Michigan for Tent Camping

Sunset at McLain State Park

Camping is more popular than ever and I thought now would be a good time to share my favorite places to get into nature in Michigan. It is important to note that many of these campgrounds fill up on summer weekends, so definitely try to make reservations early! Unless otherwise noted, campgrounds in Michigan take reservations 6 months in advance and the popular, waterfront sites are very competitive!

When looking for campgrounds for tent camping, I’m looking for:

  • Privacy: without a big RV to retreat to, I prefer to have some trees separating me from my neighbors
  • View: my favorite campsites in Michigan are usually near a body of water and being able to see it from your site is unbeatable
  • Location: we are not the kind of campers that hang around the campground all day. We like campgrounds with activities nearby, whether it be hiking, boating or a town to explore
  • Cleanliness: while I haven’t had an issue with any campground in Michigan being unhygienic, the ones that made this list are clean.
  • Rustic vs. modern: I don’t need electric service while camping. I have learned that everything I need to power (mainly charging phones and camera batteries) can be powered through the AC adapter in my car or from a battery pack. Modern bathhouses and showers are a plus but I am not opposed to an outhouse. I haven’t been brave enough to try dispersed camping without an outhouse yet.

With those parameters in place, here are my favorite campgrounds in Michigan, in no particular order:

D.H. Day Campground

D.H. Day is located in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This campground started taking reservations a few years ago, before that people literally lined up early in the morning to get a site here and after camping here, I understand why. It is a rustic campground but campers do have access to the showers at Platte River (the modern campground in the park). The sites are big and very private and there is a nice beach located within the campground. When I booked, the only sites available were in the generator loop. With the rules about when generators can be run, it was pretty peaceful. Reservations are accepted from May to October. The rest of the year it is still first come, first served. With online reservations, D.H. Day books up early. You can book 6 months out at Recreation.gov.

Fisherman’s Island

Fisherman’s Island State Park is located near Charlevoix. The waterfront sites here are AMAZING and can fit a tent or small trailer. You basically have a small beach on Lake Michigan to yourself. This is a completely rustic campground but the setting is totally worth it! It is very quiet and it’s not too hard to get a site in peak season although the waterfront sites book up early. To book, visit midnrreservations.com.


Tahquamenon Falls – Rivermouth Pines

Like many Michigan State Parks, Tahquamenon Falls in the U.P. is a large park with many campgrounds throughout. My favorite has to be Rivermouth Pines. Located away from the falls where the Tahquamenon River meets Lake Superior, this area is off the beaten path and quiet. The sites are well spaced out and some of them are right on the water. The sites in this area are rustic but it is within walking distance to the Rivermouth campground where there is a modern bathhouse. To book visit, midnrreservations.com.

Hoeft State Park

Hoeft State Park, located near Rogers City, is really a hidden gem of the Michigan State Park system. It has a gorgeous Lake Huron beach and is near the Huron-Sunrise trail which is a popular biking destination. The sites are large and spread out with electric service and a modern bathhouse. One of the best things about this park is that is typically pretty easy to get a site and only really fills up on holiday weekends. It is still a good idea to reserve a site ahead of time at midrnreservations.com.

Straits State Park

Straits State Park in St. Ignace is the only campground that we routinely return to. It is very close to downtown St. Ignace so it’s very convenient if you are planning on visiting Mackinac Island. But what keeps me coming back to this park are the waterfront, bridge view sites. Even if you can’t get right on the water, both lower campgrounds have great views of the bridge and there is a little bench on the water where you can sit if you didn’t score a bridge-view site. The sites right on the water do not have electric service but Straits has the best showers in all of the state park system. The waterfront sites tend to fill up quickly but are easier to get during the week. To book, visit Midnrreservations.com.

Update 2023: Over the last few years the bridge view sites have opened up for the bigger rigs. What this means is that unless you can score one of those sites, you can’t really see the bridge from your site. Also, this makes the campground feel much more crowded than in the past. The waterfront bridge view sites are still some of my favorites in the Michigan State Park system, but they are harder to get. The sites farther back are the typical Michigan State Park open-field campground and are not my favorites for tent camping.

Leelanau State Park

Located on the tip of Leelanau Peninsula (Michigan’s Pinky Finger), Leelanau State Park is a beautifully wooded, rustic campground jutting into Lake Michigan. Half of the sites are on the water and the other half are tucked back in the woods. The Grand Traverse Lighthouse is walkable from the campground and it is a great base for exploring all that Leelanau Peninsula has to offer. Being that the park is at the tip of the peninsula, it is far from Sleeping Bear Dunes. D.H. Day is probably a better option if you are looking to spend your time in the National Lakeshore. Reservations can be made at midnrreservations.com.

McLain State Park

On the Keweenaw peninsula near Hancock, McLain wins the award for best campground view ever. Perched on a cliff overlooking Lake Superior, this campground offers a stunning view of both the sunrise and sunset over Lake Superior! The sites are kind of close and don’t offer a lot of privacy, but they do have electric service. Since I’ve been there, they did a major refurbishment of the campground since some of the cliffs had eroded and they lost some of the sites. With the renovation came a new bathhouse which was sorely needed. It’s not a bad idea to book a site in advance at midnrreservations.com

Wilderness State Park

Wilderness State Park, located near Mackinaw City, is one of the biggest state parks in the lower peninsula and has several typical state park campgrounds. A few years ago they added these amazing waterfront tent sites (double letter sites AA, BB, etc). These sites are very private and quiet, except for the road noise you get because they are right at the entrance to the park. What is amazing about these sites is that they sit right on the water so each site essentially has its own private beach. These sites are rustic but there is a modern bathroom at the nearby entrance station. These sites are set slightly off from where the parking is so they are not accessible for any kind of trailer. There are only a handful of these sites so it is best to reserve them early on midnrreservations.com.

Bay Furnace Campground

Located in Christmas, Michigan not far from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Bay Furnace is a National Forest Service campground. It is completely rustic with outhouses but the sites are very private and the campground is very quiet. Of course, the park also has a beautiful, rocky beach on Lake Superior which is a great place to watch the sunset at the end of the day. While the campgrounds at Pictured Rocks do now take reservations, they are pretty small and fill up quickly so Bay Furnace is a great alternative. Reservations can be made at recreation.gov.

Cheboygan State Park

Located on the shores of Lake Huron, not far from Mackinaw City, Cheboygan State Park is home to a small campground with outdated electrical service that keeps a lot of the big rigs away. Some of the sites in the park are the tightly packed open fields that Michigan State Parks are known for, but the waterfront sites are very private and wooded with private paths to the water. The park is scheduled for an upgrade to the water and electric system which will probably make it more popular, but hopefully, the waterfront sites will be untouched! Reservations can be made in advance at midrnreservations.com.

Big Sable Sunset

Jack Pine Campground

Jack Pine campground at Ludington State Park is a hike-in campground and one of my absolute favorite campgrounds in the state. Located only about a mile from the parking area along the gravel path to the lighthouse, Jack Pine is one of the most accessible backcountry campgrounds in Michigan. We carried our gear in a wagon but a lot of people get to the campground by bike. Ludington State Park is one of the most popular places to camp in Michigan and most of the campgrounds in the park have cramped, small sites without much privacy. Jack Pine takes a little more effort to get to, but it rewards with quiet and privacy. Reservations can be made in advance at midnrreservations.com.

Thanks for stopping by! What is your favorite campground in Michigan? Let me know in the comments! To read about some of our previous trips, click here. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page.

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