Monthly Archives: December 2015

A gorge-ous hiking challenge on the New River

traveltoparks ourbestplaces

Just the other day I was talking about what a stunning state West Virginia is. So, when this came across my desk, I had to post about it:

To celebrate the National Park Service centennial in 2016, the New River Gorge is throwing down the gauntlet to those with feet itchin’ to hike. To complete its challenge, visitors must hoof-it on 100 miles of trails within the 70,000-acre park between January 1 and December 1.

The official kick-off is on January 2 when visitors can hike 3.2 miles with a ranger on the Grandview Trail. Why’s it called that? Because of the insanely beautiful panoramas open to amblers, of the gorge and the whitewater of the New River 1,400 feet below.


Park visitors can register for the challenge online by sending their names and email addresses to Visit their 100-Mile-Challenge page for more information.

(P.S. As if the experience isn’t enough to go on, there are prizes!)

Buy the book! Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.

Photo courtesy of Gary Hartley, NPS.


Fisher comeback in the North Cascades

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Once found in forests throughout Washington state, fishers haven’t been seen there in decades. Excessive trapping and habitat loss is believed to have caused the population drop of this brown, bushy-tailed member of the weasel family.

Wildlife managers, including some with the National Park Service, are now turning back the ecological clock. In these final weeks of the year 40 fishers from British Columbia are being released in and near Mount Rainier National Park. Later on, North Cascades National Park will get a batch. Reintroduction efforts have proven successful in Olympic National Park, where 90 fishers were released over several years starting in 2008.

Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Buy the book! Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.

Yosemite sublime in winter

traveltoparks ourbestplaces

Four years of California drought had reduced most waterfalls in Yosemite to a trickle rather than a torrent. But recent rain and snowfall have resurrected the sleeping giants. They are just one of the many reasons to take a pilgrimage to the lesser-seen winter Yosemite.

I’ve been lucky enough to be in the park in three seasons but have long daydreamed of seeing it in winter when quiet replaces bustling, meditation displaces mission, and solitude sends crowds packing. When dusted with fresh powder otherwise substantial peaks, riverbanks, evergreens and rock faces are something ethereal, fantastical.

Public services in the park are curtailed in the winter but much is still open including the Ahwahnee Hotel, Curry Village (with ice-skating and s’mores) and Yosemite Lodge, and even one campground–Upper Pines. The Badger Pass ski area, for both downhill and cross-country (and tubing!) are also in full swing.

Plan your trip with these winter travel tips and current conditions links from the National Park Service.

If, like me, you won’t make it to Yosemite this winter, we can still indulge our wanderlust with park webcams courtesy of the Yosemite Conservancy.

Photo courtesy, Yosemite Conservancy.

Buy the book! Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.

National parks fee-free for 16 days in 2016

traveltoparks ourbestplaces

All national parks will waive their entrance fees on 16 special days in 2016.

The 16 entrance fee-free days for 2016 are:

  • January 18 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • April 16 through 24 – National Park Week
  • August 25 through 28 – National Park Service Birthday (and following weekend)
  • September 24 – National Public Lands Day
  • November 11 – Veterans Day

“Fee-free days provide an extra incentive to visit a national park, especially during next year’s centennial celebration,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “We added extra fee-free days so that everyone has a chance to join the party. With locations in every state, finding a national park is easy. The hard part might be deciding which ones to visit.”


Support the National Park Foundation.

Photo of Rocky Mountain National Park ©Heather Hansen.

This couple rocks

traveltoparks ourbestplaces

Elizabeth and Cole Donelson from Kansas City, Missouri are in the midst of an epic challenge: to visit all 59 national parks by the NPS centennial on August 25, 2016.

There are a lot of stories like this one cropping up around the NPS’ 100th birthday but what’s different about this dynamic duo is that they are in their mid-twenties, far younger than the average 50-something national park-goer. They call themselves the “Switchback Kids” and they are chronicling their adventures on-line (don’t miss their engaging People of the Parks character sketches).

The Donelsons’ first travel leg included three phenomenal and diverse parks in my home state, Colorado—the Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde and Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Most recently they spent some time down-south in the Everglades and Biscayne, and in the Dry Tortugas, 70 miles off the coast of Florida. They are now at Virgin Islands National Park and will, no doubt, have trouble tearing themselves away.

Though I am sure Elizabeth and Cole will reach their goal next year, even if they don’t, they’re inspiring so many people–young and old–to buck convention and to get off the beaten path where being has a lightness everyone should know.


Photo of Great Sands Dunes National Park © Heather Hansen.