Jetty Park Campground, Cape Canaveral FL

On the road again on a Friday night, except this time, we left our Toyota Camry behind to ride in a 36 ft. Holiday Rambler Neptune motor home with friends. We’re headed to Jetty Park, a campground on a stretch of beach along the east coast of Florida in Cape Canaveral.

We are always up for a camping trip. With all of the preparation that goes into preparing for a camping excursion, the experience is easier when you’re camping out in a comfortable motor home. Some campgrounds tend to pack the motor homes too closely together to make better use of the available space, while primitive spots are more lush and private. Jetty Park offers both options.

Nicely tucked away, this primitive site is very cozy.

You can also rent small cabins that comfortably accommodate a family of four. The cabins are air conditioned with a queen size bed, a set of bunk beds, a half-bath, mini fridge, a small porch, picnic table, and charcoal grill.

Jetty Park is the perfect campground for beach lovers and fishing enthusiasts. With a 1,200 ft. long fishing pier, equipped with running water and fish cleaning stations, you can fish from sunrise to sunset. No need for a fishing license to fish off the pier. No bait, no problem. You can purchase bait in the Bait Shop right on site.

If fishing isn’t your thing, Jetty Park offers 4.5 acres of sandy beach where you can lay back, relax, and soak in the sun.

Kayaks, boogie boards, chairs, and umbrellas can be rented right on the beach. Bring your snacks or visit Fishlips to purchase food, beach, and fishing items.

About a half hour drive from the campground, an exciting experience awaits at the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge Indian River Lagoon, between Cocoa Beach and Titusville, FL. The Bioluminescent Kayak tour with BK Adventures was the most exciting part of our camping trip to Jetty Park. Bioluminescence is light produced by a chemical reaction within a living organism. Plankton, a microscopic aquatic organism, cause the mystical bioluminescence in the waters of the lagoons we visited on our BK Adventure night tour.

Our tour began at 11 p.m., on a night with little moonlight, the perfect condition to experience bioluminescence. We booked the Clear Kayak Tour for $72 per person. The tour guides greeted our group of six, and after a short explanation of the tour, and a generous application of bug spray, we set out on our 1.5 hour kayak tour.

This tour was nothing short of magical, with the exception of arguing with my husband about which way to paddle. Our tour guide led us into the mangroves as we watched in amazement the glowing water around us. The illuminated fish beneath us, and the perfect starry sky above were breathtaking.

Towards the end of our kayaking experience we witnessed something unexpected. Our friends noticed a few large humps peeking through the surface of the water. Our guide shone a flashlight in the direction of the humps triggering an explosion of glowing water as startled manatees, disturbed from their peaceful slumber, offered us an exciting end to a unique adventure.

Although we didn’t have an opportunity to visit during this trip, the Kennedy Space Center is a must see.

Whether you prefer to relax in the serenity of a sandy beach, pitch a tent on a primitive site, enjoy the magic of a bioluminescent kayak experience, or explore our history in space travel, Jetty Park Campground offers something special for all who visit.

Discovering NOLA

When you start a bucket list in your twenties, you don’t really think about it much. At least I never did. Now in my mid-fifties, there’s a different sense of urgency as I get older to explore and enjoy the places and experiences I planned to live in my youth.

One of the places on that bucket list started long ago is visiting New Orleans. Today, via the Florida Turnpike, we hit the road to The Big Easy with great expectations, a detailed itinerary, and ready for a new adventure.

We arrived in New Orleans and immediately headed for the historic French Quarter. Our excitement was only trumped by the overload to the senses of the smells, sounds, and sights of this vibrant city. We couldn’t wait to explore; we couldn’t wait to savor some of Nola’s Cajun cuisine!

 

We arrived at lunchtime and found a charming restaurant on Royal Street in the French Quarter named Pere Antoine. This restaurant was not on my list of must see and visit, but we were hungry. We ordered Seafood Gumbo and Gumbalaya, a combination of Gumbo and Jambalaya. The food was tasty and spicy, exactly what we expected, and the service and ambiance were lovely.

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The restaurant is named for a Spanish friar, Antonio de Sedella, lovingly known as Pere Antoine. He was the people’s priest, and his death in 1829 at the age of 81 was mourned by the entire city. If you’re into ghost stories like me, you should visit the street named for Pere Antoine, where his ghost has been known to visit. The main entrance of St. Louis Cathedral is on Pere Antoine Alley, right by Jackson Square.

We were off to explore the city before checking into our Airbnb.

Walking through the French Quarter we found by chance a must-see on my list, Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo.

As voodoo shops go, Marie Laveau’s is pretty touristy. With an array of religious and spiritual paraphernalia, tribal masks, charms, herbs used for sacred rituals, and more, this shop will immerse the curious visitor into the misunderstood world of voodoo. Spiritual private readings, as well as an alter with offerings to the high priestess of voodoo, Marie Laveau, are part of the experience.

Exhausted from the road trip we headed to our Air B&B to relax and get ready for dinner.

We have been staying at private homes through the many rental companies available like Air B&B, VRBO or HomeAway for years. It gives us the opportunity to experience all kinds of homes, with space and privacy that truly help us relax and unwind. This home is a remodeled shotgun. Gorgeous high ceilings, crown moldings, hardwood floors, and open living space, made this home the perfect home away from home to enjoy our short stay in New Orleans.

 

Since our house was Uptown in the Carrolton neighborhood, we chose a restaurant for dinner only a few miles away. Superior Seafood and Oyster Bar, located on St. Charles and Napoleon, is easily accessible by the St. Charles Streetcar. The restaurant’s old world charm with rich wood, brick walls, a bar imported from Paris, Parisian chairs and antique accents is only second to the cuisine. Oysters, a New Orleans staple, are offered in a variety of ways in the full-service oyster bar. The seafood was fresh, perfectly prepared, and a delicious ending to our first day in the city.

 

Day two promised to be a day of discovery, with a few planned activities starting with breakfast at the world famous Cafe Du Monde, where visitors line up all day to savor their Beignets and Cafe Au Lait. Even on a rainy day, you can see the line forming early morning. But here’s a secret, you really don’t need to stand in line. You can simply walk in and find an empty table and just sit down and wait to be served. Don’t tell, it’s our secret.

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Cafe Du Monde opened in 1862 and was part of the French Market. If you’re looking for eggs and bacon you’ve come to the wrong place. This coffee shop only serves the famous savory fried square doughnuts smothered in powdered sugar, coffee, and hot chocolate twenty-four hours a day.IMG_9269 - Copy - Copy

The French Market, with six blocks of shops, a flea market, restaurants, a farmers market and more, is a favorite gathering place to shop, eat, drink, and enjoy music and entertainment. You can find pretty much everything here–from art to pralines that come in all kinds of flavors–you can check off most of your souvenir gifts at the French Market.

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With satisfied appetites and some shopping done, we head off to explore the city.

To stroll the streets of the French Quarter is to go back in time. The rich Spanish and French history is visible in the city’s architecture, the names of the streets and businesses, and in the eclectic and diverse backgrounds of its residents. Street performers abound, and music fills the air.  And although Mardi Gras had long passed, hints of the traditional celebration was still everywhere with beaded necklaces hanging from balconies and trees.

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With the latter half of day two rained out, we headed back to our Nola home to relax and dry out.

 

The streetcar is a great way to get around in New Orleans, and for $1.25 you can purchase a one-way ticket.

On this rainy day, we headed back uptown on the St. Charles streetcar, which began transporting locals and visitors back in 1835. Immerse yourself in a time long gone, as you ride the St. Charles line past stately mansions in the Garden District. A walking tour is the best way to explore the beautiful homes of this historic neighborhood.

It was time for lunch, so we stopped at the Blind Pelican, right on the St. Charles line. Offering a casual ambiance and moderately priced menu, this restaurant was one of our favorites.

Famous for the oysters, you can order a dozen raw for $3.00, and $7.50 for a dozen chargrilled. Other southern favorites like fried green tomatoes, and shrimp, roast beef, or oyster Poboys are must haves.

No trip to New Orleans is complete without a tour of one of its unique and iconic cemeteries. Because New Orleans is below sea level, burying the dead below ground is not an option. Instead, above ground tombs and family vaults are spread across the city, with the oldest cemetery dating back to 1789.

 

Saint Louis Cemetery Number One is the resting place of Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau. It is also the home of a nine-foot tomb in the shape of a pyramid, the future final resting place of the tomb’s owner, actor Nicholas Cage. Some say that the unusual tomb is in honor of Cage’s National Treasure movie franchise; others believe that the pyramid is linked to the actor’s possible involvement with the secret Illuminati society.

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The best way to visit one of New Orleans cemeteries is to hire a tour guide. You don’t want to miss out on the interesting stories and history that lie within these cities of the dead.

The National WWII Museum was next on our list of attractions. This museum is worth the visit. You can purchase tickets to the museum at $27 for adults to free for veterans. For an additional $6 you may purchase tickets to see the movie “Beyond All Boundaries,” produced and narrated by Tom Hanks. This 4D movie is spectacular! It was my favorite part of the visit.

We continue exploring The Quarter, peaking into gardens, and enjoying the sounds and people of the city.

 

Here are some of the local colorful characters of The Quarter. 

 

We ended our visit to New Orleans with a fun Segway tour. This was a first for us, and I was a little bit nervous. However, just ten minutes of practice on the Segway was all we needed to feel completely comfortable. This is an activity we should have done at the very beginning of our visit, because the tour takes you through the entire French quarter and beyond; a great way to become acquainted with the city.

Every city has a bookstore you can lose yourself in. Right next door to City Segway is Beckham’s bookshop. I could have stayed in this bookshop for hours. Specializing in rare books, Beckham’s opened its doors to book lovers in 1967. Dogs are welcome, but have to play nice with Juniper, the resident cat. Check out Juniper’s blog at http://www.beckhamsbookshop.com.

Our Segway tour guide recommended the Gumbo Shop for our last meal in Nola.

A favorite with the locals, the Gumbo Shop was the perfect ending to our unforgettable visit to New Orleans.

Nola is now checked off my bucket list, but I’m not done with this fascinating city. We are already planning a trip back to the Big Easy.

New York and a Wedding

New York City.  As I type the name I’m thinking, “how can I possibly express what this city means to me?”  NYC floods my mind with memories of my youth, my family, my dad.   From my upbringing in the Bronx, to my school days at Mother Cabrini in upper Manhattan, to later beginning a career in banking in midtown, this city has shaped my life.  Yet every time I return I feel like a tourist, seeing its wonders for the very first time.

This account of my favorite city comes from the eyes of a non-native, a native, a pseudo-tourist.  Every trip to NY brings new experiences, discovered neighborhoods, new culinary delights, and the best part of each trip, spending time with family and friends.  Dare I say it, !  There’s a reason why the now iconic phrase and logo reaches the sentiment of so many New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers alike.

We arrived at JFK airport in June, excited to be in a city we love, to celebrate the nuptials of two of our favorite people.  A spring wedding in NY, what could be better.  Unlike other trips to the tri-state where we stay in New Jersey with family, this time we decided to really experience the city as tourists.  We stayed at a Hilton in the financial district, a neighborhood I had only briefly visited pre-9/11.  A vibrant neighborhood where women and men, smartly dressed in business attire, reign in the pedestrian hustle through the bustling streets.

Our first stop in our city tour is the 9/11 Memorial. The memory of the horrific events of 9/11 is palpable still throughout the city.  The somber visit to the Memorial, honoring thousands of lives lost in this senseless act of terror, filled our hearts with sadness and pride. Sadness for those forever marked by the loss of their loved ones; pride for a city that stands strong and united.

Walking through the 9/11 Memorial was a surreal experience.  I can only imagine that the brave people of NY who were in the front line, as victims, or to rescue and aid, must find it difficult to come back to the site where it all happened.

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A short walk from Ground Zero we came across Saint Paul’s Church.  Built in 1764, it is one of the oldest churches in NY. St. Paul’s is located right in front of the old World Trade Center, and it became a sanctuary for the victims, workers, firemen, policemen, and all who needed a place to rest, talk, and a place where hugs were abundant in a time of great sadness.  The church is also a memorial, filled with pictures, mementos, prayers, and artifacts of that fated day September 11, 2001.

 

 

The new world trade center, One World Observatory, opened recently in May 2015, is a must see.  From the moment you enter this impressive building you are immersed in a visual experience of the history of New York, culminating in a 360 degree observatory where you can “see forever.” One World Observatory is a stoic reminder that we will never forget, we will persevere in the face of terror.


It’s time to continue our city exploration on foot, and subway.  In search of the perfect NY
pizza, our next stop is Little Italy.  I’m beginning to feel a resurgence of that old NY accent buried deep within, silenced long ago by cafecito cubano, tostones, and Miami living.  We didn’t find the perfect pizza, but we did have lunch in one of the many “A” restaurants in the city.

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I love the intricate ironwork of the fire escape, and the beauty of the historic buildings that grace this city.

 

IMG_9683From Little Italy, to Chinatown, to Tribeca, to Chelsea, each NY neighborhood we visited offers its unique personality and culture.
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Exploring the city always brings surprises.  No matter how often I walk these streets, I find new places to visit.  IMG_9743One of my favorite discoveries this trip was the High Line.  An abandoned train track is reincarnated as a beautiful urban garden.  High above the city, residents walk through gardens growing varieties of flowers, trees, and exotic plants.  Sitting areas nestled within the 1.45 mile long garden invite you to sit, relax, and take in the view.  Some of the apartment buildings along the High Line offer eye level views inside chic New York apartments.  Residents of these apartments must truly enjoy the constant presence of pedestrians strolling by their windows.  The High Line is a treasure New Yorkers so graciously share with all who visit.  You can’t visit the High Line without exploring the Chelsea Market, filled with specialty shops and restaurants, this market will delight your senses.  Our first day in NY was perfect, but the best was yet to come.

On June 4, 2016 a couple in love were joined in marriage, sharing their love and commitment to each other in an intimate ceremony with friends and family.  In a perfect setting, on a perfect day, I was lucky to witness one of my favorite people marry the love of his life.  Two very special men are now joined as one.  And so a new life begins, and I embrace my new family.  Here’s to NY, and to George and Giunero.  May you enjoy life’s adventures and love for each other forever.

 

Wynwood, Graffiti Wonderland

In an effort to revitalize a Miami warehouse district, Wynwood Walls became the project of the late neighborhood restorer Tony Goldman.  His idea was to resuscitate Wynwood by bringing the under recognized art form of graffiti and street art to its warehouse walls.  The idea brought to life this Miami neighborhood, making it one of the most visited by tourists and natives alike, and a haven for artists worldwide.

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Walking the streets of this urban outdoor art gallery is a visual treat.  One of my favorite murals reminded me of one of my favorite cities, New York.  I later learned that the scene is a NY scene created by Brooklyn, NY native Logan Hicks. Hicks creates his murals from templates based on his photographs.  The end result is a mural which makes you want to jump into that city scene.

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If you build it, they will come.  Art revived a dying neighborhood, and with the art came trendy eateries, shops, and micro-breweries making Wynwood one of the hippest places to visit in Miami.  While running from a downpour, we came across a restaurant opened just three months ago Kyu, a modern Asian fusion eatery.  We had some interesting and delicious appetizers–pork belly on a steamed bun, soft shell crab on steamed bun, roasted cauliflower and goat cheese, and spicy Korean fried chicken.  The environment is relaxed, with an organic industrial vibe.

If walls could talk!  The walls of Wynwood speak volumes. Stories of love, despair, happiness, sex, war, life, passion fill every corner of these streets.

We especially enjoyed the messages right at our feet.  Words stamped in concrete, some inspirational, some political, some purely whimsical.

It took the vision of one man to completely transform a decaying neighborhood.  Makes you think how much one person can inspire change.  Whenever you think, I’m only one person, what can I do?,  think again.

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Old Ingraham Highway

The more we get outdoors, the more we disconnect from our everyday life.  Not the great everyday life that includes our friends and family (although I guess that depends on your family), but the stuff that everyday living is made of.  We rush through our days, wishing for the weekend, then wishing for the next weekend, then the summer, and forward to the next holiday or vacation.  We do this over and over, and before you know it, years pass. . .many years pass.  You begin to think about your life and suddenly those things you covet, that house, that car, those sexy must-have pair of high-heeled pumps, becomes a shallow reminder of a life missing something that isn’t measured in material possessions.

And here we are, it’s the weekend, and time to disconnect once more to experience life in its simplest form.   We set off to hike one of the many trails in Everglades National Park, Old Ingraham Highway.  Prepared with our hydration packs, sunblock, and insect repellent, we are well equipped to manage our weekend hike.

Ingraham Highway was completed in the early 1900’s and was named after James E. Ingraham, president of the Model Land Company and vice president of the Florida East Coast Railway.  He worked together with Henry Flagler in the development of South Florida.  Ingraham Highway ran the distance from Homestead to Flamingo.  Flamingo, once thought to become a booming town with the prospect of Henry Flagler’s plans for the East Coast Railway to Key West, is today no more than a ghost town.

Map of Ingraham Hwy, Homestead, FL

The abandoned highway in the middle of the Everglades now offers an interesting biking and hiking trail.  The views are typical South Florida. With sawgrass, cypress trees, and hardwood hammocks in the distance, this serene environment is home to alligators, wading birds, snakes, turtles, amphibians and more.  We heard the deep growling sound of several alligators, but none joined us on our walk.  If you have a fear of bugs, the flying kind or any other, you will need to keep an eye out and walk briskly.  We found many of these toxic insects on our hike— the lubber grasshopper.

IMG_8980 Since we started late in the day, we hiked no more than four miles of this trail.  It was a perfect warm, breezy, and sunny day.  Thoughts tend to wander in the serenity of our surroundings.  Thoughts of friends, children, grandchildren, what I’m making for dinner, my dad, my husband, where we’ve been, and what the future holds.  I can’t help but smile and feel completely at peace, and looking forward to our next hiking adventure.

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Aerojet Dade Rocket Facility

This morning we set out to explore an abandoned rocket facility located in Homestead, Florida, just 5 miles from Everglades National Park.  We have been looking forward to this hike for months, a total of six miles to and from the facility, on a paved road.  A paved road hike is not all that exciting, but what awaits at the end of the road is.

In the early 1960’s, Aerojet General, a major rocket and missile propulsion manufacturer, was funded by the U.S. Airforce to build a testing site Southwest of Homestead, FL.  Aerojet was contracted to propel the U.S. Space Program with its fuel technology, and send astronauts to the moon.

A metal shed was constructed, 150 foot deep silo holding the largest solid fueled rocket ever built. The rocket was tested only three times from 1965 to 1967. The project was later cancelled by NASA, and the facility closed in 1969.  Incredibly, the rocket was left behind.

We arrived at 232 Avenue, later renamed Aerojet Road.  We were a little apprehensive after seeing the NO TRESPASSING sign when we turned into the road, but we continued on.

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We didn’t expect to have company on this trek.  We drove into the part of the road where we could park our car to begin our hike, and found five other cars already there.  About seven men were preparing their bikes, backpacks, and camera gear.  They had a lot of stuff; we had our phones and a GoPro.

We began our hike down a long paved road flanked by water on one side, and dense trees on the other.

I should mention that before we began our walk we encountered two snakes slithering across the road.  You never know what kind of wildlife will cross your path.  We were respectful of these creatures, had a heightened awareness of our surroundings, and prayed that we didn’t meet a Florida panther or alligator.

Our journey to the abandoned Aerojet Missile Facility begins.

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Notice the bullet holes on the firearms sign!

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Today was an extremely hot day.  We were excited about reaching the missile site, and that excitement kept us going without focusing on the fact that we had no water for the hike ahead. We reached a midpoint, and to the left found the first remnants of a security facility.  A gated entrance, complete with barbed wire, warned trespassers to keep out.

We continued down the road and had our first glimpse of the Aerojet compound in the distance.

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As we walked this isolated road, with abandoned graffitied buildings looming in the horizon, we felt as though we had been transported to an episode of The Walking Dead.  I must reference one of our favorite shows, as we now call this hike our “Walking Dead Trek.” One could easily imagine Daryl, Rick, and Michonne fighting off the walkers on this apocalyptic like landscape.

We walked about another two miles from the first barbed wire structure before reaching the first building.  I don’t know about most people, but when I’m in a historic place, I can’t help imagining myself going back in time.  Walking through the hallways and dilapidated rooms, I began to think about the people who walked these hallways, and worked in these rooms.  What top-secret NASA missions were conceived within these walls?  Albeit creepy, we are fascinated by our surroundings.  The graffiti lends a surreal layer to these concrete structures made mysterious by their abandonment.

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To walk through this fascinating place in the footsteps of people who lived in a pivotal time in our country’s history, a time of great political, technological, and cultural changes, was a memorable experience. If you can get through the long hike on Aerojet Road, and the occasional snake crossing the road, the Aerojet Missile Facility is worth the walk.

Here are some more pics taken along the road.  Buen camino. . .Buen Camino Logo

Remembering Helen

If you’re a hiking enthusiast, Helen, Georgia will never disappoint.  A mecca for nature lovers, Helen is a very different kind of Southern town.  Nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains, this Bavarian village is straight out of a German storybook.  Walking on cobblestone streets lined with Alpine restaurants, charming shops, and colorful buildings, you can almost forget where you are.

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TUBERSOne of my favorite memories of Helen is tubing down the Chattahoochee River with my husband, after a day of exploring the village.  The normally smooth and relaxing tubing trip down the river was an especially hilarious one for us.  We didn’t account for the low water level, and instead of enjoying a two-hour trip, it took close to four hours of laughing at each other while getting stuck on the rocks, then flipping over as we lost our balance prying ourselves out!  A push stick and water shoes are a must have on this river adventure.  Check out Cool River Tubing if you’re ever passing through Helen.

And now to the hiking trails!  From the touristy and challenging steep climb to Anna Ruby Falls, to a lesser known wildlife trail we came across while exploring the countryside, we had our pick of dozens of picturesque trails.

While on a hike on one not so primitive trail, lined with plaquards depicting the various wildlife of the region, we spotted a sign on the BLACK BEAR.   I have to admit that we were just a bit intimidated, okay more like terrified, after seeing that bear sign. We quickly brushed off the fear and pushed on, that is until we came across a plaster cast of a bear paw in the middle of our trail.  Needless to say, we finished that trail in record speed!  SL273034

Here are some more pics from that hike.

After a long day of exploring the village of Alpine Helen, and walking the surrounding trails, we were grateful and happy to wind down for the evening at our charming B&B.

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The Nacoochee Valley Guest House is just a few miles outside of the heart of Helen.  It is the perfect restful getaway, owned and operated by a mother/daughter team. These charming ladies also run the gourmet restaurant located at the inn.  Every meal at Bernie’s Restaurant is more delicious than the next.  It’s a good thing our daily hikes balanced out the amount of food we devoured at Bernie’s!

Our final adventure on this trip was our very first zipline tour.  Ziplining with Nacoochee Adventures was exhilarating, and a bit frightening.  In the end, we were ready to do it again, and again.

Whether you visit Helen for the trails, the adventures, or the charm of its unique village, this is a place you will never forget; a gem in the beautiful mountains of northeast Georgia.

Buen camino. . .Buen Camino Logo

 

 

 

 

Every Day Counts

Finding the motivation to get out there and walk is not always easy.  Factor in a busy workday and 86 degree temperature with high humidity, and the motivation is close to non-existent.  However, there are so many ways to keep the momentum going if you really try.  Weekday hikes may be as simple as getting up early to get your walk in before the day begins, walking around a park during lunch, or committing to a walk in the evening in your neighborhood.  No matter how you do it, do it.  You are preparing for the more exciting hike planned for the weekend ahead.

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt:

Planning for our weekend hikes is made easy with a few great apps we love.

AllTrails offers downloadable maps of hiking and biking trails at the tip of your finger.  You can save your favorites for easy access, record your hike, and share your photos and trails with friends or followers.

MapMyHike goes a little further.  It not only tracks your hike/bike route, it also let’s you set exercise and nutrition goals, track the lifespan of your gear, purchase your favorite gear brands and items, and join challenges with friends or groups.

You won’t fall off the map with these apps!

Buen camino. . .Buen Camino Logo