The 5 Best Things about Fall in the Northwest

Kids are back in school.  Football’s back on the TV.  Fall has arrived in the Pacific Northwest!

When I lived in Arizona, I used to get intensely homesick in the fall.  Sure, there are Pumpkin Spice Lattes, sweaters, and football in the Southwest, but the accouterments of autumn lose some of their luster when the temperature is still in the high 90s.

Here are the five things that I love most about fall in the Northwest:

The Weather, The Weather, The Weather!


It is impossible to overstate the beauty of Indian summers. Foggy in the morning, sunny in the afternoon: fall weather in the Pacific Northwest cannot be beat.  Anywhere.

Fresh Produce


When I lived in Arizona, my community had a “farmer’s market” two or three times a year.  This meant that the local corner grocery store rolled their produce carts outside and pretended they were full of local produce.  Not even kidding!  No fake farmer’s markets are necessary here, though!  The Northwest is a cornucopia of delicious food this time of year, making true garden-to-table eating easy!

The Fair


Where else can you eat a deep-fried-Snickers-on-a-stick, see a thousand pound pumpkin, and take a spin on the Zipper?  Fair week was practically an official holiday in my hometown.  Passing an afternoon pretending to be an expert on livestock and produce, conissuer of fair food, and watcher of the crowds transports me to a simpler time when the fair was a place to see and be seen.


Dahlia Banner

The transformation from gnarly tuber in the spring to vibrant bloom in the fall never ceases to amaze me.  My mom plants about 50 bulbs every year, and walking through her dahlia garden searching for the perfect blooms feels so luxurious — like I’m painting in flowers.

Nature’s Changes


Geese. Leaves. Frost.  I love nature’s colors, smells, and sounds in the fall.  The sweet, musty smell of fallen leaves automatically makes my heart go pitter-patter.

Welcome, fall!  It’s good to see you, old friend.

What’s your favorite part of fall in the PNW?




Mt. Ellinor, English teacher confessions, and transcendentalism


I have an bad English teacher confession to make: as a student, I never cared much for the transcendentalists, traditional or modern.  Walden Pond and Tinker Creek seemed like bizarre and pointless exercises.  Yeah, the seasons change.  Bugs eat frogs.  Frogs eat bugs.  Moths fly into flames.  Birds fly north and south again.  It snows.  I just didn’t get the obsession with nature.

You see, as a child in the rural Pacific Northwest, I grew up with a view of snow-capped Mount Baker and the Twin Sisters out my bedroom window, cows grazing in my family’s pasture, a bald eagle’s nest in the scraggly tree in the yard, and a salmon-bearing creek less than a 5 minute walk through the field.  On mellow summer days, I occupied myself by catching field mice and toads, reading in the crook of the apple tree in our field, and hiding in the tall grass by our barn with the spiders, impossibly fat with pregnancy as the summer waned.  I didn’t get the transcendentalists because I didn’t have to become one with nature.  Without me even noticing, nature had become one with me.

In my early 20s, I lived in the concrete confines of Phoenix’s city center and a master-planned suburb with uncannily green manicured lawns in the midst of the desert.  I felt entirely unconnected with the natural world, and I finally started understanding the impulse John Muir describes in his book Our National Parks:

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”

Mt. Ellinor, the southernmost peak in the Olympic Mountains, is the kind of hike that underscores Muir’s sentiments.  It’s truly breathtaking.  There are two access points: a higher trail head and a lower trail head, which extends the hike by about a mile and a half.  You need a day-use permit to park at the higher trail head, which also features surprisingly clean restroom facilities.

Chris and I decided to hike from the lower trailhead, which makes for a 6 mile hike overall.  The first two miles meander through the woods.  The sweet aroma of decomposition emanates from every fallen limb and ladders of fungi hang rakishly from the shady side of the trees.

A walk in the woods

After a couple of steeper switchbacks, the trail spit us out at the treeline where bug spray is an absolute necessity.  Horseflies and hornets are not my idea of fun with nature.  I doused myself with so much Deet that bugs repelled from me like they were bouncing off a cartoon bubble.

Out of the Trees.jpg

When we hiked in Hawaii this summer, we got used to boulder-scrambling, so Chris and I were pretty excited about this leg of the hike.  It wasn’t until we got over all the boulders that we realized that there was a very civilized path just to the left of this frame that bypassed the boulders.  Oops.

Boulder Scramble.jpg

We have no pictures of the next little leg of the hike for a very good reason: we were trying not to keel over and die.  It’s the kind of grade that doesn’t look too steep, but when you start hiking it, your quads start informing you that they find it rather steep.   The only good news about bit is that you’re almost to the summit.

C at Summit


Mt. Elinor View

And what a summit it is!  From up here, we were greeted by 360 degree views of the Olympic Mountains, Lake Cushman, Hood Canal, and Mt. Rainier.  The visibility was so great that we could even catch a glimpse of Seattle, almost 50 miles away.

Goat Shot

I’m always thrilled on a hike when I see wildlife, even if it’s a simple as a Stellar’s jay, garter snake, or a chipmunk.  Mt. Ellinor, however, has mountain goats!  We came upon this guy on our way down, but he was way more interested in licking salt off the rocks (why does that make me want a margarita?) than he was in us.  Good thing, as I’ve heard they can be pretty aggressive.

It’s easy to take nature for granted, but there is something soothing, something invigorating, something purely visceral about remembering how small I am against the massive backdrop of the natural world.

Maybe the transcendentalists were on to something after all.


Traveling the Best Coast of Kauai

Traveling the Best Coast of Kauai

I have been to 13 countries on three continents, roughly 20 states, and 2 of the Canadian provinces, and I have to say that Kauai is now tied with Iceland for the incredibly prestigious award of Katrina’s Favorite Place.  (Note: This award does not come with a cash prize.)

On our last day on the Garden Island, Chris asked me to rank my top 5 “TripAdvisor-Worthy,” moments — not an easy task, considering that at some point, I declared each day to be the best day ever.

Here are some of my favorites:

Kalalau Trail

Do you remember in 2014 when 121 hikers had to be air-evacuated off the Na Pali Coast after heavy rain stranded them?  This was the trail they were attempting. We only did the first couple of miles, which don’t require a permit.  (I’m not that hard-core, although it is now on my bucket list — hiking the Kalalau, not being air-evaced.)

I’ve done a fair amount of hiking in the Northwest, but what we call a “trail” in our neck of the woods usually consists of a civilized gravel or dirt path that meanders peacefully through the woods until it ushers you to a lovely scenic vista.

On Kauai, it seems that trails are essentially dryish streambeds full of boulders, mud, and ropes to pull yourself along as the trail itself hugs enough cliffs and crosses enough rivers (sans bridges) that the state is required to post myriad caution signs so that litigious idiots taking selfies too close to the edge don’t plummet to their deaths, resurrect, and sue the state, saying, “Trail?  That ain’t no trail!”  Kauai, I like your style!


What makes this trail special is the Na Pali Coast itself. Between the jet-black rocks, caves, vines, and soaring cliffs, it looks like a herd of stegosaurus are going to come lumbering out of the philodendron, hotly pursued by a T-Rex.  Add in the impossibly blue ocean, and it makes for an unforgettable hike. Plus, the trail spits you out at a pristine beach complete with a lagoon, beach caves, and hundreds of rock stacks created by successful hikers.

It was totally worth the kidney infection and trip to Kauai Urgent Care I got as a result of rationing my water too sparsely.  Not even joking.  I’d do it all again tomorrow.


Wailua River &Secret Falls

Chris and I are fair-weather kayakers in the summer, so we thought we would just rent a kayak on our own and paddle down the Wailua.  However, very few solo permits are issued per day and even if you do get a permit, you’re not allowed to launch your kayak in the river harbor.  So, we swallowed our kayaking pride and took a guided tour with Wailua Kayak Adventures (Shout out to our guide, Cole!).

The kayak trip up the river (Yes, that’s right, you paddle up the river. It’s as placid as a lake.) let us explore the historical political and economic center of ancient Kauai. We then hiked about a mile to Secret Falls.

Wailua Hike

Swimming out to the waterfall, I was so overwhelmed by its beauty and power that I had to coach myself on the basics of the respiratory system.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Literally breathtaking.

Secret Falls


Waimea Canyon Waipoo Falls Hike

Supposedly, Mark Twain famously called Waimea “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” but considering his track record of incorrigible hyperbole, I took that assertion with a big pinch of black lava salt.  I mean, never trust a guy with an alias, right?

Boy, was I wrong!


This photo is the very definition of “pictures don’t to it justice.” See that waterfall in the far upper left corner?  That was the final destination of this hike.


The picture on the left is the top waterfall and the photo below is the top of the big waterfall.  Yep, that’s about an 800 foot drop right behind me.  Right. Behind.  Me.

View from Waterfall Trail

Sleeping Giant’s Chin

We did this hike on the recommendation of a tour guide we met at Kauai Backcountry Adventures.  (Yes, we did the sugar plantation irrigation ditch float they offer that has gone viral on Facebook).

I’m so glad I didn’t read the explanation of this hike in our guidebook or I may have been deterred by the description of the steep incline and the warnings of how dangerous the chin (which is the highest point on the right) could be.  Ignorance is bliss.

Sleeping Giant

It was steep.  The last little stretch was adorned with a “THIS IS NOT A SANCTIONED TRAIL” sign and a rope, just in case you decide to take your life into your own hands and tickle the giant’s chin.  I had to coax consummate rule-follower Chris up the rope with false promises that we would turn around if it seemed too dangerous.  Lies.  I wasn’t turning around for the world.

View from Sleeping Giant

You just can’t beat that view!  You can see the Wailua River, Kapa’a (the town in which we stayed), and Lydgate Beach Park from up here.

BW Sleeping Giant

Pihea Trail & Lookout

I cried on this trail — not because it was too difficult, but because I couldn’t believe such a beautiful place exists.  Seriously.  This trail follows the spine of the back rim of the Kalalau Valley on the Na Pali Coast.

Kalalau Valley

Can you pinpoint where the water meets the sky?  Me either.

We heard that afternoons up here are almost always cloudy, so we resolved to be done hiking by noon.  We were rewarded for our early morning alarms with incredible views on every side.


Off to the other side of the trail are incredible views of the world’s highest swamp, Alakai Swamp.  By the end of our hike, clouds had settled into the swamp, so close that we felt like we could reach up and hitch a ride on them.

Between the beach and all the outdoorsy activities, Kauai captured my heart.  As I said about 10,000 times on our trip, “Best Vacation Ever!”

Aloha, Kauai. See you again soon!

What’s your favorite vacation spot, nearby or far away?