Hiking Washington: Heather Maple Pass Loop in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

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Taking a break on my way down the trail. My 35L red
Thule pack and I look so teeny! (PC: D. Herscovitch)
Though I'd become familiar with Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks on previous trips to Washington, I knew little to nothing about the Cascades. And on a recent trip, my goal was to change that.

Climbing up to Thornton Lakes was the perfect way for me to start getting acquainted with the incredible landscape that is that part of the state. It was a lung buster, but easily do-able in a few hours, even with our relatively late 11am start.

After making our way to the Twisp River Suites post-Thornton Lakes, my partner in crime and I settled in to a beautiful room bigger than my first apartment in Philadelphia with a balcony overlooking the Twisp River.

I'd amassed a list of hikes to choose from over the three days we'd be in the area, and one received glowing recommendations from locals and visitors alike - the Heather - Maple Pass loopMy guidebook dubbed it one of the most exalted of the North Cascades Highway hikes, which, given the landscape, is really saying something.

Hiking the Pacific Northweast: Thornton Lakes in North Cascades National Park

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Exploring the area around the lowest of
Thornton Lakes. (PC: D. Herscovitch)
Ever visited a place and immediately felt like you belonged there? Yeah? Me too.

From deep green rainforests to expansive coastal beaches, rugged mountains, snow capped volcanoes, massive glaciers, and a whole lot of really good coffee, Washington has something for everyone.

I've felt a special affinity for the Pacific Northwest for a long time. Trips to Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park are what started it all, and it's incredible to see such ecological diversity all in one place. But I had yet to spend significant time in Seattle or any time in the Cascades - two problems I aimed to fix with one jam packed trip out west.

Our plan was to get to know the city and its neighborhoods, and then head for the hills. I knew I wanted to find enough to fill our four trail days with alpine lakes, time above ridgeline, or a combination of the two. I made a list of hikes that met those criteria and others, including covering 8-12 miles, 2,000-4,000' of elevation gain, and with photos that made me go, "WOW."

Gear Review: Rheos Gear Floating Sunglasses

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Have you ever been on a boat, on a beach, or near any body of water and taken an intentional or unintentional dip with your shades on? If you have, odds are you've experienced the panic that comes with realizing said shades found their way into the water with you, detached from your person, and sunk to the bottom of whatever body of water you're in. (I speak from experience. Thank you, Atlantic Ocean, for being merciful.)

The team behind Rheos Gear, a brand new eyewear company, believes "if you're on a boat, your shades should float." And truth be told, rough currents might carry your shades away no matter what, but at least if they float, you've got a chance, right?

A Look Back: Experiencing the Re-Entry Blues and How to Cope

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Standing at the bottom of Mooney Falls. WOW.
In 2012, Columbia Sportswear took ten people who talk a lot about the outdoors on the internet and brought them together as the first-ever #OmniTenOur first adventure together took us to Sedona, Arizona, to Havasupai, and all over the Grand CanyonThough I'd experienced the re-entry blues before, I'd never felt anything like I did when I came home from that trip. 

This piece, which originally appeared on the Expand Outdoors blog in 2012, is meant to pay homage to one of the most incredible experiences of my outdoors life. When I read it the other day, man did those memories come flooding back. A lot's changed for all of us over the past four years, but this trip, we'll always have this in common!

Wake up. Turn off air conditioner. Take shower. Pet cats. Head into the city. Ignore traffic. Revel in shade created by tall building after tall building. Remember how a short time ago, the same sought-after shade was created by towering red rock canyon walls. Trip over a dead cockroach. Grab an iced coffee. Feel the incredible absence of two dozen new friends. Sigh.

How to Pick the Perfect Day Hike for You

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Hawk Mountain, a favorite Pennsylvania day hike.
Though we're into the last full month of summer, there's still plenty of time to get out and explore before the weather starts to change. (And if you're anything like me, you're looking forward to spending time outdoors in the fall anyway. It's hot right now!)

With so many things to think about, picking a day hike can be tough. Whether you're just starting out hiking, or you're a veteran and having trouble narrowing down your list of options, take a look at these tips to choose the perfect day hike for you.

Decide how far you're willing to travel.

I generally cap travel for day hikes at two hours one-way, with very few exceptions.  After a long day on the trail, I'm either asleep in the back seat after or dreading having to drive myself back and hoping any passengers I have will keep me entertained! (Some people love being in the driver's seat for hours on end, but I'm not one of them.) If you know you're only up for driving two hours or less one way, that'll help narrow down your options.