Hiking & Creeping in Prince William Forest Park

Prince William Forest Park is sneaky. I’ve probably driven past it a few hundred times over the years and yet, I didn’t know it wasn’t there. It’s just off I-95, south of Washington, D.C., north of Richmond, Virginia, and adjacent to Quantico. It’s smallish, at 15,000 acres, but includes almost 40 miles of hiking trails, more than 20 miles of bicycle-accessible roads and trails and a short scenic drive. Best of all, it’s lovely.

Prince William Forest Park || terragoes.com

Knowing mostly nothing about this park, I turned to googled, asked a few pointed questions and set out early one Saturday in April. I stopped at the visitor center, got a stamp in my passport, asked the volunteer staff and rangers on duty for some hiking advice and then set out, opting to combine a few trails to get in some decent mileage and see a good chunk of the park.

Prince William Forest Park || terragoes.com

I headed up the scenic drive to the parking lot at the Turkey Run Education Center, parked, wandered around a little bit to get my bearings, and headed out on the Black Top Road.

There are few things that feel as good as setting out on a new adventure in a new national park. It doesn’t matter where I am, whether it’s a battlefield in North Carolina, the Grand Canyon in Arizona or a little park on the outskirts of northern Virginia; the excitement still feels pretty much the same.

Prince William Forest Park || terragoes.com

I followed the Black Top Road to the High Meadow Trail (left turn, orange blaze), scampered my way across the Taylor Farm Road and a small, trailside cemetery before crossing the Scenic Drive and finally hitting the South Valley Trail (white blaze), which follows the South Fork Quantico Creek.

Prince William Forest Park || terragoes.com

Prince William Forest Park || terragoes.com

About half of this 7-mile hike follows the creek. I didn’t see a ton of other hikers, which is always my favorite, and I found myself slipping into deep thoughts about being a lady in the woods alone, about the strength that comes from that, the peace and the power.

But then, I felt like someone was watching me. It was a spooky sort of feeling, of course.

Prince William Forest Park || terragoes.com

I ran into a few of these creepers on the trail. They were always a little ways away and they were not very pleased with my descent into their neighborhood, but they were pretty entertaining. One hid behind a tree as I walked by and then suddenly stuck her head around the tree to get a better look at me, just as all her friends were scampering away in fright. She stared me down pretty seriously, but she didn’t leave. I like to think we’re friends now.

Prince William Forest Park || terragoes.com

After following the South Valley Trail for approximately three miles, weaving over and under the scenic drive and past a few smalls waterfalls, I hit the Turkey Run Ridge Trail (blue blaze) and followed it for just under a mile and a half until I made it back up to the Turkey Run Education Center.

Leaving the park, I promised myself I’d come back. There’s still 30 more miles of trails for me to explore.

Prince William Forest Park || terragoes.com

HISTORY OF THE PRINCE WILLIAM FOREST PARK

Prince William Forest Park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps as the Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area. The CCC played a part in the founding of a lot of America’s state and national parks and, in the most basic of terms, it was a federal work relief program included in President Theodore Roosevelt’s relief efforts in the midst of the Great Depression.

More than 2,000 CCC enrollees worked to create the Chopawamsic RDA, which aimed to provide a place for low-income, inner-city kids and their families to experience the outdoors. Camps housing up to 200 people were built by the CCC and inner-city kids were welcomed to the camps for the first time during the summer of 1936. The camps were segregated by sex and race – black and white, male and female – but more than 2,000 kids spent two to three weeks at Chopawamsic that first summer experiencing nature.

The history of the park of course reaches back before 1936 and the work done by the CCC. American Indians inhabited the area, Civil War troops tramped their way through the same streams I crossed and there are still remnants of the farms that date back to the early 1900s. During WWII, the camp even served as a top secret training facility where spies learned how to handle explosives and gather intelligence.

Prince William Forest Park || terragoes.com


Prince William Forest Park is open sunrise to sunset year-round. The visitor center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. March – October and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. November – February. Admission to the park is $10 per vehicle and is valid for seven days from the date of purchase. Annual passes to the park are available for $30 and an America the Beautiful pass can also be purchased for $80 at the park and allows free entry into thousands of federal recreation areas, including all 417 of america’s national parks.

Additional hiking information is available here.

5 Friday Favorites: The Den of Fur, Solo Adventures & a Return

Friday Favorites || terragoes.com

1. THIS FUREMOVER BROOM.

I live in a den of fur. There’s my hair, the cat hair and then the piles of fluff expressed by the two husky mutts and so really, there’s never not fur on my floors, on my shirt or in my food. And now that it’s spring, it’s gotten worse.

It is a constant and real struggle. The vacuum does good work on the rugs, but this house is mostly hardwoods, so I bought this FURemover Broom and it is so good. It doesn’t get all full of static and fling dog fur around like a regular broom, but it does actually collect the fur piles and all the little stray pieces of fur that these beasts leave around the house.

2. MISSING & MURDERED: FINDING CLEO

I’ve already talked about my favorite podcasts, but I’m pretty much always on the search for new podcast goodness, despite the stack of podcasts that live in my iPhone, just waiting for me to listen to them. Finding Cleo was my latest binge and once I started listening I listened to nothing else until I’d listened to all 10 episodes.

Cleo was a young Cree girl who was adopted out of her native Canada into an American family more than 40 years ago. Her family tried to find her and could only uncover a story about a rape and murder that ended with Cleo’s body abandoned on a roadside somewhere in the United States. Connie Walker, a reporter from CBC, tells the story of Cleo and her family and then joins the search to find the answers of what really happened to Cleo and where she actually ended up.

3. THE SOLO FRONTIER.

I’ve done a lot of things alone. I’ve traveled and lived alone, I’ve gone to the movies, to dinner, to the bar, to the park, to food festivals, to most places. But up until recently, I’d never attended a concert alone. When I saw The National, one of my favorite bands, was playing in the nearby city of Charlottesville, I quickly scooped up tickets and then I went to the show, all by myself. I felt conspicuous at first, but then I stopped caring and ended the night tired and pleased with myself for conquering one more frontier of solo-adventuring.

4. RUNNING.

I hurt myself way back in January, just after I ran the Frostbite 15k. I’ve been mostly off running since, trying to log a few miles intermittently between long periods of hopeful and ultimately useless rest. Three weeks ago, I finally went to my chiropractor who fixed me the last time I hurt myself running, and while I’m still not logging a lot of miles, I am running regularly and have been given the go-ahead to continue increasing my mileage.

5. THEN SHE WAS GONE by Lisa Jewell

I really love a good triller and I’ve read a few that were recommended and well-loved but that just didn’t do it for me. It was always something, like terrible characters, or a cast too big and complicated to connect with, or a storyline too twisty to follow or too lame to care about. And then I read Then She Was Gone and I stopped being so cranky and pissed about the shit thrillers I’ve read this year. It tells the story of a teenaged daughter who disappeared suddenly and without a trace and the aftermath of her disappearance. It largely focuses on the girl’s mother, on her grief and recovery. It’s creepy and delightful without being too graphically violent.

What’s been the best part of your week? Any favorites? 

Day Hiking the South Kaibab Trail at Grand Canyon National Park

The first time I visited the Grand Canyon it was not enough. We were just passing through, quickly, on a time-limited, cross-country road trip. We had hours there, only a few, and we spent our time staring into the canyon, wondering how such an impressive and incredible thing could be real.

Later, as we drove to Palm Springs, we talked about going back, about the next time. We both knew we’d be back, both agreed we wanted to go below the rim.

The time we spent in Arizona was perhaps the most iconic of our whole adventure. The elk we saw there inspired us to get twin elk faces tattooed on the back of our right arms in commemoration of our trip. A few years ago, in an epic holiday gifting win, she painted a picture of the Grand Canyon for me, embellished with Ron Swanson’s wise words, “Crying – acceptable at funerals and the Grand Canyon.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/w9d3BZPPWS/

I can’t remember if I cried the first time I saw it. I know we were impressed. But I know I cried the second time. I couldn’t help it. I was overcome by the magnitude of the canyon, by the joy of starting a solo hike into the canyon on the morning of my birthday.

The South Kaibab Trail @ Grand Canyon National Park || terragoes.com

DAY HIKING THE SOUTH KAIBAB TRAIL

The National Park Service makes it very, very clear that day hikers should absolutely, positively not attempt to hike to the river and back in one day. Roundtrip, from the top of the South Kaibab Trail to the Colorado River, the trek is about 12.5 miles with around 5,000 feet of elevation change. The park recommends day hikers go no further than Skeleton Point, which is about three miles from the trailhead with 2,000 feet of elevation change.

I am a rule follower. I cuss a lot and I love scotch and sometimes I have a temper and I’m definitely an introvert, but I love rules and I follow them. So, when the National Park Service guide on the South Kaibab Trail told me not to go past Skeleton Point, I didn’t, because that seemed like a rule and the last thing I wanted to do was piss off the National Park Service on my birthday and get stuck inside the Grand Canyon.

So I hiked three miles in, to Skeleton Point, and then scampered my way back out.

The South Kaibab Trail @ Grand Canyon National Park || terragoes.com

I arrived at the park just after the sun came up, around 7 a.m. I parked at a picnic area on Desert View Drive that’s just over a half mile from the trailhead, which was lucky. There’s a bathroom there, but the lot is small and it fills up quickly on busy days. There’s also a shuttle bus that will drop hikers right at the trailhead. There’s no parking at the trailhead, so it’s either find a spot in the little lot nearby and walk the half mile to the trail, or take the shuttle.

Just after I started down the trail, someone in a large group that was very busy taking lots of photos asked me if it was okay for them to walk back up the way they had come down.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s encouraged.”

I’m not sure what they thought the alternative was, but I’m glad they asked and aren’t still stuck in the canyon, trying to sort their way out of the damn thing.

The South Kaibab Trail @ Grand Canyon National Park || terragoes.com

OOH-AHH POINT 

After almost a mile, a bunch of switchbacks, a handful of steps and some mule shit, the first named point you come to along the South Kaibab Trail is Ooh-Ahh Point, so named for the glorious and open view the spot affords hikers.

I stopped here briefly, just long enough to take an extra sip of water, marvel at how great I felt and to again congratulate myself on being inside the canyon.

The South Kaibab Trail @ Grand Canyon National Park || terragoes.com

CEDAR RIDGE

Cedar Ridge sits a little more than half a mile down the trail from Ooh-Ahh Point and sits at an elevation of 6,120 feet. There are toilets here, and a hitching post and I stopped here just long enough to take a few pictures, use the restroom and take in the view.

For summer day hikers, this is the recommended turn-around point.

The South Kaibab Trail @ Grand Canyon National Park || terragoes.com

Shortly after passing Cedar Ridge, I found myself alone. I couldn’t see or hear anyone else, and while I knew good and well there were others both ahead and behind me, I walked alone for at least ten minutes, just me, the crunch of my feet, a few ravens and the wind.

It was perfect.

The South Kaibab Trail @ Grand Canyon National Park || terragoes.com

SKELETON POINT

Knowing Skeleton Point was my turn-around, I parked my butt on a cliff ledge overlooking the Colorado River and sat, munching on gummy bears and a luna bar, until my body cooled and I started to shiver. I didn’t want to go.

Almost as soon as I’d resigned myself to heading back up and out of the canyon, a line of mules came down the trail, carefully stepping their way down the trail.

I watched them for a while and thought hard about going just a little further, maybe just one more mile. But, again, I’m a rule follower. Regretfully, I turned around and headed back, thinking deeply about the next time, about how one day I’ll hike rim to rim.

The South Kaibab Trail @ Grand Canyon National Park || terragoes.com

I expected the up part to be terrible. The Grand Canyon is deceptive in that the down part is easy and when you reach whatever point you’re hiking to, you feel mostly fine, but then you have to go back up and the up is significantly more difficult than the down. The up usually takes twice as long as the down.

Unless you’re crazy. Which I am. I spent around two hours walking three miles into the canyon, stopping often, taking a bathroom break at Cedar Ridge and sitting and snacking at Skeleton Point. On the way back up, I hustled. It was tough, for sure, but I made it to the top in just over an hour, threw off my pack and cracked my back. It was not easy. The switchbacks at the top of the trail are terrible to look at, but generally, they are much worse than they look and I did take several breaks on the final push up and out of the canyon.

The South Kaibab Trail @ Grand Canyon National Park || terragoes.com

I’m not going to lie. I wish I’d gone further. I wish I’d walked one more mile into the canyon. I should have known, when I encountered the people asking if they could walk back out, that the warnings are for people who do not do the outdoors as much as I do, who do not hike often or participate in endurance sports.

Still, it was incredible.

The South Kaibab Trail @ Grand Canyon National Park || terragoes.com

WHAT TO PACK FOR A DAY TRIP INSIDE THE CANYON

WATER. There is no water on the South Kaibab Trail so you’ll need to take all the water you will drink and then some, just to be safe. Everyone needs to carry water into the canyon, regardless of how far they’re planning to hike.

SNACKS. Hydration is important, yes, but so is fueling your body for a multi-hour physical endeavor. This was not a thing I understood when I first started running, but I get it now. If you’re hiking for more than hour, be sure to snack & refuel along the way.

SUN PROTECTION. I’m trying real hard to be an adult and take better care of my skin, so I wore a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses and was glad I did. Even if it’s cold and cloudy, use sun protection.

LAYERS. The trailhead is an elevation of 7,260 feet and by the time you get to Skeleton Point, you’ve lost 2,000 feet. The temperatures can vary widely from the top of the canyon to its vast interior, plus you’re likely to get warm as you hike and the wind can also make a cold day feel much colder than it is. I started in a light outer shell, a t-shirt and a base layer & worked my way through various configurations depending on where I was in the canyon and how strenuous the climb was.

TREKKING POLES. The trail is steep, and while I didn’t have any, lots and lots of other hikers did, and they’re even recommended by the park service.

The South Kaibab Trail @ Grand Canyon National Park || terragoes.com

COURTESY ON THE TRAIL

UPHILL HIKERS HAVE THE RIGHT OF WAY. Uphill hikers often have a smaller field of vision and there’s also a good chance they’re in the zone doing their uphill hiking thing and you don’t want to mess with that. By the time I got back to the trailhead, I’d been pushed off the trail repeatedly – sometimes along a few unsafe ledges.

SHARE THE TRAIL. During nice weather and peak visiting season, the trail will be busy. If you’re in a big group, remember to walk single file and avoid pushing other hikers off the trail. Doing so can be dangerous, but it can also damage the area around the trail.

MULES HAVE THE RIGHT OF WAY. This guide outlines the right way to let mules pass, but basically, move off the trail, away the edge, follow directions given by the wrangler and stay still until the last mule is at least 50 feet past your position.

DON’T STAB PEOPLE IN THE FEET. I get that trekking poles are useful on the trail, but try and avoid aiming them at the feet of other hikers. I had a few near-misses on my way back up that made me real, real cranky.

The South Kaibab Trail @ Grand Canyon National Park || terragoes.com


The South Kaibab Trail is accessible via shuttle bus – there is no parking at the trailhead. This guide outlines the basics of day hiking on the trail.

The South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is open  24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Park admission fees will increase to $35 per vehicle on May 31, 2018 – current admission is $30. For those visiting more than few parks in a year, an annual America the Beautiful pass is available for $80. Members of the U.S. military can get an annual pass for free with a valid military ID.

This trip planner, from Grand Canyon National Park, is an excellent resource.

A Serendipitous visit to Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

I didn’t have a plan for the day, not really. I needed to get myself from Richmond to Maryland for a work conference that would start the next day, a friend in Washington, D.C. was celebrating her birthday and it was pissing rain.

I sent my friend a text, asking if she had plans for the afternoon, explaining that yes, I definitely did have time for a birthday beverage or adventure and that I would love to see her if we could make the timing work.

“What parks do you need here?” she responded, knowing I’m on a quest to see all 417 National Park Service units. “Is Frederick Douglass House one of them?”

“No, I haven’t been there yet,” I said, doing a quick search to check their hours, tour times and parking options. “Let’s go!”

So we did.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site || terragoes.com

I picked her up in D.C. and we scampered our way across the Anacostia River to Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, which preserves the house where abolitionist Frederick Douglass lived for the final 17 years of his life.

The house, called Cedar Hill (and sometimes Cedarhill), includes approximately 70% of the home’s original furnishings. As the name implies, the house sits on a hill, overlooking the Anacostia River and the District of Columbia.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site || terragoes.com

Frederick Douglass is one of those incredible historical figures I learned about way back in high school history class. Before visiting his home, I remembered only a few details from his life, mostly that he was a former slave and, later, an outspoken abolitionist. So, in visiting his home, I had a lot to learn.

One of the best parts about visiting the homes of these legendary historical figures is they fill in the details of a life lived, showing you the china patterns they ate from, the desks they worked at, the pictures that covered their walls, the books they referenced. These incredible spaces add color and texture to the flat figures we paged past in school.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site || terragoes.com

WHAT I LEARNED (& REMEMBERED) AT FREDERICK DOUGLASS NHS

1. HE ESCAPED SLAVERY.

The man who would become Frederick Douglass was born into slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 1818 as Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. His mother lived on a different plantation and died when Fred was young. He never knew his father and was hired out as a body servant in Baltimore when he was eight. He worked there for a few years, teaching himself to read and write, until, at 15, he was sent back to the Eastern Shore to work in the fields.

Things did not go well upon his return. He taught other slaves to read, openly rebelled against his master, plotted escapes and physically fought back against a slave-breaker. His master sent him back to Baltimore where he met Anna Murray, a free black woman, and on Sept. 3, 1838, he took the money Anna had given him, disguised himself as a sailor and boarded a northbound train. A day later he arrived in New York and declared himself free.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site || terragoes.com

2. HIS FREEDOM WAS BOUGHT BY BRITISH SUPPORTERS.

In New York, Fred and Anna married, moved to Massachusetts and took the last name of Douglass. Fred started going to abolitionist meetings and soon gained a reputation as an excellent speaker and began traveling around the northern and midwestern states talking about his experiences as a slave.

In 1845, Douglass published Narrative on the Life of Frederick Douglass, naming the places and people involved in his enslavement, which jeopardized his freedom. In order to avoid being captured, Douglass went abroad and gave speeches in England, Ireland and Scotland while selling his narrative along the way. After two years, British supporters offered to buy his freedom and he returned to the United States a free man.

3. HE HELPED RECRUIT BLACK SOLDIERS DURING THE CIVIL WAR.

When the American Civil War started in 1861, Douglass encouraged free black men to join the war fight. He even recruited two of his own sons who both served in the famed 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. He gave speeches and published letters on the topic of black service in the Union Army and believed fighting for the Union was the same as fighting for black freedom.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site || terragoes.com

4. HIS SECOND MARRIAGE WAS CONTROVERSIAL.

Anna, his first wife, died in 1882 after a stroke. Two years later, he married Helen Pitts, an activist and the daughter of abolitionists. She was twenty years younger than Douglass and white, which shocked even members of the Douglass family.

On her marriage to Frederick Douglass, Pitts said, “Love came to me, and I was not afraid to marry the man I loved because of his color.” She’s credited with the founding of the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association, which worked to preserve both the Douglass home and his personal belongings.

Douglass and both his wives are buried in Rochester, New York, at Mount Hope Cemetery.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site || terragoes.com

PHOTO COURTESY THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

5. HE WAS THE MOST-PHOTOGRAPHED AMERICAN OF THE 19TH CENTURY.

There are more portraits of Frederick Douglass than there are of Abraham Lincoln. Douglass sat for around 160 portraits during his lifetime, dozens of which are in the possession of the National Park Service. As this NPR interview explains, Douglass wanted his picture taken as often as possible in order to provide America with a more accurate portrayal of the nation’s black citizens.

Douglass was also the first African American to hold a government position and was the only black man in attendance at the Seneca Falls Convention.


The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site is located in Southeast Washington, D.C. Admission is free and the historic site is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. There’s a small parking lot next to the visitors center and you must be part of a guided tour to enter the the historic home. Tour times are listed here and reservations can be made in advance. Tour tickets can be picked up from the ranger on duty in the visitor center. The visitors center offers a short film which chronicles the life of Frederick Douglass, along with a few displays and a small gift shop. 

7 Ways to Avoid Losing Your Mind While Exploring Vatican City

The Vatican Museums house something like 70,000 pieces of art, only 20,000 of which are on display. It’s one of the largest museums in the world and includes 54 galleries, including the Sistine Chapel. The museums were founded by Pope Julius II in the 16th century and today it is the 4th most-visited museum in the world, with around 6 million visitors shuffling their way through the galleries each year.

And then there’s the rest of Vatican City: the Basilica, the Square and centuries of history.

I planned and plotted my visit to Vatican City, scouring the internet for tips on how to make the visit enjoyable, but it was still overwhelming. Incredible and beautiful, but still overwhelming.

Tips for Visiting Vatican City || terragoes.com

1. GET TICKETS & GO EARLY.

My Vatican City adventure happened in mid-May, technically before peak tourist season, but only by a little bit. Everything I read online about visiting the Vatican Museums said I should buy tickets in advance, ideally for early morning entry. So, we bought our tickets about a month in advance, just in case, and got to the Vatican right around 8:30 a.m. with our 9 a.m. tickets in hand.

There was a line, but it was short and for about the first hour or so, the crowds inside were pretty thin. By noon, when we finished our visit, the place was packed and the line to get in snaked its way along the walls of Vatican City.

Tips for Visiting Vatican City || terragoes.com

2. MAKE A PLAN OR TAKE A TOUR.

The thought of listening to someone talk about the Vatican for multiple hours did not appeal to us at all, nor did the idea of shuffling along behind a tour guide with a big group of strangers, so we visited the Vatican Museums without a guide.

In retrospect, I wish we’d done more research on the collection and made more of a plan to see specific pieces instead of just meandering from gallery to gallery. Rick Steves has an audio tour and most guidebooks will provide at least a brief overview of the key pieces in the Vatican’s enormous collection to help visitors better prioritize their art-viewing experience.

Tips for Visiting Vatican City || terragoes.com

3. DRESS APPROPRIATELY. 

It’s church, y’all! Both men and women are required to have shoulders and knees covered and, if you don’t, they won’t let you in. If you’re planning to visit multiple churches in Italy, especially if it’s super hot outside, take a scarf or shawl that you can wrap around your upper or lower parts to ensure you’re not barred from entering any of these incredible places.

Tips for Visiting Vatican City || terragoes.com

4. PREPARE FOR A MARATHON.

Drink water, wear comfortable shoes, maybe stretch a little, because, in visiting Vatican City, you will walk many, many miles and there will be little opportunity to sit down. Be sure to take water with you and a snack too, because no one wants to be around you when you get hangry in the middle of the Sistine Chapel.

Tips for Visiting Vatican City || terragoes.com

5. DON’T FALL DOWN THE STAIRS.

I was really excited to take a picture of that much-photographed spiral staircase at the Vatican and it’s even more lovely in person, but what no one tells you is that it feels sort of like you’re going to tip over when you’re walking down it. I did not like it one bit, but that didn’t stop me from taking a whole slew of photos in between taking teeny, tiny little steps down.

Tips for Visiting Vatican City || terragoes.com

6. DON’T FORGET ST. PETER’S BASILICA.

The walk from the Vatican Museums to St. Peter’s Square and the Basilica takes about 15-20 minutes. Unlike the Vatican Museums, the Basilica is free to enter, but it requires waiting in a few more lines. We spent about an hour in line, mostly just waiting to get through security. The line was in the sun and even in May it was very, very hot. Wear a hat, reapply your sunscreen and don’t forget to hydrate.

Tips for Visiting Vatican City || terragoes.com

7. CLIMB (OR RIDE) TO THE TOP OF THE BASILICA.

For those who’d like to see St. Peter’s Square from the top of St. Peter’s Basilica, you can either hike up 551 stairs for €6 or ride the elevator halfway up and hike the remaining 320 stairs for €8. We opted to walk, being absolute lunatics and while my legs definitely complained on the way up and down, it was so, so worth it for the view.

Plus, it’s a life rule to do the hard thing, even when it means climbing 551 stairs.

Tips for Visiting Vatican City || terragoes.com

Have you ever been to Vatican City?

How to Spend 6 Days National Parking Through Arizona

After the success of last year’s solo trip to New Mexico, I wanted more. I debated a few options, consulting this map and looking for clusters of national parks that would allow me to spend 5-7 days in one or two places while hitting a handful of parks. Mostly, I wanted to go west again and Arizona’s national parks kept popping up in the books I was reading, the shows I was watching and it all started to seem like a sign.

So I went to Arizona for my 34th birthday and spent six days scampering from Tucson to Flagstaff and managed to visit seven of the state’s 22 national parks.

MY 6-DAY ARIZONA NATIONAL PARK ITINERARY

I started my adventure in Tucson, flying in late on a Wednesday and heading almost immediately to bed.

Arizona National Park Itinerary || terragoes.com

DAY 1. SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK

Coming from the East Coast, I was up super early on my first day in Arizona, and I set out just after sunrise for Saguaro National Park, getting there before almost anyone. I started in the Rincon Mountain District, the park’s east side, mostly because it was closest to my hotel.

I drove the Cactus Forest Loop Drive, then hiked part of the Douglas Spring Trail, taking it through the desert and past saguaros to Bridal Wreath Falls. Then, famished, I headed into Tucson for a Sonoran Dog, some tacos and a beer at BK Taco. The Sonoran Dog is a must-eat for anyone visiting Tucson and it was ridiculous and also delicious.

After checking in at my hotel and taking a short nap, I headed to the Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park, the park’s west side, to watch the sunset and soak in a little bit more park time before the day ended.

For dinner, I hit one of Tucson’s many downtown breweries and went to bed early like the little old lady that I am.

Arizona National Park Itinerary || terragoes.com

DAY 2. DESERT MUSUEM, SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK & CASA GRANDE RUINS NATIONAL MONUMENT

Just outside the Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is where I started my second day in Arizona. It’s definitely worth a visit for those who enjoy animal encounters and want to learn more about Sonoran Desert, plus, it’s adjacent to Saguaro, which is where I headed after the museum, to drive the Bajada Loop Drive through the park and scamper along a few trails.

After that, I headed north, aiming myself toward Flagstaff, which is about four hours north of Tucson. I stopped in Casa Grande for In-N-Out Burger and then headed to my second national park of the trip, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, located right between Phoenix and Tucson.

Arizona National Park Itinerary || terragoes.com

I then headed north and the drive from Phoenix to Flagstaff is one I’d recommend to anyone visiting Arizona. You gain a few thousand feet of elevation as you go, winding your way through saguaro-covered mountains before entering the largest contiguous Ponderosa pine forest in the world.

I made it to my cabin just after sunset, set up my bed, dropped off my luggage and then headed to downtown Flagstaff, which is incredibly charming, and had dinner and a few beers at Flagstaff Brewing Company, which incidentally has the largest whiskey selection in the state.

Arizona National Park Itinerary || terragoes.com

DAY 3. SUNSET CRATER VOLCANO NATIONAL MONUMENT & WUPATKI NATIONAL MONUMENT

No lie, y’all, my third day was a bit of a train-wreck. I drove all the way to Petrified Forest National Park, watched a pronghorn prance his way across the road in front me and only then realized I’d left my camera sitting on my bed back at the cabin. So I turned around, went back to the cabin, grabbed my camera and some lunch, then headed to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and the almost-adjacent Wupatki National Monument, my third and fourth national park of the trip.

If I’d had more time and hadn’t spent half the day driving across Arizona, I would have visited Walnut Canyon National Monument, which is just outside Flagstaff.

Arizona National Park Itinerary || terragoes.com

DAY 4. PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK, WINSLOW & GRAND FALLS

I woke up early on my fourth day for round two at Petrified Forest National Park. It’s insane, that place. It’s beautiful, with blue and red mesas, incredibly sweeping landscapes, part of old Route 66 and, of course, petrified wood. I hiked a little bit, scampered into the wilderness area as well and, mostly, I just couldn’t stop smiling. It’s an incredible place.

On the way back toward Flagstaff – it’s about a 90 minute drive from there to the Petrified Forest – I stopped in Winslow for a drink and some tacos at Relic Road Brewing Company and to say hello to Standin’ on the Corner Park, where I visited years before.

From there, I bounced down a clay road to check out Grand Falls. The water wasn’t flowing due to an unusually dry winter, but it was still beautiful.

Arizona National Park Itinerary || terragoes.com

For dinner, I grabbed a few to-go beers from Mother Road Brewing Company, one of Flagstaff’s most-loved beer establishments, and a pizza from Pizzicletta and ate it at my cabin as the sun went down. That pizza was maybe the best thing I ate in Flagstaff and I cannot recommend it enough, especially if you pair it with a beer from Mother Road.

Arizona National Park Itinerary || terragoes.com

DAY 5. GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK

My fifth day, a Monday, was my birthday. I woke up super, super early and drove up from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon, getting there just as the sun was coming up. I started the day with a hike down the South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point and then drove along Desert View Drive to take in a few different views of the canyon.

The Grand Canyon is one of the most popular national parks in the country, so keep that in mind if you’re planning your visit. Getting there early allowed me to beat some of the crowd, but things were very, very busy by the time I made my way out of the canyon around lunch.

I took AZ-64 up to the Grand Canyon that morning, drove the 20-something miles of Desert View Drive and then drove back to Flagstaff via AZ-89, which was beautiful.

Arizona National Park Itinerary || terragoes.com

For dinner, I ate a pile of nachos at Lumberyard Brewing Company and a great big beer, then went back to my cabin to pack my suitcase and nibble on a pile of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Arizona National Park Itinerary || terragoes.com

DAY 6. MONTEZUMA CASTLE NATIONAL MONUMENT

My flight out of Phoenix wasn’t until 1:30 p.m., so I set out early from Flagstaff and stopped along the way at Montezuma Castle National Monument, located about an hour south of Flagstaff and an hour and a half north of the Phoenix airport.

After that, I dropped off my rental car, made it through security, grumbled about the surprising lack of local beer at the airport bar and headed home.

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