Hiking up to San Giovanni Castle in Kotor, Montenegro

The word Montenegro, which means “Black Mountains,” aptly describes this enchanted area south of Croatia. As our ship traveled through the Bay of Kotor, the captain recommended we get up early to watch the majestic mountains loom on both sides of the ship.

Since we were up early to watch the sunrise, I decided to disembark as soon as we docked. I wanted to take the hike to San Giovanni Castle (or St. John’s Fortress) before it got hot and crowded.

As I walked through Old Town Kotor, I felt I had most of the place to myself. Quiet. Empty restaurants and shuttered souvenir shops greeted me as I meandered through the stone streets to the hike. Once there, I paid the fee of a couple of Euros and began the ascent to the top.

Words can’t describe the hike. It was long and often ardous with gravel lined paths and 1,300 stone steps, but the views of the mountain, the bay and the town below were breathtaking.

The Church of the Lady of Remedy dates back to 1518

About a third of the way up sits a small church built almost inside the mountain. For those not able to continue the hike, this is a great spot to sit, take in the views and head back down.

The town below got smaller and smaller as I continued the 3,900 foot climb uphill. Soon, I saw the castle walls. Built over numerous centuries, I could see why it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Every time I thought I was at the top, there was more to see. I kept climbing until finally reached it. I had to ask someone to take my picture in front of the flag to prove I had completed the hike.

At the top of St. John’s Fortress

You would think the view would be the same on the way down. It was not. I saw things I had missed on the way up. I spent most of my time on the descent, appreciating the surrounding beauty since the hardest part of the hike was behind me. Everywhere I turned, there was another great photo opportunity.

The sun rose higher above the town and more people were coming against me on the trail.

I wanted to stay up there the rest of the day, but I had to meet up with my family to take our tour  As I entered the Old Town again, it was bustling with activity. My recommendation is to do the hike first thing in the morning. It will be less crowded and you’ll have cooler temperatures.

For more information on Kotor, click here.


Day Trip to South Carolina – Yellow Branch Falls

Another weekend arrived and we wanted to take the dogs on a hike. We’ve done a lot in North Georgia and decided to try South Carolina instead. Since we’d gone to Lake Keowee for the Solar Eclipse, we decided to explore the surrounding area. Our travels lead us to Yellow Branch Falls in the Sumter National Forest.

Since we were also trying to get some practice driving for our teenagers, we drove up to Clayton and then on a windy road to Mountain Rest. There, we stopped at a local restaurant called the Rooster’s Call for burgers. Since we had the dogs with us, one of us stayed in the car with the dogs (and AC running) while the others ordered. I had the pimento cheese burger which was hearty.

Just about five miles down the road, we parked at Yellow Branch Falls. The trail is about 1.5 miles to the falls. As we climbed up and down, dodging tree roots along the rugged path, we passed friendly hikers and other dogs.  After 1.5 miles, we came to the falls.

 

You can walk on the rocks at Yellow Branch Falls

There were several things I particularly liked about these falls. First, you could walk right up to the rocks. There was no dedicated platform where people were squished together. We had fun climbing the rocks and one person was napping on one of the ledges.

I also liked that although they were not tall, these falls were really wide. The water cascading down wasn’t located in one big burst, but in nice trickles all around. It was like a gentle shower.

After returning to the car, we drove literally across Hwy 28 to Issaquena Falls and Stumphouse Tunnel Park. For a $2 parking fee, you can visit both in less than an hour. We drove to the parking lot for the falls. Just a short walk away is a view of the top of Issaqueena Falls. The wooden platform area was crowded and some people were taking the ten minute walk to the base of the falls.

Issaqueena Falls is taller with a 200-foot cascade

We drove over to the other parking lot to see Stumphouse Tunnel. I couldn’t figure out what it would be, but the sign explains it all.

 

 

In a nutshell, construction of a railroad tunnel through the mountain began before the Civil War, but was never completed. Now, you can walk in the tunnel area. Using our flashlights from our cellphones, we could feel the cool air as we walked through the wet, sometimes sloshy, earth.

Entering the tunnel

 

Inside Stumphouse Tunnel

You don’t appreciate the light until you turn around and walk back towards it to exit. Its like another world inside, completely oblivious to the outside world.

After leaving South Carolina, we took a windy path to Toccoa, Georgia. I’d heard there are falls you can almost drive up to on the Toccoa Falls College campus. Our map directions took us to the wrong part of the campus, but a helpful person gave us directions. Some of us were tired and cranky and opted to stay in the car. We went into a Visitor Center, walking through a gift shop and towards the back of the building. I had no idea what to expect. So far, I wasn’t impressed. We continued to walk a few feet and there it was – a tall, really tall waterfall.

Toccoa Falls right on the Toccoa Falls College campus

 

Who knew this would be right here on a college campus? It was another one of those falls where you could walk around and enjoy. One lady had a stroller and when I walked by, something inside yelped. It was a baby – but two small dogs.

 

As we left, we went into the student center to use the restrooms and fill up our water bottles before driving home. The students were courteous and said things like, “How are you doing?” and “Hello.” I later found out it is a Christian college of only 750 students on 1,100-acre campus. It might be worth looking into for our family.

One last view of Toccoa Falls


Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park – Montrose, Co

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I have to give a quick shout-out to one of my favorite blogs – Explore All 50. Written by a single mother of three, Alisa Abecassis details trips she has taken to show her children every state. I’ve looked at it to get trip ideas and I wouldn’t have ever known about this national park had it not been for her website.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP is an easy park to explore in a few hours. Starting at the visitor center, we watched the 12-minute movie and drove the 7-mile South Rim Road. With the multiple overlooks of the steep 2,000-foot canyon walls, you don’t have to do any hiking to get a feel for this awesome, little-known park.

At one of the overlooks

At one of the overlooks

Carved by the Gunnison River, the steep cliffs are mesmerizing. The ranger suggested stopping at Pulpit Rock, Painted Wall, Sunset View and High Point overlooks. We hit those and a few more on the way. The steep canyon is a dark, almost black color hence the name. The misnomer is that it is closer to Montrose than the town of Gunnison.

The Painted Wall

The Painted Wall

At the end of the drive is High Point overlook with a 1.5-mile, round-trip, Warner Point Trail. Although we all started the hike, only two of us got to the end. The sweeping vistas were beautiful and worth the hike.

Warner Point Trail

Warner Point Trail

The park’s gravel, North Rim Drive lies on the other side of the river, but it is remote and closed during the winter. Other activities include camping, climbing and kayaking. Learn more at the park’s website here.


Dead Horse Point State Park – Moab, Utah

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It doesn’t get much better than this. Surprising Dead Horse Point State Park is not a national park, but a state park. It’s no less beautiful than nearby Canyonlands and Arches. In fact, it’s located just off Utah 313 about ten miles before the Island of the Sky entrance at Canyonlands NP. Don’t miss this spectacular park. After paying $9 entrance fee per car (it is valid for 3 days), drive to the Dead Horse Point Overlook. If you think it looks similar to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, you’re not alone. This was the site of the final scene in the early 1990s movie, “Thelma & Louise.”

Although the state park offers five hiking trails, it is most known for it’s 17-mile intrepid mountain biking trails. A visitor center and outdoor coffee kiosk provide snacks and box lunches. If you’re going to Canyonlands NP (Island of the Sky district), don’t miss this state park. If you drive to the overlook just to snap a few pictures, it will only take 30 minutes out of your day. For more information, visit here.