Epic Treks: 7 Hikes That Left Us Breathless (in a good way)
The idea for this post was not mine! All credit goes to someone Mr. Frugalwoods and I revere: Mr. 1500 from 1500 Days to Freedom. He proposed we both write about our favorite hikes today because, well, hiking is amazing. I’m grateful to Mr. 1500 for suggesting this as it gave me the opportunity to
post a lot of hiking photos reflect on the highlights of my favorite hobby. Make sure to check out Mr. 1500’s My Favorite Hikes (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Reset My Brain) post today!
Since our name is Frugalwoods, it’s probably a good thing that we like hiking so much. It is, after all, the clearest distillation of our name: it’s frugal and it takes place in the woods. I wrote a whole post about why hiking is the perfect frugal day, which I think pretty clearly illustrates that WE LOVE TO HIKE. I hope that Mr. 1500 and I will inspire you to hike too! Unless of course you already hike, in which case you can go to town commenting on the pros & cons of our top hikes :).
Sidenote: What is it with Mr. FW and I doing yoga on mountain tops?!
The Frugalwoods Top 7 Hikes Of All Time (that we’ve taken so far and that we remember):
The Na’Pali Coast Kalalau Trail
- Location: Kauai, Hawaii (trailhead is at Keʻe Beach)
- Distance: 8 miles roundtrip, 2,000 ft. elevation gain
- Unique features: Everything. I’m really not exaggerating, this hike exceeded our wildest hike-related dreams. Laundry list includes a HUGE waterfall, ocean views with dolphins, a beach stop mid-hike, jungle plants, and did I mention a waterfall?!
Warnings: Don’t take this hike lightly. We saw a number of folks who stumbled up the trail from Keʻe Beach in flip flops and promptly sprained ankles, wrists, etc. It’s not an easy ascent. Much of the hike is in blazing sun, so be prepared with hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Don’t swim under the waterfall unless you’re a competent swimmer. DO NOT FORGET YOUR CAMERA.
- Frugal Hound rating: No way. Even if she had gone to Hawaii with us, this hike was WAY out of her league. Although she would’ve loved the dolphins. We didn’t see any hounds on this trail.
A hallucinatory journey of everything we ever hoped a tropical hike would be. The first 2 miles is a fairly strenuous climb. The upside? You’re on a cliff overlooking the ocean and there are DOLPHINS jumping around (in the water, that is, not on the trail). After 2 miles, you arrive at the secluded Hanakapiai Beach, which while too dangerous for swimming, boasts stunning white sands and formidable crashing waves. At this point, the trail narrows and we climbed on hands and knees to scramble over tropical rocks and roots.
The dense thicket parted and we emerged from the jungle into a bowl-shaped valley where we encountered the glorious waterfall, Hanakapiai Falls. We swam underneath the falls, which felt like being pounded with a million garden hoses of ice water. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt such wonder and awe at the natural world. We kissed under the falls and quickly swam ashore since our teeth were beginning to chatter. The pool is surrounded by huge boulders so we made like lizards and basked in the Hawaiian sun while lazily eating our lunch. This hike is not a loop, so our descent was just a reverse re-play of our hike in.
- Location: White Mountains of New Hampshire (140 miles from Boston, MA)
- Distance: 8.9 miles, 3,900 ft elevation gain
- Maps and Other Info: NE 4k Footers
- Unique features: The ability to hit three summits, waterfalls, streams, views, Lord of the Rings movie set look-alike.
- Warnings: A challenging day hike, even for seasoned hikers. The initial climb is taxing and the ridge walk is perilous at times. Don’t hike this as a beginner. Take an insulating layer, a wind shell, hats, gloves, sunglasses, and sunscreen–we were very exposed on the ridge walk and were happy for this protective gear!
- Frugal Hound rating: There were a few hearty, experienced hiking dogs on this trail, but not many. Frugal Hound was much happier snoozing at home.
This hike is rated Arrrr for arduous. Case in point: as I write this, I’m icing my knee from hiking it on Sunday. The first three miles of summit climb are some of the most formidable miles I’ve ever hiked. However, it’s also one of the most beautiful ascents. Streams and waterfalls accompanied us on our journey, the allure of which propelled us forward (not to mention we had to step lively to avoid getting soaked). After a rather dulcet walk through some pine forest and the crossings of aforementioned streams, the grade pitched rapidly and we found ourselves climbing up a seemingly-endless incline of boulders.
We summited the first of three peaks–Little Haystack (nothing “little” about it) and were greeted by incredible panoramic views accompanied by very windy and cold weather (in September). We then began the ridge walk to the next peak, Mt. Lincoln. After taking 546,879 photos, we continued to our final summit, Mt. Lafayette. While the ridge walk between Little Haystack and Mt. Lincoln isn’t much to sneeze at, the ascent to Mt. Lafayette is grueling. We were exposed to sun and wind for the duration of the ridge walk and were grateful we had our protective gear. After summiting Mt. Lincoln, we snuggled into the side of the mountain under a rock outcropping and munched on our homemade bread, peanut butter, and honey sandwiches.
From Mt. Lincoln, we hiked down a rocky-faced mountainside and back into the tree line. The descent was nearly as herculean as the ascent and we were glad we had our hiking polls in hand.
Old Rag Mountain
- Location: Northern Shenandoah National Park in Virginia (90 miles from Washington, DC)
- Distance: 8-10 miles depending on where you park, 2,500 ft elevation gain
- Maps and other info: Hiking Upward
- Unique features: views, boulders, views!
- Warnings: The National Park Service describes Old Rag as “the most popular and most dangerous hike [in Shenandoah National Park].” They are not kidding. The rock climbing elements are not for the faint of heart and I honestly wouldn’t have made it up without Mr. FW’s help. I recall one particular crevasse where he single-arm lifted me up. Thanks, love!
- Frugal Hound rating: Absolutely not. We didn’t see many dogs on this trail since there’s so much rock climbing involved. But if you have a mountain goat, by all means, let it go wild on Old Rag. On a leash, of course.
Old Rag is a must-hike if you’re in the DC metro area. The only problem is that everyone seems to agree and thus, it can be a crowded trail. To combat this, we took a day off work so we could make the ascent on a weekday. There were still plenty-o-folks, but it wasn’t disastrously packed.
Old Rag is just plain fun. There are tons of boulders and much of the hike is a hands-n-knees scrabble. There are also several crevasses you have to pull yourself through using only your upper-body strength. This was a bit challenging for me, and Mr. FW had to boost me up a few times. And I am a lady who lifts weights every week! The view at the summit is a fabulous, A+, number 1 view and you will not be sorry!
Mt. Cardigan and Mt. Firescrew
- Location: Southern White Mountains of New Hampshire (120 miles from Boston, MA)
- Distance: 5.5 miles, 2,200 ft. elevation gain
- Map and other info: NH Department of Forests and Lands (pdf)
- Unique features: Double summits! Views, views, views!
- Warnings: The short distance of this hike belies its difficulty. This is no easy hike, but the rewards are well worth the challenge. Loved the views and can’t wait to hike it again in a different season.
A downright rugged little hike. I love the diverse topography on this hike–everything from dense woods to a completely treeless rock summit, to a gorgeous ridge walk with a pond. The final 1/2 mile to the Mt. Cardigan summit is sheer rock face, which was somewhat treacherous. The summit was windy and cold (and this was in August), so be forewarned and bring your winter togs. 360-degree views of the White Mountains greet you at the summit and it is breathtaking (plus we were out of breath from the climb).
We didn’t eat lunch right at the summit–it was far too windy and cold. We trekked down towards the ridge walk just a bit and tucked ourselves into a little cranny of rocks. After lunch, we continued along the ridge to the summit of Mt. Firescrew, which had a charming and slightly out of place seeming little pond. At this point, storm clouds were amassing at the summit and we thought rain imminent. So, we hightailed it down! But, no rain came and we slowed our descent to enjoy the first few leaves of fall. I LOVE FALL!
- Location: Rocky Mountains of Colorado (60 miles from downtown Denver, CO)
- Distance: 7 miles, 2,850 ft elevation gain
- Maps and Other Info: 14ers.com
- Unique features: Proximity to Denver, amazing views!
- Warnings: For us flatlanders, it’s always good to remember that at 14,000 feet, there isn’t much of a summer nor is there much oxygen. I climbed this in mid-August last year and there were patches of snow at the summit along with a biting cold wind. I also had to slow down dramatically due to shortness of breath from the altitude.
- Frugal Hound rating: Several hardy hiking dogs were on the peak. Frugal Hound would’ve passed out in the parking lot.
Mr. FW here. I managed to hike Mt. Beirstadt in the morning and attend a wedding in Denver that evening. I got up at 4am and was back at our hotel by 2pm, leaving plenty of time to get all dappered up. I was tempted to wear my hiking gear to the ceremony (this is CO after all!) but was vetoed by Mrs. FW. She’s so sensible! She wishes for me to add that she would’ve hiked this with me but was a bridesmaid in aforementioned wedding and so had bride-related duties to attend to.
The entire hike is above tree-line so you can see whole route from the trailhead. This is both fun (wow, look where I’m headed!) and tough (wow, I still have a long way to go!). The trail is mostly steep switchbacks up the shoulder of the mountain through fields of wildflowers. The final climb to the summit is an entertaining free-for-all rock scramble lacking a trail. The views from the top are absolutely wild!
This is definitely a hike I plan to hit again the next time I’m in Denver for work. There were tons of people, but most of them seemed to arrive later in the day. Hitting the trailhead at 6am avoided the crowds and allowed for a dramatic sunrise over the mountain (pictured above)!
The Middlesex Fells
- Location: Greater Boston Metro Area (15 minutes from Cambridge and the Frugalwoods home)
- Distance: 7 miles for the Skyline Trail, many shorter options available; 1,000 ft. elevation gain
- Maps and other info: Massachusetts Dept. of Conservation and Resources
- Unique features: proximity to Boston, MA
- Warnings: The Fells can get crowded on the weekends, so we always aim to hit the trail early in the morning to avoid the rush.
- Frugal Hound rating: Frugal Hound can manage this hike! We have to walk more slowly and allow for dog bowl water breaks, but she can do it (grudgingly).
This hike is no great shakes in the canon of epic hikes, BUT, it is a 15 minute drive from our house! For weekends where we can’t devote an entire day to driving several hours to an awesome trailhead, The Fells is our perfect escape. It boasts a plethora of beautifully wooded trails and you can lose yourself in the forest just a few minutes outside of Boston. The primary view is of the city itself, which is not exactly my ideal hiking view, but, it’s satisfactory. This is an A+ option if you have just a few hours but still want to squeeze in a lil’ hike.
Shenandoah National Park Little Devils Stairs with Piney Branch Trail loop
- Location: Shenandoah National Park (80 miles from Washington, DC)
- Distance: 9 miles, 1,500 ft. elevation gain
- Maps and other info: Hiking Upwards
- Unique features: Streams! Waterfalls! A canyon! Unbelievable fall foliage!
- Warnings: Your feet and lower legs will get wet. The ascent is grueling. Hiking poles are recommended by the Frugalwoods fam!
- Frugal Hound rating: Not gonna happen. In addition to being too exhausting, Frugal Hound does not enjoy getting her dainty paws damp.
If it’s autumn and you live anywhere near Washington, DC, stop what you’re doing immediately and go on this hike. It is a chromatic assemblage of every autumnal hue you’ve ever seen in picture books. Mr. FW and I nearly emerged with double sprained ankles from gawking at the leaves and not minding our feet. And if the colors aren’t enough–you’re hiking astride a picturesque babbling mountain stream for the entire ascent. The first half of the hike is in the valley of a narrow canyon in which you criss-cross the stream. You look up at sheer cliffs from which trees jut out at seemingly impossible angles and waterfalls cascade like, well, waterfalls. There are many stream crossings and at one point, you have no choice but to walk in the stream. Make sure to pack extra socks! There isn’t a show-stopping summit view, but the uncommonly gorgeous nature of the terrain more than makes up for it.
For the descent, there are two options–the longer, more winding Piney Branch trail (which we took) or the shorter Keyser Run Fire Road. The descent is pretty simple and straightforward–the name of the trail (Little Devil Stairs) is an homage to the ascent. Not gonna lie, it’s pretty laborious.
I highly recommend the longer Piney Branch Trail descent because it winds past an Edward Gorey-esque ancient cemetery deep in the woods. Again, you really want to do this hike in the fall. Crisp leaves, candy corn in your pack, and a haunted cemetery…what could be better. And, for what it’s worth, I recall Mr. Frugalwoods and I had one of those pivotal, marriage-enriching conversations during this hike. Something about the unprecedented beauty we were surrounded in, and the relative seclusion of the trail (very few other hikers), served as the perfect incubator for deep and loving discourse.
Final Thoughts From The Trail
For Mr. FW and me, hiking is the embodiment of goal-setting, achieving, and journeying. Each hike presents challenges, unexpected difficulties, and unimagined rewards. The sense of accomplishment we feel after a hike can’t be replicated–we are proud of each other, at peace with the world, and dog tired.
Hiking is a lifelong pursuit. We see young children and folks in their eighties on the trail regularly. What an incredibly frugal and meditative hobby to sustain for a lifetime! Hiking is also a time of deep connection for Mr. FW and I. We rely on each other completely on the trail and we consider ourselves to be on an adventure together. I’m telling you, if you want to connect with your partner on a new level, take a hike together.
Now, if you haven’t already, go read Mr. 1500’s My Favorite Hikes (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Reset My Brain)!
What about you, dear readers, what are your favorite hikes?
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