Amazing Rainforest Hike in Puerto Rico

This summer my extended family ventured to Puerto Rico for the first time. In Puerto Rico, we enjoyed beautiful beaches, delicious local cuisine, the history and culture of Old San Juan, and hiking in the rainforest. Today I’m excited to share about our rainforest excursion.

El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico

El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the United States’ National Forest System. There are several corridors into the forest. We chose to go to La Mina Recreation Area (via 191 North). Timed reservations are required. You can make reservations up to one month in advance through the recreation.gov website. A limited number of additional reservations are offered online 24 hours in advance. Only one reservation is needed per vehicle. The fee was only $2.00 when we went.

Hiking in El Yunque

My brother expertly maneuvered our rental van up the steep, windy road until we found Juan Diego Creek trailhead. We took the short (0.125 miles) trail to a waterfall and pool on Juan Diego Creek. This was my first hike in a rainforest so I could have spent the entire day looking at the spectacular variety of plant life. However, because this area has limited on street parking, the time limit is thirty minutes.

You don’t see plants like this in Arkansas!
beautiful pool and waterfall

Bano Grande

Our next stop was Bano Grande, this man-made pool was built in the late 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC). Swimming is no longer allowed, but we enjoyed a nice stroll around the pool.

Mt. Britton Tower

Last, our group climbed up the spiral staircase to the top of Mt. Britton Tower and enjoyed the inspiring views. ‘Constructed of stone, the tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937-38, becoming the tallest of the Civilian Conservation Corp towers with stone masonry.  On a clear day the tower’s observation deck offers a panoramic view of the forest, the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the eastern coastal plain.’ – US Forest Service

Mt. Britton Tower looks like a castle in the clouds
Climbing the tower stairs
Ocean views in the distance

According to to Discover Puerto Rico’s website, El Yunque is a sacred place in Puerto Rican culture. I’m grateful my family and I got to spend time in such a special place.

Visitor Center

There is a visitor center called El Portal de El Yunque. It’s open 9am-5pm daily. The cost is $8 per adult and children under 15 are free. National Passes are accepted. We didn’t go to the visitor center and now I really wish we would have so that we could have seen the endangered Puerto Rican Parrot. You can find out more information on the park’s website.

Balto Statue in Central Park

From the Belvedere Castle to a zoo, there is a lot for tourists and locals to enjoy in Central Park, but for us there was only one priority – to see the statue of Balto,’The Bravest Dog Ever’.

Our interest in the famous Alaskan sled dog began early this school year when our daughter’s first grade teacher gave her a book about famous dogs. The story featured Balto and the incredible mission to save children in the small town of Nome, Alaska from an outbreak of diphtheria in 1925.

This story captured our daughter’s imagination and soon we were ordering other versions of the book including ‘The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto (Step-Into-Reading)’ and ‘Balto of the Blue Dawn (Magic Tree House: Merlin Missions Book 26)’. Through our Balto research, we discovered that there is a bronze statue of Balto in Central Park. Since we were planning a trip to New Jersey to visit family, we decided to find the statue in New York City on our Spring Break trip.

On a Sunday morning, we took a train from New Jersey to Penn Station in New York. We were a little nervous to use busy public transportation with our kids, but they did great. Here is a map of the NJ Transit Rail System. At Penn Station we were able to get on the Subway (Subway Map) to Central Park and the Museum of Natural History.

We attempted to re-create a picture we took during our first trip to New York, which was six years ago. I wrote about our experience visiting New York with a baby stroller here.

At last, we found Balto! You can find out more information about ‘one the most beloved monuments in the Park’ from the Central Park Conservancy.

Missouri Lavender Farm

I just got back from a relaxing weekend in Columbia, Missouri. One of the highlights of the trip was visiting the Battlefield Lavender Farm in Centralia, Missouri, which is about 25 minutes from Columbia.

My sister pre-purchased our reservations online. The tickets were $6.00 each. You can order tickets here.

We decided to clip a mixed bundle of lavender from the wide variety growing on the farm and were provided with an adorable wooden crate, measuring guide, and clippers. Several of the lavender varieties are edible and could be used for cooking.

Once our lavender was picked, we headed into their barn to pay for the bundle ($15) and view the lavender merchandise. I bought a lovely lavender hand lotion, and my sister purchased a linen spray and lavender soap. I regret not buying more because I think the items would make such unique and thoughtful gifts. On the bright side, I have a good excuse to go back!

After picking lavender in the heat of the summer, we treated ourselves to a refreshing scoop of ice cream at Sparky’s in downtown Columbia. Inspired by our excursion, I ordered the honey lavender flavor.

My sister and I split our bundle of lavender. I brought my half back home and will have it hanging up for the next few weeks to dry.

Overall, I would recommend a visit to Battlefield Lavender Farm, especially for a ladies outing or a romantic date. I don’t know if my little ones (ages 4 and 6) would have been able to trim the lavender safely – for them or the plant. There was also a lot of bees, which is awesome for pollination, but something to keep in mind for those with allergies. Picking season is short, so check out their website or follow the farm on social media @battlefieldlavender for all the details!

Blueberry Picking – Outdoor Summer Fun in Northwest Arkansas

Last week our neighbor invited us out to pick blueberries at a local blueberry farm. We’ve picked strawberries and apples in the past, but this was our first time picking this super fruit. We headed to Bearing Fruit Farms which was easy to find right off of Highway 45, just east of Fayetteville.

A full bucket of berries is $20 U-Pick. My daughters and I picked a quarter of a bucket, so the total price was only $5.

The owner explained that the different varieties of blueberries they grow vary in taste, size, and growing season. The last to ripen will be available through mid-July. Check their facebook page for hours and picking times.

We’ve been enjoying our berries for days. I found a healthy blueberry muffins recipe here. The girls had fun making the muffins and liked eating them even more!

If you are on the look out for fun summer activities in Northwest Arkansas, I definitely recommend blueberry picking. I think this will become an annual tradition at our house.