Tag Archives: vacations

Top 10 Parks for Summer Travel #8

18 Jun

8. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Pros: Breathtaking Views,  Abundant Wildlife, Centralized Location,  State of the Art Visitor Center, Easy Access, Family Friendly

Cons: Small in Size, Sometimes Overcrowded, Very little natural water

Dates of Visit: August ’06, August/September ’09,  May ’10

Bryce Canyon is probably the hottest park on this list right now as I continue to enjoy myself more and more every time I visit. In fact, this park has gone from a middle of the road contender to one of my favorites in the country. Although it is smallest in size on this list, it packs quite a punch. If you have never visited, the scenery here is second to none. Jaw dropping at first sight and continually beckoning the interpid sole.

Unbelievable scenery awaits you at Bryce Canyon

The base elevation of this park is over 8,000 ft. making it the coolest national park in Utah during the summer. There are two rather large campgrounds inside the park and several more just on its outskirts.

Furthermore, summer also means monsoon season and  Bryce Canyon is certainly known for its spectacular skies. Sunset and sunrise views here are both fantastic, arguably some of the best views in the world. I give a slight edge to sunrise for photography as most of the park’s vistas are facing East and the color is slightly better.

There are about 40 miles of hiking trails in the park, which is substantial considering its size. Hiking is relatively difficult here because of three reasons:  1) all the trails descend into the canyon 2) the air is thinner 3) there is no water in the canyon. There are backpacking opportunities as well and getting a backcountry permit is relatively easy because this park is more geared for tourists rather than hardcore hikers.

There are two items of interest that have specifically captured my attention that I want to talk about. First off, the trees in this park are absolutely beautiful. I could spend days here wandering around looking at the distinguishing character of the trees. The way they are set apart and scattered amongst the red rock makes it seem like a natural chess board. In my opinion, this is a very underrated aspect of the park.

The trees are fascinating at Bryce Canyon

The second suprising tidbit about this park is the abundance of wildlife. Now, I haven’t seen a lot of diversity, but cruise the main road in the park at sunset and you’re sure to see some deer and or antelope grazing in the meadows. There are quite a few birds in the parks as well…..

Because of its location, there are plenty of opportunities for other forms of recreation in and around the park. Whether it be ATV’s (certainly not my thing), fishing, swimming, rodeos, horseback riding, rock climbing, bicycling, etc., it is all here. For a first time visit, I’d suggest spending a solid week in the general area devoting about 1/3 of your time specifically to Bryce Canyon. At any point in time, two to three nights seems like the perfect stay there. It’s just simply not that big of a park to spend a week or longer there.

A visit to Bryce Canyon wouldn’t be complete without the mandatory stop at Ruby’s. The folks at Ruby’s basically discovered Bryce Canyon and put it on the map so they are the only game in town. Ruby’s is like the grand central station of Bryce Canyon. It has everything you need, want, or forgot from high-end souvenirs to groceries and sporting goods. Of course, don’t forget to try the buffet. I’ve personally sampled it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Your dining options are pretty limited in these parts and for that fact alone – I do endorse this buffet.

At $11.99, lunch is a dollar more than breakfast I believe and much better quality. It’s not the greatest selection in the world, but it is hearty, decent quality, standard american fare:  salad bar, soup, chicken, pork, corn, carrots, beans,and a pretty killer desert bar that features some scrumptious brownies and soft serve ice cream. (The desert bar is not available for breakfast) It also runs until 5pm before it switches to dinner and the prices goes way up. If you get there at 4:30 you’ll pay for lunch and get to eat dinner, which basically involves adding some fish and maybe beef. Between shopping and eating plan on spending at least a couple of hours there. It is actually a pretty cool place and most of the employees are helpful and friendly.

So there you have it, Bryce Canyon in a nutshell:  indescribable views, amazing colors, special wildlife, the best buffet around, and literally bus loads of Europeans everywhere. This park is awesome. Please don’t make the mistake of just driving through. Get our your vehicle and explore! That is a fantastic place and highly recommend a summertime visit.

Top 10 Parks to Visit During the Summer

11 May

Today, we are going to start with our first ever Top 10 List, the best parks to visit during summer travel. My goal is to make these posts as fun and informative as possible. Starting today, with number 10  – we’ll count down in our blog to the number one national park in the lower 48 to visit during summer travel.

 Please keep in mind, I define summer as the period of days starting on June 21st and ending on September 21st.  Before we start, one thing I’d like to make clear is that I have not visited all the national parks – so for the sake of this list I am only including the parks I have visited during the summer. Also, I am unable to access some of my computer files right now so I will update each park on this list with a picture sometime in the near future.  I hope that makes sense! Without further a due…

10. North Cascades National Park, Washington    http://www.nps.gov/noca/index.htm

pros:  small crowds/solitude, pleasant temperatures, world-class scenery & adventure

cons:  inconsistent weather, poorly maintained roads, unusually dangerous terrain, limited amenities and services

date(s) visited:  August 2007

I have only had the privilege to visit this park one time and it was at the end of August a few years ago. I was there to do a charity climb for the non-profit group Big City Mountaineers. I spent about 4 days there and the weather was extremely erratic. The first day and half it was beautiful – sunny skies, highs in the 80’s…let me give you a picture. Snow capped mountains, dramatic vistas, glacial fed lakes, incredible waterfalls, lush greenery, endless beauty. The night after our climb of Mount Shuksan, I was awakened to the sound of snow cascading off a 1000 foot cliff. It was amazing. 

Then it started to rain. And it rained, and rained, and rained. It actually never stopped. And it rained hard. It wasn’t a drizzle that you can go out and walk about in.  I actually had to leave early because I just couldn’t anything it was raining so hard.

Despite all the spectacular scenery, the one thing that left the most lasting impact during my visit was the lack of crowds. I visited the main visitor at 4pm on a Saturday and it was practically dead. I couldn’t believe it. What a surprise!

One other thing that really got my attention was the topography of the land. It is extremely rugged and dangerous. You really can’t hike off trail. It is just too overgrown with thicket hiding unexpected drop offs. The rocks around the water here are extremely slippery. Just writing this conjures up so many incredible memories of this place.  Because its been a few years and I have only visited it once, I think this park would move up the list before it moved off.  It is certainly that special.

Planning Ahead to Ensure the Best Time Possible

3 May

Today we are going to discuss another important nuance in planning your exciting vacation to America’s Greatest Idea, our national parks. Here’s the concept: make sure you plan appropriately for contact with the outside world because things work a little differently inside our  parks. Allow me to show you what I mean in mathematical terms: no televisions + no cell phone coverage + no Internet = no contact with the outside world.

Now, it isn’t that extreme in all the places, all the time. Of course, there are some areas where communications are similar to our everyday lives, but at some point in time, you will deal with this potential issue one way or another. So let’s examine how to prepare and addresss this situation.

Mentally, this is how I recommend you approach it: embellish, embrace, and love it! It is an absolutely wonderful thing. No longer will you worry about work, bank accounts, stocks, news, sports, family, business partners, etc. And the best part about it is there are no excuses, you can’t help it if you don’t get cell phone reception and you need to drive forty plus miles just to make a phone call.  It really is an essential part of getting away from it all and refocusing your priorities. All you need to do is just change your voicemail before you leave and you are good-to-go.

Hopefully I’ve sold you (if you weren’t already so) on this idea of the power of not having power, so to speak. However, there are times when these technologies are vitally important and it can take appropriate planning and knowledge to utilize this to your advantage while vacationing. Let’s go over a few scenarios where you may need access to technology at a specific point in time and how to plan for it in advance.

  • Reaching out to loved ones on an important birthday, event, or holiday. In all of these circumstances, it’s always best to plan ahead. Try to know exactly where you are staying and on what dates and attempt to verify ahead of time whether the place has cell phone coverage. Remember, even if there is no cell phone coverage  you may be able to find a pay phone to use. So bring some pre-paid calling cards with you. Otherwise, bring along lots of extra cash because you’ll need it for that expensive, long distance, pay phone call.

 

  • Attending church services. Most of the major national parks do have some  limited theological services in the summer time available to visitors. These are usually run by young adults and normally pertain to the Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and LDS denominations of faith. Again, planning is your best bet so make sure that you’ll be close to the area where the services are taking place. Remember, some of the parks are huge and you could have a considerable drive if you don’t know where you’ll be and where you need to go. So don’t cut corners or you could pay for it later, take the time to study maps and estimate mileage and drive times.

I am feeling a little under the weather today, so we’ll stop for now and I’ll finish up this thread later in the week as we continue examine more scenarios and talk about even more solutions. Until then, have an awesome week and God bless you.

The Dichotomy of a Park

26 Apr

First off,  sorry for the delay in between posts. I really apologize for the lag. I am going to more than make it up to you today with an information packed double post that you don’t want to skip. 

Moving forward, let’s continue with hot tips for summer travel in America’s National Parks. Last time out we talked about the importance of research and guidebooks. Let’s follow-up on that thread and focus on visiting parts of the park that receive less traffic. 

 Before we get into this,  I want to define the word “parts” for you – so you can fully understand what exactly I am talking about. Most of the larger national parks have different areas within the park that offer different visitor services. These services may or may not include things like: gas, convenience stores, lodging, restaurants, a ranger station, visitor center, campgrounds, gift shops, extra parking, trailheads, and even a museum or art gallery.  Some of these areas or “parts” are larger than small towns, while others just meet the bare bone, minimum requirements to be considered; that’s basically an official designation on a park map, usually because it is near a featured geologic or historical attraction. 

This is my focus for our conversation today: specifically seeking out and visiting some of these lesser known “parts” of America’s parks. This sounds like a great idea, right? It sure is because there are some real gems out there. However, before we get too far into this,  I want to touch upon roadblocks or causes for concern when trying to visit these areas. 

This is a going to be a complete and exhaustive list and for the sake of time, we’ll get started on this today and finish up sometime later this week the good Lord willing. This topic is addressed in a question and answer format to help you understand potential issues you may encounter and how to resolve them. These are factors you should always consider before making any travel plans… 

Problem:  How do I deal with weather, climate, and temperatures at certain times of the year? 

Answer:  When dealing with huge tracts of wilderness, you also will have extremes in temperature ranges. This is normally because of the difference in elevation. Make sure you know the elevation of the “part” you are visiting and the best time of the year to go there. You can find elevation levels on any park topographic map and probably somewhere on the Internet as well. 

 For example, one area of the park may be at 7,000 ft elevation, while another is at 3,000 ft. That difference in elevation represents anywhere 12 – 15 degrees in temperature. Again, a little research goes a long ways. If you get stuck – your best bet is to call the ranger station in that “part” and point-blank ask them when is the best time of the year to visit and find out your information that way. 

Problem:  What other seasonal considerations are there? 

Answer: Temperature is obviously the biggest, but there are several other major factors as well. Bugs are another huge consideration. Depending on the year, most of the high altitude parks have both mosquitos and biting flies and they can be just brutal. The months of June and July are when they are most active. This is a time when many high altitude areas are still drying out and it is especially bad near lakes and large swaths of melting snow. By the middle of August, the bugs are usually gone in most places, but make sure you call ahead because every year is different.  

Unfortunately, I don’t have any magic answers for you when it comes to solving this problem. Just the usual advice: wear long sleeves, gloves, a mosquito head net, DEET, and try to avoid areas where they are high in intensity and concentration.  Please make sure you are aware of the potential circumstances of your visit and prepare accordingly. Because these little pests can severely affect your overall enjoyment level of your trip. 

A graphic reminder not to overlook mosquitos when visiting the parks - that's part of my leg! Ouch!

 

Another more pleasant consideration are wildflowers. Again, this all goes back to elevation and also latitude to some degree. Wildflowers bloom across the board in the spring and summer throughout North America varying from April in Yosemite Valley up to the beginning of August in areas like Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. Also, some areas of the park you are visiting might have prolific wildflower blooms while another area doesn’t have any. I found some park’s actually have online forums dedicated to people’s recent hiking and trip experiences and you can get some great information on them for this type of research. It is probably even more reliable than calling the ranger station as sometimes the information you get from them can be dated a week or two weeks and is simply not accurate. 

A final consideration is water levels. This is where you really have to dig deep for research. Generally speaking, water levels decrease as the summer drags on high in the mountains. I am talking about streams, waterfalls, rivers, creeks, lakes…just about everything except the ocean. Sometimes this is a good thing and sometimes it is a bad thing – it just depends on where you are.   To be continued…

Tips for Peak Season Travel in Our National Parks

20 Apr

Today, we’ll continue exploring ways to avoid the crowds while visiting the parks during peak season. To reiterate, so far, we’ve discussed:

• Avoiding holiday weekends
• Arriving earlier in the week as opposed to staying later
• Making all your reservations at least 3 months in advance
• Visiting less popular parks
• Vacationing after Labor Day

Another sure way to avoid the crowds is to utilize the first three hours in the morning and the last two hours before sunset. Get up, get out, and get going early! Even the most popular trails aren’t busy at time of day. Want to experience the geyser basins at Yellowstone without the crowds? Then go at 7am. I can assure you that you won’t regret it. If you do see people at this time, they are probably landscape and nature photographers.

Let me give you a quick example, a few years back I was fortunate enough to visit Zion National Park on Easter weekend. What I saw there I just wasn’t prepared for. The crowds were so enormous, I couldn’t get a parking spot inside the park. The town of Springdale, which sits just outside park HQ, was basically one large traffic jam. The shuttle buses were overflowing with tourists. The rangers estimated the park saw a quarter of a million visitors over that Saturday and Sunday alone.

During that day, I tackled what is arguably the park’s most famous and daunting hike, Angel’s Landing. For those of you who haven’t made the trek, let me just say this hike isn’t for beginners and can be extremely dangerous, in a few spots there are thousand foot drops. Well, on that particular day, there were literally hundreds of people on that trail. I honestly don’t know the mountains could have accommodated many more.

Fast forward a year or two and I am blessed to visit during June, certainly one of the most busy months of the year. My friend and I did the hike closer to sunset that day, and to our amazement there was practically no one on it. My point is this: utilize your time wisely even if it means getting up extra early or staying out late.

sunset is the best time to visit Angel's Landing

Take a nap during the day if you must, eat at off-peak hours, take a scenic drive over lunch, and whatever you do make sure you utilize “golden hours” as we landscape photographers call them. Tomorrow, I’ll continue on this subject we another invaluable tip on how to maximize your stay while visiting the parks.

Seasons Part 2

17 Apr

3)  Make your reservations early. If you are staying in a hotel, campground, or even planning  a backpacking trip than this is sound advice. Your best bet is 3 to 4 months in advance for campgrounds and backpacking; for premium lodging within the park, I would recommend a year in advance.

4) Make the journey to some of the less visited parks instead. These parks offer just about the same quality in scenery as the heavy hitters, but are usually a little harder to get to. However, what you lose in driving times you more than can make up for it in solitude. These include: Great Basin National Park in Nevada, Lassen Volcanic National Park in California, and Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.

5) Take your vacation after Labor Day. While Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer for most people, it also means the kids are back in school and crowds at the parks start to die down. What’s even better is the weather during this time is often the best of the year. For instance, at Yellowstone National Park September is considered the “golden month” because the weather is so prime. Of course, it can turn on a dime, but many days high are still in the mid 70’s. Perfection! We’ll re-visit this topic during my next post either Monday or Tuesday – so come back now ya hear!

This is an example of Yellowstone in September. Gorgeous colors, perfect weather, and lots of solitude. You are looking at a small section of Shoshone Lake. This lake is the largest backcountry lake in the United States. Meaning there are no roads leading to it, so  no vehicles and no motorized boats either. Its over a 40 mile hike around the lake, which is over 200 feet deep in parts. Here Joyce is looking south across the lake towards the Bridger – Teton National Forest.

Seasons

15 Apr

 

When and where to go the parks?

Summertime is by far the most popular season for visiting the national parks. Quite simply, the high altitude parks in the Western United States as well as Alaska, are far too cold for the average person to explore during the winter.  Additionally, many of them have impassable roads during this time. That’s doesn’t mean they are not open though. You can snowmobile in Yellowstone or snowshoe and cross-country ski  in Yosemite.  If you have the means and the perseverance you can make an incredible vacation during the winter at our nation’s parks.

Excluding the Florida Everglades, winter is generally the least popular time for the visiting the parks. That brings me to the summer time. The crowds can get really crazy, especially on the holiday weekends of: Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and to a lesser extent, Labor Day.

Which parks get the most crowds during that time? For the most part, you name and it’s crowded.  All the high altitude Western heavyweights are going to be packed: Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, and Grand Teton just to name a few. 

Additionally, even though day time highs will soar to over 100 degrees, all the parks in Utah will have droves of people: from Zion in the west to Arches near Moab in the eastern part of the state. Speaking of, Bryce Canyon and Arches are the two smallest national parks in the state and can sometimes get the biggest crowds.  

So, if you are planning a summertime visit, what’s the best strategy?  Well, you’ve got a few options. I’ll try not to state too much of the obvious here:

Traveling Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Peak Season Visit to the Parks

1) Avoid holiday weekends all together. If you are going to do the touristy stuff: from hotels, to day hikes and campgrounds, there is going to be a confluence of people almost everywhere you turn. 

2) If the only time you can make it is on a holiday weekend get your reservations early and try to arrive either the Wednesday or Thursday before if possible. In these types of circumstances, it is always better to arrive early and depart early than come in late and stay later.  A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of nights (Wednesday and Thursday)  in Yosemite during the week leading up to Memorial Day. While the campgrounds were packed and there were some decent sized crowds on the most popular trails, it wasn’t too crowded considering the circumstances.

I am going to stop here today & we’ll re-visit this topic tomorrow with more information about how to avoid the crowds during peak tourist. Until next time, have a wonderful night!

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