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October 21, 2011

Go on Safari...Without Going to Africa

By Kate Chandler

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Safari (Photodisc)

Ah, safaris. They're the stuff of legendary trips to the far-off grasslands of Kenya or Tanzania. Where the Big 5 rule the roost and everyone wears too much khaki. But you don't have to spend thousands on a trip to Africa to go on safari. There are lots of options here in North America.

1. Safari West, Santa Rosa, California
Get a taste of Africa in the heart of California’s wine country at Safari West. Six-hundred animals, including giraffes, gazelles, and zebras inhabit the preserve. Go for the day, or spend the night in a luxury tent to get the full effect. Fun packages, like “Wine, Wheels, and Warthogs,” offer unique getaway ideas.

2. La Paz, Baja
This safari is of the under-water sort. And, sure, you can pay a fortune for an all-inclusive trip to Baja to see the famous resident whale sharks and giant pacific mantas, but the budget-oriented DIYers out there will be pleased to know that local dive shops, like Desea Adventures, offer two-tank dive packages starting at $130. Snorkeling with sea lions is an option for non-divers.

3. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is without a doubt one of the world’s most precious resources for geology and ecology, not to mention recreation. Wildlife management is a hot topic in these parts, and on most tours you’ll not only get to see wolves, moose, and bison, to name a few, but you’ll get an insider’s take on the area’s most important, and often controversial, issues. Many outfitters offer trips. 

4. Mexico Monarch Butterfly Trail
Mexico has much more to be proud of than spring break beaches and clichéd telenovelas. An all-inclusive trip, such as this one with G Adventures, will open your eyes to a new side of Mexico’s cities and countryside. Plus, the Monarch migration is nothing short of a miracle, as it takes several generations of butterflies to complete a single migration. The peak months for this trip are January, February, and March. 

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Related Topics: Exotic Escapes · National Parks · Trip Ideas

June 17, 2011

Stay in NYC for $20 a Night

By Kate Chandler

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Times Square, New York City (Medio Images)

A trip to New York City just got a whole lot cheaper, if you're willing to pitch a tent. The National Park Service is creating new campsites at Brooklyn's Floyd Bennett Field, a former airport once used by Amelia Earhart and Howard Hughes. The field, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, currently hosts five campsites, with 47 more expected in the next few weeks. Over the next two years, the park service will build a total of 90 sites, creating America's largest urban park campground. The sites are $20 per night, and online booking at will be available by July 4th weekend. Besides touring the Big Apple, campers can also take advantage of fishing, hiking, biking, and kayaking in the park, with swimming and beaches available at nearby Jacob Riis Park.'s Travel Guide to New York City

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Related Topics: Cheap Trip Ideas · National Parks · US Travel

January 25, 2011

Spring When to Go Guide: Cherry Blossoms, Death Valley Wildflowers, and More!

View of the cherry blossoms and Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. (Eric Brodnax)

Spring is still some weeks away in most parts of the country, but it's time to start dreaming—and planning—for Mother Nature's big thaw. Here's an update on several of spring's big seasonal events.

Desert Wildflowers (Death Valley National Park, California)
Given the harsh desert environment, winter rainfall totals are a fairly predictable indicator of when the colorful desert wildflowers will bloom in the Mojave's Death Valley National Park (and elsewhere in North America's other three major deserts, the Sonoran, Great Basin, and Chihuahuan deserts). And unlike this winter's rain-drenched sections of the California coastline, Death Valley has only recorded a half-inch of rain since July 2010. Consequently, park officials are not anticipating a bumper crop of wildflower blooms this year. "We are seeing sprouts of wildflowers in the southern part of the park due to rain in October," the NPS website reports, adding that plants on the lower-elevation hillsides and alluvial fans around Jubilee Pass may come into bloom by late February. Look for an update from the NPS in early February. Low rainfall throughout the year and cooler winter temps suggest that peak bloom should occur in mid- to late March.

Continue reading "Spring When to Go Guide: Cherry Blossoms, Death Valley Wildflowers, and More!" »

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Related Topics: California Travel · Family Vacation · Holidays, Events, & Festivals · National Parks · Trip Ideas

September 24, 2010

National Public Lands Day: Free Access to National Parks, Saturday, September 25

By awayblog

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Reflection of Hallett Peak in Bierstadt Lake,Rocky Mt Nat Park,CO(Willard Clay,Photogs Choice,Getty) 
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado (Willard Clay)

Never has there been a better time to visit a national park than this Saturday, September 25, when the National Park Service will waive park entrance fees. To commemorate National Public Lands Day, more than 100 parks that usually charge fees are opening their gates to celebrate the great outdoors. Many parks are also running special offers on services and recreation within their park boundaries.

To further support national parks and to help preserve them for future generations, the America's Great Outdoors Campaign is encouraging people to send a comment to the White House outlining what they would like to see on President Obama's conservation agenda. The members of the cabinet will present their recommendations to the President on November 15, so actions must be done quickly. Find more details here.

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April 17, 2010

Event Alert: National Park Week, April 17-25

By awayblog

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HANG IN THERE: Climbing Yosemite National Park (Stockbyte)

The annual National Park Week kicks off today, including the first in a series of three planned of "fee-free" days around the country's 392 national-park units. This year's National Park Week will stretch from April 17-25 and include special programs and events in parks big and small across the country. Get out there and enjoy free entrance to banner parks like Yosemite National Park, Zion National Park, and Yellowstone National Park, not to mention the warming spring weather and a relative dearth of crowds before the big summer rush descends. To give you something to talk about on the trail, here are some factoids about the 84 million acres of public land that fall under the National Park Service's stewardship.

- The least-visited NPS unit is Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve on Alaska's wind- and rain-lashed Alaska Peninsula, 450 miles southwest of Anchorage. Fourteen hardy souls visited here in 2009.

- The most-visited park unit is the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, with Great Smoky Mountains National Park being the perennial blockbuster national park.

Continue reading "Event Alert: National Park Week, April 17-25" »

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March 09, 2010

Baby Season in Yellowstone National Park

By Lacy Morris

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Mother-grizzly-and-her-cubs(Yellowstone National Park)
Baby bear cubs (Yellowstone National Park)

In many parts of the country, spring has already sprung and with it comes new life, whether it be with new baby animals, bright flowers, or your closet. As early as March 1, the adorable babies of Yellowstone National Park have begun making their season's debut. Bear cubs, bison and elk calves, and wolf pups can be seen trotting around a spectacular landscape that is beginning to thaw following the long winter. One of the best ways to explore the park firsthand is through a guided tour with an experienced guide. Starting in June, Wake up to Wildlife tours depart from 6:15 to 7:00 AM from three different locations within the park. The early-morning hours offer the best opportunities for spotting wildlife in what is popularly known as "America's Serengeti." Tours take place aboard one of Yellowstone's refurbished Model 706 yellow buses, which were used in the park during the 1930s until driving your own private vehicle through the park became more popular. The tour includes a continental breakfast and is free for children under seven years old.

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February 24, 2010

Sites We Like:


I met Scott Dunn and his wife, Jill Richards, on a press trip to Phoenix, Arizona, last November. Scott, a mellow, no-nonsense Tennessean, was the PR guy for the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau; his West Coast wife was a photographer for the Arizona Republic. At the time they were planning a 12-month road trip hiatus to celebrate their first year of marriage, a dream that you can now follow at 12LegsTravel after they packed their few possessions, two mutts, and a handful of Scott's favorite books into their truck on New Year's Eve 2009. Enjoy stunning vistas of the American Southwest—more states to come as they head toward Mississippi and Louisiana, where Jill worked as a photojournalist after Katrina—as well as Scott's finely crafted insights about life out on the open road. And I'm not just shilling for a couple whose company I happened to enjoy over several days in and around Phoenix. In an online world saturated with travel opinions, information, and self-reflective narratives, shines an intimate light on what it means to travel through landscapes you cherish with the people (and animals) you love. Join them for the adventure.

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February 10, 2010

North Cascades National Park: An Enviro-Revival in the "American Alps"

View out over North Cascades' Mount Arriva, the "Ragged Ridge" behind, and Pickets in the distance (Tom Hammond)

Over the past five years, Washington state's North Cascades National Park has recorded some of the lowest visitor numbers of any National Park Service (NPS) unit, this despite its stunning natural beauty and relative proximity to the Seattle metropolitan area. With an average of fewer than 19,000 visitors per year, 684,237-acre North Cascades ranks behind only Isle Royale and the remotest Alaskan parks and preserves as the nation's best undiscovered gem. And while these stats belie the fact that many visitors flock through the area on scenic North Cascades Scenic Highway (SR-20) without technically setting foot in the park, the park still gets only about a third as many visitors as Washington's other park jewels, Olympic or Mount Rainer, even if you include those who just drive over SR-20.

"North Cascades was left like a Swiss cheese by the government when it was founded 40 years ago, leaving out huge sections of spectacular scenic and eco value due to then-powerful hydro, logging, and mining interests," notes Philip Fenner of The American Alps Legacy Project, a conservation group comprising the original activists who fought for the park's establishment back in 1968 and a new generation of Pacific Northwest conservationists.

Continue reading "North Cascades National Park: An Enviro-Revival in the "American Alps"" »

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February 02, 2010

Record Rainfall Promises Spectacular Spring Wildflowers in Death Valley

Desert-gold-death-valley LIFE IN DEATH: Desert gold in Death Valley National Park (courtesy, Xanterra Parks & Resorts)

Editor's Note: Click here for our update about the Death Valley wildflowers for spring 2011

Officials in Death Valley National Park are predicting a bumper wildflower season this spring following record rainfall in the California park. Torrential downpours throughout the state at the end of January, plus higher than average accumulation throughout the year, has locals readying for a colorful show of spring blooms. "Because of the rain last week, everyone who lives and works here in Death Valley is optimistic that we will at least have a better-than-average show this year," says Phil Dickinson, sales and marketing director at Death Valley's historic Furnace Creek Resort.

Continue reading "Record Rainfall Promises Spectacular Spring Wildflowers in Death Valley" »

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Related Topics: California Travel · National Parks · Places to Stay

November 18, 2009

Notes from the Field: Winter Adventures in Yellowstone National Park

Gray wolf on the prowl in Yellowstone National Park (Corel)

It's no secret that winter in Yellowstone National Park is a magical season; think silent, snow-filled meadows and slopes, packs of wolves hustling across the valley floor, plus an absolute dearth of tourists. No, the secret here lies in the fact that many visitors—in winter or summer—fail to spend enough time here to appreciate the full diversity of the country's oldest park. Which is where the Yellowstone Association Institute (YAI), and more specifically its annual Field Seminar programs, comes in.

This non-profit offers a number of well-regarded winter programs, including an overnight "Wilderness First Aid" session ($230) and a two-night "Yellowstone's Winter Serengeti" seminar ($300) that tracks resident wildlife including bison, wolves, foxes, bighorn sheep, and river otters. Participants will spend their nights out in the field in YAI's Lamar Buffalo Field Campus in shared, rustic cabins, dining on self-provided food prepared in a communal kitchen. Spots are still available for these and other 2009-10 winter programs. Other YAI options include Lodging & Learning programs in partnership with parks concessionaire Xanterra Parks & Resorts, as well as one-day private tours that can be organized for families and other small groups.

See a photo gallery of the wolves of Yellowstone National Park, first reintroduced back into the park in 1995.

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