I probably should have titled this post differently since we didn’t do anything even remotely “holiday-ish”. We did, however, enjoy a long four-day weekend so I guess that qualifies as a holiday. The long weekend started off with a long hike — a really long hike. The longest hike we’ve ever done in fact. At 14.7 miles with 2,400 feet of elevation gain, the Upper Palisades Lake Trail was equally challenging and rewarding.
A lot of people do this trail as a multi-day hike. They either stop at the lower lake (about 4 miles out) and continue on to the upper lake the next day, or they stop at the upper lake and return the next day. Judging by the number of hikers we saw with big packs, we were one of the few who did the entire out and back in a single day.
We’ve talked a lot about getting into backpacking. In the end, we always decide to stick with day hikes. Truthfully, as much as I love immersing myself in nature, at the end of a long hike, there is nothing better than heading back to the Airstream where I have running water, a memory foam mattress, and an indoor kitchen. I know there are things we’re missing out on by limiting ourselves to day hikes, but when we can park our home in the middle of the forest next to bubbling stream, I don’t feel too bad about not eating some sort of freeze-dried concoction for dinner and suffering through a night in a tent.
Aside from its long length, the trail Upper Palisades Lake Trail is not a terribly strenuous. We saw lots of families with kids and dogs. Most turned around at the first lake, but there was one large group of adults and kids that we ran into near the upper lake. I’m impressed that those little legs hiked so far.
A good portion of the trail followed along the Palisades River at a gentle incline. It wasn’t until about a mile before the first lake and the last 1.5 before the second that we had to climb up any steep switchbacks.
Both of the lakes were gorgeous with clear water surrounded by mountains and forests. We even saw a moose wading at the northern edge of the lower lake.
This was one of those hikes where the way down was harder than the way up. Not because it was steep, but because by the time we got back to the lower lake we already hiked over 10 miles and the tiredness was setting in. I’m not going to lie. The last 4 miles of the hike was pure misery.
My back was hurting from carrying an extra-heavy backpack (a long hike means lots of water to carry) and my feet were on fire. We’re fortunate that neither of us is plagued with the knee issues that so many hikers suffer from, but despite seeking out the best hiking shoes, a long hike always means sore feet for both of us. We have our eyes on a 17-mile hike that we hope to do later this summer, so hopefully, we can figure out how to make it through with less foot pain by then.
The second day of our long weekend was reserved for kayaking. By this point, we had spent a week only a few miles from the Palisades Reservoir and had yet to put the boats in the water. I guess it wasn’t meant to be because the clouds rolled in mid-morning and we made the decision to stay home. Sometimes an entire day at home with nothing to do but laze around is exactly what we need. Besides, as much as we hate to admit it, we were still in recovery mode from the day before :)
Missing out on kayaking wasn’t that big of a deal because we had a water adventure planned for the very next day. Except, for once we wouldn’t be the ones doing the paddling.
As I mentioned last time, the closest town to our boondocking spot was Alpine, WY. This tiny town didn’t have a grocery store or a laundromat so we one afternoon we made the 45-minute drive into Jackson to find both. The route we took went through a narrow valley carved out by the Snake River. For much of the drive, we could see the river below, including lots of inflatable boats full of people riding the rapids. Oh man, that looks like fun!
So much fun that we decided that’s exactly how we wanted to spend one of long weekend days. A quick google search revealed that Jackson has at least half a dozen outfitters offering whitewater and scenic tours on the Snake River. After some research, we chose the 15-mile lunch combination trip with Barker-Ewing. It included a 7-mile scenic float on the upper part of the river, lunch with a view, and an 8-mile trip through the whitewater section of the river.
The scenic float lasted about an hour and while it was scenic, it was also kind of, ummm…boring. We basically sat in the boat while our guide steered us down the fast moving river. I’m not sure what else I expected, but it was a little disappointing. The scenery was mostly the same for the entire ride and the only wildlife we saw was a bald eagle. I’m not even going to share the one photo I got of it because you all know what a bald eagle looks like. Also, birds are boring (yup, I said it).
Lunch was good though. They provided freshly made turkey sandwiches, broccoli salad with a tasty peanut sauce, fruit salad, and giant homemade cookies for desert. We also had a great spot to watch the river while eating.
From there it was back to the office where we boarded a different bus for the ride down the whitewater section. All the outfitters in town use this same 8-mile whitewater section, so the scene at the launch site was a little chaotic. The guides are obviously used to it because they quickly had us split into groups and loaded into our boats. We choose the smaller 8-man boat for maximum excitement. Sadly, I wasn’t able to take any photos while on the river. We no longer have our GoPro, and I didn’t trust the waterproof case for my phone enough to bring it along. We did end up shelling out $20 for a single professional photo, but I would have loved to have more.
Despite the lack of photographic evidence, we had a blast. As a whitewater newbie, I was a little nervous at first. More than anything I didn’t want to fall out of the boat into that freezing cold water! Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Well, the water was freezing and we did get absolutely soaked, but I never even came close to falling in, and the sun was hot enough that we weren’t cold even without wetsuits.
There are maybe half a dozen rapids along the 8-mile stretch. As we got close to each one our guide would shout commands (row forward, backward, stop) as we barreled through. A couple times huge waves rolled up and over the boat completely drenching us. It was awesome. The only thing that could have made it better was more rapids. I predict more whitewater rafting adventures in our future.
The final day of our long weekend was the 4th of July. In years past we’ve enjoyed small town parades, carnivals, and fireworks. This year we skipped it all and instead packed up and went in search of a new place to call home. Our theory was that all the holiday campers would be leaving and we would have our choice of sites. It kind of worked out. There was still a good amount of people on the road where we wanted to boondock but we did manage to find a spot.
And then the next day we go an even better spot which I’ll share next time.