The Grandest Gathering in Glacier

We have been traveling with these friends and family for several years now (hiking the Grand Canyon, Zion, Colorado, the Pacific Northwest, and more), and it is a highlight of our summer. Our bellies hurt for days from laughing so hard. This year’s trip consisted of a few days on each side of Glacier National Park. The west side is wet, and these first pictures are from our shenanigans of trying to keep our fire started with the “mother fanner!”

Our first day at Fish Creek was spent heading up to Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake (approximately 4.5 miles roundtrip). This is one of the easiest hikes with the biggest rewards.

After the short hike, we decided to head to the top of Going to the Sun Road to do the short hike to Hidden Lake Overlook. It was the 4th of July and we were treated to the greatest goat show ever! The baby goats racing down the snow fields stole the show, and of course the kids AND dads had to test their skills too.

The following day was spent hiking the Highline Trail (which had just opened the day before), another favorite where you can shuttle up to the top and hike down 12 miles to another shuttle stop. You never know what the alpine climate will be from the bottom, so we were surprised to find the start of the trail was completely socked in to the clouds. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see much for many miles.

At one point, we lost our way in the snow and ended up following a goat trail. We had to back track through the snow field and luckily the clouds got sucked away as we tried to figure out where the trail was. Unfortunately, all the clouds sat above the Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail, so we did not take the extension up to the amazing overlook this time around.

Thankfully, by the time we reached the chalet, we had a beautiful view of the Glacier mountain range. We enjoyed watching the marmots and deer explore, without any bear encounters.

We spent the evening waiting for the M family to arrive while playing an epic game of boat tag in Lake McDonald and getting all the runners out for a workout.

Yet another family arrived, and we spent an evening in friend/family bliss reconnecting and making memories.

We spent our last day on this side of the park repeating the Avalanche Lake Trail. It was almost like a whole different trail with the sun shining this time around. And oh yeah…we filled another bus to get there 🙂

As we left Fish Creek to head over to Many Glacier (which was a feat in itself to get 5 campsites in one of the most coveted campgrounds in America), the ranger informed us that the campground was only allowing hard sided campers due to a nuisance bear. Because 3 out of 5 families did not have hard sided campers, we tried to switch plans and find enough campsites elsewhere, without much luck. We opted to keep our sites at Many Glacier, and find a way to sleep everyone in vehicles or the two campers.

Despite whatever challenge is thrown at us, we will always find a way to make it work with this group!

Here’s a few pix of our camper with a few extras 🙂 Our car managed to house a few more too.

There are so many amazing hikes out of Many Glacier that despite staying there several times, we have not done them all. Our first hike was to Cracker Lake, a beautiful turquoise lake 6 miles in. Unfortunately, it had rained the day before, and the trail, which was primarily used as a horse trail, was filled with horse poop and mud. However, arriving at the beautiful lake made it all worthwhile! The kids were given their first ice cream challenge to jump in, and the Hoffs were all in. On the way out, we were able to explore a really cool mine, as well as seeing a grizzly and moose from safe distances.

Our final family joined us this night and we all had a blast around the campground and checking out moose at Fishercap Lake.

The next day was spent hiking another 12 miler to another favorite – Iceberg Lake. We were fortunate to arrive when one of the icebergs was close to shore, so we made sure to get some great pictures wearing Christmas hats and swim suits before it floated out to the middle of the lake! We managed to hike with 22 of us, and boy did we turn some heads!

Nights around the campsite with our big crew were just as fun as our day time hikes. Games, river water time, ice cream, and eating were some of our favorite activities.

Piegan Pass is another favorite, so the following day, we came up with a grand scheme to have the Pienkowskis shuttle our cars back, while we hiked across the park back to our campsite. Once again, we filled a shuttle bus to our drop off point 🙂

We love this hike especially because it requires some foresight to plan out logistics, so you rarely run in to other hikers on this route, and it’s one of the most beautiful hikes in the park.

Joe offered to buy Gavin and Braden ice cream if they hiked the whole way with a boulder in hand, and of course both boys rose to the challenge. Gavin became so attached to his boulder that he asked to continue hiking with it the next day.

Another fun challenge on this hike was to drop kick rocks into Lake Josephine. If they could skip the rocks off the drop kick, Mr. Hamilton would buy ice cream. With a bunch of soccer players along, Mr. Hamilton bought a whole bunch of ice cream that day!

We saved the Grinnell Glacier Trail for the last day because it was not open all the way, and we were hoping it would open before we left. We did not have luck with that, but the hike is so beautiful nonetheless. We stopped at the caution sign, ate lunch, hung out with a very friendly marmot, spied a moose down below, and headed back for our last night of fun together. The next day was so hard to say goodbye to this group!

We made sure we got lots of pix before we parted ways…

I think this hug says it all!

When everyone leaves, we use the time to relax, do laundry, hang out, play in the water, catch up on sleep, and more, in preparation for our next adventure.

After everyone left, we once again tackled our most ambitious hike, the Dawson-Pitamakin Pass Trail, a 19 mile loop hike out of Two Medicine. The weather turned rather quickly when we started, and the first few miles of our hike were in a downpour, and we debated whether we needed to turn around. The sky was quite ominous and we knew we didn’t want to be up at elevation when the worst of it hit. Adrenaline had us racing through, and we finished our 19 mile hike in 7.5 hours! If the Hoffs know how to do one thing, hands down it would be hiking.

Our last day in Many Glacier was spent with Katie, so we took her out to Iceberg Lake, and I’ve never seen anyone swim out to an iceberg as calmly as Katie. It was so fun to see her and play some games before heading off to Canada.

Yearning for Yellowstone

It feels like years ago that our biggest concern was the massive number of mosquitoes in Yellowstone (first time we’ve had a problem there), and in other ways, it feels like yesterday. Regardless, we are missing those days when our biggest worry was mosquitoes. Don’t get me wrong – I am loving all the time at home with my favorite people, but the anxiety is real here. After two big losses already in 2020 and the coronavirus changing everything about our lives, we are missing 2019 something fierce.

Yellowstone is one of those places that pulls us back year after year. The excitement of wildlife and volcanic geysers is just too much for us to resist. With its location attached to the Grand Tetons, and on the way to Glacier, it makes for a welcome and easy stop. Our first stop was Grant Village, which we like because of its central location, with easy access to the Old Faithful area. The kids took no time adjusting to our new home and love a little down time in the campsite being creative, making up games. The giant suspension bridge is a favorite attraction from the campground to the village, and almost always has nobody on it, which is always so surprising to us given the busy-ness of Yellowstone National Park.

We were fortunate to witness a killer sunset by the calm and cold Yellowstone Lake. The kids loved playing in the sand and skipping rocks, and despite it being one of the most popular national parks, once again, we were along on the beach.

Next to Grant Village is the small, but impressive West Thumb geyser basin, which is unique because of the cool underwater geysers.

One of the most popular areas of the park is understandably the Old Faithful area. This year, we were fortunate to not only see wildlife, Old Faithful (which erupts almost every hour), and Morning Glory, but also were able to watch the enormous Grand Geyser erupt.

On the way to Canyon Village, we stopped at another favorite geyser, Dragon’s Mouth Spring and Sulphur Caldron. As you sit there, it is so easy to imagine the dragon inside, warning passersbys to just keep moving along… but of course, it is mesmerizing to stand there and let your imagination run wild. The heat gun always comes out at these spots, drawing crowds for all to see how hot each geyser is.

The bison never fail to appear near the Sulphur Caldron, and while humans are not allowed anywhere near the springs, those bison walk right through disdainfully. Hayden Valley is filled with bison, and there has rarely been a year we haven’t been in a bison jam on the way from Grant to Canyon.

Canyon Village is our favorite reservable campground in the park, with it’s central location, deep campsites, and great hikes near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. All that fresh air wipes the kids out so much, so we can’t resist taking those deep sleep pictures.

Canyon is the perfect launching ground for a loop trip through Madison, Norris, Mammoth, and finally up to Lamar Valley. The loop always looks so small on the map, but it is a full day of travel and sightseeing.

The elk like to gather in town at Mammoth, and this year’s trip was getting to see all the babies.

Driving around the loop, we were able to see several bears grazing in the tall grass. The longer you stay in Yellowstone, the more accustomed you get to knowing whether it’s a “bear jam” or another type of animal.

One of our favorite “jams” of this trip was a coyote that had no shame about stopping traffic to chew the roadkill off of the highway while we waited. Another highlight of Yellowstone is taking a detour through Lamar Valley, stopping at Slough Creek to see all the telescope spectators watching for bears, and stopping at Pebble Creek pullout to cook dinner and watch for wildlife. It almost always rains there, and bear seem to make an appearance about half of the time.

After a long day of driving, it’s always nice to take a day off to check out the best visitor center in the park, gift shop, and catch up on laundry. There is a 4 mile loop hike at Canyon that we love, where you get amazing views of the canyon, a private geyser viewing, and stretches along a lake and pond.

Ethan entered high school this year, and he took the opportunity to dive in to the Algebra curriculum since he decided to skip high school Algebra (after having it in junior high) and go straight into Geometry. All the kids have bridge books to keep busy in the car, but this was something that Ethan actually looked forward to during travel time. It never fails, when we leave, we are so excited to stop for some great food, and this year, Grandma treated us to our first family meal at Fuddruckers. Their smiles say it all! (travel dates 6/29-7/3/19)

Picture Perfect Tetons

Here at home in IL, school has been out for week, restaurants were closed, and yesterday, as coronavirus numbers continue to grow exponentially, the governor ordered the entire state to shelter-at-home for at least 2.5 weeks. It’s scary how much has changed in a week. It’s so easy to get sucked into all the new pandemic details, but we are trying to stay busy keeping anxiety at a minimum. It’s amazing how much there is to do at home when you rarely spend any time there! Blogging the summer brings back so many good memories of carefree camping days.

The Hoffpack loves spending time with friends and family during the summer, and every year, somebody new joins our crew. This past summer, the Olson’s were attending a photo conference is SLC, and what were the chances we were passing through Provo the day the conference ended. We were thrilled that the Olsons were able to join us for a couple days in the Grand Tetons, and it was a dream come true to have one of our favorite photographers offer to take some family pictures. Today, as I write, I am treasuring the moments we are quarantined in the house together, and these amazing pictures are a great reminder of how blessed we are in this world. Thank you Erin for this amazing gift!

We started our time in the Tetons at Gros Ventre Campground on the south end of the park because it makes travelling into Jackson easy. Jackson, Wyoming is one of our favorite towns, with the antler arches, cool shops, and rock climbing park.

The sunsets from this end of the park are always amazing, and there is never a shortage of things to do in the open spaces here.

Just as we went through the entrance station, we were greeted by a beautiful moose crossing right in front of us.

One of our favorite hikes here is walking the 2.8 miles around Jenny Lake to Hidden Falls. The overlook is a great spot to view the valley in the park.

Instead of heading back the same way, we like to continue along Jenny Lake to String Lake. The views are amazing, and it’s nice to take a different trail out. It takes a little thought to get the car back since it ends in a different place, but luckily, we always have runners to go it.

We were especially glad we were able to see this small black bear along the way. Unfortunately, the bear crossed between some of the kids and us adults, so we had to have another discussion about bear safety and staying closer to us. The bear didn’t seem to care at all that we were there, and we really had to work to get out of his way. I think that trail was definitely the bear’s trail!

We spent our evening at the Jackson Lake Lodge, and had to snap a few extra pictures with my own camera and phone with the great views and everyone coordinated.

We have always been envious of all the boaters on String Lake, so we were thrilled to get to spend some time paddling with our kayak, paddleboard, and raft. I was so relaxed, I even managed a short nap paddling across the lake. The kids always love playing in the sand, and had a great river created by the time we went back to camp.

One of our favorite campgrounds in this area is Colter Bay. We love that there is so much to do here with the village, and the trees have the most fragrant smell. Oh how I miss being there right now! Ethan created his own music/bear box for our enjoyment, and we enjoyed some amazing meals from the comforts of our kitchen on wheels.

While in Colter Bay, the kids discovered a floating watermelon in the water, and swam through the icy water to retrieve it. Apparently, a family had left it out there to chill, so they swam back empty handed. However, this amazing family from Michigan shared the watermelon with the entire beach, and showed us their amazing Sprinter van setup. We learn so much from other campers while we are on the road!

Our last day was spent hiking Cascade Canyon, an amazing trail with many moose. We will definitely do this one again!

Here is one last picture from Erin as we end our time in the Tetons. These days, I am saying “take me back!” more than ever! With all that is happening, we wonder what changes we will have to make to this summer’s travels. Only time will tell. (Travel dates 6/24-6/29/19)

Diamond Fork Hot Springs & Expecting the Unexpected

Well… here we are on Day 1 of “social distancing,” a term many of us hadn’t heard of two weeks ago, yet it has become what all of us must strive for during the foreseeable future. We are busy reading books, getting creative, trying to find groceries in the empty stores, cleaning house, breaking the news to the kids that it’s not a snow day where we can invite all their friends over to play, preparing to hunker down for weeks on end, and finally…. cancelling not ONE, but TWO failed spring break plans. Vacation 1 was to be an epic trip to Thailand (which was to have a layover in China, so our flight was cancelled well over a month ago). Vacation 2 was our original plan, Disney World, which we had actually booked back in September, so naturally when Thailand was cancelled, it was an exciting second option. Well, Disney World announced their closing on Thursday, our schools were all closed by Friday, and things are continuing to progress and change by the minute. None of this is any surprise to us anymore. Now, we find ourselves thankful to be in a home we love, putting together that Disney castle we didn’t get to see in real life (thanks to Grandpa for brightening our week) .

With newly found time on our hands, I decided it might get our anxious minds off all the craziness to go back to the summer and catch up on all the blogging and photobooks we haven’t had time for. After leaving Lake Powell, we headed over to Provo to check out Diamond Fork Hot Springs, somewhere that looked as epic as family favorite Havasu Falls, but ended up more like discovering that the glass beach in California had no more sea glass on it because everyone had taken it away in truck loads. Sometimes these places we see on Instagram turn out to be like that. We weren’t as surprised this time because we have learned to expect the unexpected.

We stayed at what looked like a nice campground near Provo, which unfortunately ended up being infested by mosquitoes. The saving grace was the nice pool. Like everything else, sometimes you just have to jump right in.

The next day, we headed off down the trail on a busy Sunday, with an overly crowded trailhead, so we kind of knew our destination would not look like photo 1 (yet we still brought the drone, just in case). What we did found was photo 2: a very overly crowded swimming hole, which had none of the color of the first picture due to heavy spring snow melt.

We are always so thankful to get to spend our time traveling, and while an overly crowded creek wasn’t what we had hoped and planned for, we jumped in like everyone else and tried to remember that even though it wasn’t what we had thought it would be, we would still make the best of OUR experience, and we will always remember it.

We didn’t stay long, but the hike was nice, and we enjoyed seeing the springs and the falls. Someday, maybe we will return on a weekday in Winter and see something more like the amazing Instagram pix 😉

For now, with all that is happening in the world, this small part of our travels is a good reminder to expect the unexpected. I never expected to see a pandemic in our lifetime, but here we all are living it together (but also totally apart), the most uncomfortable most of us Americans have ever been. While the tragedy all around us is just that, we have to look for those silver linings to keep afloat. For now, we can all hope that the time home with our loved ones is a gentle reminder to slow down, think of others, and appreciate all we have. Let us all use this time to soak it up, just like those hot springs, and remember to appreciate each other while doing all the things we haven’t been able to find time for. Love to all!

Lake Powell Pow Wow and More

Visiting the shores of Lake Powell over the years had us intrigued to explore the narrow canyons by water, so when the G family invited us on their houseboat for a week of fun, it was a no brainer for us! The stars aligned, and the M family was able to join us too. After months of waiting for the marina to do some necessary repairs to the houseboat, we ended up without our houseboat at the last minute. Thankfully, both families had smaller boats, so we were able to revise plans to do amazing day trips out of Bullfrog Marina.

On the way, we decided to stop for a night in Arches with the G family, and it couldn’t have been more amazing. We took a sunset hike to Delicate Arch, followed by a full moon trip back.

Early the next morning, we took a hike through Devil’s Garden to Double O Arch. The hike along a narrow fin was definitely a highlight. Evening and early morning hikes are the best times to hike the Arches heat in June, so this was a perfect stop! We stayed at Slickrock Campground in Moab, which fit our last minute needs perfectly.

On the way in to Powell, we stopped to check out the houseboat, and were still hopeful that the marina would get their act together and finish the repairs, but as it turned out, they did not.

We were just happy to be at Lake Powell with a group of friends who have become like family to us. We ended up at the Aramark run campground with an electric site to run the air conditioner in the summer heat, and were able to park 3 trucks, 1 camper, 2 boats, and 2 tents there! It was an impressive sight! The kids loved playing games on the boats, although it seemed we were only around for early breakfasts and late dinners with most of our time on the water.

Our first day on the water was a trip to Defiance House, a cliff dwelling down one of the mysterious canyons of Lake Powell. We beached the pontoon and took a short hike to see how this ancient civilization lived. Super cool!

Tubing was a definite favorite for the kids and parents alike. We tried lots of combinations – big kids, little kids, all kids, families, and more. We were all thankful for warm water temperatures in the 70s!

Some days, we took out both boats, but my favorite days were squeezing all of us on one boat and exploring the lake together. While it was cozy at times, at many points, half of us were out on the tube.

Our next day trip was over 100 miles round trip to Rainbow Bridge National Monument, which has always been on our bucket list. The bridge was massive and beautiful, and it was such a treat to get to see it at last. At one point, the bridge had lake water underneath, but the water level has been diminishing for years. With a heavy snowfall year, lake levels were going up 15 inches a day while we were there! We were also able to see a dinosaur footprint here too.

After Rainbow Bridge, we found an amazing canyon to eat lunch and play in, and the M family pulled out their giant beach ball. It was amazing to see how quickly it moved through the canyons. Ethan babysat the ball for awhile, and when it finally escaped, it took off on us! We had to chase it down by boat, and thankfully and not so thankfully, it lodged itself at the end of a canyon in a bunch of muck. Justin paddled in to get in, and it was quite the project to tow him out with the ball in hand. An epic game of water polo ensued, and we will never forget the echo of the ball as it hit the water, as well as Faith’s unhuman skills and battle cry. We may have gotten a bit carried away, as when we left, we found ourselves in quite the storm. Inside those canyons, it is very difficult to see what is happening in the sky above. Thankfully, the M family had zip up sides for the boat, so everyone stayed nice and dry as we raced back across the lake from mile marker 49 to 90. Rainbow Bridge is about halfway between Page and Bullfrog Marina, so it is quite the trek no matter where you start on the lake.

I was particularly amazed with the flushable floating bathrooms in the middle of the lake. We found ourselves at these every few hours to make pit stops, tubing adjustments, and more.

The following day was spent playing in the lake, finding a nice sandy beach to hang out on and play on the paddle boards, shore, and picnic. In addition, we took turns learning how to surf, wakeboard, ski, and more tubing of course. Surfing was a favorite by all, and we can’t wait to spend more time learning the tricks of the trade!

Our last day on the water was spent cliff jumping, diving off the boat, exploring Iceberg Canyon, and more wakeboarding, surfing, and tubing. I found it difficult to say goodbye to the lake and all the fun we had here!

We pulled out the eagle for some great tubing fun. While the wind and water was a little rough at the beginning, the eagle took flight a few times, once we got back in those canyons, we were good to go. The eagle stayed in back for a surfing companion or two to ride along.

Wakeboarding and skiing in 70 degree water was a nice change from the chilly mountain waters of Grand Lake, and I think I could have spent the whole summer here playing in this amazing rock and water wonderland.

We left Lake Powell Friday for a planned “lunch” break at Goblin Valley State Park. We have passed this amazing park many times, without a chance for the small detour, and I am so glad we finally made it a priority. What was planned for a lunch break turned into hours of fun, playing a long game of hide and seek with radios followed by many rounds of camouflage. This place was made for this game, and we could “change scenes” by simply walking a few feet in any direction. With a couple hour drive and approaching storm, we reluctantly pulled ourselves away from this playground to continue to our next destination. It’s so amazing when somewhere that was to be a simple lunch stop turns into the possible highlight of the trip. We couldn’t have had more fun here, and the kids were so excited to have all the adults play along.

Our last stop with the G family was a planned late night of games in an Airbnb. We came across the coolest park in this small town of East Carbon City, and their amazing kids Katie and Justin spent hours playing there with the Hoff kids. Upon discovering camper fridge problems, we were able to move everything out into the house fridge, spending hours trying to diagnose our problem before we head off the grid for the next month and a half. The G family went above and beyond troubleshooting our problem, going out of their way to join us at an RV repair place, and adjusting plans to get us back on the road with a running fridge. We could not have been more thankful for them, and the quality time we were able to have on this stretch of the journey!

After talking to dozens of RV places and replacing parts that “may be the problem,” we finally ended up at Neill’s near Provo, UT when the owner Mike took pity on us and invited us in to take a look himself on a Saturday night at closing time. Turns out the squirrels who chewed up our gas lines before we replaced them and left home were the culprits once again. Somehow, water had gotten into the gas line, reducing the pressure from the recommended 11 down to a measly 3. Once we blew the lines out with an air compressor, we were good to go! We left Mike with hugs and a happy Hoffpack! (travel dates 6/15-6/22/19)

In Sync at Snow Mountain Ranch

Snow Mountain Ranch is our favorite launching ground for summer trips! It is civilized camping at it’s best, and our kids favorite place out of everywhere we go. This year’s group was like no other! Even though many of them were strangers when the trip started, kids and adults got along so well! Managing big groups can be tough, but this group was so agreeable and the most timely group of people we have ever seen, making it super easy to plan and fit in lots of activities. It went by so quickly, but we had so much with this group… and so many laughs 🙂

The drive out was uneventful, aside from the major flooding through the Midwest. Lots of snow days delayed our departure, but we left right after the last day of school let out, and never looked back! We made a stop at Walmart in Nebraska. Ethan can’t seem to escape waking up in a Walmart parking lot on his birthday each year.

One of our favorite hikes in the area is the East Inlet Trail past Adams Falls, and it did not disappoint. The waterfall was roaring from heavy snowmelt, and we even saw two moose on our way out to the valley. We had to take a shot of the 5 of us who had graduated from Oak Forest High School… many years ago!

Leaving Penny (our dog) at home with Grandma and Grandpa each year is really tough, but thankfully, we were able to hang out with the Snow Mountain Ranch Sled Dogs on several occasions. Hanging with the Huskies is such a treat!

The free tubing hill is another treat, and perfect for big groups like ours. This awesome activity never gets old!

This group had lots of hikes on their mind, so we were able to hit many of the local trails. The waterfall hike on Snow Mountain property was different this year, as there was lots of snow. We will never forget the snowball fight here this summer!

Each year, we have been able to see the bald eagle that hangs out by the reservoir, and this year was no different. The eagle took flight for us, and we were able to watch him do a little fishing.

The homestead is another favorite. We love seeing all the old farm tools and seeing how the families lived here long ago.

One of the highlights of our trip was taking the sled dogs for a walk at Cabin Creek with Steve and his wife Shelby. We had a blast walking six of these beautiful pups!

Afterwards, we were able to help Steve work on the dog’s park by filling in holes, setting up posts, and hanging shades. He couldn’t have been more appreciative, and we love getting a little more time with this great guy!

Another favorite hike is Nine Mile Mountain. It is a short hike, but quite steep. Because there is very little shade here, we love taking this hike at sunset and watching the light bounce off the mountains.

Perhaps the kids favorite activity is making ceramics in the craft shop. Each year, their creations get better and better, and we love using them all year back at home.

It seems like there is never enough time hanging around camp cooking by the grills, playing in the campsite, and practicing the guitar.

Our last hike was a trip around Monarch Lake, a beautiful 4 mile loop trail. The highlight here this year was building boats and setting sail at the end of our hike.

There are so many activities offered at Snow Mountain, including zip lining, archery, canoeing, biking, fishing, and our favorite, rock climbing. The kids always race up the wall to see how many times they can get up the outdoor wall.

Where can you play mini golf above 8000 feet… and for free, nonetheless? Snow Mountain Ranch of course! Through the years, the game has changed, many variations have been created. Any time we have a few extra minutes, we find ourselves racing down to the mini golf course.

The Kiva was more fun than ever this year. Everyone is getting old enough to enjoy different activities in the Kiva, so we found different groups skating, playing basketball, volleyball, and ping pong upstairs. While we have enjoyed dodgeball and Hungry Hungry Hippos before, this was the most epic game of Hungry Hungry Hippos ever, and Rich was proud to lead the kids to a win at last!

We didn’t see rain until the last couple nights, but it was a welcome treat. It gave everyone a chance to hang out and play games. There were families in the campground, yurts, and Indian Peaks this year, and we loved spending time in each of these locations.

Our last night was spent saying goodbye to some of our favorite semi-locals, and we loved spending another evening planning for our Lake Powell trip with this crew. The R family brought back treats from different countries, and the kids loved a night of taste testing.

With house boat plans beginning to unravel for the next stretch of our trip, we picked up a portable toilet from the G families house, not quite able to imagine what this next stretch would look like.

Last but not least is the trike park. You would think these kids would get sick of riding around on tricycles, but this year was their favorite trike racing ever! Some things never get old 🙂 The traditions here have always been a highlight of our summer, and this year was no exception! (travel dates 6/8-6/15/19)

Crazy About Costa Rica Part 2 – Manuel Antonio

It was so hard to leave Arenal, but we knew that Manuel Antonio would be just as amazing in its own way. We chose the Pacific Coast for the second half of our trip due to the beautiful turquoise waters and opportunities to see wildlife. We were awestruck with both of those and more!

On the 4 hour drive from Arenal to Manuel Antonio, we took some of the craziest roads, and were so thankful for our diesel SUV. We also stopped at the croc bridge – those guys are absolutely huge! For whatever reason, the crocodiles always gather here, where the Rio Grande and Pacific meet. Thankfully, the bridge is far above them, so we had nothing to worry about.

We chose to split our time in Costa Rica at Arenal Springs Resort, and a Costa Verde bungalow. Upon arrival, the Costa Verde staff guided us to our new home, a cute 3 bedroom bungalow tucked away on a cliff above the Pacific. We loved the character of our new place, and the kids were excited to spread out a bit. We stocked up the fridge for our stay, and the Hoffpack was excited for a homecooked meal that night! Perhaps the best part of this stay was the amazing private grill area!

We woke early to the sound of howler monkeys and the boys sat outside on the patio waiting for them to pass by. When we arrived late the night before, we had no idea what an amazing view we had!

We spent the next couple hours exploring the grounds of Costa Verde. We loved all the planes converted to rooms and restaurants, reuse of glass bottles and more, and so many options! Costa Verde even offered 3 pools for guests.

Our first priority was visiting the national park, but after driving down to the entrance, we were accosted by locals asking us to pay to park in their lots. It was quite confusing, and we wanted to find out more information, so we opted to check out Biesanz beach for the day instead and save the national park for another day.

Biesanz Beach is known as a local spot with fewer tourists, although the locals have set up shop there renting chairs, kayaks, snorkel gear, and more. One guy stands out by the road asking visitors to pay him to “watch their car.” What we initially thought would be a morning swim turned out to be a full day of snorkeling, racing crabs, checking out monkeys and relaxing by the beach. There was even a local sloth who spent the whole day watching beach goers while we watched him.

By the next morning, we had done some research and had a plan for the national park. Before we left, the chaos in the canopy coaxed us outside bright and early to see what all the ruckus was about. We found that monkeys do not move alone, but where there was one, there were maybe 100 more. What a treat!

Next, we headed to the national park. Our plan was to get there early, get all of our hiking in right away before it got too hot, and spend the rest of the day on the pristine beaches of Manuel Antonio. There are lots of locals up for hire outside the park for those interested in a guide. We wanted to have our own experience, so we chose to do without. Little did we know you could not bring in snacks – sandwiches were allowed, but no granola bars, etc. We didn’t understand why, but brought all that back to the car as we were entering. Talk about culture shock as we walked through the shops outside the park entrance with monkeys jumping from one building to another and locals selling souvenirs and services!

We spent the whole morning hiking all the trails of Manuel Antonio National Park, viewing wildlife, trekking up stairs to amazing viewpoints, and getting ready to relax on the beach. As the morning progressed, the trails got hotter and hotter! The kids had decided that our Costa Rica vacation was going to be different than our typical Hoffpack adventure, and that we would be doing what normal people did on vacation – relax. All this hiking was not part of their plan, but they managed to come around to our way of thinking, mostly.

The wildlife was incredible, and as we got further out on the trails, the crowds slimmed down. We saw frogs, crabs, lizards, deer, birds, sloths, and more.

One of the beaches we checked out had the scariest lizards! The lizard above actually bit a guy on the leg while he was eating his sandwich. Apparently, he was quite jealous! Some of them definitely have an attitude problem, and we thought of them more like small alligators than the lizards we are used to in the US.

As we got closer to the beaches with all the tourists, we began seeing tons of monkeys! They put on quite a show for us, and as we continued to watch them, we saw them going through tourists bags to retrieve any unattended food. Now we understood the no snack rule.

Some seemed curious, while others had quite the anger issues.

As we played in the water, a pack of raccoons went through my camera bag and began tossing everything across the beach even though we had already eaten all our food. Thankfully, we caught them before they ruined anything!

The water here was so warm, it was almost like swimming in a bath, definitely not the Pacific we are used to up in North America.

We could never tire of watching the monkeys, but with little water left, and too much time in the sun, we decided it was time to head back to Costa Verde.

The hike out was definitely hot. In the US national parks, we are used to driving in. Here, everyone parks outside the park in private parking lots and hikes in to see the trails and beaches. There was no running water inside Manuel Antonio National Park. We couldn’t wait to get back to the bungalow for a little R&R.

Back at the hotel, we picked the pool with the most shade to spend the rest of the afternoon. On our way there, we saw the monkeys tearing through the trees once again. While we were swimming, one of the monkeys decided to come over to the pool and hit Laney on the head. You would think should we be scared (I certainly was), but this girl felt like she won the lottery that the monkey picked her to hit on the head!

While we swam, the monkeys continued to terrorize the area, and we even heard screams from the balconies above. I’d hate to know what they did to those people!

Back at the bungalow, we enjoyed a delicious barbeque, and what Laney thought was a watermelon seed ended up being a lost tooth. She was so excited to get Costa Rican money from the tooth fairy! The fruit down in Central America was absolutely delicious and we even tried a few new ones.

We spent the next couple hours watching the sun set over one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and couldn’t have felt luckier.

The next morning, we evaluated options. There are so many wonderful tour opportunities in this area, including horseback riding to waterfalls, kayaking through a mangrove forest, dolphin cruises, and more. Having done several tours in the Arenal area, we opted to spend our last full day in Manuel Antonio exploring the town, shopping for souvenirs, and spending our last afternoon and evening on the amazing beach. After checking out several area resorts, we decided we were quite pleased with our decision to stay at Costa Verde. We spent the last of our Costa Rican currency on souvenirs.

One of the families we met recommended a restaurant right off the beach for our last dinner in Manuel Antonio. We were quite pleased with the options, and what beats $10 meals of fresh ocean fish?! This was one smart lizard who decided to position himself on the roof below, waiting for hand outs.

From here, we had seen a great little hotel and outdoor restaurant right on the beach that was offering free local music. We ordered after dinner slushies here, and watched the monkeys in action once again. This time, one of them tried to throw coconuts at us from above! They can be such naughty little creatures!

On the beach, the boys went for a run (the only time they could really run with the super hot daytime temps) while the rest of us played in the water and watched the sun set in awe.

I can’t say we have seen a prettier sunset ever, and the surroundings made it that much more amazing.

The next morning, we explored one of the abandoned planes on the property, took our last swim, and said our goodbyes to the Pacific and our little bungalow. We would come back to Costa Verde in a heartbeat!

On the way back to San Jose, we stopped for a chocolate tour, and enjoyed a very thorough presentation of how chocolate is made. We learned to appreciate the process of getting just one cacao plant from mosquitoes pollinating flowers. We were the only ones on the Alajuela Chocolate Tour, so Ethan was able to crack open the cacao plant, and start the process of taste testing the precious insides. We were led through the whole process of drying out the seeds, separating and crushing the insides, and how chocolate and white chocolate came to be. The end result was the most delicious chocolate we have ever tasted. Little did we know what a small fraction of real chocolate is in a Hershey’s bar and the like.

Our last night was spent at the Terrazas de Golf Hotel. We returned our rental car, relaxed in the luxurious suite, and were able to use the local country club for a swim, workout, and dinner.

Terrazas de Gold shuttled us back to the airport, and we had the best time sampling chocolate at the airport. We checked 2 bags and carried on the rest. We ran into Julius Peppers in the airport and had great flights with Avianca into Guatemala and then back to Chicago. We loved the built in tvs/video games to pass the time.

This was such a great trip, and we can’t recommend it enough! We will definitely return!

Crazy about Costa Rica Part 1 – Arenal

For years, we have wanted to visit Costa Rica.  In November 2018, we started looking at flights for spring break 2019, and discovered that airfare to San Jose, Costa Rica was far cheaper than flying anywhere in the US.  It was literally half the price it would have been to fly to Florida during that week.  We have all had passports from a trip into Canada, so this was a no brainer for us!  A quick search of car rentals and lodging showed that rates were not too expensive, so we booked the last 7 tickets at that price.  The planning for an international trip for our family of 7 seemed overwhelming at first, but with all the blogs, trip advisor, and friends who have been there, we had a plan in no time.  Ultimately, we decided to spend our time in two locations, Arenal and Manuel Antonio. 

We flew Avianca, which is an airline based out of Central America.  In January, our 1am Sunday morning flight was cancelled and switched to 1am Saturday, which totally freaked us out at first.  Luckily, flying early Saturday ended up being even better, as it would allow a 10th day in Costa Rica, so we rearranged our plans a bit, and everything worked out wonderfully.  We arrived in San Jose at 8am Saturday after a stop and plane change in Gautemala City, tired but excited to have a full day to explore Costa Rica. 

Our initial search for car rentals showed rates were relatively low, but as we did more research, we read that many car rental companies did not actually have the car you reserved, were in poor shape, charged you for lots of extras and fees not disclosed, or for issues with the car after leaving the country. With 7 of us, a large suv was the only option we had, so we opted to pay the extra for the highly rated Vamos Rent A Car. We had no issues whatsoever. Additionally, we paid $5 extra per day for a GPS, which was crucial to finding our way around Costa Rica.


Arenal Volcano created a thermal area near La Fortuna, which sounded like heaven to our family of hot spring lovers.  We aren’t afraid to cheat the hotel system here in the US, but didn’t want to get in trouble in another country, so I spent some time calling around to see who could accommodate our large family.  Many of the resorts in the area said we would need two rooms, which was not a good option for us, not to mention expensive.  Fortunately, one of our top choices, Arenal Springs Resort, said that squeezing us all into one room was not a problem for them if it wasn’t a problem for us.  We have squeezed in much smaller spaces, so it certainly didn’t bother us!  They even added an extra bed to the room, which was already equipped with two queen beds.   Upon arrival, we couldn’t have been happier with this amazing resort.  We were greeted with welcome drinks, a golf cart ride, and tour of our room.  One of the best parts of th room was the amazing bathroom. When it rained, water would run down the rocks along the shower wall. Our windows looked out over the beautiful Arenal Volcano.

The hot pools were absolute heaven! The kids did spend some time in the two cold pools, but the hot springs were the most amazing part.

Our next stop was Tabacon Hot Springs just down the road. Because of the volcanic thermal area, there are hot springs resorts everywhere! We had researched that Tabacon was the most famous hot spring in Costa Rica, and the pictures convinced us to splurge on a half day pass with lunch included. It did not disappoint!

We walked around like kids for hours! There were trails and different natural pools to explore everywhere! Underwater cameras were a huge hit here. We hung out under waterfalls, checked out underwater creatures and enjoyed a morning of pure relaxation!

They even had a waterslide into the main hot spring pool, which the kids LOVED.

The plants and attention to detail here was incredible, and someday, we will definitely be back.

The lunch buffet was like no other, including steak, pasta, fish, fresh fruits and salads, soups, and more. Of course the Hoffs favorite part was the incredible dessert!

Arenal Volcano looms overhead almost anywhere you go in the area. We decided to take a drive to check out some different views along Lake Arenal and ran into some monkeys on the way.

Perhaps the kids favorite part of the day was running into these curious coatis. When cars pulled over, they raced over to say hello.

Back at Arenal Springs, we enjoyed the rest of the day soaking in our home springs. The night was filled with live local music and exploring all the incredible little spots our own resort offered. We enjoyed volcanoes filled with candy, morning yoga, evening workouts, relaxing in the hammocks, and the best breakfast buffet we had ever had!

The next morning, we woke up to typical rainforest downpours, and packed up our rain gear for a hike in Mistico Hanging Bridges Park.

The trees were huge, and the trails well maintained, but the hanging bridges were just incredible. The girls were quite frightened by them, but the rest of us were awestruck of the amazing views above the rainforest.

On the way back, we stopped at The Springs Resort to check it out, and were once again floored by the semis going over the small one lane bridges.

The girls had opted to wear their sloth shirts on this day, and when we came across our first sloths, mom and baby, they could not have been more excited!! In fact, all of us were! What an amazing sight!

We could have stayed there watching the sloths all day, but finally succumbed to hunger and headed into Fortuna for some food. We found a cheap local grill with the freshest food, and everyone was in heaven.

The following day, we decided to check out the hot river next to Tabacon, totally free, and all to ourselves. It always pays to get up early to explore!

We followed it up with one of our favorite Costa Rican experiences, zip lining. We chose to zipline with Arenal Mundo Aventura, one of the most highly rated in the area. They could not have been better! We had 12 different zips, some of them over area waterfalls and one of them was 1/2 mile long! A canopy tour is an absolute must in Costa Rica!

In addition to zip lining, we were able to enjoy their frogs and butterfly garden.

On the way out, we were able to see art work created by the Maleku tribe, which Braden chose to purchase as his souvenir, along with a stop for more nachos from our favorite little grill.

We literally soaked up every last moment we had at Arenal Springs Resort. We couldn’t have been happier with our chose to stay here!

Arenal Mundo Aventura had their own private entrance to La Fortuna Falls, and we couldn’t have been more thrilled! What would have cost us $15 a person was free upon our return the next day! Our original plan was to take the tractor up and hike a short trail down to the waterfall, but after waiting for awhile, we decided to make the trek ourselves. The water was so refreshing!

On the way out, we stopped by a local hangout to try the rope swing. We could have spent several more days here in Arenal exploring even more! We were so sad to leave Arenal, but the coast was calling, so we headed back to the resort to check out and head 4 hours away to the Pacific Coast. Stay tuned.

Braving Bear Lake to Grand Lake

The infamous Bear Lake to Grand Lake hike has been on our list for years, but we never had the logistics in order to do it. This time, we had the 3 cars and interested parties on board to take on the hike across Rocky Mountain National Park with the Beintums and John, from near Estes Park to Grand Lake. Bear Lake is a really popular area to hike, and many people hike the 4.5 miles up to Flattop Mountain on the Continental Divide, and then back down, but whenever we have a way to do a one-way hike, we are all in. This would not be easy, as crossing this trail to the North Inlet Trail would be over 18 miles.

We left Snow Mountain early to drive to the top of Trail Ridge Road and across to the Bear Lake shuttle area. On the bus to Bear Lake, Kristin realized she left her phone in the outhouse and had to go back.

The rest of us hung at the trailhead while Kristin hitched a ride back for her phone. While it was a later start than we had hoped, we were on the trail in no time.

The first 4.5 miles was a quick ascent, but the kids flew right up the mountains.

Before we knew it, we were above treeline. Up top, we ran into mule deer, marmots, wildflowers, and snow.

We took a quick stop on top for lunch, and the kids were ready to go. The adults were definitely in worse shape than the adults, but we followed their lead.

Kristin and I had to race down to keep pace with the super six, and Chuck kept the girls out front.

After all the effort to go get Kristin’s phone, it ended up cracking on the way down anyway after a short fall. Her phone was just not meant to make it through the day!

Further down, we all regrouped at a bridge after crossing paths with a ranger taking care of a girl who had ended up with severe altitude sickness. They attempted to revive her, land a helicopter, etc, and ended up having to hike a rescue team in to take her out on a stretcher. She was on a youth group trip with total strangers, and we ran into her mom and dad back at the trailhead who were so worried about her! It is a reminder that the mountains are nothing to mess around with. We were quite fortunate to get our group up and over with few issues.

We made another quick stop at the falls on the way down while the guys attempted to get ahead. We caught them quickly with these amazing little hikers.

Our group walked right into downtown Grand Lake for ice cream while the guys drove John’s car up Trail Ridge Road to get the other two cars.

Kristin and I were amazed again with the energy of these kids on the beach while we waited for our ride.

Just as the sun set and dusk set in, the guys made it down with our rides back to the campground at Snow Mountain. Maybe an annual hike?! We shall see 😉

Social Time at Snow Mountain

For the first time ever, we met up with more friends than we ever have at SMR… with a grand total of 62! Also for the first time ever, we stayed for 3 weeks, so spreading out the visitors helped a bit, but we met most of them during our first week there. The first night, we were able to get together with the Marsiceks and Rogers, and it was so good to see them!

Only in Granby do they have a parade like this… and we were able to hang out with the Rogers for a bit, help them plant a new tree, and do a little neighborhood 4 wheeling.

The next day, we were able to connect with the Grahams on their boat. The kids loved hanging out with their pup, and learning how to wakeboard.

Of course, we had to play a few games before heading back to Snow Mountain to greet our next visitors.

We had been talking about Snow Mountain with the Cossas for years, and were so excited they were finally able to make it out. We had the most epic game of golf ever, along with hanging with the huskies, visiting the cave, and a hike to the waterfall before more friends arrived.

As more friends arrived, we took a hike up 9 Mile Mountain with the Lumings, Cossas, Rogers, and Beintums to put a few prayers in God’s mailbox.

The new addition at Snow Mountain is an amazing park complete with mini zip line, rock climbing wall, and more.

The Kiva was a great place to gather together in the evenings. By now, we had the Smiths and Maldonados, two cross country families, in addition to the Yuns, a family from Chuck’s school!

Some of our favorite Kiva activities include roller skating, basketball, human Hungry Hungry Hippos, and the loft full of games.

We played lots of mini golf too, and sometimes night golf after the Kiva closed for the day.

The summer tubing hill is a great place to gather with large groups, as each session fits 80 individuals.

Snow Mountain has always been laid back about bears visiting the dumpsters, but just a few years ago, the garbage cans in the campground were upgraded to the “bearproof” variety. Here’s what the bear thought of that this time around!

One of our favorite hikes is the Adam Falls/East Inlet Trail out to one of the most beautiful meadows.

One of the best parts of this hike is heading back to Grand Lake after for ice cream and beach time!

If we let them, the Hoffs might choose to spend the whole vacation in the craft shop working on ceramics. Here are some shots of what we worked on this year.

Weekly bingo in the craft shop is always fun too.

Ethan was set on making a shelter this year for one of his scout merit badges, and the kids convinced us they should sleep in it. Most of them made it out there all night! In the morning, we went out to invite them back into the camper when we heard thunder. Crazy kids!

One of the highlights of our trip is taking the sled dogs for a hike with our friend, chaplain, and musher Steve. I think it’s safe to say this was a highlight for everyone who joined us this time!

The Beintums were so excited about bringing the truck out this year just to have everyone jump in the back to head across camp, and boy did the kids have fun with that!

The older the kids get, the more fun we have playing games with them. The library is a great place for gathering together for a puzzle or game when a summer storm comes through.

Campground life was fun as always, and the big camper makes everyone feel right at home. The kids loved taking over the camper with their crew and favorite games, but we pulled them away to play in the trike park, gaga ball, and more.

I’m sure the kids will hate me for this someday, but we always have to take an annual trip down to the homestead to dress up in the old fashioned clothes 😉

When the Marsiceks came back up, to Rick’s amusement, he was able to pull out a tooth for each twin, Laney’s at the beginning of the summer, and Ellie’s at the end.

We made one more trip to the East Inlet Trail with the Kinsellas, and hiked up well past the meadow this time. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to head to the lake as we fought for daylight.

We love seeing Hawkquest at SMR, and this year was no exception. The kids love posing with the eagle.

We were able to check out a new ranch in Grand Lake, and the kids got such a kick out of the pigs and goats.

We also snuck down to the homestead again for lollygagging with llamas. The kids are getting better at keeping these sassy guys on the right path after a few years of walking them, although the biggest attraction were the sweet golden retrievers who came with to drop off the llamas.

We took an amazing sunset hike up Nine Mile Mountain, and found the berries in prime season, so we made sure to take a partial trek up daily to retrieve more berries each day.

Rock climbing continues to be one of our favorite activities, and we were able to climb outdoors and indoors with some afternoon storms one day.

The Kinsellas, Marsiceks, and us also made a trip up Snow Mountain, but stopped at Peak 3 to avoid all the loose rocks up top.

After most of our friends left, we were fortunate to run into the Silders, who had seen info on SMR on our blog and fell in love as soon as they arrived. They were able to snag our favorite campsite, and the campground hosts had the kids painting birdhouses, rocks, and all kinds of things before they left. It was so nice to meet them!

We all went to the Fraser Rodeo one night, which was a nice change of pace.

Ethan used part of his vacation souvenir money to rent a flat tire bike for a couple hours, and was in heaven on the new course.

After everyone left, we decided to try a new hike. Robert convinced us to head up to Meadow Creek Reservoir, head down to Monarch Lake, and jump in his boat in Lake Granby. His original intention was to boat us to his car, and then shuttle us back up to Meadow Creek. However, when we got down to Monarch, we invited him to hike back up to Meadow Creek, and we dropped him off with his friends in Fraser. What’s another 12 mile hike, right?! We bribed the kids with unlimited Wendy’s, which they were more than pleased with 😉

Because our summer stay was longer at Snow Mountain than back at home, we participated in the summer reading program in Grand County. The big kids received free day passes to Winter Park…. how cool is that?! So, the last day of our stay was spent on the alpine slides and more. The little ones stopped by to take a run too.

That evening, we loved spending time with Steve back at his house. The kids went on a bone hunt, finding an astonishing number of bones in his yard, and managed to get lots of cuddle time in with the dogs.

Last but not least, we were able to film a little mission moment with Gretchen about why we love Snow Mountain so much. I don’t care for myself on video, so I won’t share the link, but good luck finding it 😉 (travel dates 7/14-8/2/18)

A Short Stop at the Sand Dunes National Park

The last time we stopped at the Great Sand Dunes National Park was quick and amazing. We left the kids begging for more… the sun was shining, the sandy shallow creek was filled with people, buckets, critters, and more, and all we wanted to do was be there. However, we had been on our way to Santa Fe with no time to relax, so off we went.

We promised the kids we would be back, and this was our big opportunity. Due to our adjusted itinerary, we would now only have one night here, which ended up being fine. It’s amazing how different a place can feel with different circumstances. The creek had dried up with the drought, do there would be no playing in the water, and the wind was howling. We spent awhile in the visitor center earning junior ranger badges before heading off into the dunes.

The crew wasn’t exactly pleased about getting pelted by sand as we began climbing the dunes, but suddenly, we ran into the Smith family! What are the chances?! Well, we knew we would be meeting up with them in a couple days at Snow Mountain a couple hours from here, but we hadn’t realized our itineraries aligned prior. Suddenly, the kids were happy again, and the boys took off on a run with Devin through the dunes, while we caught up with the rest of the crew.

We ended up not taking the big hike we had planned, but the kids had more fun jumping off the dunes anyway. Who do you think won the big air contest?

By the time we left, the sun was setting, and the wind was picking up even more. Us adults had sunglasses to block the sand, but the poor kids had to cover their eyes just to walk across the dunes. Next time, we sure hope we don’t get that wind again!

We spent the night at the Sand Dunes Recreation Springs where we were able to enjoy the hot springs for a quick dip. A thunderstorm rolled in quickly, and we were able to get a refund on our hot springs visit thankfully! One more place to revisit for more time on another trip! (travel dates 7/13-7/14/18)

Comfortable in Crested Butte

On the way to the Sand Dunes, we made a quick stop at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, yet another amazing canyon national park in the southwest. We also planned to stop for a quick dinner in Gunnison or Crested Butte to meet up with old friend Ben, but after being invited to visit him at his home in Crested Butte, we changed up our plans to spend some quality time with Ben. We had already hiked a 14er in Silverton, so we decided to bypass our plans of spending a couple days in Buena Vista this time around to get the opportunity to spend some time with Ben.

Ben told us to pull in to his parking lot, take the trail, cross the suspension bridge, and then take the next trail to his house. How can you beat that?! It was everything he described when we got there… and more!

The boys enjoyed taking runs together, we were able to spread out and evaluate some camper issues, learn how to fly fish, and spend lots of time in the creek swimming, throwing rocks, tubing, and kayaking. A quick dinner turned into 2 nights of pure relaxation with Ben and his girlfriend Anna.

The night before we left, Ben took the kids out rock climbing/bouldering at Lost Canyon, which was absolutely amazing given he guides kids climbing all the time. Thank you Ben!

After getting all our relax time in, we were ready for the last stretch of our trip before settling in at Snow Mountain in a couple days. Thank you Ben and Anna for the hospitality! (travel dates 7/11-7/13/18)

Riding Around Ridgway

We had planned to stay at Ridgway State Park for 3 nights, and use it as a base camp for some time in Ouray and Telluride, but after the mudslide, we were limited to one night there. We were able to park our camper in the Ouray Hot Springs parking lot, which was a perfect setup for us since we could eat a hot lunch right out of the camper. The hot springs, water slide, and obstacle course were great, and we thought of it as a big reward for our tough hike the day before!

Later that evening, we pulled into our campsite at Ridgway. We have loved staying here in the past, especially the great kid activities they have at the visitor center. A few years ago, the kids favorite summertime activity was dissecting owl pellets at the visitor center… you just never know what is going to leave a permanent impression on these trips!

The next morning, we ditched our camper by the Ridgway visitor center and snuck off to Telluride for a few hours. It was too quick, but so nice to return to this magical place! We have a great shot from this rock several ago… please stop growing up kids!

One of our favorite activities in Telluride is taking the gondola up to Mountain Village. The kids love climbing on the boulder up top, checking out the nature center, and walking around the shops. Next time, we will definitely allow a full day here to spend more time in town and do the waterfall hike we have done in the past (this year, unfortunately and fortunately, it was pretty dried up, so we didn’t miss much this time)! (travel dates 7/10-7/11/18)

Stuck in Silverton!

Silverton is an amazing little town, and we couldn’t wait to stop there on our way from Mesa Verde to Ouray. The rain was finally coming down after severe drought, and as it flash flooded Havasu Canyon only a week after our departure, we encountered our own natural disaster here in Silverton. We were having a blast on what was supposed to be our “quick” stop in Silverton, shopping for souvenirs, eating fudge samples, running through the rain, and drewling over funnel cakes. Finally, we headed off down the Million Dollar Highway towards Ouray.

At some point, traffic stopped, but we didn’t think a thing about it because of the road construction signs. Suddenly, all the cars ahead of us started turning around, which we knew was trouble. Even though we were within only a few miles of Ouray, you would have to go hundreds of miles to get there any other way. A woman pulled down her window and told us there was a mudslide up ahead, and that the road was washed out. We waited, debating whether to set up camp along the highway, knowing it would be very difficult to turn our big rig around on the small two lane highway with steep dropoffs on either side. Finally, some emergency workers who had been fighting fires in Durango helped us turn around and we headed back to Silverton to rethink our plans. Since it would be hundreds of miles to get to Ouray the other way, we opted to spend more time in Silverton until we had a better idea of if the road would reopen. It’s strange to have the entire summer planned out, and then find no way to get to one of the places, potentially changing the path of the rest of our trip.

After speaking with some locals, we opted to camp down Mineral Road in the National Forest Service Campgrounds. There are several campgrounds down this road, and better yet, they are free! We are used to reserving sites 6 months in advance, so it was a welcome sight to pull in to Kendall Campground at dusk and find a site. The next morning, the boys went running and found more desirable campgrounds right on the river, so we hitched up and pulled the camper further down the road to Golden Horn Campground. The kids had a blast with the open space, exploring along the water. Sometimes, the best thing is a little change to the plan we have mapped out.

It was supposed to rain again, so we had decided not to try climbing a 14er, but as the morning progressed, there was not a cloud in the sky. After a visit in town talking to more locals in the adventure stores, we knew we had our window of opportunity. We raced back to the camper to grab hiking gear, and headed out of town to climb Handies Peak, our first family 14er. While we did not choose the shortest route (due to the tough four wheel road), we knew this was one of the easier 14ers to summit. That is not to say that it was easy. While this hike was “only 9 miles,” it was probably the hardest 9 mile hike we have taken. In addition, none of us had mentally prepared to do this on that day, so it was challenging (to say the least) to get everybody on board with the mission. This was one of those days that mindset became everything. We had to summit a 13er (which you will swear has to be the top), only to climb down 1500 feet only to climb back up… and beyond. Yikers!

Now, starting a 14er mid afternoon is usually not recommended, but what a treat it was under these circumstances! It was a beautiful afternoon, the trail was covered with wildflowers, and the kids were in peak shape after the Grand Canyon and Havasu. The trails were as steep as these pictures look, yet there was no time for breaks. We knew that in order for us to make it back down before dark, we needed to move quickly. These guys never cease to amaze me!

We have never had the privilege to witness a 14er sunset, but this may qualify as the most spectacular sunset we have seen.

The kids are definitely in better shape than me, and even after running that morning, Ethan carried my heavy pack so that I could keep up 😉 As we raced down, we ended up on a side trail to summit another 13er and had to back track to get down. This was a costly mistake, but this pic says it all! While it was dusk coming down, we made it back to the car just in time. What a day!

That evening, the road reopened, but we stayed down Mineral Road so we could drive the Million Dollar Highway (with million dollar views) the next morning. It’s truly amazing what these road crews can do in just a day to get these highways reopened! Mountains are nothing to mess around with. After making it through several restored mudslide areas, we were on our way to Ouray! (travel dates 7/8-7/10/18)

Moving Along At Mesa Verde

We had finally made it back to Colorado, and were so fortunate that the stars aligned once again, and the Davids would be meeting us at Mesa Verde after a business trip up to Durango. This time, we were excited we had reserved an electric site at Mesa Verde, but the site was so tight, it was the most difficult spot we have ever had to get into.

After setting up camp, we purchased tour tickets for the following day. We did Balcony House with our 7, and planned to meet up with the Davids at the visitor center for lunch, followed by a trip to Spruce Tree House and a tour of Cliff Palace.

It’s pretty amazing how close to the edge they decided to build, as hanging around for the hour tour gave me anxiety with 5 kids along! Thankfully, none of our kids have a fear of heights, and I trust them, but accidents happen all the time, so you can never be too careful! Balcony house had 40 rooms.

This tour requires visitors to descend a 100 foot stairway, climb a 32 foot ladder, crawl through a 12 foot, 18 inch tunnel, and then climb an additional 60 feet of ladders. The kids had a blast of course!

Before meeting up with the Davids, we took the car tour around the loop at the end of the road, and stood in amazement at the locations of some of these cliff dwellings. We couldn’t imagine choosing to position a home in these places!

After meeting the Davids, we took a short hike to see Spruce Tree House, which tourists are no longer allowed to enter.

Finally, we finished our sightseeing for the day by taking a tour of Cliff Palace, which has 150 rooms and 23 kivas, housing 100 people at one time.

The kids fit better through these crevasses than us, so it’s no wonder the natives were much smaller than modern day Americans.

Back at the campsite, we decided to take a little hike, and were pleasantly surprised by the amazing views.

Back at the campsite, down time is so important. Just to illustrate that the Hoffs don’t always get along, here’s a shot of Ethan and Ellie in punishment mode for a buddy hug. One of them looks happier to be hugging than the other, don’t you think?

Before leaving for our next adventure, the kids were excited to earn their next junior ranger badge. Throughout the summer, we have our kids working on bridge books, in addition to reading time in the car and junior ranger activities in the park. Travelling is such a great time to learn!

Mesa Verde, we will definitely be back! (travel dates 7/6-7/8/18)

A Nice Stop at Navajo National Monument

If you want to see some of our nation’s most amazing cliff dwellings, Navajo National Monument is a great place to do it. Our original plan was to backpack to Keet Seel here, one of the most well preserved cliff dwellings. The National Park Service allows for a certain number of permits to do this daily, and we were fortunate enough to have one, but we decided to cancel it after getting an additional night at Havasu. Because you have to hike in with all your water, we decided that the kids had earned a break after doing Havasu, so we didn’t want to push them so much by taking another backpacking trip.

We opted to spend the night in the amazing Sunset View Campground. Did I mention that it is free?! Amazingly, it was one of the nicest campgrounds we have stayed in! We pulled in well after dark, with plenty of available spots.

After a quick night of sleep, we signed in to the visitor center for the first guided tour of Betatakin (there are only 2 tours each day because it is very hot there, so we knew the first tour would be best). The tours to Betatakin are also free, and extra special because the native Navajos who share this land with the National Park Service give the tours. We learned so much about plants, nature, and their culture on this tour! It is a short 3 mile hike roundtrip. However, the trail goes down 700 feet to the bottom of the canyon floor, where Betatakin sits. Because they are trying to keep Betatakin well preserved, you are not able to walk into the dwelling, but the information on the tour was so very interesting.

Braden was amazed that they only used the area for a couple hundred years before leaving for unknown reasons. It was also interesting that they threw their bones in the area, which you can still find today, along with many pieces of pottery. Ethan found it fascinating that the plants could be used as medicine or tea, and that some plants if used in excess, could kill you. In this ancient society, they marked their territories using their tribal animal symbols.

At the end of the tour, the guide offered to let people go up at their own pace due to the difficulty and number of steps, and of course, the Hoff kids did not disappoint. They went racing up the steps, closed up the cliffside tour door, got sworn in as junior rangers, and got ready to head off to our next destination.

This was a great stop, and we will be sure to head back to backpack Keet Seel someday soon! (travel dates 7/5-7/6/18)

One More Time Through Williams

As we left Havasupai and the furthest point on our trip, we were ready to start heading east very slowly. It was the fourth of July, so we decided to spend our last night with Dave and Jess in the quaint town of Williams, the gateway to the Grand Canyon. We have taken the Grand Canyon Railway to the Grand Canyon from Williams, and the kids loved the music and train robbery on the way. This time, we decided to spend the night at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park and Hotel, which accommodated us well with our laundry and shower needs, as well as Dave and Jess with a good night of rest in the nice hotel before their plane trip home. We found a great restaurant for dinner before the 4th of July parade, as well as some zip lining through town. It is quite the town!

The fire danger was so high, there would be no fireworks anywhere nearby, which is often the norm on our travels, but the yummy restaurant, parade, and zip lining more than made u