52 Hike Challenge 2020 Recap

**warning: photo heavy post**

I don’t really need to say that 2020 was a unique year. But there, I said it.

First, the goal was 52 hikes. By February, it became clear that I was going to exceed that goal, and even the goal I had accomplished the year before of 61 hikes. It’s not quite Thanksgiving, which is when the challenge ends, so I don’t know where I’ll ultimately end up. But to date, we have done 127 hikes. That feels like a lot and not enough all at the same time.

This year, I chose the Adventure Series to switch it up.

So that includes five waterfalls (wet or dry)

1 National Forest

1 National Park, Monument, Area, etc

2 hikes near a body of water (river, ocean, lake, etc)

1 stewardship hike

1 group hike

1 hike where you introduce someone to hiking

1 sunset or sunrise

1 Bucket List hike

3 Reflection Hikes (beginning, middle, and end of the challenge)

That was cool because it challenged me to have some objectives and seek different trails out. It didn’t quite challenge me to the level I thought it would, so next year I’ll do the explorer series instead.

We also did some bonuses like a moonrise hike or two (stunning), some brand new places, and I started doing weekly hikes with my colleagues from work!

In last year’s recap (find it here!), I discuss how hiking was my therapy and how it’s changed my life one step at a time and challenged my fears and stuff. All still true! I still learn about myself and my family every time. Kareem was recently telling one of my colleagues that he looks at is as connection time. It’s just you and nature or you and your people and nature.

This year especially put things in perspective and priorities adjusted themselves as a result. Everything was heavy, so we filled time with things that filled us up, nourished our bodies and our souls, and connected us when we were disconnected from others. I saw trailheads that were normally nearly empty suddenly FULL of cars. I saw families enjoying the outdoors together for the first time or the first opportunity in a while. We felt in it together, and I loved that. It didn’t last, but it was a beautiful time- the Tiger King/stimulus check times. 🙂

I overcame many fears, as usual. Physical fears like heights and mental/anxious fears… I was dealing with some real stuff, and anxiety and fear was real. Hiking helps me sort things and deal with things and this was very helpful to me.

So last year I counted miles- I’ve lost count. I’ve also lost count of the hours, the steps, whatever. Also lost count of the heart to hearts, the smiles, the tears, the stories, and those are the kind of counts that matter really.

All in all, and incredible achievement. We are not even done yet, but I know how I am and wanted to get this post out there ahead of Thanksgiving. Where will we end? Follow me on Facebook to find out!

I’ll also be setting our new goals and objectives for the coming year too very soon! If you’re local or will be for Thanksgiving, hit me up. We always start the year on Black Friday. 😀

Giant City Weekend

A few weeks ago, my very sweet boyfriend whisked me away for a romantic weekend.

Where to? you may ask.


Southern Illinois.

This may be confusing to you, but for me, it was a dream come true! I am always wanting to get down to the Shawnee National Forest in very southern Illinois, but it’s 2.5-3 hours away to many of the sites, and so it’s not always feasible. However, my very thoughtful boyfriend planned this little weekend for us, and I was so grateful.

We stayed at Giant City State Park, and it was just wonderful. We stayed in cabins there. They were not at all rustic. They were very nice.

We arrived in the evening, and immediately went to the Lodge to eat dinner. We ended up eating at the Lodge at Giant City several times over our stay, and it was honestly so good. The best food of our stay. The breakfast was some of the best breakfast I’ve had at a restaurant ever. They are well-known for their fried chicken, which I had the second night. The first night, everything was gussied up for Valentine’s Day.

The next morning, I got up before the sun and got out to chase the sunrise. I got into the woods on what I think ended up being an equestrian trail. It was a gorgeous, tranquil morning. I walked up to the observation tower as well which is located near the Lodge and cabins. It’s got a 50 foot high observation deck. Here’s a video of someone (not me) climbing it.

We breakfasted at the Lodge, as I already mentioned. Then we headed out to the Trillium Trail in the Fern Rock Nature Preserve. This is an area inside of Giant City. Trillium Trail is about a mile and a half. It was absolutely gorgeous. The trail is a loop, and it runs under a bluff and then you climb on top and walk the edge of the bluff. The day we went, it was sunny and the icicles were there but beginning to melt. It was gorgeous.

Even just the first few steps into the trail were otherworldly. All the moss and the high, tall bluffs are so unique. I would grade this trail as moderately difficult. Not easy, not hard. And it is rugged in places.

I did every trail in the park while we were there, except the 12 mile Cedar Trail. The trails are real short, with the Trillium Trail being the longest followed by the Giant City Nature Trail- more on that later. A few highlights of the shorter trails were the Stonefort Trail, a half mile trail that climbs a bluff next to a waterfall and gives you access to and views of an ancient stone fort. There are signs with information and history. The Devils Standtable was very special. We hit this at dusk and got to see the beautiful, unique mushroom-type of geologic rock formation as well as a giant cavern in the bluff. This would be a perfect area for kids to explore. Indian Creek Trail was super pretty too, very easy and winding through woods by a creek and some bluffs that Native Americans used as shelter. Very interesting geology and history.

If you look carefully, you might spot Kareem!

The best trail of them all though was the Giant City Nature Trail. Often when I hear “nature trail,” I think of a small, paved, for kids trail. Nothing wrong with that! It’s just not always what I’m seeking. This was NOT that though. This is kid-friendly, and it’s only a bit over a mile, mile and a half. It was a workout in a couple spots, but not difficult at all. It was absolutely spectacular. The geology and the scenery left me breathless. We had a gorgeous day for it, too.

Giant City gets its name for these massive sandstone structures that have settled into “streets” and towering buildings. It’s truly marvelous. I have never seen anything like it. Every corner we turned, I would gasp with wonder. I was in awe. So was Kareem. He even told me he never thought he’d be a rocks and trees guy, but he is now. 🙂 I’m including lots of us in these photos just to give you some scale as to how massive it all was.

We also included a trip to Makanda, the nearest town. I had heard that Makanda was the “hippiest” town in Illinois, and I was not disappointed. It’s super small. Like, really small. There’s a little boardwalk with some shops. They sell handmade soaps and do tarot readings and stuff. It was super fun. I bought a handmade hat and we picked up some soaps and just generally enjoyed the vibe and the people watching.

We also visited the town of Anna briefly and ate pizza. I find this extreme portion of Southern Illinois super charming. Maybe because it reminds me of extreme Southeast Missouri or Western Kentucky, but I just adore it. It’s unlike the rest of the state, and I mean that in the best way. The hospitality and friendliness are two of my favorite things about the area, just like the Missouri Ozarks and the rest of this part of the country. The people are real special, and the history is so intriguing.

Giant City State Park is just south of Carbondale. We drove to Giant City through Carbondale and we came home through our old stomping ground of Cape Girardeau. We visited some friends and ate some food at an old place downtown we both loved in college. It was a fun trip down memory lane as a cherry on top of a spectacular weekend.

I highly recommend a trip to Giant City and the Lodge there. We cannot wait to bring our kids! There’s a campground as well as the cabins and stables with horses, a pool, playgrounds, and most of the trails are not long- perfect for our kids. Not to mention the fact that it was unique and absolutely stunning. Hopefully we’ll be adding a blog entry about Giant City with kids this summer! Grand shoutout and big ups to my ever so thoughtful and romantic boyfriend for planning this little getaway. Well done!

Hiking Pickle Springs

Last year, we went to Pickle Springs three times- once by myself and twice with the kids. This is one of my favorite trails, along with the rest of the world. However! There are still people who have not explored or discovered this trail, so I wanted to share.

Pickle Springs is a National Natural Landmark a little bit over an hour from St. Louis. It’s full of unique and impressive geological features that will amaze including waterfalls, sandstone arches, rocky glades, and box canyons. The diversity along the trail is stunning. I’d say it’s so many things I love about this part of the state in one hike.

Last year, we went in winter, spring, and fall and it was delightful every time. In the winter, we got to see the waterfalls flowing. Fall was my favorite hike though, with the kids climbing and exploring the rocks- we had a blast! It was still very hot in September, and the leaves hadn’t begun changing. So really, it felt and looked like summer. It looked like a fairy forest- green and lush and with giant rocks and waterfalls, we could play all day.

They found it very meditative and contemplative as well. 🙂

The trail is a loop about two miles long with elevation gain of a little over 300 feet. It’s well-marked in my opinion (though some online say they have gotten turned around) and there’s a map at the beginning of the loop which names some of the geologic features- the ten year old really enjoyed using the map to identify some of the features we saw along the way.

On my February trip, we saw no one else. It was also very foggy, eerie, and otherworldly. Really a special time to be there. On my solo trip in the springtime, I saw two men- military guys who were training with packs on their backs. On our late summer trip, we saw a few other families, but it wasn’t crazy. I know I have heard that it can get crowded, though. There is a fair sized gravel parking lot, and street parking sometimes has to be an option I have heard, though I’ve never experienced it at that capacity.

For us, it was great for all ages. We took four kids ages 2 to 10. It’s rated moderate, and I would agree with that rating. When it was hot, it was not the easiest hike for the kids. But we took our time and explored everything- this helps. For me, solo, I went at a good pace and it was a moderate hike for me too.

Pickle Springs is very popular for a reason- do yourself a favor and get down there if you haven’t in a while or if you haven’t ever. I’ll go with!

“Hike” 20 @ and around Pere Marquette

Despite being a super popular regional place for outdoor recreation, the kids have never actually been to Pere Marquette! I saw an Eagle Festival event on Facebook at the Lodge at Pere Marquette a while back. I had been hoping to attend the Alton Eagle Festival, but I didn’t have the kids that weekend. So I settled on the Pere Marquette one. It was awesome!

Pere Marquette is an Illinois State Park. It’s super popular for fall foliage viewing and for eagle watching. The hike up McAdams Peak is the most popular, but there are 12+ miles of trails at Pere Marquette.

We spent our time hiking by the river looking for eagles. My oldest son loves eagles and has for a while. He was even an eagle for Halloween! He was thrilled to see some eagles in person. We even got to see an eagle flying over the water. It was so thrilling!

We did not hike up McAdams Peak at this time as we had originally planned because everyone was super hungry. I was afraid we would run out of time before our scheduled bird show. We arrived at the Lodge to eat and the kids were very impressed. You can stay there, of course, and they also have cabins. There is an expansive back lawn type of area that leads down across the road to the river. It was beautiful and my kids enjoyed frolicking out there in the sun.

At the lodge, there is a restaurant on site as well. They have homemade fried chicken which was what two of my kids and I ate. It was delicious! Everything was great. But what was best was the atmosphere and aesthetic. It was very lodge-like in decor, but it was slightly upscale in furnishings, making my kids feel quite fancy!

Afterward, we attended the bird show. It was put on by the World Bird Sanctuary in Eureka, MO which is one of our very favorite places- highly recommend! The kids were in awe of each of the majestic birds, especially the eagle.

It was a very pretty day for January especially, so we spend more time on the grounds and the park. Scenic Drive was closed due to snow and ice, but we will need to return! After we left the park, we headed down into the town of Grafton and explored a little more.

This was less of a hike and more of a river walk, but we still counted it. I will let you know when we return to conquer McAdams Peak! Have you ever hiked at Pere Marquette??

52 Hike Challenge: Recap

I decided to take on the 52 Hike Challenge last year at Thanksgiving. I had been hiking for a while- it is something I have always enjoyed. I didn’t make much time for it thought. But when I became a single mom of three young children, everything changed. I started hiking more and more often, with my children and alone. I found myself going hiking at least once a week. I challenged myself to hiking mountains. And as someone who loves a good goal or challenge, I stumbled upon the 52 Hike Challenge last Thanksgiving when I was looking up #OptOutside information. I decided since I was already hiking on at least a weekly basis, the challenge would motivate me to continue.

Fast forward to this Thanksgiving….

61 hikes later…

1,535 photos later…

Nearly 200 miles later…

I reflect on the past year’s hiking challenge. I remember when I first became a single mom. I was so scared for so many reasons. Fear ruled my life. I fought it, because that’s so not me. It was tough. Outdoor time is really important to me, and it is a priority for me to encourage in my children. They hiked with me. It was something we could do that was free, fun, and unique- different every time. It was an activity that helped me cope with the transition of not having my kids at home sometimes.

These hikes became my therapy. Changing my life, one step at a time. Heading onward and upward with each mile. I discovered so much out there. I re-discovered myself. I overcame so many of my fears. I learned that I was way stronger than I ever gave myself credit for- physically, mentally, emotionally, and then some.

I learned about my kids! I got to know them on a new, deeper level. Their interests, their questions- it all just thrilled me. I love letting them explore. I have the patience to be out there for hours, going at their pace, letting them lead me. It is just my favorite thing. It’s so special to us.

I started taking my boyfriend with me. He was completely new to hiking. He has pushed himself beyond what he ever imagined, and I am so very proud of what we’ve accomplished together. We learned a lot about each other, our relationship, and ourselves.

I am so grateful for this journey. I am already excited about this coming year. Something I would do differently is track/log every hike and keep a journal, so that’s what I’ve started doing. I’ve done two hikes this past week since Thanksgiving. I’m excited to see what’s to come.