10. Kawasan, Cebu - Philippines

Photo: Quin Schrock

Photo: Quin Schrock

Kawasan Canyoneering is super touristy, very crowded, and a ton of fun! We all want to get off the beaten path. Especially when we travel half way around the world to a place that we think is likely still somewhat undiscovered by mainstream travelers. But some activities are popular for a reason, and this is one of them. For 2-3 hours we were able to float, climb, and jump our way   down deep canyon walls flowing with Gatorade blue water - as long as we kept our life jackets on! And as if that wasn’t good enough, the tours all end at Kawasan waterfall. Yup, that one waterfall that everyone goes to with the bamboo rafts, and the hundreds of people just out of frame. 

9. El Nido, Palawan - Philippines

Photo: Quin Schrock

In the town of El Nido you will be bombarded by tour companies all offering the same handful of tours to different beaches and islands. To be precise, there are generally four options - imaginatively named Option A, B, C, and D. Because Quin and I knew where we wanted to go, and that we would need our boat to be flexible to insure that we got the photos we wanted, we skipped the organized tour circus, and went directly to the source. Down at the harbor we were able to find a captain who was willing to take us where we wanted to go, when we wanted to go, for approximately the same amount that we would have paid for a group tour. Once out on the water, we were able to simply point out islands that interested us. This was one of those islands.  I’m pretty sure the crew thought I was crazy when I tried to explain that we wanted them to angle the boat so that it was pointing directly at the island off in the distance. But in the end, sign language prevailed, and this shot was the result! 

8. Summit Lake, Washington - USA

Photo: Christian A. Schaffer

Photo: Christian A. Schaffer

If you’re short on time, don’t want to deal with all the formalities of the National Park, but still want a cool Mount Rainier experience, this one’s for you! I hike to Summit Lake every year, but this was the first year that I camped up there. It was a girl’s trip, and for the first time in a long time the objective wasn’t photography - it was about making new friends, and catching up with old ones. It was a clear crisp night, and we stayed up under the stars until the wind forced us all into one two person tent to laugh for a couple more hours about the bee stings, lost trails, and dog poop mines we battled to get there.

7. Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, BC - Canada

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This summer the Pacific Northwest had some of the worst wildfires I can remember. There were nights that I would fall asleep in my Seattle apartment with the window open and wake up covered in a thin dusting of ash. While some of the fires were natural, others were started by people interacting with the environment in irresponsible ways - and that was heartbreaking. 

During this period of time I was up in BC with Quin. We had a few days, and an ambitious list of locations that we planned to shoot while we were there. Our first stop was Joffree Lakes. Ironically the heavy smoke added a haunting beauty to the bright blue glow of the water, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t one of my favorite days from this summer. We went swimming, used the rope swing, and I fell off a log fully dressed into the lake in front of about 40 tourists. In other words, never a dull moment! Still, in the end, the smoke forced us to end the trip prematurely and head back down to the States. 

The wildfires this summer were a somber reminder of the important role that we play as stewards of the places that free our minds and fill our hearts with wonder. Wilderness is a necessity for the human spirit, and when it’s destroyed we all lose something intangible, yet irreplaceable.

6.  Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming - USA

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I actually had no idea what this place was called while I was actually in Wyoming, but a little internet sleuthing indicates that it’s likely Schwabacher Landing. This is an iconic spot for photographers visiting the area, and if you go at sunrise (which is definitely when you should go), you won’t be alone. But it doesn’t matter - just don’t go swimming until all the tripods have left for the day! You don’t want to be that person messing up everyones reflection. 

5. Park Butte Lookout, Washington - USA

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Sometimes the best adventures aren’t planned. And that was the case with Park Butte Lookout. Washington State is full of old fire lookouts. Most of them are inactive at this point. But a few like Park Butte have been restored, and are maintained by local hiking clubs for the public. We had actually been planning on camping up at a different lookout located in the North Cascades, but it was October, and an early season snow storm made that mission a little dicey - so at the last minute we decided to give Park Butte a try. 

Like many of the other lookouts in the area, Park Butte is first come first serve. To this day, I’m not sure exactly what that means. I’ve shown up to a lookout to find one other person already there, and been turned away. I’ve also been the first person to a lookout, and then had 12 people and 2 dogs decide to make their beds next to, on top of, and around mine. And pretty much everything in between. So when it comes to fire lookouts, my suggestion, as with most outdoor adventures, is to hope for the best and plan for the worst!

I’d heard that this lookout gets particularly busy, so I wasn’t so much hoping for the best, as I was expecting a ton of people. But when we arrived the lookout was empty, and it stayed that way through one of the best sunsets I can remember. Just as the sun made it’s final dip behind Mount Baker, a lone hiker showed up and asked if he could crash in the lookout with us. We said yes — of course. It had already been too good to be true! 

4. Mount Storm King, Washington - USA

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We can’t always control everything life throws at us, but we can learn to control our response. It’s no secret that managing emotions is easier said than done, and I rely on nature a lot to help me gain perspective when things aren’t going according to plan. Maybe it was the shorter days up here in the PNW, but as fall transitioned to winter this year I was feeling pretty melancholy. So at the first sign of clear skies, I packed up my backpack and headed for the Olympic Peninsula and Mount Storm King. 

This was a classic Washington State hike that had been on my list for years, but I’d always put off for one reason or another. The hike is a short 4.7 miles round trip, but with a 2,000 foot elevation gain and a few scrambles toward the top, it’s no walk in the park. The physical challenge was a great way to sweat out the pent up negative energy I was carrying around. But more importantly, the view from the top was a reminder that I am part of something bigger than myself. Never underestimate the healing power of the outdoors! 

3. Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada 

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Before my trip to Banff this past September, I had been once before. For one day. That day was over two year ago now, and it still doesn't feel real. I’d often wondered if the dream like quality of my memories from that first trip to Banff were due to the long days on the road leading up to our arrival, or if the mountains really were a little bigger, the lakes a little bluer, and the sky a little brighter. Now I know. Banff really is the type of place dreams are made out of - that is if you like to dream about mountain, alpine lakes, and epic roads. 

Hector Lake is stunningly beautiful, quiet, and relatively easy to access. Yet, in a world with  giants like Moraine, Louise, and Bow Lakes, most tourists simply drive right past it on the Icefield Parkway without barely more than a glance. Not Quin though. I was zoning along in the passenger seat when the car suddenly came to a jolting stop at a pullout on the highway overlooking a sliver of glimmering blue water in the distance. He turned to me, “lets camp down there.” Dubious, I nodded my head, “sure.” We headed off to inquire about overnight permits. And the rest is history. 

2. Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort - Arenal, Costa Rica

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Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano is active, and laced with lava flows. As a result hot springs dot the surrounding area. One such hot spring is located at the Tabacon - my big splurge for the trip. While researching locations to shoot in the Arenal area, I found a photo of Tabacon that prompted the same question that many people had when I posted this photo - “is it real!?” 

In this case, I’d argue that the question is somewhat subjective. If by real, people mean “natural,” then the answer would be yes…..and no. The thermal water is natural, but when the area was incorporated into a luxury thermal resort, the waterfalls, cascading pools, and hidden bathing spots were designed to resemble what the area might have looked like before it was converted to agricultural land decades ago.  

“Real” or not, Tabacon is a truly special experience. But, if one of Arenal’s thermal resorts is not in your budget, no worries! There are also free options, including a portion of the Tabacon River that runs just outside the Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa. While this undeveloped area of the river may not be quite as picturesque, it’s still beautiful, and a lot of fun. After all, it’s not every day that you get to chill in a hot river!

1. Twin Lagoon, Coron - Philippines

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What can I say, these twins definitely weren’t identical, but they were both blessed with good genes! Coron is a major tourist destination in the Philippines, and for good reason. The water surrounding the small islands near Coron is crystal clear and full of life. But don’t expect to be alone! When I posted this photo, a lot of people wondered where the crowds of tourists were hiding. And it was a fair question. This shot of me climbing the stairs between the two twin lagoons was taken after waiting for about half an hour for a brief break in between tours. The truth is, whether it’s waiting for the right lighting, or for people to clear out of the scene, there can be a lot of waiting in landscape photography. But as long as the locations are this beautiful, I’m certainly not going to complain!