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November 13, 2009

Hotel Spotlight: Ahwahnee, Yosemite

The Great Lounge in Yosemite's Ahwahnee Hotel (courtesy, Delaware North Companies)

The summer months draw 50 percent of Yosemite National Park's overnight visitor stays; that stat drops to less than three percent once winter rolls round. Concession lodging in the park, like the classic 123-room Ahwahnee Hotel, sees a corresponding drop in visitor nights, with overnight occupancy dropping to about a third of its summer peak throughout the park. And while the Ahwahnee, considered by many to be the country's finest national-park lodging, in one of the country's most beautiful settings, Yosemite Valley, is still relatively full and pricey (rates from as low as $265 per night), the real lure is being able to enjoy the park in its winter glory without the crowds. Go for a snowshoe trek in the glorious shadow of Half Dome, take the kids snowboarding and cross-country skiing at nearby Badger Pass (all-day adult passes only $42), or just curl up with a good book in front of a roaring fire in the lodge's Great Lounge, with floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing snow-clad Yosemite Valley.

Browse more of the country's top national park lodges in's Guide to the World's Best Resorts & Lodges.

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Related Topics: Family Vacation · National Parks · Places to Stay · Skiing & Snowboarding

October 15, 2009

Sites We Like:

Mt Tamalpais at EveryTrail: Share and Plan your Trips

While researching the latest on Google Maps' rollout of its StreetView functionality to a limited number of hiking and biking trails this summer, I stumbled across a cool website called EveryTrail. This comprehensive hiking, trekking, and biking resource allows you to view tens of thousands of user-submitted trail guides that plot point-to-point information on an interactive map, along with user photos and other related information about the trail. Need details about climbing Yellowstone's popular Mount Washburn? Click here. Dreaming of ticking the Grand Canyon's Bright Angel Trail off your list? Click here. Membership is free, plus you can export raw data into GPX or KML format for use in mobile maps or in Google Earth. Features in the pipeline will also include iPhone and GPS device downloads, making it even easier to hit the trail!

Love to hike? Then you'll love the revamped Trail Finder tool on's sister site, Browse thousands of hiking trails around North America, plus easily edit and add details through its new user wiki.

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Related Topics: National Parks · Outdoor Adventures · Travel Websites

October 09, 2009

National Parks Photo Contest: And the Winner Is...

By awayblog

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Mesquite Flats, Death Valley National Park (Erik Dresser)

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner! Erik Dresser's photograph of the Mesquite Flat sand dunes in Death Valley National Park (pictured above) has been selected as the winner in our National Parks Photo Contest. Taken on a late September afternoon, here's how Erik got the shot:

"My girlfriend and I were in Las Vegas for a mini vacation (and to get engaged) last month and on our last day, we decided to take a day trip to Death Valley, which is about a two-hour drive away.  I had seen photos of the dunes and knew that they would be at their most photogenic in the late afternoon, so I planned our trip so that we would reach them at around 6 p.m. It was very hot and windy that day so I went to a spot where the blowing wind would be back-lit by the sun.  Despite shooting into the sun, the dunes still have a golden glow due the sunlight reflecting off the sand.  This shot is at 200mm. I got some good close-up shots at 400mm, but I chose this one because it includes the ridgeline in the background to provide some scale to the scene."
Technical specifications:
Camera - Canon 1D Mark III
Lens - EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS
Exposure - 200mm, 1/1000 sec, f/6.3, ISO 200

We were thrilled to receive over 200 entries for the contest, showcasing an amazing array of landscapes in 66 different parks and public lands across North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the national parks claiming the highest representation of entries were Yellowstone National Park (31 entries), Glacier National Park (17 entries), Grand Canyon National Park (17 entries), Grand Teton National Park (15 entries), and Yosemite National Park (12 entries). Browse all of the entries here. Continue reading below the jump to view our five runners-up.

Thank you again, everyone, for taking part, plus a big thanks to Karine Aigner for joining us this week to judge our finalists. Karine is a senior photo editor with National Geographic Kids magazine. Here are her thoughts on the winning entry:

"For me, the winning image stood out because it was a different way capturing the Death Valley dunes, which are so often seen front-lit. After several rounds of judging we kept coming back to this image. It captures the the natural world's powerful, yet subtle beauty as well as spirit, and has wonderful layers of various textures from front to back—making the simple composition work. The back-lit sand creates a mood of anticipation. In all, the image beautifully captures a small moment, those that we often miss in our haste to take in and see as much as possible."

Continue reading "National Parks Photo Contest: And the Winner Is..." »

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Related Topics: News · National Parks · Outdoor Adventures · Travel Photography

October 05, 2009

Western Australia Launches New Trails Resource

The Kimberley_ATC
Western Australia's The Kimberleys (courtesy, ATC)

Western Australia—home of the Coral Coast and some of the country's most far-flung cities and pristine landscapes—launched a great new travel resource last month.  TopTrailsWA provides a fun, info-filled resource on over 50 of trails within the region, from an hour-long mountain bike jaunt to days-long treks, along with packing lists, tips on "leave no trace" low-impact hiking, and dates to key events.

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Related Topics: Exotic Escapes · From Around the Web · National Parks · Outdoor Adventures · Travel Websites

September 28, 2009

America's Best Idea

By Karen Chen

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The hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park (Photodisc)

Master documentary filmmaker Ken Burns' most recent project, The National Parks: America's Best Idea, premiered on PBS last night. Like each of Burns' hugely popular documentaries—including Baseball, Jazz, and most recently, The War, about World War II—National Parks promises to be yet another epic, in-depth look at an important part of our country's history, focusing on the people who helped to pioneer and shape the creation of these important public spaces, something that was a uniquely American idea. We encourage you to watch at least some of the six-part series (although if his other films are any indication, you'll probably find yourself glued to the TV night after night). But of course, the best way to appreciate the national parks isn't just to watch pictures of them scrolling across your TV screen. Get out and visit them! Gaze up at soaring mountain peaks, hike through enormous canyons, raft roaring rivers, climb over sand dunes, and experience for yourself the natural beauty of our country.

If you've visited any of the national parks already, and have some great photos to share, don't forget that this is the last week to submit a photo to our National Parks Photo Contest!  You could win more than $200 in hiking gear from KEEN, and have your photos featured on!  We've already gotten tons of great submissions—see them all at our Facebook page.

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Related Topics: News · National Parks · Outdoor Adventures · Travel Gear · Travel Photography

September 16, 2009

Grand Canyon Railway Goes Green

By Erika Lloyd

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The Grand Canyon Railway (courtesy, Xanterra Parks & Resorts)

Travelers will be happy to hear that the Grand Canyon Railway is now ISO 14001 Certified. Although I’m quite certain that the majority of people reading this know exactly what that means, I’ll explain. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) sets environmental standards, and the ISO 14001 standard applies to the environmental aspects of the train that can be controlled and influenced, ensuring environmental protection, regulatory compliance, and continual improvement. Grand Canyon Railway has taken a number of steps to be environmentally responsible and to earn this certification, which have included:

- Tripling the amount of recycled material in their property-wide recycling program, while decreasing the amount of solid waste generated;
- Using Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel in all the locomotives (much cleaner burning fuel);
- Educating staff and customers on energy- and water-conservation measures;
- Installing room sensors and timers in many areas to save on electricity;
- Decreasing water consumption by 10 percent from 2008 to 2009;
- And replacing all cleaning solvents with green chemicals.

Continue reading "Grand Canyon Railway Goes Green" »

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Related Topics: Eco-Tourism · Family Vacation · National Parks · Travel News

September 14, 2009

Share Your Best National Park Photo to Win KEEN Hiking Gear!

By awayblog

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Master documentary filmmaker Ken Burns' most recent project, The National Parks: America's Best Idea, premieres on PBS on September 27.  We know many of you seasoned travelers out there have visited national parks and have some great photos to share, so in celebration of this new documentary, is having a contest to spotlight our country's parks.  We're looking for your best photo, taken in or of a national or state park, forest, or seashore, that shows off the park's natural wonders, as well as your photography skills.  But choose your very best photo, because you're only allowed one entry per person!  All you have to do is:

1. Go to the Facebook Fan Page.

2. Become a fan of

3. Type a descriptive caption of no more than 100 words—being sure to include where and in what park the photo was taken—in the text field at the top of the page (where it prompts you to "Write something...").

4. And before you hit the "Share" button, use the Photo icon below the text field to attach your most impressive national park photo.

Your photo and caption will then appear on our Facebook Wall to be shared with fellow travelers.

The grand prize winner will receive more than $230 worth of trail-ready gear from outdoor pros KEEN, to include hiking boots, a backpack, and merino wool hiking socks.  The winner, along with several runner-ups, will also have their photos featured on our site.  So start looking through your photo albums now, and send us the one that has the greatest "Wow!" factor.  We're excited to see what you've got!

Contest ends midnight on October 2.  Click here for the Official Contest Rules.

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Related Topics: News · Free Stuff · National Parks · Outdoor Adventures · Travel Gear · Travel Photography

September 04, 2009

Find Peace in the Crowded Smoky Mountains

By Kate Chandler

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A bridge over part of Cosby Creek on the Low Gap Trail to Mount Cammerer (Kate Chandler)

Boasting more than 800 miles of trails and straddling parts of Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a hiker's paradise. But somehow many people find themselves on crowded trails each summer and fall. The park, after all, does get nine-million-plus visitors each year, making it the most visited national park in the United States. 

Here's our little beat-the-crowds secret for you: Cosby Campground. This pristine campground, and the surrounding trails, in the northeast corner of the park (in Tennessee), sees a mere fraction of the traffic that more well-known parts of the park get. Consider this: All of the park's four campgrounds that are available to book online offer roughly the same number of campsites. But, as of July 2009, the National Park Service reports that Smokemont Campground has had 25,983 visitors; Cades Cove Campground has had 42,195 visitors; and Elkmont has had a whopping 67,226 visitors. Cosby Campground, on the other hand, has hosted just 3,458 people.

There must be something wrong with it, you might say. To the contrary, the campground is beautiful, with large, terraced campsites that are shaded and private. And there are tons of great hiking trails branching out from all parts of the campground. Here are just a few to try.

Continue reading "Find Peace in the Crowded Smoky Mountains" »

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Related Topics: National Parks · Outdoor Adventures · Trip Ideas

August 20, 2009

Guide to the World's Best Resorts & Lodges

Cayo Espanto, a private luxury all-inclusive in Belize (courtesy, Cayo Espanto)

For the past 12 months, I have been neck-deep in one of the toughest assignments a travel editor can expect: Scouring the globe for the world's best destination resorts and lodges. I know, it's a hard job gazing at images of unspoiled, faraway places (like the one above), but I wasn't alone for my journey. We assigned a crack squad of travel writers with clips in publications including National Geographic Adventure, Travel+Leisure, and Lonely Planet to track down the cream of the crop, including their selections for the best family resorts, beach resorts, national park lodges, all-inclusive resorts, and six other distinct travel categories. One year later, with my list of must-visit places in a state of morbid obesity, we're excited to announce the launch of's new Resorts & Lodges Guide, featuring 200 of the world's ultimate destination-resort experiences. If you're looking for inspiration about where to stay next, this is the place to start.

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Related Topics: Africa Travel · All Inclusive Vacation · News · Beach Vacation · Eco-Tourism · Exotic Escapes · Family Vacation · Hawaii Vacation · Mexico Travel · National Parks · Outdoor Adventures · Places to Stay · Skiing & Snowboarding

August 13, 2009

Last Chance for Fee-Free National Park Weekends

By Karen Chen

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Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park (Adam Jones/Photodisc/Getty)

The Obamas are doing it—why wouldn't you?  This weekend, August 15-16, the First Family will visit two iconic national parks in the Mountain West and Southwest—Yellowstone National Park and Grand Canyon National Park—just in time for the last fee-free weekend of the summer. The trip is meant to highlight the country's extensive park system, and to encourage Americans and visitors alike to get out and explore the national parks.

As part of a national trend, Yellowstone broke its own visitation record in July—typically its peak month—when 900,000 tourists visited the Wyoming park. Another park heavyweight, Yosemite National Park in California, also reported the highest visitation numbers in June and July for the last decade.  The national park system has seen increased traffic this year across all of its 391 sites, including national parks, historic sites, battlefields, and seashores. National Park Service officials credit the better-than-average year to lower fuel costs and the affordability of park vacations. 

This weekend will be the last of three weekends when entrance fees to most national parks will be waived, so get out and take advantage of the great value!  If you want to avoid crowded trails and campsites and traffic-choked roads, check out our picks for the Top Ten Alternative National and State Parks.  These alternative parks will afford you a little (or a lot) more elbow room to explore.

If you're heading out to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon any time soon, find our recommendations for four quintessential lodges in these two national parks after the jump, plus a link to a photo gallery of the country's most classic national parks lodges.

Continue reading "Last Chance for Fee-Free National Park Weekends" »

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Related Topics: Budget Travel · National Parks · Outdoor Adventures · Travel Trends · Trip Ideas

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