Hallstatt, Austria

Why Hallstatt is Austria’s Most Postcard Perfect Town

Nestled between the edge of the mystical shores of Hallstätter See and the dramatic Dachstein mountains lies the small village of Hallstatt, a UNESCO World Heritage site and perhaps the most postcard picture perfect village in all of Austria. Hallstatt deserves its place among the covers of travel guides and as one of the most photographed villages in all of Austria. It is one of the most stunning villages I have ever seen.

Located in the district of Gmunden in Austria’s Salzkammergut region, Hallstatt and the rugged Dachstein mountains and caves are a popular destination for tourists and nature lovers alike. You can easily spend a couple of days here exploring the beauty and culture of Hallstatt, hiking high above in the Dachstein mountains and visiting the Dachstein caves.  The only downside is that Hallstatt can be crowded and touristy so you have to plan your timing right. Summer is obviously high season yet sometimes the weather can keep the crowds away.

On our first morning in The Salzkammergut, we rose to yet another unfortunate day of rain. Disappointed that we still had not fully seen our supposedly beautiful surroundings at our farmstay near Lake Traunsee, we decided to make the best of the day and plan something indoors. We had wanted to go hiking but not in the rain as we would not have any views. So instead, we decided to drive to Hallstatt and visit the nearby Dachstein Ice Caves later in the afternoon. What we didn’t realize is the it ended up being a blessing in disguise that it was raining because it kept the tourists away and afforded rather magical views of Hallstatt and Hallstätter See.

We set off after breakfast, heading south on B145 for the hour drive from Altmünster to Hallstatt. Cold rain fell against the windshield and heavy clouds blanketed the sky. We hoped that this would be the last of the rain for a while as we were desperately wanting to get up in the mountains and hike. We didn’t come all the way to Austria to be stuck inside!

As we neared Hallstätter Seewe were spellbound by the extraordinary view of the clouds hovering over the lake. We pulled over in the tiny town of Steeg where I captured my first few shots of the lake and surrounding area. I was in awe of its beauty.

Steeg, Hallstätter See, Austria

Steeg, Hallstätter See, Austria

Steeg, Hallstätter See, Austria

I couldn’t believe my eyes. The scenery was so surreal. I felt like we were in Ireland, not Austria. Without the rainy day which was unusual for early July, the view would have been completely different. I realized how grateful I was for the poor weather as it provided some lovely reflections and mystery in the setting. Obviously if it was rainy every day we were in The Salzkammergut I would have been very disappointed because we never would have seen the snow-capped mountains juxtaposed against the aquamarine lakes and sky.

Steeg, Hallstätter See, Austria

Hallstatt’s history dates back thousands of years to the days of the Early Iron Age civilization and the Celtics from 800-450 BC and derives its prosperity and name (“place of salt”) due to its production and wealth of salt. Settlers to Hallstatt mined salt for centuries, and visitors today can explore some of Hallstatt’s oldest mines such as the Salzwelten located high above Hallstatt on Salzberg (Salt Mountain) and visit a nearby Iron Age burial ground.

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Landgut Wagnerfeld, Lake Traunsee, Austria

A Stay at the Landgut Wagnerfeld Farm in Traunsee, Austria

Months before we began planning our trip to Austria, we were visiting my family in Arizona for Christmas and my dad showed me a beautiful screensaver he found online that featured gorgeous snow-capped mountains surrounded by a cobalt blue high alpine lake. The scenery was so incredibly stunning that together we searched the web to find the location of this epic shot and discovered a new destination we had never heard of before: The Salzkammergut.

The Salzkammergut is one of seven regions in Austria most known for its breathtaking scenery of high alpine lakes (there are 76 lakes in the region), rugged remote wilderness peppered with lovely scenic villages and towns like the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hallstatt and Daschstein. If you are one who loves mountains and lakes, then this is the region for you. Besides its aching beauty and endless opportunities to connect with nature whether it be by hiking, biking, boating, swimming or sailing, The Salzkammergut is also home to the Dachstein Giant Ice Cave featuring magical towers of ice that make you feel like you are in the fantasy world of Narnia.  As soon as I laid eyes on the photos and images from The Salzkammergut, I knew we had to go there. Thankfully, we planned four nights and five full days in the region before heading back to Munich for our flight home. Finding enough time to fit in all we wanted to see and do over the next five days was going to be a challenge yet I could hardly wait to see the Lakes region of Austria.

8 Days in Austria driving route

Google Map of our driving route in Austria. We began our trip in Munich and then headed to first Schwangau in Germany and then Seefeld in Tirol where we spent three days before driving east to The Salzkammergut (Lakes Region) of Austria and then back to Munich for our departure.

Choosing where to stay in The Salzkammergut proved tricky as the postcard picture perfect town of Hallstatt where all the tourists flock to see, is outrageously expensive. The region is fairly spread out with many towns and villages surrounding mountains and lakes, and many long and winding roads to reach them. We chose the popular Lake Traunsee about an hour’s drive north of Hallstatt for our base, and I quite frankly booked our accommodations on Expedia based on size and price. I knew we wanted a two-bedroom apartment with a kitchen and space for the four of us that was somewhat near one of the lakes. The Landgut Wagnerfeld, a family run property near Lake Traunsee in Altmünster, proved to be the perfect fit for our needs.

We left Seefeld in Tirol in the pouring rain that unfortunately clouded our view of the spectacular scenery. The rain came down like mad and wouldn’t leave us for at least another day. I was really disappointed but of course there is not a thing you can do about the weather. Instead of agonizing over it, I began to plot out our plans for the next few days. About three hours later we arrived at the town of Gmunden at the northern edge of Lake Traunsee. Our accommodations were located in Altmünster, the next town over.

Thankfully we had the address plugged into our car navigational system or else I’m not sure how we would have found it. The Landgut Wagnerfeld is perched high above Lake Traunsee on an immense pasture of farmland. As we pulled up into the estate, I couldn’t believe my foolishness as I had absolutely no idea that we were staying on a farm. Yet I was absolutely thrilled by this unexpected surprise. We had spent two nights at a farm in rural Costa Rica and our farmstay ended up being one of the highlights of our entire trip. It was wonderful.

Landgut Wagnerfeld, Lake Traunsee, Austria

Driving up from Lake Traunsee to the farm

Landgut Wagnerfeld

 Landgut Wagnerfeld

Arriving in the rain at Landgut Wagnerfeld

 Landgut Wagnerfeld

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Notre Dame Cathedral Paris

Looking Up at Paris from a Boat Cruise Along the Seine

I will always love Paris and the City of Light (as she is lovingly called) will never cease to amaze and surprise me. What I love the most about Paris is that no matter how many times I visit, I always see something new. I had the luxury of living in Paris years ago in my early twenties as an exchange student at the University of Paris -Sorbonne, and ever since it has been my dream to bring my own daughter Sophia to Paris and show her my most favorite city on earth. Thankfully, I was able to bring her to Paris this past summer on a mother-daughter trip along with my own mother, sister and niece. It was a whirlwind trip exploring London, Lille and Paris all within a little over a week but I accomplished my goal. Sophia fell in love with Paris just like I did the moment I laid eyes on its beauty.

Sophia on top of the Eiffel Tower

Priceless. Sophia on top of the Eiffel Tower daydreaming about Paris below.

We only had three full days in Paris and given the large amount of amazing things to do and see, I had to carefully craft a plan of action of what I felt should be the highlights for Sophia and my niece Hanna. Since all of us grownups have been to Paris many times, we wanted to ensure that the trip was focused exclusively on the girls meaning it was important to not spend too much time walking around museums or at fancy places to eat. I wanted to give the girls an overview of the best of Paris, all that we could squeeze into three very long, full days.

The list was long and I had to cut it down based on how large and how spread out everything is in Paris. I needed to also ensure that we had enough time to get to each destination without killing our legs from all the walking. The metro helped us get around, yet I soon remembered how much walking there is even inside the metro and how many stairs! Our legs ached and throbbed by the end of our three days but we sure gave the girls a taste of Paris, hitting these must-see destinations along the way:

  • The Louvre
  • The Notre Dame Cathedral
  • The Eiffel Tower
  • Montmartre and the Sacré-Cœur
  • Champs-Élysées
  • The Arc de Triomphe
  • Jardin du Luxembourg and the Latin Quarter
  • As many outdoor cafes as we could possibly find for a coffee or a glass of wine for the adults and a kiddie cocktail for the girls.

I would have loved to show Sophia where I lived at the Cité internationale universitaire de Paris way out in the 14th arrondissement but alas we ran out of time. I also would have loved to go to more museums but even the Louvre didn’t last long with two tween girls. I decided to save the rest for the next time.

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Hiking Hut to Hut in the Gaistal Valley

Nestled within the Mieminger mountains to the south and Wetterstein mountains to the north, lies the stunning, idyllic Gaistal Valley. Stretching west from the tiny hamlet of Klamm in the region of Leutasch, Austria, this achingly beautiful landscape is home to miles of hiking and biking trails, farms, alpine refuges and mountain “huttes” (huts) where you can explore some of the most nostalgic, untouched nature in Austria. It is here we chose for our third and final day of hiking in Seefeld in Tirol, perhaps saving the absolute best for last.

We headed out after breakfast, excited about the day ahead. We had heard about Leutasch from the Seefeld tourist office as it is one of five municipalities in the Olympiaregion Seefeld and is particularly known for its awe-inspiring beauty. You could easily hike for days going hut to hut, dining on delightful regional cuisine and finding refuge in the traditional alpine huts. There are plenty of amazing long-distance hikes (enough to make me drool and want to come back).  For us, we only had the day so we decided to make the best of it.

We left shortly after breakfast, heading north on L14 for roughly 10 kilometers to the small town of Föhrenwald in Leutasch where we somehow got lost. Thankfully there was a hiking store in town that provided us with much needed directions and an excellent map of Leutasch and the Gaistal Valley. Otherwise we for sure would have been driving in circles through all the different tiny Austrian hamlets that make up Leutasch. We took a left on Leutascher Ache following the windy road passing through villages and farms until we reached the start of the parking area a little bit past the village of Klamm. Thanks to our stop at the hiking store, we knew to proceed all the way to the P5/Salzbach, the last of five parking lots, where we would begin our hike. There are 12 huts interspersed along the hiking trails through the Gaistal Valley, and we decided to visit two of them, the Gaistalalm and Tillfussalm.

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Rosshütte, Seefeld, Austria

A Panoramic Alpine Hike: Hiking the High Trail to Seefelder Spitze

I slept like a baby my first night in Seefeld. Perhaps it was the freshness of the Austrian mountain air combined with the blissful feeling of being at peace in the mountains. Or maybe it was the anticipation for the day ahead knowing that I’d finally be in the place I’d been longing to be for so many months: Way up high at the top of the world in the heart of the Austrian Alps.

The kids rose to the smell of scrambled eggs, freshly baked bread and strawberry jam. It was the first time we had a homemade breakfast in two weeks and I was enjoying the normalcy of cooking and having a kitchen again. I stepped out on our apartment’s spacious wood deck, rose my head up to the sky and smiled, letting the morning sun gently warm my face. We were going to have a wonderful day of hiking ahead. I was looking forward to checking out the Rosshütte Ski Area – one of two main Alpine ski resorts in Seefeld- which has a couple of fantastic panoramic hikes at the top of the Alps overlooking the Olympiaregion. After yesterday’s hike along the lower-laying plateau, I desperately craved to get up high knowing very well that the views would be breathtaking. Thanks to the Seefeld Tourist Office, we had a route in mind. It would be my children’s very first high alpine hike and I wanted it to wow them.

After breakfast, we set off on foot, heading to the base of the ski resort located about a 15 minute walk from town. When we arrived at the base of the mountain, we purchased a ticket to ride the funicular up to the Rosshütte mid-station located at 1760 m saving us a long, long hike up. We saw people hiking along the way but in my opinion, I preferred to save my energy (and especially the kids’ energy) for the top where the views would be astounding.

Rosshütte, Seefeld, Austria

Setting off on foot to the Rosshütte ski area (my daughter Sophia, son Max and father).

Rosshütte, Seefeld, Austria

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Lake Möserer See, Seefeld Austria

Our First Family Hike in Austria: The Circular Walk from Seefeld to Lake Möserer See

One of the most important reasons why we chose to visit Austria over all the other amazing European countries was for the Alps. I am absolutely obsessed with mountains and I believe that Scottish-American environmental philosopher and advocate John Muir’s famous saying “The mountains are calling and I must go” is one of my life’s mantras. Hiking is one of my most beloved activities and any opportunity I get to be in the mountains, I will wholeheartedly take.

My last real hike in the Alps was back in the summer of 2012, when my dad and I spent six days trekking in Vanoise National Park in the heart of the French Alps of Savoie. During that hike, we left town and spent the next week hiking hut to hut in the Alps and by the end of the week I felt incredibly refreshed and rejuvenated. It was so amazing to escape modern day life for awhile and spend every minute of the day outside in nature. There were no phones, no internet and nothing to do at the end of a day’s hike but take off your boots and relax with a glass of local wine in hand.  I don’t think I ever feel so alive and at peace as I do after a week in the mountains.

For our trip to Austria, we couldn’t escape the entire time to the mountains since we had my two children along, but we could spend as much time as possible doing day hikes. My son could have handled some longer overnight hut to hut hikes but my eleven year old daughter was new to the experience and the last thing I wanted to do was scare her away from my passion. Instead, I had to make sure to select the right amount of hiking to do and be mindful of the distance and difficulty. I would learn that there are three different levels of hiking in Austria: Beginner (mostly flat, wide open paths for all ages and abilities), Intermediate (uphill, high altitude paths that have some steep ascents and decents and narrow paths at points) and Advanced (no way would I bring my daughter on these ones as there are points where you need to grab on to a railing and one slip and you could stumble down very very far). Obviously we stuck to the beginning and intermediate trails but learned on our second hike that proper footwear and hiking poles are an absolute must for intermediate trails and these trails can be a bit scary for a kid who has never hiked way up high).

After a hearty lunch in town at a local Austrian restaurant, it was time for us to get out and do our very first hike in Austria. The sun had finally come out from underneath its hiding place in the clouds and we could finally see the mountains. At first glance of the breathtaking snow-capped peaks of the Austrian Alps, I smiled. I was going to love this place, I could feel it in my bones.

Seefeld, Austria

The Olympiaregion Seefeld is surrounded by the Kerwendel National Park, the Wildmoos Nature Proetcion Area, the stunning Wetterstein Massif and the Hohe Munde mountain. It is a stunning area for skiing, hiking and enjoying the glory of the Austrian Alps.

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Hiking in Seefeld in Tirol, Austria

Our First Family Trip to Europe: Eight Days in Austria

This past June, my children and I had the wonderful opportunity to take a big trip to Europe. As an avid traveler and a Europe lover, it was something I had dreamed of doing for years and my husband Paul agreed that it was the perfect time to bring our middle school-aged children to Europe. The idea for the trip hatched after my mother decided to do a transgenerational girls trip with me, my daughter, my sister and my niece to London and Paris in early June. Since we were going all that way, why not add on our own family trip as well? Paul and I thought long and hard about where else in Europe we would like to go and after much consideration we chose Austria as it offered the perfect mix of hiking, mountains, history and castles for our family to enjoy. We bought a Lonely Planet guidebook  and began the arduous task of trying to decide where to go and what to try to squeeze in within 8 days.  I realized shortly after researching the trip that we could have used an entire month to truly get to know Austria. It is an amazing place especially for an outdoor lover like me. With careful planning we were able to figure out how to best schedule our time and see the best of Austria for our family of four.

As often happens in life, there were a few unexpected bumps along the road. Unfortunately a few months before the trip, Paul threw out his back and traveling anywhere was out of the question. By that time, we had everything planned and booked. We could have canceled the Austria portion of the trip but then my son Max would not have been able to go either as he was supposed to fly over with Paul and meet us in Munich. Thankfully my father was able to take his place and despite the disappointment that Paul couldn’t come, there was a silver lining. My dad got to spend twelve unexpected yet priceless days with his daughter and his grandchildren in Germany and Austria.

We met in Munich and head off to our first destination, the town of Schwangau near the border of Austria, where we spent two nights. The main reason for visiting Schwangau was to show my children King Ludwig II’s magical castle, Neushwanstein, where Paul asked me to be his wife 19 years ago. It ended up being a rather emotional visit since Paul was not able to be there with us but we still enjoyed exploring the castle, visiting neighboring Füssen, and staying in the beautiful Bavarian countryside. My thirteen year old son Max, who is already a whooping 6’1″ tall and has a voracious appetite, also truly loved the food! Thankfully we would find just as hearty and delightful food in neighboring Austria where we would be spending the next eight days before heading back to Germany to fly home.

The heart of our Austrian adventure began two days later when we left Germany for our short hour and a half drive to Seefeld in Tirol, our first stop, where we would stay for the next three days. We left Schwangau after yet another hearty German breakfast in an assault of rain. Ironically, it reminded me of the day of my engagement roughly 19 years ago when my husband and I rode the horse and carriage up the hill to see Neuschwanstein in the rain. The thick gray clouds blanketed the surrounding Alps and I was dismayed that what was supposed to be a beautiful drive was shrouded in rain, clouds and fog. It didn’t take long until we reached the Austrian-German border and had to do a quick stop at the nearest petrol station to get a Vignitte (a motorway tax that is imposed on all cars who travel on Austria’s autobahns). I had no idea that this was necessary until my dad told me how he once got a ticket in Austria because he didn’t have a Vignitte. Thankfully this time we were prepared and were only set back about 9 euros.

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Pfarrkiroche St. Maria und St. Florian (The Parish Church of St. Maria & Florian) Schwangau Germany

Uncovering the Spectacular Beauty of the Parish Church of St. Maria and Florian

Has there ever been one of those magical travel moments when you decide on a whim to explore the area around you and uncover a hidden treasure? That is how I felt late one afternoon when I decided to take an evening walk to the neighboring village of Waltenhofen near where we were staying in the outskirts of Schwangau, Germany. I had just returned from an emotional afternoon revisiting the fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein, the very place my husband proposed to me 19 years ago, and needed some alone time to reflect on the experience. My husband had unfortunately not been able to come along on the trip as planned due to an injury and I ended up bringing our two children and my father to this special place despite it all. It had been a difficult few months since my husband’s back injury and this trip was in a sense a sort of revival of my broken spirit.

I left my daughter Sophia back at the hotel for some downtime while I set off into the Bavarian countryside with my mind full of thought. I wondered what the summer would hold for us as a family once we returned from our three-week trip in Europe. Would my husband’s back injury be resolved or would we continue to live in a gray cloud of uncertainty.

I walked slowly along the beautiful country path looking out at the pastures of horses and cows and taking in the nostalgic beauty of such a place. It felt like this area hadn’t changed much at all since the day King Ludwig II built his sensational castle Neuschwanstein as a testament to his love of the middle ages. Farmers rode by on their tractors. Cows grazed. Horses neighed and galloped gently across the unfettered fields of joy. Bees buzzed and drank the rich nectar from the flowers. It was lovely.

The dark sky had slightly lifted and let in a few rays of light, bathing the dark green fields with warmth. Unintentionally I knew where I was headed. To the place I saw the day before during lunch. The mysterious church standing proudly at the foot of the village of Walfenhofen. It beckoned my curiosity as I always am fascinated by the interior of a good European church. I normally find that once I open the large wooden doors, that what is hidden inside is incredible. Ironically enough, this visit I would never step foot within the church doors and I’d find myself instead mesmerized by what laid in its exterior.

Schwangau, Germany

Pfarrkiroche St. Maria und St. Florian (The Parish Church of St. Maria & Florian) off in the distance in the village of Waltenhofen.

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Superior Hiking Trail: Hike to Leveaux Mountain

After decades of visiting and hiking in the North Shore, it is hard to believe that I had never done the classic 3.2 mile roundtrip hike to the top of Leveaux Mountain. Located adjacent to the more popular trail up Oberg Mountain in Tofte, Minnesota, the Leveaux hike affords a more challenging jaunt up one of Minnesota’s sawtooth mountains, a small range of low mountains that extend 30 miles from Carlton Peak in Tofte, Minnesota, just short of the Canadian border, to Grand Marais.

The Sawtooth Mountains rise gradually from Lake Superior and have a steep, sharp drop-off on the north face giving their profile the look of a saw hence their name. They are part of the Superior National Forest and Superior Hiking Trail and are home to many gorgeous hikes with incredible views of Lake Superior and the surrounding boreal forest of spruce, birth and fir. For those unfamiliar with Minnesota, the Superior Hiking Trail has been rated among one of the best long distance hiking trails in the country by Outside Magazine. Thankfully there are plenty of day hikes and spur hikes on the Superior Hiking Trail affording a multitude of options for day hikers and those with young kids.

The Leveaux trailhead starts at the end of the parking lot about 2 miles off of Highway 61 (mile marker 87.4) on Onion River Road near Tofte, Minnesota. The parking lot is used for both the Oberg and Leveaux Mountain trails. I had been to this parking lot many times as the Oberg Mountain hike is one of our all time family favorites but surprisingly had never bothered to check out the Leveaux trail. Shorter than the hike up Leveaux at roughly 2.6 miles, the Oberg trail is an awesome hike for all ages and abilities. In less than an hour roundtrip, you can get up on top of Oberg and see a technicolor of fall colors if you time it right. I have probably done the Oberg hike at least a half a dozen times. This time my dad and I wanted something different so we chose the less popular Leveaux.

As we set off through the thick forest, we did not see a soul and had the entire hike to ourselves except for one lonely hiker. It was a far cry from the crowds of hikers we saw just the day before at the Temperance River Park and judging by the parking lot at the trailhead, over 90% of the hikers in the other cars were doing the Oberg trail. The first mile of the trail is through thick boreal forest of spruce, pine and fir trees and then you start the climb up to the first and second scenic loops into the maple trees. The first loop is a little longer and then you reach the shorter second loop, where you are rewarded with stunning views of Lake Superior as well as the forest below.

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Temperance River State Park

Superior Hiking Trail: Temperance River to Carlton Peak

Growing up in Minnesota is a treasure. With over 10,000 lakes, numerous state parks and hundreds of miles of hiking trails, there are plenty of places to refuel, find beauty and get outdoors. One of my favorite places to get outside in Minnesota is the North Shore of Lake Superior.  Home to the 310 mile long Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) and one of the launching off points for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), the North Shore is blessed with hundreds of miles of hiking trails cutting through pristine boreal forests, untouched lakes, rugged shoreline and places so remote you won’t see a soul. I have been fortunate to have visited the North Shore ever since I was a small child and it is among these very trails that I fell in love with hiking and being outdoors.

Last week I had the opportunity to visit the North Shore with my two kids and parents who were visiting from Arizona. Going “up north” as we Minnesotans love to call it, is a rite of passage for my family and the tradition began as soon as I could walk. My dad used to carry me on his back along the many hiking trails up north and one of our all time favorites for years has been the seven mile hike to Eagle Mountain, Minnesota’s highest point. We actually did that last summer for my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary and brought along three generations of hikers – my dad, me and the grandchildren. It was wonderful!

This time I desperately wanted to find something new to do and after an unsuccessful stop at the Ranger Station in Tofte, I realized that I knew more than the young ranger did about the hiking in this part of the state. I had done them all many times. It wasn’t until I purchased a local hiking guide called Hiking the North Shore: 50 fabulous day hikes in Minnesota’s spectacular Lake Superior region by Andrew Slade, that I discovered a few new ones I didn’t know about before. With only two full days, we had to pick and choose which hikes to do, and the first day we decided to revisit the Temperance River State Park and hike 6 miles roundtrip from the Temperance River gorge trail to the top of Carlton Peak. I was elated to have a new hike to do.

The Temperance River State Park is one of many state parks along the North Shore of Minnesota and is located near Tofte off of Highway 61 (near mile market 80.3). The park encompasses over 5,000 acres of rugged beauty with 6 miles of hiking trails as well as a spur trail to the Superior Hiking Trail. The park is most renown for its namesake, the mighty Temperance River which is the longest river on the North Shore stretching over 38 miles to its terminus in Lake Superior. What makes this park and hiking there so magical is its winding systems of dramatic gorges, waterfalls and potholes, all carved out over millions of years ago by the incredible force of the water. If you hike downstream, you can see where the Temperance River dumps into the mouth of Lake Superior and if you head upstream, you will be spellbound by its incredible gorges, some dropping hundreds of feet below.

Map of Superior Hiking Trail. Photo credit: Superior Hiking Trail.org

The most common hike in the park is the 2.6 mile loop that curves around both sides of the river and takes between 1-2 hours. It is relatively easy however be mindful if you are bringing young children as there are no fences near the steep edges along the gorge. While the view is very impressive, it is a long dangerous way down! There are a few fascinating placards along the way telling visitors about the history of how the gorges were created over 12,000 years ago at the end of the Great Ice Age. You can also view the remains of an ancient lava flow and where a roaring waterfall used to exist.

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Stockton Island , The Apostle Islands

A Weekend Sailing in the Apostle Islands

I have always dreamed of exploring the Apostle Islands. Located off the shore of the Bayfield Peninsula in Northern Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands are an archipelago of 22 islands each unique and varied formed by ice, wind and waves over millions of years in the heart of Lake Superior. Known for their wild beauty, historic lighthouses, diverse wildlife, boreal forests, wind-blown beaches and stunning sea caves, the Apostle Islands offer endless choices for exploration either by boat, ferry, kayak and once ashore, on foot.

My first visit to the Apostle Islands was 2 years ago with my husband on a weekend trip to Bayfield, Wisconsin. During our visit, we only caught a tiny glimpse of the mysterious Apostle Islands while we took the ferry to Madeline Island, the largest and only inhabited island of the group and not an official part of the 69,372 acre Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. It was that visit that sparked my fascination with the Apostle Islands and my longing to see them by sailboat.

Last year, our neighbors bought a 42-foot sailboat that they keep in Bayfield and they make the trip to the Apostle Islands every weekend in the summer and early fall. We had been invited a few times before but the timing never seemed to work out for us until last weekend. On a whim, my daughter Sophia and I accepted their generous invitation to spend the weekend sailing with them and their two children. I was overjoyed.

Apostle Islands WI

The shore of Madeline Island. Photo taken during August 2016 trip.

Arrival at the Port Superior Marina

We left on Friday afternoon and arrived at the Port Superior Marina just before the sun began to set. Since it was too late to set sail, we spent the first night at the marina and set off for our first island early the next morning. For all my years growing up in Minnesota and near water, I had never slept on a sailboat before nor truly sailed. Ironically, I even spent two summers working at a yacht club on a large Minnesota lake yet never learned to sail. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect and whether my fast-paced type A personality would be able to handle slowing down and just being still. Would I get restless being on a boat? Would I enjoy it? Would I get motion sickness?  These were the questions that circled my head as we loaded our duffel bags and groceries into the sailboat cabin.  Surprisingly, I was in for an entirely new experience which wound up being much different from what I had imagined and I absolutely loved my time at sail.

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A Revisit to Neuschwanstein Castle

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. I will never forget those words of wisdom which came from a stranger that fateful day in June of 1999 as we rode up the hill to reach Neuschwanstein Castle in a horse and carriage on a dark, rainy day.

It was nearing the end of our week-long trip throughout Germany, following the Romantic Road and visiting as many castles and medieval Bavarian towns as we could possibly cram in to our time off from work. Neuschwanstein was supposed to be the crème de la crème, our last fairytale castle we would see before heading into Switzerland for a few days before flying home. Yet alas we woke up to a thick blanket of fog and rain, shrouding our view of Ludwig II’s masterpiece perched high up above the town of Schwangau surrounded by snow-covered mountains. We had come so far to see Neuschwanstein yet she was nowhere to be found beneath the dark coat of clouds.

I was obviously dismayed about the ugly day and issued a complaint to Paul, my boyfriend at the time. If only I knew what was going on through his head at that moment for this was the day he had planned to ask me to be his wife. It was after my disgruntled complaint about the weather that an older woman next to us said those unforgettable words, almost as if she knew that it was going to be a very special day, a day that would change our lives forever.

We rode up to the castle in silence as I pondered her advice and realized that of course she was right. There was no reason to let the rain ruin our visit and perhaps the rain kept away the hordes of tourists who usually descend upon the castle on a lovely day.

After the tour of the castle, the clouds dissipated and the rain stopped. It still wasn’t perfect but good enough to take a walk around the grounds. We heard that there was a short hike behind the castle to a viewpoint and decided to follow the trail. There was not a soul around but us as we crossed the famous Marienbrücke (Mary’s Bridge) over the Pöllat Gorge and into the thick of the forest. We heard grumbles of thunder off in the distance and feared we were going to get trapped in a storm but continued on up. Perhaps it was a sign of the emotions going on within Paul’s mind as he knew what he was about to do.

We rounded a corner and there sitting majestically upon a steep ridge was the castle. The view was magnificent and took my breath away. It was then that I looked and noticed that Paul was down on one knee and asking me to marry him. It felt absolutely surreal. We had been together for five years and I knew that he was the man I wanted to share my life with. Saying yes was one of the happiest moments of my life until a year later I said “I do”, and then a few years after that we had our two children Max and Sophia.

Bringing our children to the very place where “it all began” was a dream of ours for years. Yet unfortunately a few months before our big trip to Europe, Paul injured his back and couldn’t go. My father ended up taking his place which was very special yet bittersweet knowing that Paul would not be along. Since our castle tickets were booked months in advance, we still went ahead with our plans to see Neuschwanstein.  Although it never felt the same without Paul, I’m still glad I was about the bring the kids. Here is the story of our visit.

Neuschwanstein Castle

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