2016 was a year of completely new experiences in all new places for us. It started with settling into a new home in a state that we were unfamiliar with, then learning how to embrace a completely different environment and lifestyle than what we were used to. This led to us expanding our perimeters and visiting attractions and cities within a wide radius of our new home. 8 months later, we packed up our lives and said goodbye to all that had become familiar and normal, and settled down in another completely new place, and we began the same pattern of familiarizing ourselves with our new home, as well as many new places surrounding us. And last but certainly not least, we were allowed to take one of our dream vacations, escaping life for over 3 weeks to travel internationally to beautiful locations. Besides a very brief trip back to our home in the Midwest, everywhere we explored was a new adventure.
However, in this day and age, it’s so hard to go anywhere without knowing what you’re going to see. We learn about the places we want to see online through pictures or reviews, and we are able to read and know exactly what to expect. While the internet is a handy tool for being prepared and ready for outdoor adventures, it often comes with “spoilers”. Of course, seeing a place in person always beats looking at pictures, but you get the gist. A certain magic is taken away because you already know what you’re going to see.
We saw plenty of beautiful places this year, but as I look back and think about my favorites, the adventures that stand out the most, I see a common theme: They were all unexpected finds. We were visiting because we had only heard things, and had no idea what to expect; or some were because we made a random decision to go off the beaten path and just follow signs to places we hadn’t heard of before.
With that, here’s our list of favorite places of 2016, listed in chronological order of our adventures. Here’s to a year of new and exciting adventures on the East Coast, and here’s to many more in 2017 — may we remember to get off of social media and go out and discover beautiful new places on our own! 😉
1 | Charles Towne Landing, Charleston, SC: Our very first adventure of 2016 turned out to be a winner, and made us excited to discover more of our new hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. Normally, we’re the outdoorsy type that prefers hiking in the mountains, but during our time there, we really strived to try new things and see what made this place unique. This state park became a fast favorite as it taught us both the history that took place in the area, and showed off the beautiful charm of Southern plantations. I still dream of the big oak trees and Spanish moss hanging low, and of the different brightly-colored flowers that bloom almost year round.
2 | Hunting Island State Park, SC: Our first trip to a driftwood beach did not disappoint! It remains to this day our favorite beach in the South. We learned through all our beach days that there are 2 kinds of people: those who can lay out in the sun and play in the waves and spend all day at the ocean, and then there’s us. All we need is a nice long walk, far away from where everyone else is lying or playing, then we’re good — ready to pack up and move on to the next place. Driftwood beaches turned out to be just perfect for us; they make walking that much more interesting. (Not going to lie, now that we’re experiencing “winter” again, I might not mind sitting on a warm beach doing nothing right now… 😉 )
3 | Savannah, GA: One of our favorite weekend trips while living in the South, and yet we only spent one day walking through the streets of this charming Southern city. (I guess I’d say downtown Charleston is right up there too among my favorite places, but I feel like I might be biased since I lived there.) Anyway, we decided that Savannah is just one of those cities that has it all: a cute historic downtown area, great food, a neat fort (Fort Pulaski), a beach with a lighthouse, and other fun places to walk around like plantations and cemeteries. (Yes, Charleston has all those too…some people say you can only love one city or the other, but I found them both enjoyable!)
4 | Abbeville, SC: This was one of those random finds that pleasantly surprised us this year. Curtis wanted to visit because of the history here, but as soon as we saw the downtown area, we knew we had to park and walk around. We’re always on the lookout for small towns that we could maybe someday settle down in (or nearby), and this was our favorite in South Carolina. If I’m being honest, I don’t think we’re meant to live in the South, but Abbeville will always be a fond memory, and we’ll always see it as “that perfect Southern town”.
5 | Morris Island, SC: Week after week, we were always trying new places in Charleston, and we often made the mistake of comparing our adventures here with what we could be doing if we lived in a place like our first hometown, Tucson, AZ. We missed hiking and mountains so much, and just thinking about it made us discontent with life. Then one weekend, we decided to go kayaking to an island accessible only by boat, and we realized we had been doing it all wrong. Every area is different, and while Charleston wasn’t our favorite, it has its own beauty and ways to be enjoyed, we just had to break out of our mindset and accept the differences. And on this adventure, it wasn’t hard: we were able to kayak with dolphins to our own “private island” with great views of the beautiful Morris Island Lighthouse.
6 | Hurricane Mountain, NY: I could just say the Adirondack Mountains and leave it at that, because we have loved getting to know our new closest mountain range. Each hike is unique, and we have been enjoying them even more now that we know what life is like without having mountains close by. However, out of all the peaks we’ve done, Hurricane has been our favorite thus far. The views were some of the best we’ve gotten from a fire tower hike, with a perfect 360º view featuring the High Peaks region, Lake Champlain, and the Green Mountains of Vermont. I suppose it helped that we were able to enjoy the top at sunset, all by ourselves!
7 | White Mountains, NH: The White Mountains of New Hampshire are probably our favorite discovery of 2016. We’ve traveled to them twice now, and both trips have yielded some of our favorite hikes we’ve EVER done. We loved getting to experience the Whites on a cloudy and windy day hiking Mount Washington, and then our second visit one month later felt like we were discovering a whole new place as the forest was at its peak of fall colors. I can say that we will almost certainly be back for more in the coming years, because there are plenty more peaks just waiting to be hiked!
8 | Maine’s Bold Coast: I had wanted to go to Maine for so long, and this year we finally got the opportunity. My main focus all these years has been Acadia National Park, and while the natural beauty of the park did not disappoint, my favorite spots along the coast were further North, where I wasn’t expecting it. If I had to choose just one spot, I would say Cutler Coast Reserve was my favorite hike we did in the state. I had never pictured the East Coast to have rugged, dramatic coastlines, but this place proved us wrong!
9 | Fundy National Park, NB: This is the perfect example of the situation I described at the beginning of this post: I planned this whole vacation and was so sure that Cape Breton Highlands National Park would be my favorite because of all the pictures I saw; however, while Cape Breton was absolutely beautiful and just what I expected, it was just what I expected. I had no idea what to expect when we arrived at Fundy, and it ended up completely exceeding my expectations. The Bay of Fundy in general is an amazing natural wonder, and the colorful coves make it even better.
10 | White Point, NS: And finally, this was our best off the beaten path find of the year. Quite literally a place we had never heard of, where we decided to turn to at the last second, and were completely blown away by. We’ve been blown away by some breathtakingly beautiful scenes — such as the gorgeous blue water and raw power of Havasu Falls — compared to that, this place was a much quieter, simpler, understated beauty, and yet completely mesmerizing in a way that I can’t remember how long I stood there taking it all in. 20 minutes? 40? An hour? It’s one of those places that I’ll forever look back on and dream of visiting. In a way, we’ve really seen all there is to see of this spot, but if given the chance I’d return in a heartbeat just to sit and enjoy.
What new places did you visit this year? What was your favorite adventure of 2016?
[Our official “Year in Review” post is coming on December 31 — don’t miss it! 😉 ]