#cook90… is it over yet?

I hate that I am saying this but I have been counting down the days to April 1 — aka the end of my #cook90 challenge. The cooking part hasn’t been too bad but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this experience it’s that my next kitchen needs to have a dishwasher. Who knew one person could create so many dirty dishes? I want to say I’ve spent at least a half an hour every single day in March washing dishes, and I’m #overit.

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed #cook90. I tried my best to cook things that were outside of my comfort zone and I’m excited that I’ve added a few more recipes to my repertoire. I’ve learned that making pasta from scratch isn’t really all that hard, but you do need a decent amount of counter space. And apparently, I like baking a lot less than I thought I did — probably because I don’t have a stand mixer or a normal sized food processor. Sadly, I’ll never make it as a baker on The Great British Baking Show, in fact, I cracked under pressure when my store bought pie crust wouldn’t cooperate.

I’ve had a bunch of people ask me if this challenge helped me save money on food and the answer is a resounding… no. I found myself more willing to splurge on higher quality ingredients from the grocery store to replace the instant gratification that I typically get from going out to eat. I think you could easily save money doing this challenge if you stuck to more budget friendly recipes than I did, but my goal wasn’t to save money, it was to learn more about cooking. And I don’t think anyone wants to read a blog post with 10 different ways to make chicken sausage pasta.

I missed last week’s recap— I was busy cooking my little heart out— so this post is on the longer side, but hopefully that means you’ll find at least one recipe to try! I’ll also be sharing a recipe next week for a mostly homemade roasted vegetable and sausage tart with an everything bagel crust, so stay tuned.

#cook90 Breakfast Recipes

Carrot cake smoothie

Smoothies // I’ve been drinking a whole lot of smoothies lately and my current favorite is this Almond Brothers Carrot Cake Smoothie from RVA Fit Foodie, it legit tastes like carrot cake in a cup and it has been a nice change of pace from my berry filled smoothies. The hardest ingredient to find was carrot juice that didn’t contain anything other than carrots juice and lemon juice, but I found an affordable option in the natural foods section of Kroger.

 

Lecker Baking Company // Knowing the limitations of my kitchen and available kitchen tools, I did not attempt to make any bread on my own — I’ll save that for my next #cook90 challenge. With that said, I did come across a gem of a bakery when I was looking for new bread options to try in Richmond. Lecker Baking Company is conveniently located in the Fan and if you are looking to pick up a loaf or two on your commute home, I highly recommend making a stop there. This month I stuck to the tried and true Billy Bread to step up my toast and breakfast sandwich game, but I’m pumped to try more of Lecker’s offerings.

Fried banana overnight oats

Overnight Oats // I mentioned my love of overnight oats in my last #cook90 post and the prospect of warmer weather means I’ll be eating my oatmeal cold for the foreseeable future. I keep my recipe simple using a 1 to 1 to 1 ratio of oats, yogurt and milk (I use unsweetened coconut milk) and then I add in a scoop of protein powder and a shake of cinnamon. Recently I’ve been adding “fried” banana slices to jazz things up — heat a small amount of coconut oil or ghee in a small pan and add your banana slices, flip them once they’re golden brown and finish with a drizzle of honey.

 

Sinless Samoas // If you follow Let’s Share a Dish on Instagram you might’ve seen my Instagram Story making these delicious sweet treats. They aren’t really for breakfast but could work as a small snack between breakfast and lunch. The recipe from Eating Bird Food is super simple and in total takes less than 30 minutes to make. My tip: add the toasted coconut to your food processor before it has completely cooled and it will melt the chocolate chips a little bit.

#cook90 Lunch Recipes

Chicken salad

Chicken Salad // I only recently started eating chicken salad and I love it as an easy and satisfying topping for salads. I found this easy chicken salad recipe by Ina Garten and it turned out wonderfully. My old modification was replacing half of the mayo the recipe called for with Greek yogurt to try and make it a little more healthy. This super simple recipe contains just six ingredients: chicken, olive oil, mayo, green grapes, celery and tarragon (not including salt and pepper).

 

Sweet Potato Bowls // These colorful bowls are super easy to throw together during the week. My bases for my bowls this month included roasted sweet potato, a tomato, cucumber and pickled onion salad, rice, tzatziki sauce and Cava Harissa. For proteins, I used Trader Joe’s Spicy Italian Chicken Sausage and shrimp sauteed in ghee and garlic. Throw all the components in a bowl and you’re good to go.

 

Mumbai Toastie // A Lodge Cast Iron Skillet wasn’t the only “kitchen tool” I bought during #cook90, I also purchased a new cookbook — Simple by Diana Henry. The key feature of this cookbook is that all recipes must fit onto one page. Some are easy, some might take you all day and all sound delicious. The Mumbai Toastie is the first thing I’ve made from my new cookbook and grilled cheese may never be the same. Indian spices and a fresh mint and garlic chutney give this simple meal a big flavor upgrade. And it didn’t hurt that I used Billy Bread for this recipe too.

#cook90 Dinner Recipes

Pierogies

Pierogies // The most challenging (re: annoying) recipe that I made during this entire experience were these potato and cheese pierogies *RIP Lucky Peach*. I naively tried to take on this feat on a weeknight, #neveragain. In the first five minutes of peeling potatoes I sliced my thumb which almost derailed me completely; nevertheless, I persisted and four hours later these pillows of doughy, cheesy, starchy goodness were ready. If you pack your patience for this adventure you’ll be handsomely rewarded with a comforting and delicious meal. I recommend serving these with some fancy sausage from Stock Provisions.

 


Egg Roll in a Bowl // There really was only one point during the challenge where I almost gave up. After a long and stressful week, including a 24 hour period with no water in my apartment, I was craving Chinese take out. With no food in my fridge, the prospect of ordering in was sounding more and more appealing but I took a deep breath and searched the internet for an easy recipe that would satisfy my craving. I came across this beef and cabbage stir fry recipe on Budget Bytes and was sold. I used pork instead of beef, and whipped together this dish in less than an hour, including time spent driving to and from the grocery store. To make it more filling, I served the stir fry over rice.

 

I feel like I learned a lot from the challenge and it really forced me to meal plan a little bit more than I typically do. #cook90 also reinforced my love for grocery shopping, and I’ll be a little sad that I won’t be spending as much time in the grocery store in April as I did in March. If you want to do your own #cook90 challenge, sign up for the newsletter and they’ll send you weekly updates based on how far along you are. And if you’re wondering what my first not home cooked meal will be tomorrow, its a toss up between a Stroops backdoor dog and Peter Chang’s Noodle and Dumpling!

If you missed my first two posts on #cook90 you can read them here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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Taking on the #Cook90 Challenge

I’m an avid listener of the Bon Appètit Foodcast and in late January I listened to an episode featuring the editor of Epicurious, David Tamarkin. Most of the episode was spent talking about this cooking challenge where readers of Epicurious challenged each other and themselves to cook every breakfast, lunch and dinner for the month of January. Well, I missed the memo on the start of the challenge in January, so I’m going to be doing the #Cook90 challenge in March.

Here’s how Epicurious describes #Cook90:

The #cook90 challenge is simple: Cook three meals a day, every day, for a whole month. Cooking 90 meals requires organization. And creativity. And Tupperware. Lots of Tupperware.

cook90 instagram posts

But they aren’t that crazy, you do get three “cheat” meals because well, life happens and sometimes you just HAVE to go to a work lunch or dinner with a friend to decompress after a tough week. If you’re super into math, this is why for the 31 days in January (and in this case March) I’ll only have to cook 90 meals and not 93. You can read the full explanation of “rules” here, including what actually constitutes cooking — in case you’re wondering, for the purposes of this challenge making a salad is considered cooking.

One thing this is not, a diet plan — which is why I fully intend on whipping up some homemade pizzas (with a little help from Idlehands) and finding the best way to make the perfect burger on my stove top.

So for the next 30 or so days, you’ll probably be seeing more recipe posts from me on Let’s Share a Dish with the occasional post about food that wasn’t made in my own kitchen. I’m hoping that through this challenge I’ll actually find a couple more go-to-recipes because currently I have about three, and that I’ll be inspired to explore my love for food in new ways. Hey, maybe I’ll finally learn to make my own pasta!

If you want to submit one (or more) of your favorite recipes, you can do so below. I’ll try my best to make it! Happy cooking, and if any one wants to join me, I’m sure I’ll have lots of leftovers to share!

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5 Healthy Snacks We’re Loving Lately

The holiday season is filled with opportunities for indulging. From potlucks with friends to office holiday parties, there are a number of occasions this time of year featuring food that’s delicious but not always the most healthy. In case you need a break from the heavy hors d’oeuvres, we put together a list of five healthy snacks we’ve been enjoying lately. Note: “healthy” is a loose term around here, by healthy, we mean these are not donuts and french fries.

Cranberry Chèvre Log and Pretzel Thins

Trader Joe's Cranberry Chèvre Log

I’m the kind of person that loves to bring chips and salsa to a potluck because I’m strapped for time or I get too nervous about trying to make something complicated for a group that I’m trying to please. Enter my go-to shareable snack: Trader Joe’s Cranberry Chèvre Log, served with pretzel thins. This festive (thanks to the cranberries) holiday treat looks pretty and tastes delicious, a wonderful combination of the tart and sweet cranberries with creamy goat cheese pair well with the saltiness of pretzels. The chèvre log is priced under $5 and if you aren’t a fan of cranberries there are apple cinnamon and blueberry versions as well.

-K

Halo Top Ice Cream

Halo Top Ice Cream

If you have an Instagram account and you follow any food bloggers you’ve probably seen this ice cream all over your feed. This low-calorie option actually tastes and resembles the consistency of ice cream! At around 80 calories per serving, Halo Top pints have about as many calories as just one serving of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream – and let’s be real no one can stick to eating just one serving of ice cream. New flavors were released earlier this fall and I cannot wait to try them all, so far I’ve had the s’mores, oatmeal cookie and salted caramel (according to USA Today, peanut butter cup is the best tasting new flavor — no wonder it’s sold out all the time). A pint at Kroger will run you about $4 (when they’re on sale, which they currently are) and if saving money isn’t your thing you’ll find Halo Top at most grocery stores around town.

-K

Hope Foods Hummus and Pita Chips

Hope Hummus

We’re always up for trying a new hummus options and Hope Foods has some of the best variety of flavors that we’ve seen. Hope Foods offers 10 varieties of hummus, and we picked up two for a recent taste test. The Thai Coconut Curry was extremely flavorful and the Spicy Avocado variety could have easily passed for guacamole. Fun fact: the first type of hummus Hope Foods created was their Spicy Avocado hummus, followed in second by the original hummus!

With both the curry and avocado, we sort of forgot that we were eating hummus, which is the best kind of healthy snack, right? Hope Foods Hummus is available locally at Ellwood Thompson’s, Whole Foods and The Fresh Market. We enjoyed the hummus with carrots and pita chips, and we’re hoping to get our hands on one of the chocolate hummus varieties soon, because we need to make this recipe for dark chocolate cookie s’mores dip we found on their website. Like now.

– M & K

Mandarin Oranges

Halo Mandarin Oranges

I pick up a 3 lb. bag of mandarin oranges almost weekly at the grocery store this time of year and I usually end up snacking on one or two throughout the course of the day. I often find myself purchasing the Halos brand, California grown mandarins that Halos touts as being easy to peel, super sweet and seedless.

I’ve always referred to these “baby oranges” as clementines, but you learn something new every day: according to the Halos website, the Halos brand offers two mandarin varieties: clementines, which are available from November to January, and W. Murcott Afourers, which are available February to April. Mandarins are available at most grocery stores when they are in season, including Kroger, Aldi, The Fresh Market and Food Lion.

-M

Noosa Yoghurt and Hudson Henry Baking Company Granola

Granola and Yogurt

Confession: I’ve tried to love a lot of different yogurts through the years, but it’s not always a snack that’s been my favorite. I’m not sure what it is, but until recently, I’ve never found a yogurt that I actually really enjoy eating all that much. That’s not the case now that I’ve tried Noosa Yoghurt. I’m slightly addicted to the strawberry rhubarb variety, to the extent that I had a Kroger associate hunt down a few containers of my favorite flavor for me this past weekend when I saw they were out of stock on the shelves. Noosa is available at Kroger, The Fresh Market, Whole Foods and other local grocers.

An 8 oz. container is listed as one serving, but I usually find myself happily eating half of a container topped with a spoonful or two of one of my favorite Virginia-made products,  granola from Hudson Henry Baking Company. If you haven’t tried the Maple & Walnut granola from Hudson Henry Baking Company, do yourself a favor and pick some up today. The pretty packaging would make it a great holiday gift, too!

-M

What’s your favorite healthy snack? Tell us in the comments below!

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Meal kits — Little House Green Grocery

If making a decision about what to make for dinner is a constant struggle, finding a meal kit service that fits your needs can be a great way to try new recipes without breaking the bank and creating a lot of food waste.

I think we’ve all been there, you find an awesome sounding, somewhat adventurous recipe online (on Pinterest perhaps?) and those recipes always call for very small amounts of very specific ingredients, that are mysteriously sold only in large quantities — meaning they just sit in my cabinets taking up space never to be used again. Because of that, my favorite meal kits have been the ones that individually portion out ingredients for each recipe meaning you are only given what you actually need.

My one issue with many of the online meal kit services is that they aren’t great for people cooking for one. I love HelloFresh, but I typically don’t need three meals that serve two people all at once — its always a struggle finding a way to fit all of the meats and produce into my tiny fridge. Luckily Little House Green Grocery on the Northside has created a local option that you don’t have to subscribe or commit to on a weekly or monthly basis. Its just a pick up whenever you need one and go kind of thing, no advance ordering necessary.

Little House Green Grocery Meal Kits

I recently picked up my first meal kit from Little House Green Grocery when I saw a post on Facebook about a new kit that sounded fantastic — sweet potato gnocchi with spinach and mushroom.

Little House Green Grocery Sweet Potato Gnocchi Meal Kit

Inside each box you’ll find the ingredients you need for the meal, which are often locally sourced, and a card with the recipe. This particular kit came with refrigerated sweet potato gnocchi, Crimini mushrooms, spinach, shallots, Parmesan cheese, butter and thyme from Hummingbird Gardens.

Each meal kit includes two servings and costs $20. For the quality of the ingredients included, I’d argue that these meal kits are a steal. And from start to finish it probably took about 35 minutes to put this meal together and much of that time was spent waiting for the water to boil.

I cheated a little bit and picked up some delicious face bacon (yes, I said it, face bacon) to make this comforting dish even more indulgent. This simple meal was incredibly flavorful and I could definitely see myself adding this into my regular dinner rotation as we head into winter.

Sweet potato gnocchi with mushrooms and spinach

If you’re interested in trying out a Little House Green Grocery Meal Kit, check its Facebook page for seasonal updates on recipes (the meal kits change frequently) or give them a quick call before you go. And if you’re too lazy busy to drive over to the Northside you can have meal kits like The Weekend Breakfast, Taco Night or Curry Dinner delivered to your door via Quickness RVA. If you have a favorite meal kit service, let me know in the comments below.

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Five Picture Perfect Places to Picnic in Richmond

One of my favorite activities when the weather is warm is packing a sandwich (or salad), a beverage (La Croix or rosé) and a picnic blanket (or two) and heading to one of my favorite places to picnic in Richmond. Living in the city, I’m lucky to be close to so many scenic and historic parks, most of which are prime locations for a little break from #saddesklunches or an evening spent watching the sunset with friends.

Here are my five favorite spots to picnic in Richmond — hopefully a few of them are new to you!

Libby Hill Park

Libby Hill Park Fountain

Libby Hill Park is one of Richmond’s original parks and it’s where the city got its name. More than 150 years ago, the view to the east overlooking the James River reminded William Byrd II of a view of the River Thames in Richmond, England.

Libby Hill Park Picnic Tables

Libby Hill Park Richmond

There’s plenty of picnic real estate in Libby Hill Park, with picnic tables overlooking the James River and a view of Rockett’s Landing in the distance, and benches and open park spaces perfect for blankets, providing a view of the city skyline and the Lucky Strike building. This is an amazing spot to watch the sunset.

If you don’t have time to put together a meal beforehand or if you need to pick up last minute supplies, visit Union Market, Stroops, Dog and Pig Show or Proper Pie.

Maymont

Maymont Park

Maymont Park Richmond

Maymont Park is a Richmond institution and brings back such great memories of my childhood. My mom would bring my brother and me to Maymont to see the animals and run through the Japanese Garden. Today I still love going to this park, it is the perfect little oasis from the hustle and bustle of living and working in the city. I like to park by the historic estate entrance because it is close to the Italian and Japanese Gardens. While there aren’t many picnic tables, there are plenty of benches and open spaces for small or large groups.

If you don’t have time to put together a meal beforehand or if you need to pick up last minute supplies, visit Sugar & Twine, Coriander, Goatocado or Coppolas Deli — all in Carytown.

The Flood Wall

Richmond Floodwall

Floodwall Park offers unobstructed views of Richmond’s skyline and soon, it will be even more accessible when the Dam Walk opens — connecting Brown’s Island to Manchester. This is one of my favorite “picnic” spots because of the sound of the roaring James River. It is so incredibly peaceful to hear the sound of the rushing water, and because this is a lesser known park, you won’t be constantly surrounded by groups of Pokemon Go players here. If sitting on a picnic blanket is your thing, this might not be the park for you. There isn’t really space to sprawl out on a blanket. But there is a space with a few benches and that’s really all you need.

If you don’t have time to put together a meal beforehand or if you need to pick up last minute supplies, visit Camden’s Dogtown Market or Brewer’s Cafe, both in Manchester.

Scuffletown Park

Scufffletown Park

Scuffletown is a hidden gem right in the middle of Richmond’s Fan District. This pocket park is extremely well taken care of and might be my favorite place in Richmond. Its been serving the neighborhood since 1974, and I sure hope it sticks around for at least another 50 years.

Scuffletown Richmond

In this secret garden of sorts, there is plenty of space for blankets and there are even a few tables if you want to get fancy. What I love about this park is that there is plenty of shade, so even on the hottest day, you’ll have some shelter from the sweltering sun.

If you don’t have time to put together a meal beforehand or if you need to pick up last minute supplies, visit Strawberry Street Market, 8 1/2, or Garnett’s Cafe — which are just steps away.

Ancarrow’s Landing

Ancarrow's Landing Richmond

It is easy to get lost driving to Ancarrow’s Landing, but if you spot Richmond’s Water Treatment plant, you’re almost there. The park is just across the river from Libby Hill and has fantastic river views. This part of The James is deep enough for small boats, so you might see the occasional jet ski speed by. You may not run into many people while you’re in the park as typically it is pretty empty. There are even a few benches you can sit on along the water and grassy spaces for picnic blankets, too.

If you don’t have time to put together a meal beforehand or if you need to pick up last minute supplies, visit Plant Zero in Manchester, which is open for lunch and breakfast.

 

Now you’re ready to get your picnic on! I pulled together this map so that you can easily find the five parks I mentioned, along with the nearby markets and restaurants (for when you don’t have time to pack your own meal). If you have a picnic spot that deserves to be added to the list, let me know in the comments below.

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Six Things to Know About Planning a Trip to Yosemite

To counteract all of the eating I did in San Francisco (evidence here and here), I planned a little excursion into nature while on my recent trip to California. The short drive from the Bay Area to Yosemite is relatively easy, and you can make the trip in about 3-3.5 hours.

If you’re thinking of planning your first trip to the park, you might be feeling a little bit overwhelmed. Yosemite is HUGE, covering 1,169 square miles with 214 miles of paved roads, 20 miles of bike paths and 800 miles of trails. Based on my experience, I’ve put together a few tips for first time visitors.

What to know about visiting Yosemite

1. Start your planning early

The Yosemite Valley Floor (what most people think of when they hear the word Yosemite) is about a 30-minute drive from the park’s entrance. I learned the hard way, that staying just 40 miles from the park means an hour and a half drive to and from all the outdoor activities that you’ll want to be doing.

There are limited accommodations within the park, so booking about a year in advance is ideal, especially if you aren’t looking to rough it by making a campsite reservation. Also if you are a hardcore hiker, you’ll want to enter the preseason lottery for Half Dome permits during the month of March.

2. Keep a close eye on weather conditions

When it’s cold, it’s cold and when it’s hot, it’s hot. If your planning on visiting during a cooler month, keep an eye on whether or not certain roads are open — November through May or June, access to some parts of the park are limited due to snow. In the summertime, temperatures on the Valley Floor can reach into the nineties making it extremely important to pack plenty of water for both short and long hikes. Oh, and even though I visited in July, I brought along a sweatshirt and jacket as temperatures at night can dip down into the forties depending on where you are in the park.

3. Choose hikes or activities that match your fitness level

I researched for weeks the different hikes that Yosemite has to offer and I found that there really are hikes for every fitness level.

The Lower Yosemite Falls

Lower Yosemite Falls

This short “hike” covers just 1-mile, making it great for families with small children. The highlight of this flat, paved “hike” is standing near the base of the huge waterfall — the Lower Falls are the final part of North America’s largest waterfall. For the more experienced hikers, you can opt to do the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail for a more strenuous experience and see the Falls from an entirely different vantage point.

Taft Point

Yosemite - Taft Point

If you don’t like heights, this short hike probably isn’t for you. This is another easy, short hike but is not paved like the Lower Falls. The Taft Point trailhead is about a 30-minute drive from the Valley Floor. I recommend making a pit stop at Tunnel View along the way (pictured below).

Tunnel view Yosemite

At just over two miles round trip, this hike might seem more difficult than expected because of the high altitude — 7,700 feet. The view from the top is absolutely breathtaking, just please don’t get too close to the edge. This is the perfect spot to watch the sunset and enjoy an evening picnic, if you can stomach walking back to your car in the dark.

Cathedral Lakes

Cathedral Lakes Yosemite

This hike was definitely the hardest one of my trip — I did not attempt Half Dome and I’m convinced I would’ve died of exhaustion if I had tried. The Cathedral Lakes hike stretches about seven to eight miles round trip and the trailhead is about an hour and a half drive from Yosemite’s main entrance, on the Eastern side of the park. The elevation starts at 8,500 feet and man could I feel it, everything just takes more effort when you’re up that high.

4. Use the shuttle system

After a long hike, the last thing you’re going to want to do is walk a few miles back to your car or to find lunch/dinner. Thankfully, there is a free shuttle system that can help you get where you need to go. Most of the stops service the Valley Floor but there are other shuttles that will take you to more remote parts of the park, which can be perfect for those who don’t feel comfortable driving on the windy mountain roads (these longer shuttles typically do have a cost).

5. Treat yourself with pizza and beer

Surprise! Did you think you were getting through a Let’s Share a Dish blog post without a mention of food? There are plenty of food options within the park, so don’t worry about needing to leave to find somewhere to eat. One of my favorite meals during my entire California trip was the pizza and beer I had at Half Dome Village Pizza Deck in Curry Village.

Yosemite pizza

Now, this wasn’t the best pizza I’ve ever had, and it certainly wasn’t the cheapest but when you’re exhausted from hiking all over Yosemite, it feels like the best meal you’ve ever had. Supposedly there are incredible views of Glacier Point at the Pizza Deck, but honestly, I was too distracted by my pizza to notice.

6. DO NOT go off the trail

Okay, this probably seems like a duh but I just want to reiterate the fact that you should ALWAYS stay on the trail — unless a bear is chasing you then, do what you gotta do.

Here’s my cautionary tale. Shortly into my hike, I met a girl named Maria who was also hiking the Cathedral Lakes trail. We hiked the nearly four miles to the Lower Lake and then I convinced Maria that we should check out what the Upper Lake has to offer too (according to my research the Upper Lake is much prettier).

The Upper Lake on the map was about a mile farther into the woods and after about four hours of hiking I was over it. Fifteen minutes into our adventure to find the Upper Lake we could see it through the clearing, but I could tell that to get to the actual lake we’d have to walk at least another mile to get there. So, of course I made the logical suggestion of cutting across the meadow and saving us some distance. BIG mistake.

Soon after we entered the flat, slightly marshy area we were attacked by hundreds of mosquitos and after fleeing, swatting and spraying an entire container of heavy duty bug spray they were still biting us. Eventually they moved on (after about 10 minutes of insanity) but we were left COVERED in bug bites. So please, learn from my stupidity and stay on the trail.

If you’ve visited Yosemite or another great National Park and have tips to share, let us know in the comments!

 Six tips for visiting Yosemite National Park

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