In a whirlwind backpacking Eastern Europe trip, I made sure to include Berlin on my MUST SEE places to visit. With missing my train in Prague, because it was my first time using the train in Europe. Then the next train I boarded on caught on fire, making me miss my original tour. Berlin Historical Walks came in for the save! Sean Stewart (my tour guide) taught me how to tour Berlin in 12 Hours or less.
I gave Sean the task of convincing me that Berlin was more complex than what the History Channel teaches. I remember sitting with my Grandma and Grandpa on weekends watching movies about the history of Berlin, and WWII movies.
I also gave him the task of convincing me that the German people weren’t rude, and aloof like I had been told they were before visiting. So come with me, as I go on a walking tour of Berlin with Sean, and learn just how much this country has been through.
Map of the Walking Tour
The purple and orange are where I would suggest you visit. If you plan to visit a museum, you must weigh and measure the amount of time you would like to spend there. Also, factor in a time to grab some street food along the way because all the walking is going to make you hungry. The Yellow is where you can find a bathroom. The Black are other important sites I would suggest you visit if you have the time to travel that distance. Otherwise, all of this can be reached on foot.
Luggage Storage and the Train Station
Arriving at the Train station is going to be very confusing, especially for Americans who are used to driving their cars or taking the subway. This is a whole other animal in public transportation. This train station is complex and easy to get lost in. The ticket counters are on the main level, I suggest you buy your ticket prior to leaving on any tour so you don’t get stuck there overnight – even with a EURail Pass you must have a seat reservation or you can get fined.
The luggage locker is about 2-6 Euros depending on how much time you want to store your luggage. Smaller the luggage the better, because then you can empty out your squishable bags into the smaller lockers that are usually leftover. If you arrive early in the morning, you might get a larger luggage locker – but don’t count on it.
There are four different levels to this train station and is one of the main hubs of connection for much of Europe. Do not expect people to speak English, I can’t recall if they have Wifi or not – but I would get Google translate access on your phone just in case. You don’t want to end up on the wrong train to your next destination. Google translate will be your best friend when getting onto the right train, the right car, and in a good seat.
If you book with Sean (no I’m not sponsored to say this- but I should have been, lol) – he will meet you at the train station to help you figure it out and help you to store your luggage. He will also help you get onto the right train/bus to get back to the station or the airport.
Sites To See During 12 Hours in Berlin
We started our 12-hour tour of Berlin near the Brandenburg Gate then wound our way on foot throughout the town. If you go in the off-season (early spring/late fall), it is not going to be crowded and you can really take it all in without fighting hoards of tourists.
Built around 1790 by Prussian King Frederick William II as the main entry point to the city of Berlin is the Brandenburg Gate. If you look at the top of the gate, there is a large statue, the Quadriga. It is said to represent the statue of the goddess of victory, as she appears to be barreling into the city on her chariot pulled by four horses. I’m a little bit vertically challenged and it was starting to rain, so this picture is as good as you will get of that statue.
This gate has survived and been witness to Napoleon’s seizure of the city, Hitler’s propaganda parade to the presidential palace, World War II. This was on the side of East Berlin and stood firm against all the tragedies of the Cold War. It has morphed, been repaired, altered, and throughout it all still stands as a monument to the resilience of Germany and its people to come back from dark places of history.
Photography tip: The Brandenburg Gate is best shot from Pariser Platz, facing west. I would suggest photographing it at sunset (not pictured) as you get the sun shining through the columns, or during the blue hour with the sky is a brilliant blue and the lights on the gate light up. If you don’t want people in your shot, be sure to take multiple long exposure shots and stack them together in Photoshop.
Memorial of the Berlin Wall
The Memorial of the Berlin Wall is located along the historic Bernauer Strasse, extending 0.86 miles (1.4km) with the preserved grounds behind the last remaining piece of the Berlin Wall.
This memorial reviews the function of this border, how it separated families and destroyed lives. Keeping people from East Berlin, separate from West Berlin. Photographs, oral quotes from speeches, histories written and passed down. The photographs show people trying to escape from East Berlin by jumping from windows, rooftops. East German Police attempting to jump the barbed wire fencing.
The reconciliation church was also blown up after being stuck in the death strip when the wall was built. The Reconciliation chapel is now rebuilt in the same location where the prior chapel was built.
There is also the window of remembrance commemorates the deaths that occurred at the Berlin Wall. While there has been much debate about how many deaths actually occurred. A study done in 2017 estimates that nearly 327 people died at or because of trying to escape past the Berlin Wall. Many of those who died were young men between 18-25 and 10% of them women, one report stated that there was a baby that suffocated inside of a boot in the back of a car.
There were many ways the East Germans tried to escape like on air mattresses, paddleboards (the antique kind, not the new kind), a home built hot-air balloon (where is the movie of that!) and my favorite – a man who shot an arrow across the death zone and zip lined his way across to West Germany.
I highly suggest visiting this memorial and reading the chilling and heroic stories that surround the history of this important place.
Topography of Terror
Located on the former site of the headquarters of the Gestapo and Secret State Police. The original building was badly damaged during WWII, and the remains were demolished after the war ended. When the Cold War began, this area became a fortified area. The building remained rubble until the final structure was formed in 2010 and opened to the public.
The museum is free and well worth the effort to walk through and see some of the darkest days of Germany.
While the location of Hitler’s Bunker, where he took his own life, was highly debated for some time. The final place of the bunker was determined (in 2006) and in one of the oddest places for such a historical site, you will ever see. While it isn’t technically much to see, it is interesting to see how East Germany built the ‘saving face’ apartments right near the Berlin Wall that stood just feet away from West Berlin. Even though the rest of East Germany was starving, they made the appearance that everything was fine and refined in the decadant apartments. Only the most elite and elected were allowed to stay in these apartments, as it was so close to the wall, they didn’t want more people escaping.
There is a sign here to explain how the bunker system was laid out and which bunker was assigned specifically to Hitler. The oddest thing about the former bunker? It is now a parking spot for one of the former East German ranking society members descendants who became million-dollar apartment holders overnight when the wall was torn down. If that isn’t the oddest historical story you have heard, I don’t know what is.
No matter what time of year you visit, this is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful squares in Berlin. The concert hall (the center building) is a perfect balance between the French and German churches. During the summer there are open-air concerts, and during the winter you will find the square transformed into a Christmas Market.
The square was built during the 17th century and the French Protestant community was given one church in the square. The Luthern congregation the other church on the opposite end. Interestingly, the two congregations funded each others church. Sean explained how this would be akin to a Christian building a Mosque. The churches at the time where so at odds with each other, that it shows just how tolerant and inclusive Germans were at that time.
In between the two churches once resided a stable for the regimental horses. This was torn down by Fredrich II and the concert hall was built. If you look at the base of the concert hall steps on the right, you will see a white statue of Fredrich Schiller, a passionate French poet. After the Second World War, the square was in ruins. In the 1970s, the East Berlin government had it rebuilt to how it looks today.
The Holocaust Memorial- Memorial to Murdered Jews of Europe
When I first saw a photo of this memorial, I did not realize these weren’t Jewish graves. These are slabs of concrete arranged in a way to create an interactive art piece, that is meant to cause reflection on what it was like to be a Jew during the Holocaust.
The designer of this Memorial did not give his meaning or interpretation of this piece so that each person visiting could draw their own conclusions. I like to think of it as the outer slabs that are very close to the ground are meant to represent racial slurs, and jokes. As the racial slurs became more severe, they then became accusations that rose too high for any one person to control.
As you walk between the stone slabs they rise higher and higher overhead, until you are standing in the center of the piece and can barely hear the sounds of the city. There is a feeling of apprehension as you are walking through this maze, not knowing who is going to come around the next corner- and really have no place to hide. The only way to stay hidden is to keep moving and hope you don’t run into someone around the next corner.
It was odd walking through this maze as I’m typically very self-aware, and can feel people near me without even opening my eyes. Yet walking among these slabs, I was shocked that someone could round the corner at any intersection and I could barely hear them until we were nearly on top of each other.
After walking through this area, I had an eery sense of dread and felt very disconcerted. The message of the artist certainly affected me and still does to this day.
This beautiful cathedral is located on Museum Island, a central location I highly suggest at least passing by on your way to the other sites. This cathedral was originally built in 1895 but was so heavily damaged during World War II that it was just reopened to the public in 1993.
The first church built on this site was in the 14th century and was used by the Hohenzollern family, whose palace was just across the street. The mausoleum of this family that was housed in this church for centuries has now been moved due to reconstruction. There are still 94 sarcophagi’ of Royal Family members that are housed here today. The main piece to see in this cathedral is the 7,000 pipe organ that hosts over 100 concerts every year.
The Dome of the cathedral is open every day from 9 am to 8 pm (except State Holidays). The admission is 7 Euros, and there are also guided tours you can take as well. If you are only there for a short time I would just pay for a one time pass. If you have more time in Berlin, I would suggest getting the Berlin Pass, because you get access to 200 different sites and public transport.
If you want a realistic view of what life was like in the 1940s under the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or DDR – this is the place to visit. It takes you into the lives of the people of Germany. From 35 different stations, you can see what it felt like to be ‘bugged’ or ‘wiretapped’, watch TV in a recreated homeroom of the 1940s. I personally didn’t have time to pop in and see this, because I had arrived so much later than planned – but it came highly recommended and is great for families as well.
There are also areas to teach about Media, literature, music, culture, family, private niche, health, equality, diet, childhood, youth, partnership, fashion, border, Berlin, education, and work during that time. You experience first hand what daily life was like from the household citizen to a ranking member of the DDR.
The Library Memorial: Bebelplatz
This is not a traditional memorial, in that it is actually underground. If you are strolling across Bebelplatz, you might miss it because you can walk right over it. If you see people looking at the ground, this is what they are looking at here. It is a memorial to the books that were burned in this spot by the Nazi Germans as a nationwide act against the ‘un-German spirit’.
As you look down through the glass plate, there are white shelves, empty of anything. What should be on these shelves are the 20,000 books they burnt that day on May 10, 1933. The books they burnt were those of independent authors, journalists, philosophers and academics that did not coincide with the regime message.
The bronze plaques you see near this memorial read:
That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people as well. Heinrich Heine 1820
If you walk across the square, you might see a pop-up stand of a few people selling books. These are copies of the books that were burned that day, available for purchase at a discounted price.
Soviet War Memorial
The Red Army or Soviet Soldiers are honored in this park. I didn’t realize personally, how much Russia played a part in liberating Germany. There were 80,000 Soviet Soldiers who died fighting to liberate Germany; with 7,000 of them being buried at Treptow park. Treptow park is where the Soviet War Memorial is now housed. It has a triumphal gate entrance and peaceful park that wreaths and flowers are laid on the steps every year.
Just to give you an idea of how many people died in World War II per country (to name a few):
Soviet Union 24,000,000
United Kingdom 450,700
United States 418,500
Unter den Linden
This has been the ‘main drag’ of Berlin since 1791 when the Brandenburg gate was completed. It morphed and changed over the years, until the 1920s when it was a bustling, anything goes type boulevard. The 250-year-old trees adorned this beautiful street, and time period shops glittered at night over the passing crowds. When Hitler took power, he ripped out all the trees and put up Nazi flags, much to the discontent of the public. Hitler later replanted the trees, and after Berlin was liberated the crowds washed through the Brandenburg gate like leaves blowing in the wind.
If you follow this road from Brandenburg gate, you will come across museum island, the memorial to the Jews of the Holocaust, and even a ghost subway, a statue of Frederick the Great, and the tomb of the unknown soldiers and unknown Holocaust victim.
You eventually end up at the Lustgarten park, which was once a military parade route, now turned (and to remain) a beautiful park for the public to enjoy a sunny afternoon.
Named after Elector Friedrich III, who ruled here from 1688 to 1713. This area, once full of Royal Apartments and surrounding fields, is now a lively amusement part of Berlin. This is where many of the tourists flock to shop, visit theatres, and to see the famous Checkpoint Charlie, romanticized by spy book novels.
This area may have been my least favorite area, because of how many tourists were here. They all come in droves to see the gimmicky Checkpoint Charlie, that if you actually look at it – doesn’t resemble a true checkpoint at all. There are pictures of an American Solider and a Soviet Soldier, both who have the wrong time period uniforms on. The American Soldier pictured, actually has a military ribbon on his uniform from Desert Storm….which hadn’t even happened yet.
Sean, my guide, jokingly said that Germany models are paid to stand there with an American Flag and expect a tip to do it. If despite knowing this, you would still like to visit then feel free. Yet, I preferred to take a seat at the cafe across the street and watch the hoards of tourists take their photographic momentos. I refused to take a picture of this, as I don’t really want to encourage people to visit this site and instead visit key points to the winning the war like this bridge that played a huge role in the battles of liberating Berlin.
Sammlung Boros Bunker
It was a little chilling for me to stand on the street corner and see this, now converted, bunker. Sean said that he had a visitor who came, and he started to explain what it was and what it is now used for. A woman in the group chimed in with a shocking revelation. She explained how it felt to be in the bunker with her Mother and sisters hunkered down and feeling the vibrations of the bombs landing.
It gave me chills to think of how scary it must have been for them, yet torn over the crimes their leaders committed against the Jewish people. Yet, as with most of Berlin – they are moving away from their past and repurposing the dark into light.
This bunker now houses a contemporary art collection from international artists’ from the 1990s onward. While I didn’t have time to go in, it is definitely on a ‘must-see’ list for me when I return.
Wrapping Up My Tour of Berlin in 12 Hours – Moving on to Backpacking Eastern Europe
While there was so much more I was able to explore and discuss with Sean (see the video above) this will give you some ideas on how to best explore Berlin in one day. Despite hearing how boring, and rude Germans were/are – I found it to be quite the opposite. The city holds a special place in my heart because of the things I learned.
The people there are private, and passionate and want to move forward from their past – which is what most tourists come there to see. So if you have limited time to see Berlin, I would highly recommend choosing from the map above, book with Berlin Historical Walks (not sponsored to say this ), and I guarantee Sean will be able to change your mind about this city and its people.
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Traveler Tip: Make sure you reserve your seat on the train prior to leaving the train station when you arrive. This will either give you more time, or save you from camping overnight at one of the busiest and most complicated train stations in Europe.
How to Get Around Berlin
The train system in Europe and walking is my preferred method, as it is cheaper than flying to each individual country when backpacking eastern Europe and attempting to get around Berlin.
They also have the Berlin Welcome Card, that for around 20 Euros you can get unlimited public transport and entrance to 200 sites.
Fall is one of my favorite times of year, a season of warm blankets, hot chocolate, Halloween and beautiful color. It might be hard to pick where to take a scenic road trip for fall colors in the USA. I have put together the top 15 places to see fall colors in the United States for you to make it easy and a dreamy vacation. So grab your cup of hot cocoa, light the fire, and let us explore where your next adventure will be.
Utah Road Trips for Fall Colors
American Fork Canyon, Logan Canyon, Park City Utah, Sundance Utah these are all the places I can unequivocally recommend for seeing Fall colors for the entire family.
American Fork Canyon
This can just be a drive through the Alpine loop where Aspens grace the steep slopes. Pull off on the side of the road under the fall foliage to have some ‘hobo dinners’ complete with meat, carrots, potatoes and your favorite seasonings over a fire. Finish off with a hike and sm’ores over the embers.
This is also a great drive through, a lot more of an open space where you can see fields of oranges, fiery reds. Hike up to the wind caves, visit the nature center, hike along the limber pine trail with an overlook of Bear Lake – one of the clearest lakes in Utah. Rent a cabin and make a weekend of it on your fall color road trip!
Park City and Sundance Utah
Take an easy walk up to the ski lifts, where you can enjoy a 30 minute ski lift ride right over the fields of wild flowers in the summer, or fall colors. The crisp mountain air, places to shop and dine along with the last remnants of the summer farmers markets will make for a perfect Fall getaway before the winds of winter arrive.
Colombia River Gorge, Oregon
This Gorge is about 2,100 feet deep with waterfalls, and fall foliage galore! Hike the challenging Hamilton Mountain, about 9.4 miles in passing 2 waterfalls ( Rodney and Hardy Falls ) along the way.
Participate in part of the PCT along the 5 mile out and back Dry creek falls. Despite being called a ‘creek’ this 75-foot waterfall will impress even the most negative hikers.
Lastly, end your day with a picnic at Pioneer Point on the 1.3 mile Cape Horn Loop. Where you will bask in the beauty of the Colombia River adorned with a spectacular spectacle of fall colors. Bring your thermos full of hot cocoa, you will want to stay here and drink in the view for awhile.
Maine is known as the ‘vacation state’ to many East Coasters. Vast landscapes packed with adventures for all. Yet, Kennebunkport Main stole my heart when searching for the perfect fall getaway. I would suggest visiting in September specifically as many of the local shops begin to close around the first week of October.
This quaint fishing village was known for its shipping, and packs a punch when it comes to historical value – including being the home town of one of one of the former President’s of the United States.
Be sure to wander the city on foot, take a whale watching boat ride, jump on a lobster boat and catch your meal for the day, and finish up with some blue berry ice cream, or a cuppa tea.
Ozark National Forest, Arkansas
I mistakenly thought that Arkansas didn’t have much to offer in the way of beauty. Yet it is like finding Where’s Waldo when going hiking. The trees cover all the hidden gems like hidden waterfalls, caves used by slaves to hide while getting to freedom, a Popeye Statue in the middle of a small town city and all sorts of down to earth people to talk to. The best part is that this great state is filled with trees that turn into beautiful fall colors – not to miss when fulfilling your fall colors bucketlist.
The iconic Whitaker Point hike with trees in reds, yellows, and oranges as far as the eye can see. A perfect time to hike in the Southern United States, because the humidity will be a lot less potent than in the throws of summer in this area.
There are plenty of hikes to enjoy here like Compton’s Double Falls, Sam’s Throne, and the Narrows with a fabulous display of nature’s beauty.
Catskill Mountains, New York
One word will convince you to visit the Castskill Mountains in Fall….Octoberfest. Beginning the end of September there are 4 weeks of Bavarian festivities held at Hunter Mountain. What is unique to this area is that it grows crisp, juicy, flavorful apples for a perfect hard apple cider. If festivals aren’t your thing, then stop by Delhi’s picturesque Wayside Cider for a more refined sip of these suds.
You can also drive the scenic route of the Catskill Mountains, hitting a round of golf, or spending the night camping in the cool autumn air. If you take a look at all the festivals held in the Catskill Mountains, you are sure to find something for everyone. My favorite is their lumberjack festival, I never realized just how intense the competition was until I saw one of these.
Enchanted Circle of New Mexico
Many people think of the East Coast as the only place with beautiful fall colors. Suprisingly New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle will give you a whole new perspective on Fall in the desert.
This is a circle you will need your RV for, or at the very least a tent as it is 84 miles of exploration. The circular route takes you around Wheeler Mountain ( 13,161 feet – 4.011 meters), and through the lush Hondo Valley blazing with colors of fall.
Stop at the Red River Fish Hatchery and take a self-guided tour. Enchant your children with the large rainbow trout pond. Maybe even travel down stream and try to catch a fish or two.
Carry on around to Questa, to visit Artesanos de Questa, where woodworkers, tinsmiths, painters, stained glass workers and sculptors show their work at this cooperative.
You will get an array of fall festivities, art shows, animal encounters and gorgeous scenery as you take a very memorable and enchanting drive around this circle.
Stowe Vermont Road Trip For Fall Colors
Known as the Fall Color Capital, is a time of vibrant colors that your eyes drink in calming the soul. There are many ways to see the breathtaking fall foliage here through the extensive network of hiking trails, kayaking down the reservoir, or just taking a leisurely scenic drive.
Despite the plethora of mountain biking paths, I recommend the leisurely ‘Rec Path’ for your fall foliage leaf peeping. This path is one the whole family or group of friends can enjoy no matter what their physical skill level is. For the more adventurous, I would take a zip line through the fall foliage, a guided tour, or a Stowe, at Night, Lantern Tour where you are regaled with tales of ghost stories.
Festivals such as the Stowe Tango Music Festival, Stowe Jazz Festival, Stowe Foliage Arts Festival, Stowe Arts Week, Art on Park and the outdoor art exhibit, ‘Exposed’ are just a few events that grace the artistic stages in this small town.
North Conway, New Hampshire
This is one of the more unique and off the beaten path places to visit for fall foliage. North Conway in New Hampshire may not be the first destination you would choose, but for train lovers it should be. There is a historic Victorian Station built in 1974 and on the National Register of Historic Places in the United States.
When you jump on the this train there are different lengths of time you can enjoy the fall foliage in comfort and class. If you like the spooky and scary, like me – try the Murder Mystery Dinner Train in October. Be sure to plan ahead as it only runs on certain weekends in october, and only in certain cars on the train so space is limited.
You cannot mention fall to me without immediately thinking about Halloween. There is no other town more fit to celebrate all Hallo’s Eve than Salem. Discover what it was like to live in New England during the time of the Salem witch trials. Take a ghost tour, explore the museums, meet real practicing witches, attend a play about witches – there are so many ghoulishly great activities you may forget you traveled there to see fall foliage as well.
The color palette along the New England Coastline is one you will never forget. An array of colors even the witches of Salem would have in their cauldrons. No matter where you go in this town, you will be surrounded by brilliant fall colors. Take a ferry down to Boston from Salem (30 min and $25 for one way) to avoid the incredible parking fees. Stroll along Beacon Hill, or Boston Commons two iconic places both photographically and historically. This where the warmth of the color of the trees matches the picturesque buildings of the 1700’s full of history and divine food – it is a perfect way to end your fall foliage frolicking.
Yellowstone National Park Road Trip for Fall Colors
Many people visit Yellowstone National Park in the Summer to see the buffalo, bears, and new babies emerging to find food after the long winter. Yet they often forget just how incredible the colors in the fall can be. It can get a bit chilly in the fall, and even snow if there is an early winter.
Seeing Old Faithful when the crowds are not as oppressive amid the backdrop of beautiful fall colors – should be on everyone’s bucketlist. This is one place that fall hits a bit earlier than the rest of the country, being early August/late August. Be sure that you check on hotels/camping sites you plan to stay at as there are many staggered closings up until Oct 20th.
The reason this is such a wonderful time to see the rutting season. The bison rutting season starts in August, and the Elk rutting season is in September. The park rangers admit, that it is not unusual to see the massive elk sparring and fighting throughout the season. I recommend visiting Mammoth Hot Springs for the best Elk Rutting shows, as this tends to be a place the congregate.
If watching the rutting season isn’t your thing, then maybe catching a fish is! Fishermen from around the world are drawn here for the Brown Trout spawning season. You are guaranteed to have a fish dinner every night that your heart desires. I would recommend Madison and Gardner rivers for the best trout fishing for the fall season.
Jackson Hole National Park
The swarms of summer visitors are gone, and a cornucopia of fall festivities is now in full swing. I would plan a visit in September for the best chance to see the full variety of fall foliage, as the parks will still be open and so will many of the best hikes. Take a ride through Grand Teton National Park full of aspens suffused with brilliant yellows of fall. Go on a wildlife viewing tour (which happen all year round) where the dark colors of elk, deer, and even bears pop out in your photos against the backdrop of fall colors.
Bundle up and catch one of the tram rides up Rendezvous Mountain at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Teton Village. Grab a cup of hot chocolate, and drink in the fresh crisp fall air. Make your way back down to Jackson Hole and reserve a uniquely western experience for dinner, with a Chuck Wagon Supper.
Fall in Jackson Hole is any photographer enthusiasts dream, with wild colors amid wildlife at their peak for mating season – there is no other time I would rather go.
Colorado is often known for the skiing in the fall, but it is one of my favorite places to see Fall Foliage. The people are very down to earth, you can take a horse back ride through Aspen Falls and Estes Park to see the best of the fall foliage without even breaking a sweat. Home to Rocky Mountain National Park and Roosevelt National Forest, with a massive network of mountain biking, and heart warming food – it truly is a fall foliage paradise.
Estes Park is a more luxurious and relaxing way to spend your time seeing fall foliage in Colorado. It is a Swiss inspired town, with songs, shows, and plenty of activities when the sun sets. It is also home to thousands of Elk that will be in the rutting season just like Yellowstone, and Jackson Hole – yet with more of the luxury comfort.
Washington State Road Trip for Fall Colors
I cannot say it enough, I love Washington! The first (of many times) I visited was when I went on my first sailing trip in Seattle. I was hooked and am already planning a trip back to experience fall foliage in Leavenworth. This small town has its own Autumn Leaf Festival. Where a parade full of fall colors and even Lady Fall Royalty is crowned in this small town.
Take a scenic road trip for fall colors through Mt Rainer National Park and see just how incredible the colors light up the land. While it is a very touristic area in the summer, many children are back in school. So it is a great camping getaway for both single and couples alike. Nothing is better than cuddling up in a blanket or next to your loved one than during fall.
The best places to take your epic fall foliage road trip in Washington are Paradise, Reflection Lakes, Bench and Snow Lakes for fabulous fall reflections. Get spiritual at the Grove of the Patriarchs, where you can worship giant Redwood trees. Drive along Chinook Pass on State Route 410 or the White Pass Scenic Byway on U.S. Highway 12 for vast landscape views unlike anything you have ever experienced.
Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia
This is where you will find the iconic old, dark colored mills against the flaming red colors of aspens. Because of the iconic nature along this drive, I highly recommend making reservations months in advance (especially for October). The best time to see the fall colors here is in mid to late October when the colors are at their peak.
When driving this parkway, you will be surrounded by foliage on east and west facing slopes. A perfect drive for the morning, or during golden hour especially along James River. As you travel south you will gain about 6,000 feet of elevation (1828 meteres) up to Mt. Pisgah into North Carolina.
This is one destination that you will need to plan on a journey to see the fall foliage at its best. Due to the varying elevations along this parkway, the peak fall foliage is going to be dependent upon the elevation.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, West Virginia
Located along the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, this is a fabulous place for fall photography. It is four parks from four different States in one, with massive historical ties to the Civil War. Due to this, the parking can be limited with narrow stalls. So I wouldn’t suggest bringing your RV on this one, unless you have a boat load of patience. Alternatively, I would bring/rent a small car and use the shuttle while here.
Be sure to jump off at the footbridge to the C&O Canal stop, as this is where the rivers meet, and give a view like none other. The two rivers collide here, with an island like center, full of fall foliage and color to satisfy any leaf peeper. I highly recommend going to Maryland Heights viewpoint as this is going to be the most iconic and stunning view of the park during fall.
Even though I don’t have children of my own, I really appreciate it when parks provide things like passport stamps to kids, and junior ranger badges, historical tours that the whole family can enjoy. I think it is important to teach the younger generations the beauty that can come from traveling, and especially from traveling responsibly. Showing them and even our own friends just how beautiful nature can be when we take care of it. Harpers Ferry National Historic Park offers all of these things – which is why I highly recommend this place. You are going to need at least 4-5 days to properly explore the fall foliage, hiking, and historic parts of this town.
Gathering Up the Best Fall Leaves
Fall is my favorite time of year. There is not other time that you are still relaxed before Thanksgiving, or Christmas, and can celebrate creativity during Halloween. The crisp air and crisp apples contrast with the warmth of fires, warm drinks and warm fall colors.
No matter where you live, or where you visit in the United States – I hope you are able to visit one of these places during your search for the best places to see fall foliage. From the East Coast to the West Coast, from North to South, from High to Low- there are plenty of scenic road trips for fall colors in the USA for everyone.
There are hundreds of articles on ‘What To Pack for Boston’, but most of them focus on what to pack for winter not in summer. Boston can get hot and muggy, with all the water surrounding it – so it is important to plan accordingly. Here are my suggestions on what to pack for Boston in Summer, especially for those who don’t tolerate humidity very well like me.
My number one item for any trip that has increased humidity is body glide. This stuff saves me every single trip! For curvy girls, and men alike, this will save you from chafing. Boston is said to be one of the most walk-able cities in the United States, so be prepared for the dreaded chaffe. This is the first thing to add to your bag when planning on what to pack for Boston.
An App To ‘Pack’ for Boston
While this isn’t really a clothing item, it is something you definitely need to pack for Boston. With the walk-ability rating of this city, you have the option to take the underground T (or Train). There is an app you should get in order to get around town, it can be extremely confusing at first where to enter the subway. The train system isn’t like train travel in Europe. There is no where to cross to the other side, without entering the proper stairwell. Once you are past the ticket machine, the doors open to let you pass, then close, and your ticket is used up. If you have to turn around and go out again, then try to use the same ticket to get on the correct side for your train – well you will have to pay again.
So I would suggest getting this free app, it gives you a map of where to enter, times when the train is coming, and then where to get off.
You can also get a Charlie Card, where you pay about $22 for a 7 day pass, that you can use unlimited times in the subway. You can get these at any ticket station, but they don’t take cash, so make sure to have a card.
Traveler Tip: They have elevators, but be warned they are often used by the homeless as urinals; so on hot summer days you may want to just take the stairs.
Cool Classy Shirts
Keep in mind that when you are visiting this city you will be among all the Harvard and MIT smarty pants. I was glad I brought some casual business outfits to help me fit in. Cool shirts with pastel colors of pink, green, and blue will make you feel summery – but also stand out, at least in the center of Boston. Many people wear dresses, low heels, business attire – so you can choose what you would like to wear.
For the best pictures along Beacon Hill in front of the Red Brick houses, I would bring black, white, tan, or dark green to help you pop in the photos you are bound to take.
Most of what I packed for Boston in the way of shirts came from LOFT – where sizes range from 4-26. Another reason I love to promote them is no one is excluded from wanting to feel like a goddess in her photos. Guys, if you drop by the website – let me know your review of their clothing below in the comments or who you would recommend.
A Bit of Flair
For me spending $350 on a brand name shirt is just not in my budget, but props to you if you can throw money away like that. I like to feel fancy with my sunglasses, or a unique piece of jewelry.
So I will typically get my sun glasses from a place like Nordstrom Rack, Marshalls, or have even found some good ones at Ross. You can get some really nice brand name ones for an affordable price. The one reason I invest in a good pair of these, for two reasons. One, I don’t mess with my eyeballs – and don’t want to have cataracts, so getting good UV protection is important.
Second, people are mostly looking at your face when they meet you, not the brand name label on your butt (if you are you might get slapped). So when they are staring at your face, and notice the fancy brand name on it – humans have a funny way of assuming everything else must be just as posh. (Your welcome for this little luxury hack of mine).
The other thing I bring that is both practical and will make you feel fancy is a quality watch. Now don’t click off of the article yet, I will tell you why I don’t think watches are out of date. Phones notoriously get the battery life sucked out of them with every update. With all the tours, appointments, subway arrivals/departures etc… I am constantly looking at the time. So in order to save as much battery life as possible, I always bring a watch with me.
A brand I recently partnered with, JORD watches, has some eco-friendly, unique watches to match any flavor. It is made out of wood from trees that have naturally fallen, no chemicals are used in the process, there is no plastic, only metal and wood. It stays on my wrist, no matter if I’m running for the train, tossing in my sleep, or messing with it nervously during an interview. They even engrave messages on the back of the watch if you wanted to give this as a gift.
For Your Bottom
Capri’s or midi dresses for the ladies. Guys, you will want to try and avoid jeans or pants that don’t breathe. Comfortable slacks, or the stretchy jeans might be better options. For the guys who don’t care about epic or perfectly curated pictures and just want the boys to be comfortable, go with black basketball shorts.
Personally, I regretted bringing the white and black pairs of jeans that I did. However, they did look stellar in photos, so I suffered through it, lol.
Shoes to Bring
Flats are what most Bostonians wear, but because of my plantar fasciitis, I wore Taos sandals. Don’t wear heels unless you plan on breaking an ankle. The sidewalks tend reach out and grab you at any moment attempting to get you to face plant in front of the many pedestrians about. (Not that I know from experience….ahem….). So if you don’t want to face plant or break your ankle, wear sturdy sandals, flats, or even classy tennis shoes. Make sure whatever you bring is breathable so that you don’t get blisters.
Rain, Fog, Wind, Sun, and reflective heat from all the cement and pavement in the city are all possible and all in the same day. What I observed by my long weekend there in June was a Fog rolls in overnight, it burns off when the sun comes up. Then you are broiled to death in the middle of the day (85-90F with 60-70% humidity). In the afternoon and evening you can have torrential down pour, think huge raindrops.
Then in the evening, a breeze rolls in and the sky clears up, for a nice evening by the Charles River Esplanade. So really, I would bring a cute poncho, or if you want to pack super light and thrifty, just bring a large garbage bag to throw on. You can also bring an umbrella, but with luggage restrictions I’m starting to move more towards ponchos, and rain jackets because umbrellas just take up too much valuable luggage space now.
These are the major changes I would recommend bringing from my Basic Packing Checklist when choosing what to pack for Boston.
Be sure to pack your camera gear, here are some things I keep in my bag. Boston is very good for both Day and Night photography. There is plenty to see and do while here. Everything from the food, the streets, the backstreets, the bridges, and the coastline sunset cruises will have you filling up your SD cards quickly.
So if you plan to travel to Boston in Summer, make sure you prepare to the heat, fog, and rain. Realize many people there are dressed classy, and in business casual in the center of the city. If you go outside of the center of town, you will find people dressed a little more, or a lot more casual. It depends on where you are staying.
Have more recommendations for What To Pack for Boston in the Summer? Drop them down below!
There are some things in life that worm their way into your heart, and start pulling heartstrings you didn’t even know existed. Sea Turtles, and especially baby sea turtles are one of these things for me. I didn’t really know much about the life cycle of turtles, what the biological reasons they were disappearing were – nor that a major issue was a threat to the nesting grounds. After visiting the Loggerhead Marine Life Center, and Gumbo Limbo, these educational facilities set the stage to saving sea turtles with the Sea Turtle Oversight Protection (STOP) in Fort Lauderdale Florida.
Different Types of Sea Turtles
There are several different types of Sea Turtles, some more endangered than others. There is the Loggerhead, Leatherback, Greenback, Hawksbill, and the very rare Kemp’s Ridley.
The most common type of Sea Turtle along the Florida Coastline is the Loggerhead Sea turtle. The main diet of this type of sea turtle is shellfish, they love the Conch shells. It is listed as a threatened species, due to the major coastal developments, coastal fishing, and pollution (both chemical and garbage).
The Less common is the Green Sea Turtle, likely because it is now listed as endangered. These eat mainly seagrass, seaweed, and algae. For the same reasons that the loggerhead sea turtle is endangered, so is this one.
The Leatherback Sea Turtle is considered a vulnerable species as its population is currently decreasing. It feeds primarily on Jellyfish, can weight up to 550 – 1,500 lbs! As a Scuba Diver, Jellyfish are not my friends, so I want to really see these Leatherback Sea Turtles flourish!
The incubation time for the Green and Loggerhead Turtle eggs is around 45-55 days, while the Leatherback Sea Turtle eggs can reach up to 70-90 days.
The Turtle Nesting Season
While visiting STOP I learned that each type of turtle has different times it likes to nest, and each female can lay multiple nests in a season with multiple different male partners. The Leatherback lays her eggs primarily in March to June, the Loggerhead from May to August, and the Green Turtle from June to September.
I happened to join Richard and his team at STOP near the end of June. We learned that each nest has about a 51-day gestational period, and there was one nest that was on day 54. I couldn’t stop smiling, I was taking part or at the very least contributing to spreading knowledge about these wonderful animals, and may just be able to see them be born. Being able to help in a small way to saving sea turtles is a pretty incredible responsibility.
The Perfect Conditions
When a female sea turtle comes ashore to lay her eggs there are a few things she looks for. She will typically come when the moon is full or nearly full, when it is high tide, and the waves are just right.
When the ocean conditions are right, the turtle then has to feel as if she is coming home. They are, in general, very shy creatures, and spook easily. If there are parties every night on the beaches, flashlights, Iphones, loud music, then the female won’t lay her eggs and will wait.
If you were coming to a hospital to give birth and your doctor was drinking alcohol, your husband was blasting Metallica in your ear, and the Nurse was snapping selfies. You wouldn’t want to give birth either or would give the entire room an earful about ruining the moment. It is the same idea with turtles if there is too much noise, fires, flashing lights, or large groups of people near the shore – it won’t come to shore. Eventually, it will just dump the eggs into the ocean, losing the precious and endangered cargo.
If she does come ashore, imagine dragging your pregnant body 300 yards, weighing 450-1000 lbs using only walking sticks to do it. It is dark, if there are sandcastles, holes dug in the sand, beach chairs, or anything that they can get stuck under – this kills the mama sea turtles folks.
Saving Sea Turtles, and the Mama
Richard told us about how people on the beach dig holes, and a turtle came up, laid her eggs, and on her way back to shore, fell into a hole dug into the sand, breaking her neck and killing her.
He also told us there was a mama turtle that came ashore the night before I arrived. She became stuck under a stack of beach chairs. The hotels along Fort Lauderdale Beach rammed metal poles into the ground, chained the beach chairs – and thought to leave them on their side was ‘good enough’. Well, the turtle made her way up the beach, got stuck under a stack of chairs, the chain wrapped around her neck. Luckily STOP was there to rescue her or she would have died. They were able to calm her enough for him to go and ask the hotel for a key to unlock the beach chairs and free her. The night crew didn’t know where it was, so he used a chain cutter and let the turtle free.
What the most amazing part of this story was, is that the turtle ended up laying her eggs anyway! Despite all of the trauma from getting stuck and nearly being suffocated to death. I think, in a way, she knew Richard and his team were there trying to do whatever they could to help her.
Location of the Nests
Did you know that turtles are able to map out beaches based on magnets? They are able to navigate their way back to the same beach where they were born from to lay their own eggs!
There are many facets that go into making a beach feel like a good nesting ground; that turtles will return to over and over again.
What scientists have observed, is that the turtles will go and seek dark objects to lay their eggs under. The temperature of the nest determines the gender of the baby turtles. Nests than incubate below 81.86F (27.7C) then they will be male. Nests that incubate at 87.8F (31C).
The turtles who are born from warm nests, end up being much slower swimmers, they can’t make it past the break line of waves. Gumbo Limbo and the Loggerhead Marine life center help to rehab these baby turtles so that they can make it out in the ocean. They do this by tying tethers to the baby turtles who then, when strong enough, are released back into the wild.
The problem that is being faced with warmer nests, especially in places like Australia, is that only females are being born. Australia has one of the largest Green Sea Turtle populations, but 99% of the turtles being born are female. There needs to be enough genetic diversity within a species so that deformities and susceptibility to disease are less likely.
There are certain measures Australia is implementing to help more males being born. They are using artificial shade over the nest or spraying artificial rain to cool the temperature of the nests. There is a lot of fear, that when the people who are implementing these measures leave. What if Administration positions change, then funding could be lost and these measures will stop – this could cause this species of turtles to become extinct.
Barriers for Sea Turtles on the Beaches
When the mothers seek the shade, they often encounter barriers. Things like large sandcastles can appear as adequate shade, umbrellas or life guardhouses. Other barriers for turtles that are commonly found on beaches are cabanas, umbrellas, Hobie cats, canoes, small boats, and beach cycles.
Some beaches even rake their sand, to create a nice flat beach. This creates a ledge at the end of the beach that the mothers are unable to get up over because the tide bites at the edge of the beach over and over again.
The mothers think they have gone far enough, and end up laying their eggs right in the grip of the tide line. These nests have to then be dug up, replanted in an area that is safely away from the tide so that the eggs don’t suffocate in the water before they hatch.
Predators on the Beach
Then there are new invasive species onto the beaches because of increased housing developments. Pet dogs and cats eat the eggs and hatchlings and even attack nesting turtles.
Those that leave trash behind lure animals that typically reside inland migrate to the beaches for that food. They may encounter mama turtles and/or hatchlings and kill them. So think of picking up after yourself when you are on the beach or visit the beach as a way in doing your part to save sea turtles.
Major Nesting Beaches Around the World
There are lots of nesting sites around the world, but as coastal development remains ever coveted and popular – the areas that turtles can lay their eggs is shrinking rapidly.
SWOT is a global database that allows volunteers to input different nest sites, sea turtle spotting etc… They have interactive maps of the sea turtle nesting sites, and how you can contribute to helping save even just one turtle.
If you visit Florida, there is a major conservation effort through mass volunteering and even city ordinances to help contribute to the cause of protecting the nests. Each nest is taped off (at least in Florida) with bright pink tape. A sign is posted stating that disturbing the nest will result in a massive fine and/or imprisonment.
As the eggs incubate, it is important to not shoot off fireworks near them, nor stomp or jump on or around them. The baby turtles have a biological ability to sense vibration as a trigger to break free from the egg. Having just a few eggs hatch won’t be enough vibration to make the whole nest hatch, there has to be many. Once there are enough vibrations, then the race is on.
The baby turtles, wriggle their way through the sand that causes other eggs to hatch. Once enough of the little ones are free it causes the center of the sandy nest to drop. The turtles then climb over each other up the sloping edges of the sand and then follow the brightest lights.
Confusing Bright Lights
The problem with this is that they often end up following the bright lights of the hotels, and cars near the beach. They get lost under beach chairs, stuck behind garbage cans, make their way to the car lights and ultimately are smashed in the road.
Something fascinating about Sea Turtles is that they are unable to see Orange or Red Lights. So driving along with certain coastal areas in Florida, you will see hotels beaming the orange lights (after a long fight with them to do so).
There are still certain shops, restaurants, and people who refuse to not use orange lights – so there will continue to be baby sea turtles that die. This is tragic and unfortunate that these humans refuse to do small things to help preserve these endangered animals.
Richard explained that there are people, businesses and hotels he has offered to pay to switch the lights out. He even offered to go and install the lights himself. The people, shops, and owners down-right refuse to take him up on his offer.
While this is aggravating and selfish; the only thing that we can continue to do as the Culture Trekking Community is to share, educate, and spread awareness. If enough people write emails, letters, or voice their opinion – we truly can create change that will save lives.
Richard and his team of Volunteers decided that if the hotels and businesses will not do their part, then they will pick up the slack. While the government supplies protection during the day, Richard and his handful of volunteers provide protection at night.
These volunteers spend countless nights sitting on the beach next to nests protecting and waiting for when they hatch. These volunteers and those who sign up for their turtle treks help guide the baby sea turtles away from the deadly road, and back to the ocean.
Each nest and the expected due date is charted in the new database STOP created. The nests are then color-coded by the number of days of gestation, and those in red are due soon. The nests that are nearing their 45-55 day window, are then guarded and babysat until the turtle’s hatch. Sometimes there are stragglers, and the nests are seen as ‘active’ and not to be disturbed, for at least 3 days after the initial hatching.
Once the Active period has ended, the nest is then evaluated, and eggs that are remaining or baby turtles that didn’t make it are counted. Unfortunately, the eggs at the bottom of the nest don’t get the necessary oxygen, or can be crushed by the weight of the other eggs – so there will always be some that do not survive.
Saving Sea Turtles
Richard and the STOP volunteers, along with those like me who signed up for the Turtle Trek will comb the beach looking for sandcastles to knockdown. They pick up garbage and items that could impede a mama turtle or a baby turtle from completing their biological tasks. They remind and educate party-goers on the beach to not use phones, flashlights, yell, or play loud music.
During nesting season, they allow people to sign up for Turtle Treks for a fee of $25 or more to help guard, and maybe save baby sea turtles from wandering into the road.
There is a circle around the nest that is drawn to keep the Turtle Trekkers at a safe distance to not create vibrations. Then there is a 10-foot perimeter drawn around the circle. This perimeter is drawn so that scientists can draw conclusions and collect data on the progress they are making in saving the turtles. The marine biologists also want to give the turtles a chance to turn around if they get confused. Volunteers are advised to not pick up the baby turtles until they reach the 10 Foot perimeter.
Once the baby turtles hatch and they reach the perimeter, they are then put into buckets, and placed back into the ocean.
Volunteering to Save Sea Turtles
Being able to be a part of this Turtle Trek is something I will never forget. There are many nights the volunteers see amazing things. As Richard said, “Each time we see these tiny turtles emerge from the nest, it is a new experience. Each one has his/her own personality and you can see it by how they interact”.
The night I was there we were able to fill in a few holes in the sand. We listened to the stories Richard has collected through the years. Unfortunately, the nest they had anticipated hatching, hatched at 7 pm, just the time we were meeting at the gathering place. This was likely due to the cooler than normal weather, and the cloud cover from the rain making it a little darker a little earlier than normal.
We sat around another nest all night, it was on day 49, and sometimes they are known to hatch a little early. Blessedly the little turtles stayed tucked in their sand bed, and it just gives me another reason to come back and participate again.
Anyone can volunteer, anyone can go on a Turtle Trek. While it does have a fee associated with it, please know that all proceeds go towards protecting the animals.
Richard and his STOP volunteers work tirelessly to protect the nests, fight for the rights of the turtles against the big hotel chains that run along Broward County coastline. The work they do today, will help protect these animals for your children’s, children’s, children – they don’t get paid to do this – they volunteer to be on-call, out late at night. They have been spit at, yelled at, and even stalked because of their efforts – so $25 is not a lot to ask for the experience and education provided.
What Can You Do At Home To Save Sea Turtles?
Living in Utah, there aren’t a whole lot of oceans around. Yet there are things that I can personally do to help with the cause. The first being, use less plastic as much as possible.
There is nearly 8 million tons of garbage that end up in the ocean each year. Each item of garbage has different rates of decomposition, plastic is the longest of all of them. Hundreds of thousands of sea life die each year from garbage that is consumed.
It isn’t just Sea Turtles, it is whales, seals, and fish. I’m sure we have all seen at least one article about garbage being found in a dead whale – or a plastic straw lodged into a sea turtles nose. So hang those reusable bags near your door, take one with you on your vacation, buy a few for a friend.
Choose the milk in the paper carton, instead of the plastic carton, get reusable straws (they even have portable ones), use bamboo forks/spoons and keep one in your purse. Email locations, theaters or even local coffee shops that don’t offer more environmentally friendly container options. If you go out to eat, bring a glass Tupperware to bring home leftovers.
Pay attention to the chemicals that you use. What kind of chemicals do you use in your laundry detergent, what about your dish soap, shampoo, conditioner, or body wash. Think about those items you use the most frequently and make better choices. Sometimes that is all it takes, is a better choice, not a drastic change. Each month you can commit to making a better choice than last month. Eventually, it will become second nature to you.
Staying on Coastlines
If you are staying at any coastline hotel near the regions highlighted above – close your curtains after the sun goes down. Ask the hotel why they don’t have orange lighting to help protect against sea turtles getting confused. Send emails, be a voice, be a force.
If you decide to go out on the beach at night, do not use your phone on the beach nor near nesting turtles. Don’t play loud music, or light a fire that could deter turtles from coming ashore to lay their eggs.
Other Ideas for Doing Our Part At Home
Replace your light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones, this can decrease your carbon footprint by 150 pounds per year. Driving less, taking a bike to the store instead of driving can save one pound of carbon for every mile you don’t drive.
Recycling can potentially save you up to 2400 pounds of carbon dioxide per year by recycling just half of what you use in your daily life.
Checking the tires on your car so your gas mileage is more efficient saves 20 pounds of carbon per gallon per year. Use less hot water, by taking shorter showers can save 500 pounds of carbon per year. This can also apply to washing your clothes in cooler water as well.
Planting one tree can absorb one ton of carbon dioxide over the lifetime of the tree.
If you aren’t using your computer, television, DVD player, stereo or computer then turn them off. You can save yourself thousands of pounds of Carbon Dioxide a year by doing this.
These are just a few ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint while you are in this world. What we do today can impact our descendants for decades to come.
A Duty to Save Baby Sea Turtles
We as a human race, are the biggest threat to Sea Turtles becoming extinct. Imagine your Grandchildren watching Finding Nemo, and then they ask ‘Are Sea Turtles Real?’ – I for one, hope I never have to answer, ‘Well….they were real, but they all died’.
We have a duty to protect, save, and educate not just ourselves but spread the news in a positive and constructive way to those who may just not know any better. Get involved with a volunteer group, go on a Scuba Diving Ocean extravaganza, pick up trash, move those beach chairs.
***Please note that all photos of turtles taken at night and hatching from the nests were taken by Richard Whitecloud who is licensed by the State of Florida to do so. Lights of any kind are not allowed on beaches as listed above. Please do not attempt to film, or photograph any nests during the evening***
Sweat dripped down my forehead, my mouth was slightly dry and I turned to my diving buddy Jen, “Do you still get nervous before you go diving?”. We were Scuba Diving off of Singer Island and West Palm Beach in Florida with Pura Vida Divers in June. She gave a knowing smile, and replied, “It has only been within the last year that I haven’t been nervous before a dive. It took diving on a regular basis to get to this point. You will become more confidant in your diving and things won’t seem as scary because you will know what to do”.
Our dive masters, one a tall hulk of a former Navy man who briefed us on diving in the Trench. A drop in open water with depths of 50 – 60 feet (15 – 18 meters), and a moderate current. He was a bit on the camera shy end, but detailed us in an efficient and well dictated manner. The two things I remembered, ‘Stay in the trench’ and ‘if you get lost, go to the right’.
A Feeling Of Unease
We got our gear ready, flippers on, mask on, regulators checked, and waited for the call to giant walk into the deep blue. I was sitting by the end of the boat, so would be the first one to follow the Dive Master. Then just as is characteristic of military fashion, we were ushered quickly to the end of the boat, looking like penguins with massive flippers flopping awkwardly to the walk off point. I grabbed my mask and took that giant step into the ocean.
I turned and my diving partner was caught on something, the current was sweeping me and the dive master further and further from the boat. I waited til she was in the water, then we signaled to go down. This was the first moment that I felt the unease of this dive. I have a natural ability when it comes to predicting bad events, I wouldn’t say I’m a psychic, but know when things aren’t quite going to go well. I can’t really explain it, but I would soon find out why I felt this way.
Diving into the Trench off Singer Island Florida
The visibility was about 40-50 feet near the top, a strong current was sweeping us all towards the dive master. We followed the bouy down behind him, and Jen and I corrected our distance from each other. It was hard to see the dive master below, as it takes me a bit longer to descend than others due to my Asthma. I tend to get nervous and hold my breath a bit more than I should.
Practicing some of my own self-calming measures, I exhaled the fear, and dropped more easily down next to Jen. We slowly neared the bottom and that is when I was surrounded by an aquatic forest of barrel coral and fishy friends.
Avoiding the Current
I never want to be the person that sits and ruins coral because I’m not as adept at keeping my bouyancy as I should be. So I tried to hover a bit higher than the rest of the group so as to not bump into anyone, or ruin the coral. This wasn’t quite working out though, the current was quite strong and I remembered the instructor telling us to stay low.
I was so grateful I had brought my photo stick so that I could gently push away from coral with minimal impact should I have drifted too close.
Soft Bottom Surrounded by Color
I was enamored by all the fish hiding in the nooks and crannies here. Since I was in the front of the group and slowly drifted breathing slowly with minimal movements of my arms the fish became curious. Swimming right up to my camera, until the bubbles from my regulator scared them away. I would periodically check back to see Jen, just as enamored as I was at the abundance of healthy coral here.
It made my heart sad that there weren’t more places in the world that the coral was this healthy. Committing to show the Culture Trekking Community what healthy Coral should look like & the abundance of life that can come from responsible tourism.
The bottom of the trench is white sand, with a few coral bits here and there. It was created when an oil company decided to drill a trench for a pipeline they were going to place here. Luckily that was stopped by environmental activists that got wind of it, and now I was reaping the benefits of this beautiful area. The reef was covered with both soft and hard corals. I didn’t see any moray eels rumored to be living there but I’m still not great at spotting them. They said that there is an abundance of green, spotted purplemouth, and goldentail eels said to hide out often in the nooks and crannies here.
Losing Time and Our Group:
After getting lost in my own thoughts, and capturing as much of this wonderful area as I could – I turned around and didn’t see anyone else but me and Jen. I signaled behind us, and she agreed to take the lead to try and find our group.
We made our way back along the trench where we had entered, still not seeing anyone. The current had really picked up, and visibility had dropped by about 10 feet. We tried to turn to the left and the current was so strong, even for an advanced diver like Jen to swim against (and she is an extremely experienced diver). I knew I wouldn’t be able to last the day if I wasted all my energy trying to fight the current. So I tapped Jen and signaled to go to the right.
Riding the Current
We drifted for about 4-5 minutes, and didn’t see anyone. So Jen stopped us, checked both of our air, and just enjoyed the rest of the dive. We both had our inflatable bright orange signaling devices, and decided to get some footage and pictures and enjoy the rest of the air that was in our tank in this watery wonderland.
Ending the First Dive off Singer Island
We surfaced around 800 psi, doing a safety stop along the way. The captain saw our signal, and picked us up promptly. The rest of the group looked like they were just out of our visibility range, only 30-40 feet away from us. It made me feel better we hadn’t drifted into the middle of nowhere like it felt that we had.
We waited for the other members of the group to pop up one by one. The Dive Master surfacing last, with only a few members here and there that had drifted a bit too far.
We all felt a little disjointed because of how strong the current had become within the last few minutes. It scattered us like the sand on the beach, but luckily we all had enough training to know not to fight the current, stay with our dive buddy and enjoy the time.
Dive Interval with Pura Vida Divers
The dive interval was relaxing and seamless. Our captain took us to an area, where we could snorkel around and orange slices and chips were passed around.
Cannonballs off the back of the boat were a must, and music played for the people on board to enjoy while waiting the appropriate time for our next dive.
There was a hose to wash off the salt from the ocean, a fresh water bucket I dunked my camera into, and a toilet in the hull of the boat for those who needed it.
Dive Dive Dive! A Briefing On 4th Street
Watching the second dive master draw out the little animals we might see while diving along 4th street, my smile just grew and grew til my cheeks hurt in celebratory anticipation.
I was going to see a Sea Turtle in real life! You can’t come to Singer Island or West Palm Beach without running into some Sea Turtles. There were also rumored to be a few moray eels lurking about, a few sharks, and our dive master even said there was a hammerhead shark hanging around in the area too.
Riding the High:
Jen and I made an agreement to get off the boat closer together this time, and to stick right with the Dive Master no matter what. So we took the leap to see what underwater creature lottery we were about to win. Riding the high of seeing all the healthy coral on the last dive, I followed the Dive master right down. We were immediately greeted with a Sea Turtle swimming away from us.
While slightly disappointed it was swimming away from us, I was hopeful I would see one again. The dive master pointed out the sea anemone, and the tiny spider lobsters. Apparently there was a Lemon shark behind me, but I missed it because I had just spotted a moray eel. I know….not as exciting as a Lemon shark, but it was the first creature I had found on my own without needing aid.
There is a certain ‘eye’ you have to develop when you are underwater, as these creatures have evolved to camouflage and hide from predators. We are one of their greatest threats, so it takes a lot of practice to have the ‘underwater eye’ as I call it. Although, missing the Lemon Shark and even the Massive Leatherback Turtle tucked underneath the rock, was very disappointing. I’m sure that the more I go scuba diving, the more I will be able to spot these creatures, and recognize them by name.
Seeing Sea Turtles
Swimming a head a little, the Sea Turtle came back! It swam right in front of me, looking around the barrel coral. It even stuck its snout inside of one, looking for anything scrumptious that would have gotten stuck inside. It made me so happy to see this wonderful, yet endangered creature that has survived since the age of the dinosaurs swimming right in front of me like I was part of the turtle family.
There were only one or two of us who saw the turtle foraging for food. It was an incredibly intimate moment with this creature that I have grown to love over the years. This beautiful loggerhead turtle was in this environment of wonder and beauty. It made me so happy to see that there was no plastic wrapped around its neck, no straws shoved into the nostrils, no propeller scars on its back. Maybe the small steps we are making in saving these creatures was starting to pay off? I know it is just one turtle, but I never discount the power of hope from seeing one of these incredible turtles survive.
Baby Shark….Oh Wait….WHAT!?!
A frantic banging noise on the dive masters tank made me turn quickly as the turtle swam away. I turned and saw a nurse shark laying on the sand about 50 feet away. The characteristic shark was snuggled into its sandy bed, disturbed by the noise, it lazily swam away into a more private location.
HOW IS THIS REAL LIFE!?!?! I felt like crying! A Shark, an Eel, a Sea Turtle, and not just that, the shark left and we were graced by four more sea turtles! There was coral all around, colorful fish, too many to really focus in any one spot. My heart felt as if it was going to burst from joy. All the fear, all the worry, all of the effort to get my Scuba Diving license and here I was – witnessing animals in a way that I thought I would only see on a TV screen.
It is like Robin Williams said in Good Will Hunting, you can see all the photos of the Sistine Chapel in a book – but you won’t know how it feels, smells or the memories it will create by seeing the real thing. This is exactly how I felt when I spent my afternoon among my aquatic mammal friends.
Thank You Florida & Pura Vida Divers
The Coral along 4th Street and the Trench is (reportedly) better than what you would find in the Maldives and the Caribbean. Not many people know about these areas, and it is very well protected from over tourism. The amount of education given to the public on how to protect the beaches, turtles, and marine life in these areas is definitely creating a positive impact.
Working with Pura Vida Divers to promote West Palm Beach and Singer Island Scuba Diving, was a pleasure and an honor beyond belief. They were kind, informative, and friendly – they certainly pushed my comfort zone with the current that we faced; yet I feel these moments have to happen in order for you to grow as a diver. Not only are they informative and efficient at what they do, they also are only the second dive shop in Florida to earn the PADI Green Star Award.
From our dive center to the boat, we demonstrate a dedication to conservation across a wide range of business functions, including: recycling, our 100% AWARE Program, conservation leadership, paperless programs, use of sustainable materials, conservation fundraisers, and many other proactive actions.
– from the Pura Vida Divers Website
Other Areas Available to Dive Near Singer Island & West Palm Beach
Cable Crossing 16 to 22 feet deep (4 to 6 meters) great for snorkeling, it is a shallow reef with Manta rays, sea turtles and nurse sharks visiting throughout the year.
Jolly Jacks 87 feet (26 meters) deep there is a wide variety of tropical fish and plenty of sea turtles, moray eels, Lobsters and rays.
Spearman’s Barge 70 feet deep (21 meters), Turtles take up refuge here including hawksbill and loggerhead turtles with the elusive green moray eels.
Double Ledges 70 to 90 feet depth (21 to 27 meters) double reef. This is a perfect drift diving spot, with game fish, turtles and soft corals.
Governor’s Riverwalk Shasha Boekanier shipwreck (since 2002) the site is 184 feet (56 meters) freighter and a bonus of 2 more ships are located in this same area houses tropical fish, coral and algae. Gilbert Reef is also considered a part of the Governer’s Riverwalk as well.
Juno Ledge 65 to 90 feet depth (19 to27 meters) with fabulous cave formations as well as a wide variety sharks, Goliath groupers and large moray eels
West Palm Beach
Amarilys was purposefully sunk to be part of Palm Beach artificial reef program. Lying in 70 – 90 feet (21 – 27 meters) of water. Now covered in coral it is home to jacks, snapper, cobia, snook, and sailfish.
Bath & Tennis is a colorful site at a depth of 50 – 65 feet (15 – 20 meters). Schools of fish and lobsters inhabit the broken edges and stretches of ridges.
Breaker’s Shallow located 3 miles (5 km) south from the Palm Beach Inlet 30 – 35 feet (9 – 11 meters). This site in known for vertical wall rises from 30 to 20 (9 to 6 meters).
Cable Crossing 20 – 30 foot depth (6 – 9 meters). There is a plethora of mini caves and sea life and is perfect for beginner divers & Snorklers
Eidsvag & Owens – these sunken wrecks from 1985 became artificial reefs covered by algae, small sponges, tiny gorgonians. You can swim through ship holes here as well. The Eidsvag & Owens are 150-foot (45 meters) and 125 foot (38 meters) freighters at a depth of 80 – 90 feet (24 – 27 meters).
Flower Gardens at a depth of 50 – 70 feet (15 – 21 meters) this beautiful area has large amounts of sea life, sponges, corals and schools of grunts
Paul’s Reef a fabulous drift dive with a depth of 45 – 55 feet (14 – 17 meters). This ledge is covered in gorgonians, sponges, and coral home to many kinds of tropical fish. This is also a great night dive for parrot fish, turtles, and sharks that sleep near this area.
Princess Anne is considered one of the best dive sites in the United States. This vessel sunk in 1993 in 80-100 feet (24-30 meters) now crawling with schools of jacks, barracuda, and shark. It is a great opportunity for multi-level dives.
Technical Aspects of Diving Near West Palm Beach & Singer Island
There are more places to dive than just the Florida keys. Did you know that Scuba diving magazine actually rated Singer Island higher than the Florida Keys on 8/9 categories.
Best Time to Dive: The best time to dive off of Singer Island and West Palm Beach would be during the Turtle Nesting season, which runs from late May to the end of July depending on the season.
Visibility: Can be anywhere from 60 to 100 feet depending on the current and time of year
Current: Diving off of Singer Island, is considered to be the drift capital of the world. With the average current running about 1 knot that runs parallel to the reef lines.
Average Temperatures Year Round: Between 21°C and 27°C. (70° F and 82° F). The coldest month is typically January, and the warmest month is in July.