Category: Destinations

nocmanus April 18, 2018 3

Arizona’s Sycamore Wilderness Canyon

One of the most remote places Ariane and I have ever gong hiking in. The Sycamore Wilderness Canyon offers a adventure like no other. But you won’t find any roads, developed campgrounds or crowds in Sycamore Wilderness Canyon, just 55,937 acres of wilderness marked by colorful cliffs, and soaring pinnacles.

After getting lost in that Canyon back in April 2008, I need a redemption trip back into the Canyon. This time Ariane came with. It’s the second largest canyon to emerge from Arizona’s Red Rock Country and is lesser known but just as scenic cousin of famous Oak Creek Canyon.

The wilderness encompasses all of Sycamore Canyon from its forested rim near Williams, Arizona to its desert canyon mouth in the Verde Valley. This area is home to black bear and mountain lion as well as a number of less celebrated but just as notable creatures.

The last time I went backpacking in the Canyon, it was my goal to find Taylor Cabin which is on the National Historical Register and stay in it overnight. Never did find it.

Ariane and I found a awesome boondocking site right near Cottonwood, Arizona very close to the trail-head into the Sycamore Canyon. The trail-head is actually off 89A through Sedona and Cottonwood to the turnoff to Tuzigoot National Monument. Turn north across the Verde River, then left on FR 131. It’s about 11 miles to the trailhead.

Our Boondocking site was at intersection of AZ 260 and Thousand Trails Road (FS147)/Camino Real (FS360). Approx. 34.660993,-111.965153. It has amazing views of the Red Rocks of Sedona..and it’s free.

We hit the trail early in the morning since the desert sun can get hot fast. We were on the hunt for agent Verde Hohokam Indian Ruins which we DID FIND. Backpacking the Sycamore Wilderness Canyon  It’s almost like a treasure hunt trying to find these ruins. You can easily day hike to the ruins. It’s about 6 1/2 miles there and back to the trail head.

The ruins are tricky to find. But they are off the Packard Mesa Trail (66) which you can connect to from the Parsons Spring Trail.  Once you cross the creek and get on the Packard Mesa Trail it leaves the canyon floor and heads up to the mesa.
This involves a nice climb, up, a short time level and up again, until you reach the mesa.

The trail is a bit rocky and the maintenance of the trail is a bit low. Once on the mesa the trail is less easy to follow.  The cows made a lot of parallel trails, but most of them are leading to the tank.

Once at the tank, go through gate 1, stay left and exit at gate 2. Turn right on a jeep trail, that follows the tank fence.

At gate 3, that’s the only one with a gate, that can be closed.
Don’t go through this gate, but go back 40 yards.
Now start hiking, North/East in a small sandy wash.
Try to follow the cowtrails wherever they are. Head more North, until you meet a jeep trail and than turn right.
Follow the jeep trail until it kind of ends. Look for trails that head up and follow these trails. THERE IS NO MARKING. This is where you want to go, between those hills is the trail, leading up to the ruins.

Once you find the ruins, stay the night and camp up on the hill near the trail signs and the jeep road. You can go right up that hill and find the perfect camp site to take in the amazing beautiful views of the Sycamore Wilderness Canyon.

Packard Mesa Trail Sycamore Wilderness

Listen to our podcast of the Sycamore Wilderness Canyon experience on “Trust the Trail”

nocmanus January 3, 2018 0

Paddle Back in Time – The Okefenokee Swamp

When we travel to different places around the Country and seek some epic adventures, the one that stands out to us, is a paddle through some of the oldest swamp land in our Country. The Okefenokee Swamp is like going back in time. In fact, when we kayak through the Okefenokee, there is a feeling of pre-historic vibes as we see giant Sanhill Cranes not to mention huge Alligators.  Full grown they may reach twelve to fifteen feet in length and weigh 700 pounds. And there is nothing like Kayaking right over them.

We always plan to do at least 3 nights when we go. Of course our route always depends on water level. You never get to plan your own route unless the water is high enough throughout the swamp. When it’s lower, the Ranger Station will tell you what’s available. So your plan should be flexible when you go. Make sure you Plan Your Visit and talk to a Ranger before you paddle. You need to have a permit for overnight stays. 

The Okefenokee Swamp offers so much beauty and adventure. Depending on when you go, it’s something that we guarantee you will be a high Adrenalin adventure, while at the same time, be somewhat relaxing. What? There are times when it’s so quite and cereal. You are in a swamp with nothing to hear but nature and the sounds of your paddle hitting the water. Other times when you see a multitude of Alligators looking at you by the banks, you heart beats just a little faster.

The best part of doing a overnight is camping on large wooden platforms in the middle of the swamp. They all have portapotties on them and a canopy. You can pitch your tent right on the wooden deck. So bring a campstove and have a gourmet meal in a swamp. Check out our LIVE video we did from one of the platforms.

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is an impressively vast expanse of wilderness swamplands covering approximately 700 square miles, located within the southeast corner of Georgia.

So what is the Okefenokee Swamp? It’s crisscrossed by over 120 miles of paddle and motor boat water trails. It is a major destination for wetlands, nature lovers and paddlers alike. The swamp has a distinctive and fascinating natural history. Okefenokee means “land of the trembling earth” in Choctaw Indian language, a reference to the quivering ground of boggy areas. The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge was officially established in 1937 to preserve one of America’s oldest freshwater systems, an important habitat for an abundance of plants and animals that live in its 400,000 acres.

We travel down to Folkston GA every year to do a 3 day 3 night paddle. If you are interested in going with us, keep checking our events page or sign up for our Newsletter to get up to date info. In the meantime, here is our YouTube Video about our trip last year. Or listen to our Podcast straight from the Swamp

nocmanus December 14, 2017 0

The Trail Down Below

Most people think when you hike a trail you are hiking in the woods. Whether it’s a State Park, National Park or a Recreation Area, you visualize a place where the sun is shining and nature is bursting with noise. You probably never think about pitch black silence where the abyss of darkness is your view, or non view.

That’s exactly what caving is like. Squeezing down a long dark hole exploring massive caves is something that I absolutely LOVE.  The challenge of exploring in the dark with nothing other than a headlamp and mud is an adventure like no other.

I get a lot of questions about caving and how is it I’m not terrified about squeezing through tiny holes hundreds of feet below in the dark. My answer to that is simple. It’s just another trail.  You would be surprised that down below in caves that there is sometimes a trail system with waterfalls, creeks, and big “rooms” that you can stand up in. 

Each “room” sometimes has a name associated with it also. When we go to Raccoon Mountain in Chattanooga TN, they have a vast underground trail system that you can go down and actually visit the “Music Room”, where you can play different rocks and create different pitches.

Each cave you go into always has a map. So with an experienced Guide, you always follow a system that has specific routes and have already (most of the time) been explored.  There are times however, when a  new route is found. Those are the “routes” I love to explore.

Scott and I see caving much like we see a trail that is above ground. Every turn, every time you think there is nothing to see, a vast beautiful amazing view is there waiting for you to see.  Caving is nothing more than just another trail, or camping trip. You bring your gear, find a good spot to spend the night, and hike. It’s a little intimating when you spend the night in complete blackness, but the gear is almost the same. Except for a tent, you still pack a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, water, snacks, and extra dry clothes. You don’t necessarily carry a backpack, but you do carry a large duffel bag.  Of course you have a headlamp. If your smart, you have extra batteries with you.

Most caves operate at the same temperature all year round. So you can carry the same gear if you are caving in the summer as well as in the winter.

On our weekly podcast, we discussed how Scott and I went caving and how I tricked Scott into spending 7 hours exploring and spending the night.  If you want to know more about Guiding services or how to get started, please feel free to contact me or post below. I love taking people down under for their first time.

nocmanus November 21, 2017 0

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

We consider ourselves pretty spontaneous, but when we were sitting on the couch this last Fall (2017) having a few craft brews and discussing how much we would love to go see the Peak Fall colors somewhere amazing, little did we know a week later we would be taking a 2000 mile road trip to the U.P of Michigan. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Sandstone cliffs, beaches, sand dunes, waterfalls, lakes, forest, and shoreline beckon you to visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Hiking, camping, sightseeing, and four season outdoor opportunities abound

We quickly went to and got permits to backpack the 42 mile Lakeshore Trail that is also a part of the North Country Trail. You have to reserve and have permits to camp on the Lakeshore Trail.

The Lakeshore Trail is an amazing trail that starts on the high sand dunes in Grand Marais and ends at Munising Falls, (right outside of Munising, MI).  On our trek of the 42 miles we went from sand, to thick dense forest, to hiking along the cliffs of the Pictured Rocks. There is never a dull moment. 

There are 14 backcountry campsites along the way. Most of the time you will get your water right from the lake. Most of the campsites give you access right to beachfront and some amazing sunsets. Most of the trail is straight with little climbs. There is some gravel road hiking for a mile or two, but those are access points to the bigger campgrounds.

The best time to hike the trail is late summer or at Peak Fall.  You get some amazing sunsets, since the trail faces the southwest side of Lake Superior. There are lots of waterfalls in this area to see and explore.

You can pick up a shuttle service that will take you to the Grand Marais Visitors Center where the Lakeshore Trail starts (if your hiking from East to West). The parking lot at Munising Falls is big, and more than safe to leave your car. From leaving the Grand Marais Visitor Center the trail is awesome and pretty easy.

TIP: If you are looking for great place to camp with your camper or RV, you can boondock at Bay Furnace (right on the lake btw) and spend some time in Munising (which we totally recommend) and have a cup of coffee at our favorite place Falling Rock Cafe and Books 

After your hike, take the Sunset Tour of the Pictured Rocks and see the cliffs from a different perspective. It really is beautiful.

Munising Michigan and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore offers a ton of unique hiking, backpacking, snowshoeing, and camping. This is by far one of our favorite places to hang out on a long week trip.

nocmanus October 12, 2017 0

Exploring the Badlands

Exploring the Badlands National Park is like visiting another planet. It’s vast, remote, and wild. But what makes it really amazing is the pinnacle like mounds that do NOT look like anything you will ever see.  The Badlands National Park is over 200,000 acres and has a ton of wildlife.  Bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets all roam the prairie.

When we first got there, it was really windy. In fact winds were gusting to about 60 mph, so they had closed the campground. YIKES! After talking to one of the Rangers, he agreed to give us a discount on one of the little cabins in the campground so we could wait out the winds. The cabins were cozy and super comfortable. We were really grateful for the hospitality the Ranger showed us. 

The next day we were out to explore the Badlands. We had downloaded a GPS route and were eager to see if we could keep up with the route.

The Route started at the Conata Picnic Area. There is a sign at the very end of the picnic area. The Trail starts out like a normal trail for about 200 yards and then disappears. You are on your own after that. You follow Southwest for about 2 miles then turn Northwest towards a large open grassy field. Deer Haven is way in the background. We headed right towards Deer Haven. You can’t miss it. We ducked under a Cattle Fence and I was off to climb up and over Deer Haven. If you want to really see the park, climb up to to Deer Haven and camp under the Full Moon. It’s amazing.

Climbing Deer Haven is pretty simple. Follow Deer Trails. They almost look like a regular trail, and they won’t let you down. They will take you right up to the top exactly where you need to start your decent. From there, it’s all creek bed. Followed some amazing Buffalo hoof prints and saw some spectacular scenery.

The park’s main visitor center, the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, is open daily all year, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. During the summer months, ranger-led programs are offered throughout the day. Check at the visitor center for more information on these programs.

This is a spectacular place if you want to Boondock with your RV also. In fact, probably one of the more peaceful and beautiful places we’ve seen for an ultimate place to park your RV and just gaze out into the Badlands. It’s  located about 5 miles south of Wall, just before the entrance to Badlands National Park.

The Ben Reifel Visitor Center is located at Cedar Pass on the Badlands Loop Road (Hwy 240), 9 miles South of I-90, exit 131 Phone (605) 455-2878

nocmanus January 17, 2009 1

Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore was established to preserve and protect wilderness, natural ecosystems, and cultural resources along the diminishing undeveloped coastline of the western United States.

My visit to Point Reyes was everything I thought it would be and more. I was able to hike through a Elk Preserve and see Elk grazing right in front of me. You can’t beat walking along the West Coast and hearing the waves crash into the shore as you hike. You can even see some of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Located just an hour’s drive from a densely populated metropolitan area, the Seashore is a sanctuary for myriad plant and animal species and for the human spirit — for discovery, inspiration, solitude, and recreation — and exists as a reminder of the human connection to the land.

Point Reyes National Seashore comprises over 100 square miles including 33,300 acres of coastal wilderness area. Estuaries, windswept beaches, coastal scrub grasslands, salt and freshwater marshes, and coniferous forests create a haven of 80 miles of unspoiled and undeveloped coastline.

Abundant recreational opportunities include 150 miles of hiking trails, backcountry campgrounds, and numerous beaches. Kayaking, biking, hiking, beach combing, and wildlife viewing are just a few of the self-guided activities awaiting your visit. Please check at a visitor center when you arrive at Point Reyes for the most recent information on trail closures or other important information you may need for your visit.

This park is a must see when visiting San Francisco. It’s not that far away and easy to get to. The views will take your breath away, and the wildlife is abundant. I hiked on the Tomales Point Trail which is a 9.5 mile trail out and back. (see our trail Vlog for more info on this trail). The trail descriptions on the website are good and precise.

Point Reyes National Seashore offers year-round backcountry camping along Drakes Bay and among the hills and valleys of the Phillip Burton Wilderness, and boat-in camping on the west shore of Tomales Bay. Because of its location near the Metropolitan San Francisco Bay Area, the campsites at Point Reyes are in great demand. Reservations are strongly suggested. YOU MUST make reservations to camp. Check out the website for more details, and plan ahead.

Stay in Larkspur at the Marriott Courtyard where Hwy 110 is a quick jump. Point Reyes is about a 30 minute drive from there.

Bear Valley Visitor Center
Open: Year round.
Closed: December 25.

Weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Weekends and holidays from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Phone: (415) 464-5100