15 of the Most Iconic Hikes in the World


The planet is crisscrossed with epic trails, from the Alps to the Andes. There are snowy summit trips for fleet-footed peak-baggers, long and leisurely rambles for wildlife lovers, and everything in between. While the options are almost infinite, here are a few epic hikes to add to that ever-expanding life list.

1. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

View this post on Instagram

Dette er soloppgangen vi fikk i det vi passerte Stella Point på vei til Kilimanjaro i forgårs 13.02.18…😍 Da er vi ca 40 minutter fra Afrikas tak, og det er tungt for folk flest å bare finne fram kameraet… Heldigvis har jeg for vane å fange disse magiske øyeblikkene, så minnene blir foreviget og kanskje havner i en ramme…👍 Dette bildet er rett fra kameraet mitt, helt uten noe form for filter eller justering…👍 Er det rart rart jeg driver med dette? Ps. Ny tur på gang 18.juli og 2.januar😉 . #eventyrturer #kilimanjaro #mountain #mountainlovers #mountainlocals #thegreatoutdoors #mittfriluftsliv #friluftsliv #utemagasinet #hektapåtur #fjelltid #utno #liveterbestute #dreamchasersnature #welcometonature #exploringglobe #properadventure #nature #discoverer #dreambig #earthpix #7summits #turistforeningen #tanzania #africa #machame #machameroute #stellapoint

A post shared by Tommy Steinsland 🇳🇴 (@eventyrturer) on

One of the planet’s Seven Summits, 19,341-foot Kilimanjaro is the highest freestanding mountain on Earth—and Africa’s loftiest peak. Despite the distinction, the glaciated summit is accessible courtesy of a number of a non-technical routes, leading climbers through five distinctly different climate zones. On the path to Uhuru Peak, trekkers traverse a lowland rainforest inhabited by colobus and blue monkeys, ascend the scrubby montane moorland of the Shira Plateau, cross hulking glaciers, and catch glimpses of the megafauna-loaded grasslands of Kenya’s Amboseli National Park. At basecamp, vividly colored tents dot an unearthly moonscape, and climbers rest in the shadow of toothy 16,893-foot Mawenzi.

2. Table Mountain, South Africa


While the flat-topped mesa soaring above Cape Town is accessible by cable-car, the climb to the apex of 3,569-foot Table Mountain is one of the planet’s most spectacular treks—and a must-do for a visit to this dynamic city. Routes to the top of the 500 million-year-old massif treat ascending climbers to panoramic vistas of the pointed peaks of the Twelve Apostles, the azure water of Camps Bay, knobby Lion’s Head, and Cape Town’s bustling City Bowl. There are plenty of half-day routes to the mesa’s highest point, Maclear’s Beacon, including the three-hour slog through Skeleton Gorge, allowing hikers to encounter Cape dwarf chameleons, stealthy caracals, and vibrantly colored sunbirds. The climb can also be done as a multi-day trip along the Cape of Good Hope Trail or the Hoerikwaggo Trail, beginning at Cape Point.

3. Te Araroa Trail, New Zealand

Meaning "the long pathway," in Maori, New Zealand’s 1,864-mile Te Araroa Trail is the Kiwi version of America’s Appalachian Trail. Bookended by the Pacific Ocean, between Cape Regina and Bluff, the route runs through the heart of New Zealand, traversing both North and South islands and leading backpackers through a staggering diversity of landscapes: sun-drenched coastlines, subtropical rainforests, snow-dusted alpine passes, and river-braided glacial valleys. The epic trek also showcases many of New Zealand’s geological gems, including the Southern Alps, famed backdrop for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the still-active Tongariro volcano.

4. Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

Besides Everest, the most idolized Himalayan foray is Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit. The nearly 130-mile route horseshoes the Annapurna range’s sea of glaciated summits, capped by 26,545-foot Annapurna I. The high-altitude tour takes hardy trekkers through highlands terraced with rice paddies, across surging whitewater rivers, through shadowy rhododendron forests, over otherworldly mountain passes, and past Buddhist gompas and Hindu shrines. While backpackers on the circuit must tackle challenges like 17,768-foot Thorung La, the route is dotted with cozy tea houses affording creature comforts like brief but heavenly hot showers and steaming plates of dal bhat, a traditional meal of steamed rice and cooked lentil soup.

5. John Muir Trail, California

Named for legendary naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club, the John Muir Trail strings together two of California’s most spectacular natural wonders: the Yosemite Valley and 14,496-foot Mount Whitney, the highest point in the continental United States. Tracing the spine of the High Sierra, the 211-mile route moseys through three national parks and two federally designated wildernesses, leading hikers through a landscape of high peaks and passes, glassy alpine lakes, and sun-drenched mountain meadows. The trail skirts Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, and showcases natural wonders like the Devil’s Postpile National Monument and Evolution Basin in Kings Canyon National Park. Plus, hikers have ample opportunity to encounter black bears, mule deer, and curious marmots along the route.

6. Four Pass Loop, Colorado

The most photographed spot in Colorado, the snow-stripped twin peaks of the Maroon Bells are best celebrated on the epic Four Pass Loop through the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness. The aptly amed 26-mile circuit begins at turquoise-toned Maroon Lake, just west of Aspen, and takes backpackers over four alpine passes each higher than 12,000 feet, across airy meadows dusted with wildflowers, through spruce forests and copses of white-barked aspen, and past backcountry waterfalls and peak-framed lakes. Besides the Maroon Bells, the Elk Mountains sampler also provides trekkers the chance to gape at a handful of celestial fourteeners, including Pyramid Peak and Snowmass Mountain.

7. Beara Way, Ireland

Ringing Ireland’s wind-pummeled Beara Peninsula, a 48-mile sliver of land bisected by the Caha and Slieve Miskish mountains, the Beara Way provides a quintessential taste of the Emerald Isle and forms part of Ireland’s longest hiking trail, the Beara-Breifne Way. The 122-mile trek cobbles together bucolic country lanes, highland tracks, and ancient roads, offering a glimpse of the peninsula’s colorful past. Following the path taken by Beara’s last chieftain, Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare, as he fled hotly pursuing Elizabethan troops in 1603, the Beara Way takes trekkers past Neolithic and Bronze Age sites, through charming towns, and over craggy highlands. Fortunately, the lung-taxing climbs and knee-grating descents are greeted with panoramic vistas of the rugged coastline, including the shimmering waters of Bantry Bay, staging point for Theobald Wolfe Tone’s infamous but ill-fated 1786 rebellion.

8. Cotopaxi, Ecuador

One of the peaks in Ecuador’s Avenue of Volcanoes, 19,347-foot Cotopaxi soars above the high Andean páramo of Cotopaxi National Park. Although the peak is the second highest in Ecuador—and one of the loftiest active volcanoes on the planet—Cotopaxi is scalable without prior mountaineering experience. Ropes, crampons, and ice axes are required to reach the snow-capped pinnacle, but with the help of local guides (and after a quick hands-on introduction to mountaineering), the crater-pocked peak is reachable for most reasonably fit trekkers. Along the way to the summit, hikers have the chance to spot wild horses, llamas, and spectacled bears (the ursine species credited with inspiring the fictional character Paddington).

9. Inca Trail, Peru

The most celebrated trek in South America, this Andean excursion takes hikers from the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu, the stone-hewn urban center crafted by the Incas during the 15th century, a World Heritage site since 1983. Along the way to Machu Picchu, the 24-mile trek follows paths forged by the Incas more than 500 years ago, meandering through cloud forests studded with 300 types of orchids, over three cloud-shrouded mountain passes, and past pre-Columbian ruins. Stashed away at 7,972 feet, the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu is also a biodiversity hotspot, serving as an ecological corridor linking the Andes, Sacred Valley, and Amazon, and affording trekkers the opportunity to spot 370 different types of bird, including mammoth Andean condors.

10. Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia

Soaring above other peaks in Malaysian Borneo’s Crocker Range, 13,435-foot Mount Kinabalu is the loftiest summit in Southeast Asia. Gunung Kinabalu, as the peak is known in Malay, is also the country’s first World Heritage site, a global hotspot for flora and fauna. The mountain’s ecosystems harbor more than 5,000 types of plants, over 300 species of birds, and 100 different mammals. Along the path to the granite-tipped summit, which typically takes two to three days round-trip, lush lowland rainforests give way to cloud-bathed montane and coniferous forests, providing the chance to spot orangutans, Bornean gibbons, and long-tailed Bornean Treepies. The mountain’s six different vegetation zones also support a thousand different orchids and five endemic species of carnivorous pitcher plants, including the largest on earth, Nepenthes rajah.

11. Tour du Mont Blanc, Western Europe

While scaling 15,781-foot Mont Blanc requires extensive mountaineering knowhow, more casual hikers can still get an eyeful of Western Europe’s loftiest summit from three different countries—France, Italy, and Switzerland—on the Tour du Mont Blanc. The 105-mile route rings the entire snow-frosted massif, traipsing over seven alpine passes, past storybook alpine hamlets, along colossal glaciers, and through wildflower-freckled meadows. Besides the spellbinding scenery, the Tour du Mont Blanc also provides a snapshot of regional culture, taking hikers through historic locales like medieval Courmayeur. Best of all, while physically taxing, the route is scattered with cozy alpine huts, affording plenty of opportunity to swap freeze-dried fare for fondue.

12. Torres del Paine Circuit, Patagonia, Chile

View this post on Instagram

The classic Torres shot #TorresDelPaineCircuit

A post shared by Patagonia Adventure Cycling (@patagoniaadventurecycling) on

Towering above the guanaco-grazed steppes of Chilean Patagonia, the trio of granite pillars dubbed Torres del Paine comprise one of the most iconic massifs on earth. The blue-hued granite cathedral tops out at 10,656 feet and crowns Torres del Paine National Park, a former sheep estancia declared a World Heritage site in 1978. Backpackers can gape at the granite monoliths from every angle imaginable along on a circuit trek on the national park’s non-technical trails. The more heavily trafficked ‘W’ configuration can be done in less than four days, while the more extensive ‘O’ circuit, takes about a week. Despite the rugged landscape of glaciated granite peaks, raging rivers, and iceberg-strewn alpine lakes, the Torres del Paine circuit can be done without forgoing creature comforts by cobbling together a route linking the park’s cozy refugios.

13. Kalalau Trail, Hawaii

View this post on Instagram

Take me to the mountaintop #kalalautrail #napalicoast #kauai

A post shared by Maxwell (@maxwellrcraig) on

Showcasing Kauai’s rugged Nā Pali Coast, where fluted mountains meld into the glistening Pacific Ocean, the Kalalau Trail is among the most spectacular coastal treks on earth. But, the 11-mile trek is no walk on the beach. Between Ke’e Beach and Kalalau Beach, the trail winds through five different valleys, across more than a half-dozen streams, and along precipitous cliff sides, including a vertiginous stretch aptly dubbed Crawler’s Ledge, for the hikers duly daunted by the 500-foot drop. Grit and determination are mandatory, but trekkers are rewarded with jaw-dropping views of the Pacific and gems like the 300-foot Hanakapi’ai Waterfall. While the 22-mile out-and-back trip can be done in a day, the route is scattered with stunning camping spots, like the area near 1,400-foot Hanakoa Falls, about halfway through the trek.

14. Mount Fuji, Japan

Located southwest of Tokyo, the solitary summit of 12,388-foot Mount Fuji is one of the planet’s most recognizable peaks. Dormant for just over 300 years, the snow-dusted stratovolcano has served as an artistic muse for centuries, revered as one of Japan’s Three Holy Mountains. Religious pilgrims have been scaling the sacred mountain since ancient times, and the climb remains exceedingly popular. Climbing season for Mount Fuji only runs from the beginning of July to the end of August, but more than 300,000 trekkers make the approximately six-hour trip every year. While there are celestial views on the way to the summit, the trek has the distinction of being one of the few climbs on the planet that is more cultural experience than wilderness excursion. Each of the four routes to the top offers mountain huts peddling food and drinks, and there is even a post office at the summit where you can drop a postcard to a lucky recipient.

15. Sunshine Coast Trail, British Columbia

Rambling along the wild Sunshine Coast in southwest British Columbia, the Sunshine Coast Trail is a less-frequented alternative to the West Coast Trail. Built entirely by volunteers and maintained by the non-profit Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society, the 112-mile trail ambles from Desolation Sound to Saltery Bay, taking trekkers through old growth rainforests roamed by black bears, grey wolves, and cougars. Wildlife watchers also have the chance to spot the blubbery bodies of Stellar sea lions and harbor seals along coastal stretches of the trail, and the route’s highest point—4,821-foot Mount Troutbridge—is a hotspot for seafaring marbled murrelets. Best of all, the Sunshine Coast Trail is Canada’s only free hut-to-hut track, with no reservations or permits required.

Written by Malee Baker Oot for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Stig Nygaard

The 7 Best Coffee Shops in Kentucky (According the Cyclists)


The relationship between cycling and coffee goes back decades. In the 1960s, an Italian espresso machine company actually sponsored a pro cycling team, and in the 1980s it became trendy for riders in the Tour de France to down java before stages of the race. It seems cyclists have always known that a jolt of caffeine provides great fuel for a ride. If you plan a cycling tour of Kentucky, you can map out stops at several coffee shops that are very welcoming to riders.

We asked cyclists to share some of their favorite Kentucky coffee shops, ranging from the flatter terrain in the western part of the state, with its lakes and country roads, to the high, beautiful Appalachian Mountains in the east.

Etcetera Coffeehouse

Etcetera Coffeehouse in Paducah offers excellent fair trade organic coffee in two locations— Lower Town and downtown. The menu offers many standard options, such as fancy coffee and tea drinks and yerba mate, but it also includes bubble tea, smoothies, shakes, hot chocolates, Blue Sky sodas and even locally sourced apple cider. If you really want to spice up your morning ride, try the Mayan Mocha, a latte with dark chocolate, honey, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. At the downtown Sixth Street store, you can also get the Bike Fuel blend produced by Just Coffee Cooperative in Madison, Wisc. It combines coffees from Ethiopia and Uganda with Just Coffee’s Sumatran coffee to create a sweet blend with citrus and floral notes. For added fuel, the shop also serves bagels, oatmeal, yogurt bowls, and even quiche.

The Cabin Coffee & Cafe

Housed in a historic log cabin, The Cabin Coffee & Cafe in Cadiz offers traditional coffee offerings, along with homemade hot breakfasts, lunches and desserts. The Cabin’s mocha shakes will perk you up, or they’re available without espresso. Another favorite is the Artisan Grilled Cheese Sandwich, which includes four types of cheeses, and you can add bacon or tomato. If you ride with a big group, this is good destination, as they actually like serving large parties.

Red Hot Roasters

After a calorie-burning ride, indulge in the delicious coffee drinks at Red Hot Roasters, which has two locations in Louisville. After your ride, take a seat on the large deck and sip on a Breeders’ Cup Mocharetto, which blends dark chocolate and Amaretto and is topped with Amaretto whipped cream. Another tasty treat is the Derby Mint Julep Mocha, which has mint and chocolate topped with bourbon whipped cream. The Main Street location is near Waterfront Park, which connects to the Louisville Loop, a paved trail that circles the city.

Fresh Coffee Pastries and More

One of Kentucky’s main cycling events is the Old Kentucky Home Tour, in which cyclists ride from Louisville to Bardstown and back. When you’re in Bardstown, the Bourbon Capital of the World, you’ll naturally want to take a distillery tour or two. But, for coffee you should check out Fresh Coffee, Pastries and More in the heart of historic downtown. It serves Good Folks Coffee, which is based in Louisville, and the menu, which changes daily, includes pastries and sandwiches.

Kentucky Coffeetree Cafe

[Kentucky Coffeetree Cafe](Kentuckycoffeetree.com) in Frankfort offers organic coffee, teas, beer, wine, cocktails and food, and its listening room draws nationally touring music artists. It’s a great destination for cyclists competing in the Horsey Hundred, the annual 100-mile ride across four Kentucky counties. At Kentucky Coffeetree you can order homemade and Kentucky Proud soups, salads, paninis, bratwurst, nachos and more. When you’re there, try the Southwestern Black Bean Corn and Salsa Wrap.


Stop by Broomwagon in Lexington to tune up your bike and fuel your body. This combination bike shop and cafe sells all types of bikes and offers a full range of parts, equipment and services. The cafe serves just about any coffee or tea drink you can imagine, and the menu includes brunch offerings, sandwiches, wraps, milkshakes and smoothies, all day. Try a BLT, with bacon, spinach, tomato, grilled onion, sriracha mayo grilled on sourdough or as a wrap. Or a Breakfast Wrap with two fried local eggs, tomato, mozzarella grilled in a flour tortilla. In the evening, the Broomwagon hosts live music, live comedy and trivia.

Roasted Appalachia

Located in an old train station in far eastern Kentucky, Roasted Appalachia is right across from the University of Pikeville. It serves coffee from Sunergos, a micro roastery in Louisville, and the menu includes breakfast and lunch. Try the Italian Panini with smoked ham, salami, tomato pesto, Italian dressing, provolone cheese, romaine leaves and sliced tomatoes on sundried tomato swirl bread. Check out the sweets selection, including German roasted pecans, old fashioned kettle fudge and baklava.

Written by Lisa Hornung for RootsRated Media in partnership with Kentucky Tourism.

Featured image provided by Ruth Außenhofer

Are You Addicted to Nature?


Anyone active in the outdoors community around Chattanooga has likely heard of Randy Wharton. The founder of Chattanooga-based nonprofit Wild Trails is also an ultramarathon trail runner, long-distance paddleboarder, and lifelong outdoor adventure seeker.

His love of nature is a given, but Wharton offers some extreme descriptions for his passion for the outdoors and the lifestyle he’s created around it, which he calls "radical health."

"When you’re in this kind of shape there isn’t really a day where you couldn’t wake up and go run 30 miles," he says. “I do this stuff every day, [but] not because I want to stay healthy. It’s kind of like when somebody has gotten addicted to heroin. Certain addictions are just impossible to break, and [addiction to nature] is just like that. It’s hard for somebody who has never experienced radical health to know how it feels.”

"There’s a connection with nature that’s such a huge part of the experience," Wharton adds. “I’m certain there’s no way it would be the same if I ran 10 miles on city streets. There’s an energy that’s out there in nature that you just don’t get when you’re in the city. It’s an amazing feeling.”

While not everyone can run 30 miles at any given moment like Wharton, most outdoor enthusiasts can relate to the mental and physical connection to, or even craving for, nature. And it turns out, there’s a name for it: biophilia.

As our increasingly urbanized cultures across the globe become more stressed out, depressed, and addicted to technology, more and more scientific studies are making correlations between nature exposure and benefits to both physical and emotional health. And when we lose our nature fix, we often feel crummy or crabby.

If this sounds familiar, here’s a handy set of reference questions to ask yourself and find out—are you addicted to nature?

If you find yourself more stressed out if you don’t get your trail time … you might be addicted to nature.

It’s not just the physical exercise that makes you feel good: It’s the simple act of being outside.

Jeff Bartlett

"Even after just 15 minutes of being outside, our brains and bodies start to respond [and] people experience a boost in well being," says journalist Florence Williams, who has written extensively about the science behind nature’s benefits. “Our blood pressure goes down, our heart rate variability changes in a way that’s more resilient to stress, and our cortisol levels—our stress hormones—can decrease.”

This de-stressing is attributed to factors beyond the positive effects of exercise. Consider a study in which researchers in Japan sent groups of people to walk in the forest and other groups to walk in the city, and measured the effects on both. The nature walkers had markedly higher positive benefits and lowered stress levels than the city walkers, leading researchers to theorize that it was the immersion in nature that led to the benefits. So if you’re feeling stressed out, you may just need some nature in your system to chill.

If you find yourself feeling depressed after being stuck inside all week … you might be addicted to nature.

Feeling down? Being outside is connected to lowered levels of depression and stress.

Mitchel Jones

While working on her recent book, _The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creativ_e, Williams spent time with researchers in Finland whose studies showed that people who spend at least five hours a month in nature are able to better resist and ward off mild depression. According to the researchers, that’s the recommended monthly minimum for maintaining emotional health, but more is generally better.

"Nature benefits exist on a dose curve," Williams explains. “So the benefits depend on how much nature you have.”

"Five hours a month isn’t very much in my book," she adds. “I need to go out every day, so I think there’s some individual variability.”

In other words, if you’re in the "addicted to nature" category, you likely need to get outside more to stay emotionally healthy.

If your creativity and focus plummet if you haven’t been breathing clean outside air … you might be addicted to nature.

Being outdoors for any length of time has positive benefits on your brain and creativity.

Mitchel Jones

Yep, nature makes you more creative too. In studies by psychologists from the Universities of Kansas and Utah, students who spent several days hiking and camping in the wilderness performed 50 percent better on tests measuring their creativity than when they took the same tests before spending time outdoors. Other studies showed boosts in memory, cognition, and focus after connecting with nature, whether that meant walking outdoors or simply looking out the window.

Add to that hundreds of years of anecdotal evidence and stories from the great scientists, writers, and artists of history—many of whom claimed that their best ideas came to them during a walk in the woods—and you’ve got a great recipe for sparking creativity: Get outside.

If you find yourself more selfish, self-absorbed, and generally crabby when you haven’t seen a sunset in weeks … you might be addicted to nature.

The feeling of awe that comes when absorbing the power and beauty of nature can make us better people.

Mitchel Jones

There’s a lot of new research looking into the power of awe: that powerful feeling you get while, say, soaking up a stunning sunset. It turns out that experiencing awe-inspiring natural beauty actually makes us better people.

"Imagine looking up at the Milky Way, or looking at an incredible waterfall, or seeing a moose in the woods. We have this sense of awe that makes us—our egos—feel smaller," Williams explains. “We tend to view our own personal problems as being less significant, and then we feel more connected to each other and the power of the universe.”

Researchers are finding that the more people experience awe, and the perspective of feeling smaller but still connected to something bigger and more significant than themselves, the better their emotional health.

"Nature and wilderness are critical for civilization," Williams adds. “It really does make us more community-minded, it makes us look out for each other, and it makes us better people. Even if we live in a city, it’s still important to seek out those moments of awe and beauty. You can find it in a sunset, a bird flying overhead, or the rivers in your town. Cultivating that awe is something you have to learn how to do.”

If ** you get antsy if you’re not regularly running 30 miles, paddling Class V’s, or shredding trails on your bike … ***you might be addicted to nature (and, maybe, adrenaline too).*

While nature plays a big role, when it comes to high-octane adventure sports or extreme physical activity, you’re probably also addicted to some combination of adrenaline, dopamine, and endorphins.

"When you start thinking about adventure sports, that’s kind of a different brain network that kicks in," Williams says. “Then you’re talking about a dopamine dependency, where you do need a big hit of dopamine that you can only get from a certain level of adventure sports. I think that nature is a part of that, but I don’t think that it’s the whole picture.”

Put another way, you don’t have to be bombing down a mountain at 40 miles an hour to appreciate nature or reap the benefits of being in it.

"We all have different tolerances for nature and different types of nature that we prefer," Williams says. “Some of us might feel great looking at the ocean, and others of us are freaked out by how wide open it is. We need to pay attention to how we feel when we’re outside, how we feel in different kinds of nature immersion settings. Some people are going to be on that side of the bell curve where they may need a big bang and they may also need the adrenaline rush of the sport.”

So you’re addicted to nature. What now?

Accept your addiction, and get out there and embrace it.

Mitchel Jones

Embrace it, and be grateful it’s a healthy addiction: Nature is the cure, not the disease.

"I think that addiction to nature is sort of our default state," Williams notes. “I think we’re all supposed to be addicted to nature because that’s how [our ancestors] survived—they needed to totally understand and feel connected to the natural world.”

According to experts, the real problem is not that some of us are addicted to nature, but that so many of us aren’t. Increasingly, people whose lives play out almost entirely in urban environments are addicted to technology and disconnected from nature—and so much is lost in that imbalance. And it’s not just the obvious effects like weight gain: We lose the peace that comes with a walk in the woods, the creativity sparked by a run on a trail, the thrill of testing your limits on a crag or a river, and the wonder of looking up at a clear sky full of stars.

The negative effects we feel when we don’t get our nature "fix"—depression, stress, selfishness, or lack of focus—are all really just indicators that we’re missing something that is inextricably tied up in the core of who we are, not just as outdoor enthusiasts or adrenaline junkies and everyone in between. Nature also connects us to something far more primal and long-lasting: who we are as humans.

"We are natural beings, and we have to interact with other natural beings, not just human beings," Wharton says. “There’s something out there in nature. I used to run a lot faster, but since I slowed down, I see more. There’s an interaction with nature that happens that we just need.”

Written by Andrew Shaughnessy for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Mitchel Jones

Discover Paradise Valley: An Untouched Wilderness Gem Just North of Yellowstone National Park

20180611-Montana-Absaroka Range

Driving to Yellowstone is a journey in itself. Most visitors to the country’s first national park have to cross states, mountain ranges, and vast prairies before at long last exiting the freeway at Livingston, Montana. From there, most head south toward the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Traveling alongside the Yellowstone River, down Highway 89, the valley opens into miles of mountain views and spectacular western ranches. One word describes it best: paradise.

How to Get There

Cross the Yellowstone River at Carter’s Bridge for a scenic fishing spot.

Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

Paradise Valley is the incredible place visitors get to experience before even reaching the park. Created by the Absaroka Range to the east and the Gallatin Range to the west, the valley runs north to south between Livingston and Yankee Jim Canyon, which is about 15 miles north of Gardiner, Montana, and the north entrance to Yellowstone. While many visitors simply gawk at the grandeur on the way to the park, it’s worth the time to explore on its own. You’ll avoid many of the crowds found in the national park, yet experience the scenic beauty that makes a cross-country trip worthwhile.

Traveling from Livingston, exit the steady stream of traffic and follow the locals down Paradise Valley’s first left onto East River Road, just outside of town. This scenic, meandering county road immediately crosses the mighty Yellowstone at Carter’s Bridge and invites you to slow down. The fishing access at Carter’s Bridge is a wonderful place to pull over and stretch your legs while taking in the majestic valley.

First Stop: The Yellowstone River

Strolling down the pebble-strewn beach, you’ll see the cold, snow-fed waters of the free-flowing Yellowstone tumble by. The river starts high in the mountains and continues all the way to the Gulf of Mexico—the longest undammed river in the lower 48 states. Fishermen and paddlers drift along enjoying this world-class trout stream while ospreys and eagles perch along the banks. Take some time to drop a line across the downstream banks. Large browns lie in wait and rainbows sit in the riffles.

Explore the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness

Continuing south, East River Road winds through little ranches and past Pine Creek’s one-room schoolhouse. The towering peaks of the Absaroka Range constantly pull the gaze to the east, and you’ll find plenty of trails in this area that wind up the side valleys.

Hiking in the Absaroka Mountains is a spectacular experience.

Dusan Smetana/Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

A short drive past the schoolhouse accesses the Pine Creek Trailhead and gentle hiking through the dramatic glacier-carved valley underneath Black Mountain. This gateway into the 40-year-old Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness is a popular place for day hikers, backpackers, and photographers. After little more than a mile of smooth trail beside the babbling creek, you’ll reach the base of Pine Creek Falls—an ideal place to picnic and relax. Don’t forget your bear spray, however, as these mountains are once again home to wandering grizzlies working their way north from the park.

For the more adventurous, the trail continues for four more steep miles to Pine Creek’s beautiful alpine lake. This lake is set back in a cirque of granite and provides a wonderful opportunity for solitude under the high peaks of the Absarokas. The north face of Black Mountain sits imposingly above the south shore and the grasslands of Paradise Valley are framed by the steep glacially carved drainage.

Soak in the Hot Springs

Visit Chico Hot Springs for a relaxing soak after a long day on the trails.

Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development/@enchanted.forest

After hiking, the best place to relax is a few more miles down East River Road at Chico Hot Spring Resort & Day Spa. Under the shadow of Emigrant Peak, warm water bubbles up into the idyllic, blue pools of the spa. The poolside bar, local beer, and mineral-rich water help relax the tired legs from a morning spent hiking or wading.

Gazing up at Emigrant Peak, the most prominent in the valley, the snow still shines brightly in the summer light from the last pockets of winter that cling to the summit. The road behind Chico winds up Emigrant Gulch and past the shades of old gold mines and hard luck. Ancient volcanic rock defines these mountains while glaciers and time carved its prominent pyramidal shape.

Settle in For Dinner and a Good Night’s Rest

Trail Creek Road has wonderful views of the Absaroka Range.

Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

As the shadow of the mountain grows longer and dinnertime nears, return to the highway and make your way to the little town of Emigrant. You will know you’re close by the smell—tucked off the highway is Wildflour Bakery and Follow Yer Nose BBQ. For dinner, look for their signature plate of ribs, a healthy dollop of sauce, a local ale, and live tunes while watching the sun set over the Gallatin Range and the alpenglow painting the Absarokas across the river.

After taking in the perfect day in paradise, finish the journey along the river south to Gardiner and prepare for the following day in the park. Find a comfortable room, book a guide, and get ready to explore the upper reaches of the Yellowstone and all that awaits on the far side of Paradise.

Written by Anthony Pavkovich for RootsRated Media in partnership with Gardiner CVB.

Featured image provided by Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

5 More Awesome Day Hikes in Southwest Virginia

20180207-Virginia-Abingdon-Grayson Highlands State Park-Wild ponies

Home to the state’s highest peaks and wildest spaces, Southwest Virginia is a wonderland for trail lovers, from hardened weekend warriors to casual day-hikers in search of a little fresh air. The region is overlaid with some of the country’s best-known trails—like the Virginia Creeper and the Appalachian Trail—in addition to countless regional footpaths in the massive Jefferson National Forest. You don’t have to look far to find amazing hiking opportunities that showcase tumbling waterfalls, cloud-puncturing peaks, and wild ponies grazing in upland meadows. With pristine natural areas, federally designated wildernesses, and family-friendly state parks, there are plenty of awesome day hikes in Southwest Virginia, but these are a few of the best.

1. Elk Garden to Buzzard Rock on the Appalachian Trail

Follow Elk Garden along the Appalachian trail.

Jason Riedy

Named for the animals that once roamed the highlands, Elk Garden features wind-swirled grasslands on Balsam Mountain, providing a picturesque snapshot of Southwest Virginia’s stunning portion of the Appalachian Trail. From the Elk Garden trailhead located along Whitetop Mountain Road (SR 600) just outside Konnarock, trekkers can embark on some of the most extensive tours of the stunning high country of Mount Rogers. Or you can opt for short excursions, like the hike to Buzzard Rock. Straddling on one of the crests of Whitetop Mountain (the second highest peak in the state) Buzzard Rock offers views stretching all the way to Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. On the 6.6-mile, out-and-back hike to the rock jumble perched at 5,095 feet, trekkers are treated to a taste of high country scenery as the trail meanders through a leafy hardwood forest and over a natural southern Appalachian bald.

2. Cabin Creek Trail

Grayson Highlands State Park might be the most picturesque portal to the high country of Mount Rogers, but the pony-grazed recreation area is also stocked with scenic hiking loops for less ambitious trekkers—like the Cabin Creek Trail. The gradual, 1.9-mile circuit leads hikers through a forest of rosebay rhododendron, mountain laurel, and bigtooth aspens, a rarity in Southwest Virginia. For a spell, the trail parallels Cabin Creek, a hotspot for native trout, and ultimately leads hikers past the stream’s 25-foot twin cascade. All along the way, especially while heading to the trailhead from the parking area at Massie Gap, hikers have the chance to spot the park’s free-ranging wild ponies. The wide-roaming herd of nearly 100 ponies roves both Grayson Highlands State Park and adjacent Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, and are regularly encountered on windswept Wilburn Ridge.

3. Molly’s Knob

The hike to 3,270-foot Molly’s Knob leads hikers along panoramic ridgelines.

Virginia State Parks

The highest point in Hungry Mother State Park, Molly’s Knob is named for an early settler who perished from hunger on the slopes of the pinnacle. According to local lore, after fleeing a Native American raid on settlements near the New River, a pioneer by the name of Molly Marley starved to death while traveling through what is now Hungry Mother State Park. As the legend goes, the child Molly had in tow could utter only one phrase to rescuers—hungry mother.

While the park’s name may be the result of the a tragic tale, today the hike to 3,270-foot Molly’s Knob leads hikers along the shore of 108-acre Hungry Mother Lake, through mixed forests peppered with Catawba and rosebay rhododendron, and along panoramic ridgelines. A loop through the park linking the Lake Loop, Molly’s Knob, Ridge, Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Vista trails—including an ascent of Molly’s Knob—is an approximately 5 miles round-trip. For summer visitors, the hike has an added perk of ending with a refreshing dip in Hungry Mother Lake.

4. Chief Benge Scout Trail in the High Knob Recreation Area

One of the best kept secrets in Southwest Virginia is the High Knob Recreation Area, stashed away in the Jefferson National Forest, above the city of Norton. The lofty recreation area is endowed with a high-elevation lake, amenities constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the loftiest campground in the region, and an observation tower offering views of five states.

For hikers, the High Knob Recreation Area also has a number of options, including short strolls around the 4-acre lake, or longer hauls on the Chief Benge Scout Trail. Named for the Chicamauga warrior Chief Benge, son a Scottish trader who spent time living among the Cherokee, the 18.7-mile trail runs from the High Knob Recreation Area to the Hanging Rock Day Use Area near Dungannon, taking in highlights like tumbling falls of Stony and Bark Camp Lake.

For a bite-sized taste of the distance trail, tackle the first 2.5 mile section skirting High Knob Lake and paralleling Mountain Fork stream. For detailed maps of the route, pick up National Geographic’s Trails Illustrated Map of the Clinch Ranger District, or refer to the series of section maps of Chief Benge Trail developed by High Lonesome Trails, a website created by the Southwest Virginia Citizen Science Initiative.

5. Big Falls

Scope out Pinnacle Natural Area Preserve’s treasures like Big Falls.


Located between the towns of Cleveland and Lebanon in Russell County, the Pinnacle Natural Area Preserve might be compact, but the 776-acre protected area is loaded with natural wonders. Spread along the banks of Big Cedar Creek (recognized as a state scenic river), the natural area is punctuated with waterfalls, striking geological formations, and some the rarest plants on the planet, including rock-dwelling species like Canby’s mountain-lover and Carolina saxifrage, which live nestled in the craggy crevices of the preserve’s precipitous limestone cliffs.

Aside from rare plants, eagle-eyed hikers can also spot plenty of unusual animals in the natural area, too, including hellbender salamanders, which can grow to be over two feet long, and Big Cedar Creek millipedes, which are only found in the preserve and a handful of nearby locations. Hikers can scope out the bulk of the preserve’s treasures—including Big Falls and the namesake "pinnacle," a dolomite spire soaring to almost 400 feet—with a short 3.25 mile trek along Big Cedar Creek to its confluence with the Clinch River, linking the Big Cedar Creek and Pinnacle View trails.

If you’re looking for a base camp during your exploration of Southwest Virginia, the town of Abingdon is located at the epicenter of the area’s best trails. The western terminus of the Virginia Creeper Trail is downtown, while it’s a short drive to all the other major trails in the region. Plus you can enjoy abundance of lodging options, restaurants, theater, and all the other amenities you could need for a weekend getaway.

Written by Malee Baker Oot for RootsRated Media in partnership with Abingdon.

Featured image provided by Virginia State Parks

2017-2018 Ski Season Recap


Is it just us, or did this ski season pass in the blink of an eye? (You know what they say about how time passes when you’re having fun!) From crazy weather patterns to jaw-dropping feats of athleticism on the world’s biggest stage, we can all agree that it’s been a memorable season. Here’s what went down in 2017-2018.

Crazy Snowfall at Whistler Blackcomb

Let’s start with Whistler Blackcomb’s amazing season. Storms and storm totals varied drastically around the Northern Hemisphere this winter, but the Canadian behemoth seemed to exist within its own bountiful snow globe all season. North America’s largest resort has received nearly 500 inches of snow this season and as mid-April approaches, even the lower mountain is still buried in a 120-inch base.

There were a number of instances (particularly at the end of January) when blizzards dumped up to three feet overnight. If you’re brimming with jealousy, you still have time—Whistler’s projected closing date is May 21.

Massive Storms Hit Tahoe

The Sierra Nevada were buried under an otherworldly blizzard that hit at the end of February into early March, dumping so much snow and producing such whiteout conditions that Interstate 80 and several resorts closed for hours at a time.

At first, the storm dumped around five feet on Lake Tahoe Resorts, and then another storm hit overnight on March 15, adding close to 30 more inches in a matter of a few hours at Mount Rose, Heavenly, Northstar, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.

March Madness on the East Coast

Not one but four Nor’easters nailed East Coast resorts in March. By the middle of the month, the storms dropped more than five feet of snow on most of Vermont and around eight feet on a handful of resorts in a period of two weeks, burying snow stakes. East Coast skiers and riders rejoiced about the abundance of powder and the best March conditions in years at places like Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont and Whaleback Mountain in New Hampshire.

April Dump in Colorado

A huge storm hammered the Colorado Rockies the second weekend of April, leaving close to three feet in three days at Breckenridge, Winter Park, and Loveland. Everybody loves April (snow) showers!

2018 Winter Games

The spectacles at February’s Winter Games in Pyeongchang ranged from jaw-dropping to superhuman. Standouts included Shaun White ’s insane redemption victory in the halfpipe. The 31-year-old California snowboarder secured the third gold medal of his career in the Winter Games—and a historic 100th for the U.S. at the Winter Game—after landing a show-stopping final run as the last man down the pipe. White’s winning performance included a pair of soaring back-to-back 1440s and his signature double McTwist 1260.

A bunch of other California and Colorado athletes came up big, too. After becoming the youngest female slalom skier to ever win gold in the 2014 Games, Mikaela Shiffrin demonstrated the expansion of her skill set in 2018, landing gold in giant slalom and silver in super-combined. Let’s not forget fellow Vail skier Lindsey Vonn , who, after being sidelined from the Winter Games for eight years due to injury, returned for a spectacular downhill performance to earn a bronze and also wrapping up the season with a few more World Cup victories, edging ever closer to overtaking the record for most winning skier of all time (she has 82 Cup victories and is going after Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86).

Then there was 17-year-old snowboarder Redmond Gerard who secured the first U.S. gold of the Games in men’s slopestyle as fellow Colorado resident Kyle Mack , 20, put some serious oxygen under his board to take silver in the Big Air event.

Fellow 17-year-old Chloe Kim of California surprised no one by easily winning the women’s snowboard halfpipe event while Colorado’s Arielle Gold put it together for bronze, but let’s not forget Tahoe snowboarder Jamie Anderson ’s incredible flying skills. In extremely gusty conditions on the slopestyle course, the Tahoe rider managed to handily defend her gold medal from 2014, even while downsizing her big move 900-degree spin in mid-air as a gale-force wind kicked up. She then went on to take silver in Big Air.

California veteran women’s halfpipe skier Brita Sigourney landed a big bronze in Pyeongchang, and Nevada native David Wise repeated his 2014 gold. After earning his way to the highest step of the podium in the first-ever ski halfpipe event in the 2014 Winter Games, the father of two overcame some technical difficulties and a pair of falls before bringing it all together among stiff competition in his final run while Colorado’s Alex Ferreira threw down for silver. Indiana native Nick Goepper also one-upped his bronze medal Sochi performance, earning silver in the Pyeongchang men’s ski slopestyle.

Perhaps the most startling result on the ski racing circuit was that of the Czech snowboarder Ester Ledecka , who flew out of the backfield to a gold medal in the women’s super G.

Last but not least, sleek dream team Jessie Diggins (Minnesota) and Kikkan Randall (Alaska) truly etched their mark by becoming the first American cross-country female skiers to win a Winter Games medal and the first of men or women to earn gold.

Follow-up Athletic Feats

Proving that those medals were no fluke, Mikaela Shiffrin proceeded to execute dominance in every race she entered for the rest of the season, landing on the podium in each and earning her second straight World Cup overall globe. Chloe Kim followed up her gold with a big win at the 2018 Burton Open in Vail and Jessie Diggins finished the 30-kilometer World Cup cross-country ski race in Holmenkollen Norway in second place on the heels of champion Marit Bjoergen.

The Epic Pass Got Even Better

As if the global options for great slopes on a single season pass weren’t already abundant, Vermont’s Okemo Mountain Resort and Stowe Mountain Resort, Mount Sunapee Resort in New Hampshire, and Colorado’s Crested Butte have joined the Epic Pass mix for 2018-19. This means Epic Pass holders have access to a whopping 64 ski resorts in eight countries around the world.

What was your favorite memory of the 2017-2018 season? Tell us in the comments below!

Written by RootsRated for Rent Skis.

Featured image provided by © Vail Resorts

Demystifying Nordic Skiing at the Frisco Nordic Center

00-20180228-Colorado-Frisco-Nordic Center

Could there be anything more peaceful than gliding along on your skis among towering pine trees with views of the Dillon Reservoir glistening in the sunlight and snow-capped mountains in the distance? While downhill skiing or snowboarding is all about getting from Point A to Point B as fast as possible, Nordic skiing is gaining in popularity for those looking for a change of pace. And there’s no better place to soak in the scenery than in the mountain town of Frisco, Colorado.

"Nordic skiing is not only fun, it’s great exercise too," says Linsey Joyce, Recreation Programs Manager for the Town of Frisco. “It’s a great alternative to downhill skiing or snowboarding. The Frisco Nordic Center offers solitude and breathtaking views.”

Located just a few minutes away from Main Street, the Frisco Nordic Center offers options for skiers of all ability levels. "The main goals of the Frisco Nordic Center are to be a community hub for cross country skiers," explains Joyce. “We aim to provide a variety of programs and events for our community while welcoming skiers of all ability levels.”

Whether you’re looking to take a break from a nearby resort or have been inspired by the recent Winter Games in Pyeongchang, now is a great time to try a new snow sport. Here’s everything you need to know about getting started at the Frisco Nordic Center.

What’s special about Frisco?

Nordic skiing is fun for all ages.

Todd Powell/Town of Frisco

Frisco’s Nordic scene is uniquely situated to make cross-country skiing accessible to all ages and abilities. Unlike most other Nordic centers, Frisco actually produces man-made snow, just as a downhill ski resort would. As a result, even in otherwise low-snow years, Frisco makes considerable effort to open a 2.5-kilometer loop to Nordic skiers.

"They already have the infrastructure there because of the tubing hill," explains Whitney Hedberg, director of the Summit Nordic Ski Club. “But [the ski trails] aren’t in one centrally located place, so they have to take front-loaders and physically move snow onto the trail—it’s a huge operation. The town has gotten behind it and is willing to do that. That’s what makes us stand out.”

The Summit Nordic Ski Club is a huge part of the Frisco Nordic Scene. The club is for kids as young as six on up through post-high schoolers and uses the Frisco Nordic trails. (They also compete nationally under the direction of head coach Olof Hedberg.) In addition to the youngsters, you’ll see plenty of hardened locals hitting up the trails even on the chilliest mornings—these folks are dedicated.

Where do I start?

The Nordic Center offers lessons and clinics to help you get started.

Todd Powell/Town of Frisco

"The Frisco Nordic Center offers beginner ski terrain right out our back door, creating a welcoming experience for anyone who is new to the sport," says Joyce. “I would highly recommend taking a ski lesson if you really want to learn tips and technique that will create a positive experience for you.”

Luckily, the Frisco Nordic Center offers budget-friendly lessons for new skiers, along with regular clinics and events for those looking to improve their skiing. There’s at least one block of lessons every weekday during the season (two blocks a day on busier weekends), so a knowledgeable staff member will give you the tools to have a great time on your first outing.

"A lesson will make the difference between it being a one-time thing and something you come back to," Hedberg adds.

Once you’ve gotten yourself ready for a day on skis—dress more like you’re going for a run in cold, wet weather than like you’re downhill skiing, since you’ll work up a sweat—it’s time to decide what kind of skis work best for you.

Cross-country skiing encompasses both classic and skate skiing. Classic skiers have slightly wider skis, often with a fish scale pattern on the bottom to help with kick and glide. These are the folks you’ll see in the classic track, which are the two parallel lines on any groomed cross-country trail. It’ll take some time to develop a solid technique, but this is a great way to take in the sights and, if you’re eventually so inclined, explore more backcountry trails.

Then there’s skate skiing, classic’s speedier cousin. Skate skiers are the Olympians you see double-poling and getting a serious upper-body workout on the groomed track. It’s a fantastic full-body exercise and definitely requires some fitness to get the hang of.

Fortunately, the Frisco Nordic Center rents both types of skis.

Where are the best Nordic skiing trails in Frisco?

Once you get into Nordic skiing you might want to take up racing!

Todd Powell/Town of Frisco

The Frisco Nordic Center boasts 27 kilometers of ski trails. They start making snow as early as November, so even in the early season, you’ll have the 2.5-kilometer loop near the Nordic Center to ski.

Those 27 kilometers include beginner, intermediate, and advanced trails, which are marked like an alpine ski area (green circle for beginner, blue square for intermediate, and one or two black diamonds for advanced and expert trails). On intermediate and advanced trails, you won’t find cliffs or moguls as you would at a downhill resort—more like steeper or more sustained ups and downs and sharper turns. Keep an eye out for one-way signs, too.

Before you head out onto any of the trails, check out the Frisco Nordic Center’s Trail Conditions page.

Fees and Season Passes

Grab a season pass if you plan to spend a lot of time at the Frisco Nordic Center.

Todd Powell/Town of Frisco

Day passes for the Frisco Nordic Center are $20 per day for adults. If you’ll be hitting the trails ten or more times this season, invest in a season pass or, better yet, pick up a season pass that includes the Breckenridge and Gold Run Nordic Centers. Frisco Nordic also offers discounts for residents and families. Rentals at Frisco Nordic Center are $20 per day for skate or classic setups and include skis, boots, and poles.

Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated in partnership with Town of Frisco.

Featured image provided by Joe Kusumoto/Town of Frisco

Why You Should Travel to Jordan Now

20180605-Jordan-Qasr al-Abd Palace

More than ever, Jordan is popping up on the travel wish lists of savvy globetrotters—and for good reason. In an era of global instability, especially amidst the longstanding turmoil of some of its neighbors, the small Middle Eastern country is making itself known as an oasis of tranquility—and, increasingly, of outdoor adventure. Its rugged landscapes and under-the-radar status as an adventure mecca have caught the attention of active-minded types. In addition, Jordan, whose official name is the Hashemite Kingdom, has recently unveiled new tourism initiatives such as the Jordan Trail, the Jordan Bike Trail, and the Aqaba Marine Park, which provide job opportunities for locals and visitors with new reasons to stop and stay a while.

Of course, the country isn’t without its challenges, including a struggling economy, high numbers of refugees from neighboring regions, and a dearth of jobs. But Jordanians are finding a way to move forward with aplomb, and are more excited than ever to share their country with eager travelers, likely over syrupy mint tea or a celebratory meal of mansaf, the tasty national lamb dish. Here, four reasons to travel to Jordan now.

Gain an Appreciation for Ancient Culture and Traditions

Jordan's spice markets are a must-do during any trip.

Andrew Moore

The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, or RSCN, as locals call it, was established in 1966 to protect and manage Jordan’s natural resources, including wildlife and wild places. One of the few independent national organizations in the Middle East with this mandate, the RSCN runs the Royal Academy for Nature Conservation near the Ajloun Forest Reserve in the northern part of the country. The center is used for everything from wildlife identification to training for adventure guides to search-and-rescue education, and it’s is developing into a key asset for the Jordanian adventure travel industry.

Part of the Academy grounds are open to the public, and visitors can explore local handicrafts and gourmet goodies made on-site by locals, including a shop that crafts cookies with local, regional ingredients. Grab lunch among staff at the cafeteria-style dining hall, and eat on the expansive porch overlooking the sweeping Mediterranean-like terrain of the surrounding valleys.

Just 40 miles west from the center of Amman lies the small village of Iraq al-Amir, home to the oldest standing building in Jordan: Qasr Iraq al-Amir, built in 164 BC. But while the ruins are well worth a stop, the real draw lies in the small compound of the Iraq al-Amir Women Cooperative Society. The Society provides business and work training for local women as they create handicrafts to sell, marking the first opportunity for many to make a living of their own. Peruse their handcrafted good like pottery, weaving, soap, and paper, and enjoy a delicious traditional lunch under the shade of the sprawling porch (complete with friendly, rather audacious, cats).

And speaking of local cuisine: From remarkable hummus and the ever-present yogurt variations to rich meals like mansaf, a popular dish of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt and served with rice or bulgur, and kofta, a kebab made of ground beef and lamb mixed with fresh parsley, onions, garlic, and Middle Eastern spices. Jordan-style meals are large and rich. Local spices including the blend za’atar, which is becoming more common on American menus, are heavily utilized, and sweets such as knafeh, a cheese pastry of shredded phyllo, are no joke—they’re simply dripping in syrups. Be sure to sample Turkish coffee, Arabic coffee, and sugary-sweet teas flavored with sage or mint; the teas are a popular offer for visitors, so expect to drink your fair share. They are surprisingly medicinal on a hot day.

Hit the Trails As People Have for Thousands of Years

Those ready for a challenging adventure can test their mettle against the Jordan Trail. The 404-mile long-distance hiking trail traverses the length of the country, from Um Qais in the north to the shores of the Red Sea in Aqaba in the south. Thru-hikers can expect to spend more than 40 days crossing diverse landscapes from the Mediterranean-like hillsides in the north to the sweeping red desert of Wadi Rum further south.

For a less ambitious itinerary, plan to tackle a short section of the trail, perhaps even as a day hike. Hikers experience true Jordanian hospitality as they travel—though the trail itself is new, the tradition of hospitality in the region is not, and visitors can anticipate being welcomed into homes throughout the trek.

Prefer to spend your time in the saddle? Similar to the Jordan Trail, the Jordan Bike Trail crosses the country north-to-south, offering long-distance, mixed-track cycling across diverse terrain that offers a chance to get off the tourist track and explore Jordan as it truly is. Whether you ride for a few days or a month, plan to have overnight support via local families, who often open up their homes to guests, and even Bedouin tribes, who are an excellent resource in the challenging southern sections.

Embrace the Water-Lover in You

Home to Jordan’s only coastline, Aqaba is quickly becoming a hotspot for recreationalists and adventurers.

David Stanley

Water in the desert? Sure! Canyoneering is a popular and thrilling way to explore the sandstone canyons of Wadi Mujib, nearly 70 miles south of Amman. Under the eye of an experienced guide, expect a challenging day navigating the rugged desert canyons that act as veins through the desert. Come prepared to climb, hike, scramble, wade, abseil, and even swim as you make your way through the canyons. (And be sure to bring a waterproof camera along with your water shoes.)

Home to Jordan’s only coastline, Aqaba is quickly becoming a hotspot for recreationalists and adventurers. Some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world are located just off the coast, drawing divers and snorkelers from around the globe, including more than 12,000 scuba divers in 2017. The Aqaba Marine Park just opened to the public in 2018, housing more than 127 species of hard coral throughout its 4.35-mile length. The site boasts both natural and transplant reefs, and promises to make a mark on snorkeling and scuba enthusiasts’ “to-do” lists.

Bag Peaks, Explore History, and Take a Soak

Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

Salil Wadhavkar

For most, the idea of Jordan summons mental images of sweeping desert, Lawrence of Arabia-style. But Jabal Um Al Dami, Jordan’s highest peak at 6,083 feet, is here to showcase the diversity of the country. Near the border with Saudi Arabia in Aqaba Governate, the peak is an underrated adventure for summit-baggers. Take the day to summit the peak; the breaktaking views of Wadi Rum’s mountain ranges and northwestern Saudi Arabia’s sweeping deserts at the top is worth the climb.

After summiting the highest peak in Jordan, why not stand at the lowest point on earth? The shore of the Dead Sea lies at 1,378 feet below sea level, and visitors from higher altitudes will find the low altitude has its benefits — oxygen is dense here, and you’ll feel great! You’d be remiss not to float in the Dead Sea; with 34.2% salinity the water is 9.6 times saltier than the ocean. Slather up with mud and float away, but don’t get the water in your eyes! (Though friendly locals are often ready with bottled water to help flush the eyes of over-eager travelers.)

Another recommended stop, the ancient city of Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, showcases history well-preserved in its sandstone canyons. And while you may find yourself battling crowds through the main entrance, those who opt for the longer hike to the rear entrance, dubbed the Nabatean Route, will find solace along the quiet morning trail. This Back Route begins at nearby Little Petra and leads hikers along a winding trail to the Monastery (if you arrive early enough, you may have it to yourself) before descending 900 steps to the “main” part of the site, which boasts famous landmarks like the Treasury buildings and the Siq, the latter of which is a tall sandstone slot canyon made famous in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

It’s just one of the places where, not unlike the globetrotting archeologist, you might find yourself captivated by Jordan’s charms.

Written by Jess McGlothlin for RootsRated Media in partnership with RootsRated.

Featured image provided by David Stanley

Why Visiting Zion National Park In the Off Season Is a Great Idea

20180531-Utah-Zion National Park-Kolob Canyons Road

The busy season at Zion National Park, one of Utah’s iconic "Mighty 5" national parks, is full of visitors. Mostly from March through October, more than 4.5 million tourists made the trek to Zion in 2017 alone and the park anticipates continued growth. Over the past decade, there’s been a 70 percent jump in annual visitation, leading the Park Service to consider proposals to protect Zion’s sensitive natural environments while continuing to provide quality visitor experiences.

While the park mulls over ways to manage high visitation during the peak season, the simplest way to avoid the masses and enjoy Zion is to come in the off-season, which runs from December through February. During those months, you’ll avoid traffic jams at the entrance stations, crammed parking lots, streams of hikers on popular trails, and overbooked hotels and restaurants in Springdale, which sits on the southwestern edge of the park.

Instead, you’ll find a quiet Zion where you can still drive into majestic Zion Canyon, hike the Narrows with far less company, watch deer graze in meadows below the Great White Throne, and go mountain biking, hiking, and canyoneering outside the national park. As a bonus, you’ll save cash with affordable lodging and your pick of fine restaurants in Springdale.

Need a few more reasons to come in the off-season?

The Weather is Often Perfect

The park’s off-season weather is a big surprise to visitors, with generally mild winter days. While you see spectacular photos of Zion’s cliffs draped in glistening snow, the fact is that it rarely snows at the lower elevations in Zion Canyon and Springdale, which lies at a modest 3,900 feet. Daytime high temperatures are often in the 50s and 60s, sometimes climbing into the 70s, while nighttime lows dip into the 30s, making perfect weather for driving the scenic roads and hiking Zion’s trails. If that seems a bit too cool, remember that summer not only brings crowds of tourists but also temperatures soaring into the low 100s.

It’s the Best Time to Avoid Crowds

Find fewer people at the popular hikes in Zion Canyon, like on the Lower Emerald Pool Trail.

Ken Lund

The off-season is the ideal time to hike Zion’s trails as you’ll find fewer people and plenty of parking at trailheads. Even the popular hikes in Zion Canyon like Lower Emerald Pool Trail, Weeping Rock Trail, and Riverside Walk are uncrowded. You’ll see few other hikers on longer trails like Angels Landing, one of the summer’s most popular hikes, and the Observation Point Trail. The lower elevation trails are usually dry on sunny sections with icy patches lingering in the shade, while the high-elevation trails are icy and snow-covered. A good winter hike for snowshoers is the East Rim Trail to the overlook at Cable Mountain. Check in at the visitor center for current trail conditions and bring microspikes for traction and trekking poles for balance if it’s icy.

The Scenic Drive is Still Open—and You Won’t Have to Deal with Traffic

Zion’s off-season brings not only fewer visitors but also less traffic. The waits are short at the park entrance stations, and you’ll have no traffic jams and plenty of parking spaces along roads. The best part of the off-season is that shuttles don’t run up the 6.5-mile Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, so you can experience the park’s most spectacular scenic road from the comfort of your own vehicle. The drive, following the canyon floor alongside the Virgin River, offers gorgeous views of towering sandstone formations and allows quick access to canyon trails. Be sure to stop at designated viewpoints like Court of the Patriarchs, Big Bend, and Temple of Sinawava for postcard views and trailheads for Angels Landing, Emerald Pools, and Sand Bench trails. Afterward, take a drive up the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel and hike the short Canyon Overlook Trail for views into Zion Canyon.

Accommodations Are Easy to Find and Less Costly

Springdale makes the best base camp for exploring Zion in the off-season. Without crowds of tourists, accommodations are plentiful and less costly than the busier months. You can pull in and get a room without a reservation at most hotels and motels in town (although calling ahead is recommended, particularly on holidays, to reserve your accommodations). You also can stay at Zion National Park Lodge in the heart of the canyon, with its spectacular views and quiet ambiance. If you want to rough it, Zion’s Watchman Campground is open on a first-come, first-served basis in the off-season. Campsites are usually available except on busy weekends.

There’s More To See Than Zion National Park

You’ll find additional hiking outside of the park near Springdale, including the Eagle Crags Trail, Anasazi Trail, Coalpits Wash Trail, and Chinle Trail.

John and Jean Strother

After you’ve explored Zion Canyon and hiked a few park trails, head back to Springdale and discover plenty of outdoor adventures outside the national park. The off-season months are ideal for riding mountain bike tracks with cooler temperatures, few riders, and mostly dry trails. West of town is Gooseberry Mesa, offering some of Utah’s best singletrack terrain, and Guacamole Mesa’s 14 miles of slickrock trails, which are surrounded by breathtaking scenery. For an easy ride, follow an old road to the ghost town of Grafton.

While off-season is too cold for extreme canyoneering, stop by one of Springdale’s outfitters like Zion Guru or Zion Outfitter and see what dry canyons are open for adventure. They also can guide you rock climbing on sunny sandstone cliffs.

Springdale is a big draw for hikers, too, with miles of scenic trails outside Zion. Recommended hikes close to Springdale include the Eagle Crags Trail, Anasazi Trail, Coalpits Wash Trail, and Chinle Trail.

Everything is Still Open in Springdale

You’ll find lots of restaurant options in Springdale, including Oscars Café, which has excellent outdoor seating.

Jason Rogers

After hiking Zion’s trails and taking in the astounding scenery, head back to Springdale for après hike drinks and fine meals. The town offers a variety of dining options for every taste and wallet, most within walking distance of your hotel, and far fewer visitors in the off-season. It’s a great opportunity get to know the locals and learn more about what you can do in (and out of) the park.

Zion Park Boulevard, the town’s main street, is lined with art galleries, shops, and restaurants serving Mexican, Asian, vegan, pizza, and American cuisine. Local favorites include Barefoot Taqueria, Bit & Spur Restaurant, Spotted Dog Café, Oscar’s Café, Cafe Soleil, Bistro H, and Jacks. For the best pint of handcrafted locally brewed beer and pub food, visit the Zion Canyon Brew Pub at the national park entrance.

Written by Stewart Green for RootsRated Media in partnership with ZionNationalPark.com.

Featured image provided by Zion National Park

Why You Should Bring Your Bike to Chattanooga (and the 11 Best Places to Ride)

20170719_Chattanooga Riverwalk_Road Running11

Whether it’s long-distance road biking, singletrack trail riding, or casual urban cruising, there’s a lot to be said for exploring a city on two wheels. And with it’s thriving downtown area, surrounding countryside, and a huge network of nearby trails, Chattanooga is a prime destination for all types of cyclists.

The city was ranked a Silver Level Bike Friendly Community by The League of American Bicyclists, and it plays hosts to several prestigious cycling events each year, including IRONMAN Chattanooga, the 3 State 3 Mountain Challenge, and the Five Points 50. Chattanooga has a huge range of cycling opportunities, whether you’re seeking an epic challenge or a family-friendly outing. To get you rolling, here are a few of the best local spots to go for a ride.

In-Town Adventures

Chattanooga’s Riverwalk offers a scenic spot for a casual bike ride with many great spots to stop along the way.


1. The Riverwalk

In its entirety, Chattanooga’s Riverwalk park spans more than a dozen miles from St. Elmo to the Chickamauga Dam. At the center of the Riverwalk are the Art District and the Tennessee Aquarium, two major attractions that are great jumping-off points for the multi-use path. From the Art District, you can follow the Riverwalk east about 8 miles to the dam, with restrooms, picnic areas, and riverfront views along the way. From the aquarium, hop on the Riverwalk in the opposite direction for a flat, less-traveled route to St. Elmo at the foot of Lookout Mountain.

2. Walnut Street Bridge & Northshore Parks

Built in 1890, the Walnut Street Bridge is one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world. Its blue trusses have become a symbol of Chattanooga, and it serves as a link between Downtown and Northshore, two of the city’s most popular areas. The bridge is perfect for a slow, scenic bike ride, and it leads right into Coolidge and Renaissance Parks on Northshore’s riverfront.

3. MLK District

This recently renovated street now offers a wonderful bike lane and a center turning lane, making it ideal for an urban cycling excursion. The MLK District is the perfect neighborhood to create your own bike and brew tour of Chattanooga, with two local breweries and several great bars within just a few blocks of each other. You can also check out the nearby Miller Plaza, which hosts outdoor events like Nightfall, a free summer concert series.

On the Trails

The 30-mile trail system at Raccoon Mountain is one of the area’s most popular mountain biking destinations.

Kathryn Crouch

4. Raccoon Mountain

This extensive trail system hosts what many locals think of as the best mountain biking in Chattanooga. With more than 30 miles of singletrack trails and endless ways to string them together, you’ll feel like you have the place to yourself even on a busy weekend. While there are a couple of trails suitable for beginners, much of the riding on Raccoon Mountain is technical and challenging, offering an authentic southeastern mountain biking experience.

5. Enterprise South

This nature park on Chattanooga’s outskirts offer the ultimate beginner-friendly trail adventure. Its four bike trails, one of which is brand new in 2018, are well-marked and directional, so you need not worry about rounding a turn into another rider. While it has some elevation change, Enterprise South is known for being fast, flowy, and smooth. It’s easy enough for first-timers, but remains an ultra-fun option for advanced riders as well.

6. Stringers Ridge

Only have time for a quick ride on your visit to Chattanooga? Located just outside of downtown in Northshore, Stringers Ridge is the prime option for folks looking to get outdoors in a hurry. Nearly all of its seven miles of trails are bike-friendly, with the directional 4-mile “blue loop” being the most popular route for riders. Though short, this loop packs a punch with its constant ups and downs. An old paved path bisects the trail system and offers one of the best overlooks of downtown Chattanooga to be found anywhere.

7. Five Points

The newest addition to Chattanooga’s mountain bike scene, Five Points was opened in 2011 after major efforts by Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association and local partners. About 20 miles of trails radiate from a central intersection, and almost any selection will eventually return you to this starting point. One of Five Points’ major draws is that all but one of the trails are bike-only, so riders can be worry-free from hikers and runners.

Long Road Rides

The quiet roads found near the Chickamauga Battlefield are an excellent option for road cycling.

Kathryn Crouch

8. Moccasin Bend Loop

This ride is one of the most popular and easily accessible road rides in Chattanooga. Starting anywhere in Northshore, this route offers a scenic trip to the tip of the Moccasin Bend peninsula, passing through an industrial area before entering a beautiful forest where wildlife can often be spotted. Many riders use this flat, straight road for sprints and time trials, and you’ll usually find more bikes than cars on this section of the route.

9. Suck Creek Road

Perhaps one of the most scenic rides in Chattanooga, Suck Creek is a 20-mile out-and-back ride with about 1,700 feet of elevation gain. The first few miles are quite flat and follow the Tennessee River into the “Grand Canyon of the South,” offering views of the dramatic bluffs that frame the river. Once the ascent begins, the road’s namesake creek hugs the right side of the pavement and babbles with mini-waterfalls and rushing cascades all the way to the turnaround. For a longer ride, this route can be turned into the 68-mile Henson Gap Loop, which drops down into Sequatchie Valley and takes a scenic, roundabout way back into the city.

10. Flintstone

This 49-mile loop begins downtown and traces the base of Lookout Mountain south to Flintstone, Georgia, before climbing up and over Lookout to descend back to Chattanooga. The climb is a steady, manageable grade, leading to a few rolling hills on the mountaintop. You’ll achieve some well-earned speed on the Ochs Highway descent, but be sure to watch out for traffic and sharp turns.

11. Chickamauga Battlefield

The flat, little-trafficked roads of Chickamauga Battlefield make it the perfect place for both fast training laps and leisurely bicycle trips. A mixture of forests and pastures, this seemingly remote countryside is dotted with restored war monuments and historical markers. Loops range from 6 to 14 miles, so pick up a map at the visitor center to determine which route is best for you.

There are dozens of reasons to let your bike tag along on a visit to Chattanooga, whatever your two-wheeled forte may be. From casual urban exploring to gnarly day-long mountain climbs, there’s no doubt that Chattanooga is home to an array of cycling adventure that will leave you wanting more.

Written by Madison Eubanks for RootsRated Media in partnership with Chattanooga CVB.

Featured image provided by Kathryn Crouch