Pine Creek Cabins

CJP_5180The annual glamping trip with the wife’s family has come and gone for 2017. This year I found us a cabin up in the northeast corner of Iowa. As they are officially known, Decorah High Point – Pine Creek Cabins are located just outside of Decorah.Pine creek google

There are a total of 6 cabins on the property that sleep anywhere from 6 to 17 people per. Our large group of 16 (7 adults, 4 teens, and 5 children) stayed in Pine Cabin which sleeps 17, and it was plenty comfortable! The owners where nice enough to open up 3 of their other cabins that were empty that weekend for me to check out, so I’ll chat about those as well.

Pine creek overviewPine creek cabins

CJP_5210Lets go over Pine Cabin first since that is the one we stayed in. The cabin is well furnished and spacious. While it was clear that it was a cabin with fewer finishing touches than a residential home, you didn’t overly notice it unless you were looking for it. There are three levels with four sizable bedrooms.

 

Upstairs there was a loft area with a futon next to two of the bedrooms. All three areas had a nice skylight that provided plenty of light during the day… and the evening. This actually bothered my wife as it was a full moon in a clear sky and the light was bright enough to actually keep her up on the first night. I would suggest possibly finding a way to hang a shade in the bedroom skylights to help alleviate this in the future.

 

The first floor had a nice open feel in the living room area. The kitchen was a little cramped when we tried to get more than a couple of people in there trying to cook breakfast for 16 people, otherwise it was fully functional. They had everything we needed for cookware and dishes, the only thing we were glad we brought were the counter-top griddles for pancakes. They have a TV available with a DVD player for the little ones. We found this to be very helpful with baby girl as it eventually got to the point that she needed to settle down from the fun of playing with her big cousins and the only thing she’ll sit down for is her puppy movie (The Secret Life of Pets).

CJP_5238One of the best features of the first floor (to me anyway) was that there was a patio door that stepped out onto a porch that wraps around the east and south sides of the cabin. I love sitting out on porches, and I spent a good amount of time with my camera farting around with long exposure shots throughout the day and evening.

 

The basement level has the remaining bedroom and bathroom, with a secondary kitchenette and living area. The living area has a walk out patio door that leads to the yard. The downstairs bedroom is the only one with two beds in it. There is a small bed just outside that room, which I’ll admit at first seemed kind of out of place, but a bed is a bed and a 17 person cabin is about getting people together.

All in all, no one really complained about their sleep except my wife with the moon, and baby girl had issues being a little warm sleeping in her pack n play in our room during the first night. The second night my wife and I switch sides of the bed to help keep the moonlight out of her eyes, and we moved baby girl to a different spot where she could get more airflow from the overhead fan. That seemed to fix a lot of their issues as they slept through the second night.

CJP_5282Outside of the cabin, the views of the rollings hills of northeast Iowa are great. The first morning offered a great view where fog had rolled into the valley below us, with the sun rising behind it. Surrounding the grounds is a field of prairie grasses full of birds and bugs. You’re not allowed to venture out into the fields, so be aware of that, but I spent a little while walking around the perimeter with my camera. On the last night we stoked up the fire pit for s’mores and one last night of reflection, well those of us that didn’t wander off to bed early.CJP_5199

On the second day I noticed that it didn’t look like the other cabins had a lot of traffic, so I contacted the owners to ask if I could have a peek into the empty cabins. The owner, Shanyn, stopped by and said the Cedar and Balsam Cabins were rented, but she would go unlock the three vacant ones for me.

 

The first one I looked at was Spruce Cabin (I somehow forgot to take a picture of the outside of Spruce and Birch, so I stole their exterior shots off their website.). Now I will say that the first two I looked at had more of the traditional simple rustic cabin feel. Spruce is two levels that sleeps 8, with an open area ground floor that has stairs leading up to a loft. There is a small bed in what was probably the original mudroom across from the bathroom. Even though my first impression when I walked in was that it looked somewhat cramped, I spent sometime looking around and found it to actually be quite cozy. My favorite feature of this cabin was in the loft. There is a door that leads out onto a little balcony that has a couple benches to sit on and enjoy the scenery.

 

The next cabin I took a look at was Birch Cabin. Birch is the simplest of the cabins on the property and sleeps 9. It has a completely different look to it that leads me to believe that it may have been the original one. It is the only other one with three levels. The top floor is an open loft with 4 beds, the ground floor is a single room with a simple kitchen and living area. The doors here lead out onto a deck that wraps around the north and east sides. The basement has the bathroom and remaining 2 beds with a walk out door to the fire pit. A thing to note for those that have issues with stairs, both sets of stairs are very steep and narrow.

 

The last cabin I ventured to was Aspen Cabin. She described Aspen as their new luxury model of cabin, and I would agree. It isn’t overly large (sleeps 6), but there was definitely more attention paid to the details and finish work. There are still traits that remind you it is a cabin, like the open ceiling, but the furniture and appliances are of nice quality. Honestly, I’d probably like to have the kitchen in my home. It is a two bedroom layout on a single floor that leads out to a wrap-around porch on the east and south walls. There is a similar view, but if I’m honest, the primary grounds have a better one. There is also a three stall garage next to the cabin, although there isn’t a mention on the website and I failed to ask if that was for the guest’s or the owner’s use.

CJP_5249If there is a negative (because you have to find one when you’re writing a review right?), it’s that the cabins are more of a staging point to access things to do in the area. If you want to hang out with the family in a more secluded spot then this will work great (there is also a small playground for the kiddos). Otherwise, the property doesn’t have much to offer in terms of adventure. Fortunately, it is in prime canoeing territory as the Upper Iowa River runs right by it. We ran into Decorah to check out the trout fish hatchery, there is a pretty nice mountain bike area on the outskirts of Decorah that I’ve biked a couple times, and much more. So there are plenty of things to do in the area, just not on the property.

Once again thank you to Shanyn Hart for letting me check out the vacant cabins. If you’d like to look her up you can find her on Facebook @Shanyn.Hart.Iowa and Instagram @Shanyn.Hart. Don’t forget to head over to YouTube and check out the video walk through!

CJP_5186Decorah High Point – Pine Creek Cabins is nice place to take a weekend to get away and hang out, or to plant yourself to explore the hills of northeast Iowa.

 

Here are the results of the long exposure shots:

 

August is around the corner!

Rocky Mtn NPSo we’re basically skipping July and going straight into the August update. This is mostly because July has been busy, but for once, busy in a good way. Remember that vacation and exploring new places I mentioned in June? If you are following me on Instagram and have been watching the feed, I took the wife and kids to Colorado for a week of hiking and sightseeing! It was absolutely amazing!

Colorado TripWe started in Rocky Mountain National Park and made a big loop covering as much of the state as we reasonably could to get a taste of the different areas to find what we wanted to have more of. Without a doubt Rock Mountain National Park is my new favorite place and we will be going back to spend a good length of time there. Mesa Verde National Park was a big surprise in that it has far more to it than just visiting a pueblo or two, so that will require a couple days. Lastly, Pikes Peak was clouded over, so we’ll have to go back for another summit with clear skies (maybe next time we’ll actually hike to the summit rather than simply driving…).

Ouray was a great little hike that has a lot more trails in the area that would be worth exploring. Hanging Lake was an awesome hike worth the effort. Four Corners and Aztec Ruins Monuments, and Royal Gorge Bridge were definitely neat places to visit, but I don’t foresee a reason to make it a goal for a second trip to them.

Cheyenne Zoo GorillaFinally, since we are going to have to go back to Pikes Peak, we might as well revisit the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo which was pretty dang cool (not to forget that gorilla that knows what the people want), and explore more of Garden of the Gods since our trip was cut short by rain. We can’t wait to go back and explore the mountains again, but that is going to have to wait because my wife has already set her eyes on the National Parks of Southern Utah for next year… Not that I’m complaining mind you. 🙂

As far as the website goes, I have a large amount of photos to process, as well as video to edit. I’ll admit that writing up posts are a little on the back burner right now. It is summer after all, and my mind is more focused on how to get out into the woods than sitting behind a computer editing and typing. I have a harsh Iowa winter up ahead where I get to do that, heh. I did get one video posted for the first time in a while on Pilot Knob State Park. So feel free to go check that one out.

Other than that, Colorado got me to 50 miles for the year, so almost a quarter of the way! Other than a busy work schedule, the next few months look like they should be good for grinding out some miles!

Now let’s go get our shoes dirty!

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What do you mean it’s June?!

DSC_3543Well then, for those that read the last update and remember me saying something about April being super busy but May was looking pretty good… I was wrong. May turned out to be pretty packed after all. I took a new position at work so there have been fewer days off with the related training and such. Plus I decided I needed to rehab my deck, so that ate up a couple of the nicer weather days as well.

I almost didn’t make it out on a trail at all last month, but luckily the weather was beautiful over Memorial Day weekend and the wife and I decided to take the girls and one of their friends over to Illinois for some waterfalls at Starved Rock State Park. I’m still processing the photos, but should be posting some of them on Instagram soon. (Here’s a sneak peek.)

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After seeing them with flowing water, it is amazing how massive they can get once they are frozen. That park truly is two completely different parks when you compare them winter to summer. (This is the same waterfall.)

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With the help of the WordPress staff I was able to get the map section to work. I plotted out the parks on my list in Google Maps so you can scroll around and zoom in and out to find parks that you may be curious about, or didn’t know existed. If I have posted a trail report for a particular park you should be able to click the link and go straight to the post to read about it.

June isn’t looking much better for getting out, but I have the last weekend off. Here’s hoping the sunshine holds, the temps dip back down into the 70’s or 80’s, and my honey-do list remains empty! Now come July, I am finally using some vacation and taking some time off work to explore some new places. Super excited!

I’m only about 25 miles into my 214 mile goal for the year, it’s time to take the camera for a walk.

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The May Update

Well it’s May already, and like I predicted, my busy month of April didn’t allow for much hiking work. I was able to get two hikes posted; Rock Creek State Park and FW Kent County Park, as well as the YouTube video for Rock Creek. Not only have I been super busy this month, but the sterotypical April showers have been in full effect! weather.jpg

(Is that SNOW on May 1st? Gotta love the midwest…)

Contract: IA Park: 610107Luckily I was able to sneak in a hike at Dolliver State Park in between rain clouds. A really nice little park over by Ft Dodge.

May is looking to be far better in terms of opening up my schedule. That means I should be able to finish catching up on my backlog of hike data, and get back out on those trails as often as I’d like to be!

Not a whole lot to comment on this update since I didn’t have a very eventful April. Hopefully these spring showers subside and leave room for those photogenic May flowers to bloom!

FW Kent County Park

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FW Kent Google MapFW Kent County Park is located just northwest of Iowa City.

Kent Park is a neat little place with a lot more variety than I initially anticipated. There has been a lot of work put into this park, which made for a very enjoyable hike.

FW Kent Trail Map.jpgI hiked the park with my wife in two parts; we hiked the east loop then drove over to hike one of the west loops. On the website they have two different maps; the one above, minus the trails on the east side of the park, and one that only has the east trails. I took out a marker and filled in the east trails for the one I used during our hike. I just drew them in using Paint for this. The orange lines are the routes we took. (They really should just update their map to have one comprehensive map…)

As you can see, the complete trail system can be connected if you choose to do some road walking. Our hike was a little over 6 miles, and I suspect you could stretch that out another 4 miles at least, if not 5.

DSC04508We started our hike at the Conservation Education Center (orange star) and checked out some of the natural science items they had inside. Then we stepped out and started on the nice little nature loop they had just to the north. I could easily see taking baby girl there so she could play inside and go for a short stroll to check out anything that decided to come out. Once we finished that loop the eastern trail began at the parking lot. Now the first section on the furthest eastern edge of the park was really the only mundane portion of the hike. It was a simple straight line of mowed grass that had a constant gradual descent to it as we headed south.

Which meant that once we hit the southernmost point and began our return north, it was a steady climb. In all honesty, the park is made up of rolling hills aside from that easternmost trail. The view was nice though.

DSC04516As we continued north we began to see more and more ponds, full of croaking frogs and algae. Some of them were quite pretty with the bold greens contrasting with the rich blue skies. There were also a couple bridges along the route that always causes my wife’s mood to perk up. While the east loop did mainly stick to being grass, a few spots did turn into a worn trail in the more wooded sections.DSC04545

DSC04528We discussed how we wanted to proceed with the next section after we got back to the car and opted just to hit up the lake loop. So we drove around the north road and parked at the Twin Fawns Picnic Area (red star). It was a good descent down to the lake (we should have just driven down to the lake and parked at the beach {green star}).

DSC04577Once we hit the actual Lake Loop we both agreed that this was by far the best trail in the park. The park service has put a lot of work into that area of the park. It makes sense as it is the main draw after all. Like I mentioned just second ago, there is a nice beach on the southern side of the lake, and on the north end you have all of the camping and picnic areas. So it is only natural that they build up that part of the park for park visitors.

DSC04591The trail was a very nice crushed limestone, but the neatest part was all of the bridges. Which my wife was super excited about, it is literally her favorite thing about hiking. What makes these bridge unique, is that they are all reclaimed bridges from other parts of Iowa. There is a pretty large one that the Iowa National Guard flew in under a Chinook helicopter. The day we were going through a wedding party was getting their pictures taken in front of that bridge, so we had to wait a bit before we could sneak through. From there we crossed over the dam and moseyed back up north to the car.

DSC04604When you make your visit to FW Kent Park you should always bring food, water, and a map, and the other map. The 6+ miles took my wife and me 2.5 hours. Now you can hike as little as a couple of miles to almost 12, so bring more than you need if you are going long (better to have too much than not enough). If you’re just going for a walk around the lake, then yes, you don’t really need anything. Just be aware of your abilities and related needs. There really isn’t anything difficult about this park unless you’re not ready to push yourself on a longer distance.

DSC04583Once again my wife and I really enjoyed ourselves at FW Kent County Park and will give it another go. It was a very pleasant hike on a beautiful day. I hope you find yourself circling it on your map of places to check out.

DSC04571Thanks for reading!

(P.S. If there is a bridge in the picture, my wife had the camera.)

Holy Cow, it’s April!

dsc_2638Well March flew by in a hurry. That’s what happens when you’re working a lot I suppose. Remember those snowshoes I was complaining about never getting to use since I bought them? Well, the only hike I got to do this month was a quick and short snow stomp in those snowshoes on the one day we’ve had snow since December! Just kind of plodded around looking for a photo on a gray day, but I definitely had fun trying out something new.

img_3394img_3395img_3397Throughout the month I pumped out a lot of my backlog of data. To recap: Briggs Woods County Park, Wildcat Den State Park, Ledges State Park, Wapsipinicon State Park, Elk Rock State Park, Pikes Peak State Park (Iowa), Lacey-Keosauqua State Park, A discussion on Footwear, and Cruisin’ the Upper Iowa River were all posted in March. Also, I got a couple more YouTube videos completed and uploaded: Elk Rock State Park and Lacey-Keosauqua State Park.

Looking into the future, the month of April is going to be another month of heavy working. I am hoping a window will open up that will allow me to sneak off and finally forget about the stress of life for a bit; but if the weather remains the same, it is going to be one wet spring… Until then I have plenty of backlog left to tell you about. I have 13 more hikes to write trail reports on, and 9 of those have videos to edit. All of which I really need to get working on before I start to add to that backlog in the coming year! Once again, the plan for the year is an ambitious one!

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So far I’m off to a slow start, but as you can see, the miles will start ramping up once I can finally get out on the trails regularly. You can bet I’m checking the weather for every day-off I have coming up as well. While I’m waiting in limbo for that next clear day, I’ll be cleaning out my hiking cabinet to check over any gear that hasn’t seen much use. You never know when an impromptu camping trip can surface, not to mention a couple of the multi-park “tours” involve an overnight.

Gotta always be prepared for adventure! May our free time involve blue skies overhead soon!

An Item coming in the future, the March update.

So a few people have started asking what types of gear I use when I go hiking. Since I am kind of writing reviews of the places I visit, it wouldn’t be a big stretch to just simply write reviews for the gear I take into the woods. I still have a lot of trails to catch up on, so those will take priority.

Camping GearHowever, since the weather is attempting to be hospitable it won’t be much longer before the hiking season is upon us. With that in mind, there will hopefully be some new hikers looking to stretch their legs. They may want to know the types of gear they should be looking at since it can be intimidating when you discover there are 3 gillion different options available. So I am going to try to start posting some gear reviews of the more general use items like packs before the weather gets too irresistible and people want to get out in it.

If there is a reader new to hiking and curious about some specific kinds of gear, you can always request it in the comments section of this post and I’ll try to prioritize getting those reviews out first. Now I can only really review items I own, so I won’t be able to talk to specific brands or models and such, mostly the gear type; packs, poles, jackets, shoes, etc. I also don’t have any real winter gear aside from clothing… and brand new, unused, sitting in their storage bag, wishing for snow, snowshoes.

img_0155Moving on; my model for posting trail reports has already changed as my original design isn’t working the way I’d hoped. Initially my idea was to write up the hikes without video footage first, and then sprinkle in the write ups with footage as I posted the YouTube videos. Well, the YouTube videos are taking far longer to put together than I had hoped… So, I will start treating the two as separate entities and simply write up everything I have “on file” and post the YouTube videos as I can complete them. I’ll announce in these monthly posts what new vids I posted since the last update so interested readers can go and watch. If you want to keep up to date on them you can always subscribe to the channel and mark you want notified of uploads, then you’ll get an email from YouTube letting you know of a posting. (Picture for those new to YouTube.)sub.jpg

That’s what’s new for now. Looking forward to getting out on the trails!