ADK 2021: Sweet Sixteen on Upper St. Regis and Spitfire Lakes

When Steve and I first started to entertain the possibility that we might be able to pick up our fifteenth-anniversary touring kayaks while up in the Adirondacks over the summer, I started making a list of places to paddle if we actually managed to get the long dreamed-of boats. I stopped list-making almost immediately, realizing that if I got too invested in dreaming of paddling spots, it would prove an irresistible temptation to Fate and we might never get kayaks. But list or no list, one Adirondack paddling destination was stuck in my mind – Upper St. Regis and Spitfire Lakes. If we did have something to paddle, this was the top of my list.

You all know how it worked out – we left the Lake George Kayak Company with two gorgeous new boats lashed to the roof of our car and immediately started planning a week’s worth of paddling. I told Steve that Upper St. Regis and Spitfire were my top priority – billed as the perfect combination of pristine, unspoilt nature and classic Adirondack architecture. We agreed to save the two lakes (which are connected by an inlet) for a special morning’s paddle on our sixteenth anniversary.

I’d never been to the St. Regis lakes before, even though they’re less than an hour’s drive from Lake Placid. (But my cousin Jocelyn later told me that she and her husband, Jason, spent their honeymoon here after their pared down exchange of wedding vows in June 2020 – I can see why; this was a perfect place to unwind and enjoy being together.)

Ready to paddle!

There is only one public launch spot on Upper St. Regis, and none on Spitfire, so we had our route pretty much set. We launched in the secluded little bay reserved for public car-top boats, and paddled out onto the open lake.

The water was as clear as crystal. And Steve spotted a loon! Seriously – how perfectly Adirondack can you get?

While we would have loved to explore every nook and cranny of Upper St. Regis, our time was limited and we were determined to get to Spitfire, so we made straight for the little inlet connecting the two lakes.

Spitfire is famous for having some of the most beautiful examples of classic Adirondack Great Camps in the park. Almost as soon as we cleared the inlet connecting Spitfire to Upper St. Regis, we saw this stunning camp and made our way to the shoreline so we could appreciate the architecture from close up.

Can you imagine spending summers here? I was in heaven just looking at the place.

We bobbed around admiring for a few minutes, then continued on down the shoreline. Steve announced: I see a castle! A closer look revealed: yes, definitely a castle.

It was actually Camp Cobblestone, a famous Great Camp built in 1906 and recently lovingly restored.

Don’t look now, but some of the buildings had HOBBIT DOORS. Can you even?

Oh, and almost every boathouse had at least one classic wooden speedboat, most of which were proudly displaying American flags. I mean. It was like something out of a Kiel James Patrick catalog. I love classic Americana, so I was dying.

We could have stayed out on Spitfire for hours, and then spent hours more exploring Upper St. Regis. But again, work and reality beckoned, so we reluctantly headed back to the boat launch, bound for the car and then our laptops. But we had a post-work hike, followed by a dinner overlooking Mirror Lake, to look forward to – so anniversary celebrations were far from over.

And I really couldn’t think of a better way to kick off sixteen years of marriage to the very best paddling buddy.

Next week: an anniversary afternoon hike.

ADK 2021: Anniversary Eve Hike at Heart Lake

On the evening before our sixteenth wedding anniversary, we wrapped work a little early and decided we had time to squeeze in a short hike – no high peaks this time – before dinner. I suggested Heart Lake, which had been on my to-do list for awhile.

(Can’t believe I still haven’t climbed Mt. Jo. Next time, for sure.)

It was a perfect quick hike to squeeze in between work and dinner – just a couple of miles of relatively flat trail (this is the ‘dacks, there was some up and down – but very gentle – and some mud). We parked at the Loj and set off past the family campsites, making plans to stay there the next time we come up to the mountains. It’s such a good home base for the high peaks.

Adirondack perfection!

Found the old ski slope!

We ended the hike down on the sand, letting the water lap almost up to our hiking boots. It was beautiful and peaceful – the perfect way to ring in anniversary celebrations.

Next week: celebrating sixteen years of marriage with an extra special morning on the water.

ADK 2021: A Morning Paddle on Lake Flower

Continuing our tour of the Adirondack lakes around the Lake Placid region, on Thursday morning we drove the ‘yaks over to Lake Flower, near the town of Saranac Lake. I had the vague idea that we’d be able to launch our kayaks and paddle up the river into the town of Saranac Lake, but it turned out that wasn’t possible. No big deal – we were happy to be out paddling in the fresh air on a beautiful morning.

I forgot my hat – d’oh! At least I had my shades.

We’ve been to the Saranac Lake area before, but never actually got out on the water. It was a lovely, calm, clear lake – and we had it mostly to ourselves. Saw a couple of other paddlers, but it was very quiet overall.

Obviously we checked out the camps and boathouses – we always do – and discussed buying lakefront property ourselves. Someday!

We couldn’t stay out too long – the sun was climbing higher in the sky, and work beckoned. We made it as far as the inlet between Lake Flower and Oseetah Lake before reluctantly turning back toward the boat launch, the car, and reality.

Another great morning on the water, though! Any day paddling an Adirondack lake is a good day.

Next week: an early anniversary hike around a lake with a romantic name.

ADK 2021: Cobble Hill

Each evening in Lake Placid, after we wrapped up work/adventures for the day, Steve and I would wander out to dinner somewhere on Main Street and plan out the next day’s wandering. We’d compare work calendars and notes about fun ideas, and hash out a plan to tackle an adventure around conference calls. Because we were working, most of our adventures were bite-sized; that doesn’t mean they were lame. On Wednesday morning, with calendars clear of conference calls until 11:00, we woke to an early alarm and set out for Cobble Hill.

Cobble Hill rises 2,343 feet above downtown Lake Placid; it’s the local hike in a town full of local hikes. These days there isn’t even trailhead parking; you stride out of your hotel, walk up Main Street and partway around Mirror Lake, and you’re there. It’s a short-ish trail (just about 5 miles round trip counting the town portion) but with plenty of classic Adirondack granite and views.

There’s a pristine pond.

A decent amount of climbing – and you’re at the top, with a stellar view of a Lake Placid landmark – the ski jumps.

There’s Adirondack granite boulders to scramble over.

And lots of space for dorky summit selfies. What happened here? Steve looks creepy and I look terrified. I joked that he could be a serial killer.

Summit slayer, woman about to be murdered.

We were up and down this mountain before my West Coast colleagues had even woken up, and settled in for a day of lawyering – but feeling pretty smug about having climbed a mountain before the workday even started.

Next week: paddling another Adirondack lake!

ADK 2021: Paddling Lake Placid

When I sat down to plan a week’s worth of Adirondack paddling, Lake Placid was the top of the list of lakes to hit. How could it not be? Just a five minute drive – or less – from our hotel, it doesn’t get more convenient. Or more beautiful! I’d paddled Lake Placid before, with my dad – we dropped our kayaks in at the Lake Placid boat launch, paddled four miles to the back slope of Whiteface Mountain, and floated around drinking wine. (An epic day.) I was eager to show Steve the same paddling route – minus the wine, because this was a quick late-lunchtime escape, and we were headed back to “work” afterwards.

Steve grew up in the Adirondack region – just “outside the blue line,” as locals say, in Glens Falls. But he wasn’t an outdoorsy guy, and he didn’t paddle growing up. So this was his first foray onto Lake Placid.

Obviously he loved it.

I was excited to show him the gorgeous Adirondack camps and boathouses. We’d love to own lakefront property in Virginia someday (longterm financial goal alert!) and I think the boathouses inspired him. He especially liked the Japanese-style one; I preferred the more traditional Adirondack architecture – but they are clearly all stunning.

As we checked out the classic architecture, another Adirondack symbol popped up a few dozen yards away – a common loon! I can’t get enough of them. Sorry for the blurry picture – iPhone zoom.

As we paddled up toward the back slope of Whiteface, we passed by a group on a pontoon boat, who had obviously started their happy hour early. (No shade!) One of the men on the boat shouted to us, “You guys look so beautiful, paddling with the sun behind you!” Blushing, we laughed as his friends reprimanded him: “You can’t say stuff like that to strangers!” (“What!?” he protested. “It was a compliment!”) We laughed and assured him that we were flattered and not at all weirded out.

Approaching Whiteface – this might be the most serene, pristine bay in all of the Adirondacks. Change my mind.

We bobbed around for a few minutes, drinking water from our Nalgene bottles (not wine, sadly – next time, maybe) before reluctantly turning back toward the boat launch. We had another four miles of paddling ahead, so that was something to look forward to, at least.

(I love my paddle.)

Heading back to the boat launch, we passed our pontoon boat friends – and the same garrulous gentleman called to me “You have the smoothest paddle stroke!” I shouted back that I’d been paddling for twenty-five years and he replied “It shows!” As we cruised off, I heard him protesting to his friends, “What, I can’t compliment people’s paddling strokes either?!” Steve and I paddled off, laughing to each other that our new buddy reminded us of our dear friend Seth, who lives up in the Adirondacks and makes friends everywhere he goes. But really – in a place like this, how can you not be so full of joy and life that you want to befriend absolutely everyone?

Next week: a classic LP village hike.

ADK 2021: Hiking Phelps Mountain, Adirondack High Peak #5

As we planned our week of mostly-working-but-also-some-fun in the Adirondacks, Steve suggested that we bang out another high peak; I was skeptical that we’d be able to fit it in around work, but still willing to listen. As we looked over our list of “peaks to get to, soon,” Phelps stuck out to both of us; the hike up was relatively short, we could knock it out in a morning if we skipped Tabletop (the neighboring high peak, often paired with Phelps), and the views were supposed to be great. Looking over the weather for the week, Steve suggested that we go for it on Monday, which looked to be the best weather day. Having nothing urgently pressing until Monday afternoon, I agreed, and we set our alarms for zero dark thirty.

We arrived at the Loj with plenty of parking spaces still available – a good omen. After a few minutes of chatting with one of the local park stewards, we set off on the first – flat! – portion of the hike, through the woods to Marcy Dam.

I hiked along at a fast clip (about the same speed as a neighborhood walk, which is lightning for an Adirondack hike) and marveled at how easy it felt so far. Figuring it wouldn’t last, I made up my mind to enjoy the gently rolling groomed trails while I could.

The first (easy!) portion of the hike flew by, and before I knew it we were standing in the middle of a stunning vista at Marcy Dam. I couldn’t get enough of this view.

After Marcy Dam, the trail begins both to climb and to look more like an Adirondack trail. Saw that coming a mile away – no, I mean literally.

Stream crossing? Let’s do it.

A little more than a mile from the summit, the trail began to really climb – as we knew was coming. The intel on Phelps was that it’s a relatively moderate, gentle hike until you get to the last mile, and then it wallops you. Well, no stopping now.

Still all smiles, though!

The last mile was an Adirondack mile, to be sure – scrambling up creekbeds, grasping at tree branches, heaving over boulders, and gaining about a thousand feet of elevation in the final third of a mile. No pictures, because my mind was completely focused on the job. But eventually, we pushed over the final boulder and found ourselves on a windswept summit ledge.

High peak summit number 5, in the books!

And even more beautiful than I’d expected.

We kicked back and enjoyed the view for awhile.

And posed for summit selfies, because we’re nerds.

It was just so hard to even think about saying goodbye to this view.

We did stop to find the spot where the summit marker was once planted – no longer.

Eventually, reluctantly, we turned our backs on the summit and started the descent; work and conference calls beckoned.

We did stop at Marcy Dam so that Steve could try out his Grayl filter bottle (a very generous Christmas gift from his Mom). The water was delicious.

I wished we’d had time for Tabletop – not only to tick off another high peak, but because I didn’t want to leave the woods. But Steve was dealing with a hiking boot problem (his ankle boots were nowhere near as grippy as the sneaker-style boot of the same model, go figure) and he was sliding perilously across the Adirondack granite; he even broke a hiking pole. And we did each have several hours worth of work to do. So it was back to reality for us – but with the memory of a beautiful day in the woods and on another windswept peak. As we drove back to Lake Placid, we started planning our next peaks – for the next trip.

Next week: a perfectly Placid paddle.

ADK 2021: Kayaking Schroon Lake

As I’ve mentioned a few times, Steve and I didn’t plan a real vacation for summer 2021. I’m still getting my feet under me in a new job, and it didn’t seem like a good idea – plus I’m saving vacation time again for the first time since my days in the federal government. (Law firms don’t do “vacation time” – you just take your vacations when you can, if you can.) But my parents wanted a week with the kids, to ply them with soft serve ice cream and trips to the dollar store, so Steve and I were told to make ourselves scarce. We shrugged, booked a hotel room on Mirror Lake in the Village of Lake Placid, and drove north for a week of working in a different location and squeezing adventures in around business hours.

As we mapped out our week, I tossed out the idea of stopping somewhere on the way up to Lake Placid and getting our new kayaks wet. We could drive straight to LP and drop in there, I suggested, but we’d definitely be paddling there at least once over the course of the week and wouldn’t it be fun to pop off somewhere else and explore a different lake? Consulting a map, I noted that Schroon Lake was right on the way, with a boat launch conveniently just off the highway – and neither of us had ever paddled there before, so it’d be a new adventure. Steve was down.

We rolled into the Schroon Lake boat launch and tackled the intimidating task of getting 17-foot touring kayaks off our car for the first time; they’d been hanging out on the roof since we rolled out of Lake George, but it was time. It was a bit of a comedy of errors, and we were both drenched in sweat by the time we got them off the car and onto the grass – but we did it! (Insert strong-arm emoji here.) A once-over from the Schroon Lake boat steward, and we were on our way.

We started paddling tentatively, then picked up speed as we cruised past beaches, boathouses, and swimmers cannon-balling off floating docks. As I pulled up next to Steve, he looked at me, grinned, and suggested: “Should we do a blue water crossing?” Obviously.

We turned our bows away from shore and paddled to the opposite side of the bay, pausing to navigate speedboat and pontoon boat wakes and to surf a few small breakers along the way.

A very special island, indeed!

We were absolutely giddy to be out cruising the Adirondack waters in the touring kayaks we’d dreamed of for over a year. And something else occurred to me – “Do you realize,” I called to Steve, “that every time we leave the kids with my parents, it’s to go kayaking?” The San Juan Islands in 2019; cruising the Potomac in 2020; now we were planning a week of Adirondack lakes (and a big kayaking adventure in 2022, pandemic permitting).

Look, we just really love kayaking!

All in all – a successful first outing for the ‘yaks (the demo day didn’t count!) and the beginning of a gorgeous week of paddling and hiking in one of our favorite places in the world. What’s not to love? We had big plans for the kayaks, and big plans for our hiking boots too – stay tuned.

Next week: an epic Adirondack hiking day!

Hiking Thacher State Park, August 2021

Although we didn’t plan a “real” vacation for 2021 – I’m too new to my job, and saving vacation time for a big adventure this winter (hopefully it happens…) – Steve and I still looked forward to our trip to upstate New York for months. We headed up at the end of July for my cousin Jocelyn’s wedding, and planned to stick around for a few weeks, mostly working and letting the kiddos enjoy grandparent time, but also folding in adventures here and there. On the Sunday after the wedding, we found ourselves unexpectedly free (we’d planned to drive out to Old Forge, in the western Adirondacks, to try to get a kayak for Steve – but he serendipitously found exactly what he’d wanted in Lake George the day before). We thought we’d go up to the Sacandaga, the Adirondack lake where my parents, aunts and uncles all have camps – but the weather was looking iffy. So instead, we stuck closer to Albany and hiked one of our favorite spots: John Boyd Thacher State Park.

When we pulled up in the parking lot, fat raindrops were splashing down on our windshields. The hike we had in mind had some exposure and some slick spots, so we reluctantly decided we’d just check out the overlook and then go on home. But as we gazed out over the hills and valleys around Albany, the rain stopped and the cloud cover lifted, a little, just enough for us to decide to hike after all.

The whole family hit the trail together! Parents, kids, grandparents.

With all the rain that upstate New York has had this summer, my parents haven’t been able to get out for many adventures. The upshot is that Thacher State Park had waterfalls. Entire rivers were tumbling down over the limestone escarpments.

When I was a kid, my parents went off to Hawaii and left my brother and me with our grandparents. (They did this several times – sometimes just the two of them, sometimes with friends. I was always openly jealous.) Their pictures snapped from behind a waterfall captured my imagination when they came home. I wanted to see what the world looked like from behind a waterfall, too. Turns out I didn’t have to travel too far…

So cool! We’ve done this hike a few times now and never saw waterfalls. It opened up a completely different experience of a well-worn path.

We saw evidence of the wet summer everywhere – in the bright green lichens, moss, and tiny plants growing on the rocks, and in the small rivulets pouring over the limestone and trickling through the little caves dotted all along the trail. I knew my parents hadn’t especially enjoyed all the rain – but this new lease on the park sure was pretty.

The waterfalls were the star of the show, though. Oh! And we also counted twelve little orange newts along the trail. Sharp-eyed Nugget spotted most of them.

It wasn’t the longest hike ever, but it was a feast for the eyes and senses and a new view of an old favorite. How can you go wrong?

Next week: getting our new kayaks out for the first time! Stay tuned.

Pony-Watching on Assateague Island

Planning our weekend trip to Chincoteague, I spent an hour or so tooling around on TripAdvisor, looking for activities to do that would take us out of the campground. I knew that we would want to get in a good few hours at the Assateague Island National Seashore beach, and beyond that I wasn’t really sure but I was hoping to see the famous wild ponies. (Which are actually ponies – not horses.) So Saltwater Pony Tours, with it’s 750+ rave reviews on TripAdvisor, caught my attention right away.

Saltwater Pony Tours is just one of several pony-viewing boat tour companies operating out of Chincoteague, but was by far the highest rated. As a concession to COVID-19, they’ve implemented a new policy – at least temporarily – of one family/group (plus the guide) per boat, meaning you automatically get a private tour for your family. Between that policy, the reasonable price, and the piles of outstanding reviews, I was sold. Luckily, there were several available time slots, and I booked us in for a two hour tour starting at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday. We rolled into Chincoteague around lunchtime, grabbed some snacks at a waterfront restaurant, got the kids ice cream, and then headed to the marina. Our guide/captain, Casey, met us at the dock and escorted us onto the boat – a large, beautiful pontoon that we had all to ourselves. Steaming out of the harbor, Casey oriented us to the geography of the islands and pointed out wildlife, including pelicans diving for their happy hour.

Our attitude whenever we are out for a wildlife-viewing adventure is: nature gonna nature. We know wildlife is wild (that’s the appeal, right?) and that there’s no guarantee of any sightings. Worst case scenario, we spend two hours on a boat on a beautiful day. Can’t really beat that, even if we don’t see any animals.

As luck would have it, though, within a few minutes of pushing off the dock, Captain Casey got a radio call – ponies! One of his colleagues from the tour company was reporting that there was a group congregating in an area called Black Duck Gut, which is pretty much inaccessible (thanks to tides, wind, and shifting sands) unless you really know what you’re doing. Fortunately for us, we seemed to have the best and most skillful navigator in the islands driving our boat.

Casey expertly steered us through the channels and within minutes – there they were, the famous wild ponies of Chincoteague (actually Assateague)!

My small horse fangirl was entranced. She has read Misty of Chincoteague (I haven’t – must correct that) and she and Captain Casey spent the ride over discussing the book (he’s a teacher in his regular, non-summer life) – at least until we got to the ponies, and then she just stared starry-eyed.

In fairness, though, we were all doing that.

Thanks to Casey’s expert navigation, we were able to get up close to the ponies – within 50 yards! – and bob around watching them for over an hour from the boat. (He explained that they consider the boats as just “part of nature” but if they were ever approached on foot, it would be a different story.) Between the excellent viewing spot and my sick zoom lens, I was in wildlife photography heaven.

The highlight was seeing all the adorable foals – especially this wee one, who Casey told us was only four or five days old!

We actually got to see it nursing! Totally unforgettable.

After the baby had been nursing for awhile, Casey predicted: “He’s gonna lay down in a milk coma soon.” Sure enough…

Down he flopped.

Casey explained that ponies and horses only lay down when they are feeling really comfortable and safe. Our pontoon (and one other that made it into the channel) clearly was not bothering them at all.

The new baby was adorable, but he or she wasn’t the only foal in the group. This one was born in the spring sometime.

And still enough of a baby to need Mama’s milk.

We watched the ponies graze on the short salt grass for over an hour, completely transfixed, and then reluctantly turned away and headed back to civilization.

On the way back to the dock, Casey showed us the spot where the famous annual pony swim takes place, and regaled us with an insider’s view of the action. Then – because over an hour of close-up pony watching in Black Duck Gut wasn’t enough and we had more treats in store – we spotted another band of ponies on the other side of the island.

Casey explained that the ponies tend to congregate in bands of mostly females with one dominant male. The group we had been watching on the other side of the island was led by a male named Riptide, who had been king of the islands for years. This band was following a much younger – three years old – male named Norm. Riptide would never let Norm near his ladies, so Norm has to make his own destiny.

Seems like Norm is doing just fine.

It was an absolutely magical two hours, and we couldn’t have asked for a better experience! Casey’s knowledge of the waters around the islands and the ponies themselves made for the perfect pony-viewing tour. We felt incredibly lucky to have gotten to see these beautiful creatures wild and free in their natural habitat.

After the pony tour, we were all walking on air – but Assateague wasn’t done with us yet! The next day, driving back to camp from the beach, we got lucky enough to see ponies for a third time – grazing on salt grass right by the side of the main road! Steve pulled over and I darted out with my big camera.

Hey, look, it’s our old buddy Riptide! (He’s the brown pony with the blond mane – an unusual combination, making him easy to spot.) Riptide and his ladies were accompanied by a gaggle of cattle egrets.

Totally amazing to see this majesty right off the side of the road!

Throughout the pony tour, I kept using the word “magical” – which is what this experience was. Seeing the famous ponies up close was definitely one of the wildlife-viewing highlights of my life. We were very conscious of how lucky we were to be sharing space with them. I hope we return to Chincoteague and Assateague and see the ponies again someday (soon), and I hope that this experience stays with Peanut and Nugget forever.

Have you ever been to Assateague?

Camping on Chincoteague

After more than a year of going basically nowhere, we were all stir-crazy and itching to get out of the house and do basically anything other than hike our local trails (as nice as they are). But I don’t really have the ability to take a weeklong vacation right now – having just started a new job – and there was almost nothing available in the way of beach houses anyway. After spending several hours scrolling Airbnb and VRBO unsuccessfully, I hit on the idea of a camping trip. Even the campgrounds were mostly booked, but I found a KOA with availability on Chincoteague Island, about three-and-a-half hours from D.C., and leapt on it. So in the late morning last Saturday, we shoved off for Chincoteague.

We rolled into Chincoteague around lunchtime and after a quick snack at a waterfront restaurant (crab legs for me – I had to share every other bite with Nugget) we hopped aboard a boat for a tour with Saltwater Pony Tours. It was a magical experience that deserves its own blog post (so that will be next Friday) but – spoiler alert above, we saw the famous ponies and spent more than an hour observing them up close. Totally incredible.

Still reeling from the incredible pony-watching experience, we made our way to the campground and staked out a spot for our tent. I’d booked us one of the “primitive” tent sites, which were already crowded by the time we got there – but we found a little nook near the marsh where no one else had set up. Steve suggested that people might have avoided it on the theory that it would be buggy but after a few layers of bug spray, the mosquitos weren’t too bothersome. And I pointed out that there was standing water all over the campground – there must have been a storm – so if they were avoiding this spot because of fear of bugs, the joke was on them because our site was the driest one I saw all weekend, and it had an amazing view.

The Assateague Island Light, right across the marshy creek!

Dinner the first night was shrimp boil foil packets, which Peanut helped me assemble – followed by s’mores, obviously. The Hershey bars I packed for the purpose had inexplicably melted and turned into liquid goo (how? nothing else melted?) but I rigged up a squirting system and it ended up being kind of amazing. Not that I will be melting all s’mores chocolate going forward.

Home sweet home – from left to right, Peanut’s sleeping bag, Steve’s, mine, Nugget’s. Notes on the sleeping arrangements: Nugget was obviously delighted to have Mommy next to him all night; Peanut brought five stuffed animals; Steve’s air mattress got punctured by a tack that stowed away in Peanut’s backpack (“YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO HAVE TACKS!” … “I DIDN’T KNOW, IT WAS STUCK TO MY BOXCAR CHILDREN BOOK!”).

On Sunday morning, after a mostly decent night’s sleep, considering the arrangements, we drank our coffee with a view of the Assateague Light – not too shabby. And then headed out for the one must-do activity of the day…

The beach! We were a ten minute drive from the Assateague Island National Seashore beach. (I had actually wanted to camp on Assateague, but turned my sights to Chincoteague when Assateague was – unsurprisingly – booked solid for the Fourth of July.) But it was a convenient drive and we sailed through the check-in thanks to our America the Beautiful pass (seriously, best purchase).

We were on the sand by 9:00 a.m., which was perfect timing. The beach wasn’t too crowded yet, we got a money parking spot, and it was fairly cool with a refreshing morning breeze. We didn’t plan to get there that early, but after drinking our coffee and having breakfast at the campsite, we figured we might as well go to the beach early since there was nothing else to do – it ended up being totally the right call. (By the time we left at around 1:30, the cars were parked along the road a mile back, and there was a massive line to get into the park.)

It was a gorgeous beach! I grew up going to Cape Hatteras every summer, so I have a deep affection for the National Seashore system as it is, and Assateague was every bit as beautiful as Hatteras.

Assateague National Seashore was a perfect place to spend the Fourth of July – I always want to be around water, but we usually do a lake day. The beach was a fun way to mix it up, and we all had a fabulous time. I showed the kids how to build drip castles (“That looks like poop!” ~Nugget), Steve took a nap in the beach chair, and we spent hours wading in the surf and jumping over the waves.


After we had thoroughly doused ourselves in ocean water, we meandered to a trail with a “pony overlook.” I did see the ponies again, but only through the viewfinder of my gigantic zoom lens, and I couldn’t get a good picture – plus there were armies of mosquitos that were intent on eating us alive, bug spray be damned. (They were near the road heading out of the park, so I got some good pictures on the way out – stay tuned next week.) So we didn’t stay long and headed for the opposite of the National Seashore…

Maui Jack’s Waterpark. Had to happen! It was right at the entrance to the KOA campground, so naturally the kids noticed it immediately. Nugget had a fabulous time – he was too short for the really big waterslides, but he bounced back from that disappointment and did the lazy river three times, got dumped on by the gigantic bucket in the little ones’ area, and hit the smaller waterslides dozens of times. Peanut spent the entire time pouting on a lounge chair; we couldn’t figure out what her problem was. Can’t win ’em all.

Fourth of July dinner at the campsite – campfire nachos for the whole family (delicious, but would have been better if a third of the jar of salsa hadn’t ended up in Nugget’s tummy before I got the chance to put it in the nachos) and hot dogs for the kids, cooked over the fire with their telescoping toasting forks that I bought because I’m a soft touch. And then we crashed pretty much as soon as the sun set, and continued our grand family tradition of somehow missing the fireworks.

On Monday morning, we planned to hike before heading out of town. The idea was to hit the Lighthouse Trail and then the Wildlife Loop on Assateague. Lighthouse Trail first – it was a short hop through the woods to the Assateague Island Light.

The woods were swarming with mosquitos – you could tell they were bad because they were even biting me (and my bitter blood is usually disgusting to insects, it’s a gift). So we didn’t stay long – just long enough for me to snap a couple of pictures, declare “Another lighthouse for Mommy’s collection!” and flee back to the car. No one wanted to do the Wildlife Loop after being eaten alive on the Lighthouse Trail, so we packed it in and headed to the Chincoteague Diner for breakfast, and then home to warm showers.

It was the best kind of weekend, though! Entirely outdoors, mostly unplugged, with some beach and some wildlife and some hiking, and we all ended up exhausted and filthy at the end. Can’t complain about any of that!

How was your Fourth of July?