11 Universal Orlando Tips For First Timers

11 fantastic tips for first-timers

Universal Orlando is an absolutely amazing spot to enjoy as a family or with friends.  Universal Orlando can be an expensive holiday; I know that I wanted to make the most out of every minute and every dollar. These 11 Univeral Orlando Tips will help you capitalize on your time and money!

1. Universal Orlando tickets.

Make sure you’re spending your ticket money wisely! First and foremost, you save up to $20 by purchasing your tickets online as opposed to at the gate. Know what you’re doing and have a plan; do you want single-day tickets to the park? Do you need park hoppers? If you’re staying for more than a day, multi-day passes will save you money.

2. universal orlando resorts.

Are you staying on-site? Enjoy the parks an hour early if you are. Arrive an hour prior to opening time and enjoy some peace and quiet before the park gets busy. Ride Escape from Gringotts and a enjoy a Wand Choosing Ceremony at Olivanders during that hour of pre-opening! 

3. Universal Orlando Express Unlimited pass.

The Universal Orlando Express Unlimited pass is worth it. If you’re staying on-site at one of the three participating hotels, you have Universal Express Unlimited; if you aren’t, I suggest investing in this during your stay. You will simply be allowed more time to enjoy the park how you choose with the extra time this pass will provide. Ride more rides, make it to character meet-ups, or taste all of the goodies the park has to offer! 

4. universal orlando Photo Pass.

My Universal Photo Pass is worth it! If you’re someone who appreciates making memories and reliving them through photos, you’re going to want them all.  Character photos and ride photos will help make your day and allow you to relive that day over and over again.  This family photo, for example, is priceless.

5. Universal Orlando Lanyards With ID Holder.

Just wear a lanyard. It might feel kind of lame but they have a ton of styles so you’re bound to find one you like. Hold your park ticket, express pass, my universal photos pass, and some cash in one convenient spot. When riding certain attractions, you’ll be required to use a free locker for any bags you may have. These lockers are reserved with your park ticket, then you’ll have to get in line using your express pass, and add the ride photo to your package at the end of the ride. Having that ticket around your neck makes life pretty easy. 

6. comfort and functionality.

Wear comfortable shoes and carry a small backpack with your essentials. I suggest your phone/camera, wallet, sunglasses, portable charging battery, Dramamine (with all of the 3D and 4D rides, you never know how you might feel after a few), hand sanitizer, some snacks, an umbrella/poncho, and a reusable water bottle. I tried to keep a bag that my wand (yes, HP nerd) would fit into and I wore or brought a hat to keep the sun off of my face every day. This might sound crazy since it’s Florida – but a long sleeve T-Shirt or light sweater would be great if it fits as well. Almost all of the attractions are inside and air-conditioned so it’s common to get a little chilly. 

7. Universal Orlando harry potter World.

Save everything you have for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter ya’ll. Between the merchandise, the butterbeer, and the treats you won’t regret it in the slightest! With that being said, purchase some Harry Potter gear beforehand. We ordered matching Harry Potter shirts off of Amazon so that we’d be decked out in our HP gear for a little bit cheaper than what we’d pay in the park. Purchasing an interactive wand at Ollivanders is a must for all Harry Potter fans. Even non-super-fans tend to find this space so magical that they get sucked in!

8. filter rides and attractions.

Traveling in a large group? Or with children? Filter rides and attractions for exactly what you’re looking for to create the ultimate itinerary. You can filter based on height requirements, type of attraction, and more. Know what you can and can’t ride before you go to save some time and heartache. Don’t forget to work the little ones up to their ‘big ride’; you don’t want to put a damper on their courage for the rest of the trip by scaring them on ride number one!  

9. Universal Orlando child swap.

HELLO CHILD SWAP. If applicable, use the child swap to your advantage! Here’s the strategy, Choose one person in your party to wait with the kiddo who is too scared or too small to ride. Once the rest of the party has completed their ride, you can usually bring 3 people back onto the ride with you so that you don’t have to ride alone. We actually did this on a ride because we had beverages we didn’t want to throw away so our ‘coffees’ were our children HAH.

10. package pick-up.

Use Universal Orlando’s package pick-up & free package delivery to on-site hotels for the souvenirs you buy in the parks. If you’re not saying at a Universal Property, package pick-up sends your souvenir to the front of the park so you can pick it up on your way out instead of lugging it around all day.  

11. The Official Universal Orlando Mobile App.

My final tip is to download the app and go into it with a plan! Have an idea of where you’re starting, what you want to do, and when (and where) you want to eat but be willing to stray from that plan if the right opportunities arise. The app will let you know ride wait times, show times and dining venue hours. You can use the filters to find and sort by park, ride type, shows, dining, and shopping. Get the latest updates on attractions and schedule changes and order food on the go. Using the Favorites List as your own personal itinerary!


bonus Universal Orlando tips.

Take advantage of the single rider lanes on most rides! If you’ve ridden once with your group but are looking to ride again, hop on a single rider lane and breeze right through the line to enjoy your favorite attraction over and over again!

For my final, bonus you might call it, tip: I think it goes without saying that a park-to-park ticket is the best way to explore Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. If you’re going to be here for multiple days and just can’t swing the park to park for all three, spend an entire day in each and then take a day to splurge on the park to park to hit your favorites in each! Be sure to ride the Hogwarts Express in both directions for a magical experience. These Universal Orlando Tips apply to both theme parks and should really maximize your joy on your next trip!

in conclusion.

The Universal Orlando parks are amazing, and magical in a way completely different from Disney. I’m a bit of a Harry Potter fangirl, so I purchased an interactive wand while visiting. Casting spells as I meandered around the parks was a highlight of my trip! If you’re looking for a guide to spell casting and using your interactive wand while at Universal Orlando I will link it below.

Standard Luggage Daily Backpack Review

The Daily Backpack is an 18L dream for carrying all of your everyday essentials. I’ve used this bag for airline travel, heading to and from work, and for a quick weekend away; it is perfect for every occasion. Its unique three-in-one design allows you to wear this bag as a briefcase, backpack, or messenger bag. A USB charging port will help you to stay charged for your travels while lockable zips help to keep your wallet, keys, and phone safe against intrusion. These, among many other qualities, make this backpack the most functional travel bag I’ve ever owned. This Standard Luggage Daily Backpack review will help you to finalize your decision.

about our journey.

This bag is built to be durable while keeping you productive. In the past 6 months, I’ve brought this bag on a flight from New York to Nashville, and to Florida… twice; it has been my daily back and forth to work bag; and it has accompanied me on plenty a weekend getaway to help organize my everyday necessities. I’ve yet to find something I dislike about this backpack! It’s super functional and helps to keep you organized in any situation.


It’s carry-on-sized — 17.5 x 13 x 6 inches with 18L of capacity and weighing in at a mere 2.2 pounds; this bad is IDEAL for carrying on an aircraft 

3-1 Design — AMAZING. Feeling like a backpack would fit you best today? GREAT.   Would a briefcase be easier for you? Convert it. Messenger Bag Style most comfortable today? Awesome, rock it. 

Important Extras— A water bottle pocket, rain cover, USB charging port, roll-aboard strap, and hideaway straps are all amazing bonuses of this already phenomenally designed backpack.

Theft-deterrent — Not theft proof; no backpack, suitcase, duffel or any other type of luggage is 100% theft proof but that being said there are always ways to minimize theft of your belongings. An RFID secure pocket keeps your digital information safe, while main compartment zippers lock to keep unwanted passers-byers from your beloved gear.


  • Bag Dimensions: 17.5 x 13 x 6 inches
  • Volume: 18L capacity 
  • Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Laptop Pocket: Fits 15-inch laptops and 15-inch MacBook Pro – (max 15 x 10.3 x 1.1 inches)
  • Tablet Pocket: Also perfect size for a good book!
Packing the Standard Luggage Daily Backpack for a weekend trip to Florida!


The Standard Daily Backpack takes on-the-go organization to a different level. With 14 different compartments, you will be as neat and organized as ever. Durable, comfortable, and convenient, this backpack will be your new saving grace. This Standard Luggage Daily Backpack review will share my thoughts on some of the specifics.


With a super sturdy 310D polyurethane sealed nylon exterior that is water-resistant, durable, and easy to clean, this thing is built to last. The interior consists of sturdy 210 nylon lining and closes using YKK zips, buckles, and snap hooks which are known for their impeccable production standards. If any of these items fail you, the Daily Backpack is proudly backed Standard Luggage Co’s Lifetime Warranty and Satisfaction Guarantee. 

The perfect travel companions!


The backpack straps and handles are well-padded and adjustable. One of the many great features of this pack is that the shoulder straps easily zip away for storage or to convert your bag into a briefcase or messenger bag. With so many removable straps the options allow you to carry your bag however it is most comfortable for you. There is also a strap on the back that allows it to be easily attached to rolling luggage.


With 14 compartments total, organization will never get you down again!

Here’s the breakdown:

  • 3 outside zippered pockets for quick-grabs; phone, keys, wallet, and passport are all safe but accessible in these pockets! The sit on the front, bottom, and top of the bag.  
  • Water bottle holder; located on the side of the backpack and collapsible for when not in use 
  • 3 zippered mesh pockets inside; perfect for snacks, cables, small liquids, headphones, medication, etc.   
  • Document/paper sleeve; a great spot for a larger notebook, folder,  or a packed of useless information you received at a meeting that you cannot lose.  
  • Notebook sleeve; a small notepad or book fits in here very nicely.  
  • Battery bank sleeve; charge your items on the go while still using them by utilizing your battery bank sleeve. This sleeve allows your battery pack to connect to the exterior USB port where you may plug in your charging cable.   
  • Camera + Lens Pockets; known to fit a small DSLR + lens, or a GoPro and accessories, or lunch and snacks hahaha
  • Laptop Pocket; this pocket fits a 15 in. laptops or MacBook Pro.   
  • Tablet Sleeve; fits 10 in. tablet,  paperback book, or a map! 


The main compartment is a  back-loading main zipper which means the items that are most valuable to you are also what’s closest to you. It unzips and opens like a book allowing easy access to all of your belongings; with the help of the other interior compartments, this backpack allows for great organization which is the key to a stress-free trip to me! Within this compartment, two mesh zipper compartments help store small electronics and cables while two additional padded pockets are available for cameras and lenses. I’ve also used these pockets to house my battery pack, which connects to a USB port on the outside of the bag. This makes charging my gear on the go easy. This main compartment is also home to a padded laptop and tablet sleeve. All of your favorite gear is safe and snug in the compartment closest to your back! 

In conclusion.

Once you develop a system for your gear, packing this bag only gets easier. Everything is organized and safe for you to carry to work, around town, and abroad. I love this bag and am so happy I was given the opportunity to review it; if you’re looking for a bag to accompany you on your daily grind, look no further than the Daily Backpack to work, live, and play every day. I hope this Standard Luggage Daily Backpack review has helped steer you in the direction of your next, and -most likely- final, daily backpack purchase!

Travelin’ by bus, plane, or car is easy with Standard Luggage!

Thank you to Standard Luggage for the opportunity to review this backpack!

A Beginners Guide to Using the Ibotta App

Are you using Ibotta? If not, you should start! To date, since the Spring of 2016, I have earned $702.20. I have earned over 700 dollars by simply clipping virtual coupons, or completing my online shopping through an app for cashback. All you need to do is get started. 

How to Use The Ibotta App

1. GET STARTED. Download the Ibotta app, it’s free! Create a profile once it is downloaded.

2. SELECT A STORE. Select a store that you plan to do your next round of grocery shopping at. I mostly use Hannaford and Walmart. My loyalty card is attached to my account for when I shop at Hannaford and a photo of the receipt is all that’s necessary for Walmart. Each store is different, so make sure you check ahead of time. 

3. SEARCH REBATES. Search for rebates! You can search by category such as beverages, breakfast, dairy, and produce or you can look through ‘What’s Hot’, ‘Best Deals’, and ‘What’s New’. Sometimes, upon selecting an item you are asked to answer a quick question or watch a short video; it never takes more than a minute.

4. DOUBLE UP! Always double-check the ‘Any Item’ category. Sometimes there is .10 or .25 off any purchase. Other times you might be able to double up your savings! For example, if there is an ‘Any Cereal’ rebate for .25 cents and you already planned on buying a specific brand of cereal from a rebate for .50 cents back, you’ve now purchased a box of cereal with a .75 cent rebate!


5. REDEEM REBATES. After you’ve done your shopping and made your purchases it is time to redeem. If the store you’re purchasing from links to a loyalty card, your rebates will be redeemed automatically. If you need a photo of your receipt or to scan your receipts QR/bar code this is the time to do it. Always double-check to make sure the app has the right quantity of what you’ve purchased and that it hasn’t missed any rebates! If it has, you can simply add the item and then scan the barcode of the product to add it to the list.  


Make sure you read each rebate. Sometimes, you are required to purchase multiples of a product in order to earn the rebate. For example, buy three Icelandic yogurts and earn one dollar back. Sometimes a rebate makes the item free after purchase; be sure to read carefully.

Also, keep in mind that sometimes you can earn a rebate on an item up to 5 times in one receipt!  Other times, the rebate is only valid once per receipt. Make sure you’re reading and utilizing your rebates to earn the most cash back.   

There are often monthly and seemingly random bonuses available for you to earn additional cashback. Be sure to check them out and see what extra savings you may make.


Online Shopping

Before you make an online purchase, check to see if they’re on Ibotta! Anytime I buy from American Eagle I buy through the app for 2.5% back. Lucky Brand, Forever 21, Adidas, Booking.com, Dicks Sporting Goods and many other brands offer cashback for purchases made through the app.  Generally, I will do my shopping via my laptop and add items to my bag. Upon logging into ibotta and opening the store through the app, I simply log into my account and my bag is saved! All I need to do now is make my purchase and wait for my cashback!

Pay with Ibotta

For restaurants (Olive Garden, Chilis, Chipotle, and Applebees) and certain retailers such as Walmart, Home Depot, Ulta, Old Navy and more, you can pay through the app and earn 5-7% cashback. This does require you to submit your debit card information to the app – which really isn’t much different than the information you provide in order to withdraw your funds.   

Withdrawing your Funds

When you press the withdraw funds button you are provided a few different options. Once you’ve saved a minimum of $25 you can transfer the chosen amount to a linked PayPal or Venmo account. From here, you can initiate a transfer to your bank account. 

 If you are not a PayPal or Venmo user, you may transfer the funds to a gift card. There are tons of different gift card options; Amazon, Applebee’s, Best Buy, DSW, iTunes, Lowes, Starbucks, TJX, and Walmart are just a few of the many options you choose from. Once transferred to a gift card, you may spend it as you please! 

Stop missing out on extra cash! Download Ibotta now!

Ibotta is a great tool for earning some extra cash. As someone who loves to travel, this extra cash goes a long way! Check out the other ways I make extra money to fund my travels.

Acadia National Park Travel Guide

Acadia National Park protects 47,000 acres of the highest rocky headlands along the Atlantic coastline of the United States. The Natural beauty and rich cultural heritage of this area attracts over 3.5 million visitors a year, earning Acadia National Park a spot in the top 10 most visited National Parks in the United States.  It may be smaller in its acreage and lower in its elevation, but it is one beauty you most definitely do not want to miss. Here’s an Acadia National Park Travel Guide to help you and your family explore this gorgeous coastal National Park!

Acadia National Park

This beautiful, albeit busy National Park, should be on your list! This article will answer some frequently asked Questions while also provide guidance on what to do and where to stay! Acadia may be one of 7 National Parks that lies entirely or partially on an island, however, it has a lot of awesome places to explore. Don’t miss a great opportunity!

Who Should Visit Acadia National Park?

  1. Families with Children

I would suggest this park to families with younger children and families traveling in large groups. There is quite a bit of everything for everyone in this national park and even the ‘back country’ isn’t too remote. Many trails boasting beautiful vantage points include family-friendly routes while also offering tough trails; a family could easily split up and tackle the same mountain together, each arriving at the summit on a trail personalized to their skill and experience!

2. Hikers with Dogs!

This is also one of the few National Parks where dogs are allowed on trail; be sure to check in advance if the hike you’re hoping to conquer allows dogs or not. I can tell you, with certainty, that the Precipice Trail, The Beehive, and Canada Cliff’s does NOT allow dogs due to the steep nature of the trail; the good news is, you can reach these gorgeous viewpoints via a few different trail-heads!

When is the Best time to Visit Acadia?

  • Best Weather? Late May – October
  • Fall Foliage? Late September – Mid-October
  • Least Crowded? November – April
  • Looking to Swim? Late June – August

It’s important to note that May through Mid-October are Acadia National Park’s busiest months. This is definitely when the park is at the height of it’s beauty, however, the crowds can be a lot to handle.

In the winter months, from November – April, the scenic park loop road is closed from December to mid-April weather dependent. Most of the hotels, restaurants, campsites, and attractions are also closed during this time.

Where Should I Stay when Visiting Acadia National Park?

  • Campgrounds in Acadia National Park

    There is no lodging within the park boundaries. The park has two campgrounds on Mount Desert Island, one campground on the Schoodic Peninsula, and five lean-to shelters on Isle au Haut; these accommodations fill up very quickly so be sure to reserve your spot in advance! There are also private campgrounds on and surrounding Mt. Desert Island where you can stay in very close proximity to the park.
  • Hotels and Motels near Acadia National Park

    If you are looking for a hotel/motel style accommodation you will have to leave the park boundaries. Right in the thick of it all is the bustling town of Bar Harbor; Bar Harbor can provide hours of entertainment between its shopfronts, restaurants, bars, entertainment and hotel selection. There are a variety of accommodations available to you only a few miles outside of some of the parks most sought out trails and attractions.

    If a little more peace and quiet is more your style, I’d look into Northeast or Southeast Harbor; these towns are also located on Mt. Desert Island, however, they’re miles away from the busiest sections of the park among their own less-sought-out natural gems. Trenton is about 25 minutes from the park’s boundaries on the mainland. There are quite a few inexpensive motel options available; after a few nights of camping, we were ecstatic to check into the humble Acadia Gateway Motel to a clean room, wifi, and hot shower! 
Ocean Path, Acadia National Park, Maine

What’s Transportation Like in Acadia?

Acadia has a pretty awesome transportation system that I would highly recommend. Island Explorer buses, funded by L.L. Bean, travel from all ends of the park to the village green in Bar Harbor. Shuttles from Trenton onto Mt. Desert Island and to the Village Green and from the Village green all over the park! The Schoodic Penninsula even has its own bus to shuttle you around that section of the park as well. They really do a great job of reducing traffic and making your life, as the adventurer, a heck of a lot less stressful; you don’t need to worry about where to park, sitting in traffic, of missing a turn. 

L.L.BEAN Island Explorer!

Most days we parked in the Hulls Cover Visitor Center and took the shuttle over to the village green. Once at the green, we could enjoy the bustling town of Bar Harbor without stressing about parking or hop on another shuttle to explore a new section of the park. Pick your route and then check the schedule to plan your effortless adventures around Acadia National Park via the Island Explorer.

What are the Best Hikes in Acadia National Park?

There is truly so much you can do at Acadia National Park; if you haven’t caught on by now with all my previous posts, we’re big hikers and that’s really what we travel to do. With that being said, you can bike, climb, kayak, fish, swim, and horseback ride on Mt.  Desert Island, so don’t feel limited to hiking trails!

As always, I suggest carrying a Trail Map of the area you are hiking. Not only will this allow you to have a better understanding of what you’re hiking and appropriate directions when trails intersect, but a good map can also help you to choose your hikes and plan your vacation as well. 

Hikin’ around Acadia National Park
  • Thunder Hole

    DIFFICULTY: Very Easy
    DESCRIPTION: Thunder Hole is a small, naturally carved rock inlet where crashing waves send foam flying and thunderous booms! The power of the sea is easily brought to life by this natural occurrence. The viewpoint for Thunder Hole can be found along the Ocean Path Trail between Sand Beach Overlook and Monument Cove.
Thunder Hole, Acadia National Park, Maine
  • Ocean Path Trail

    DIFFICULTY: Very Easy
    DESCRIPTION: Ocean Path begins at Sand Beach and travels two miles along the rocky coast to Otter Point. Along this path, there are a number of beautiful viewpoints such as Thunder Hole, Monument Cove, and Otter Cliff. There are many places where you can venture off the path and onto the rocky shoreline itself. Carefully explore these jagged pink granite formations as they greet the never-ending assault of the sea. This is a wonderful hike for families; don’t let the proximity to Park Loop Road fool you, these are breathtaking views!

  • Beech Mountain

    DESCRIPTION: An easy hike away from the hustle and bustle of Bar Harbor and the Loop Road. You can find access to the Beech Mountain hiking trails is from the Echo Lake parking area or from Beech Hill Road located on the western side of the mountain. From the Beech Hill Road parking lot, you may choose one of two routes. If you’re looking for a shorter, steeper challenge veer left at the junction; if you prefer a steady climb to the 839-foot summit, stay to the right. An old observation tower can be found at the summit. Although you cannot climb ALL the way up and into the lookout, you can climb to a landing that provides beautiful views of Somes Sound.
Beech Mountain Fire Tower

  • TRAIL: Beech Mountain Cliffs

    DIFFICULTY: Easy-Moderate
    DESCRIPTION: This trail provides epic views of Echo Lake and can be accessed a few different ways. From the Echo Lake parking lot, enjoy a steep ascent requiring the use of ladders until you top out. From here, take the fairly level loop trail before taking the more gradual Canada Cliffs trail back to the Echo Lake Parking Lot; you may also continue on from the loop towards the Beech Hill Road Parking lot and Beech Mountain.
Beech Cliffs over Echo Lake, Acadia National Park, Maine

If you’re looking for a kid/family-friendly route to the Beech Cliffs loop, take the short, gradual hike up from the Beech Hill  Road Parking lot and avoid all ladders and strenuous hiking!

Looking out over this mountainous island landscape

  • TRAIL: Gorham Mountain

    DIFFICULTY: Moderate
    DESCRIPTION: A phenomenal mountain with absolutely stunning views of Sand Beach. We looped Gorham Mountain into our hike of the Beehive by hiking past The Bowl and continuing, a very short way, up to the summit of Gorham Mountain. Just south of the summit, Cadillac Cliffs provide the most picturesque views of Otter Point, Baker Island, and Sand beach. This part of the trail will be exceptionally busy, but there is enough space for each hiker to enjoy what this spot has to offer. We continued on, down to the Gorham Parking lot and hiked along the flat Ocean Path Trail back to our vehicle.

  • TRAIL: The Beehive

    DIFFICULTY: Moderate – Strenuous
    DESCRIPTION: Parking for the Beehive Trail can be found on Park Loop Road near Sand Beach. Arrive for Sunrise, or at minimum, before 8:00 AM in the busy summer months to ensure
    1. A parking spot and 2. A climb that doesn’t require you to wait in a legit line of hikers.
A foggy morning hiking the BeeHive

I wouldn’t consider this hike overly difficult in that it is strenuous on your body, however, it is steep and I wouldn’t suggest it for those afraid of heights. If you are a family with young children, there are other trails available to experience the Beehive view; I wouldn’t suggest this trail for small children. A very busy hike, but for great reason! It’s beautiful and quite fun to climb. If you enjoy the Bee Hive and are looking for a similar, but more strenuous hike, check out the Precipice Trail!

  • TRAIL: Precipice Trail

    DIFFICULTY: Strenuous
    DESCRIPTION: WHAT A HIKE. Arguably the best option for an experienced hiker in this entire Acadia National Park Travel Guide. We loved this one…even though we were in a misty fog the entire climb. The impressive cliffs of Champlain Mountain are home to an ingenious route including iron rungs, ladders, handrails, rock scrambles, and wooden bridges. The parking lot is small and fills quickly, however, parking is allowed in the right lane of Park Loop Road at this point. This is a tough hike and definitely NOT recommended for families with children, or anyone who is afraid of heights/not steady on their feet. 

The good news is that within 5 minutes of the hike you will reach an obstacle that acts as a test of sorts. A boulder outcropping with two awkwardly-placed iron rungs will help you determine if you’re ready for the rest of the challenge! The climb, although not technical, is a mile straight up from the lot to the summit. Gaining 850 feet of elevation in a mile is no joke. Make sure you are prepared and have taken all things into consideration.  

Although I wish we had a view on our climb, it was pretty cool to climb in a fog as well! It is suggested you take a different trail to descend from Champlain Mountain; we took the Black and Orange path and walked for many 5 minutes on Park Loop Road after we left the trail to get back to the parking lot. PRO TIP: Don’t hold trekking poles in your hands for this one – if you’ll need them for the descent, pack em.

We didn’t have overly spectacular weather while we were in Acadia. This led us to accomplish a bit less hiking than we had hoped for! Other trails we had hoped to check out but will have to wait for another day include The Bubbles, Cadillac Mountain, and the Penobscot and Sargent Mountain Loop. Unfortunately, you can never do everything you’d like when you visit a place! It does, however, give you a really good excuse to return – and return we will! Acadia National Park was an absolute beauty and we look forward to adding to this Acadia National Park Travel Guide in the future.

Ranger Confidential

Ranger Confidential 

-Andrea Lankford 

What a phenomenal, quick read! I truly could not put it down. It might have been the fastest I’ve read a book in my adult years since I completed The Hunger Games trilogy (yes, all three) in less than a month my Sophomore year of college. I was reading for 10 minutes on the elliptical each morning while I warmed up for my workout. I was breaking it out during my prep period at school. And I was even allotting 10 minutes before bed to read a chapter. I’m telling you, if you love outdoor adventure and our National Parks, you will turn these pages faster than you can plan your next hike. 

Ranger Confidential

Ranger Confidential: Living, Working, and Dying in the National Parks by Andrea Lankford provides the real stories behind the beauty of America’s National Parks. This book really sheds some light on a job that so many outdoor enthusiasts claim to be their dream job. Park Rangers really dedicate their heart and soul to the parks they protect; after reading this book you’ll understand just how selfless a career this is.

In this publication, you’ll meet numerous rangers and park staff that Lankford works alongside. You will travel to some of the Nations most popular parks and learn about their landscape. I found myself continuously astounded at just what these park rangers need to do in order to earn their keep; you won’t be impressed with their keep either. It’s a truly unique look into the life of a Park Ranger and all of the bullsh*t they deal with on a daily basis.

how this book made me feel…

Ranger Confidential is a collection of stories and each chapter is one-of-a-kind. Some endings will leave you in tears – I physically wept onto the pages of this book – and others will leave you laughing or cheering for girl power in a male-dominated world. This book made me feel eternally grateful for the Park Rangers that protect the people and wild spaces of the places I love. I plan on thanking a ranger and other park staff members every time I encounter one since finishing Ranger Confidential. It’s also caused me to rethink some of my actions within the park’s boundaries. Knowing that one simple miscalculation or thoughtless action can result in an epic-ly ruined day for both myself and the park staff can really put things into perspective.

If you are an outdoor enthusiast who is looking to be hit in all the feels, Ranger Confidential is 100% the book for you. If you love our great nations National Parks, I suggest it even more. Some of these back country stories are absolutely insane; hearing the whole truth about them from a retired ranger is pretty epic! 

Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart

Thru-hiking will break your heart

Carrot Quinn

Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart was suggested to me by a coworker while I was in the middle of Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. I immediately went home and ordered the book! I was hopeful that it would silently encourage me to finish up the book I was reading –  since we know my trouble with managing my ‘free time’. Well, it worked! I finished up Wild and waited until my flight to Utah to jump into Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart; each and every book I read about thru-hiking inspires me endlessly to get outside! 

Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart

A  present-day, raw account of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Carrot speaks only truths of what long-distance hiking is, especially for a woman. With absolutely nothing sugar-coated, you really get a feel for what walking 2,653 miles with only what’s on your back is like. Through the highs, and the hardships, between falling in love on the trail and yo-yo-ing with her trail family, you will find love for Carrot and her cat pack each step of the way. To experience the natural beauties of the Sierra Nevada and the greasy spoons (diners) and motel stays with a pack of like-minded individuals would be a true treat. Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart really opens your heart to the emotional roller coaster that is the PCT. 

How This Book Made Me Feel…

If this book doesn’t inspire you to hop on the nearest long-distance hiking trail, then I’m not sure what will! Having read this book after Wild, it has really piqued my interest in Long Distance  Thru-hiking. Reading both books inspired a planned thru-hike attempt of the Northville Placid Trail. This 138- mile trail through the Adirondack Park travels through some of the most remote wilderness areas. Despite only making it 5 days and 83 miles, it was a beautiful look into what these two women (Carrot Quinn and Cheryl Strayed) experienced during their months-long adventures on the trail!  

Purchase Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart via my Amazon associate link to support both myself and the Author, Carrot Quinn, at no extra cost to you. If you have read this book, leave your thoughts in the comments below!  

5 Best Lake Placid Restaurants

When you’re traveling, one of the main things you look forward to is what you’re going to be eating. Exploring new restaurants is one of my absolute favorite aspects of traveling somewhere new. All too often, you don’t have enough time to try all the great places you see. Unfortunately, that’s the case in Lake Placid as well. If you’re looking for a delicious dinner in Lake Placid, you have so many options. I couldn’t possibly pick just one great Lake Placid Restaurant, but I could definitely create a top 5 list!

There are so many amazing restaurants in Lake Placid and each of them has their own unique reason for stopping in. In this post, I’ll be sharing 5 of my favorite restaurants and exactly what they bring to the table. Choose your restaurant based off of exactly what you’re looking for… outdoor seating? we have it! finger lickin’ BBQ? you betcha. best beer list? coming right up folks. Stay tuned for 5 amazing Lake Placid restaurants and why you’ll want to experience their menus.

If you’re looking for…

1. Laidback, Pet-Friendly Outdoor Seating

Tail O’ The Pup

(518) 891-0777

Not quite IN Lake Placid, but just a short drive (less than 10 minutes) towards Saranac Lake; Tail O’ the Pup is by far one of the best smokehouse BBQ’s I’ve had and just an all-around cool atmosphere. Smokehouse meats, lobster & clam bakes, local beers on tap, and daily live music make this red striped tent stop necessary. Outdoor seating under the tent is perfect for families and individuals alike while live music plays in the background. A playground is available on the grounds as well to keep those little ones occupied while you enjoy your adult time. 

After a long hike with our friends and their pup, we stopped in and ordered beers, brisket nachos, and fried cheese curds to start. I could have eaten the entire basket of cheese curds if I thought I had enough room for them and my pork shoulder. Everything was smoked to perfection and the staff was really nice and helpful. I look forward to coming back and trying more menu items! Tail O’ the Pup is doggo friendly as well which easily makes this one of the best dinners in town in my book.

2. Farm to Table Selections

Best Lake Placid Beers

Big Slide Brewery

(518) 523-7844

Always my go-to dinner spot when I’m visiting Lake Placid and for good reason! As if farm to table food, locally sourced wasn’t reason enough to deem this the best dinner in Lake Placid, Big Slide also features 10 house beers on tap! These beers come from the brewhouse barrels visible from the hostess stand and parts of the dining area. The open concept allows a peek into the kitchen as well which makes this a pretty neat spot all around!

We always start our meal off with a beer, or a flight if we’re not sure what’s tickling our fancy this time around. The aged Ubu Ale is my all-time favorite! An eclectic pizza order is always next; the way Executive Chef Greg Sherman combines food items is truly an art.  Whether you’re looking simply for a dinner plate, sharing a bunch of apps, or grabbing a sandwich you will not be disappointed. In my most recent dining escapade at Big Slide, I enjoyed the Chicken Fried Chicken so much that I physically scraped the plate clean and almost asked for another order.  

Despite always being full, sometimes special occasions call for ordering dessert, in which case – eat it all! Big Slide also has a Sunday brunch menu and hosts a number of special events. The menu does a really awesome job of showing what is gluten-free and vegan-friendly as well. Be sure to appreciate the names and description of the food items on the menu as you peruse, they’re pretty clever.  

3. Popular Beer Selections

Lake Placid Pub and Brewery 

(518) 523-3813

Lake Placid Pub and Brewery is right off the main hustle and bustle of Main Street, but always equally as busy and for good reason! Three stories, each with their own bar and particular vibe provide craft beers for all. Known for their award-winning ales and lagers for over 20 years now, Lake Placid Pub and Brewery has earned a real name for themselves. 

The beers aren’t the only thing that keep people coming back to Lake Placid Pub and Brewery. The large variety of food options provided by their menu keeps guests of all ages well-fed. Pub fare style food supplies options such as fried pickles and salads, to pizzas, burgers, and sandwiches. You can not go wrong with the Salmon BLT and the Northville-Placid Trail IPA. These along with nachos are my go-to each and every time I visit.

4. Large, Delicious Portions

Photo Credit: LakePlacid.com

Delta Blue


(518) 302-5810

Known as your northern home for southern food, Delta Blue’s menu has all of your favorites with a bit of a Louisiana twang. Good food, craft beers on tap, weather permitting indoor/outdoor seating, and live music right on Main Street in Lake Placid, makes this a great stop for a full meal or appetizers. The serving sizes are quite large here which makes this a contender for the best dinner in this Adirondack town.

Start your meal off with the Nacho bucket. Large enough to appease a group of 3-4 hungry hikers before dinner and with the opportunity to add guac, meat, and more to your bucket, you can really make it your own. Fried Pickles, Gumbo Poutine, and Frog Legs appetizers will have you feeling like you’ve lost the northern Adirondacks and found yourself in the deep south! The Tolo Salad, which consisted of pistachio-crusted goat cheese, mixed greens, craisins, and balsamic vinaigrette -PLUS chicken- really hit the spot after a couple of days on the trail. The perfect combination of tangy and sweet while also eating produce had me wishing I had more!

5. Best BBQ in Lake Placid

“Oh that’s delicious” Speaking of the Peach Moonshine Marg
Smoke Signals. 

2489 MAIN ST.
(518) 523-2271

Easily the best BBQ in Lake Placid, but also some of the coolest seating! Go early or expect to wait… but Smoke Signals is worth every minute! This brick-lined, industrial style decored restaurant boasts amazing lake views with indoor and outdoor seating. Not only are their views some of the best in Lake Placid, but their BBQ food is the best hands down. The dinner menu combines classic BBQ staples with innovative creations through the uses of smoke. Everything at Smoke Signals is made from scratch, and all meats are smoked in house. The dry rub wings were to die for and the local beer and whiskey flight is perfect for wetting your whistle. I must add that the blackberry moonshine margarita was delicious as well!

My birthday dinner choice this past year was Smoke Signals. I felt like I was cheating on Big Slide Brewery, but it was worth all the guilt! Delicious beverages, a finger lickin’ good meal, and awesome service made my birthday quite the memorable night. We waited over an hour for our table and it truly was worth it. Luckily, Lake Placid is a beautiful town with a ton of amazing shops to pop in an out of while you dream about your next meal!

Enjoying Our Smoke Signals Beverages, one of THE BEST Lake Placid Restaurants

There are SO many great Lake Placid Restaurants, each with their unique reasons why people love them! Some other fan favorites are Black Bear Restaurant, Liquids and Solids, Cafe Rustica, and Wyatt’s. There’s just so much to do in the area but if you like to hike, work up an appetite by hiking a Lake Placid 9er before dinner! Nine local mountains of varying difficulty mean there’s a hike on this list for everyone – if you hike them all, you’ll earn a patch!

Lake Placid 9er Hiking Challenge

The Lake Placid 9er hiking challenge was established in 2018 as a way to explore the region’s smaller peaks. I find myself driving up to the Adirondacks to just get outside and experience nature quite frequently. Despite owning a number of maps, sometimes I just don’t know where to begin! In this post, I will share with you what it takes to become a LP9er. I will also rank each mountain from easiest to most difficult to help you plan your Lake Placid 9er Hiking Challenge.

Many hikers try to tackle the 46er challenge over the course of a few weeks, months, or years when they’re in the Lake Placid area. The Lake Placid 9ers are slightly more attainable in a single trip or for those new to the hiking scene; if you’re trying to hike something that is less than 4,000 feet and still offers stunning views of the area, this is it. The Lake Placid 9ers hiking challenge will provide you the opportunity to scale a Fire Tower, visit the historic ADK LOJ, and explore the surrounding Lake Placid Area.  

Views from a unique gem of the Adirondacks!

Becoming a Lake Placid 9er

I started this challenge quite by mistake actually! I drove up to Lake Placid in the fall of 2018 to do some car camping with friends and we were looking for some smaller mountains with pretty autumn payoffs. After hiking Baxter, Van Ho, and Mt. Jo in a weekend, I later realized that I had a pretty great start to the Lake Placid 9er Hiking Challenge! This wound up driving my mud season climbs in the Spring of 2019 and allowed me to finish up my challenge in July of 2019!

Meet the Mountains.


The spectacular mountains associated with this challenge are listed below in (what I perceive as) order of difficulty! Mileage, ascent, and trail conditions are taken into consideration.

Cobble hill.

Photo Credit: AllTrails.com
  • Distance: 2.1 miles RT
  • Elevation: 2,332 feet
  • Ascent: 485 feet

Certainly more of a hill than a ‘mountain’ but beautiful none-the-less! You will need to drive into the Northwood School Campus to find the parking lot for this hike. There are two routes to decide upon: the first route is significantly shorter but steep and requires some rock scrambling; the second route is longer and much more gentle. We did the hike in a loop – went up the steeper side and descended the more gradual way. The views from the summit are beautiful despite the easy climb. This is a great hike for a family!

Baxter mountain.

Photo Credit: AllTrails.com
  • Distance: 2.4 miles RT
  • Elevation: 2,440 feet
  • Ascent: 741 feet

A great beginner hike with a beautiful pay off! Head north on Route 9 off of 73 for about two miles before you’ll see the trailhead parking for Baxter on the right-hand shoulder. The trail is steady, with a few switchbacks, and nothing too steep! It is a great trail to hike with little ones; it is also a great route for a short mountain trail run. Baxter is a fairly easy, yet charming hike in all seasons and would definitely make for a splendid snowshoe. 

Jumping for joy even though the summit is socked in!

big crow mountain.

Photo Credit: AllTrails.com
  • Distance: 1.4 miles RT
  • Elevation: 2,815 feet
  • Ascent: 570 feet

From the same parking lot where you will park to hike Hurricane, you will also find the short but steep trailhead for Big Crow. After a quick jaunt through the woods, you will find yourself climbing for straight up for about a half-mile. Although the trail is short, your legs will be working hard and your breathing will grow heavy until you’ve reached the summit. If you have just returned from hiking Hurricane Mountain, it is crazy to look back on the fire tower from which you just came; it appears as though it is ages away from where you are now. 

mt. jo

Photo Credit: Alltrails.com
  • Distance: 2.6 miles RT
  • Elevation: 2,876 feet
  • Ascent: 692 feet

From the ADK Loj parking lot (parking fee), hop on the trail for this beautiful mountain near the entrance in the corner by the snowplow turn-around. There are two routes to the summit, and the possibility to loop back down and around next to Heart Lake if you choose. The longer trail is more gradual, whereas the shorter trail is steeper and requires some easy rock scrambling. The payoff is HUGE for minimal effort; the views of the high peaks from Mt. Jo make it one of the most popular hikes in the Lake Placid region. It’s exceptional for sunrise or sunset hike given its short distance and relatively easy nature.

We woke up early one October morning and climbed Mt. Jo for sunrise. Arriving at the summit just after first light we found ourselves in a bit of a fog. As the clouds began to lift, they revealed stunning views of Heart Lake and The MacIntyre range. After sipping tea and coffee on the summit as the morning sun burned off the fog, we descended the long way down past heart lake which did NOT disappoint with loud fall foliage at its peak.

Heart Lake on the return!

Mt. van hoevenberg

Photo Credit: Alltrails.com
  • Distance: 4.4 miles RT
  • Elevation: 2,940 feet
  • Ascent: 692 feet

There are two great trails that one can access the Mount Van Hoe summit from. The newest, ‘East’, trail leaves from the Mount Van Hoevenberg Olympic Sports Complex; I took the trail from Meadow Lane near the Adirondack Loj and was not disappointed! The hike begins just off the dirt road and stays fairly flat for just about a mile. A beautiful steady climb just beyond the small, marshy body of water to the east leads to a stunning summit with a rocky outcropping that provides views of the High Peaks Region. Unfortunately, the summit was socked in while we were up there! We do hope to visit again to experience the view.

bear den mountain.

Photo Credit: AllTrails.com
  • Distance: 4.5 miles RT
  • Elevation: 2,650 feet
  • Ascent: 1,479 feet
Don’t forget to sign in!

Located in Wilmington inside the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center; look for the parking for Bear Den. The hike itself intertwines with bike trails and can be confusing at first but proves to be a steady, yet relentless climb from about a half-mile in until the summit. The summit of this peak is truly unique; rugged stone piles provide stunning views of Whiteface and beyond. You are right up on Whiteface and it’s ski runs which provides a neat perspective. It truly is a hidden little gem among the very busy trails of the Adirondacks. 

Pitchoff mountain.

Photo Credit: AllTrails.com
Pictured here as a thru-hike
  • Distance: 5.2 miles RT
  • Elevation: 3,500 feet
  • Ascent: 2,132 feet

Parking for this one can be tough during peak season seeing as the lot for it is located right near one of the busiest trailheads for the ADK 46 Challenge. You CAN NOT park on the shoulder;  you must find a spot. If you arrive bright and early – better chances on a weekday – parking should be of no concern. The trail begins to climb immediately but levels off to a steady incline quickly. The summit itself isn’t exactly exciting, however, balancing rocks along the way is a treat. This beautiful rocky outcropping provides the infamous, balancing rocks, where many 9ers take their leap of faith photos! This spot is a great place to view Cascade Mountain, Upper, and Lower Cascade Lakes, and Cascade Falls as well as other mountains in the High Peaks Region.  Climbing below and through the balanced rocks is also exciting and unique! 

To See Other Balanced Rock Photos Click Here!

catamount mountain.

Photo Credit: AllTrails.com

  • Distance: 3.6 miles RT
  • Elevation: 3,165 feet
  • Ascent: 1,571 feet
Rock Scrambling w/ a Pup takes teamwork!

Smaller in stature but a thrill of a hike! This beauty requires rock scrambling and steep climbing often earning it the name of most challenging 9er. The Chimney area can mimic a technical climb at times; although we had a dog with us, I wouldn’t suggest this trail to those hiking with an inexperienced child or dog! Be sure to follow cairns over the bare rock that encompasses the final half-mile push to the summit. You will be rewarded for your climbing with astounding 360-degree views; this summit boasts some of the best views of Whiteface and Ester in the region, enjoy it!

hurricane mountain.

Photo Credit: AllTrails.com

  • Distance: 6.8 miles RT
  • Elevation: 3,678 feet
  • Ascent: 1,528 feet
Winter Snowshoe up Hurricane Mountain!

There are two approaches to the Hurricane Mountain Firetower. The Northern Approach takes off from the same parking lot as Big Crow (Hurricane Road from the town of Keene to O’toole Road) and the Eastern Approach from Route 9N. I’ve hiked this beauty both in late Spring and the heart of winter; it is just dreamy in both seasons. This is the longest hike of the Lake Placid 9er Hiking Challenge but also the only one with a fire tower! The fire tower is a cool addition to the summit which provides stellar views on its own. It is called Hurricane for a reason; it is one windy summit! If you do hike Hurricane from the Northern Approach, see how you’re feeling on the return and take a quick run up Big Crow to cross two off your list – their trailheads are in the same parking lot. 

A little hiking competition

The Lake Placid 9er Hiking Challenge was a really fun distraction from the High Peaks during mud season; it’s also a great opportunity to introduce the less experienced to the Adirondacks in an exciting way. So many people hear about the 46er challenge and immediately want to conquer all 46, but it’s always good to start somewhere a little less daunting. Starting with the Tupper Lake Triad or Saranac Lake 6er’s before moving on to the 9er is a great course of action. 

If you have completed your Lake Placid 9er Hiking Challenge, head on over to their website to register and earn your patch!  

The High Peaks Region Through Balanced Rocks on Pitchoff!

Foot Stuff Podcast, A Review

If you love outdoor recreation and don’t mind a good laugh, you must listen to Foot Stuff Podcast! Rated PG-13, with 4.9 stars, and filled to the brim with perfection. This podcast is 2 1/2 parts education and 2 parts mockery; $#!+ is strong. In a search for something other than music to keep me awake on my long-ass drives home from Central New York to Suffolk County (631 repPupin!), I found Foot Stuff Podcast in summer of 2018 and my life is certainly better for it. Foot Stuff Podcast, a review, will give you the rundown on this phenomenal podcast.

What They’re All About.

Foot Stuff Podcast, the Outdoor Recreation Comedy, brings you stories of adventure, antics, and activism from around the world. Four goofball guys with a passion for outdoor recreation and protecting wild spaces get together on Mondays to delve into an interesting outdoor topic. Wednesday episodes begin with a bit of foot stuff; hosts and guests share what they may have done in the previous week. Sometimes the adventure someone has embarked on inspires me to try a new trail or activity, and most of the time it’s a trail I can relate to and their storytelling cracks me up. 

After discussing their individual -and sometimes group- foot stuff, it is time for Hiker News! Hiker News can be saddening, surprising, and shocking. Information on missing hikers, broken thru-hiking records, and important messages from the DEC in the Adirondacks. For example, I first heard that The Garden -a very busy trailhead for many of the High Peaks in the Adirondacks- was closed to public parking in the summer of 2019 while listening to Foot Stuff. Hiker News includes local information and reports from all over the world.   

The final chunk of their time on air is spent on a specific topic. The guys have covered recreating in other regions, such as Patagonia and Antarctica; but they don’t foget about their local challenges such as the Cranberry Lake 50 and the Northville Placid Trail. I’ve learned about everything from the climbing culture in Yosemite to the effects of road salt on our beloved Adirondack lakes.  Topics are often related to the time of year or a current event and always leave me curious and hungry for more facts; such was the case with the Christmas Bird Count Episode. Each theme is full of pertinent information and just the right amount of hilarity. 

The gang.

Matt, Tyler, Wade, and Jeremy call the Adirondack Park home. Their knowledge of and passion for outdoor recreation and activism are evident each and every Wednesday. The dynamic of this group is so authentic you will find yourself smiling throughout each episode. You can get to really know each member of the gang in episode 62! Matt, Tyler, Wade, and Jeremy aren’t the only voices you’ll hear through your speakers. Guests are frequent on the podcast and honestly bring in such awesome information on a variety of topics. It’s really nice to hear first-hand experiences, and expertise from friends of the pod. Knowledgeable individuals have shared their proficiency in ice fishing, wilderness therapy, the New York State Ranger shortage and beyond.  

Foot stuff podcast Review.

Reviewers have left statements such as 

“Thanks for an entertaining podcast full of education in a light and humorous environment .”

“Foot Stuff is my unexpected favorite Podcast! These guys are hilarious, interesting, and there’s not so much funny in the episodes that you don’t get actual information.”

“Love listening to this great group of funny, witty, and adventurous guys talking about the great outdoors, the Adirondacks, nature, science, and everything in between!”

If you ever feel like leaving a review, 5-stars only. 


Best times to listen to a Podcast: while driving, while walking for exercise, while walking to work, while cooking, while performing housework, while casually playing video games,  in place of watching television, or during any mindless work. You can listen to Foot Stuff Podcast via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and Google Podcast. Follow Foot Stuff on Instagram and watch their adventures between episodes! 

**For those of you who are clueless about the state of New York, Suffolk County is as far east as you can go on Lawn Guyland – New York’s big ole’ middle finger. The drive from central NY to eastern LI is extensive in any kind of traffic so a good podcast helps me through it!