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Big Sur Road Trip

Big Sur Road Trip

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We spent one full day exploring the Big Sur Coast during our recent trip to the LA area. The area known as Big Sur is several hours North of LA, especially with LA’s traffic. We got a hotel room in Morro Bay for the night on either side of our Big Sur road trip, so we could have a full day exploring the coast.

Driving straight through from Morro Bay to Monterey, which encompasses all the area known as Big Sur plus other wonderful stretches of the coast, on Highway 1 takes about 3 hours. The roads are very windy and narrow, so you have to go fairly slow. If anyone can drive without stopping, they have a lot more self control than I do. Our plan was to drive the route North and then come slowly back down the coast making all our stops. The thought process was we’d have a better idea where things are and wanted to beat the crowds to the big attractions, like McWay Falls on the Northern end. We definitely made some stops on the way North. We could not resist those rocky ocean coastlines. But for the bigger attractions, I do think it worked well.

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Before you go…

  • Big Sur has almost no cell phone recpetion. I printed off a dozen google maps before we went and did a lot of research on where our stops were. It’s also lacking signage in some areas, so those notes and maps really came in handy!
  • Everything is very expensive in Big Sur. Fill up on gas before you go.

Calla Lily Valley

We didn’t stop at the “right” path. In fact what we traveled down was not technically a path. I said “Let’s follow this trail!” Donovan said “That’s not a trail. That’s a path water runs down.” I said “Well I’m going to follow it anyways.” We ended up on a beautiful point along the coast all alone. The wind was strong, the flowers were pretty, the views were gorgeous, and I felt on top of the world. Lesson: Follow the path less traveled, even if it’s not technically a path.

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Bixby Bridge

This is a very popular stop and it was crowded. Not the best view in Big Sur, but it’s worth a quick stop. I read a tip on this blog to pull off on a dirt road to the Northeast of the bridge and it made a big difference! Almost no one else was there and it was a better view.

DSC_0551 (2)e2McWay Falls

The crown jewel of Big Sur for a good reason. Parking in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park costs $10 per vehicle, but there is plenty of parking along side the road. If the road is covered in cars going both ways, you’ve found McWay Falls. Make sure your car is not touching any of the white lines; they are serious about ticketing. We saw cops ticketing other cars. The path is short, slowly revealing the cove to you until you can see the Falls. It’s a beautiful pristine area, because there is no access to the beach by the falls. McWay Falls drops 80 feet from a granite cliff into the ocean.

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Hermitage

The drive up to this Camaldolese Benedictine monastery is one of a kind. The drive to the top is basically a one lane road full of switch backs and breathtaking views. We didn’t go inside the monastery, but the drive up was worth it.

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Limekiln State Park

Limekiln deserves its own post. It was beautiful and green even in the drought. I loved being back among the redwoods and the park has giant kilns, a waterfall, and beach access. This is the only stop we paid $10 to park and it was worth it. We love hiking and this was the perfect side trip to stretch our legs.

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Willow Creek

We were actually looking for Jade Cove when we ended up here. The views from the top parking lot are fantastic and you can drive down to walk along the beach.

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Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

This area features dozens if not hundreds of elephant seals. Humans can observe from the boardwalk.

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There are a handful of places to eat in Big Sur and they’re all pricey. We stumbled upon the Big Sur Deli and were very happy. The sandwiches were giant and made quickly. We took ours and found a turn off along the coast to sit and eat. Great food and an ocean view for a small fraction of what you’d pay somewhere like Nepenthe.

We spent the night at 456 Embarcadero Inn & Suites in Morro Bay. The hotel was clean, the complimentary br eakfast had good variety, plus our room had views of the harbor. We even got a veterans discount booking on their website! I would stay here again.

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If we had multiple days in the area, I would also want to check out: Highbridge Falls, Jade Cove, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (beyond McWay Falls), Pfeiffer Falls Trail, Point Lobos State Park, Salmon Creek Falls, and Sand Dollar Beach to name a few.

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Ferne Clyffe Bork’s Falls

Ferne Clyffe Bork’s Falls

 “There is a hidden message in every waterfall. It says, if you are flexible, falling will not hurt you!”  – Mehmet Murat Ildan

Ferne Clyffe is a lot bigger state park than I originally thought. There are in fact 3 separate parts of Ferne Clyffe as shown on the map from the Department of Natural Resources website.

Ferne Clyffe Map

On previous trips (like here and here) I had always focused on the right section of Ferne Clyffe, as I think most visitors do. There’s not even a sign saying “Ferne Clyffe ->” for the middle section. But I was determined to go water fall hunting as all the snow was melting. After poking around online, I found some talk of Bork’s Falls, another waterfall in Ferne Clyffe located in the middle section.

It was not easy to get to. The melting snow made Regent Lane a hilly one lane road of mud and ice. Bork’s Falls actually flows straight across Regent Lane. I’m sure at times it’s much lower, but all the melting snow made it about half a foot deep in some sections. We parked on Regent Lane, on the East side of Bork’s Falls and rock hopped across the stream.

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After exploring on top of the waterfall for a little bit, we kept walking west on Regent Ln, in hopes of finding Trail 18, our original destination. If I had one piece of feedback for the Illinois DNR about Ferne Clyffe, it’s put up signs. If the trails on the map are numbered, put some numbers up on the trails! Basically nothing but the main area is labeled in the park and everywhere we go we say “I guess it’s this one.” So for this trip we are assuming we found Trail 18. The trail head is just around the curve on Regent Lane with signs talking about native trees and cleaning your boots before entering.
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The trail itself wasn’t a bad hike and it would be easy if not for the slick snow and mud. We walked down the trail for about quarter of a mile before it crosses a large opening. Instead of continuing across the side of the opening, which is heading away from the Falls, we double backed this time following the canyon floor and the river. After all, the point of our trip was waterfall hunting.

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The walk along the river was also pretty easy, until the trail we were following ended. Then we had to cross the river and pick up on the other side. More rock hopping! Luckily no one fell in.

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The trail on the east side of the river took us past some gorgeous frozen waterfalls. I love them just as much as I love flowing waterfalls.

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I heard the waterfall before I saw it again. Bork’s Falls is 30-40 feet high with a wading pool beneath it.

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Finally we crossed the river again and hiked up the side of the ridge to get out. It was a great hike! A perfect cure for my wonderlust that has been building over our snowy cold past few weeks. I can’t wait to go back when the trees have leaves.

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Chasing Waterfalls in Central Tennessee

Chasing Waterfalls in Central Tennessee

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The area East of Nashville has quite a few waterfalls to offer the adventurer passing through. Before our trip I looked into, Cummins Falls State Park, Burgess Falls State Park, Virgin Falls State Natural Area, and Fall Creek Falls State Park. All four feature beautiful waterfalls and landscapes. Unfortunately, Burgess Falls had several of their main trails closed due to heavy rainfall damaging their stairs. Virgin Falls was stunning, but a 10 mile hike that lots of people choose to do overnight. Sleeping in a tent next to a waterfall… sign me up! But we only had one day in our road trip scheduled for this area, so Virgin Falls was cut from the list as well. That left us with Cummins Falls and Fall Creek Falls to explore on our day in Central Tennessee.

Cummins Falls is a 211 acre park with it’s main feature being a 75 feet high waterfall. There are several paths to hike and views of the falls. We decided to do the route directly to the bottom of the falls and back and it did not disappoint!

According to the website, it was about a 3 mile round trip hike. On the map we followed Overlook Trail, Shortcut Trail, Downstream Trail, and followed the gorge bottom to the falls. We spent about 2.5 hours visiting Cummins Falls. 1 hour hiking to the falls, due to how many times we stopped to take pictures and enjoy the area. 1 hour exploring at the falls and half an hour to hike back with fewer stops.

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The trail to the waterfall is a bit rugged. They don’t recommend flip flops, although I saw some others making the trip in them. I wouldn’t recommend it. We, however, often chose the most difficult path, rock hopping and crossing the river on stones to get pictures and explore. The trail back was easier as we stayed on the river bank more. There is one part where you have to cross the river via rock hopping and we had some difficulty with it.

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The views along the river and completely worth doing this trail. Plus, seeing the waterfall from the bottom is stunning!

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Cummins Falls is the 8th largest Tennessee waterfall in volume. The water pooled at the bottom of the falls goes up to about the chest of an average adult female. If you do want to stay a while and swim, bring a suit! The state park has a line of safety jackets for younger swimmers.

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Cummins Falls is one of the most beautiful places I’ve had the pleasure to explore. I would definitely recommend this hike if you’re in the area!

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We arrived at Fall Creek Falls at about 5 PM. Knowing we didn’t have a lot of sunlight left, we chose to visit the waterfall overlooks instead of hiking to the bottom of the falls.

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According to the website, Fall Creek Falls is Tennessee’s largest and most visited State Park at 26,000 acres. There are four falls in the park: Fall Creek Falls is the tallest at 256 ft, Piney Falls, Cane Creek Falls, and Cane Creek Cascades. See the map here.

Then we drove along the Gorge Scenic Drive stopping at some view points to see the beautiful tree covered mountains.

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Finally, we did two quite short trails by Piney Creek Falls. One was the overlook path. The falls were a little hidden behind the trees, so this would definitely be one to hike to the bottom of if you have time.

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The second short trail we did led to a suspension bridge, but didn’t feature any views of the falls.

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We saw lots of people with bikes for their bike trail, canoes, and fishing gear. There’s also an adventure area with a zip line and other aerial obstacles, tennis courts, a golf course, and stables. I can see why this area is so popular. It offers a lot to do, very beautiful views, but isn’t too rustic. For those who want a more rustic visit, there is a long overnight trail as well.

We ate dinner and spent the night at the lodge on the State Park. Overall, it was clean and edible, but didn’t impress us in any way. If you’re going to spend some time here, I would camp if you have the gear.

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Both these areas I’m sure are packed during the summer and weekends. We visited on a Tuesday afternoon/evening in mid September and the crowds were very light.

Ghost Dance Canyon

Ghost Dance Canyon

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Dixon Springs is a 801 acre state park near Golconda, IL. The area is known for mineral-enriched water and was a health spa in the 19th century. The area today is known for cliffs, crags, boulders, and bubbling brooks that turn into waterfalls with enough rain, just a few of my favorite things.

The park contains a swimming pool and some camp grounds (although I read that they aren’t the best in the area). The trails could also use some maintenance. There were a few times that I was guessing where it went next and eventually just followed the sound of the water. The areas without a clear trail were filled with brush and Chiba’s leash became tangled too many times. That being said, it’s a lovely area for a more adventurous hiker!

There are two trails in Dixon Springs: a short down and back trail about a mile called Ghost Dance Canyon and a longer loop of Oak Tree Trail, Bluff Trail, and Pine Tree Trail. I cannot find a length for the longer loop on the internet. The longer loop is definitely the better known of the two. Ghost Dance Canyon can barely be seen on the map of the park. I had read online, however, that Ghost Dance Canyon was the real gem of the park. This time I only completed Ghost Dance Canyon, but I hope to go back for the longer loop.

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Ghost Dance Canyon begins in the parking lot for the swimming pool. You probably wouldn’t even know it was a trail just looking at it. It immediately crosses the brook, takes a left pass a sign for the trail, and goes under a highway bridge.

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After the bridge, you follow a brook for a while. There’s several points where it’s quite easy to be right next to the river and climb around on the rocks. Chiba had fun trying to snap at bubbles.

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The next turn is a tricky one, you have to cross the river, but the path isn’t well laid out. There’s a series of rocks in a line across the brook. If it was warmer, you could easily walk in the water. I did read online that the water can get high in a very rainy season and it’s not advised to cross then.

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The trail picks back up here and you walk alongside a cliff.

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Again there are several paths to walk down to the water’s edge.

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After this is where I became more confused and just followed the sound of falling water. The waterfall was flowing for me!

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The small waterfall was lovely and river rock hopping is always a favorite for me. I do wish the state would spend some time and money cleaning up this area. Even knowing this, I’ll be back to do the longer loop!

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Ferne Clyffe

Ferne Clyffe

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” – Marcel Proust

Ferne Clyffe was one of the first places I hiked at in Southern Illinois. For my first trip there with friends, we didn’t look it up online prior to going. We hiked the first trail we found, an easy 1 mile hike that circles Ferne Clyffe Lake. We thought the area was pretty, but left overall unimpressed.

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The lake in winter

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The lake in early fall

After a while of living in Southern Illinois, we heard people talk about a waterfall at Ferne Clyffe. Knowing we obviously missed something, we came back. The watefall at Ferne Clyffe is 100 feet tall with a very small pool at the bottom. You can rock hop or climb on the bluffs to reach about every part of the waterfall. Almost every time I have hiked to the waterfall, I’ve used the trail that starts at the top by the Derr Ridge Campgrounds. It’s about .75 miles and can either take you to the top of the waterfall or down to the bottom. There’s actually paths on either side of the waterfall that run from the top to the bottom.

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After several years of only going to Ferne Clyffe for the main waterfall, I took a good look at the map the Department of Natural Resources has and realized they are citing 18 different trails (I’m not totally convinced by how they’re counting, but OK). This lead to my trek through the woods with my wonderful boyfriend Donovan on our anniversary. I ended up getting us lost for several hours and on a horse trail instead of walking paths. Ferne Clyffe needs some better signage in their less populated areas. We did stumble upon the not well known Natural Bridge of Ferne Clyffe! You can read more about that here (post to come). He’s a trooper.

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Then again the wonderful internet lead me to find out about a second huge waterfall at Ferne Clyffe, Bork Falls. It’s my personal favorite waterfall in Ferne Clyffe: amazingly spectacular and a lot less crowded than the main fall. Read more about that adventure here. At least that time we didn’t get lost for hours.

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Finally, a co-worker told me about a trail leading to a large cove overhang with fun climbing bolders. This led me to the trail area that is the most populated at Ferne Clyffe, but for a good reason. In one parking lot, there are 4 trail heads. This area of Ferne Clyffe has great signage at each trail head. Each trail is an easy hike and you can complete all of them in a day for some great scenery.

Rebman Trail: A short .25 mile hike on mostly flat ground. The path takes you past bluffs in the park. We were there shortly after it had rained and the area had two small flowing waterfalls. I would imagine that these would not be there during dry spells.

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Goreville Boy Scout Trail: We did not do this trail. To us it looked like it really just connected to additional parking. The Department of Natural Resources describes it as a “steep trail that connects the park to the nearby city of Goreville.”

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Hawk’s Cave Trail: This is the trail my co-worked was talking about, again a short 1 mile loop. DNR claims that Hawk’s Cave is the “one of the largest shelter bluffs in Illinois.” I would believe it. It was pretty huge. The path leads you by two bluff overhangs. The first is small and short, but tall enough that the trail walks under it. There was a small trickle of water flowing down from the top of the bluffs while we were there, creating a thin waterfall. The trail then leads to “one of the largest shelter bluffs in Illinois.” A massive area filled with sandstone boulders.

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Big Rocky Hollow Trail: This is the most popular trail at Ferne Clyffe leading to the base of their main waterfall. There are usually other people on the trail. Down and back on the trail is only about a mile and the ground can be easily navigated by strollers. Walking past the mossy bluffs and the 100-foot waterfall are both beautiful.

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Ferne Clyffe is wonderful because it’s beautiful and really close to Carbondale and Marion. Perfect for when you need to stretch your legs or take your dog on a longer walk. I’ve probably been to Ferne Clyffe around 10 times over the past 6 years and there are still some trails I have yet to hike. Most of the trails are short enough that you can travel a handful of them in one day, just don’t get lost out on the horse trails!