Franklin Falls WA Day Hike

Our quick day hike from Seattle to Franklin Falls at Snoqualmie Pass: An easy hike with beautiful forest and a gorgeous waterfall.

 

A little Google searching on Washington waterfall hikes brought me to discover Franklin Falls, a picturesque waterfall at Snoqualmie Pass just an hour outside of Seattle. An easy 2 mile round trip out-and-back hike, it sounded perfect for a quick day trip.


We read that this trail is very popular, and that we should get there early to get a parking spot. We purchased a Northwest Forest day pass online (you can purchase and print at home now!) and left Seattle at about 8:00 AM. Day passes or annual forest passes are required to park at the trail head, and are $5.00 for the day or $30.00 for a year.

Franklin Falls Snoqualmie Pass
I-90 to Snoqualmie Pass

It was a beautiful August morning and we made good time with no traffic. The trail is off I-90 exit 47 just past Denny Creek Campground. When we arrived, the parking area was already filling up, but we got a spot. The parking lot is for Franklin Falls as well as Melaka Lake— a more difficult 8.5 mile hike.

Franklin Falls day hike WA

Franklin Falls day hike WA Trail head
Trail head

There weren’t a lot of people on the trail when we started, which was nice. The trail is very well maintained and follows the Snoqualmie River for a ways, gradually ascending through the forest.

Franklin Falls day hike WA

Franklin Falls day hike WA

Franklin Falls day hike WA

Franklin Falls day hike WA

Franklin Falls day hike WA

The trail has many log-bordered steps built into it, and is popular with families. The total elevation gain is 400 ft, dispersed gradually over a mile. Closer to the falls, the trail runs close to Forest Road 58.

Franklin Falls day hike WA

Franklin Falls day hike WA

Franklin Falls day hike WA

Franklin Falls day hike WA

Franklin Falls day hike WA

After a quiet and serene walk through the shady forest (there is mostly shade along the way, so this is also a great hike for a hot day), you reach the falls. To get to the bottom of the falls, you walk along a rocky ledge and over some wet rocks. The rocks looked more slippery than they were, but proceed with caution.

Franklin Falls trail
Franklin Falls trail–rocky ledge to bottom of the falls
Franklin Falls day hike WA
Franklin Falls
Franklin Falls day hike WA
Franklin Falls
Franklin Falls day hike WA
Franklin Falls

To get close to the falls pool you will need water shoes, and there is substantial mist off the falls so plan on getting sprayed. We didn’t get that close. There weren’t many places to sit and enjoy the falls that weren’t wet–you might consider bringing a rain poncho or something to sit on if you plan on picnicking or staying awhile.

After a little rest and some admiration of the falls, we headed back. The way back was all gradual downhill, and went by fast.

Franklin Falls day hike WA Rocky ledge back up to the trail
Rocky ledge back up to the trail

Franklin Falls day hike WA

Franklin Falls day hike WA

Franklin Falls day hike WA

Franklin Falls day hike WA

Franklin Falls day hike WA

Franklin Falls day hike WA

We encountered a lot more families on the way back, and were glad we got an early start. When we reached the parking lot, it was packed, and more cars were circling around every minute looking for a parking space. We were ready to give up our space to them and head home, when Paddy reached into his pocket for the car key and found a big hole in his pocket…..and no car key.

Franklin Falls parking lot
Franklin Falls parking lot

Paddy went back to the trail to look for it, and I stayed behind with our stuff and tried not to panic. Fortunately, there was cell service and he called me from the trail a few minutes later telling me that someone said they had seen the key at the beginning of the trail. I went over to look some more and a guy tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was looking for a key–which was in his hand. He said that he had seen it earlier, and then saw that someone had put it on top of the trail post when he returned from the falls. We were relieved and extremely grateful.

I called Paddy and let him know that I had it, and shortly after we were on our way back towards Seattle. Crisis averted. Moral of the story: Don’t trust the pocket seam integrity of $11.00 shorts purchased at a market in Thailand.

We stopped for lunch just outside of North Bend at the Riverbend Cafe. It is a little cafe next to the Cascade Golf Course, with a nice patio as well as comfortable indoor seating. The menu is typical diner fare–breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I had a tuna melt and fries, and Paddy had the Italian panini sandwich and fries. The sandwiches were good and the ice tea tasted home brewed.

Riverbend Cafe North Bend WA
Riverbend Cafe
Riverbend Cafe North Bend WA
Riverbend Cafe

I would recommend Franklin Falls to anyone looking for an easy day hike with a big scenic payoff. I would also recommend checking your pockets for holes before you put your car key in them.

 

 

Culinary Adventures: Dill Pickles

Culinary Adventures: Canning homemade dill pickles

I began pickling and canning a few years ago, and everything I know I taught myself from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. If you’ve never canned before, I’d strongly encourage you to buy this book (it’s a great book) and read up on the how-to before you begin.

There is a lot of science involved in canning, and not following the directions can lead to things going horribly wrong (i.e. botulism). The method of processing and the ratios of ingredients in recipes are designed to ensure that all harmful bacteria are killed off and are unable to grow in the jar once it has been sealed. Always follow the directions and use a tried and true canning recipe.

Fortunately, pickles and jams have a high acidity and are a bit easier to process using the “water bath” canning method. I have yet to try pressure canning regular vegetables, but I’d like to someday.

I bought my inexpensive canning kit on Amazon, but there are a lot of grocery stores that sell them as well. Once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy and pickles make great gifts. My favorite part of canning in August and September: getting a large portion of my Christmas gifts knocked out early.

Canning kit
Canning kit (ladle was not included)

For this dill pickles recipe, you will need to prepare the pickles the night before. The recipe is for seven pint jars, but I always can an entire box of pickling cucumbers (go big or go home, right?). I order them from my local produce stand Top Banana in Seattle, but you can order them or find them at produce stands and farmers markets near you. The season varies a bit for harvest, but August/early September is usually the time that they are available. I’ve waited until the end of September before and been out of luck. If you are selecting a small amount of pickles yourself instead of ordering a whole box–the smaller the pickle the crisper it will be. Small is good.

The night before you can these dill pickles, you need to brine them in ice water and canning salt overnight for 12-18 hours. Because I have such a large batch, I bleached out a cooler and brined them in there.

Some things you’ll need in addition to the ingredients:

* A pressure canner or very large stainless steel pot with lid, and a rack for the bottom to keep the jars from sitting directly on the bottom of the pot.

* Cheesecloth for creating a “tea bag” with the pickling spice

* Canning kit and ladle (canning funnel, magnetic lid thingy, jar tongs)

* Another large stainless steel pot for the pickling liquid

* A small pot for keeping the lids hot

* Quart sized or pint size canning jars (or a mixture of the two) with NEW lids

*Counter space and a clean kitchen to work in

*A counter or table with a towel over it for putting the hot jars to cool (don’t use a nice wood table, I ruined a wood TV tray once as the heat from the jars made big light spots on the table surface even through the towel). I like to set up card tables.

how to make dill pickles

 

The recipe is as follows:

 

Grandma’s Dill Pickles

 8 lbs pickling cucumbers (3 to 4 inches long each)

16 cups ice cubes or chipped ice

1 1/4 cups pickling or canning salt, divided

12 cups water, divided

2 tbsp pickling spice

6 cups white distilled vinegar

1/4 cup sugar

7 tsp mustard seeds

11 dill heads or dill weed

7 cloves of peeled garlic

Day 1:

1. In a large, clean crock, glass, or stainless steel container, layer cucumbers and ice

2. In a large glass or stainless steel bowl, dissolve 1/2 cup of the pickling salt in 4 cups of the water. Pour over cucumbers and add cold water to cover cucumbers, if necessary. Place large clean inverted plate on top of the cucumbers and weigh down with two or three quart jars filled with water and capped. Refrigerate (or let stand in cool place) for at least 12 hours, but no longer than 18 hours.

As you can see, I didn’t follow the directions exactly due to the volume of cucumbers, but they all soaked overnight in the ice water well.

how to make dill pickles

Day 2:

1. Prepare canner, jars and lids

Step one is very important. Again, I strongly recommend you buy the Ball canning book as I’m giving you the quick and brief version and there is a lot to know.

I wash the jars, and put my first batch in the canner and turn the burner on to heat them up. It is important to pour the hot pickling liquid into hot jars.

how to make dill pickles: Heating jars in the canner
Heating jars in the canner

Next, I put all the lids (not the bands, just the lid part) in a small pot with water and heat the water up to just below simmering. I keep the bands close to the stove for easy access. Do not re-use jar lids. The bands and jars are re-useable but the lids must be new every time. Ball does sell lids in packages by themselves as well as complete jars at most grocery stores.

how to make dill pickles: Heating up the lids
Heating up the lids

Last, I prepare all of my ingredients: Mustard seed, measuring spoons, garlic cloves, and cut all the dill heads and put them in a bowl ready to go. I also cut the garlic gloves in half to let the garlic infuse better.

**Tip: Mustard seeds are insanely expensive in the regular grocery store and come in small containers. I ordered mine online through Amazon for much cheaper in bulk bags.

how to make dill pickles
Ingredients

2. Tie pickling spice in a square of cheesecloth, creating a spice bag

3. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine remaining 8 cups of water, vinegar, remaining 3/4 cup pickling salt, sugar, and spice bag. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve salt and sugar. Reduce heat, cover, and boil gently for 15 minutes, until spices have infused the liquid.

how to make dill pickles: Making the pickling liquid
Making the pickling liquid

4. Transfer cucumbers to a colander placed over a sink and drain. Rinse with cool running water and drain thoroughly. Pack cucumbers into jars to within a generous 1/2 inch of top of jar. Add 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1.5 fresh dill heads, and 1 clove garlic to each hot jar. Ladle hot pickling liquid into hot jar to cover cucumbers, leaving 1/2 inch of head space. Remove air bubbles and adjust head space, if necessary, by adding more pickling liquid. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.

For quart jars, I doubled the ingredients. Pickling cucumbers are better the smaller they are, but I always end up with quite a few big boys that won’t fit in pint jars. I like to do a mixture of pint and quart jars for dill pickles.

pouring pickling liquid into jars with canning funnel
pouring pickling liquid into jars with canning funnel

 

Always leave a 1/2 inch of head space in your jar. If it is too full, it might not seal correctly. Use the magnetic lid thingy (I have no idea what it’s real name is, sorry) to pick up a lid out of the small hot  pot and place it down on the jar. This keeps you from burning your fingers, and also keeps your fingers from contaminating the jar with more bacteria. Twist on the bands and use the jar tongs to place the jar in the canner.

Putting the lid on the jar using the magnetic jar thingy
Putting the lid on the jar using the magnetic jar thingy

5. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool, and store.

Once all jars are in the canner, cover them with water to at least 1 inch of water over the tops, cover, and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling (watch it so you don’t accidentally over-process), set the timer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn off the burner, remove the lid (watch out for steam and splashes! I always use pot holders just in case) and wait five more minutes. Then remove the jars with the canning tongs and set the hot jars on a flat surface with a towel over it to cool for 24 hours.

Removing processed pickles from canner
Removing processed pickles from canner

how to make dill pickles

The sealing process completes during cool-down, and it’s important not to disturb the jars or tip them sideways or anything like that. As the jar cools, it creates a suction that inverts the lid, tightening the seal. You might hear a popping sound as jars invert (I love that part).

Continue on until all dill pickles are processed. One of the biggest challenges for me is the hot jar thing. Keeping the jars hot but still getting them ready to go is a bit of a conundrum. I’ve worked around it by filling jars with the ingredients and putting them in a roasting pan, then pouring hot water in around them several minutes before they are ready to fill with liquid. If you’re an experienced canner and this is a totally bad idea -please let me know. So far no problems, so this is my “assembly-line” work-around.

how to make dill pickles

A friend of mine uses her dishwasher to keep jars hot, which is pretty genius. She keeps them in a hot steam in the dish washer and pulls them out as she is ready to process the next batch. I don’t have a dishwasher, so I’ve never done that.

So there you have it, dill pickles. I find that these make the best Christmas gifts. There is so much sugar and fat going around as gifts during the holidays, that everyone I’ve given these to is totally stoked to get something other than more cookies. After the first year I made these, I got lots of hints the next year that more would be appreciated. And doesn’t everybody like dill pickles?

how to make dill pickles
Dill pickles
how to make dill pickles
Dill pickles

 

Mt Rainier National Park 2014: High Lakes Loop Trail

Mt Rainier National Park 2014, Paradise Side: Camping at Big Creek, High Lakes Loop Trail Hike

I love Mt. Rainier National Park. There are just so many good easy day hikes with incredible views. There is also no shortage of challenging hikes for more experienced and in-shape hikers. This trip we went camping to celebrate our anniversary, and had time for one hike in the park. We chose the High Lakes Loop Trail and it was a good one.

Day 1:

We left Seattle around 1:00 PM on a Friday, headed towards Big Creek Campground just outside the south west corner of the park.  Traffic was a little sluggish, but not too bad. The worst part of this drive is getting through the town of South Hill, which is just one big long strip mall with a million stop lights. That stretch of the 161 is particularly infuriating, but once you break through it is pretty smooth sailing from there to Ashford.

We pulled over to check out the swim beach area of Alder Lake off the highway in Elbe. The lake is a beautiful blue-green color and the water seemed nice for swimming. Another trip, perhaps.

Alder Lake
Alder Lake
Alder Lake
Alder Lake

We arrived around 3:30 and set up camp. We’d reserved and picked out our site online back in May, and it ended up being the same site (number 22) that we’d camped in back in 2012. It had mediocre privacy, but plenty of trees and shade. We like Big Creek because of it’s close proximity to the National Park entrance (only 5 miles), and the woodsy natural setting. The campground has only pit toilets, and several water spigots with potable water.

Road 52 to Big Creek Campground
Road 52 to Big Creek Campground

Big Creek Campground Mt Rainier

Big Creek Campground Mt Rainier
Campground loop road

Big Creek Campground Mt Rainier

Big Creek Campground Mt Rainier

Big Creek Campground Mt Rainier

Big Creek Campground Mt Rainier

There are some trails off of the forest roads in the area that we’d like to check out sometime. The campground has a large billboard map of them. One leaves from the campground itself–the Osborne Mountain trail #250. It looks pretty difficult. You can find more information about these trails here. We are curious about Bertha Lake and Granite Lake, which can be accessed off of a primitive forest road near the campground. Next time.

Osborne Mountain trailhead from Big Creek Campground
Osborne Mountain trail head from Big Creek Campground
Big Creek trail map
Big Creek trail map

After setting up camp, we relaxed and read books in the tent for awhile. Unfortunately, the family across from us kept growing in size throughout the afternoon. With about 10 kids (all with bikes and skateboards), multiple tents, two giant RVs, babies, dogs, etc……the noise level in the camp wasn’t exactly relaxing.

We tuned them out and cooked our quintessential first night camping dinner: baked beans, hot dogs, and corn on the cob. All these things seem to taste so much better while camping.

Big Creek Campground Mt Rainier
Forest behind our campsite
Big Creek Campground Mt Rainier
Forest behind our campsite

Big Creek Campground Mt Rainier

Big Creek Campground Mt Rainier

There had been a camping dessert recipe going around on Pinterest lately for chocolate campfire cake baked in an orange. I thought we’d give it a try. I pre-mixed brownie batter at home and kept it in our cooler in a plastic container. To make the orange campfire cakes, we hollowed out a couple oranges, filled them with brownie batter, covered them in two layers of tin foil, and baked them on the grill.

Big Creek Campground Mt Rainier

Big Creek Campground Mt Rainier
Hollow out the inside of the orange
Scrape out the inside, kind of like scraping a pumpkin at Halloween
Scrape out the inside, kind of like scraping a pumpkin at Halloween
brownie batter cooked in an orange camping
Fill with brownie batter and put the top back on the orange
brownies cooked in an orange in campfire
Wrap in two layers of tin foil
brownies cooked in an orange in campfire
Bake on the grill for about 30-45 minutes or until done.

brownies cooked in an orange in campfire

brownies cooked in an orange in campfire

brownies cooked in an orange in campfire

I have to say, they turned out pretty awesome. A new camping dessert to give the s’more a run for it’s money.

We went to bed pretty early as we planned on getting up early to hike. I was glad I brought ear plugs, since our neighbors with the giant family blared country music until about 2:00 AM.

Day 2:

I set the alarm for 7:00 AM, and we got a pretty early start. After making coffee and granola and getting some hiking clothes on, we headed into the park at about 8:00 AM. There was little traffic, and we breezed right through the Nisqually entrance. The entrance fee for a vehicle for one week is $15.00.

Mt Rainier Nisqually Entrance
Nisqually Entrance

After about 30 minutes of winding roads (if you get carsick like me, I’d recommend being the driver, not the passenger), we reached the Paradise Visitor’s Center parking area, which was already full. Fortunately, we were headed to the Reflection Lakes parking area just past Paradise, so this wasn’t an issue.

**Note: If you are visiting Paradise on a weekend in July or August, shoot for getting there by 8:00 AM. The lot fills up fast and there are parking spaces down the road for several miles, although I wouldn’t want to have to walk that distance and then hike afterward. There used to be a shuttle service between Longmire and Paradise on the weekends, but the National Park website mentioned budget cuts and I couldn’t find any information on it, so it might be discontinued.

We arrived at the middle Reflection Lakes Parking lot (there are three) and were pleased to see many spaces still open. Our guidebook recommended the middle parking lot for the High Lakes Loop Trail.

Mt Rainier Paradise road
Winding road down from Paradise to Reflection Lakes
Mt Rainier Reflection Lakes parking
Reflection Lakes parking

Reflection Lake is an easy roadside stop for a great postcard-worthy photo of the mountain. Most people seem to do just that– stop, take photos, and move on. Swimming or fishing in the lake is prohibited, but I read that neighboring Lake Louise allows fishing and swimming.

Reflection Lake Mt Rainier
Reflection Lake

Reflection Lake Mt Rainier

We were hiking the Reflection Lakes/High Lakes loop trail, a relatively easy 2.7 mile loop. Our book recommended hiking counter-clockwise for easier elevation gain, and we would definitely agree.

The High Lakes Loop Trail starts from the left side of the lake facing Rainier, and heads towards the mountain. “Easy” wasn’t exactly the word coming to mind while I huffed and puffed up the steep side of the hill, but it wasn’t so bad. There were a lot of steps built in and the trail is well maintained. Fortunately, Paddy is patient with me while I take frequent breaks on the long hills.

Reflection Lake Mt Rainier
Reflection Lake
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
Dry creek bed

High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier

High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier

High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier

High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
Steps built into the trail
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
Wildflowers
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
Wildflowers

After about 0.75 mile of hill and steps, there is a big reward. We reached Faraway Rock, a clear lookout that provides great views of the Tatoosh Mountain Range and Lake Louise directly below.

High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
View from Faraway Rock
High Lakes Loop Trail view from Faraway Rock
View from Faraway Rock
High Lakes Loop Trail view from Faraway Rock
View from Faraway Rock
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
View from Faraway Rock
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
View from Faraway Rock
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
View from Faraway Rock
Lake Louise High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
View of Lake Louise from Faraway Rock
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
View from Faraway Rock

We continued on, checking out Fairy Pond to our right as we left Faraway Rock.

High Lakes Loop Trail Fairy Pond Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail–Fairy Pond

There was a little more uphill after that, but not as steep. We soon turned west through beautiful sub-alpine valleys, with peeking glimpses of Mt. Rainier through the trees. The trail was relatively level for the westward portion.

High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
Snow!
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail

It was August, and the wildflowers were in full bloom, peppering the hills and valleys with little splashes of color.

High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail

We continued through more gorgeous valleys and over dry creek beds. We intersected with a trail leading back up to Paradise for one mile, but opted to continue on the High Lakes Loop Trail.

High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail

After the trail fork, we began our descent southward back towards Reflection Lake. The trail had some water erosion causing a large rut in the middle of it for a ways, and it was quite steep. There were no steps built into the trail on this side. We were really glad we followed our guidebook’s advice and hiked counter-clockwise. We left the valleys behind and descended through the forest.

The trail leveled out a short distance before Reflection Lake.

High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier

High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail
High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier
High Lakes Loop Trail

High Lakes Loop Trail Mt Rainier

As we got closer to the parking lot, more and more people were milling around, taking photos, and starting out on the trail. The parking lot was completely full by then, and we were glad we got up early. We made sandwiches and sat by Reflection Lake and had a picnic.

On the way out of the park we made a quick stop at the Longmire Visitor Center to pick up a couple souvenirs at the gift shop and use a real bathroom (with sinks, soap, and water) before heading back to camp. We saw some backpackers getting ready to set off on the Wonderland Trail, which circumnavigates Mt Rainier. I’m sure it’s amazing, but is way past my athletic ability.

It was about 1:00 PM, and cars were lined up at the park entrance, pouring in at a steady rate. Parking at visitors’ centers and trail heads is pretty cut-throat by the afternoon. I have to wonder if they all know that.

Afternoon traffic at the Nisqually entrance
Afternoon traffic at the Nisqually entrance

Back at camp we rested in the tent for awhile. I attempted a nap, but our neighbors with the giant family were playing a homemade cornhole game with metal discs instead of bean bags filled with corn, right in front of our campsite. It pretty much sounded like someone throwing horseshoes at a brick wall every 30 seconds for about three hours.

Big Creek Campground Mt Rainier

For dinner Paddy made some sausage gnocchi with mushrooms and onions and pre-made pasta sauce. We cooked garlic bread on the fire and made a salad. It was a satisfying meal after a good hike.

Big Creek Campground Mt Rainier

Big Creek Campground Mt Rainier

Big Creek Campground Mt Rainier
Camping in style

Big Creek Campground Mt Rainier

Big Creek Campground Mt Rainier

Big Creek Campground Mt Rainier

Day 3:

The next morning we weren’t feeling the granola, so we packed up camp early and drove about a mile back up towards the park entrance to have breakfast at the Copper Creek Inn. We noticed a large amount of cars parked outside of it the morning before so we figured it must be good.

I had the Sunrise Breakfast, which came with two eggs cooked to order, crispy hash browns, and homemade toast. The homemade bread was fantastic. Paddy had biscuits and gravy with a side of scrambled eggs. Service was good, and the place is cute. They also have some nice looking cabins for rent there as well, and is open year-round.

Copper Creek Inn
Copper Creek Inn

Copper Creek Inn

Sunrise Breakfast--Copper Creek Inn
Sunrise Breakfast–Copper Creek Inn
Biscuits and gravy--Copper Creek Inn
Biscuits and gravy–Copper Creek Inn

We headed home to Seattle, and made good timing with little traffic. There is so much to see at Mt Rainier, and so many great hiking trails. We will keep coming back. The High Lakes Loop Trail is a great one, and pretty easy. We’d recommend it.

 

Snorkeling Tips for Beginners

Snorkeling Tips for Beginners: A few things we’ve learned about underwater adventures on our travels to the tropics

If you can swim, you can snorkel. It’s pretty easy, and it’s one of my number one favorite activities when we travel to the tropics. We’ve snorkeled in Hawaii, Tahiti, Costa Rica, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Thailand. Each experience was different, and we learned some things. I lived on Oahu, Hawaii for a year in college, and snorkeled quite a bit. Here are some snorkeling tips from our experiences:

snorkeling tips for beginners
Photo by Bora Bora Photo Lagoon

1. It’s okay to totally freak out the first time.

It’s okay. I did too. Those fish swimming around you aren’t minnows, some might be closer to the size of cats. And what is that thing down there?! With the…..things? It’s not our world. My first time was at Hanauama Bay on Oahu back in 2001. I’d just moved to Oahu, rented my snorkel mask and fins from “Snorkel Bob” on the beach, waded  into the water and stuck my face in. A giant  parrot fish swam right by my nose and I freaked out and ran back to the beach. I calmed down for a few, gazed out at the sea of snorkelers splashing around in the bay, and went back out there. After an hour, I had decided that snorkeling was my favorite thing in the world. My roommate that year had the same reaction. She was from Missouri, and I took her back to Hanauma Bay a couple weeks later and she panicked. It took her longer to get back in the water, but she did, and she didn’t regret it.

snorkeling tips for beginners
Me, age 20. Snorkeling in Hawaii 2001
snorkeling tips for beginners
Taha’a coral gardens, French Polynesia 2010

 2. Get the “dry” masks.

If you have a choice, spend the extra money on a dry or semi-dry snorkel. A standard traditional snorkel has an open ended tube, which means that if a wave crashes over your tube or you dive down below the surface, you have to blow a big mouthful of sea water out the snorkel.

Traditional snorkel with open top
Traditional snorkel with open top

After many snorkel experiences with these tubes (if you’re traveling and going on a snorkel tour or renting them, most of the time that is what you’ll get) we were sick of mouthfuls of seawater. So we invested in our own snorkel gear including semi-dry snorkel masks.

Dry and semi-dry snorkel masks aren’t exactly completely “dry,” as you have to be able to breathe, but they have a covered top with air vents that prevent large amounts of water from going down the tube. Trust us, it’s way better.

semi-dry-snorkel
semi-dry-snorkel

3. It’s impossible to walk in flippers.

If you’re venturing out into the water from the beach, wait to get into the water to put your flippers on if you can. They turn you into a fish, and moving about on land becomes really awkward.

snorkeling tips for beginners
My friend Keith at Hanauama Bay, 2002

4. To keep water out of your mask, make sure no hair is under the mask.

My biggest pet peeve while snorkeling is water in my goggles. Leaks tend to happen, as the human face has all kinds of curves and muscles causing it to move. You can keep this down to a minimum though by making sure all your hair is out from under the goggle edge, which compromises the seal. Another snorkeling tip for a tight mask–once you have all your hair out of the way and the mask on tight, take a breath through your nose to suction the mask further onto your face.

snorkeling tips for beginners
Snorkeling in Bora Bora, photo by Bora Bora Photo Lagoon
Snorkeling in Bora Bora

5. To keep your mask from fogging, spit in it.

We don’t know why it works, it just does. Spit in the lenses, rub it round, rinse, and you’re good to go.

6. If you don’t see any coral, you’re not going to see any fish.

Fish eat coral, and plants and organisms that live on coral. If you are attempting to snorkel at a beautful sandy beach with no coral in the water, you won’t see much.

Snorkeling tips for beginners
Taha’a coral gardens, French Polynesia 2010
snorkeling tips for beginners
Snorkeling in Costa Rica, 2008

7. Don’t stand on the coral.

Coral is fragile, and it grows at a slow rate of 5 to 25 millimeters per year. If coral is broken or damaged, it takes a very long time to regenerate. There are also organisms living on the coral that are an important food source for fish and other animals. Sometimes it can be hard to avoid in shallow areas, but do your best not to touch or stand on coral. Some coral can also be very sharp, and will cause cuts and scratches if you bump up against it.

Brain coral in Costa Rica, 2008
Brain coral in Costa Rica, 2008
Costa Rica 2008
Costa Rica 2008
snorkeling tips for beginners
Bora Bora, 2010. Photo by Bora Bora Photo Lagoon

8. Don’t touch anything or pick anything up

Don’t displace something from it’s home. You don’t want to harm anything, and you don’t want anything to harm you. There are many dangerous creatures in the ocean, and if left to themselves, they generally won’t hurt you. Spiny sea urchins, lion fish, stone fish, etc all have powerful and painful stingers. Don’t let that scare you though, you’ll be fine if you keep your hands and feet to yourself. If you have a tour guide, he or she may show something to you, but they are knowledgeable of the area and it’s creatures. Most (hopefully most) snorkel guides have respect for the ocean and it’s inhabitants, and know what they shouldn’t touch.

snorkeling tips for beginners
Our guide in Costa Rica with a hermit crab

9. Snorkeling is better in deeper water.

The best snorkeling experiences we have both had were boat tours where we were in deeper water, about 6-10 ft or so. This keeps you further away from the coral and the animals, so you don’t have to worry about stepping on anything or being knocked into the coral by a big wave. You are a bit further away from everything, but it’s a nice peacful view of the busy coral garden below.

snorkeling tips for beginners
Thailand 2014
Snorkeling tips for beginners
Snorkeling with reef sharks in Bora Bora 2010
snorkeling tips for beginners
Costa Rica snorkel tour 2008

10. Disposable underwater cameras are worthless.

Back in the day, disposable 35mm film cameras were your only option of taking a photo underwater. Unfortunately, like every disposable film camera, they take terrible photos. They also create lots of waste and are not the best for the environment. These days, technology keeps advancing and now you can buy a relatively inexpensive waterproof digital camera. I have a Kodak Easyshare Sport camera that cost around $60 and takes pretty decent underwater photos. Previously, I had a waterproof camera pouch that I could seal my regular camera up in and use the controls through the clear vinyl. It worked great for several years…until it didn’t. Fortunately it was an old camera that got ruined while snorkeling in the Dominican Republic. I like having a camera that is made to be waterproof a lot better, it keeps the mind at ease and it’s easier to use.

Bad disposable camera photo, Hawaii 2007
Bad disposable camera photo, Hawaii 2007
snorkeling tips for beginners
The only somewhat clear photo we took with a disposable camera in Hawaii

11. If you run into trouble, stay calm

The three scariest things that can happen while snorkeling are being caught in a current, being stung by a jellyfish, and finding yourself in the company of a large shark. None of these have happened to me (knock on wood) but here are some snorkeling tips for if they do:

Of the three, seeing a large shark is the least common. Big sharks prefer deeper water and don’t tend to make it into coral reefs very often. You might see some smaller reef sharks, but they are generally harmless as long as you don’t provoke them. Don’t swim with an open cut or wear shiny bathing suits or flashy jewelry while snorkeling. If you do see a big shark, it will most likely not be interested in you unless you call attention to yourself. Don’t splash, scream, or freak out. Calmly swim back to the boat or beach from whence you came. Avoid snorkeling at dawn or dusk, or when the water is murky. Sharks rarely attack humans, and of the rare attacks that do happen, most are to surfers. It’s usually a case of mistaken identity, as their boards make them look like seals from below.

Getting caught in a current is probably the most common scary situation. If you find yourself caught in a strong current pulling you out to sea, do not try to swim straight back towards the beach. Swim diagonally towards the shore, which will keep you from fighting the current directly. Flippers help you swim faster as well.

Jellyfish happen, unfortunately. If you see one, there are most likely going to be more. If they are on the beach, they are definitely in the water. I will say that I have only seen a jellyfish while snorkeling once in all my snorkels. It was in Thailand, and about the size of a trash can lid. I quickly went the other direction and saw another one. Not wanting to chance it, we cut our snorkel trip short. It was a bummer, because the bay we were in was a great snorkel spot.

The good news is that some species are predictable with the moon patterns. Hawaii has a jellyfish calendar you can check out, and often there will be signs on the beach if they are bad. They typically come to the south shores of the Hawaiian islands eight days after the full moon, and are around for three days. Portuguese Man-O-Wars, however, have no schedule.

If you get stung, pull off any tentacle pieces stuck to the skin. Some say to use vinegar, some say to pee on it, and some say that soap and water are best. I’ve never been stung (knock on wood), so I can’t speak from experience which is best. If your beach has a lifeguard, he or she will usually have something for jellyfish.

12. Your waterproof sunscreen will cease to be waterproof.

No matter how high an SPF or how waterproof your sunscreen claims to be, it will eventually wash off in water. I’ve come back from many snorkel trips with a painful sunburn on my back, even with my SPF 50 Coppertone Waterbabies sunscreen. A great way to avoid this is to wear a rash guard while snorkeling. A rash guard is a water shirt that surfers often use for sun protection and to prevent a rash from their surfboards. Paddy never snorkels without one.

Giant clam, Taha'a coral gardens, French Polynesia
Giant clam, Taha’a coral gardens, French Polynesia
Sting rays in Bora Bora 2010
Sting rays in Bora Bora 2010
snorkeling tips for beginners
Photo by Bora Bora Photo Lagoon

Snorkeling is an amazing experience, and one of my favorite things to do. I’m a bit of a marine biology nerd, and I find all the creatures in the ocean very fascinating. Don’t be afraid, just get out there and get in the water. Hopefully our snorkeling tips will help you have a good experience.