Denver Botanical Gardens Trail of Lights

One of my favorite holiday pastimes is to grab a mug of hot chocolate, drive around the neighborhoods and check out all the creative light displays.

As I was driving home on C470 last night, I saw a huge display of lights so of course I had to go check it out. It was one of the Denver Botanical Gardens Trail of Lights displays. This one was at Chatfield which brings you over 1 million twinkling lights that illuminate a winding path through the Colorado countryside.

The temp gauge in the car said it was 25 degrees outside. That’s going to be cold, but that’s why I have a jacket, gloves and a hat. With a light snow falling and the cold weather, it was the perfect setting to enjoy the display. It wasn’t crowded, but there was a steady stream of people strolling in to enjoy the scenery.

As I walked in, I was amazed at how all the trees were uniquely decorated.  There was a fire pit and hot chocolate stop to warm you up before you embarked on the trails. There are two trails; a long and short one. I took the long one so I could see all the lights.

There are displays all along the trail, even in spots you don’t expect, like the frozen creek. I particularly liked how the pedestrian bridges were decorated.  About midway through there is a warming hut. That was a welcome stop! Sometimes you when go inside to get warm and you still feel a bit of chill. Not in here, it was completely toasty!!

Continuing along, I had to admire their creativity and how they installed the lights up so high and in such nice designs. I know stringing lights around my home and fence is enough of an adventure.

It was a fun walk and I made my way around more than once to be sure I saw everything. There is also a small ice skating rink near the entrance which several kids enjoyed. When you go, dress warm and prepare for a nice stroll through some creative light displays.

There are two displays one at 10th and York Street and the other at Wadsworth and C470, which is where I went. The displays run nightly till Jan 1st  from 5:30pm – 9:30pm. For more information:

http://www.botanicgardens.org/events-exhibits/special-events/trail-of-lights

Camping at Disney’s Fort Wilderness

I’ve visited Disney’s Ft. Wilderness campground and enjoyed the festive atmosphere. When I got the chance to camp there with a group for only $28, I was in!!

A quick disclaimer…..if you’re used to quiet primitive, back country camping this isn’t it. This a fun, lots of activities happening, place.  Even if by chance you don’t hear many people, you will hear and see the fireworks from the nearby parks. 

The campground is very pedestrian, bike, and golf cart friendly. In fact golf carts seem to be the preferred mode of transportation.  There are also free buses to take you around the campground or to other Disney locations.

My first evening of exploring, I ended up at an outdoor amphitheater. Kids, of all ages, were roasting marshmallows and the concession stand had cookies, popcorn, hot chocolate, and the like.  Shortly after I arrived, they began showing a Muppets Christmas movie.  Lots of families and kids milled around so it wasn’t perfectly quiet, but it was fun to watch a movie under the stars.

Then I headed back to camp and grabbed a shower. It was great; I had the place to myself and plenty of hot water.  The next morning I went to brush my teeth and there was a long line. The next night I did the same and there was no one there again.  Speaking of the shower, it was as nice as the shower at home. Wall to wall earth toned tile with an inset for shampoo, soap, and shaving supplies.

Comfy Shower Stall
Comfy Shower Stall

One of the advantages of camping at Ft. Wilderness is the proximity to all the Disney areas .The next day we caught the boat to the Contemporary resort. From there, took the monorail to the Grand Floridian for some exploring.

Now, if you’ve never been to the Grand Floridian at Christmas, you need to go. At the front, you’ll be served roasted chestnuts and apple cider. Once inside, there’s an incredibly large Christmas tree that can only be described as Disney in size. Every year, the crew makes a full size ginger bread house and you can listen to them describe how they built it.  On the other side of the house, you can buy all sorts of sweets and treats.

From there, we hopped a bus to Downtown Disney for lunch. After wandering around the shops, it was time to catch a bus back to the campground.

After seeing lots of people out holiday shopping it was time for a quiet bike ride along the trails.  There are two nature trails that run between Ft Wilderness campground and the Wilderness Resort. One is paved and follows the road between the two resorts. The other is dirt and is accessed from behind The Wilderness Lodge, just beyond the main pool off to the right. You’ll see bike rentals and such and the path begins there.  It’s common to see deer along this path and you can also enjoy some nice views of the Contemporary Resort across the lake. The dirt trail connects back to the paved trail so you can easily find your way back to the campground.

After exploring the trails at dusk, I headed back to the campground and quickly found the golf cart Christmas parade. Each cart was uniquely decorated with lights, figurines, sound systems and the like.   Definitely plan to explore the campground at night so you can enjoy all the holiday decorations.

Here are video links to the golf parade:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5oKx-SbdVs&feature=youtu.be
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ho09lJPXNqg&feature=youtu.be

Afterwards, I made my way back to the beach for a front row seat to the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks. The fireworks start at 10pm, but if you want a beach chair, get there by 9:15. Course, just bring a blanket and you can sit in the sand. It’s the same view.

At the beach, you can only see the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks. From the campsite you can hear/see the fireworks from Epcot at 9pm and Magic Kingdom at 10pm.

I was only there two days, but could’ve easily spent a few more. There is plenty to do for kids and adults at the campground and surrounding areas; bike rentals, boat rentals, kayak rentals, carriage rides, horseback rides, a show, multiple swimming pools, etc.

The winter season is usually the busiest because the weather is cool and dry. So plan to come and spend a few days. Even if you can’t camp, swing by and enjoy the festivities.

For more information: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/campsites-at-fort-wilderness-resort/

Halpatiokee Park

I was supposed to meet friends at Halpatiokee Park early this morning but they were really late. So I decided to explore the nature trails by foot. This park has plenty of biking trails and that’s usually how I explore the park. I love to bike, but this morning I was on foot and enjoyed a totally different perspective. 

Walking the trails early, there wasn’t the usual rush of people. A hawk flew over, landed in the ball field and began poking around at something. Since it was early, the sky was filled with all types of birds as they made their way to wherever they go. Have you noticed that birds leave early and return around dusk; they don’t have to work, so just where do they go? I guess anywhere they want:)

The nature trails wind through dense foliage and periodcally parallels the Lost River. Along the way, there are “unofficial” walkouts where you can access the river. Halpatiokee is Seminole for “Alligator Water” and I can personally vouch for alligators being in the water so don’t plan on jumping in. Early morning, the water is perfectly smooth and provides mirror like reflections of the overhanging trees and foliage on the adjacent bank.

One of the walkouts was just too good to resist so I sat for a bit and it was so peaceful! Being out in nature is a great way to clear the mind of useless clutter.

After some time, I continued on the nature trail which then connected to the main paved trail around the park. Since there weren’t many people around, it was a great time to just stroll, take some pictures and relax.

DSC_0442In addition to nature trails, there are mountain biking trails for all levels, tennis courts, soccer fields, baseball fields, and picnic areas. It’s a great place to have some fun on your own or with a group.

More information here:

http://www.martin.fl.us/web_docs/prd/web/docs/xx_halpatiokee_info

Riverbend Park Moonlight bike ride

Riverbend is a beautiful park with lots of recreation opportunities in the northern section of Palm Beach County. Hiking, biking, horseback riding, kayaking, walking, and historical tours are enough to fill a day or two easily. I know I spend a lot of time biking there and enjoy the diverse trails, wildlife and natural scenery.

Like most county parks, it closed at sunset, but last night we enjoyed a special treat: a moonlight bike ride through the park sponsored by the Palm Beach County Parks and Rec dept. There were about 30 cyclists of varying ages and bicycles along for the ride.  We split into three groups and each group was led by a ranger.

Periodically the ranger, who was also a naturalist, would stop and talk about something unique to the area. At one point, he shined his light into the water to show us an alligator. That was the extent of the wildlife I saw.  I’m sure there was plenty I didn’t see.

Since it’s just a casual ride, it was fun to meet new people and share stories as we rode.  With a large group, we were spread out along the trail and all you’d see ahead is the blinking rear light of the cyclist in front of you.  That’s fine when the trail is straight, but when the trail turns or forks and you lose sight, it got challenging.

At one point I had fallen back to talk with someone. We rounded the corner and there weren’t any lights.  The lady in front of me didn’t see which way the group went either. So here were a few of us cyclists at junction  with 3 different ways to go and it’s dark. We headed straight for a few yards, but didn’t see anyone, so we went back to the trail junction. One gentleman read the map and we embarked on a trail that would lead toward the campfire. dsc_0590

Just a few minutes later we caught up with the group; they had only made a loop so by turning around, we just caught right back up. That was convenient!!

It was just a few more minutes of riding till we reached a spot with a campfire and smores. Now this is my kind of bike ride!!  It was a good chance to get off the bike, enjoy some smores and actually see the people I had been talking with on the ride.

As we headed back toward the entrance of the park, the moon was just peeking through the clouds. The trail led by a lake so it was a perfect photo op to catch the moon as it reflected off the lake.

A fun, easy ride, nice people, beautiful park, and smores, what’s not to like. The good news is this ride is held on a regular basis and the next one is scheduled for Dec.28th.

dsc_0308Even if you’ve visited Riverbend Park before, you should enjoy the Moonlight Bike Ride. Call ahead to reserve your spot; It’s only $5 and includes the smores. You can bring a bike or call ahead and rent one. If you bring your own, it is recommended to bring a headlight and taillight.

For more information on Riverbend park: http://www.pbcgov.com/parks/locations/riverbend.htm

For a calendar of events: http://pbcgov.mhsoftware.com/

p.s. I included some day time shots so you can see just how pretty it is. Every corner brings something new.