I arose early on my first full day in Bhutan to the sounds of stray dogs barking outside my window and the morning light shining on the mountains above the Trashi Chho Dzong (fortress). Today was the first day of hiking on the 500-year-old newly reopened Trans Bhutan Trail and I could hardly wait.
As we made our descent into the emerald-green Paro Valley I couldn’t stop myself from thinking I was in a scene from the Avatar. It almost didn’t look real. Just twenty minutes before, we had passed Mount Everest on the lefthand side window of the plane and I was instantly spellbound. After over ten years of dreaming, I was finally almost there.
The landing at Paro airport, the only international airport in Bhutan, is one of the most difficult and dangerous in the world. In fact, only 15 pilots are authorized to land there because it requires a manual, visual landing. Trying to navigate a jet airplane through a country that is known as the most mountainous country in the world requires guts. Especially since Bhutan’s average elevation is 10,760 feet and mountains cover 98.8% of its total area. The only other place I had felt so fearful of landing was over the Himalayas of Nepal. And Nepal is what brought me to Bhutan.
As we descended, I couldn’t help but feel a little giddy by the magical surroundings outside the window. The valley was lush, verdant, and blanketed in trees. Lovely calming music that felt like being more at a spa than on an airplane was gently playing through the Druk Air’s loudspeakers. If this was the world’s last Shangri-La, I was certainly very excited to see it.
Want to explore Crater Lake on foot and discover the top two hikes that cannot be missed? Look no further, I’ve got it covered. Check out my recommendations on the best day hikes in Crater Lake National Park and a few other stops along the way. You won’t be disappointed!.
We rose to a dusting of snow sprinkled around our tiny wood cabin at the Union Creek Resort. I opened the curtains to discover a glorious fall morning before us. After a quick breakfast, we packed up the car and headed east for our forty-minute drive to Crater National Park. There are not many places to stay inside or near the park especially during the off-season when the campgrounds and some seasonal lodging are closed. It was mid-October, a perfect time of the year to spend a fantastic day hiking the trails at Crater Lake National Park.
As we drove east along Highway 62, the forest trees glistened with morning light, and the drying pavement created a magical mist floating up into the air. Beams of sunshine trickled through the thick old-growth forest, increasing my anticipation of arriving at the park. Crater Lake National Park had been on my bucket list for years and I finally would get to explore it my favorite way, on foot.
On our second full day in Mount Hood, we chose to do a little bit longer of a hike which would afford us spectacular views of Mount Hood and four of the mightly neighboring peaks. The hike which is called “Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain via Mirror Lake” is a nine-mile out and back trail that starts off at the achingly stunning Mirror Lake and ends with a breathtaking vista of Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson in Oregon and Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, and Mount St. Helens in Washington State. It is the perfect hike to do in fall when the light is ephemeral with the changing colors of the leaves reflecting upon perfectly named Mirror Lake.
We set off for the trailhead around ten o’clock so we could time the hike with a picnic lunch on top. The weather was not nearly as perfect as it was on our hike to Bald Mountain from Lolo Pass the day before with its serendipitous deep blue skies and golden sunshine, yet it was still lovely in its own right despite the overcast skies.
As we entered the forest, it felt like out of a fairytale it was so magical. The tall trees gracefully pillared high above our heads, occasionally letting rays of light caste a mystical haze over the dirt path below our feet. Since it was a Monday there were not many fellow hikers on the trail and it was rather serene.
Earlier this month, my husband and I had the rare opportunity to go on a weeklong trip alone without the kids. It was the first time in 15 years that we had traveled without them and for our destination we picked Oregon, a place neither of us had ever been. We wanted to spend our week outside hiking and after researching Oregon, it seemed like the place to go.
I instantly noticed that Oregon was special as we landed in Portland in the heart of the Colombia Gorge. I was stunned by the vast size of the brilliant blue Columbia River and surprised by the conical peaks of so many snow-capped mountains. After a week in Oregon, I have to confess that I was utterly amazed by its incredibly greenery and raw untouched beauty. So many forests and so many places to camp and hike.
Portlanders are blessed to have the mountains and the ocean both only an hour’s drive away from the city. For our week in Oregon, we wanted to get a taste of the diversity of this glorious state so planned our route to first stop at the series of stunning waterfalls along the Colombia Gorge (only 30 minute drive from Portland), then spend two days in Mount Hood, followed by two days in Crater Lake and the remaining two days in Cannon Beach on the ocean.
The Mount Hood National Forest is located in northern Oregon’s Cascade range south of Portland. Home to approximately 1,000 miles of hiking trails, the Mount Hood National Forest extends south from the Columbia River Gorge across more than sixty miles of forested mountains, lakes and streams encompassing roughly 1,067,043 acres. The centerpiece of Mount Hood National Forest is the mighty dormant stratovolcano, Mount Hood which reaches 11,249 feet (3,429 m) and is capped with glaciers, alpine lakes and over 4,500 acres of skiable terrain. I was surprised to learn that Mount Hood has five ski areas and depending on snow conditions, you can ski almost year round at Timberline. Given its short distance from Portland (roughly 50 miles (80 km), Mount Hood is a popular playground for Portlanders and tourists alike.
At Mount Hood, we picked the tiny town of Rhododendron to base our stay and found a delightful truly magical place on Airbnb called the “Little House on the Mountain”, a beautiful custom built, one-of-kind cabin. The cabin is nestled up on a forested hill above a main cabin, sitting on 4 acres of private wooded land, bordering Mount Hood National Forest Land. When you look out the large windows, all you see are trees! It was perfect for the two of us!
Sometimes in life, the best comes last. Serendipitously, this proved true with our very last hike on our intergenerational do it ourselves Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB). After ten glorious days of hiking the TMB – from the stunning Val Ferret and Val Vény in Courmayeur to our hike above the gorgeous Champex-Lac in Switzerland and finally to a variety of different hikes in Chamonix- our hike to Lac Blanc proved to be the one hike that had us wondering when on earth we’d ever be able to come back to this magical place. The hike to Lac Blanc reminded me exactly why I hike in the first place: To feel utterly, insanely alive. And, there is nowhere I feel more alive than outside. The pure, raw beauty of the Alps and the Tour de Mont Blanc itself can all be captured in this one hike. It is a must-do for anyone in Chamonix and anyone hiking the TMB.
We had heard about Lac Blanc from our hotel and had desperately wanted to hike there earlier but the gondola lift to La Flégère was closed. So instead, we filled our first two days with a hike to the top of Le Brévent that affords stunning panoramic views of Mont Blanc, and we did an incredible hike along the Grand Balcon on Mont Blanc to the Mer de Glace. While both hikes are exceptionally stunning for some reason I had to see Lac Blanc. I had this nagging, unexplainable urge to do this hike so I persisted. Our hotel manager told us we could reach Lac Blanc a different way – albeit a bit longer of a hike – if we drove past Argentière and parked at the Col des Montets located in the Réserve naturelle des Aiguilles-Rouges. It was rated a difficult hike but was doable in anywhere from 4-7 hours depending on level of fitness. I got my dad and son to agree and on our last day in Chamonix we set off for what would be the greatest hike of the entire trip.
We arrived at the trailhead shortly after ten. There were plenty of parking spots remaining which was of course a good sign that this beloved hike was not too busy yet. It was an absolutely perfect day for hiking with a few scattered powderpuff clouds, brilliant sun and glorious blue sky. We could not have asked for a better day for our last hike.
After our sensational ride up to the top of Aiguille du Midi, it was time to board the gondola and head back down to the Plan de l’Aiguille (2317 m/7,602 ft) for our afternoon hike. The day before we had hiked to the top of Le Brévent across the valley from Mont Blanc, we wanted to spend our second day hiking in Chamonix along the stunning panoramic Grand Balcon Nord on Mont Blanc. This high alpine trail can either start at the top of Montenvers (you can take a train ride up) or you can begin as we did at the Plan de l’Aiguille (the first gondola stop on the way up to the top of Aiguille du Midi. The 6.1 kilometer hike zigzags along the side of Mont Blanc affording stunning views of the surrounding Alps and even Mont Blanc if you begin from the Montenvers/Mer de Glace direction.
We boarded the gondola at Aiguille du Midi and were taken down in roughly ten minutes to a much more pleasant temperature. It was freezing up top at Aiguille du Midi as we were mostly covered in the clouds with a fierce wind blowing off the peak of Mont Blanc. I am glad we weren’t strapping on a pair of crampons and hiking up there!
Getting to the top of Aiguille du Midi to catch a glimpse of Mont Blanc was without a question a must do experience when we were hiking in Chamonix this past summer. Roughly 21 years ago, my own dad summited this mighty beast being one of the thousands who attempt to climb Mont Blanc every year. Given the three-generational trip, it seemed fitting to show my 14-year-old son the top of the peak his grandfather conquered and I was equally as curious to see it for myself.
After hiking to the top of Le Brévent across the valley from Mont Blanc, we decided to spend our second day hiking in Chamonix along the stunning panoramic Grand Balcon Nord on Mont Blanc. This high alpine trail can either start at the top of Montenvers (you can take a train ride up) or you can begin as we did at the Plan de l’Aiguille (the first gondola stop on the way up to the top of Aiguille du Midi. The 6.1 kilometer hike zigzags along the side of Mont Blanc affording stunning views of the surrounding Alps and even Mont Blanc if you begin from the Montenvers/Mer de Glace direction.
After we purchased our gondola tickets, we learned that it is most economical to purchase a multi-day gondola pass. You can purchase 1,2, 3 or 6 day passes on the Mont Blanc MultiPass which covers all 8 areas in the Mont Blanc Massif (even including the train ride up to Montenvers). It is a great deal and a must-have as you will certainly want to ride as many gondolas as possible to get all of the incredible views. Best of all, it is unlimited so you can hop on and off taking time off your hike or else just ride the gondola up to get some photos if the weather is nice. Despite our mistake in not purchasing the multi-day pass from the start, we did get our money’s worth over the next two days in Chamonix.
Our plan of attack for the day was to first ride the gondola all the way to the top of Aiguille du Midi (3842 m/12,605 ft) for magnificent high alpine views of Mont Blanc, and then to continue back down to the midway point at Plan de l’Aiguille (2317 m) where we would get off and begin our hike along the Grand Balcon Nord to Montenvers.
As we began our ascent, the sky was a robin’s egg blue with a few white fluffy clouds hovering about. The day seemed to be much better than the day before when we were hiking at Le Brévent in a thick layer of irritating fog. Since this was the prized view we were desperately waiting to see we hoped the fog wasn’t going to jeopardize our chance of seeing Mont Blanc up close.
On our first full day in Chamonix, we opted for a shorter hike as the weather was unfortunately overcast and foggy. Despite knowing that the views would not be perfect, we decided to take the gondola lift up to Planpraz and then follow the steep hike up to the top of Le Brévent, which affords stunning views of the glaciers surrounding Mont Blanc. If only the weather had cooperated, this would have been an absolutely stellar hike and I deeply regret not taking the cable car back up for some photos on a clear day before we left Chamonix. Regardless, if you have three days in Chamonix, visiting the top of Le Brévent is a must as it gives you an incredible appreciation and perspective of not only the entire Chamonix Valley but of the Tour de Mont Blanc itself. On top of Le Brévent, you will delight in panoramic 360-degree views of it all and it will truly blow you away, even in the clouds.
To reach the start of the hike, you have a few options. You can hike the entire thing which would take roughly five hours one way or you can ride the cable car to Planpraz (the station is located walking distance from town) up to 2000 m/6,562 feet, and then begin your hike up to Le Brévent at 2525 m/8284 feet. Once on top of Le Brévent, the options are endless as you connect up with the Tour de Mont Blanc and can hike from there toward Lac Blanc or Les Houches. For us, we simply went to admire the incredible panoramic view of Mont Blanc.
We purchased our tickets and learned after the fact that it is most economical to purchase a multi-day gondola pass. You can purchase 1,2, 3 or 6 day passes on the Mont Blanc MultiPass which covers all 8 areas in the Mont Blanc Massif. It is a great deal and a must-have as you will certainly want to visit the famous Mer de Glace and the Aiguille du Midi while you are in Chamonix. Best of all, it is unlimited so you can hop on and off taking time off your hike or else just ride the gondola up to get some photos if the weather is nice.
For our hike, we chose to do the route on the lefthand side of the map. Some hikers go behind Le Brévent to continue along the Tour de Month Blanc while others continue on towards La Flégère and Lac Blanc. Unfortunately, our timing was off as they were updating the Flégère gondola so we were not able to easily reach Lac Blanc from Chamonix. Instead, it was a full day of hiking (which ended up being the best hike of our entire trip).
It was perhaps a bit serendipitous that we chose to spend the last four days of our Tour de Mont Blanc in the glorious mountain town of Chamonix in France. For it was here, back in the summer of 1966 that my dad made that fateful call to my mother, resulting in their marriage a few weeks later in Switzerland. My dad had been backpacking through Europe with a fraternity brother and was only a month or so into the trip when he arrived in Chamonix, saw the stunning beauty of Mont Blanc and realized that he couldn’t be there without his favorite girl. My mother flew to Europe with all the money she had which wasn’t much, met my dad and they were married at the town hall in St. Gallen, Switzerland.
That story had been told to me over and over again throughout the years, and I finally got to see Chamonix and Mont Blanc for myself when I was thirteen years old on our first family trip to Europe. I don’t remember much about Chamonix however I do remember riding the train up to see the Mer de Glace and being absolutely taken away by its beauty and scale.
I returned to Chamonix again in my late 20s on a ski trip with my family and a few years later brought with my husband to show him this special place. My father even scaled Mont Blanc when he was about my age which after seeing it in person is quite an impressive feat. Fondue dinners, stunning vistas of glaciers and of course Mont Blanc are always the nostalgic memories that come to mind when dreaming about Chamonix. So you can imagine the utter joy I felt at ending our Tour de Mont Blanc in this glorious place and for introducing my son to Mont Blanc. I could hardly wait to see if he would be as smitten by its beauty and mystique as the rest of my family.
After our beautiful drive through the Grand-Saint-Bernard Pass in Switzerland, we headed to the traditional Swiss town of Champex-Lac to meet up again with the Tour de Mont Blanc. Champex-Lac is one of the most idyllic Swiss mountain villages I’ve ever seen as it is surrounded by a beautiful lake with the magnificent Alps towering above in nearly every direction. Nestled in the French-speaking Canton of Valais, Champex-Lac is the perfect place to linger and spend a day or two soaking in its beauty and taking a hike.
We arrived in the early afternoon with a few hours to spare before continuing on to spend the night in neighboring Martigny. Had we known how special it was in Champex-Lax, we would have definitely preferred to stay there. We found Champex-Lac to be quite stunning and charming. Set at an altitude of 4,921 feet (1,500 m) with the peak of La Breya (7,198 feet/2194 m) rising high above, this traditional mountain village has a lot to offer in addition to being one of the starting and ending points for the clockwise circuit of the Tour de Mont Blanc.
One of the beautiful things about living in the age of the internet is google maps. When we arrived in Pollein, a small village in Aosta Valley off the official route of the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB), we didn’t really have a hike for our time there. Researching hikes for the TMB is fairly easy given its popularity. However, we weren’t exactly sure where we would want to hike for our one free full day in Pollein. My resourceful father did what he always does: he got out his laptop, put in google maps and zoomed in on the mountains. Then he cross-referenced the location with an amazing interactive map of the TMB and beyond and by zooming in to Aosta Valley, he discovered a series of high alpine lakes in the municipality of Bionaz near the Swiss border about an hour’s drive northeast of Pollein. Lac Long and Lac Mort captured our attention and that would be our hike.
We set off on a glorious summer day heading north through the nostalgic Italian countryside and then climbing up through the winding roads leading to Bionaz, a remote agricultural community that runs along the Buthier River where the Aosta Valley meets Switzerland. We ventured through some of the most pristine alpine scenery and villages we’d seen so far on our trip and I longed to have more time to spend there to explore.
After about 55 minutes we arrived at the end of the road, at the Dam at the Place-Moulin. We were surrounded by the high peaks of the Alps and the ribbons of glaciers that feed the gorgeous aquamarine high alpine lakes throughout the valley. Our hike would begin at the stunning Lac de Place-Moulin and continue on up to Lac Mort.