Saturday, December 14, 2013

Best Hikes of 2013

At this time of year, I always find myself reflecting and appreciating all that I've accomplished. It's a good point in time to assess what you did right, what you did wrong and what you want to do differently next year. 2013 was one of the busiest and most challenging years I've ever had. It was full of ups and downs and tons of new adventures, pushing my limits and learning what I'm capable of. I've grown stronger and gained self-confidence and I owe it all to the renewing power of nature and movement; one foot in front of the other.

Because this time of year is for reflection, it is also a time for lists! Everywhere you look there are recap lists for "Best of" and "Top 10's," and in reviewing our adventures over the past year, I've come up with my own list of favorite hikes of 2013!

This was the year that I discovered the Ice Age Trail and because I became so passionate about this national scenic trail, most of my favorite hikes are IAT segments:

Grandfather Falls Segment - Most Inspirational Trail
This segment was the very first IAT segment that Charlie and I hiked, and for that reason it will always be my favorite. Grandfather Falls opened up my world of exploration and gave me appreciation for the wonders of nature available in my own "backyard."

Plover River Segment - The Beginning of Adventure
This segment was the "official" start of deciding to hike the Ice Age Trail with my dog. Although Charlie and I probably will never hike all the segments, we intend to hike as many as possible. I still remember the rush of disappearing into the thick jungle-like terrain on this segment and immersing myself in a new world full of tough challenges and unbelievable beauty.

St. Croix Falls Segment/Interstate State Park - An Introduction to IAT History
I was in WAY over my head with this segment! I mistakenly thought I'd be physically able to hike this entire segment and all the other interesting trails inside Interstate State Park during a two-day camping trip; boy, was I wrong! Even though we were unable to tackle every trail on the itinerary, we had a blast and continued to learn how much natural beauty our state has to offer. This was an action-packed weekend that was the high point of our summer.

Turtle Rock Segment - Most Challenging Trail
I had never felt so removed from civilization until I hiked this segment. We were truly in some of the most remote wilderness in this part of the state. The trail was long, hot and exhausting and I was never more glad to be done hiking for the day, but I also learned that I had the strength and willpower to do it! When we returned to Turtle Rock in the fall and hiked only the portion along the Wisconsin River, I slowed down and took the time to really appreciate the significance of the ancient rocks along the river and the unique beauty surrounding us. I'm so glad this segment is close to my home so that we can explore it on a regular basis - and best of all, it's directly across the river from Grandfather Falls, our other favorite trail!

Chaffee Creek Segment - Most Surprising Trail
This trail makes the list simply because it was such a surprise to find it! Throughout the year, I was in awe of how often the Ice Age Trail popped up in the most unlikely places and conversations; it seemed to be more than coincidence, like this trail was meant to find me. Chaffee Creek Segment reminds me that nature is more accessible and available than most people think and to not underestimate the effects nature can have on your well-being.

Honorable Mentions:
In addition to the Ice Age Trail segments, there were three stand-out trails and parks that are just too good not to mention...

1.  Dells of the Eau Claire ~ this county park also has a segment of the Ice Age Trail within its boundaries, but the park trails are definitely just as enchanting. This park is one of our area "gems" that many locals look forward to showing off to friends, family and visitors. The ancient bedrock that make up the dells are as old as the rocks found at Grandfather Falls and Turtle Rock.

2.  Big Eau Pleine ~ this is another local county park that is full of hiking trails open to horses, snow-shoeing, mountain biking and leashed dogs. There are two campgrounds, boat launches and it even contains a State Natural Area with old-growth forest.

3.  Governor Dodge State Park ~ this park contains over 5,000 acres containing trails and unique Driftless Area landscape to explore... simply more than can be accomplished in one trip! There are multiple campgrounds, two lakes with boat rentals, dog-friendly swimming areas and horseback riding trails. It may not look like much from the entrance, but wait until you get inside!