Archive for the ‘National Parks’ Category

BOGO Lodging to Celebrate National Parks Week

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Let’s go BOGO. Who doesn’t love a buy one get one free lodging bargain? When it’s combined with free entrance to a U.S. National Park during the week of April 17- 25, your spring vacation is a budgetary winner. Sure, you could camp at Shenandoah or Yellowstone, but look at these bargains:


Far View Lodge

At Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado, explore the ancient cliff dwellings of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visits to Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Long House require a ticket on a ranger-led tour. Be sure to save some time for hiking one of the many trails or visiting the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum. From your room at Far View Lodge, high on the mesa’s shoulder, the view encompasses three states and all the stars you can count in the dark, night sky. Rooms are priced at $99 with a consecutive night free. This offer is valid from April 22 – 30, 2010. And, entrance to Mesa Verde National Park is free through the end of April.

Experience Virginia’s beautiful spring with a stay at Skyland Resort in Shenandoah National Park. The historic resort, built in 1886, offers inspiring views of the Shenandoah Valley. But don’t spend all of your time looking out the window from the highest point on Skyline Drive — take a hike, go biking or visit one of the local wineries. Book one night for $125 and receive the second consecutive night free. Offer valid from April 18 – 29, 2010.


Kalaloch Lodge

Olympic National Park in Washington encompasses rain forests, rugged beaches and mountain splendor. Confused about what to see first? Why not split your visit into two Olympic experiences? First take in the rugged Pacific coastline from your accommodations at Kalaloch Lodge. The bird-watching paradise includes hiking, biking and beach-combing opportunities. Next, head 12 miles into the heart of Olympic National Forest for a stay at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. Soak away tired muscles after an invigorating hike through an old growth rainforest. Both Kalaloch Lodge and Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort are offering accommodations priced at $157 with a second consecutive night free. This offer is valid from April 17 – 25, 2010.

Shenandoah, Mesa Verde, Olympic — I’m having a hard time deciding which National Park BOGO lodging adventure to choose. How about you?

Photos courtesy ARAMARK Parks and Destinations.

Review by Donna L. Hull, My Itchy Travel Feet.

Things are Looking Up! You Betcha, Alaska!

Monday, March 29th, 2010

UpTake on totem pole in Ketchikan, Alaska

On March 30th, 1867 the United States purchased 663,268 square miles from Russia at the bargain basement price of $7.2 million dollars or roughly $0.02 per acre! This land after much administrative changes officially became the 49th state in the union on January 3rd, 1959.

Alas-KA! (a la Palin), is an Aleut word meaning the ‘object towards which the action of the sea is directed’ or simply the ‘great land.’ It is just that…well, if you are into fresh clean air, breath taking panoramas of snow covered mountains, wildlife everywhere and halibut that are larger than you and mighty tasty too. You betcha, Alaska is grrreat!

A couple years ago when I was working as an Adventure Consultant (one of the best job titles ever! sounds like fun, eh?) my boss called me into his office and that usually meant it was really good or a really bad thing. He says “you ever been to Alaska? Can you go tomorrow?” Ding ding ding!! Good thing! I couldn’t wait to get home to start packing my fleece and wool socks.

Alaska has a very short tourism season due to well, the tilt of the earth’s axis. The best times to go are late spring to early fall, with the peak of the season during summer. I was lucky enough to take a cruise on a very small 100 passenger boat through the Inside Passage. Most of the cruises through this area are on large ships with 1,000’s of people aboard. I suppose that is all well and good, however, if you want to get up close and personal with Alaska you must go the small boat route. There is nothing more magical than getting into a zodiac to zoom around ice bergs, to touch glaciers and have otters curiously follow you around the frozen waterways. You do not get this experience on large ships. We were lucky enough to dock in small towns along the passage where we met local Alaskan tribes, viewed totem pole carving, ceremonies and dancing.

Getting close to a glacier

The Inside Passage is magical but there is also Denali National Park. Denali is a mecca for hiking and viewing pristine nature. There are ample opportunities to see moose and grizzly bears, but they are not your friends…keep your distance and try not to be the bear whisperer.

Alaska is a jewel of the US and I highly recommend visiting if you ever get the chance. The wildlife was the highlight for me. There were so many whales I could not count! Bald eagles! sheesh! I thought about 20 years ago that these majestic birds were going extinct. Not in Alaska, oh, no siree. Seals, puffins, moose, bears and of course, the adorable and fluffy Alaskan Husky. Another highlight was flying over Glacier Bay National Park in a tiny Cessna plane. Some people fly up to the glaciers and go dog sledding. How fun would that be for the family?

I even had fun flushing the toilet! The sea water that fed septic on the boat was filled with bioluminecence.What a surprise to see a light show swirl down the bowl in the middle of the night. On that note… visit Alaska! It rocks!

Photo courtesy of: Three if by Bike

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, Arizona

Monday, March 29th, 2010
Tonto Natural Bridge

Tonto Natural Bridge

The Tonto Natural Bridge is believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. The bridge stands 183 feet high over a 400-foot long tunnel that measures 150 feet at its widest point. It was documented and mapped in 1877 by David Gowan, a gold prospector, as he was being chased by Apache Indians. He hid in the network of caves and, once the coast was clear, claimed squatters rights on the area.

The bridge is located in a small valley between Pine and Payson, Arizona. Park entrance fees are $5.00 for adults and $2.00 for children ages 7-13. Children under 7 are admitted for free. The park is currently on a five day schedule, closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Hours of operation for the rest of the week are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Coconino National Forest in central Arizona

Coconino National Forest in central Arizona

Families with young children and teenagers will enjoy the small network of trails around the bridge and surrounding areas. No trail takes more than a hour to complete, though a couple of trails are rather steep and rough, so sturdy shoes and an appreciation for the difficulty of the terrain are necessary. Climbing onto the bridge, in the caves, or swimming in the waterfall or under the bridge is prohibited in order to protect the natural resources. Swimming down stream in Pine Creek is allowed, though there is no lifeguard on duty. There are several viewing areas available from which to appreciate the bridge, creek, and waterfall.

Wildlife enthusiasts will appreciate the ample opportunity for bird watching in the park – bird guides are available at the park entrance. The park is also inhabited by deer, rabbits, and javelina.

The town of Payson and the communities of Pine and Strawberry are located near the park. Visitors are encouraged to drive along State Route 87, which passes through some of the most beautiful desert and mountain landscapes in the entire state. Ample choices for camping and lodging are available throughout the area. When staying in Payson, the Majestic Mountain Inn comes highly recommended. If you’re more interested in camping, the facilities of Christopher Creek are very popular, so be sure to make reservations well in advance.

Weather-wise, it’s best to visit Tonto Natural Bridge State Park during spring and fall months. Summer months in the area don’t get quite as hot as they do in Phoenix (mid-90’s as opposed to 110+ f), but if you’re going in the summer visit as early in the day as possible. Winter months can see an accumulation of snow of one to two feet. The best months to visit in order to avoid the crowds would be in March and November.

Photo credits in order of appearance:
- “Tonto Natural Bridge” by Hillevd on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “Color My World” by Kevin Dooley on Flickr Creative Commons.

Illinois’ Pere Marquette State Park

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Illinois River docks at Pere Marquette State Park

Noted as the largest state park in Illinois and famous as the home of  this country’s national bird, the bald eagle, Pere  Marquette State Park supplies lots of beauty and outdoor activties for families and nuture buffs.  Located near Grafton, Il, admission is free for the 8,000 acre park, including the visitor center which features displays and exhibits of local history and wildlife.  The Illinois River creates the focus for the park it offers striking views of the river from atop the surrounding bluffs.Families with young children will like the Bald Eagle Days and Eagle watching programs, from December through March.  They’ll be able to view the eagles soaring on their six to seven and a half foot wing span or perched atop trees.  The park also provides hiking on 12 miles of marked trails, fishing for bluegill, carp and white bass, 20 miles of equestrian trails for horseback riding, biking and bird watching.  For campers, the possibilities are endless.  The Cap A campgrounds boasts 80 sites that include electrical hookups, drinking water and shower buildings.  Sites 2-30 are only available with reservations from May through October.  There’s also a Youth Camp Tent Area  and three organized  group camps that accommodates up to 145 people.  If you don’t feel like roughing it, head to the Pere Marquette Lodge and Conference Center.  The center features a huge stone fireplace, whirlpool, sauna, indoor swimming pool, cocktail lounge and 50 sprawling guest rooms as well as 22 stone guest cabins.

Photo courtesy of Flickr by stannate

The Rise of the Floating Bathroom

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

A Floating Lake Bathroom

You didn’t misread the title. Yes, we’re talking about a floating bathroom. Now this isn’t some prank you and your fraternity brothers did when you were in college. Floating bathroom is the term that has affectionately been used to describe what some may call a green phenomenon that is starting to occur on large lakes around the U.S.

The idea of floating bathrooms or toilets has been around for several years, although it’s probably not something you’ve ever heard of or even imagined. Amidst growing environmental concerns over the last decade and people’s choice to use the lake as their personal toilet, many parks and recreation agencies have begun to place them at convenient locations on lakes. One of the first floating bathrooms in California on Lake Natoma was flushed away after a flood of complaints. However, many lakes are revisiting the idea and putting these floating bathrooms on their lakes to reduce pollution and encourage people to act responsibly on the lake.

The premise behind floating bathrooms is great: preserve the water and land, such as islands, by encouraging patrons to use bathrooms that are tethered to land and docked in high-traffic lake areas. This could also prevent pollution as many boaters use the water and islands to leave their trash.

Lake Powell is one of the nation’s lakes that has quickly adopted the idea of a floating bathroom, as it features several floating bathrooms and dumping stations around the lake. Lake Keowee in South Carolina is another lake that is proposing a floating bathroom for boaters to dock and use when they just got to go. Many people remain divided on the issue, as it could protect and preserve the environment, but it isn’t exactly attractive and is expensive to place and maintain. To build a floating bathroom alone is well over $100,000. If you’re a bit timid to use one, don’t worry, there’s a no wake zone around them. So is this going green or spending too much green?

Photo from congochris on Flickr.

Indiana Dunes State Park

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

The beach pavilion at the Indiana Dunes State Park

Growing up as a kid in Chicago, a visit to the Indiana Dunes State Park was an annual summer camp event.  Just 47 miles outside of Chicago, nothing in the city compared to the miles of rolling sand dunes that we’d run through and build elaborate sand castles.  We never got past the beaches but the park has been updated since then to include 2,182 acres of  dazzling shoreline, a nature center, hiking trails and newly renovated campgrounds.

Famous for three miles of pristine Lake Michigan south shoreline with drifting sand dunes, the beach boasts a pavilion with bath houses, snack bar and shelter. 18,00 acres provide a wooded landscape and the most diversified flora and fauna in the Midwest.  You can learn about the landscape and the distinctive Indiana dune  ecosystem at the Nature Center, which offers scheduled interpretive programs. The 140 campsites have 50 amp electrical service and heated restrooms and shower houses. Reservations for the campsites can be made online or at 1-866-6campin. Besides enjoying the beach, families will love a  4.5 mile-hike through Dune Ridge Loop trail.  A dramatic trail with forest, wetlands and wooded dunes, Dune Ridge Loop is noted for its variety.  There are also 9 other hiking trails ranging from moderate to strenuous. There is a $10 admission fee for noncommercial vehicles without Indiana license plates.  Camping fees range from $17.34-$28.56 for electric facilities. If your family doesn’t want to stay in the campgrounds, opt for the charming Spring House Inn, an English cottage hotel nestled in the surrounding woodlands.

Photo courtesy of Indiana Dunes State Park

Explore Nature at Wekiwa Springs State Park, Apopka, Florida

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

Designated as only one of two Federally Designated “Wild and Scenic Rivers,” Wekiva River in Wekiwa Springs State Park is a vast and incredible, nature-centered attraction. This central Florida park encompasses nearly every out-door activity in one location just outside Apopka, just 12 miles north of downtown Orlando. Guests are invited to canoe down the Wekiva River, hike through the natural park surroundings for an overnight adventure, and explore Wekiwa on horseback.

Wekiva River, Florida

Wekiva River by Kayak, Florida

Crystal clear, 72ºF water, for which Wekiwa is famous, is ready to be explored with your snorkel, by canoe, or just wading in the River. Guests are able to rent canoes for the day or overnight from the park starting at just $35/day. Guided and self-guided tours begin at Canoe Beach Landing with many options depending on your party size or your length of visit. Overnight camping is available with or without all of your sleeping necessities provided.

If horseback riding is your idea of exploring nature, Rock Springs Riding Ranch provides horses and trail guides to assist you on your adventure. Kids of all ages are welcomed to experience riding horseback. Pony rides start at just $12 per child under 8, and 1-hour guided horseback rides start at $37/person.

Nature trails are open to walkers, hikers, runners, and bikers and reaches 9 miles of park viewing. Trail maps are available at the park. Some riders may find the course a challenge, the multi-use trail is available for guests to experience Florida’s nature.

Some of the best bird watching and wildlife spotting is available on the 1/8-mile long boardwalk over-looking the springs and through the swamps of the park. Bring your camera and binoculars to spot some of Central Florida’s greatest natural treasures.

History and nature buffs will surely appreciate the recently opened Nature Center which includes live native wildlife and opportunities to learn about local habitats. Visitors will learn how to better live off of the land and respect the Earth’s resources.

Locals and visitors can take advantage of some of the pavilions and meeting spaces found around the park. Recreation Hall and Dining Hall can be rented out together or separately to accommodate up to 150 people apiece for your gathering.

Florida state parks are open from 8 a.m. until sundown 365 days a year.

$6.00 per vehicle. Limit 2-8 people per vehicle.
$4.00 Single Occupant Vehicle.
$2.00 Pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers, passengers in vehicle with holder of Annual Individual Entrance Pass.

(More information on fees is available on the Florida State Parks website.)

1800 Wekiwa Circle Apopka, Florida 32712
(407) 884-2008

Photos courtesy: See Reeves

Fall in Love with Fall Creek Falls State Park

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Fall Creek Falls - Photo by Lisa Romano

Next time you find yourself in Tenneessee, pay a visit to Fall Creek Falls State Park. And if you’re so inclined, yes you can hike down there and take a shower.

Cades Cove Scenic Valley

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Cades Cove at Sunset

Like most gems you’ll find in the Great Smoky Mountains, Cades Cove is located quite a bit off the beaten path in a secluded area of Eastern Tennessee. The scenic Great Smoky Mountains attraction is miles from what many would call “civilization”, yet millions of tourists make the trek to take in the beauty the scenic valley and historic district offers.

Cades Cove is rich in history, dating back thousands of years. The Smoky Mountain valley was a major post of abolitionist activity during the Civil War. Years later, the Smokey Mountain attraction became notorious for its moonshining activity. Although not the most glamourous history, Cades Cove has left that behind to become one of the most beautiful areas of the Smokey Mountains and a landmark in and of itself. Although consisting of a much larger area, the valley is predominantly made up of a one-way, 11-mile loop around the cove. During peak times, it can take several hours to complete the loop.

Although there are many landmarks in the Cades Cove area, the loop still remains the primary attraction. On many winter days you can see snow-capped peaks rising above the valley. As beautiful as the winter is in Cades Cove, your best time to visit is during the middle of fall when the leaves are changing colors. This is also one of the best times of season to see wildlife. Animals you’ll find during a typical visit include black bear, deer, wild turkey and foxes.

If you’re making a day of your visit to Cades Cove, then you can find numerous historic landmarks along the way. The national park service maintains several of the landmarks, including a couple different homes from the mid-1800s, a renovated bard built in the early 1900s and two churches.

Admissions to Cades Cove is free and a campground with over 150 sites are available for tents and RVs, starting at $20 per night.

Photo from Ben_D on Flickr.

Redwood National Park, California

Monday, March 1st, 2010
Redwoods and ferns in Redwood National Park, California

Redwoods and ferns in Redwood National Park, California

Redwood National Park, along the northern coast of California, is often grouped together with the state parks in the area and referred to collectively as Redwood National and State Parks. Many of the resources highlighted on the National Park Services site include reference to nearby state parks, including Jededish Smith Redwoods State Park and Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. One of the few national parks that allows biking on back road logging trails, Redwood National Park offers many options for all types of visitors.

Famous for: Tall redwood trees, the world’s tallest trees.

Admission: Redwood National Park is free to visit!

Visitors will enjoy: Set out on one of the many hikes through the Tall Trees Grove. Enderts Beach off the Coastal Trail, takes visitors down to the tidepools and include interpretive signs to help identify plants and trees.

Easy site seeing: During the summer, visit one of the 5 visitor stations in the park and enjoy a ranger-led program or evening campfire. Or, take one of the paved or unpaved scenic drives through the park.

Best campground in the park: Both developed and backcountry campgrounds are available within the park. Gold Bluffs Beach Campground is the most interesting option, offering easy access to the beach, as well as hiking and biking trails nearby. Reservations are not accepted for this campground, it is first-come, first-served.

Best months to visit for weather: The coastal areas of Northern California experiences thick fog much of the year. With these wet conditions, be sure to wear layers and bring a rain jacket. Summer is an ideal time to visit, when temperatures warm up.

Best months to visit to avoid crowds: Late fall or early spring are the best times to avoid crowds in Redwood National Park.

Nearest major cities: Crescent City is the nearest city with an airport, near the border with Oregon.

Visit the National Park Services website for more information about Redwood National Park.

Related posts:

Motel Trees near Trees of Mystery in Northern California

New RV Park in Eureka, California

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Photo courtesy of National Park Service photo gallery.