Physical Activities

Yosemite National Park with Kids

We recently returned from an awesome nine day road trip with our kids. Starting in San Francisco, we drove to Yosemite National Park, then drove to Sequoia National Park, and eventually made our way to Las Vegas where we did some fun things inside and outside of the city. We hadn’t done a national park trip with the kids since Banff in 2019 and Acadia in 2018 so we were really excited to hit these parks and tackle some family friendly hikes. The park was stunning! We were in awe of its natural beauty and we were rewarded with breathtaking sights at every turn! Yosemite National Park with kids was a magical experience! They loved looking at the majestic waterfalls and were impressed by the gigantic natural wonders in front of them.

Where We Stayed

We stayed at Rush Creek Lodge and Resort, which is only a mile outside the gate of the park. This resort has it all: swimming pool, pool bar, hot tub, game room, playground, ziplines, fire pit (with free smores every night), convenience store, a restaurant, and plenty of hiking and running trails to explore. We spent our afternoons relaxing here after a couple long mornings at Yosemite. It was really incredible and exceeded our expectations. We stayed in a two bedroom villa and it was a perfect way for everyone to get their own space and keep our own food in the room. We were here for two nights, but I really wish we stayed for three so we could spend one day to just enjoy the resort and grounds.

Family Friendly Hikes & Sights

Since we were still a little bit on east coast time we were able to get early starts at Yosemite. This really helped as this is such a popular park, especially on the weekends. We stopped by the convenience store for some yogurt and cereal, and we were in the car by 7am! Our first stop was to Bridalveil Falls. This is often the first waterfall you see as you enter Yosemite Valley. This is a quick 0.3 mile walk from the main road. But once there you are able to climb up the rocks to get a closer look, which of course we did! Climbing rocks on trails is the kids most favorite thing to do when we’re hiking and it was great that we got to start with it! We spent a lot of time here exploring the different paths up and admiring the beautiful waterfall.

Next, we went to Tunnel View. The view here is incredible as you look at El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls, and other landmarks. The pictures don’t do it justice! And if you come from the Wawona Tunnel it is the iconic view that everyone sees when coming out.

We walked across the street and hiked a trail to Inspiration Point. Distance wise, this wasn’t a long hike at all at 1.2 miles roundtrip, but it was steadily – and during the first half mile, steeply – uphill. This offers a similar view of down below at Tunnel View, but it is higher up and way less crowded (we only saw one couple on the hike the entire time).

After this we decided to drive to Glacier Point, about an hour away. This is an overlook with a powerful view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the High Sierra. It’s a short walk to the viewpoint from the parking lot. Standing at an elevation of around 7,200 feet we had a clear view of the beautiful sight in front of us.

The next day we went into Yosemite Valley and started our day with a hike to Vernal Falls. This was only a 1.6 mile roundtrip hike that we thought was family friendly… and in some ways it was. But it was a VERY steep uphill from the get-go and it didn’t let up until we got to the falls. We did it, but there was definitely a certain nine year old that wasn’t happy! Had I known it was that steep I probably wouldn’t have done it with the kids, but there were other families out there as well. However, it was worth it when we got to the falls! And knowing that we didn’t have to go uphill on the way down helped a lot too. And the ice cream we promised afterward!

That hike kinda set the tone for the day and the kids were wiped, understandably. We took the shuttle to Yosemite Village where we had parked the car, and took a long rest with snacks and a bathroom break. From there we walked the one-mile Lower Yosemite Falls Trail, starting with Cooks Meadow Loop. I loved this walk, especially the part on Cooks Meadow Loop where we had a view of the falls the entire time, along with Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Sentinel Rock. The kids took a lot of pictures with their cameras. It was all just so… impressive!

Tips

Some of these are obvious tips and apply to most national parks, but they are worth repeating because they work! Even though it wasn’t too crowded since it was the last week in August we still followed these tips to get the best experience.

One, go early! If you’re going in the summer time then get there before 7am. Parking usually fills up before 8am on the weekends in the summer.

Two, take the shuttle during the high season. Otherwise, you will be stuck in your car for hours waiting to park and you’ll just waste your day. We parked at Yosemite Village because it was the last parking lot on the way out of the one-way road. In our case it ended up not mattering as much because it was a Monday, but it all worked out.

Three, if you want to go in the summer then go during the last week in August. We found it wasn’t that crowded since a lot of kids start school by then.

Four, try to avoid the weekends. No explanation needed!

Five, make a plan! We knew exactly where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do. This saved time and energy as we went about our day. Of course we adjusted when needed, but this saved us from questioning what to do.

Final Thoughts

Yosemite National Park with kids was such an exciting and rewarding experience! I am still in awe of the beautiful sights that we witnessed. My one regret is not staying longer. I definitely would have eliminated a night somewhere else in order to add on a third night here. We not only would have had a little more time to see the park, but also more time to just enjoy all that the resort had to offer. But I guess that just means we’ll need to return in the future!

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Hiking Cinque Terra

The Cinque Terre (meaning Five Lands) is an area that consists of five towns that are in close proximity to each other and are dotted along the Ligurian Coast of Italy. Each town has its own charm and unique characteristics, but they all still hold onto the quaint fishing village feeling of the area. We visited Cinque Terre knowing that we wanted to hike to the different towns, something the area is known for. There are different options for hiking Cinque Terre – you can hike one section of the trail, or make a day of it and do the whole thing. I’m sure you already know what option we went with!

Monterosso Al Mare

We flew into Genoa, spent the afternoon in the city, and continued our drive to our base, Monterosso al Mare. This town is Cinque Terre’s most northern town and is divided into two parts, the old and the new. It is also home to Cinque Terre’s most extensive sandy beach. This is the town to go to if you want a traditional Italian beach experience. Monterosso al Mare is the largest of the five towns and also serves as one end of the hiking trail between them.

The Hike to Vernazza and Corniglia

There is a cliffside trail that connects the five villages, while also providing stunning views of the sea and coastline. The first part of the hike is from Monterosso al Mare to the next town of Vernazza. This is actually the most challenging section of the coastal hike. This is because there are very steep inclines and declines with pathways so narrow that at times only one person can fit at once. It took us one hour and five minutes to hike to Vernazza (the average is 1.5 hours… go us)! When we made our way down to the town we browsed the shops and refreshed ourselves with some water.

After a short break we left the pretty town of Vernazza and walked up towards the trail to Corniglia. Corniglia is the smallest of the five towns and is the only one not accessible by water. Because it is on top of a hill, no matter which way you come from you have to head up. We had a very steep uphill start from Vernazza and from there it was a mix of uphill with small breaks of flat path for us to follow (though still pretty narrow). This section took us about 1.5 hours.

By the time we made it to Corniglia we were out of water and were famished! We found a cute restaurant that served the traditional food of Liguria, trofie with pesto, and had a delicious meal. Afterward, we spent about 30 minutes walking around the town. Corniglia feels smaller and quieter, but is just as charming as the other towns, if not more. There’s a little piazza with a tower where people sit to pass the time, narrow car-free streets to wander through, and an overlook to take beautiful pictures of the sea.

The Hike to Manarola and Riomaggiore

Now we had a decision to make. Because of landslides from the previous year blocking the trail, the 1.2 mile coastal section between Corniglia and the next town, Manarola, was closed. We wanted to keep hiking so we decided to take a route that would take us UP and around the other trails in order to get to Manarola… about 2.5 miles. It winds up to the small town of Volastra and then all the way down to Manarola. So up we went. We went up so much that we really didn’t think it was possible to go up anymore. And when we thought “this has to flatten out soon, right?” we would turn a corner and see another set of treacherous rocks to climb up. There was no other option but to keep going! Hiking Cinque Terre was going to be a lot harder than we thought!

After making it to the top, the trail then consisted of small ups and downs, a nice reprieve from climbing. We made it to Volastra, followed the signs to Manarola, and finally went down. It seemed like we were descending way more than we had ascended in the beginning. After going down 1,200 narrow steps we finally made it to Manarola, two hours from when we started in Corniglia.

We really wanted to check out the most famous (and easiest) part of the hiking trail, Via dell’Amore, or the Love Trail. This is a 1km path carved out of the hard rock face overhanging the sea. It’s supposed to be one of the most romantic paths to walk. Unfortunately, because of those same landslides the year before this path was still closed. It is finally reopening in July 2024.

Our only option to get to the last town, Riomaggiore, was to take the very quick train ride. We spent some time in the town and refreshed with some water, but we didn’t stay long. We were beat!

Getting Back

After, we took the train back to Monterosso al Mare. But our hike didn’t end there. From the train station it was at least a mile uphill to our bed and breakfast. We calculated that we hiked a total of 12.15 miles that day (half of it pretty uphill), including walking in the towns a little bit – not bad for me being 14 weeks pregnant at the time! But we still had to walk down to the town for dinner later on…

Hiking in Cinque Terre is still one of our favorite hiking experiences in Italy. Not only does the hike give you stunning views of the sea during the trek, it was pretty cool being able to hike to the different towns and take in the scenery and characteristics of each one. 

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Hiking Zion National Park with Kids

Hiking Zion National Park with Kids is easy and fun to do! We took this trip when our kids were 3.5 years old and 6 months old and this was our first major hiking trip with the both of them. Later on we would tackle Joshua Tree , Acadia, Banff, Hawaii, and more! Our plan had us flying into Las Vegas, driving to Zion National Park for a few days, then driving to the Grand Canyon for a few days (with stops along the way at Horseshoe Bend), drive to Las Vegas for one night (stopping at Hoover Dam), and ending in Los Angeles for four days to visit with my brother and his family.

You know when a trip is seamless and everything goes right? That’s how this trip was. It was a fabulous ten day trip that is still one of my favorites to this day.

Along the Pa’rus Trail

Getting There

We flew into Las Vegas, grabbed some lunch, and headed to Springdale, Utah just outside Zion National Park. It was a long day of traveling, but the girls were SO good! The kids went to bed at their normal east coast bedtime so they were asleep by 5:30pm. Jon and I followed a couple of hours later. These early nights and early mornings would end up working in our favor since Zion gets very crowded and incredibly hot very early in the morning during the summer. A little planning goes a long way here – knowing which hikes are at which shuttle stops, when the shuttles start, and what to expect at each hike, were key in making sure that we used our time efficiently and without crowds and crazy heat.

Pa’Rus Trail

We were all up around 4:30am the next morning so we packed our gear and headed to the park. We parked at the museum and headed to the Pa’Rus Trail. This trail is accessible from the Visitor’s Center, the Zion Museum (shuttle stop 2), or at Canyon Junction (stop 3). It is a 1.7 mile out and back flat, paved trail that is best done in the early morning or early evening. It is perfect for strollers, bikes, and wheelchairs, and also has a great sunrise view of the Towers of the Virgin, which is a large collection of peaks including the West Temple, the Sundial, the Altar of the Sacrifice, and Meridian Tower.

M took her first nap in the stroller while we walked to our sunrise spot. J played in the red sand while Jon and I marveled at the first sun’s rays hitting the mountain. What a gorgeous site! And it was so special to share it as a family.

Emerald Pools Trail

We walked back to the museum, put the stroller in the car, and caught the already packed shuttle to the Zion Lodge stop which is where the Emerald Pools Trail started. We grabbed a second breakfast and then set off! The great thing about this trail is that there are different points where you can turn around and head back if you need to. It is 0.6 miles to the lower pools, 1 mile to the middle pools, and 1.5 miles to the upper pools so our plan was to evaluate how everyone was doing at each stop.

At the lower pools we took a break to feed M and enjoy the scenery. This is also when we decided to put the hiking harness on J as she was scaring us a bit with getting too close to the edge. The harness can reel the little ones in, but it is also extremely helpful in getting them over rocks that might be too big for them, while allowing them to attempt it themselves. She LOVED it!

We made it to the middle pools and decided to keep going up! The upper pools was another half a mile up, with all of it climbing rocks and steps. We fed M (again), set her up in the travel bassinet and white noise, and she fell right to sleep! Yes, I carried a travel bassinet on my back and held M in a front carrier. We rested and J played for about an hour and then we packed up and started our descent. Many people were coming up at this point (it was pretty hot by now) and were impressed that we did this hike with two very young children.

Once we reached the middle pools we took the Kayenta Trail down to get a change of scenery. J had enough of hiking so she went into the hiking backpack that Jon was carrying. She did over three miles of hiking/walking on her own!

We caught the shuttle from the Grotto stop and got off at the museum where our car was. It was 11:00am and we had already put in a full day. And it was HOT. We grabbed lunch on the way back, watched a movie, and then played in the pool in the afternoon.

Riverside Walk to The Narrows

The next morning we got to Zion at 5:45am to catch the first 6:00am shuttle and there was already a line. Fortunately, we made it onto the first set of buses that we were taking all the way to the last stop, Temple of Sinawava. Here, there is a very popular hike called The Narrows that we were not doing. But you can do the Riverside Walk, which leads to the start of The Narrows. This is a very pretty, serene walk showcasing flowers, imposing rocks, the river, and animals. This walk normally gets really crowded, but because we were so early, we had the walk to ourselves. It was pretty relaxing and quiet. We hung out at the start of The Narrows a little bit – J had a blast playing with the rocks in the water and we enjoyed the cool morning air and water on our feet.

Weeping Rock Trail

Next up was the Weeping Rock Trail, which is stop 7 on the shuttle. This is only a 0.4 mile trail. M needed her second nap (can you tell I’m a stickler for naps?) so Jon took J on the trail and I sat with a sleeping M. The hike was a little steep in places, but nothing a 3.5 year couldn’t handle! At the top you are surrounded by a moss and fern covered overhang that looks over a cliff. The cliff has tiny waterfalls misting over the edge of it that end up in little pools below.

Heading back

We went to the Zion Lodge for some real breakfast and to rest. Everyone was pretty tired so we decided to call it a day (a pretty successful one)! When we got back to the visitor center to grab the car we couldn’t believe how long the lines were. At this time of day they can be over an hour long… and it was 105 degrees by this point. Get out early and you’ll have a pretty cool morning!

Hiking with kids at Zion National Park was such a great experience. While M was kinda just along for the ride, J proved to be a future hiker in the making! We plan to go back in life to tackle some hikes that weren’t appropriate for our kids’ ages, namely Angel’s Landing and The Narrows. But the trails we chose for this trip were great for all of us and we were still able to see Zion’s diversity and beauty with what we did.

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Walking to Waimea Falls with Kids

Need another idea of what to do while on the island of Oahu in Hawaii? Take a day trip to the North Shore and visit Waimea Falls! Not only is this an experience where you will see the natural beauty of magnificent gardens and a lovely waterfall, but it is also a cultural experience as well. Waimea Falls with kids is a great activity to do on the North Shore!

Waimea Valley is about an hour from Aulani Disney Resort where we made our base. We arrived around 8:30am and had the place to ourselves! One of the things that we were really looking forward to was swimming in the falls. When I had visited in 2005 I was able to swim and go under the falls (you are still allowed to do that now, but you MUST wear a life jacket, which they will provide). So we all wore our swimsuits and had our towels with us. But, much to our dismay, there were signs saying that the water levels were too low and that there was no swimming allowed! That was a huge disappointment!

Waimea Falls with kids. No water!
Where’s the water??

Walking the Path

The path to the falls is full of beautiful flora and historical and cultural information on Native Hawaiin history. It is about a one mile walk on a paved path and in the morning hours is pretty shaded. There is a shuttle that you can pay for if someone is not up to walking that amount. We took it slow since there are many side paths one can venture to in order to learn more about the native plants and area. It’s very well done and we learned a lot!

So we knew that the water in the falls was low… but we didn’t realize that there wouldn’t be any falls at all! It was completely dry! No wonder no one was allowed to swim! We used the opportunity to take some family pictures, rest and recharge, and let the kids play a little bit. We walked back at a faster pace and there were a lot more people headed in the direction we just came from.

Food Trucks

After our time in Waimea Valley we were in search of some delicious North Shore food trucks! My father-in-law, Joe, really wanted to stop by Da Bald Guy food truck in Kahuku. We went there as well as tried many of the other different food trucks along side it. And oh my, the food was superb! Poke bowls, garlic shrimp, pineapple juice, and so much more FRESH grub. We sat at the benches and enjoyed our amazing lunch.

We drove back to the resort and rested a bit before spending some time at the pool. Despite the falls not being full, we had such a great time exploring another part of the island!

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Hiking Diamond Head with Kids

One of the activities we wanted to do while in Hawaii was climb the Diamond Head crater. This is a moderate 1.6 mile roundtrip hike up to the top of Diamond Head where you are welcomed with the most beautiful views of Waikiki and beyond. It is suitable for all ages – we had a group of ten between the ages of five and 74 and everyone was just fine! Hiking Diamond Head with kids was fun and rewarding!

Hiking Diamond Head with Kids
Hiking Diamond Head with Kids

As of May 2022, Diamond Head requires reservations for parking and for entry. We picked the earliest time slot, 6:00-8:00am and got there around 6:15. Because of the time change we were still waking up pretty early and because it was August we wanted to beat the heat and the crowds, which we did!

Hiking Diamond Head with Kids
Before the start

The path is well maintained and paved in some areas. It is uphill the whole way and has sets of stairs at different points throughout the journey. The kids had a really good time hiking up the crater together, despite some normal complaints along the way. It probably took our group about 45 minutes to climb it. But when we got to the top we were met with the most incredible views of the ocean and Waikiki. There are several viewpoints to look out onto, some with steep steps, but all were accessible. While we were there you could feel it starting to get crowded. We admired the view, took our pictures, and headed back down! This was much faster!

Waikiki

After a stop at the bathrooms at the bottom, we drove into Waikiki for some breakfast along the water. We ate outside and felt the nice breeze from the ocean. Filling our bellies with some local grub and relaxing along the water was exactly what we needed after our hike.

Later on, we drove back to the Aulani Disney Resort and spent the rest of the day playing in the pool and lounging at the beach. We had such a great time hiking Diamond Head with kids!

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The Aulani Disney Resort in Hawaii

In August 2022, my husband’s parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and took the entire family to Hawaii to celebrate. While this was a huge milestone to be celebrating, we were also celebrating the end of a hard year (or two), life, family, and love. Because all of the adults had been to Oahu previously, we didn’t feel the need to run around the island trying to get everything in. We had a nice balance of relaxing at the Aulani Disney Resort, while visiting sights around Oahu.

Travel and Relaxation

We had an 11 hour direct flight from Newark to Honolulu and it actually went by relatively quickly. While my in-laws had glorious first class seats that allowed you to lay down, the eight of us in the back watched movies, colored pictures, and ate a ton of snacks. Some of us slept. You would never know that there were five kids ages 5-13 sitting where we were… that’s how good they were! Nevertheless, it was a long day of travel and everyone was done by the time we checked into the hotel. My family of four was in bed by 5pm!

Surprisingly, everyone woke up close to 4am, which is a huge win considering we were on a six hour time difference. Our first full day in Hawaii we devoted to staying on the resort and relaxing. 

Infinity pool at the Aulani Disney Resort

The Aulani Disney resort was the best thing for everybody. Not only did it cater to the kids, but to the adults as well. There were six pools, a lazy river, two slides (meant for adults and kids), a spa, and a peaceful lagoon on the Ko Olina beach that was just perfect. There were plenty of restaurants on site, as well as many delicious options that were walkable from the resort.

We had a beautiful one bedroom with a kitchen and seating area. The living room not only had a pull out sofa, but also a pull out twin bed so the kids could have their own space. We also had 1.5 bathrooms. It really made the trip so much more comfortable having all of that room to spread out!

Character Sightings

I have never seen a resort so lively so early in the morning! Since there are so many mainland USA visitors, everyone here wakes up super early. We had to wait in line for breakfast at 6:50am, but we got a nice table outside where we were visited by Mickey & Minnie Mouse and Chip & Dale. 

Family at the Aulani Disney Resort

We had several Moana sightings that my five year old was absolutely enthralled with. She had to go and meet her every time there was an opportunity. And even though my eight year old won’t admit it, I know she enjoyed seeing her as well. 

Beachy Drinks and Food

Pina coladas, cucumber fritzes, and mai tais were staples for the adults while we relaxed at the pool. The waiter soon learned to just keep the drinks coming!

The Beach

It’s rare when I let my young kids play in the ocean without me holding onto to them. They’re pretty strong swimmers, but the big waves scare me with kids. The lagoon at the resort allowed the kids to play on their own without fear coming from my end regarding waves and rip tides. The water was calm, clear, warm, and just beautiful. I often started my days by taking a run at sunrise and was taken aback by the beauty of it all.  

Beautiful view on my run at the Aulani Disney Resort

Of course we took many day trips throughout the island. We spent some days at Pearl Harbor, Waikiki, the North Shore, Waimea Falls, and tried many local poke bowls!

One of the things that I loved about this trip is that we had such a nice balance between relaxing at the fun resort and exploring the island. Not only did the kids love all of the amenities that the Aulani Disney Resort had to offer, but the adults desperately needed some down time to relax in Hawaii as well. This was a spectacular trip that we will always remember!

Family fun at Aulani Disney Resort

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Exploring the Westman Islands

The day we arrived in Iceland, our first day, we drove 2.5 hours to the ferry terminal in Landeyjahöfn to head to The Westman Islands, known as Vestmannaeyjar. My cousin, who lived in Iceland, highly recommended that we make a stop there as part of our trip. So off we went, bleary eyed and tired, but full of excitement and adrenaline! Exploring the Westman Islands turned out to be a great decision as we learned so much about this island that we never would have otherwise.

What to See While Waiting for the Ferry

We arrived about two hours before the ferry was due to leave, but knowing this beforehand we had planned to go to the nearby waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrabui. The Icelandic term for waterfall is “foss” and these particular waterfalls did not disappoint. We were able to get up close and personal as we were allowed to climb up and walk behind Seljalandsfoss. The mist of the water sprayed on us as we walked around looking at it from all directions. About 1/3 mile down the path is Gljufrabui, which means “Dweller of the Gorge”. It’s about 40 meters high and because there’s a big rock in front of it, not many people notice it. You can wade through the gorge and jump on the rocks on the river or walk up to the rock and see the top.

Onward to the Island

We drove about 15 minutes to the ferry, parked the car, and walked on. The weather wasn’t the best so we decided to stay in and chill, where we ended up passing out for just about the whole 30 minute trip. The rest of the day is a little bit of a blur. We went right to the hotel, checked in, and had a delicious lunch at a local favorite restaurant. We were so tired we went back to the hotel for a little nap to catch up on some sleep before we had a spectacular dinner.

After getting about 10 hours of sleep (!) we awoke to a gorgeous, sunny, and warm day. Luckily we were able to sleep through the daylight the night before since we brought our eye masks – the hotel (or any other place we stayed for that matter) didn’t have blackout curtains. At this time of year (July 2) the sun doesn’t set until almost midnight and then rises again around 2:45am. During those few hours the sky doesn’t even come close to being black!

A Brief History on the Westman Islands

The Westman Islands are a series of islands south of the mainland formed by eruptions about 10,000 years ago. Only one island, Heimaey, is inhabitable, and it came to international attention with the eruption of Eldfell volcano in 1973. The eruption last about 6.5 months and destroyed about a fourth of the island, while increasing the size about 20%. Luckily, everyone was evacuated quickly so no one was killed. Families came back to the island to rebuild, and now climbing the volcano and visiting the museum is a pretty big attraction there, along with puffin watching.

Exploring the Westman Islands View

Eldfell Hike

After breakfast we set out on a clearly marked path towards the volcano Eldfell. They call this area the “Pompeii of the North” due to so many houses and other structures being buried (and most likely preserved) in mounds of lava. We walked past those memorials of houses and schools that were buried 16 meters below where we stood. We continued to get nice views of the town as we walked through 40 year old lava on either side of us along the way to Eldfell. On our walk we learned that heat from the volcano provided the town of Heimaey with geothermal energy from 1976-1985!

We started the somewhat steep climb on the collapsed northern end of the volcano taking breaks to snap pictures of the gorgeous view.

We made it to the top and wow, what a view! Once we got up there the wind hit us and all we could do was stand out facing the ocean with our arms stretched way out. We could basically see the entire island, including the teeny tiny airport. We were also able to see the other small islands that make up Vestmannaeyjar. This was such an incredible view and a great way to start out week in Iceland.

Eldheimer Museum

We made our way to the town and walked to Eldheimer. This is a museum detailing the 1973 eruption, and life on the island before and after it. The museum incorporates one house that was excavated and is still intact, including toppled household items left behind. The museum is beautifully done and we learned so much about the island.

Before we knew it we had to board the ferry again so we could continue our journey (but not before stopping at a delicious restaurant for some lunch)!

We’re so glad we spent some time exploring the Westman Islands. Plus, we got to learn some history about it that we otherwise wouldn’t have known about! After we disembarked we continued eastward on our Iceland journey. Starting our week with this beautiful island was just what we needed!

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Hiking with Kids at Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree is such a unique and diverse national park. From its incredible rock formations, to the “glowing” cholla cacti, there is something for everyone to enjoy. We were lucky to spend a few days here while on a trip to Los Angeles to visit my brother and his family. The five kids ranged in age from 2.5 to almost 8 and everyone had a great time. We found trails that all of the kids could do and we went back later in the night to watch the sunset and see the stars. Hiking with kids at Joshua Tree proved to be a special and fun experience!

Kid-Friendly Trails

There are SO many trails that are appropriate for a wide range of people. We tackled five of these, but listed here are seven that are appropriate for kids. Some of these are more like walks, rather than hikes, but the beauty can’t be beat!

Arch Rock Trail: This was the first hike we did when visiting the park. It is a 1.4 mile out and back trail that is doesn’t have much of an elevation change, but has a ton of large rocks for the kids to climb on and over. They love trails like this and had so much fun!

Cap Rock Trail: We went here on the recommendation from a ranger at the visitor center. It is a 0.4 mile walking path loop where you can see various rock formations, plants, and information placards talking about the different types of vegetation along the way. Overall, we found it to be very informative and great for young kids. It was an easy walk to do after the Arch Rock Trail.

Keys View Lookout: This isn’t a hike or trail at all, but rather a 0.25 mile loop up to a beautiful vista overlooking the mountains and valley. You can see Palm Springs and the Salton Sea on a clear day. Without a doubt, this is a sight to be seen!

Skull Rock Trail: This 1.7 mile loop has a TON of rock formations to climb on. Skull Rock is right at the beginning of the trail and can even be seen from the road. But I highly recommend continuing on the trail, even if you don’t do the whole thing.

Cholla Cactus Garden: Lastly, we finished with a 0.33 mile walk through the most unique garden we’ve ever seen! The cacti looked like they were glowing in the sunlight. The kids loved looking at these different plants.

Barker Dam Nature Trail: A 1.3 mile “lollipop” loop. We didn’t do this one, but it was on our list! There is a lot to explore here and many side paths that you can do from the main trail. Additionally, there are many rock formations for everyone to climb on!

Split Rock Trail: This is a 2 mile loop that is not as trafficked as some of the others, but provides similar beauty!

Sunset and Stargazing

After some rest time in the afternoon we went back into Joshua Tree to watch the sunset in the Californian desert. The kids played in the sand and climbed on the rocks while we tried to get some great pictures, but also just to enjoy the scenery and calmness of it all. The beauty of a sunset in the desert, with the unique Joshua trees as a backdrop, is hard to beat. We set up camp at the Hidden Valley Campground near the Hidden Valley Nature Trail and waited. As the sun set, we were met with the most amazing colors, clear skies, and gorgeous rays emanating from behind the rock formations and trees. It was undoubtedly, a spectacular site.

We stayed a little while longer to get some views of the amazing stars above. But by this point the kids were getting a little restless, so we packed up and left. Later on, Jon and Dan went back out after the kids’ bedtime with a telescope and great camera and saw the most amazing scenery.

All in all, we had such a great time here! Between its unique desert landscape, beautiful oases, and striking rock formations there is scenery for everyone to enjoy. Plus, hiking with kids at Joshua Tree was extremely fun due to all of the fun boulders to enjoy. We’d love to return and tackle some of the areas we didn’t get to.

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Road Trip through Ireland - Kilkenny

Road Trip Through Ireland: Dublin, Kilkenny

Ireland is such an easy destination to visit from the U.S. One, it’s only about a six hour flight from the NY area. Two, it’s about a five hour time difference as opposed to six (hey, every hour counts)! And three, there are no language barriers as everyone speaks English! We chose to visit Ireland during the warmest and least rainy time, August. We spent eight days on a road trip through Ireland, starting in Dublin and ending in Shannon.

Dublin

We arrived in Dublin around 6:00am. After going through customs and renting a car we were ready to go! Driving on the left side of the road was… different. The roundabouts were tricky at first and anytime we had to make a turn we looked both ways multiple times because we kept forgetting which way the cars were coming from. There are signs all over the right side of the roads that say, “Wrong way!” and “Turn Around” for everyone not from the area.

Road Trip Through Ireland
What do I do???

After dropping off our luggage at the hotel we made an early visit to the Guinness Storehouse. We figured it wouldn’t be that crowded at 9:30am (it wasn’t) and we wanted to enjoy it while we were fairly awake. We learned all about the history and brewing process of making a true Guinness and even got a certificate on perfecting the perfect pint of Guinness – meaning, they taught us how to properly pour a pint. It was a fun and informative hands-on experience!

After walking through the storehouse we went up to the rooftop bar with our beer and enjoyed the panoramic views of Dublin.

We walked outside to find ourselves in a rainstorm! Rule number one when visiting Ireland – always carry an umbrella or raincoat as there is always some passing shower overhead. We took a cab to another area of Dublin and ate at a delicious restaurant based on a local’s recommendation. After lunch we went for a quick walk around Trinity college. However, we were so tired from our overnight flight and heavy morning beers and lunch, that we went back to the hotel afterwards and crashed until dinner.

The next morning after breakfast we walked to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a beautiful cathedral dating back to 1191. We opted not to go inside, but the outside was very impressive. We spent the next hour strolling and walking around the city.

Kilkenny

We hopped in the car and started our road trip through Ireland. Our first stop after Dublin was Kilkenny, about 1.5 hours away. Kilkenny is a busy, but charming town built on both banks of the River Nore. We really wish we had more time here, rather than rushing off to spend the night in Cashel, but we definitely didn’t realize what a vibrant town this is.

We took a two hour bike tour of the city in order to get a quick overview since we were short on time. The tour used scenic riverbank paths as out roadways, which took us not only to the town center, but to sites such as Kilkenny Castle, The Design Centre, Shee Alms House, The Tholsel, St. Mary’s Church, Rothe House and Gardens, The Courthouse (Grace’s Castle), St. Francis’ Abbey, The Black Abbey, and St. Canice’s Cathedral. We had a really nice time with the diverse group of travelers and our fun guide!

Our last stop on the tour was to St. Canice’s Cathedral and the Round Tower. The site was founded in the 6th century and worship has taken place here for over 800 years! The Round Tower is the oldest standing structure in Kilkenny. We were able to climb to the top and take in some nice views.

We were hoping to get to Smithwick’s Brewery after the bike ride, but we ran late and JUST missed the last entrance for the tour. Since we had reservations at a bed and breakfast in Cashel that night we couldn’t stay in Kilkenny to tour the next day. Instead, we bought some beer glasses and went on with our journey.

Road trip through Ireland

Moving Onward

Dublin and Kilkenny were great places to start our trip. We wish we had more time in both cities, but with limited time something had to be cut. Next up on our road trip through Ireland journey – Cashel, Cobh, Cork, and Blarney Castle!

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hiking with kids in Banf National Park

Hiking with Kids in Banff National Park

No matter where you go in Banff you will be met with the most breathtaking scenery. From glistening glaciers, to bright teal lakes, it really is hard to beat the beautiful nature around you. Hiking with kids in Banff National Park can not only provide a lot of these views, but can give you and the family an experience that is fun, engaging, and rewarding! Two hikes that we tackled as a family were the Lake Agnus Trail and the Tunnel Mountain Trail.

Lake Agnus Trail

The Lake Agnus Trail starts at Lake Louise and goes up to Mirror Lake and then up to Lake Agnus. It’s 4.72 miles long with an elevation of 1,422 feet. We started at 8:00am since it was still cool outside and the hike can get crowded later in the day. J had an older digital camera so she could take her own pictures. We have found that this keeps her really entertained during longer hikes.

We walked, we hiked, and we climbed for a good hour before we started to wonder where Mirror Lake was. It was a never ending uphill climb and we were all getting a little tired of it. J was such a trooper and made it with just a couple of complaints on the way up! We finally made it to Mirror Lake, which was a much needed rest for all of us. The tranquil setting amongst the alpine trees with their reflection in the water made our hike worth it. It’s not nearly as impressive as Lake Louise, but it was quiet and serene. The kids played by the water for 20 minutes, which was enough for everyone to recharge and hike the last 20 minutes to Lake Agnus. At the top waiting for us was the Lake Agnus Tea House which had biscuits and tea!

We were about five minutes from the top when J said she was done and didn’t want to walk anymore. So I took the backpack with M in it (which felt like 100 pounds at this point) and Jon carried J the rest of the way. At the top, which ended with two sets of stairs, we made a beeline for the bathroom and then found a nice spot on the rocks next to Lake Agnus. We got some lovely fluffy biscuits with homemade jam, tortilla chips, and different flavored teas. It was an idyllic spot to enjoy this freshly made fare and we stayed for a good hour before deciding to return down. We promised J it would be much faster on the way down (it was) and that ice cream was waiting for her (which we found). We then spent the afternoon playing and relaxing in the pool!

Tunnel Mountain Trail

The Tunnel Mountain Trail is a great hike to do while hiking with kids in Banff National Park. This is a 2.7 roundtrip hike that one can easily access from downtown Banff. While it does climb the Tunnel Mountain, it has a lot of switchbacks which kept things interesting and doable for everyone. And compared to the Lake Agnus Trail that we had done the day before this was a piece of cake!

We once again got a very early start, which was great for parking and having the trail to ourselves. It started as a woodsy walk, but after we cleared the tree line we started to get some beautiful views. It took us about an hour to get to the top… there was even a congratulations sign! We had gorgeous views of the town of Banff, the golf course, and the surrounding areas.

We rested at the top for a little bit before making our way down, which only took about 20 minutes. After leaving, we ate at a lovely restaurant called Juniper Bistro for an early lunch. We sat outside and had spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. We then relaxed a bit at the house, swam in the pool for a couple of hours, and spent some time in the town of Banff.

Banff Gondola Experience

While we didn’t do any actual hiking at the Banff Gondola Experience there are some hikes one can enjoy such as the Sulphur Mountain Trail. We didn’t tackle this, but were impressed by how extensive this gondola experience is! We got there a little later, around 9:30am and it wasn’t too crowded, but when we left two hours later people had parked miles down the road and had to walk to the gondola… go early!

To start, we took the 8 minute gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain. We were then led into an interactive interpretive center where there were hands-on displays, a multi-sensory Banff weather theater, and information boards and posters about everything Banff. It was really extraordinary and the kids had a blast! We probably spent most of our time in here since they were having so much fun.

We managed to make it out of there and onto the observation deck and Sulphur Mountain boardwalk. The views of the six mountain ranges were stunning. We had such great weather and we could see for miles and miles. The boardwalk took us for a nice walk high above the trees where we could have views every which way we wanted. From the 360 observation deck there were even more. Simply amazing!

We spent a wonderful five days here and felt that we made the most of our time. The vibrant lakes, majestic mountains, and the glowing glaciers make for some of the most beautiful scenery we have ever experienced!

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The Beauty of Banff National Park

Banff National Park, located in Alberta, Canada is a beautiful area flush with turquoise glacial lakes, Rocky Mountain peaks, breathtaking vistas, and easy access to outdoor adventures! We made this our summer 2019 outdoor/hiking trip and could not have been happier with our choice! Banff National Park with kids is easy to do and makes for a fulfilling trip for everyone!

The Town of Banff

Banff is about one hour and ten minutes away from Calgary Airport. The quaint, but lively town is surrounded in all directions by snowcapped rugged mountains, and the streets are full of boutique shops, chateau styled hotels, delicious restaurants, and touristy stores selling name plates and t-shirts. We decided to stay in the nearby town of Canmore so we could have more space. The townhouse we stayed in had two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a community pool which we used often!

Moraine Lake

Due to the time change everyone was up by 4:30am, which worked in our favor since we wanted to get to Moraine Lake early! We left Canmore around 5:15 and drove the next hour gazing at the beautiful views of the mountains. At 6:20 there were already quite a few people there, which made sense since the parking lot closes at 8:00. There is a trail to the left of the parking lot called the Rockpile Trail, which is about half mile long and has you climbing up stairs and rocks to get to the top. Here, you can get a nice view of the outstanding blue color of the lake, which is caused by the silt-like rock flour from the continuously melting glaciers surrounding it. It was absolutely stunning to see and I have never seen anything like it before. J loved climbing the rocks to get to the top and was astounded to see the color of the water. She really appreciates the scenery around her and this was no exception.

We walked back down to lake level and strolled along the path and the water. The kids enjoyed throwing rocks into the cold water and touching it to see just how cold it really was. They thought it was hilarious that that there was still snow on the sides of the lake… in June!

We actually decided to come back the next day for a quick photo op. I had thought that we were just a tad early the day before and we didn’t quite catch all of the sun’s rays on the teal glistening water. Jon quickly climbed to the top and took some quick pictures, while the girls and I stayed by the lake and played.

Lake Louise

We left Moraine Lake and drove to Lake Louise. It was about 8:15 and you could feel the parking lot getting packed. We ate at the local hotel cafe and then walked around the lake, which looked like it was sparkling! The colors were spectacular and the mountains surrounding the lake reflected off of the water. It was just beautiful. We came back the next day to do a pretty great hike, but more on that later!

Lake Louise Gondola

Afterward, we went to the Lake Louise gondola. The gondola took us up to almost 7,000 feet elevation and provided us with beautiful views of Lake Louise, Victoria Glacier, and the expansive mountains. The kids enjoyed the ride up and we were able to hang out at the top for a little bit enjoying the fresh air and scenery.

We headed back to our townhouse at around 11am, and after some nap and rest time we spent about two hours in the pool. We ate at a great restaurant in Canmore called Blake, which left us feeling happy and full. There is more to come during our five days at Banff National Park with kids so stay tuned!

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Hiking with Kids at Acadia National Park: Part 2

There are so many family friendly hikes to choose from at Acadia National Park. The first one we tackled was the Gorham Mountain Trail, which led us down to the Park Loop Road, passing Thunder Hole and Sand Beach. The next day we enjoyed Bubble Rock and Cadillac Mountain. The views from Cadillac Mountain were wonderful and Bubble Rock with kids was a fantastic experience.

Bubble Rock

Bubble Rock is so named because of the 14 ton rock that sits precariously on a high ledge. It was deposited by a glacier about 15,000 years ago and looks like it could topple over at any moment. But don’t worry, it is set very much in place! This hike was about a one mile roundtrip trek, which was great because it allowed us to do other things throughout the day without getting too tired.

We had so much fun climbing up to Bubble Rock. Once up there it was a little dangerous in terms of the edge so J and I kept our distance from the rock. I was definitely having some mom anxiety! But I’m so glad we chose this hike because the views were spectacular! Bubble Rock with kids is definitely a great experience that all ages will enjoy.

Cadillac Mountain

After the hike we drove to the top of Cadillac Mountain. Cadillac is 1,530 feet and is the first place to see the sunrise in the U.S. between October and March. You can hike up to the summit or you can drive. The views from the top are stunning and the mountain peak gives a panoramic view of the entire area. It was so cool to see Bar Harbor and the low tide hike (now at high tide) that we did a couple of days prior. J was very impressed!

Though we didn’t see it, Cadillac Mountain is a fantastic place to see the sunrise. During the summer it can rise as early as 4:48am so people get to the mountain as early as 3:00am to watch the beautiful colors span the sky. We didn’t want to subject the entire family to this early endeavor, but you can plan ahead and get reservations for the mountain for this beautiful experience.

Time to Leave

We packed ourselves back into the car and headed down the mountain. After Cadillac Mountain our time in Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park had come to an end. We spent a wonderful four days in this area and are excited to come back to do more hiking and other activities we didn’t get to!

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Hiking with Kids at Acadia National Park

Few places exist that allow travelers to experience the magic of beaches, mountains, rivers, lakes, and lighthouses all at once! Acadia National Park is one of those places. People of all ages can enjoy themselves here, which makes it the perfect destination for families. There are a variety of trails that everyone can do, whether you have a nine year old or a toddler in the backpack. Hiking with kids at Acadia National Park can be fun for everyone!

Gorham Mountain Trail

The Gorham Mountain Trail is touted for being really great for families of young children, as well as offering the best views of any moderate hike in the park. We got here really early since we were already up, the hike can get really crowded, and there is limited parking at the start. Before we even left the parking lot J fell and cut her knee on a rock. Of course, we had no bandaids so we used a tissue with our luggage tag attached to it. She wasn’t too happy, but luckily we ran into someone who had an extra bandaid for us. Note to self.. always bring bandaids!

We absolutely loved this hike. J is very much into climbing rocks and it kept her entertained the entire time. M loved riding in the hiking harness and we enjoyed the moderate climb. This hike is 1.8 miles roundtrip and 525 feet to the summit.

Thunder Hole

Instead of turning around and going back to the car we decided to go down the other way and end up a little down the Park Loop Road where we could then walk along the water and see things such as Sand Beach (from above) and Thunder Hole. Thunder Hole gets its name from the supposedly loud booming sound it makes when the waves crash into it at just the right spot.

After walking for quite a bit we were starting to lose J. We decided not to go down to Sand Beach and only visit Thunder Hole for a few minutes since we were already passing it. It was fine since it was really crowded at that point and and apparently most of the time there is no loud boom from the waves, only sloshing.

After hiking a total of 3.2 miles we were done – pretty good for a 4.5 and 1.5 year old! We went back to the house for some lunch and well deserved rest time. Later on we went into Bar Harbor and had a lobster dinner and much needed drinks for the adults! Hiking with kids at Acadia National Park will do that to you 🙂

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What To Do in Bar Harbor With Kids

Our family travels took us on a road trip through the northeastern United States. We started in Acadia National Park and drove down the coast, stopping in the cities of Boston and Providence. We quickly found out that Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor with kids was a really easy and fantastic destination. There are so many different things to see and do that the whole family will enjoy.

We flew into Bangor and drove the hour to our house, which was situated about ten minutes from Bar Harbor. After unpacking and resting, we drove to the tip of Mt. Desert Island and visited the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1858 and is nestled on a sea cliff. There are many little rocky paths that we could take in order to not only see the lighthouse, but view the sea and cliffside from different vantage points.

Afterward, we went to dinner at Beal’s lobster pier where we enjoyed some Maine lobsters. Even J decided that lobster was the only thing she wanted to eat the whole trip.

A Day of Fun

The next morning everyone got up early so we headed to the famous Jordan’s restaurant to have some authentic Maine blueberries cooked in some delicious pancakes. Being a family of early risers has its benefits… when we left the restaurant at 8:30 the place was already packed!

We had scheduled a kid-friendly boat ride called Diver Ed’s Dive-In Theater. We were welcomed aboard by Diver Ed, his wife, and Nori (their Newfoundland). The adventure began after a short cruise to a dive location where the kids got to push Diver Ed off the back of the boat in order to explore the water beneath us. With a live video feed (and his helper “mini Ed”) we saw all kinds of creatures that Diver Ed brought up for us to see and touch. The kids loved touching and holding the sea animals. Afterwards, all of the sea creatures were put safely back into their habitats and we cruised back to shore.

Bar Harbor Path

Later that day, after some lunch and rest time, we went to walk the Bar Harbor path to Bar Island. This is an interesting walk as the path is only accessible for about three hours during low tide. Once you cross the sand bar you can continue on a path to the top of Bar Island for some pleasant views. The total trip is about two miles out and back. We made sure to do this bit first so that we had plenty of time to get back before low tide ended. After the walk we were able to play in the refreshing water a little bit while admiring the small tide pools left exposed from the tide. This was one of our favorite activities of the whole trip.

For reference, this is what it looks like when it’s not during low tide…

The end of low tide coincided with dinner so we walked into Bar Harbor to grab some great local food. We walked around the town a bit, going in and out of shops. This was a great start to our week long trip to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor with kids!

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Chasing the Winter Sun in Finland

Way up in Northern Finland, approximately 185 miles above the Arctic Circle line, and about 30 miles from the Russian border, lies a small town named Saariselka in the region of Lapland. Saariselka is Europe’s most northern resort town and is known for its large hilly landscapes and clean air. A five minute walk from the village center brings you away from the lights of the town and into the peace of the wilderness. The town itself has 300 permanent residents and even though there are many visitors, the town continues to hold a peaceful, serene feeling. Winter in Finland is definitely a special and unique experience.

Weather and the Region

The region has six weeks of uninterrupted sunlight in June/July, and six weeks of darkness in December/January. On our first day, the sun rose at 10:38am and quickly set at 2:04pm totaling 3:26 hours of sunlight! The amount of sunlight at this time quickly increases through the month and by the end of January the region will be up to 5:35 hours of sunlight.

The week we visited Saariselka they were having a ‘warm’ week of weather with temperatures ranging from 7-25 degrees F. Typically the temperatures are coldest during January and range from -20 – 14 degrees F, though a couple of years ago it got down to -63 F! Obviously, we packed many many layers, plus our typical ski gear. While walking around the town we took notice of the fresh crisp air and saw that snow covered every surface. It undoubtedly was a winter wonderland.

Getting There

It was a little bit of a process getting to Saariselka. We flew into Helsinki, then connected on a flight to Ivalo. Next, we took a 30 minute bus ride (that had been waiting at the airport for our flight) to Saariselka. The bus dropped us off in the “center” of town, which was about a 10 minute walk from the cabin we had rented with our friends (another couple and their one year old).

In the town are restaurants and a grocery store. The restaurants serve typical Finnish cuisine highlighting reindeer and salmon. We arrived late the first night, but the next day we walked into town and bought some local food at the supermarket to take back for lunches and a few dinners.

Reindeer Sleigh Ride

Our first activity was a reindeer sleigh ride through the woods of Lapland, about ten minutes from Saariselka. With two people per sleigh we slowly went through a path in the woods with the moonlight shining our way. The guide who led the reindeer was a member of the Sami people, a rich culture with an interesting history that stretches over the Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish Lapland. This group of people are trying to preserve their culture and small community as much as they can. It was so interesting learning more about them. After our ride we were invited into a typical Sami “hut” and drank warm gooseberry juice next to the campfire. We were also fortunate to hear an old Sami song that was sung by our guide.

Husky Safari

The next day Jon and I left for our second Arctic adventure – a husky safari! We were taken to a ranch where the barking of enthusiastic dogs welcomed us at the start. The head musher talked about the life and training of the Alaskan Huskies, which are better suited to run and pull longer distances than Siberian Huskies. Before leaving we were given instructions on how to control the sleds, which we rode in pairs. For two hours the dogs ran and pulled us through the woods, up and down hills, and around tight curves. Whenever we would stop the dogs would start barking and howling, anxious to get going again. After our rides we met our team of dogs and had a chance to look around the ranch. In total they have 106 huskies, all eager to run!

We were then led into a snow covered hut equipped with a fire stove and set tables. We were welcomed with a mug of hot gooseberry juice and a large bowl of reindeer and vegetable stew. It was just what we needed to escape the cold and warm up.

Search For the Northern Lights Via Snowmobile

After a quick hour of rest, we headed out for the night for our next excursion, a search for the Northern Lights by snowmobile. With the moonlight flowing down, we drove the snowmobiles through snow covered forests, and over treeless fells, stopping a few times to look at the sky. We drove to an igloo site where we were given hot chocolate and grilled sausages. While we didn’t see the Northern Lights on this adventure, we had an amazing time driving about 25 miles on this Lapland adventure.

The Northern Lights

After getting back to the cabin we opened a bottle of wine to warm up. Since it was a fairly clear night the boys decided to go for a walk to see if the Northern Lights would make an appearance. I just couldn’t bring myself to go back outside in the cold at 12:30am! However, after walking around for an hour and feeling defeated, the boys saw a faint green light in the sky. The clouds soon moved and this is what they were surprised with…

Eating, Drinking, Relaxing

Besides our excursions we spent a lot of time relaxing and eating! We walked and played in the snow, sampled the Finnish cuisine, and spent time in front of the fireplace drinking hot chocolate with peppermint liquor. We loved this vacation and are so happy that we were able to spend part of our winter in Finland!

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