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Historical Cabin at Commons Ford framed by an old fence and orange flowers

9 Must-See Parks In Austin You Haven’t Heard Of

This blog post may contain affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission for any purchases made through these links. Click here for the disclosure statement.

Trees In a Neighborhood Park
Tree branches creating shade at Colorado Bend State Park
Field of Small Yellow Flowers

I saw an Instagram post from a California transplant complaining about Austin’s lack of nature and outdoor activities. I once believed this myth myself and nearly packed my bags for the West Coast, but as my mom has always said, “bloom where you are planted”. In place of a dramatic move to the mountains I set out to explore the best hidden gem parks in Austin and discovered our best kept secret – the city of Austin is home to many nature preserves, endangered species, and pocket parks that make Austin the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts to call home.

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Best Parks In Austin City Limits

Commons Ford Ranch Metropolitan Park

Address: 614 N Commons Ford Rd, Austin, TX 78733

Commons Ford is a preserved prairie land that bursts with the colors of wildflowers in the spring and is home to native prairie birds and butterflies year-round. The unkempt trails scare most people away, but the quiet, sparsely populated park is the exact reason Commons Ford should be on your Austin bucket list.

Points of Interest: wildflowers, birding, waterfalls, and walking trails

Dick Nichols And Latta Branch District Park

Address:  7910 Beckett Rd, Austin, TX 78749

Dick Nichols playground and neighborhood pool is just a small part of the Karst Preserve at Western Oaks in South Austin. Trails filled with, green spaces, creeks and waterfalls that connect the Western Oaks Trail, Latta Branch Greenbelt, and Legend Oaks Neighborhood Park; each offering a reason to spend the day in the area. Those who love photographing old and abandoned subjects will love the abandoned vehicle and treehouses.

Points of Interest: abandoned attractions, tree house, waterfall, and trails

Birding Hotspots Near Austin

Milton Reimers Ranch Park

Address: 23610 Hamilton Pool Rd, Dripping Springs, TX 78620

Nearby Hamilton Pool and Pedernales Falls get all the glory, but Milton Reimers Ranch is a favorite among rock climbers, mountain bikers, and fishers. Less known for its hiking, Milton Reimers ranch is quiet hiker’s paradise with over 20 miles of hike and bike trails for all abilities, creek views, rock formations, caves, and wildlife.

Points of Interest: rock climbing, caves, wildlife, and birding

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

Address: 24518 Ranch Rd 1431, Marble Falls, TX 78654

A wildlife refuge where a third of Texas’s threatened and endangered species live or stop over, including the endangered black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler. The short trails around the refuge offer a variety of views from the sweeping hill country views on the 2.2 mile Rimrock trail to the quarter mile pollinator path which offers wildflowers in the spring and hawk sightings in the fall.

Points of Interest: birding and wildflowers

Canyon of the Eagles Resort

Address: 16942 Ranch Rd 2341, Burnet, TX 78611

This Texas style, full service, nature resort gets its name as a nesting ground for the American Bald Eagle spotted in the resort October through March every year. Guests can choose between tent or RV camping or glamping in the eco-friendly cabins with views no matter which room you choose. Spend the day hiking to hill country views, kayaking, and wildlife viewing, then cap the day off at one of the nearby breweries or vineyards.

Points of Interest: kayaking, eagles, and resort amenities

County and State Parks

Pace Bend Travis County Park

Address: 2805 Pace Bend Rd N, Spicewood, TX 78669

Pace Bend is the perfect last minute get away and outdoor relaxation; this hidden gem campground on the Colorado River, 45 minutes from Central Austin, requires no reservations. Though hiking trails are limited, you don’t need to leave your campsite to enjoy cliff side lake views and a blanket of wildflowers. Besides endless views, visitors can also enjoy day use picnic areas, beach side swimming, and boating.

Points of Interest: wildflowers, beaches, and swimming

Palmetto state Park

Address: 78 Park Rd 11 S, Gonzales, TX 78629

Palmetto State Park is a lush tropical forest and birding hotspot named after its signature dwarf palmettos. A hike in the unique, swampy terrain offers sites of wildflowers and historical buildings from the 1930s. Cool off in the humid, Texas summer with a dip in the San Marcos River or challenge yourself with the near by Luling Zedler Mill Paddling Trail.

Points of Interest: unique terrain, walking trails, kayakin

Lake Somerville State Park

Address: 14222 Park Rd 57, Somerville, TX 77879

What makes Lake Somerville unique is its 26 miles of rolling hills on the out and back trail that connects the Birch Creek and Nails Creek units. This challenging hike takes you through fields of wildflowers in the spring, water crossings, and dense forests, each filled with their own abundance of birds and wildlife. If overnight backpacking isn’t your style, then you can hike a distance you are comfortable with, then spend the rest of the day camping, fishing, and watching the gorgeous sunsets reflecting over the lake.

Points of Interest: hiking, wildflowers, birding, fishing

Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & National Historic Park

Address:  199 Park Road 52, Stonewall, TX 78671

History buffs will love exploring the 36th president’s ranch and historic cabins built in the 1860s and 1870s. The ranch is divided into a Texas State Park where you can immerse yourself in the past at the living history museum and a national historic park which consists of Lyndon B. Johnson’s boyhood home and the Texas White House where he spent 20% of his presidency.

Points of Interest: historical buildings


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The Best Tips And Advice For Solo Female Travellers

As a seasoned solo female traveler, I speak from experience when I say traveling alone is both exhilarating and terrifying. Nothing is more freeing than knowing your bucket list dreams are not tied to the availability of others, but I’d be lying if I said thoughts of safety weren’t invariably in the back of my mind.  If you’re wondering if solo vacations are safe for you, the answer is YES! Stay safe and plan the perfect trip with these tips for women traveling alone.

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Why Every Female Should Solo travel

Young woman in a purple jacket enjoying the red rocks of Antelope Canyon

You Are In Complete Control of Solo Vacations

Whether you are traveling with friends or family, everybody has their own agenda that may not align with yours. In order for everyone to have an enjoyable trip, you may pass on some of your bucket list items to accommodate what others prefer.  Solo vacations give you complete control to do whatever you want whenever you want.

Traveling Alone Builds Confidence

Knowing you can rely on yourself in unfamiliar places gives you confidence that you can rely on yourself for anything, anywhere. I’ve made a lot of embarrassing and naive mistakes while traveling by myself, and I’ve lived to tell the tale. With each new obstacle, you learn something new about yourself and the world, making each new day easier to navigate than the last. 

Solo Travel Opens Up More Travel Opportunities

Gone is the excuse “I wish I could, but I couldn’t find anyone to do it with me”.  If you don’t need to coordinate schedules and budgets with others, you may be able to travel more often.  Not only that, but you can plan unique trips your friends aren’t interested in. Rather than dragging my husband to museums and history tours he won’t enjoy, I plan a solo trip to those places and plan trips we can both enjoy together. 

There are no unwanted opinions when you are traveling by yourself

Have you ever enjoyed an experience only to have someone else’s complaining ruin it? You can’t unsee the flaws they point out and can’t help but feel the same way, or maybe their negativity alone ruins the experience. When solo traveling, you don’t have that problem; the experience is yours, uninfluenced by the opinion of others.

Traveling By Yourself Is a Break From the Chaos

You are not a terrible mom, wife, friend, or daughter if you want to travel alone; solo travel is self-care.  Everyone deserves to make ourselves a priority, and we all deserve a break.  Stepping away to prioritize your needs gives you the strength to be the superhero your friends and family need you to be, so don’t let anyone convince you that traveling alone is not fair to those you leave behind.


Woman in a purple jacket sits on the shore by the vibrant blue Godafoss Waterfall in Iceland.

Change your Perspective on Solo Traveling

Somehow we’ve gotten the idea that women who travel alone won’t be safe, but why? Walking alone in our home cities is a common occurrence; you don’t need an escort to at home to run errands, why would you need one in a new city? Sure, some areas are unsafe, but research areas to avoid ahead of time. Putting off solo travel because it might be risky is silly and hinders your travel opportunities. Go on girl, travel like no one is watching.

Research Safe Places To Travel Alone

You never know what kind of events are in town filling up available rooms, and I’ve seen hotels with no vacancies turn away guests without reservations.  It’s stressful trying to locate a place to stay when space is limited, you waste time, and you could wind up stuck somewhere that’s not safe. Research and reserve a place to stay ahead of time to avoid the hassle. 

Trust Your Instincts

When traveling alone as a woman, trust your gut; if it doesn’t feel safe, then leave. It doesn’t matter if you are right, just do what feels best to you. 

Stay in a Hostel

If you are the type who enjoys the company of others, consider staying in a hostel. Communal areas in hostels are designed to encourage interaction between guests and some hostels host daily group outings or parties, which is a great way to make friends with other solo travelers. Not all hostels host events, so check the reviews and research the hostel’s website.

Book a hostel at Not a sponsored link, just a great resource.

Stay Engaged with Your Environment

Avoid looking at maps or guide books that make you stand out as a tourist.

Join a Guided Travel Group

If you are still unsure about taking a solo trip and don’t have anyone to join you, try group travel.  Not just a guided tour of one site, but the whole trip. Group travel is a great way to travel by yourself, but never be alone, and it comes with the bonus of not having to worry about any logistics. 

Blonde woman travelling alone over looks a small waterfall in a park.

Common Solo Trip Mistakes to Avoid

Don’t Get Solo Travel Anxiety

All this advice on how to stay safe when traveling alone may start to make you feel like you should feel unsafe when you didn’t before. That fear can 

Bring Cash

I’ve made this mistake, and I’ll never do it again. I didn’t bring a debit card or any cash; without cash or a way to get cash, I had to take Lyft’s instead of the bus and I couldn’t get lockers to secure my bags at the museums. I didn’t have another person to spot me, and this simple mistake added significant inconvenience and costs to my trip.

Don’t be afraid of your own Company

“But don’t you get bored being by yourself for too long?” If you’re the type to get bored on your own, then keep busy with things to do, plan out the next day in the evenings, eat meals on the go instead of sitting in a restaurant, and find guided tours. If you stay focused on doing activities it will be harder to get bored of your own thoughts.


Best Solo Vacations

Best Places To Travel Alone In The U.S.

Feeling safe is important, interesting things to do is even more important! I’m not going to leave home to explore the backyard of an Airbnb because I’m afraid to leave the front door. Here are six of my favorite cities that are safe and full of amazing attractions.

Rattlesnake Canyon in Page Arizona

Portland, Oregon

This big city is perfect for a hybrid vacation of city life and outdoor adventures.

Washington Monument framed by cherry blossom trees

Page, Arizona

Arizona Vortexes are perfect hiking alone and taking epic travel pictures.  Antelope Canyon or Horseshoe Bend. Or take a day trip to the Grand Canyon and Sedona.

Travel destination Portland Center For Performing Arts 

Washington, DC

The perfect place to travel alone and save money! You could spend a week in the country’s capital without spending a dime on attractions with the amount of cheap things to do in Washington, D.C.

Downtown Salt Lake City with the mountains a backdrop

Asheville, north Carolina

Amazing fall foliage, the Great Smoky Mountains, and local eats makes Asheville great for adventurous women.

Iron picket fence protect a white building with a brown door and two lampposts.

Salt Lake City, Utah

With 5 national parks in the state, Salt Lake City is great for adventurous women who love hiking alone

Morning Fog As the sunrises of the Great Smoky Mountains

Charleston, South Carolina

It will be easy to stay busy at Charleston’s many beaches, festivals, and American history museums.

Safest Solo Female Travel Destinations Around the World

When traveling abroad alone, it’s important to consider cultural norms and not all cultural norms have your safety in mind. It’s even harder to protect yourself when there is a language barrier. Travel in peace in the world’s safest countries for solo female travelers. 
Sunrise in Icelandic Sand Dunes


Japan caters to solo travelers with cheap capsule hotels.

A River Runs Through It - Patagonia Chile


The crime rate is low and everyone speaks English.

Girl in teal shirt walks the quiet the streets of Japan with Cherry Blossoms blooming overhead


National parks offer tour guides for hiking so you don’t have to worry about the dangers of hiking alone.

Hofgarten in Munich Germany


Wear conservative clothing in this catholic country and you will fit in just fine!

View of Florence Italy


Germany isn’t as prone to pickpockets or tourist scams, also public bathrooms are easier to find.

Sevilla, Spain


Gelato, coffee, and pizza until the heart’s content.


Solo Female Travel Pin - Indian woman and an Asian explore their cities.
Safe Countries for Solo Female Travel Pin - Iceland, Japan, Chile, Spain
Trees In a Neighborhood Park

Detailed List Of 42 Central Texas State Parks

I’m on a mission to discover all the outdoor adventures tucked away in the 41 Central Texas State Parks; each one offering a unique view of this great state. In order to find the top hill country destinations, I have compiled a ranking of every Texas State Park within a 3-hour drive of Austin.

Texas Parks and Wildlife requires reservations for day and overnight use, so be sure to plan ahead.

Rating Central Texas State Parks

You’ll likely see the same few parks on every site when you google “best places to hike in Austin”. I’ve been to those – a lot, and I’m bored. I’ve set out to find the most beautiful and underrated state parks in central Texas and have not been disappointed. I started this project to discover lesser-known state parks to explore near me, so I haven’t been to all of these (yet), but places I had never heard of now sit at the top of my list for places to visit

To uncover what each park has to offer, I searched Google images, user-submitted Yelp images, the park websites, and various blogs then compiled the information into one location to make finding the best central states parks easy to research. I rated the parks based on how many attractions they have that interest me; here’s what I was looking for:

  • Mountain/landscape views
  • wildlife/birding
  • Challenging Hikes
  • Wildflowers
  • Unique Attractions

The more the park has or the more unique, the higher the rating.

State Parks Near Austin

State ParkRatingBest ForNot Best ForDrive Time From Austin
McKinney Falls State Park*****Birding, waterfall, camping, walking trailsChallenging hikes.5 Hours
Bastrop State Park*Camping, fishingChallenging hikes, views1 Hour
Buescher State Park*Lake, picnic, walking trails, views, fishingChallenging hikes, wildlife, swimming1 Hour
Inks Lake State Park****Birding, lake, swimming, camping, kayaking, swimming, scuba divingHistory, unique attractions1 Hour
Lockhart State Park*Walking trails, picnicsChallenging hikes, views1 Hour
Longhorn Cavern State Park*****Caverns, history, walking trails, experienced cavers,Wildlife, challenging hikes, pets not allowed in caverns, camping1 Hour
Pedernales Falls State Park****Waterfalls, swimming, birdingLong or challenging hikes1 Hour
Blanco State Park***Swimming, tubing, fishing, camping, birdingHiking, wildflowers, views1.25 Hours
Palmetto State Park*****Lake, vegetation, walking trails, history, swimming, tubing1.25 Hours
Colorado Bend State Park*****Waterfalls, viewsShade, many parts of the trails are in an open field making summer hikes tough1.5 Hours
Lake Somerville State Park****Birds, beach, wildflowers, challenging hikesViews, fishing1.5 Hours
Lyndon B. Johnson State Park*****History, wildlife, wildflowers, creeks, Christmas DecorCamping1.5 Hours
Mother Neff State Park**Walking trails, camping, watering hole, limestone wallViews, challenging hikes1.5 Hours

Weekend Camping Trips

State ParkRatingBest ForNot Best ForDrive Time From Austin
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area****Stars, views, picnics, campingBirding1 Hr 45 Min
Old Tunnel State Park**Views, BatsHiking, camping1 hr 45 min
Fort Parker State Park**Lake, birding, fishing, walking trailsChallenging hikes, views, wildflowers2 hours
Government Canyon State Natural Area**Hiking, dinosaur tracks, views, wildlife conservationDogs not allowed on most trails, fishing, boating2 Hours
Guadalupe River State Park****Lake, river, views, swimming, birding, campingChallenging Hikes2 Hours
Lake Whitney State Park*Lake,

fishing, swimming, camping

Hiking, wildlife2 hours
Meridian State Park****Wildflowers, camping, walking trails, birding (home to the endangered golden-cheeked warblers)Challenging hikes2 hours
Stephen F. Austin State Park**Birding, wildlife, walking trails, historyChallenging hikes, wildflowers, views2 hours
Honey Creek State Nautral Area*****Creeks and streams, wildlife, wildflowers, educational guidesHiking, camping, spontaneous trips (only available through reserved guided tours)2 Hours
Dinosaur Valley State Park****Swimming, lake, dinosaur tracks, watering holeChallenging hikes, views, birding, wildlife2.5 Hours
Goliad State Park and Historic Site***Mission Rosario and Zaragoza Birthplace Historic Sites, weddings, fishing, kayaking, birdingHiking, views, wildlife, wildflowers2.5 Hours
Hill Country State Natural Area*****Horseback riding, hiking, wildlife, birding, stargazingSwimming, fishing, boating, camping (very few campsites available)2.5 Hours
Lake Brownwood State Park*Camping, fishing, boatingHiking2.5 Hours
Fort Boggy State Park*Lake, fishing, boating, water sports, camping, cabinsHiking, wildlife, wildflowers2 hr 45 min
South Llano River State Park*****Birding, wildlife, tubing, camping, stargazing, hikingWildflowers, history, education2 hour 45 min
Battleship TEXAS State Historic Site****Battleship, historyCurrently closed for an undetermined time frame for repairs, hiking, swimming, wildlife3 Hours
Brazos Bend State Park*****Hiking, fishing, horseback riding, wildlife, birdingStargazing3 hours
Cedar Hill State Park***History, hiking, fishingViews, camping (crowded sites)3 Hours
Choke Canyon State Park**Calliham and South Shore Units, lake, birdingHiking, views3 hours
Cleburne State Park*Waterfall, lakeChallenging hikes3 hours
Devil’s Sinkhole State Natural Area**Bats, birdingHiking, camping, views, lake3 hours
Garner State Park*****Views, tubing, hiking, camping, lakewildlife, wildflowers3 hours
Huntsville State Park***Walking trails, lake, picnic, alligators, birding, hiking, weddingsViews,3 Hours
Lake Corpus Christi State ParkIBirding, fishing, campingHiking, views3 hours
Lake Mineral Wells State Park and Trailway*****Rock climbing, lake, views, hollow (similar to slot canyon), camping, hike, swim, fish, beginner and challenging hikes, birdingWildlife3 Hours
Lost Maples State Natural Area*****Fall foliage, moderately challenging hikes, viewscamping (there are sites, but they are limited and book a year out), wildlife3 Hours
Palo Pinto Mountains State Park (currently under development)****Views, fishing, hiking, camping stargazing.Boating3 hours
Possum Kingdom State Park***Fishing, campingWildlife, birding, hiking3 Hours
Sheldon Lake State Park**Lake, walking trails, fishing, envrionmental educationChallenging hikes, camping, wildlife3 hours
San Angelo State Park****Birding, wildlife (bison and longhorns), fishing, challenging hikes, horseback ridingViews3.5 hours

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Texas Sunset

Lost Maples State Park: A Taste of Texas Fall

This blog post may contain affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission for any purchases made through these links. Click here for the disclosure statement.

Table of Contents

I’ve always said Texas has two seasons – hot and not so hot. It’s almost a stretch to say that we have more than one season, let alone four. But tucked away in Vanderpool, Texas, 85 miles northwest of San Antonio, I discovered an oasis of fall foliage that is Lost Maples State Park. Growing up, my grandparents who lived in the Smoky Mountains would tell stories of the tourists bringing too much hustle and bustle to their quiet town during peak fall foliage season. 

I thought it was silly that people planned vacations around the leaves changing; that was until I laid eyes on Lost Maples State Park. Once I discovered this taste of Texas fall, I was planning my own trips around the changing of the leaves. Over the past few years I have perfected a trip to Lost Maples and I am sharing those tips with you.

Best Time To Visit Lost Maples

It varies from year to year, but you can typically see fall colors in the last week of October through the first two or three weeks of November. For real-time updates, check out the Lost Maples Fall Foliage 2020 report, which is updated weekly with the status of the leaves. The park is busy at this time of year, so be sure to plan ahead and reserve a day pass on the Texas State Parks Reservations site.

Best Places For Pictures At Lost Maples State Park

There are two main hiking trails at Lost Maples State Park and both share the western part of the East Trail. The best fall colors I’ve seen at the park have been on the shared portion of the two trails. The one-mile stretch where the east and west trails merge is an easy, flat trail with a scenic pond at the one-mile mark. This is an excellent route if you’re shooting family portraits and need a route for all skill levels.

East Trail

Distance: 4 miles, 4.7 miles if you include the overlook 
Difficulty: Easy

The trail is mostly flat and easy, but there is a short steep and strenuous stretch that requires climbing up large rocks. Monkey Rock, located on the eastern side of the east trail, usually has some nice fall foliage; even without the vibrant colors, this familiar shape is sure to be a hit anyway. At the north of the loop is a small cove with a bench that’s had vibrant fall foliage every year I’ve gone. The bench and scenic backdrop make this spot the perfect place for a family portrait.

West Trail

Distance: 5 Miles, 7 miles if you include the West Loop Trail
Difficulty: Moderate

Most of the west trail follows along the creek where you’ll find plenty of opportunities to capture leaves collecting in a stream or a canopy of trees. The West Trail is less popular, so this route is perfect for landscape photographers seeking one of a kind photos.

Where To Stay

I discovered Lost Maples RV and Camping after a state park reservation mishap; we stumbled upon this unassuming gas station offering tent camping near Lost Maples. I’ve had the opportunity to watch this business grow from bare-bones tent sites to a community of tent sites with bathrooms and showers, RV sites with hookups, and cabins. I couldn’t recommend this place more!

Images of Lost Maples


Pinterest Pin - Leaves falling in a creek at Lost Maples State Park
stream runs through a quiet forest over moss covered rocks

Unforgettable Sites In The Great Smoky Mountains

This blog post may contain affiliate links.  We may earn a small commission for any purchases made through these links. Click here for the disclosure statement.

After months of being cooped up in the house, I needed the mountains more than ever, and the Great Smoky Mountains was this wildlife and landscape photographer’s dream come true. Endless waterfalls, wildlife, mountains, and lush green forests all for the low, low price of free since Great Smoky Mountains National Park does not charge an entrance fee.

Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited national park in the United States and is infamous for it’s vibrant fall colors.  Those flocking to the park in the fall are missing out on the cascading waterfalls, lush green plants, and animal life found during the spring and summer months. If you are looking for a budget, COVID friendly, year-round adventure, then this is the guide for you!

Waterfalls In the Great Smoky Mountains


Deep Creek Trail

Location: Bryson City, North Carolina, Distance: 2.5 Miles, Difficulty: Easy

In just 2.5 short miles, this nature trail leaves nothing to be desired as you follow along the creek and listen to the sounds of its three cascading waterfalls.

Abrams Falls Hike

Location: Cades Cove, Distance: 4.5 Miles, Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Graveyard Fields Trail

Location: Blue Ridge Parkway, Distance: 2-5 miles, Difficulty: Hard

The hike isn’t physically hard, but it is unmarked and unkempt so be prepared to get lost and traverse some interesting terrain. Looking at this picture, I think it’s safe to say the views are worth the effort.

Grotto Falls

Location: Roaring Fork Motor Trail, Distance: 3 Miles, Difficulty: Moderate

Cool off in the mist as you walk behind this natural wonder.

Long shutter speed creates flowy water look at Grotto Falls
Small waterfall on Boogerman Trail in Catalooche Valley, North Carolina

Caldwell Fork Falls

Location: Cataloochee Valley Horse Trail, Distance: 1/2 mile, Difficulty: Easy

It’s only a half-mile out and back hike to see this beauty, but you can continue to the Boogerman Loop for a more challenging 7-mile hike.


Mingo Falls

Location: 6 Miles NE of Mingus Mill

At 120 feet tall, Mingo Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the southern Appalachian Mountains.

Mingo Falls
Roots of  a tree at the base of Cataract Falls

Cataract Falls

Location: Natural Trail at Sugarlands Visitor Center

Soco Falls

Location: Blue Ridge Parkway


Sun Rays Shining Through Dense Trees at Soco Falls
Small flowing falls of Laurel Creek

Laurel Creek

Location: Laurel Falls Trailhead

The trek to Laurel falls is 5 miles round trip, but you won’t have to walk much for some teaser falls at the trailhead.

Motor Trails

Cades Cove

Cades Cove receives rave reviews online and is one of the Smoky Mountains’ most prominent attractions for good reason. The area is known for its historic cabins built in the late1800s and early 1900s and abundant wildlife.

John P Cable Grist Mill - Great Smoky Mountains
Golden Hour silhouette in the Great Smoky Mountains


The Blue Ridge Parkway is a national parkway protected and operated by the National Park Service. Starting in the Great Smoky Mountains, the parkway follows the Appalachian mountain range through Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia to Shenandoah National Park. Blue Ridge Parkway is a fantastic alternative to the crowded smoky mountain trails for panoramic views and lesser-known hikes


You’re missing out if you don’t visit this secluded loop which contains some of the most serene, breath-taking views in the park.

Tranquil stream in the Great Smoky Mountains lush green forest

Hiking Trails


Choose your own adventure with an out and back from any distance to one of Alum Cave’s unforgettable points of interest, or hike all the way to Mt. Le Conte for an 11-mile round-trip.

stream runs through a quiet forest over moss covered rocks
Moss cover trail and trees on Tranquil Trails


This pit stop on the way to Clingman’s Dome is an easy half-mile walk with a moss-covered forest floor that smells like Christmas.


A challenging hike that requires wading through water deeper than your boots, but the sites and sense of accomplishment are worth it.

Winding Hiking Path of the Great Smoky Mountains


It happened, my greatest fear, I came face to face with a bear. I kid you not; while unloading the car a bear arrived between trips hoping to help himself to a snack from the car and we were within six feet of each other when I noticed him. We were equally scared of each other and each slowly backed away; thankfully my instinct was exactly what the National Park website recommends you do if you encounter any black bears. 

While it is a cool story now, I was terrified at that moment. Wildlife that interacts with humans in any way must be put down, so I want to stress the importance of following the park’s guidelines for your safety and theirs. Thankfully, no bears or humans were harmed in the making of this story.

In spite of my near-death encounter I was still eager to see some wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains; from a safer distance of course. As you may have guessed from this story, wildlife won’t be hard to find and these hotspots will all but guarantee some wildlife sightings.

Great Blue Heron Catches a Fish for Dinner


The Smokies dense forest makes it difficult to spot wildlife, so the easiest way to catch a glimpse of those majestic creatures is in one of the few open fields. Cades Cove is a one-way road circling an open field which makes it a prime location for spotting wildlife. In a single day I saw, a baby deer and his momma, two bears, a turkey, a heron, and several birds.


Highway 441, which parallels Oconaluftee River, is known for its elk sightings off the side of the road. Though herbivores, elk are still dangerous, so protect yourself and the elk and keep your distance. While you’re in the area, check out the historic buildings in the Mountain Farm Museum at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center

Northern American Male Elk Bugle
Small Yellow Pine Warbler Bird through green trees


You can purchase a birding guide that contains a map of all the known birding hotspots in the park, a list of common birds, and how to identify them.

  • Cades Cove
  • Laurel Falls Trail
  • Alum Cave Trail
  • Metcalf Bottoms
  • Maloney Point Overlook
  • Spruce Fir Trail

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Great Smoky Mountains Pin
open road curves through the trees in the Great Smoky Mountains

18 Easily Forgotten Road Trip Essentials

Road trips are a healthy mix of delightful and dreadful. On the one hand, you’re on vacation, the music is blaring, and you’re excited about the destination; on the other hand, you’re wondering if you’ll ever get there. The longest road trip I’ve done was 24 hours of driving over 2.5 days and no stops for roadside attractions; the journey was not the destination. Whether you are high tailing it to your destination or stopping to smell the roses here a few road trip essentials to make your long drive more comfortable that you won’t think of until you are in the middle.

Things To Make Driving More Comfortable

Road trip comfort
  1. Layers of clothes :: As the temperature changes you’ll want to easily add or shed layers of clothes
  2. Chap Stick :: that constant blowing AC or heat in the car will dry out your lips, this is such a small, often forgotten item that can make a road trip so much more comfortable.
  3. Shoes that slip on and off easily so you can quickly hop out of the car for photo opportunities
  4. A blanket

Road Trip Essentials That Keep Things Fun

Slug bug is all fun and games until until someone gets hurt. The days of “I spy” and The Alphabet Game are long gone; while still fun it’s easy to get bored quickly. With a little preparation; your long drive can be engaging and entertaining the whole way! Here are some ideas for keeping things fun:

*for those of you who have never heard of slug bug, it’s a road trip game where you punch the person next to you when you see a Volkswagon Beetle, also known as the Volkswagon bug.

5. Podcasts

To avoid using an obscene amount of data or losing signal through remote areas, download a few of your favorite podcasts ahead of time. Here are a few of my favorite podcasts:

  • Ear Hustle
  • Punch Up The Jam
  • Criminal
  • Code Switch
  • This American Life
  • Snap Judgement

7. Audio Books

Did you know many libraries have their own catalog of audio books or partner with Hoolpa, who has a sizable catalog of audio books. Download a few audio books before leaving and finally catch up on some reading.

6. Music Playlist

Create a variety of playlists to liven up your playlist and discover new music. You can prepare these playlists ahead of time or use it as an activity to research in the car!

  • One Hit Wonders
  • Dead Artists
  • Alive Artists
  • Greatest Hits of a decade
  • Female Artists
  • Male Artists
  • BIPOC Artists

8. Fun for the Adults

Puzzle books like sodoku and crosswords are some of my favorite travel games, but don’t forget to pack a pencil! Or you could select a game from this really awesome list of road trip games for adults

Practical Road Trip

Road Trip Map
  1. Road Trip Food essentials like snacks and finger food.
  2. Don’t forget to stay hydrated with a large water bottle
  3. Bring several garbage bags to keep the car clean and organized and throw them out every time you stop for gas.
  4. Dramamine – If you get motion sickness this is hands down the best cure for getting car sick!

Must Haves for A Long Distance Car Trip

Car accident in the mountains - What Not To Do On A Road Trip
Seen on a remote, dirt road in Iceland’s countryside. I did not witness the accident nor was anyone still present, but it seems someone had a bad day.

These aren’t the luxury road trip essentials that make things more fun when everything is going smoothly; but the road trip 101 items that make things less stressful when things go wrong. A flat tire or a chipped windshield are the realities of a road trip no one want to think about, but if your cross country packing list includes these items you’re sure to be back on the road in no time.

  1. Air pump for your tires
  2. hand sanitizer, wipes, and masks
  3. Spare Tire and tools to change a flat
  4. Jumper Cables
  5. Glass chip repair
  6. A paper map

I find road trips to be a relaxing, flexible, and great for traveling to remote areas; with the right packing list you’ll hardly notice you just spent the last 24 waking hours on the road. Ok, maybe not. But, you will have more fun!


Road Trip Essentials Pin 2
Love from Austin Mural
Photography Tips for Beginners Travel

5 Simple Tips For Shooting for Large Wall Murals

This blog post may contain affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission for any purchases made through these links. Click here for the disclosure statement.

Wall murals are a colorful and elaborate form of street art that captures the character of any city. They can be a time capsule of current events or an iconic landmark. In a collaborative effort with my good friend Ashley at Swift Wellness, we are teaming up to show you the best murals in Austin, Texas and how to get great photos. Head over to Swift Wellness to discover the history and nearby attractions for 10 Must Visit Austin Murals and Street Art on South Congress, then come back and keep reading for tips on photographing Austin’s most popular graffiti art.


Vintage wide shot of Willie For President including neighboring window.
Photographer: Delaney | Camera: Canon 6D Mark 1 | Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm
Willie for President Wall mural on South Congress in Austin, Texas - Swift Wellness
Photographer: Ashley | Camera: Canon 6D Mark II | Lens: Canon 50mm
The best lens for photographing large murals is a wide-angle lens which fits more into a single frame than other lenses and is a must have for your camera bag. The extra field of view it provides gives you more flexibility in how you frame the shot, allowing you to include more surroundings and provide more detail. Some murals are so large that a wide-angle lens is necessary just to capture the full work of art in one photo!

Notice the difference in the above images; with a wider lens, I was able to include the neighboring wall and create a more vintage feel. Meanwhile, Ashley utilized tip #4 and used a unique angle to create a different vibe. Hopefully, Willie sees these awesome photos and asks us to manage his presidential marketing campaign. A girl can dream, can’t she?

2. Pose Strategically

Woman in a white shirt and a Canon camera posting in front of the Mr. Rogers wall mural on South Congress
Photographer: Delaney | Camera: Canon 6D Mark 1 | Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm
Woman in white shirt jumping in front of a large wall mural with a cat wearing a bandana
Photographer: Delaney | Camera: Canon 6D Mark 1 | Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm

Using the right pose in mural photography can give you more control over the unattractive elements in the photo such as trash and street signs. Hide distractions by standing in front of it, or interact with the surroundings to make it a fun addition to the photo instead of unsightly.

3. Get In CLose

"see the world" life goal on the before I die wall mural 
Photographer: Delaney | Camera: Canon 6D Mark 1 | Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm
See my friend succeed written in pink chalk on the Before I Die Wall Mural on South Congress In Austin, Texas
Photographer: Ashley | Camera: Canon 6D Mark 2 | Lens: Canon EF 50mm

You may be fighting a sea of people for an opportunity to take a picture of popular murals. One way to avoid crowds ruining your photos is to get in close; focus on a particular aspect that means something to you or is particularly interesting. The “Before I Die” wall is a great mural to focus on a small part without taking away from the overall appeal of the piece.

4. Try Different Angles

Love From Austin Unique Angle
Photographer: Delaney | Camera: Canon 6D Mark 1 | Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm
Love from Austin Mural
Photographer: Ashley | Camera: Canon 6D Mark II | Lens: Canon 50mm

While a perfectly centered shot has it’s place; using different angles gives a unique perspective that leads to one of a kind photos. Using different angles can also hide trash, get around people, circumvent a narrow focal length, and add creative flare.

5. Embrace the Moment

As mentioned in some of the previous tips, with any form of street photography you won’t be able to control the environment. There will always be people, trash, harsh shadows, chipped paint, and street signs. You name it, and it’ll be in the way. The trick to great street art photography is to look for ways to embrace it and make it part of the photo.

Using these techniques and applying our own personal shooting styles, Ashley and I photographed the same subjects but with very different results. So get out there, go shoot, and create something special.

Equipment Used


Wall Mural Pin
Travel Food

50 Quick Foods For On The Go Travelers

This blog post may contain affiliate links.  We may earn a small commission for any purchases made through these links. Click here for the disclosure statement.

Between health and cost concerns, I’ve always been one to prepare snacks and meals ahead of travel. Taking food with me has become my signature. Food that packs well isn’t just for traveling, I’ve taken healthy grab and go foods to music festivals, events where I might get hungry, and hiking. As a gluten-free individual, it can be hard to find food I can eat when I need it, so I always have something with me. Bringing and making your own food while traveling is also a great way to save money when you budget travel.

Gluten free alternatives are linked!


Cold Foods

As a kid, the cooler full of food was my favorite part of road trips; my mom would pack snacks and meals easy to eat while driving. The best foods for traveling in a car don’t require utensils or a plate as these things take up valuable space and are hard to clean.

  1. Grape tomatoes
  2. Bell peppers
  3. Boiled eggs :: pre-peeled
  4. Kebabs :: remove the stick to have bite size pieces without the safety hazard of a stick
  5. Celery and peanut butter packets
  6. Deli meat with cheese dipped in hummus
  7. Wraps :: gluten free tortillas
  8. Egg salad sandwich :: gluten free bread
  9. Mini Babybel cheese
  10. Cheese, crackers, and sausage :: an adult Lunchable
  11. Frittata :: eat it like like a pizza and it’s utensil free!

Mixed nuts and fruit

Grab and Go Foods

Airport food is expensive and plane food is even more expensive so I like to bring my own meals and snacks for international flights. The best foods to take on a long flight are portable and travel well without refrigeration. Filling on-the-go meals or high protein snacks are also great for when you don’t want to interrupt your sightseeing. Local cuisine is great, but sometimes I don’t want to stop what I’m doing to find food.

  1. Popcorn
  2. RXBars, Larabars, Epic Bars, ProBar
  3. Protein powder + water
  4. Fruit and nut trail mix
  5. Beef jerky
  6. Roasted chickpeas
  7. Bare Apple Chips
  8. Packaged olives
  9. Apple and peanut butter
  10. Plantain chips
  11. Dried mango
  12. Roasted Edamame
  13. Peanut butter sandwich:: with gluten-free bread
  14. Chicken salad sandwich:: with gluten-free bread
  15. BLT sandwich:: with gluten-free bread
  16. Eggplant and grilled chickpea wrap:: gluten-free tortillas
  17. Protein pancakes
  18. Fig, honey, and sticky rice cakes

Pasta Dinner

Easy Meals to Prep On Vacation

No one wants to spend their vacation cooking and doing dishes (if you do, contact me – I’ll let you cook and do dishes on vacation with me), but health and budget-conscious travelers may prefer to cook a few simple meals rather than eat out every meal. I like to pack a few nonperishables when traveling abroad and pick up fresh ingredients at a local grocery store to make quick no-hassle meals. All of these meals contain minimal ingredients and can be made in a limited kitchen; cook in bulk to make meals even easier the remainder of the trip!

  1. Oatmeal :: regular or instant packets
  2. Rice & beans
  3. Eggs
  4. Fruit, yogurt, and granola
  5. Breakfast tacos :: gluten free tortillas
  6. Fried rice
  7. Skillet fried potato, sausage, onion
  8. Beef and broccoli stir fry
  9. Spaghetti or any pasta with a pre-made sauce :: gluten free noodles
  10. Tacos :: gluten free tortillas
  11. Simple chili :: ground beef, canned beans, Rotel, chili powder and other seasonings
  12. Currywurst :: bratwurst and ketchup mixed with curry-powder
  13. Broccoli, rice, and chicken casserole


Guilty Pleasures

If you’re like me you don’t sleep a wink on planes, so those long international flights are brutal and snacking is one way to fight off the boredom. I may be health conscious, but all bets are off when I’m running on no sleep, jet lag, and no coffee. Enjoy these healthier options for satisfying your sweet tooth.

  1. Dark chocolate.
  2. Chocolate covered fruit or nuts.
  3. Pure Fruit Strips :: They taste like fruit roll ups, but made with real ingredients
  4. Super Hero Muffins :: replace raisins with chocolate chips to make it a sweet treat
  5. BarkThins
  6. Justin’s Peanut Butter Cups
  7. Sahale Glazed Nuts
  8. Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

Quick Foods For Travelers Pin

Saguaro Cactus in Arizona's Saguaro National Park

2 Week Arizona and New Mexico Road Trip

Table of Contents

Stay safe in the post pandemic era with a cross country road trip that focuses on national parks, state parks, gardens, and zoos. With all outdoor actives and no airports, it will be much easier to control your environment and stay healthy. This two week road trip from Austin to Arizona and New Mexico was one the vacations I had put on hold when COVID-19 hit, but is at the top of my list once we open back up. Enjoy the road trip itinerary I planned for myself!

*Situations change by the minute these days, so please research ahead of time for closures or reservation requirements.

Start In Austin, Texas

Take a hike in one of Texas’ amazing hill country parks or explore the city like a local. Austin to New Mexico is a long drive so break it up with an overnight stop at Monahans Sandhills State Park.

Carlsbad, New Mexico

Though the caverns of Carlsbad Caverns National Park may be closed there is still plenty of unique activities in Carlsbad Caverns to make it worth a stop on your road trip itinerary. The Night Sky program is still offering star walks, moon hikes and meteor shower viewings through the summer, dawn and dusk bat viewing is available from the visitor parking lot, and a long list of hiking trails with panoramic views of the Guadalupe Mountains. The drive alone is worth it.

If you are traveling through southern New Mexico a drive through White Sands National Park is a must! Be sure to save time for some sand sledding which is free if you have your own sled or you can rent one from the visitor center for about $20. 


No southern Arizona road trip is complete without a stop at Saguaro National Park. There’s a debate on whether East Saguaro or West Saguaro is the best, but I say do both! If you’re a fan of Old Westerns the Old Tucson Theme Park has preserved old western movie sets that take you back in time. For a change of scenery out of the old, dusty south head over to the Biosphere 2 for an unexpected Oasis. 

Saguaro National Park
Pink Thorned Flowers

Phoenix, Arizona

The Desert Botanical Gardens hosts a variety of plants native to the desert which provides a unique perspective from more traditional botanical gardens.

Step back in time with hourly reenactments, museums, and various tours at the Goldfield Ghost Town – a preserved gold mining town that prospered for a mere 5 years in the 1890s.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

There is enough to fill an entire day at the ABQ BioPark; a botanical garden and zoo, If you prefer something more unique to Albuquerque then hike one of the three petroglyph viewing hikes at the Petroglyph National Monument, one of the largest Petroglyph sites in the country. Finish off the day with a scenic sunset view on the Sandia Peak Tramway.


Drive the Turquoise Trail scenic byway from Albuquerque to Taos for a scenic and unique view of New Mexico with eclectic shops and towns along the way. The art town of Taos is about an hour from Santa Fe and is full of history and hiking. The Taos Pueblos are a World Heritage Site built between 1000 and 1450 A.D and is a must see!

Earthship Biotecture is a home construction company that builds self-sustaining homes using natural and reclaimed materials. While you may not be able to afford one of these eco-friendly homes, you can fantasize about it on one of their tours.

Earthship Biotecture

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

Palo Duro Canyon is known as The Grand Canyon of Texas and is absolutely the best canyon in Texas. Visit the Texas State Park website to reserve a day pass or campsite. Fun fact about Palo Duro Canyon; in addition to traditional accommodations, such as tent camping and cabins, there is an equestrian campsite for your horse. Only in Texas! Before leaving Amarillo, don’t forget to check out the roadside attraction, Cadillac Ranch.

Fort Worth, Texas

The Big D gets all the attention, so why not go to the FW in the DFW? I was raised in Dallas and still have family there, so there’s no need for me to go to Dallas. But, somehow I’ve never made my way to Fort Worth. One the most Texas things you can do is visit the Forth Worth Stockyards which is full of shops, restaurants, and history, Other outdoor activities in Fort Worth include the Botanic Gardens, Japanese Gardens, the Fort Worth Zoo, and the Nature Center & Refuge. In all my years as a Dallas resident, how I have never been out here?!


Arizona New Mexico Pin
Arizona New Mexico Pin
Field of Texas Wildflowers In Spring

5 Texas Hill Country Hikes with the Best Views

Texas isn’t exactly known for its panoramic landscapes so it might surprise you when I say that the Texas Hill Country has no shortage of hikes with jaw-dropping views. From landscape to wildlife to wildflowers I’m always finding new places to capture great photos with a short drive from Austin. These 5 parks are the best hikes with views in the Texas Hill Country and are sure to satisfy all the outdoorsy types.

1. Colorado Bend State Park

You’ll start to see the lush green trees 30 miles from the park and feel as if you are about to leave the flat, barren, dry state of Texas. Located on the Colorado River, I like to think Colorado Bend State Park is our little borrowed piece of Colorado as the park offers views of waterfalls, grasslands, rolling hills (or as I like to call them “Texas Mountains”), creeks, canyons, wildflowers, and wildlife. That’s a lot of words to say Colorado Bend has it all!

2. Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

Balcones Canyonlands

Home to the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped video, Balcones Canyonlands is a bird watchers paradise with sweeping views of the Texas Hill Country. With over 245 bird species, Balcones Canyonlands has been designated an important bird area by the National Audubon Society. While small with only 7 miles of hiking trails, it’s packed with a variety of wildlife and plant life that you’re sure to keep coming back for more.

3. Pace Bend

I could stare at the cliffside lake views all day and basque in the Texas wildflowers in the spring. In fact, I love Pace Bend so much my husband and I held our private wedding ceremony here. Camping is first come first serve but there is never a shortage of sites.

4. Lost Maples

Texas isn’t known for its four seasons – I often say we have two seasons: hot and not-so-hot. While most of the US is starting to bundle up in October and November, Texans are still barbequing by the pool. But there’s a little secret tucked away in Vanderpool, Texas with reliable fall colors and no cell phone signal. Lost Maples has become a yearly tradition to satisfy my need for that beautiful red, orange, and yellow leaves.

5. Balcones District Park

Ok, the word “hiking” is a stretch on this one, but this little neighborhood park offers a small oasis trail, is a starting location for the hike and bike trail leading to Walnut Creek Trail, is an official wildflower area, and great for bird watching. It’s probably my favorite place in the whole city.

These are some of my favorite places to hike and they’re so gorgeous you’ll almost forget you’re in Texas. Watch out for that Texas summer sun though, you’ll definitely remember where you are when you fry in our 100 degree summers! Bring water, wear sunscreen, and take lots of pics.


Field Of Blue Bonnets Texas Hill Country Hikes Pin