Monthly Archives: January 2016

7 tips for celebrating an epic year in parks – Tip #3

traveltoparks ourbestplaces

With snow blanketing much of the nation, it’s tough to think ahead to the days of tank tops and flip flops. But this is a big year for parks, so think ahead we must.

Tip #3. Plan ahead. I don’t mean make sure you bring a tent if you’re planning to camp. I mean if you want to pitch that tent in, say, Rocky Mountain National Park next summer you should book a campsite now at The same goes for those famous national park lodges, many of which are already turning away guests for the busy summer months.

As much as it pays to plan, being flexible about some things will help you roll with whatever you encounter when you land in a park.

Be prepared to modify your day plans depending on the number of people around; such as, plan to park your car and take a shuttle around Yosemite, Zion, Rocky, Sequoia and other popular parks. At times taking a shuttle is required but, even if it’s not, letting someone else do the driving is a low-stress way to get oriented. Last summer I was annoyed initially that I wouldn’t be able to come and go as I pleased from Sequoia’s Giant Grove. Then I got on the bus and realized I could see much more when I wasn’t behind the wheel.

Oh, and don’t forget to pack your patience along with your sense of adventure!



Photo courtesy of the NPS.

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

7 tips for celebrating an epic year in parks – Tip #2

traveltoparks ourbestplaces

Celebrations are already in full swing for the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. If you’re planning a park visit this year–and I strongly encourage it!–I’ve pulled together some pointers for how to get the most out of your adventure(s). The next installment:

Tip #2. Go off-peak. 

If you simply must see Yosemite this year (who could blame you?), aim for a month less-traveled. A large majority of visitors to Yosemite–and Yellowstone and Arches for that matter–go in June, July and August. There are lots of reasons that makes sense; the kids are on break, the weather is nice, all the concessions are open.

But traveling in the off-season, or even the shoulder season, has big rewards. The primary one, of course, is not being elbow-to-elbow with other park-goers. Last year in Yosemite, for example, the spring and fall brought fewer crowds (281,328 visitors in April and 357,223 in October versus more than 600,000 in both July and August).

Another perk is that parks have spectacular features to offer in “off” seasons–with decent winter snowfall in the high country, Yosemite Valley in springtime is a riot of waterfalls whereas, after a dry summer, they can peter out by August. In September in Yellowstone, visitors experience elk in their “rut,” or mating season, and wildlife in general become more visible as the drive to fatten up for the winter draws them out of seclusion.

A related tip:

Stay local. If summer is your prime vacation window, why not consider hitting the parks in your area? Lots of people are surprised to learn they have a national park unit in their backyards. Such as:

BOSTON. Within a couple of hours of Boston there are nearly two dozen national park units, including several of my favorites: the Frederick Law Olmsted Historic Site, a hidden jewel that gives national park lovers an extraordinary context for conservation in the U.S. Not to miss also is the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, of which luminary scientist E.O. Wilson says, “There are wildernesses at your feet.”

NEW YORK. Sure you’ve heard about the Statue of Liberty but what about the Hamilton Grange National Memorial in Harlem, dedicated to the controversial forefather who ascended from being an orphan to being Washington’s trusted advisor? New York has dozens of such fascinating parks celebrating the state’s phenomenal social, political, cultural and natural history. Ask me a thousand times which parks are my favorites and I’ll always include the African Burial Ground National Monument in Manhattan. It is simply one of the most goose bump-raising places on the planet.

WASHINGTON, D.C. Lincoln Memorial, check. Jefferson Memorial, check. But consider also the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. It has the most original artifacts on-site of any national park unit. The presence of that brilliant human rights leader still lingers here. If I lived near there I swear I’d be a ‘regular’.



Photo of the African Burial Ground courtesy of the NPS.

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

7 tips for celebrating an epic year in parks – Tip #1

traveltoparks ourbestplaces

While its birthday is not technically until August, the National Park Service (NPS) is predicting this will be another recording-breaking year for people in parks. There was a 4.2 percent bump from 2014 to 2015, from 292.8 million to 305.2 million visitors and, like a geyser at Yellowstone, this year is expected to blow last year’s record sky-high.

With all those folks vying for a vantage point in front of Old Faithful, it can be challenging to feel like your having a special, once-in-a-lifetime experience. With over 150 national park units under my belt, I’ve jotted down some ways to get the most out of your park adventure:

TIP #1. Choose a lesser-known – but no less spectacular – park. 

Year after year, the A-list parks garner most of the public’s attention–Yellowstone, Yosemite, Arches and Zion among them. But there are over 400 national parks units, including many stunning understudies.

Explore Canyonlands NP with fewer than half the annual visitors at nearby Arches NP. Its red rock mazes and spires, and canyon-carving rivers and balanced rocks, will not disappoint. Capitol Reef NP, also in Utah, is another seldom-visited geological wonder.

Consider Shenandoah NP, with 1.3 million visitors compared to its neighbor, Great Smoky Mountains NP which annually greets more than 10 million people. While still within striking distance of most mid-Atlantic cities, the park’s 500 miles of trails on nearly 200,000 acres are a welcome slice of seclusion.

Longing to see and explore peaks, glaciers, waterfalls and alpine lakes? Think about North Cascades NP (fewer than 21,000 visitors in 2015 and more than 300 glaciers) as an alternative to the better-known Rocky Mountain, Glacier or Grand Teton national parks which, all totaled, had 9.6 million visitors last year.

Want to see some California parks that aren’t packed? Try Pinnacles NP, the volcanic, cave-studded landscape which is home to falcons, eagles and the phenomenal California condor. Another astounding CA park is Lassen Volcanic NP, which with its steaming fumaroles, snow-capped mountains and wildflower-carpeted meadows makes it a mini-Yellowstone and a mini-Rainier all rolled into one.

True, there’s only one Grand Canyon. But Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP is also truly spectacular, as is Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Similarly, there’s only one Denali NP but Wrangell-St. Elias NP (with 80,000 visitors to over 13 million acres, that’s 164 acres per person!) gives its northern neighbor a run for its money.

What it comes down to is, a little research and imagination may land you that once-in-a-lifetime journey you’ve been hoping for in this most-exciting NPS centennial year.



Photo of an oxbow on the Green River, Canyonlands courtesy of Neal Herbert, NPS.

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

Sledding in Paradise on Mount Rainier

traveltoparks ourbestplaces

For the first time since early 2014, the snowplay slope at Mount Rainier National Park is open! After a New Year’s snow dump, there are now over 120 inches of snow on the flanks of The Mountain (Washington’s highest) at Paradise.

Check @MountRainierNPS where the park tweets slope and road conditions and requirements.

If you can’t get there, live vicariously though the park’s webcams.

Photo of Paradise snowplay, courtesy NPS.

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