Wild River Wilderness New Hampshire

Camping & Hiking the Wild River Wilderness

Adventure Travel, New Hampshire, Travel, Trekking & Hiking, United States

Recently, my partner Erich and I spent an unforgettable weekend hiking and camping in one of New England’s most remote wildernesses—a place so wild and inaccessible there is only one road in or out and most of it can only be reached on foot. The Wild River Wilderness.

What is the Wild River Wilderness

One of 6 officially designated Wilderness Areas in the White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire, the Wild River Wilderness is a 23,700-acre area comprised of steep mountainous walls surrounding a wide, deep valley with the capricious Wild River cutting through its center. Located at the far north of the White Mountains, this valley is only accessible via a single dirt road or by hiking. It is also the newest of the Wilderness Areas in the Whites—designated in 2006. 

This is the kind of place where you can spend a day in the woods and never see another soul. Right now, the Wild River Wilderness feels like a secret held close to my heart. If I write this, am I contributing to the over-trafficking and abuse that our wilderness areas are facing? Perhaps so. And yet I feel compelled to share it. For those who favor adventure, who aren’t afraid to explore the deep woods, who don’t fear the things that go bump in the night, the Wild River Wilderness presents a chance for adventure still within a days drive of Boston.

Megan Brake stands in front of waterfall in Wild River Wilderness

Where to Stay in the Wild River Wilderness

There is one car camping ground within the Wilderness area: the Wild River Campground. This is a primitive campsite for tent camping, accessible via a 5-mile dirt road. There are 12 sites available, one of which includes a log shelter—a primitive 3 sided lean-to. All sites are first-come, first-served. 

The campground is hosted. Camping is $20 per day, inclusive of one vehicle. There is a $5 additional fee for a second vehicle. Firewood can be purchased on-site.

There are also several backcountry tent sites accessible via hiking. When I visited one of these, the Spruce Brook tent site, in October of 2014, it was unhosted with no tent platforms or bear boxes. Be prepared to hang your food or store food safely in a bear canister or ursack. Tent sites are free, no reservations required. Follow leave no trace principles and be keep the wilderness wild for future hikers.

The floor of the Wild River Valley is wide and relatively flat, so backcountry camping options are plentiful on the Wild River Trail, Highwater Trail, and on all the other trails that cross the valley floor. Follow Wilderness Area rules for choosing a campsite.

Campsite at Wild River Campground with picnic table and fire pit

What to do in the Wild River Wilderness

This vast wilderness area is a playground for the adventurous. The Wild River is long and deep in places, with crystal clear water flowing over massive boulders, swirling in and out of deep pools and shimmering over the riverbed. Swimming is possible in places, as is a simple soak or sunbathing. I’m not into fishing but I hear people come here to fish as well.

Hiking trails criss-cross the area, some following the length of the valley, others climbing steeply up to the mountain ridges that line either side. Some of my favorite trails that I’ve hiked here are the Black Angel trail down from Carter Dome and all the way up to the Basin Rim Trail (7.7 miles in total). The Basin Trail, 2.2 miles from the valley floor to the Basin Rim trail, was exceptionally beautiful. 

For those looking for a less strenuous but no less wild and riveting hiking experience, the Wild River trail and Highwater Trail each parallel the river up the valley, offering glimpses of its waters as they make their way down from their source at No Ketchum Pond. The two trails form a nice 5-mile loop starting from the Wild River Campground, though you will need to cross the river without a bridge at one end.

In truth, you can’t go wrong hiking in the Wild River Wilderness. All the trails have their own points of interest, the sheer vastness of the valley floor makes every trail up to the ridge an adventure, and the diversity of life and ecosystems within this forest make each hike a fresh experience. 

Wild River Wilderness Hiking Trail

These wilderness area signs are my favorite.

How to get to the Wild River Wilderness

If you plan to camp at the Wild River Campground or to access any of the hiking trails from the trailheads in the valley, you’ll need to find the 5-mile Wild River Road.

From Boston: Take 93 N through Franconia Notch. Exit to Route 3 North, then take Route 115 to Route 2. Follow Route 2 until you enter Maine (Yep, crossing state lines!) then take Route 113 south for just a few miles, past the gate you’ll see a sign for the Wild River Wilderness and the turn for Wild River Road is just beyond here. The Wild River Campground is 5 miles down Wild River Road, but there are several trailheads with small parking areas located along the road as well.

Route 113 is not maintained in Winter so this area is only accessible by vehicle from May to October.

Hiking into the Wild River is also possible from the Pinkham Notch area on Route 16 in New Hampshire, and from Route 113 in Maine/New Hampshire.

Now that you’ve got all the facts, if I still have your attention, let me tell you a story about the magnificent, unforgettable weekend I had with my boyfriend Erich in the Wild River Wilderness. 

megan and erich on mount meader in the white mountains of New Hampshire

Our Weekend in the Wild River Wilderness

All week eagerness coursed through my veins like fire. After five years of dreaming about it, I was finally returning to the Wild River Wilderness. 

Five years ago, in October of 2014, I planned a haphazard backpacking loop that took me in and out of a valley called the Wild River Wilderness. At that point in my life, I’d only done one other backpacking loop around the Pemigewasset Wilderness in early August. The Pemi, as it is affectionately called by locals, is a 40 mile, well-trafficked loop that follows the Appalachian Trail for at least half of its path. In early August, I was sharing the trail with day hikers, fellow Pemi loopers, and AT thru-hikers. Every night I camped at a hosted tent site where bear boxes were provided, a host assigned me a platform, and the company was plentiful in the cooking areas. Although it was a solo trek, I was hardly ever alone at all.

I expected my loop through the Wild River Wilderness, in early October, to be the same.

Instead, I spent a grueling four days in the backcountry completely and utterly alone. I lost the trail at one point, walked myself to the point of exhaustion, realized on day three I didn’t have nearly enough food, and in four days of hiking I only saw three other human beings. By the time I made it back to my car I was grateful just to be alive. But somewhere in that mess of agony and strife, I’d fallen in love. The Wild River Wilderness held a special place in my heart. Its vast expanse, its poorly maintained trails, its air of pure, unadulterated wilderness wiggled itself into my heart and didn’t let go. 

In the 5 years since that misbegotten backpacking trip, I’ve dreamed of the Wild River valley often. Every time I returned to New England from my life in Peru or Cambodia, I’d stare at my map of the White Mountains and try to find a chance to get back there but I could never quite make it work.

That is until I rolled onto my side earlier this Spring and popped my kneecap out of place. Injured and unable to take on serious backpacking trips, I started looking for car camping options. It was then that I realized: the Wild River Campground. The moment I thought of it, my heart bloomed with hope. All I had to do was find the perfect weekend and I could finally get back to the landscape that enchanted my dreams.

waterfall on Basin Trail in the Wild River Wilderness

For weeks this summer I stared at my worn-out map of the White Mountains, tracing my finger over the little red “Wild River Campground” label. I watched the weather, peeked through my calendar, and finally, in mid-July, the perfect weekend opened up. I finished work at 1pm on Friday, shut my laptop with a snap, and loaded my gear into the car. Erich rolled up and we were on our way. We tore out of my driveway, rumbled down the poorly paved streets of Medford, and merged onto the highway ready to fly—or crawl north, rather. We sat in traffic from Medford to Concord, inching our way north with the throngs of others who, I hoped, were headed to the Lakes region and not to the Whites.

Just before 7pm, after 5 hours of highways, country roads, and mountain views, we made the turn onto Wild River Road, a long dirt road that follows the Wild River and feels like it has seen its fair share of tough winters. By the time we pulled into the campground, it was after 7pm. We drove the small loop around the 12 sites to look for an opening. Site after site had cars in front of them, tents set up, people sitting in chairs around a fire. As we drove, my spirits sank lower and lower and despair started to sink in. We’d driven all this way, no reservations, what if we didn’t get a spot? I looked at Erich, trying to keep the panic out of my eyes. He reached over and held my hand. 

But I wasn’t ready to hear him say, “I’m sorry, babe.” Not just yet. I drove back down the hill, there were a few more spots near the gate of the campground we hadn’t checked. That’s when I saw him, an old man, still surprisingly tall, standing by the side of the road in a plaid shirt with a big welcoming smile on his face and his hand in the air waving us over. I drove up next to him and rolled down the window.

“You looking for a campsite?”

“Yessir.”

“Well, I’ve only got two left. One up there on the hill, or down here at the shelter. The one up there is still open but the people next door have one of those yappy little dogs so I don’t know if you want that. If you take the shelter you don’t need to sleep in it, there is still room for a tent on the ground.”

I could see the shelter just in front of me, the only campground wide open to the road. I pointed uphill, where a set of stairs were built into the landscape.

“The other open campground up there?”

“Yep, just up those stairs.”

“Ok, we’ll take it.”

He nodded, I backed the car in and looked over at Erich with tears in my eyes. Maybe I was being overly emotional, but I’d dreamed about visiting this campground and this valley for years, the idea of having to turn around, to camp somewhere else, was too painful to consider. But it didn’t matter, we got an open spot and it was perfect. Carrying our stuff up the small stairs, we found an open area cut into a grove of beech and pine. The site had enough space for several tents, plus it included a surprisingly stable picnic table and a fire pit with cooking grate. 

That night we built a fire, cooked veggie fajitas in a cast iron pan over an open flame, and indulged in a few Birds of a Feather IPAs from my favorite Boston area brewery, Lamplighter.

Mount Meader New Hampshire

The next morning dawned bright and beautiful. I’d originally planned for us to hike up to Mount Moriah, one of the 48 4000 footers that I haven’t bagged yet, but our morning got off to a slow start. By the time I’d made coffee, eaten breakfast, and gotten dressed it was already past 10am. Not an ideal time to set off on a 12-mile hike. So we reassessed, scoured the map, and devised a plan to follow the Basin Trail up to the eastern rim of the Wild River Valley and hike up to Mount Meader. It’s not a 4000 footer, but it would still be a beautiful day in the mountains and by the end, a 10-mile hike.

The Basin Trail was enchanting. From the campground, it wound along the valley floor through a hardwood forest where the sunlight filtered through the trees to dapple the ground in soft green light. After winding around the trees like a ribbon, the trail worked its way gently uphill following a small creek. After a slightly steep section, we came to a beautiful pool of copper-colored water. At first, I was so taken with the pool flowing through shapely rocks that I failed to look up. I walked to the water’s edge and dipped my hand in, testing the temperature—cold, even in mid-July. It was only when I looked up at Erich to share in this beauty that I saw it.

Through the trees on the other side of the pool rose a sheer exposed cliff face completely devoid of trees or plants. It looked almost fresh like the rock had just fallen away yesterday. I could just make out a few groups of rock climbers working their way toward the top. It was massive, impressive, looming over me like some gray giant. For a moment I could have believed I’d been transported out west where the mountains are bigger and the cliffs more dramatic. I said as much to Erich as we continued up the trail.

Basin Rim Trail White Mountains

Soon enough, we reached Rim Junction, where we headed south on the Rim Trail toward Mount Meader. The trail crossed an open granite slab and we had our first view out toward Maine. Mount Meader rose above us, huge and rounded, crowned in pines. It looked absolutely massive from where we were standing and I knew that even though it was less than 3000 feet tall, we still had quite a strenuous climb ahead of us. We pushed on and the trail took on that relentless character of all White Mountain trails. Granite stairs led ever upwards and we stopped often to catch our breath. Hardwood gave way to pine as we pushed ever up, scrambling over rocks. Finally, we broke free of the trees and found ourselves near Meader’s peak. Just before the peak, there is an area that grants a commanding view of the ridgeline and Caribou Wilderness to the east. It was breathtaking. Rolling, pine-covered mountains stretched in all directions. Here and there, the pop of a granite cliff face shone through the hazy air. It had been a grueling climb, but the view made it all worth it.

We took a seat in a sliver of shade and munched on our banana and peanut butter sandwiches, relishing in our sense of achievement sitting up here on the summit. It was a warm day and we stretched out, taking a moment to rest. 

The way back down to Rim Junction was slow. Erich had managed to hurt his leg somehow and climbing down the steep granite trail only exacerbated the pain. I was worried about him and halfway back, resolved that we’d shorten our hike by taking the Basin Trail back down, foregoing our planned loop for an out-and-back. But Erich insisted he still wanted to do the loop, so we headed down the Black Angel Trail—a straight shot down to the valley floor, or so I thought.

basintrail

I was so excited to reach the river down below us, and couldn’t stop chatting about it to Erich. We were going to soak our feet in the cold water, lay out on the round boulders, it was going to be great. I thought the whole way down would be a fairly easy walk. It had looked that way when I glanced at the topo this morning and at first, the trail seemed to do exactly what I expected. It meandered down until we reached the Blue Brook Tent site, then dropped somewhat steeply down to a creek. Just as we were peering about to find where the trail reappeared on the other side, a woman popped out of the trees. She was kitted out for a camping trip with a full pack and a sunny disposition. We made small talk, shared insights on the trail, and as we headed in our separate directions, she left us with a final comment.

“You’ll love the Wild River when you get down there but you’ve got some serious climbing to do first.”

Climbing? The Black Angel Trail is supposed to just go down to the valley floor. I pulled out my topographical map and quickly realized my mistake. Very clearly the contour lines showed that we would need to cross a kind of pass between two hills before heading down to the river. I looked apologetically at Erich. I really hadn’t read the map closely enough this morning. He shrugged and we stepped out. What else could we do?

The climb was fast and steep, with the final pitch so sheer I found myself using tree roots and trunks to stop me from sliding back down the hill. Thankfully, it was also fairly short and before long we were starting the descent. The trail hugged the higher side of a hill, looking down on a creek far below. It would have been prime moose spotting territory, I assume, though the only thing we saw was pile after pile of deer poop. Meandering slowly back down to the valley floor, we eventually made it to the intersection with the Wild River Trail and the much-anticipated Wild River itself.

Eagerly, we cut through the trees and clambered over the giant boulders that formed the riverbed until we found an area to dip our feet. The water felt so good and we were standing right by a nice, deep pool with a little waterfall pouring into it. I looked around, didn’t see any people, figured I’d be hidden once in the water, and I made a decision to do something I’d never done before.

I got totally naked and slipped into the river. 

The water felt so good on my sore muscles and if I stood under the waterfall just so it gave me the most wonderful massage. Erich joined me and we leaned against the rocks, floating our legs in the cold water, dunking our heads, and just reveling in the feeling of being alive. It was a magical afternoon.

But all good things come to an end. The water was cold and when I started shivering, I climbed back onto a dry rock in the sun, dried off, and got dressed. The walk back to the campsite was fairly uneventful. The trail had been washed out in places, the riverbank torn away by the river in some of its wilder moments, but there were clear herd paths showing where to go.

Overhead, clouds began to gather and we heard the distant rumble of thunder. At one point, less than a mile from the campground, I saw a bolt of lightning strike down at the far end of the valley. We hustled and made it back to camp just in time to slip into our tent. Then the skies opened and the rain pounded down. Safe and warm and relatively dry in the tent, we listened to the sound of the rain in the afternoon light. After about an hour or so the skies finished their temper tantrum and the rain cleared. Starting a fire that night with wet wood was a particular challenge and I may have had a temper tantrum of my own but eventually, we got it started. A well-earned box of Annie’s mac n cheese each and we were happy campers. 

The final morning we took it slow, lazily making breakfast and packing up camp. By the time we drove away, it was already 11:30am. We made our way over to Pinkham’s notch to take a small stroll up the Square Ledge Trail and ogle Mount Washington, then drove down to Ossipee to get a well-earned lunch and a beer at Hobb’s Tavern.

Erich reads trail signs in the white mountains

All in all, the weekend lived up to my expectations, and the Wild River Wilderness remains one of my favorite spots in all of the White Mountains. Hopefully, it won’t take me another 5 years to make it back.


Like this post? Pin it for later!

Discover the best camping and hiking in the Wild River Wilderness of New Hampshire's White Mountains

Visit Mount Washington

10 Best Places to Visit in New England This Summer

Adventure Travel, New Hampshire, Travel, Trekking & Hiking, United States, Vermont

Summer in New England means one thing and one thing only: adventure. During summers in New England, something seems to shift—as if everyone lets go of that last bit of tension they were holding onto from the winter and gives into pure bliss. Memories of the bitter cold stashed away, we all relax, smile at our neighbors, and head outside to enjoy whatever it is that we love most about the hot season. The sun is blazing, the trees are green, and the ocean is calling. 

If you’re new to New England or are visiting this summer, there is an almost endless list of places to visit and things to do. It can get a bit overwhelming. If you’re like me, you’re looking for places where can you hike, swim, eat great food, drink delicious craft beer, and hang out with friends long into the night. Well, look no further. Here are my top 10 places to visit in New England this summer—trust me, I’m a local. 

I tried to get at least one in every state so, Connecticut, you don’t have to feel left out.

Cape Cod National Seashore

Photo by m01229 (Flickr)

1. Cape Cod and the Islands

Could any list of places to visit in New England not include Cape Cod? I grew up going to the Cape every summer. Around here, we call it “going down the cape” and it is as essential to every summer as beach days or afternoon margaritas. Something about the Cape is just better than everywhere else. Maybe its the slow pace of living, the small cape houses perched above the sea, or the way the sand dunes seem to stretch on forever. Whatever it is, one thing is clearly true: if you didn’t go to Cape Cod, it wasn’t really summer.

My personal favorite spot on the Cape is a little tiny town called Wellfleet. It’s way out on the outer cape, almost all the way to P-town. And because of that, very few people are willing to make the long trek out there. Sure, you’ll sit in some traffic on your way there but if you’re willing to make the journey, you’ll be rewarded with quiet streets lined with colonial-style cape houses, pristine beaches guarded by jaw-droppingly beautiful sand dunes, and long hot days spent surfing or just drinking summer ales on the beach. 

Have I convinced you? If you’re going to head to Wellfleet, here are a few things not to miss: drinks at the famous Beachcomber, takeaway lunch from Box Lunch (get the lobster roll), and fish from Hatch’s Fish Market. But most of all, you need to relax, hang out, try surfing (or at least boogie boarding) and soak in the laid back pace of life characteristic of the outer cape. 

Newport Rhode Island Lighthouse

2. Newport, Rhode Island

Imagine a long rocky path stretching into the distance. Down below, the waves of the sea crash into the wall of stone and the smell of the sea is rich on the air. As you walk, your gaze turns from the sea over to the magnificent green lawn that lays sprawled out in front of you, meticulously groomed and artfully designed. At the far end of this elegant lawn sits the most magnificent manor house you’ve ever laid eyes on. You stop, take it in, wonder at the family who had the money and power to build such a house. Yet it’s not alone. House after house, on and on in a parade of opulence and historic wealth. You walk for a whole afternoon taking in the exquisite architecture while the ocean plays below you. This is the oceanfront walk in Newport, Rhode Island.

To walk along this path is to take a step back into the world of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Great Gatsby. To throw yourself back to a time when robber barons and oil magnates were taking over the world. Sure it was a problematic time and they were problematic men—but the architecture they left behind leaves an imprint in your imagination that you won’t soon forget.

Little House Brewing, Chester CT

3. Chester, Connecticut

For many New Englanders, myself included, Connecticut is a bit of a throwaway state—roads too heavy with traffic till you get close to New York and then it just gets worse. I always wrote off Connecticut as a place not worth visiting. That is, until this past Spring when my boyfriend and I took a weekend trip and I was forced to confront and reject my preconceived notions.

We stayed in the village of Chester, Connecticut and I was legitimately floored by how charming it was. Built along a small river, Chester has all the allure of a colonial New England town with a wealth of dining options and even a craft brewery. The nearby Cockaponset State Forest offers trails for hiking in the quiet of the wood. If you’re planning a New England road trip this summer, I’d recommend adding Chester to the list. 

Hiking Mount Greylock up the Cheshire Harbor Trail

4. Mount Greylock, Massachusetts

The tallest point in Massachusetts and allegedly an inspiration for numerous writers include Henry David Thoreau, Mount Greylock rises high above the town of North Adams at the northern edge of the misty Berkshire Mountains. At a whopping 3,491ft, it’s no Mount Everest, but it is still a prominent peak with a quiet, noble beauty. Draped in hardwood forests and carpeted in pines, Greylock sits like a sentinel, staring out over the surrounding mountains and ridgelines, a commanding presence in an already imposing landscape.

For the adventurous, Greylock is crisscrossed by a network of trails that range from a moderate 6-mile out-and-back to overnight backpacking loops through dense old-growth forests. If you’re not here for a hike, there is an auto-road that you can take to the top (for a fee, of course) with a historic old lodge offering meals and a scenic overlook facing east.

For more information, trail maps, and most up-to-date pricing for the auto road visit the Mount Greylock official site.  

Acadia National Park, Maine, New England

Credit William Brawley (Flickr)

5. Acadia National Park, Maine

Because, of course. Because you can’t go on a summer adventure across New England and not visit it. Because if you’re looking for places to explore and you love adventure, you cannot in good faith ignore Acadia.

Situated on the coast of Maine, a five-hour drive north of Boston, Acadia National Park is a place unlike anywhere else in the world. Mountains rising up from the sea with dramatic, sloping rock formations worn soft by years of oceans spray. Quaint little villages offering lobster by the pound and clam chowder by the cup perch above the crashing waves. Bike trails meander through the park following carriage roads laid down by long-dead entrepreneurs.

It has mountains, it has the sea, it has forests, it has a coastline, it has fishermen, it has historic colonial architecture, it has everything. Hike Cadillac Mountain to watch the sunrise then ride a bike around the trails to explore some of the more hidden corners of the park that most of the tourists in Bar Harbor will never catch a glimpse of.

Welcome to Maine

Credit Renee Johnson (Flickr)

6. Ogunquit, Maine

Another Maine location makes the list, but are you surprised? When it comes to places to visit in New England, the coast of Maine is hard to ignore. Far, far to the south of Acadia on the southern coast of Maine is a stretch of charming, eccentric, quaint, and idyllic little towns that just beg to be explored at a leisurely pace.

Think of it as the slightly more rugged cousin of Cape Cod. Cape Cod of the North, if you will. Beaches here give way to long spines of stone that reach out into the sea. Red roofed lighthouses look out over turbulent seas as the waves crash against the rocks. And on the shore? Shops selling knick-knacks, antiques, and curios sit snug against cute little cafes and well-thought-out restaurants.

Spend a day exploring the towns or, if you’re more into active adventure like me, bring a bike and take yourself out for a long and beautiful bike ride. The coastal road from Wells down south to Nubble Point outside York is an unforgettable ride. Turn inland to explore the farmland and quiet communities that live in this coastal paradise year-round. Not into planning your own bike routes? If you’re looking for inspiration, you can use this route that I designed for my long weekend up in Maine this past Memorial Day.

If you do the ride, leave a comment and let me know what you thought! Or feel free to follow me on Strava, if that’s your thing.

Best Hiking Trail Near Lake Winnipesaukee

7. Lakes Region, New Hampshire

Lake Winnipesaukee. Say that ten times fast. Pronounced “Win-eh-peh-saw-key” it is an Abenaki word with a contested meaning. Some sources record Winnipesaukee as translating to “The Smile of the Great Spirit” while others recorded it as signifying “Beautiful Water in a High Place.” Though we may never know for sure what the Abenaki word means, one thing remains true: this is a special place.

The Lakes Region of New Hampshire is comprised of several large lakes, of which Winnipesaukee is the largest. Known for its boating, fishing, and motorcycle gangs, the region is actually home to a wealth of adventure for those willing to look for it. From little known hikes buried deep in the hills to full-day kayaking or stand up paddle board adventures, the Lakes Region offers outdoor adventures for everyone.

Hike outside Stowe Vermont

Credit Patrick (Flickr)

8. Stowe, Vermont

I love Vermont. From verdant green hills draped with farmland to the two parallel rows of green mountains running down the length of the state like a terrestrial spine, the Green Mountain State is perhaps New England’s best-kept secret. Picturesque villages perched among green and yellow fields, more hiking, mountain biking, and skiing than you could finish in a lifetime, and of course, an overwhelming number of microbreweries and nanobreweries cooking up some of the finest craft beer in the country (the Alchemist, anyone?)—Vermont really does have it all.

And if you’re new to Vermont and have to pick just one place to visit: make it Stowe. For the intrepid traveler, Mount Mansfield and Smuggler’s Notch offer hiking, mountain biking, and skiing (in the winter, of course) both in bounds and backcountry that is on par with some of what you can find out west (no, I’m not kidding). Once you’re done with the trails, head back into town and pick up some of the finest beer in North America from the Alchemist or try some of the headier brews from Vermont’s less well-known breweries at literally any of the stores and restaurants in town. My favorite Vermont brewery is Upper Pass. Try their Cloud Drop IPA, you won’t regret it. Need something to eat? Stowe has everything from five-star meals to cheap and tasty burritos.

Find yourself a nice little farmhouse to rent in Airbnb and discover why people are leaving Colorado to come live in this tiny little state in New England. You won’t regret it.

Whately, Pioneer Valley

9. Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts

The Pioneer Valley is a region of Massachusetts that sits just to the east of the Berkshires, nestled among the foothills along both sides of the scenic Connecticut River and the considerably less scenic Interstate 91. It stretches roughly from Northampton to Greenfield, though the people to the north and south of those towns might contest that border.

What is there to do in the Pioneer Valley? Go tubing down the Deerfield river, take a hike up Mount Tom, spend the afternoon exploring breweries that line the Connecticut River, buy farm-fresh produce from one of the hundreds of farmstands that dot the roads, and explore the many college campuses that blanket the city streets of Northampton and Amherst.

As an added bonus, Northampton is one of the most LGBTQUIA+ friendly cities in New England, long known to be a center of the lesbian community complete with rainbow crosswalks. 

DSC00958

10. White Mountains National Forest, New Hampshire

It’s dawn. A warm, pink light has just begun to suffuse the sky as the birds begin to sing. You lay in your sleeping bag, warm and content, listening as the forest slowly comes to life. Soon, however, the sun streams in through the tent. You rouse yourself and exit your nylon shelter. You are deep in a forest of pine, not another soul to be seen. The air smells like Christmas and the ground is soft beneath your feet.

After a quick breakfast, you pack up your campsite, deftly fitting all of your supplies into your single backpack. Stepping out, you follow a narrow path as it winds its way through the pines. Soon you are walking up and up and up, the trail turns into a granite staircase and you start to sweat. Just before you decide you need a break, the pines shrink, fall away, and you find yourself on a rocky, exposed summit. Your breath catches in your throat as you stare around you with eyes wide with wonder. In every direction, as far as you can see, mountains and forest-clad hills roll off into the deep blue distance. You set down your pack, take a seat on a rock, and soak it all in. It is magnificent. It defies understanding. It is the White Mountain National Forest.

This is, without question, my favorite place in all of New England. A mountain wilderness so beautifully wild, so deliciously remote, it seems impossible that it’s only a 2-hour drive north of Boston. In the Whites, ridge after ridge of mountains hide dense valleys where the maples and oaks grow thick around bubbling streams. For the intrepid hiker, it could be the work of a lifetime to explore every last trail that winds through these mountains. 

But even for the less adventurous, the White Mountains offer something for everyone. From scenic drives to tubing down rivers, lavish hotels and rustic campgrounds, the Whites are perfection. They are my happy place, my refuge from the world, my wonderland that I cannot stop exploring.

These Places in New England Are Just the Beginning

For such a small part of the United States, New England is truly a treasure trove of places to explore. From wild rivers to scenic beaches, hip cities and rustic farmland, I honestly believe that New England has a little bit of everything (but I might be a little bit biased). Have you visited New England? Do you have places that were left off of the list? Let me know in the comments.


Like this post? Pin it for later!

10 places to visit in New England this summer for the adventure loving traveler from Into Foreign Lands

Mount Washington Cog Railway

2018: My Year in Review

Adventure Travel, New Hampshire, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

2018 was a tumultuous year for me. It was the first full year I’ve spent in the United States since 2011. As such, it has been quite a year of transitions. I have had days and weeks where I questioned my decisions and worried about the future. I’ve struggled with depression, physical injuries, and anxiety.

My tough transition back from living abroad surprised me. Living abroad is a constant adventure where your mind is learning every day. Whether you’re adapting to the new cultural norms, learning the language, or exploring some new area of your foreign home, living abroad is thrilling. The transition back to living at home can be jarring. Suddenly all that mental energy that went towards your day-to-day has nowhere to go. For me, that resulted in, at first, a lot of tension and emotional confusion, and eventually, in a lot of activity. I had to throw all that mental energy into learning new things and finding new challenges, or else get lost in a mire of confusion.

For all that I miss my life abroad, I’ve also had some really fun adventures since moving back to New England. I’ve explored the absolute heck out of the White Mountains, taken several trips to Vermont, and I did get to take one really special trip abroad at the beginning of the year. So, instead of focusing on the hard times of 2018, I want to take a moment to reflect on the year that was, review some of my favorite adventures, and talk a bit about some of my hopes and plans for 2019.

Megan standing on Osceola Peak

My Top 3 Highlights of 2018

Most of my 2018 adventures were undertaken solo, but some of them featured my boyfriend and best friend Erich and some other seriously awesome women who have come into my life this year. It was the support of these people that really gave me the energy to accomplish all that I did in the past year.

whistler 1

1. Skiing at Whistler

This year kicked off strong with a week-long trip to Whistler, one of Canada’s premier ski resorts. I’d never visited this part of the world before and the sheer magnificence of the place shocked me.

On our first day, the summit was wreathed in fog. I did my best to explore the terrain—skiing off-piste for the first time in my life and navigating a field of bumps larger than most east coast mountains—but it was on day two that I really discovered Whistler. That day I woke up to crystal blue skies and saw for the first time the majesty of the Canadian Rockies. From the summit of Whistler, a wonderland of snow-capped peaks stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction. For the whole day, I skied in a kind of blissful dream state. Every dip and curve of the slope revealed some new magnificent vista of mountain wilderness. I was in heaven.

I realize Whistler and the sport of skiing are not accessible to everyone. It’s extraordinarily expensive and requires years of practice to get to a level capable of skiing on a mountain such as Whistler. On top of that, it requires a level of wealth and privilege just to take a trip and spend a week there. So, I realize this isn’t accessible to everyone and doesn’t really fit into my usual approach of extreme budget solo travel. That said, if you do get the opportunity to ski at Whistler, take it.

century ride in new england

2. Completing 2 Century Rides (My first!)

For those not in the world of cycling, a century ride is a 100-mile bike ride. This year, I completed my first and second century rides and I couldn’t be prouder of myself. The first I did solo, training in the cold, wet New England March and April, trying desperately to get into shape for my May 20th ride, terrified I wouldn’t be able to finish it.

The night before that first ride I could barely sleep. As the sun rose that morning, I took off with no fanfare. The ride had no official start so I started riding by myself. I feared I would ride the entire century solo, struggling in vain against a ferocious headwind. But my fears were unfounded. Before I’d even ridden 10 miles I was picked up by a group of friendly but competitive riders from south of Boston who encouraged me to “hop on!” their peloton. I kept pace with them for the next 20 miles, adrenaline coursing through my veins. When I got to the first rest stop I pulled out my phone and checked Strava to find my speed. Though I hoped to average 16 mph for the whole century, I was shocked beyond belief to see I’d averaged 18.9mph over the first 30 miles. To my knowledge, that was the fastest I’d ever ridden. By the end of the ride, my average speed was just above 18 mph.

I learned that day that I am capable of so much more than I give myself credit for.

DSC00958

Hiking My First Presidential Traverse

The crowning achievement of my year, by far, was my first Presi Traverse. This hike, known as one of the toughest in New England, spans roughly 23 miles and crosses several of the tallest peaks in the region. For me, this hike was yet another example of my tendency to underestimate myself. In the days leading up to my hike, I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to complete it. And yet when the day came I flew along the trail, covering the main section, 15 miles, before 5pm, nearly 2 hours ahead of schedule.

What really makes the Presi Traverse stand out as my top adventure of 2018 is the amazing community of hikers that exists in the White Mountains. Over the three days that I spent on the trail, my fellow Presi hikers became my companions, almost friends, though we were all strangers at dawn. As I saw the same people, peak after peak, we started to look out for one another, checking in, offering tips, giving each other a heads up about the weather. The people I met were the backbone of my Presi Traverse experience.

Entering the Dry River Wilderness, New Hampshire

My Adventure Plans for 2019

There were so many more adventures that peppered my 2018: riding my bike to the top of Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont, beginning my journey into rock climbing with the baddest group of women around, spending three days hiking in the Pemigewasset Wilderness by myself, and taking Erich up for his first ever backcountry camping trip. But enough about 2018. Here are some of my (as of yet, tentative) adventure plans for 2019:

Colorado

As of this moment, Erich and I are planning to head to Colorado at the end of the summer. His favorite band, Phish, plays an annual three-day show at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Arena out there. So we are using that as an opportunity to take a full week and explore the Rockies, drink some awesome craft beer, and see one of the most exciting bands around. If you have any recommendations for hiking spots or mountain biking routes we should check out, let me know!

Oh yeah, did I mention that in 2018 I also fell a little bit in love with the band Phish? Because that happened.

Bike Tour of Vermont

I’m not sure how many days I’ll get to do this, but at some point, during the summer of 2019, I’d like to do a bike tour of either just Vermont or of Northern New England. I’ve seen some trail maps floating around of a Vermont tour that can be done on dirt single track and dirt roads, so if I get my hands on a mountain bike, I’d love to check that out. Otherwise, I’ll probably be planning a road bike trip, hopefully crossing several of the steep gaps that cut through the Green Mountains.

A Single Day Presi

After completing my first Presidential Traverse in three days, it seems only obvious that I need to up the ante a little and challenge myself to complete the entire hike in a single day. It might require me to even pick up a bit of trail running.

Colombia

I’m planning to take at least one trip in 2019 that requires me to use my passport and Colombia is close to the top of my list. Not so far away, and with a thriving South American culture that I’m just dying to return to, my imagination is alive with thoughts of Colombia. I want to immerse myself in her cities and lose myself in her mountains. It may happen even this February.

But if I’m being totally honest, the trip I really want to make in 2019 is

Patagonia

This is currently just a dream, but if I can make it work I might (that’s a big MIGHT) try to tackle Patagonia as a solo traveler. Patagonia sits at the top of every outdoor adventure traveler’s list. How can it not? With so much wild beauty, such a mystique, and being positioned at the very end of the earth… Patagonia is my dream destination for 2019. Now, I just need to make it happen.

That’s a Wrap

So that’s a wrap on 2018. Honestly, when I take a step back I have to admit it was a really good year. Emotionally, mentally, I’ve had my ups and downs. More often than not I’ve been struggling. But at the same time, I accomplished some amazing things.

What did you do this year that you’re most proud of? What plans do you have for 2019 that excite you? Let me know in the comments!

 

The Beginner’s Guide to Winter Hiking

Adventure Travel, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

Winter hiking can be intimidating for beginners. Although I’ve been hiking pretty regularly since about 2010, I didn’t go on my first winter hike until 2018. I thought it would be windy, cold, and generally unpleasant. I love the feeling of warm sun on my skin as I lay across the warm rocks on a well-earned summit. I thought winter hiking would be just awful.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Winter hiking is a wonderland. The pines are draped in snow, the ice is shaped into a million intricate sculptures, and the entire world is turned into a majestic landscape like something out of a dream. On top of all that, there are way fewer people out, so you may get the summit to yourself.

Winter hiking is amazing. But, more than at any other time of year, it is imperative that you go prepared. Winter is a volatile season in the mountains and it can be dangerous. Preparation is key and safety should always be your top priority. If you take the proper precautions, winter hiking can be one of the most amazing experiences you’ll ever have in the mountains. Even as a beginner.

beginner winter hike

 

Winter Hiking for Beginners: Before You Go

There are a few key things that beginners ought to keep in mind as you start to plan your first winter hike. First, don’t hike alone! If you’re used to hiking solo in the spring, summer, and fall this can be a tough pill to swallow—but winter hiking is dangerous! Hike with a buddy for your first winter season until you learn how to adapt to the changing landscape. You can find hiking groups on facebook or places like meetup.com if you don’t have any hiking buddies.

Second, know your route. I realize this is also true during the warmer months, but it is so much easier to get lost in the winter. You could be hiking an unbroken trail, an unexpected whiteout could hit, or you could lose the trail when hiking above the tree line. More than ever, when winter hiking as a beginner you need to know the names of the trails, have a map, and be ready to use it.

Third, be prepared for any conditions. On a single winter hike, the weather could change from bright, sunny, and above freezing, to windy, snowing, and dangerously cold. Come prepared with the gear you need to face any weather, not just what the forecast reads.

And on that note, let’s get to the good stuff…

20181124_114256

 

What to Wear Hiking in Cold Weather

The key to hiking in the winter is wearing layers! You want to ensure that you don’t sweat on the way up. If you sweat, your clothes will get wet and you run the risk of frostbite. Wear clothing that breathes well and wicks away moisture. Stay away from cotton. Once wet, it will never dry. Instead, try packing winter gear like this:

  • Base Layer shirt and pants made of a thin, breathable, synthetic material.
  • Warm second layer like a fleece shirt and thicker leggings.
  • Down jacket with detachable outer shell like this North Face jacket.
  • Insulated snow pants
  • Insulated tall socks and sock liners
  • Glove liners and insulated mittens (I prefer mittens to gloves for my outer hand layer as they retain heat better).
  • Insulated hat.
  • Insulated hiking boots. I wear Salomons.
  • Gaiters (if your snow pants don’t include them).
  • Sunglasses or ski goggles
  • Balaclava or other face cover

winter hike new england

 

What Gear to Pack for a Winter Hike

Because you need to be prepared for several different situations on any one hike, winter hiking can require a lot of gear. Finding friends or groups to hike with can help offset the cost, as can renting some gear, such as snowshoes, for the first season if you can’t afford all the gear up front.

But, to be properly prepared for a winter hike, I recommend packing the following gear:

  • Map + Compass (and know how to use them)
  • Snowshoes and microspikes/hillsounds – be ready to need both depending on conditions.
  • Water in insulated containers. Choose water bottles over bladders as the tube can freeze too easily. Bring hot water in a thermos.
  • Small stove and pot for boiling snow, especially on very long or very cold hikes.
  • Hand Warmers – these are useful for keeping extremities warm. But also keep one in your pack near your phone to save battery life. If you want to be environmentally conscious, I recommend getting some reusable hand warmers.
  • Flashlight – even on a day hike it gets dark fast in the winter.
  • Hiking Poles

summit view from mount moosilauke in winter

 

What To Wear On Your Feet

This is the big question and a source of major debate among winter hiking enthusiasts. But if we rule out skiing/boarding for now, on the day of your hike you have three choices for footwear.

  • Snowshoes: No matter what the conditions, you should always bring snowshoes with you. When there is recent snow on the trail or lots of snow, you’ll want to use your snowshoes. It’ll make it easier for you to walk, and help preserve trail conditions for other hikers.
  • Microspikes/Hillsounds: If snow cover is thin or you expect the trail to be hard packed and maybe a bit icy, microspikes or hillsounds are the way to go. These smaller spikes help you grip the snow and prevent you from slipping as you walk.
  • Crampons: These larger spikes are necessary when the trail is extra steep or icy, or if you plan to descend down a steep rock face during your hike. The long spikes help you secure your footing and prevent injury.

As always, no matter which of these options you choose, you’ll want to wear a pair of insulated winter hiking boots.

What Food to Bring on a Winter Hike

Winter hiking uses up more energy than warm weather hiking because your body is working overtime to keep you warm. Because of this, you need to eat plenty of high calorie food to keep your metabolism and your body temperature high. Some snacks I recommend are:

  • Nuts and dried fruit
  • Candy (Snickers is my favorite hiking candy).
  • A thermos of hot cocoa
  • Protein bars

Whatever food you like to eat on a hike, bring lots of it and eat! You’ll be very cold by the end of your hike if you neglect your nutrition. Eat a lot and keep warm.

winter hiking in new hampshire

Winter Hiking Can Be Awesome for Beginners

Most of all, have fun and be safe! Be willing to turn around if the weather gets bad. Let go of pride and prioritize safety. Pay attention to your gut feelings—especially if they are telling you to be careful! Be safe, follow these winter hiking tips for beginners, and I promise you’ll have an absolutely amazing time exploring a winter wonderland.

What do you think? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!


If you liked this post… pin it for later!

Winter hiking can be intimidating for beginners. It is more important than ever to come prepared with the right winter gear, food, and tools to survive. Get the inside scoop here.

How to Take the Boat from Pucallpa to Iquitos

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel

Taking the slow boat from Pucallpa to Iquitos is easily one of the wildest and yet most relaxing adventures you can have in Peru. The journey grants you a rare glimpse into the authentic lives of people living in one of the most remote corners of Peru: the Amazon. For those with a taste for adventure and a little extra time in their schedule, the slow boat to Iquitos is more than worth it.

slow boat on the amazon

That’s the thing about Iquitos, it is completely cut off from the rest of the world in some ways. There are no roads that go there. Your only options, should you choose to make the journey, are by plane or by boat.

The journey can take anywhere from 4 to 7 days, depending on the water levels in the river. Along the way, you’ll get a tantalizing view into a place where life is slower, where time moves languidly alongside the waters of the Amazon. By the time you reach Iquitos, stuffed full of fried plantains and speaking Spanish fluently with your Peruvian neighbors, you’ll be half convinced it’s time to buy some land and build yourself a house on stilts deep in the Amazon jungle.

The journey on the slow boat is not for the faint of heart, but the experience is beyond compare.

sailing down the river from pucallpa to iquitos

What to Expect on the Slow Boat to Iquitos

Expect long, relaxing days laying about in the sun. Expect unexpected stops at villages perched precariously over the swollen waters of the Amazon. Expect the ship to run aground in the middle of the night, the distant sound of metal groaning far below you as the hulk hits the muddy river bottom.

But first, you have to get on the boat. And that is the hardest part.

The boat is a small container ship. A long, flat bed at the bow of the vessel is slowly filled with supplies for the villages that line the river. Massive pallets of rice and sugar, furniture, dry goods, everything that towns isolated in the center of the Amazon would need to survive. At the stern, there is a tower, three or four stories, and passengers find space on the second and third story. Everyone hangs a hammock side by side. People squeeze in as tight as possible. There are tables in between the rows of hammocks that make it easier to hang out and eat during the day.

The boat doesn’t leave until the front cargo area is full. So the catch is this: the boat doesn’t leave at any pre-arranged time. It leaves when it is full. That could be today, it could be tomorrow, it could be in three hours, it could be in 72 hours. You, as a passenger, do not know when the boat will leave.

This makes it extremely important for you to reserve your spot on the boat as soon as you get to Pucallpa.

boats at dock in pucallpa

Reserving Your Spot on the Slow Boat to Iquitos

  1. First, find the boat. You’ll need to head down to the docks by finding Jirón Inmaculada and walking all the way down that road to the river. If there are no boats there, check up and down one block.
  2. Second, find the cargo ship that is currently being loaded up with supplies.
  3. Third, find the captain or representative of the ship. Ask if he is taking on passengers. Purchase a ticket. It should cost about 100 soles.

Your ticket guarantees you passage to Iquitos as well as two meals a day. The boat has bathrooms but no showers, so expect to feel quite stinky when you arrive at the other end.

In all honesty, when I arrived I could not figure out which boat to take. I waited until I found some other gringos (foreigners) hanging around the docks and asked them where to look. They pointed me in the right direction. So, if the above directions don’t work and you can’t find a ship—find the gringos.

boat waits at the dock in Pucallpa

Once you get a ticket, the next thing you need to do is buy a hammock. There will be merchants selling hammocks at the gate to the dock, but those are generally the most expensive. Your better bet is to head to the nearest market and buy a hammock from one of the sellers there.

Hammock in hand, head on board the ship and pick your spot. The second and third level are set aside for passengers so you can string your hammock up where ever you see free space. I recommend stringing the hammock up next to a table, otherwise, you are going to be eating off of the floor for the next four days.

hammocks on the slow boat to iquitos peru

What You Need to Bring

You need surprisingly few supplies to enjoy the journey from Pucallpa to Iquitos in relative comfort, but there are a few necessities you can remember that will help make your journey more enjoyable.

  • Water: bring large bottles of water to sustain you for the journey. People will be selling water along the way, but if you want to avoid buying many small plastic bottles, bring some big ones.
  • Books: needless to say, there is no wifi on a container ship floating down the Amazon river in the depths of Peru. Bring something to read.
  • Extra toilet paper. Trust me.
  • A deck of cards or some other games to pass the time.

Something you don’t really need to bring is food. You’ll get breakfast and dinner provided by the ship. It’ll be underwhelming. During my journey, we got watery porridge for breakfast and honestly, I don’t even remember the dinners.

The real food comes in the middle of the day. The ship will stop at one or more villages each day to drop off supplies. Technically, you can get off the boat here to explore the village, but the boat will NOT wait for you. If you’re still ashore when it disembarks, you’re out of luck and will need to convince some villagers to ferry you after the ship on their little-motorized canoes.

woman selling food

Every time the ship stops at a village, men and women will swarm onto the ship selling all manner of local delicacies. Coconuts, fried plantains, juanes (rice and spices and plantains wrapped up in banana leaf), tacacho (meat, rice, and plantains), and so much more. It was one of the highlights of my time on the boat. Peruvian Amazonian cuisine is totally different from the cuisine in the rest of Peru. The flavors are more tropical, the ingredients exotic, and the preparations scream of long hot days spent drifting down the world’s longest river. The food somehow belongs in the Amazon, it is of the Amazon and tastes of the deep roots of indigenous life there. Exploring the food of the Amazon is to explore the Amazon itself: rich, wild, and untamed.

Other than that, your only job for the next four days is to chill. Relax in your hammock. Hang out on the top deck and watch the Amazon roll by. Wave at small children peeking out from between the trees that line the river. Picture their homes and the winding muddy trails their feet follow every day. Imagine what it might be like to spend your days running through the dense trees and climbing up to the canopy.

man cooks alligator on the Peruvian Amazon

A journey down the Amazon River is a rare, once in a lifetime experience. The slow boat from Pucallpa to Iquitos gives you, the tourist, a rare opportunity to experience life as a Peruvian. This isn’t a tourist trap—it’s the real deal. The authentic Peruvian method of travel to Iquitos. If you have the opportunity to make this journey, take it.


Like this post? Pin it for later!

Learn how to take the slow boat down the Amazon from Pucallpa to Iquitos: Travel in Peru

How to Train for Your First Bike Tour

Adventure Travel, Bike Touring, Travel

Bike touring is one of the most rewarding ways to travel. Yet it can be daunting for first time riders.

But it doesn’t have to be.

With the right training plan, you can be strong and confident on the first day of your bike tour.

Or you could be like me on the first day of my ride around Cambodia, collapsing from exhaustion after only 50 miles. Your choice, but I recommend training.

Bike Tour to Phnom Penh Cambodia

Your Super Simple Bike Tour Training Plan

1. Start with short, easy rides

4-6 months before your tour, start regularly riding your bike. Begin with an easy length, maybe only 5 or 10 miles, and build from there. Try to ride 3 to 5 times per week.

This may seem obvious, but the most important thing you can do to prepare for a bike tour is to start riding your bike. Try to keep your RMPs (that’s revolutions per minute, also known as your cadence) above 90. Your legs should be moving quickly but comfortably.

Remember to be nice to your body. You’re preparing for a big adventure. Start small but dream big. Don’t injure yourself now and mess up your future plans.

Most importantly: be patient.

cardamom mountain road cambodia

2. Start Cross Training with Weights

After a few weeks of easy riding, head to the gym to start lifting weights twice per week. This is an often overlooked step, but cross training is just as important as riding your bike.

Lifting weights will help you build strength for the long bike tour. It will also rev up your progress. Lifting weights only twice a week will make that 30 mile ride feel just a little bit easier.

Never lifted weights before? Find an intro to weight lifting class at a local gym. Learn proper weight lifting form to avoid injuries and muscle imbalances. Once you know what you’re doing, you can get creative with your weight lifting routine.

Need inspiration? Check out these exercises from REI.

biking kep cambodia

3. Embace Adventure on Longer Rides

2-3 months before the trip, start going on long bike rides.

Aim to take two 40+ mile rides each week. If this isn’t possible, at least one 50+ mile ride on the weekend should be enough.

Don’t be afraid of the long ride. This is a chance to have an adventure. Try out roads you’ve never ridden down before. Ride your bike to a nearby town or state park.

Pretty soon, you’ll be craving the peace of mind that comes from spending two or three hours alone on your bike.

cardamom mountains battambang to koh kong

4. Add Weight To Your Bike

2-3 weeks before your trip, start adding weight to your bike when you ride. Riding a fully loaded bike is challenging. You don’t want to shock your body on day 1 of the tour.

Begin with 15 to 20 pounds on a medium length ride and build from there. Ideally, you’ll want to do one or two long rides with a fully packed bike in the week leading up to your trip.

Additional Tips

On top of your training plan, here are a few more things to keep in mind as you get fit and ready for your first bike trip:

  • Monitor your progress. Download an app like Strava or MapMyRide, or just go the oldschool route of pen and paper. Whatever you choose, keep a record of your progress. This will help keep you honest and will motivate you when you see how much you improve in only a few months.
  • Stretch! I can’t emphasize this enough. Start stretching from day one. Just five minutes of stretching after a ride can help prevent injuries and promote recovery. Not sure where to start? Try these simple stretches from Bicycling Magazine.

bike tour cambodia

Training for Adventure

Training for a bike tour should be fun. You’ll be spending time outside, getting fit, riding your bike. What more could you want?

If you can’t fit in all the training, don’t worry. I did my first bike tour without any training at all (honestly, I hadn’t ridden a bike in over a year) and I survived. You will too.

If you follow this plan, you’ll be well prepared to get the most out of your first bike tour.

Happy trails!


Like this post? Pin it for later!

Training for Your First Bike Tour: A 6 Month Training Plan to Prepare for Your First Long Term Bicycle Tour

Hike from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu: The Adventure of a Lifetime

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

You’ve got two weeks in Peru. You want to visit Machu Picchu and see the most famous place in South America, but you also want to have a wild, life altering adventure deep in the Andes. It may not sound possible, but you can have all this while staying under budget on your two week trip. How?

By hiking from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu without a guide.

Choquequirao is a stunning ancient Incan temple built about 100 years after Machu Picchu. Much like it’s more famous cousin, Choque sits on top of an Andean Ridge, overlooking a river thousands of feet below. But unlike Machu Picchu, Choque has hardly any tourists. Fewer than 20 people visit each day.

condor

Photo by Macie J

To put that in perspective for you, Machu Picchu gets 5,000 visitors a day. One more time for the people in the back: Machu Picchu gets 5,000 people per day. Choquequirao? 20.

Why the difference? Because the only way to reach Choquequirao is via a grueling two-day hike.

As if that wasn’t adventurous enough, for those in the know, those passionate, outdoor-loving, backpacking maniacs who want to immerse themselves in the Andean wilderness, an even greater adventure awaits you beyond the gates of Choquequirao: the 9-day trek from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu.

It’s an epic journey that follows an Incan trail over two high Andean passes, through verdant valleys, and up to a deserted mountaintop ruin overlooking Machu Picchu.

Imagining, beginning your week at one of the most remote religious sanctuaries in the world, traversing Andean mountains on the same pathway the ancients walked and ending your journey at the fabled Machu Picchu.

This is all possible. Hiking from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu without a guide is challenging, it is stunning, and it is totally doable in less than two weeks.

hiking choquequirao to machu picchu

Photos by Macie J

Hike from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu: The Itinerary

Day 1: Cachora to Chiquisca
Day 2: Chiquisca to Choquequirao
Day 3: Choquequirao to Pichauhuyoc Ruins
Day 4: Pichauhuyoc to Pajonal
Day 5: Pajonal to Yanama
Day 6: Yanama to Colcabamba
Day 7: Colcabamba to La Playa
Day 8: La Playa to Aguas Calientes
Day 9: Machu Picchu

This is a long and extremely challenging journey. Before you go, make sure you are prepared for this trip both mentally and physically. Only take on this journey without a guide if you are an experienced trekker and confident navigating backcountry terrain. Though the path is clear throughout, there are still plenty of opportunities to get lost in the Andean highlands.

As with any hike in Peru, the most important consideration of all is altitude. Give yourself at least one day to acclimate in Cusco before beginning the trek. The path from Choque to Machu Picchu crosses extremely high elevations, the highest point at Yanama Pass (4500m/15,000ft). The air up there is thin and no matter how fit and knowledgeable you are, you will struggle. Acclimate!

This trek is no joke. But for those who are fit, smart, and capable, hiking from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu offers a chance to see a part of Peru most people have never even heard of.

Choquequirao Peru

Photo by Mark Rowland

Trekking from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu: What to Expect

I’ve covered what to expect from days one and two when you hike to Choquequirao, so let’s continue to day three, and the morning of your Choque explorations.

After you’ve finished reveling in the tranquility of this ancient temple, head towards the highest part of the temple and off into the jungle. From Choquequirao, the trail winds up the side of the mountain, weaving through dense shadowy forests before descending sharply towards a river valley.

andean flowers choquequirao hike

Photo by Macie J

A little more than halfway down to the river valley floor, you’ll come to a set of ancient Incan terraces carved into the wide open mountainside. This is Pichuhuyoc. These terraces and the small temple in the center are the location of one of the last still-functioning Incan water systems in Peru. It also makes a great place to camp for the night.

Come the morning of day four, follow the trail all the way down to the river below. There was no bridge in June 2014, but the crossing was easy nonetheless. From there, the trail is slightly off to your left. Ahead of you is a long and steep climb up to the village of Maizal. Village is perhaps a generous term, it is a collection of four or five houses perched on a mountainside. Not a human soul to be seen when I visited, but I did have a great conversation with a cow standing next to the only source of water.

From Maizal, the trail continues up more gradually, working its way towards the Victoria Pass. Through the lush jungle, the trail clings to the steep mountainside. A glance over the edge of the trail will send your heart thumping up into your throat. When I hiked this in 2014, the path was very wet and treacherous. Quiet narrow, especially when I had to share it with donkeys coming the other way.

Along the way, you’ll pass abandoned Victoria Mines, a narrow chasm cut deep into the mountain. Shortly after the mines, the trail cuts sharply up the mountain in a series of stairs and switchbacks. Once you climb into the sparse, high Andean environment, it should be nearing the end of the day. Though there is no official campsite up here, camp on whatever wide, flat, empty space you can find.

path to victoria pass

Photo by Macie J

Here is your reminder to practice leave no trace! High elevation environments are extremely sensitive, do your best not to crush plants and other life underneath your camping equipment.

Come dawn of day five, continue up towards Victoria Pass. I cannot encourage you enough to get there as soon after sunrise as you can. Further, into the day, the clouds will gather and obstruct the views. But if you arrive early enough, you’ll be greeted with panoramic views of the surrounding glaciers and sharp Andean peaks.

From the pass, it’s a long but fairly gentle descent down to Yanama Village, where you can camp for the night.

Waking up in Yanama will be a bizarre contrast of modern and ancient. This small village is home to a road. In fact, it is home to the only road that accesses this remote corner of the Andes. You may hear trucks and cars heading in and out of town, a grating contrast to the serenity of your days on the trail.

yanama pass

Photos by Macie J

No need to share the road, however, the Incan Trail you’ve been following for days continues its meandering path up the center of the valley. It’s difficult to get lost at this point as there is only one way to go from here.

Up and up the valley floor you go, gaining altitude and increasing in grade as the day continues. The final push to Yanama Pass is a steep and relentless wall of scree. But make it to the top of the pass and you’ll find views of a glacier so close you could reach out and touch it.

But don’t. Glaciers are very dangerous.

After Yanama Pass, you have a long yet gentle walk all the way down to Colcabamba. Savor the silence because in Colcabamba you’ll meet up with the Salkantay trail and all dirt, grime, people, and noise that come with a heavily touristed trail. But on the plus side, you can talk to another human!

trekking to yanama

Photo by Macie J

Once in Colcabamba, you can say goodbye to free campsites. Camping here is limited to a few houses and licensed spots, and they will expect you to pay. The good news is you can get a home cooked meal for the first time in almost a week.

On day six, follow the Salkantay hikers and their guides as the trail winds its way down to La Playa, a small village perched next to a river. At this point, you’ve returned to relatively low altitudes and the heat will be intense. Best to drink lots of water and try to stay in the shade.

On the final day of the trek, you have the (boring) option to follow most of the Salkantay Trekkers down to Santa Teresa and from there hike along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes. Or, if you have the strength and want to see Machu Picchu in a way most tourists never will take a lesser known track up to Llactapata.

Llactapata is a forgotten and unimpressive ruin that sits on a ridge overlooking Machu Picchu. Its true beauty is the unparalleled opportunity it offers to look down on Machu Picchu from afar, just as the Inca once would have.

From La Playa, cross the river and continue to hike along the road. Be on the lookout for signs pointing towards an Incan Trail to Llactapata. They are hard to find but you will see it eventually. As of 2014, it was a faded red sign.

After this, the Incan Trail winds up the side of the mountain, not too steep but after a week of Andean hiking pretty much every incline feels steep. Your effort will be rewarded when you stumble out of the jungle onto a small clearing with the still standing walls of a modest temple structure.

Walk to the edge of the plaza and look out across the landscape. On the distant ridge, you’ll see a place where the jungle has been wiped away. Stones cling to the bare mountainside. This is Machu Picchu, and you are standing by yourself in the Andean Jungle looking out over it just as the Inca did long ago.

overlooking machu picchu from llactapata

Photo by Macie J

From Llactapata, the trail down to the valley floor is easy enough and then its just a slog along the train tracks until you reach Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu.

For accommodations in Aguas, your options are paid camping or budget hospedajes. Take your time and find the right option for you. The cheapest hospedajes are going to be up the hill and far from the main plaza. If you’re not too picky, camping is probably the way to go. Before you go to sleep for the night, make sure to buy your entrance pass to Machu Picchu for tomorrow! Do not wait until the next morning. Apparently now they assign times of day for your visit, so check your ticket to see when you’re allowed to enter the temple.

machu picchu

Photos by Macie J

The next day, wake up early to make the walk up to Machu Picchu! Because you didn’t walk all this way just to take the bus, did you?

If you did, best to get in line for the bus at like 4am I hear. It’s pretty hard to catch a bus. The stairway up to Machu Picchu is tough but not impossible. I say hike it.

All that’s left is your exploration of Machu Picchu. Take all the time you need. This place is worth it.

After your temple visit, I recommend catching the train back to Cusco. It is by far the easiest way to travel back to civilization. If the train is outside your budget, you can follow the train tracks back towards Santa Teresa and from there catch a taxi or collectivo out to Santa Maria, and from there a bus to Cusco.

If you’re really hardcore, you can walk all the way back to the Sacred Valley by following the train tracks in the other direction. This is a 28km walk and takes the full day. Get started early. When you get to KM 82, you’ll find yourself in a small village and from there you can easily get a collectivo back to Ollantaytambo.


Like this post? Pin it!

Hike from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu without a guide: one of the greatest adventures in PeruHike from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu without a guide: one of the greatest adventures in Peru

All photos on this post from Macie J.

Visit Choquequirao Without A Guide

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

What would it be like to visit Machu Picchu without the crowds? How incredible would it be to wander around the temple at your own pace, soaking in the silence and leaving no stone uninvestigated? While you’ll probably never get a private visit to that storied temple, there is another temple in Peru, similar is size and design, yet visited by less than 20 people a day. What is this elusive mystery? The secretive and secluded Choquequirao Temple.

For those intrepid travelers with a taste for adventure, Choquequirao offers a rare opportunity to take in Incan architecture and splendor without the crowds. A guided tour can cost hundreds of dollars, but if you are willing to take the plunge, hiking to Choquequirao without a guide can cost less than $200 and offer up the adventure of a lifetime.

5684962008_0613bdb27f_z

Photo by Danielle Pereira

All About Choquequirao

Pronounced “CHOCK-ey-keer-ow” this little known Incan temple is similar in style and structure to Machu Picchu. It was constructed in the 15th or 16th century, making it slightly younger than Machu Picchu. Choquequirao was also one of the last strongholds of the Incan warrior Manco Inca Yupanqui during his final resistance against the Spanish.

The site has been “rediscovered” multiple times throughout the centuries, most notably by Hiram Bingham in 1909. Excavations on Choquequirao only began in 1970 and are still ongoing today.

The temple sits at 3000m (9,800ft) above the Apurimac River, on the very top of a mountain ridge. The only way to get to Choquequirao is by trekking for four days across hot, dry, and steep terrain.

There is also an extension of this trek which can take you all the way to Machu Picchu, through some of Peru’s most legendary scenery, over the course of 9 days, which I will cover in an upcoming post.

A note on when to hike to Choquequirao: the dry season will make for the best conditions, between March and October. However, should you attempt it in the wet season, know that it is possible but the trail may become slippery and dangerous, and your views will probably be obscured by cloud.

4304245318_1422ae0354_z

Photo by Mark Rowland

How to Hike to Choquequirao Without A Guide

Day 1: Cachora – Chiquisca
Day 2: Chiquisca – Marampata/Choquequirao
Day 3: Choquequirao – Chiquisca
Day 4: Chiquisca – Cachora

4303249819_098d126128_z

Photo by Mark Rowland

How to Get to Cachora

If you’re going to hike to Choquequirao, first you’ve got to get to the starting point: Cachora. From Cusco, get any bus headed to Abancay, the earlier the better if you plan to start hiking on the same day. When I made the trip in June 2014, we were able to get a 5am bus, which got us to Cachora before lunch.

Ask the bus driver to stop at the Ramal de Cachora. At the Ramal, there will be several taxis waiting to drive you the 13km to Cachora. Should cost about 5 soles to share the taxi.

If you need to pick up last minute supplies like snacks or an extra packet of ramen noodles, Cachora is the place to do it. You can also allegedly hire a muleteer or even a guide, but I am not qualified to give you advice on that. You wanted to do this hike solo, right?

A note on timing: if you get an early bus from Cusco, you should be able to start hiking before or around noon. This gives you enough time to get to Chiquisca before dark. However, if you get a later bus and arrive at Cachora in the afternoon, you should probably wait a day before you start trekking. As I recall, there are a few affordable hospedajes in Cachora along with some upscale options.

Now let’s get to the good stuff: hiking to Choquequirao.

Day 1: Cachora to Chiquisca

The views on this hike begin immediately, as Cachora sits on the edge of a steep canyon, commanding panoramic views of the snowcapped peaks across the divide.

From Cachora, head downhill on the main road through town until you hit the farmlands. You should find a sign indicating the trail to Choquequirao. Take a left, cross a small stream, then take the path up to the road. Walk along the road until you come to the Mirador, an outcropping of land jutting into the canyon.

From the Mirador, it’s a long, steep set of switchbacks all the way down to Chiquisca at km19. If you got a late start, this is a good spot to camp. However, if you make it to Chiquisca early in the day, I recommend pushing on all the way to the river or even to Santa Rosa Baja.

Pro Tip: Day 2 is the most intensely grueling day of the entire trek, so the more ground you can cover on day 1, the easier day 2 will be.

Let’s assume, for the purposes of this itinerary, that you only make it to Chiquisca on Day 1. This campsite has streams for water, small shelters for cooking, and plenty of space to pitch a tent. Get a good night’s sleep because Day 2 is not a joke.

Apurimac River Valley

Photo by Mark Rowland

Day 2: Chiquisca to Marampata/Choquequirao

The earlier you can start day 2, the better. The trail is a long, steep, and without shelter from the blazing sun. If you can get at least halfway up the mountain before the sun rises to its apex, you’ll be thankful.

From Chiquisca, the trail continues down the mountain to the river below. At the river, you’ll find a campsite and a suspension bridge. Take a moment of silence in honor of your strength, endurance, and capacity, because they are all about to be pushed to their limits.

From the canyon floor, the trail heads up steeply, in a series of switchbacks that go on forever. I made the mistake of thinking that I must have almost reached the top. Don’t worry. You haven’t. You’re in for a big climb and your legs are going to feel it.

You’ll pass Santa Rose Baja, and a few minutes beyond that, Santa Rosa Alta. There are stores here and a nice flat, grassy area. It’s a good spot to stop and enjoy a snack. Then, continue following the merciless trail as it leads you relentlessly upwards.

At long last and well beyond your breaking point, you’ll come to the top of a switchback and find the trail leveled out. A bench awaits you, granting a respite from standing and a view out over the canyon wall you descended the day before.

From there, it is only a short walk to the village of Marampata, where you can find shops selling snacks, beers, and even a campsite. However, if you have the energy, I recommend continuing onwards and camping at the site below Choquequirao. It’s quite a bit further, probably another hour of hiking, but well worth it to camp so close to the ruins.

On the walk to the campsite, you’ll get your first view of Choquequirao perched precariously on the edge of the mountain ridge.

Choquequirao Peru

Photo by Mark Rowland

Day 3: Choquequirao to Chiquisca

Today is the day! After the labors on the mountainside on day 2, you’ve more than earned the right to visit this secretive world wonder. Whether you’re camped at Choquequirao or Marampata, I recommend getting an early start to experience the majesty of this temple in the early morning light.

The trail cuts through thick jungle and muddy mountainside on its way to the sanctuary. A few steps out of the jungle and suddenly you find yourself on the main plaza, in the center of a temple equal in size and splendor to Machu Picchu.

The true joy of a visit to Choquequirao comes not from the structures themselves but from the serenity of the space. Take a seat beneath the single tree in the main plaza and appreciate the silence and the grandeur of this Incan Temple.

When you’ve basked long enough, stroll slowly through the structures, make your way down to the terraces, or climb up to the main temple plaza. From the top, you can look down and see all of Choquequirao spread out before you. Your mind will struggle to comprehend the idea of people constructing this massive complex nearly 600 years ago.

And yet, here it stands.

Allow a full morning for exploration and enjoyment of this wondrous landmark. Eventually, however, all good things must come to an end. If you’re taking on the massive nine-day hike to Machu Picchu, head uphill through the temple to find your Incan Trail.

For those who are only taking on the four-day trek, it’s time to tackle the long downhill and small uphill back to Chiquisca on the far side of the canyon.

Choquequirao view

Photo by Mark Rowland

Day 4: Chiquisca to Cachora

The climb from Chiquisca up to the Mirador, so easy when it was a downhill, becomes somewhat more grueling on the way back up. Once you gain the Mirador, a well-earned beer awaits you at the small shop there.

Once revived by your adult beverage, only a short walk stands between you and Cachora, where you can easily find a room for the night or a taxi to drive you back up to the main road. In order to hitch a ride back to Cusco, you’ll have to do it the Peruvian way, when you see a car, van, or bus, hold out your hand flat and wave it up and down. Eventually, someone will stop and offer you a ride. If you’re nervous about it, negotiate a price up front.

Once back in Cusco, you are faced with a choice: do you tell other travelers about the majesty of Choquequirao, or keep the secret of this remarkable place close to your heart?


Like this post? Pin it!

Visit Choquequirao without a Guide: Travel to Peru and visit this less well known temple high in the AndesVisit Choquequirao without a Guide: Travel to Peru and visit this less well known temple high in the Andes

4 Hidden Cambodia Tourist Spots Near Angkor Wat

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel

You’re planning a trip to Cambodia and you’re hoping to find some other spots. You want to escape the tourists yet stay close to Angkor Wat. With this list of four of my favorite spots near Siem Reap, I hope you can visit these hidden sites tucked away from the main tourist trail.

Each of these tourist spots is within a one or two day trip from Angkor Wat and could easily be added on to a traditional Cambodia itinerary.

Banteay Chhmar

Satellite Temple in the Jungles of Banteay Chhmar

Banteay Chhmar

Imagine visiting Angkor Wat without the tourists. Picture a temple half reclaimed by the jungle, with massive trees growing out of the faces and towers. Sounds pretty magical, right? That’s what you’ll find when you visit the temple complex at Banteay Chhmar.

Located a full days journey from Siem Reap, Banteay Chhmar features a massive central temple with the enigmatic carved face towers similar to those found at Angkor. There are four smaller satellite temples surrounding the main temple as well.

Though Banteay Chhmar lacks the preservation of Angkor Wat, there is a certain charm to its tumbling walls and neglected towers. Without the crowds, you can take your time and appreciate the remarkable beauty of this ancient Khmer temple. Stroll around the grounds, scan the bas-relief murals, and gaze up at the faces of long-dead kings as they stare out at a now-vanished empire.

IMG_20170622_113539

Face Towers of Banteay Chhmar

How to Get to Banteay Chhmar

From Siem Reap, take a bus or taxi to Serey Sophorn/Banteay Meanchey. All buses that go to Battambang will pass through this town. From there, you need to get a taxi to Banteay Chhmar. The community-based tourism cooperative located in Banteay Chhmar has one taxi that they run, otherwise, you can easily find a car waiting near the bus depot that will take you to the temple for a small fee.

Banteay Chhmar Cambodia

Strangler Figs Growing in Banteay Chhmar

Accommodation in Banteay Chhmar

Banteay Chhmar doesn’t have any traditional guesthouses or hotels, so if you’re looking for those, you’ll want to get a room in Serey Sophorn and take a taxi up to Banteay Chhmar. It is very doable as a day trip.

If you want to sleep in Banteay Chhmar, the people who live in the village around the temple run a Community Based Tourism project (CBT) that runs homestays in the village. Get in touch with them ahead of time to let them know you’re coming. They have an office in town, but when I visited in June 2017, it was unmanned.

Koh Ker Temple Cambodia

Koh Ker Temple

Koh Ker

Another impressive remnant of the Khmer Empire, this ancient temple complex sits only 75 miles (120km) from Siem Reap, making it an easy day trip. This tourist spot has the added benefit of being less well known and thus lacking the crowds associated with Angkor.

Though there are over 180 temples and sanctuaries in the Koh Ker region, the main attraction is Koh Ker temple, a square stepped pyramid rising dramatically out of the surrounding Cambodian landscape. Also worth a visit are the beautifully carved red temple Prasat Prahom, and the fantastical Prasat Pram overgrown by strangler figs.

How to Get to Koh Ker

The easiest way to get to Koh Ker is by hiring a private taxi for the day. A taxi to and from Koh Ker stopping at several temples along the way should set you back about $70.

prasat preah vihear temple cambodia

Preah Vihear Ruins

Preah Vihear Temple

Arguably the most impressive temple in Cambodia, this little-known tourist spot sits atop a mountain on the border of Thailand and Cambodia. Older than Angkor Wat, it is built in a similar style and can be reached in a two or three day trip from Siem Reap.

Preach Vihear Temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and stretches 2,600ft (800m) on a north-south axis at the top of a mountain in the Dangrek Mountain range. The sight of a thousand-year-old temple standing on the edge of a 1,600ft (500m) cliff looking out across the Cambodian floodplain is not something you will soon forget.

How to get to preah vihear temple

Main Entrance to Preah Vihear

This tourist spot also has an intriguing modern history. Because of its location on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, the two countries have had several conflicts over ownership of the temple.

In June of 1962, the Hague ruled that Preah Vihear Temple belonged to Cambodia. And yet, the two countries continue to dispute ownership. If you visit today, you will still see Thai soldiers positioned across the border, a few fortifications, and maybe a Khmer soldier sitting idly waiting for something to happen. The area has been conflict-free since 2013, but it may still make sense to check with your embassy before visiting.

Preah Vihear Temple Cambodia

Temple at Preah Vihear

How to Get to Preah Vihear

This may be confusing so read closely. There are two places in Cambodia called Preah Vihear: the first is the temple, the second is a city of the same name. You do not want to go to the city. The nearest town to Preah Vihear temple is the village of Sra’aem.

There are minibuses that run from Siem Reap to Sra’aem, passing through Anlong Veng. Tickets should be $10-15.

From Sra’em, it’s 18 miles to the temple. You can hire taxis or a moto in town or your hotel may be able to help you find a ride. Expect to pay $15 round trip.

Entrance to the temple is $10 and you need to show your passport to buy a ticket. Getting a ride to the top of the mountain is a further charge, you can pay a motodop ($5) or take a truck ($25). It’s also possible to hike to the top using the ancient staircase. I highly recommend taking this track if you’re relatively fit an adapted to the heat in Cambodia. Bring snacks though, there is no food at the top.

Where to Stay

There are several guesthouses in Sra’aem that line the main road through town. Rooms in any of them should be between $8 – $15, depending on the time of year and your negotiation skills. When I visited in June 2017, I stayed at the Soksan 66 Guesthouse and I thought it was perfectly comfortable.

Ta Moks House Anlong Veng Cambodia

Ta Mok’s Mountain House

Anlong Veng

This town, situated 83 miles (135km) north of Siem Reap, is home to some stark reminders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge Genocide. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Anlong Veng was one of the most remote towns in Northwestern Cambodia, inaccessible by road. This inaccessibility made Along Veng the perfect stronghold for the Khmer Rouge leaders in the dying days of their power.

A quick history lesson for you: from 1975 to 1979, Cambodia was ruled by the communist Khmer Rouge who orchestrated a massive genocide, killing over a quarter of the Cambodian people. The Khmer Rouge was controlled by Brother Number 1, Pol Pot, and a group of his cadres, including Ta Mok (Brother Number 4), Son Sen, and Khiev Samphan.

When the Vietnamese invaded in 1979 and pushed the Khmer Rouge out of their capital, Phnom Penh, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge retained control of the fringes of the country, continuing to fight a guerrilla war for decades. Pol Pot, Ta Mok, and many others made their home and center of control in the remote town of Anlong Veng

Today, physical signs of this complicated history remain in Anlong Veng. The five most notable dark tourist spots in Along Veng are Ta Mok’s house and lake, Son Sen’s grave, Pol Pot’s Grave, Ta Mok’s Mountain House, and Pol Pot’s House.

In town, tourists can visit Ta Mok’s house and see the artificial lake he constructed in the 1990s. This is easily reachable by foot, just head north towards the mountains from the roundabout in town and the driveway will be on your right.

IMG_20170620_100319

For all the other sites, you will need to have your own transportation or hire a motodop driver in town for the day. I highly suggest hiring a driver, because many of these tourist spots are incredibly hard to find, and some are not signposted at all. A motodop for the day should cost between $10-$20 depending on your negotiating skills.

To reach the remote sites, follow the road north towards Choam and the Thai Border. The home and grave of Son Sen sit off the road to the right, shortly before you reach the mountains. Son Sen was once a leader of the Khmer Rouge, but his death was ordered by an increasingly paranoid Pol Pot in the late 90s.

Up in the Dangrek Mountains, just on the border with Thailand and directly across the street from a gaudy casino building, Pol Pot’s tomb sits quietly unadorned on a small side street. It is something of a travesty to think that a man who ordered the death of a quarter of his countrymen should be buried in such a beautiful place.

Just before the border crossing, take a right onto an unassuming dirt road and you’ll soon come to Ta Mok’s mountaintop vacation home, now the location of a Peace Museum and Khmer style resort with small pavilions and hammocks perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the floodplain below. This is a good spot to enjoy a picnic lunch, as bizarre as that sounds.

The last spot of the day, if you have the energy and fortitude to reach it, is the most gruesomely interesting. Deep in the jungles of the Dangrek Mountains sits the remains of the house of Pol Pot.

IMG_20170620_111158

Road to Pol Pot’s House

Following the road that passes Ta Mok’s mountain home, continue east, climbing up and down mountain slopes, through small villages, across wide open farmland, and through several military encampments. The border between Cambodia and Thailand is a bit porous up here and there is a chance the road passes in and out of both countries.

After many kilometers, a few forks, and lots of confusion, the road shrinks down to a muddy single track through the jungle, culminating in the graffitied shell of structure: the home of once all-powerful Brother Number One.

Pol Pot's House Anlong Veng Cambodia

Once you soak up all the eeriness you can handle, head back down to Anlong Veng to recoup from your day of dark tourism.

How to Get to Anlong Veng

There are mini buses that run from Siem Reap to Along Veng every day, several times a day. Tickets should be $8-10.

Accommodation in Anlong Veng

There are several guesthouses on the main road in Along Veng, some nicer than others. I stayed in a perfectly comfortable family guesthouse in a room for $5, though I negotiated somewhat aggressively for that price. Expect to pay $7 to $15 for a room with a fan or A/C respectively.

Tourist Spots Off The Tourist Trail

Each of these tourist spots is located with a day or two of Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat. If you only have a short amount of time in Cambodia and you want to understand this country’s history on a deeper level, I hope you’ll consider exploring one or more of these gorgeous and important tourist sites.


Like this post? Pin it!

Discove 4 Off the Beaten Path Tourist Spots in Cambodia - What to do near Siem Reap after you visit Angkor Wat4 Tourist Spots to Visit in Cambodia after you finish touring Angkor Wat and Siem Reap

How to Ride from Battambang to Koh Kong through the Cardamom Mountains

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel

This post is for the people who seek the thrill and danger of backcountry adventure. Those whose greatest desire while traveling is to get off of the well-trodden path and discover roads that most people never stumble upon.

If you’re looking for an adventure through the wilds of Cambodia, it’s time you read a bit more about the little known Cardamom Mountains.

A quick word of caution, this is not a journey for the faint of heart. You will struggle, and you will probably be in pain. You will ride through mud up to your knees and you will possibly get lost. Yet when you make it out the other side and see the waters of the Bay of Thailand shining far below, the only thing you’ll remember is the outstanding beauty and overwhelming sense of awe.

cardamom mountains to o soam

Road through the Jungle

This rugged journey takes you from the city of Battambang, in Northeast Cambodia, through rural farmland, ascends into jungle-clad mountains, follows roads that haven’t been repaired since the day they were built, and spits you out, three days (or more) later in Koh Kong, Cambodia’s forgotten outlaw city on the Bay of Thailand.

Am I overselling this? Not at all. I’ve riding a mountain bike through these roads several times and I always come away feeling overjoyed that my life lets me experience something as great as this ride from Battambang to Koh Kong through the Cardamoms.

Ready to tackle the adventure? Let’s get into the finer points of how to get from Battambang to Koh Kong through the Cardamom Mountains.

At the end of this post, I’ve included links to simple google maps instructions to illustrate the route that I describe.

Riding Through the Cardamoms: The Itinerary

Day 1: Battambang to Pramaoy
Day 2: Pramaoy to O Soam
Day 3: O Soam to Koh Kong

view of o soam cambodia

O Soam Village with Phnom Samkos in the distance

Tips for Riding from Battambang to Koh Kong

Choose Your Mode of Transport

This ride can be done on a mountain bike, motorcycle, or dirtbike. As far as I know, you cannot hire a car to drive you along this exact route.

I’ve completed a version of this ride twice, and both times on a mountain bike. It is easily one of the most challenging bike tours I’ve ever done. The roads are often in terrible condition and through remote areas with no villages, shops, or places to purchase supplies.

Pay Attention to the Weather

This trip should really only be attempted from November to June. Once the rains start, the road up to O Soam becomes completely impassable. Cycling it would be beyond dangerous. Same goes for a moped. Dirtbikes might still be able to make it but it is still dangerous.

Basically, don’t do this trip in the rainy season.

Why Battambang and Not Pursat?

You can easily find many blog posts that describe the ride from Pursat to Koh Kong as a great adventure. In fact, the first time I did the ride I started in Pursat. My advice now? Don’t do it. The road from Pursat is wide, paved, and boring. If you’re in it for the adventure, start from Battambang and take the mountain roads to Pramaoy.

Accommodation Along the Way

Hotels and Guesthouses are available in Battambang, Pramaoy, O Soam, and Koh Kong. You can make this journey on a bicycle without camping gear as long as you are very fit, accustomed to the Cambodian climate, and know what you are doing.

If you are an inexperienced cyclist and don’t know any basic bike maintenance, do not attempt this ride solo! This ride passes through remote areas without villages or support. If something happens to you, it could be hours before someone passes.

Make it a 5-Day Journey

Though I will outline this trip as a three-day itinerary, I can’t encourage you enough to spend several days in O Soam. A man named Mr. Lim runs a homestay there with his family and it is the best-kept secret in Cambodia. Just go, and spend two or three days hanging out with Lim, visiting waterfalls, mountain biking in the jungle, and generally having a great time.

If you’re on a mountain bike, there are some sweet trails winding back through the jungle you could easily spend a week exploring.

Be Prepared!

This is an extremely remote and rugged ride. Whether you’re on a dirt bike, moto, or a mountain bike, bring the tools you need to make basic repairs along the way. Make sure you carry enough food and water to get you through each day. Especially on the road from O Soam to Koh Kong, do not expect to stop and buy supplies on the road as there are no villages! More than any other stretch of road in Cambodia, it is important to be prepared for anything in the Cardamoms.

Day 1: Biking Battambang to Pramaoy – 73 miles (118km)

Okay, first things first, Pramaoy is pronounced Pram-Ow-Ee, like pram as in the UK English name for a baby stroller, ow, as in ow my toe, and E as in the letter E. Pram-ow-ee. You’re welcome. Now you can at least ask for directions when you get lost.

Leaving Battambang, you want to head south out of town following the river towards Banan Temple. Follow the paved road as it winds through fragrant farmland with fruit stands dotting the side of the road. A canopy of trees offers much-needed shade from the rising sun.

After you pass Banan Temple on your right, the land opens up and you will start to see some hills rising around you. Finally, come to a roundabout with a statue the woman carrying a pot on her head. By this point, you’ve ridden 21.5 miles (34.6km).

This intersection is a good place to stop and have a coconut or buy some snacks. You won’t pass another shop for at least an hour, you’re probably hungry, and the sun will be beating you into the earth with its wild tropical heat.

From the rotary, continue straight for another 1.5 miles (2.3km), then take a left onto the dirt road. This road should, in a short while, cross a river.
Cross the river and continue straight for another 15 miles (24km) through the wide open farmland. You’ll begin to see the first ridge of the Cardamom mountains rising in the distance.

cardamom mountains battambang to koh kong

Nearing the Cardamoms

Follow the road in a more or less straight line until you come to a kind of T junction. Here you’ll find a small market and collection of buildings. If you’re lucky, someone will be serving lunch. Keep in mind that Cambodian markets generally stop serving lunch by 11am, 11:30 if you’re lucky.

From this T-junction, take a right and follow the road for 6.5 miles (10.5km) until you come to yet another T-junction.

tough cambodian road

This is a road in Cambodia

By now, the mountains will feel formidable, the weight of their presence pushing down on you, impressing the magnitude of the trials you are about to face on their steep slopes. At the final fork, you take a right and head on up into the mountains and your first massive climb of the journey.

If you’re one of the adventurous souls on a mountain bike, get ready for some serious climbing. Whoever built this road clearly skipped the day in urban planning class where they discussed switchbacks because this road is steep. Impractically steep. Relentlessly steep. As the road plies a straight line directly up the mountain all hope leaves your soul, your strength deserts you. Your lungs, heart, and legs beg for relief.

But you push on. You gain the first rise, then the second. You finally reach the crest of the hill.

From that point, you are blessed with the most perfect downhill of all time. It is gradual, flowing, and nearly neverending. You fly down a wide open valley between two steep mountain ridges. Cambodian villages cling to both sides of the road. The locals call out and cheer as you ride by but you’re too absorbed in the thrill of the downhill to stop and make small talk. The pain in your legs is replaced by euphoria as you fly ever downwards through the stunning Cambodian mountain scenery.

Cycling Battambang to Pramaoy

At the top of the downhill

You didn’t realize Southeast Asia could be this beautiful.

Eventually, the road heads uphill again, passing through jungle and farmland before dumping you out on the main road from Pursat to Pramaoy. It’s just 7 more kilometers (5 miles) along this road, then you reach your goal for the evening, the wacky and whimsical village of Pramaoy.

There are several guesthouses in Pramaoy. I like to use the one right off of the rotary in the middle of town. Rooms are $5 a night for a single bed and a private bathroom. There is a shop just next door on the corner that sells fried noodles and fried rice at dinner for $2 a plate.

What more could you need? Get to sleep early because you’ve got quite a day ahead of you tomorrow.

cardamom mountain road cambodia

Road to O Soam

Cycling Battambang to Koh Kong Day 2: Pramaoy to O Soam – 18 miles (30km)

Though each leg of this journey has its own beautiful moments, this leg, the second day up to O Soam, holds a special place in my heart. It’s the shortest day in terms of mileage, but possibly the most revelatory and wonderful in terms of adventure.

Waking up in Pramaoy is a real treat in and of itself. The town is bisected by a wide red dirt road that churns up dust in the dry season, giving the entire town a lost-in-time feel. It’s classic old school Cambodia. The houses and shops line either side of the road but are separated from it by a ditch, so everyone throws down a couple planks to act as bridges to their shops. Stand still for a moment and you’ll soon see Cambodians driving their motos across these makeshift plank walkways. It’s great. I love Pramaoy.

Once you’ve had your traditional Cambodian breakfast of Bai Sak Chru (rice and pork) or Bor Bor (rice porridge), it’s time to hit the road for the magical mystery tour that is the road to O Soam.

From Pramaoy, head south out of town from the rotary up towards the mountains in the distance. If you’re facing the main section of town, this is the left-hand road. The road will take you down a short hill and across a bridge. If you don’t cross a bridge almost immediately, you’ve taken the wrong turn.

cardamom mountain road

Looking Backwards on the way up to O Soam

From here, the conditions deteriorate rapidly, especially in the rainy season. The road will be swamped with mud and half of the adventure is riding through puddles without knowing exactly how deep they are going to be. Expect wet knees.

For the first 5 miles of the day, the road winds uphill through farmland, then through some rolling hills and small villages. Occasionally the jungle opens up onto farmland, offering stunning views back along the valley towards Pramaoy with rock-faced mountains rising beyond.

cycling battambang to koh kong

Up and Up and Up

After the final rolling hill, you’ll come to a small climb and then a sudden drop-off. Across the valley from you, a wall of jungle-clad mountain rises up, blocking out the sky. Please note the thin red line peeking out from beneath the foliage. That is your path. You have reached the climb.

Not as steep as the previous day by any means, this climb is no less strenuous and daunting. The road is generally in terrible condition. Even just a small amount of rain will turn the dirt into a thick and sticky clay that latches onto your tires and covers everything in a thick layer of muck. This mud is incredibly slippery so if you do run out of momentum, expect to slip and slide down into the dirt.

Compound these muddy conditions with sweltering heat and the savage glare of the Cambodian sun and you’ve got yourself an adventure. But don’t worry too much, as long as you head into it knowing it’s going to be tough, you’ll have a great time. This is easily one of my favorite single days of cycling. Something about the noises of the jungle, the challenge of the road, the beauty of looking around and seeing only jungle clad ridges rolling off into the distance makes this day unforgettable.

As you ascend, the road crosses several ridges before reaching the end of the final climb. On the way up, you will pass no shops and no homes. Bring enough water and snacks. There is a small hut a little over halfway up where you might run into some Khmer military types hanging out. They might give you water, or they might just give you funny looks.

cycling in the cardamom mountains

You’ll know you’ve made it to the top when you see a wide valley open up below you. Far in the distance, a small village sits on a lake. That is O Soam and your goal for this day.

After soaking up the view, it’s time for the downhill. The road heads downward at a steep grade, finishing in a ramshackle village perched on the edge of the lake.

From there, the road carries on and winds around the lake for a further 20km but it is not necessary to take the road. From the ramshackle village, it is possible to take a series of two ferries across the lake almost all the way to O Soam. The total cost for the ferries is, I believe, $2.50.

When you disembark from the final ferry, you have just a few miles left to go.

The road winds through the rich jungle and you’ll begin to see some signs telling you that the “O Soam Homestay” is only a few kms away. This is where you want to stay. There is no better accommodation in O Soam, or possibly even in Cambodia.

o soam community homestay cardamom mountains cambodia

O Soam Homestay

The O Soam Homestay is a slice of heaven in the middle of thick, mountainous jungle. Perched on the edge of the lake, a man named Mr. Lim brought his family up here to open a homestay and educate the local population on the importance of stopping deforestation and poaching. He is truly a wonderful human being and a delight to stay with.

If you have time, I can’t encourage you enough to spend a day or two relaxing in a hammock, eating family style meals with the Lims, swimming in their lake, or heading out on an adventure or two with Lim and his local guides.

You won’t find another place like this anywhere else in Cambodia.

cardamom mountains homestay cambodia

Cycling Battambang to Koh Kong: Day 3: The Final Marathon – 67 miles (108km)

The final day of the ride has the greatest change in elevation and is the most unforgiving and tiring. If you’re on a mountain bike, this day will challenge you physically, mentally, and spiritually. It will break you down into bits and build you back up into a better, if slightly traumatized, human.

If you’re on a motorcycle or moped, just be ready for a really long day with no shops and nowhere to buy food. I don’t know if it will break you as a person and motorcyclist, but it will be stunning, I can promise you that.

No matter what mode of transport you’re on, carry enough water with you! I had 4 liters with me and I barely made it.

This is a long day through mountains. Do not expect to finish in a few hours. An early start is key to success; it gets hot in them hills in the middle of the day.

From Lim’s place, cross the river and head into O Soam village. At the fork, take the right-hand road across the river and then out across the farmlands. The road here is in terrible condition but things improve quickly once you get onto the main road to Koh Kong.

After 6 miles (10km), you’ll come to a junction with some restaurants and shops, and a big sign pointing the way to Koh Kong. It’s a right-hand turn and very important not to miss this.

If you’re using google maps, it will tell you to go straight. Very important advice about riding in Cambodia: do not trust Google! They have no idea what is going on. That road doesn’t exist. You need to take the right-hand turn as signposted. The locals will make sure you don’t miss this. If you try to ride straight through, several people will shout at you.

From this turn, it’s basically a straight shot until you hit the paved road about 31 miles (50km) further down. But don’t let that relatively short distance deceive you. Those are a long and adventurous 31km. I won’t ruin too much of the surprise but expect several long climbs, many dramatic downhills, and a few truly horrendous Chinese-built dams. Yay globalization!

On a personal note, the first time I attempted this ride in November of 2016, I got a flat tire after only 40km and had to be driven out by some friendly Khmer people. As I stood on the side of the road hoping that anybody would drive by and save my dumbass (I was riding without any extra inner tubes or tools), I heard a whooping call echoing through the jungle. It sounded quite nearby. I gazed up into the trees, not sure what to look for, and I heard it again, a whoop whoop whoop sound. Then I saw it, a gibbon was hanging from the top branches of a tree just above me on the side of the road. Our eyes met, the gibbon paused, whooped at me one last time, then turned and swung off into the jungle. If I hadn’t had a flat tire, I never would have seen such a beautiful creature.

cardamom mountain road koh kong

The Road to Koh Kong

Back to the directions.

After many an epic downhill and some truly breathtaking views, you’ll come out onto a paved road. Turn right. Not too much further, you come to another split, and the signs here are misleading. The paved road heads to the left, while a dirt road heads right. The signs will tell you to take the dirt road, and you can. But you can also stay on the paved road to the left. This will take you down to a Chinese dam, through a workers camp, and then will meet up with the dirt road further on down the line.

Everyone I speak to who has taken the dirt road says it’s horrible. Take the paved road.

Not much else to it really. From there you just follow the road down to Koh Kong. If you’re cycling, there will come a beautiful moment where you break out of the jungle and see the ocean and river fanned out below you. Your legs will rejoice, thinking the end is nigh.

The end is not nigh. The end is still very far away. Keep your chin up and keep pedaling. You’ll get there.

koh kong harbor

Koh Kong Harbor

I could barely walk by the time I rolled into Koh Kong at the end of the day, but it was so worth it. And now, sitting here at my kitchen counter writing this post 6 months later, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

If you love bike touring, are going to Cambodia, and want to have a life-changing and stunning adventure in one of the last remaining mountainous wildernesses in Southeast Asia, I can’t encourage you enough to ride from Battambang to Koh Koh through the Cardamom Mountains.


As promised, here are the google map directions for each leg of the journey. I’m not overly tech savvy so I just broke it up into chunks wherever google maps didn’t want to let me plot the route as is. Sorry that it isn’t a KML or GPX file.

Day 1, First Part: https://goo.gl/maps/GfUBk1wr2F62
Day 1, Second Part: https://goo.gl/maps/MavkLdeEn8E2
Day 2, First Part (to the ferry): https://goo.gl/maps/YwtNsPfTfy92
Day 3: https://goo.gl/maps/Uhq4GPgB84q


Like this post? Pin it for later!

How to Ride from Battambang to Koh Kong through the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia