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Adventure Travel

Campfires and Tents - Best Camping Spots

Ok, it's January 1st and I'm already dreaming about escaping the city for long hikes and campfire-cooked grub when the temperatures get warmer and the days get longer...

Plan a camping trip with friends and family.

Planning ahead for camping during the summer months is essential, especially if you're thinking about visiting a national park or popular campground. Here are a few websites that can help you find and reserve campgrounds:

For inspiration, here are 10 amazing campgrounds for groups of friends and family:

Wherever you're planning to camp and enjoy the wonders of nature in 2024, here's to a year of adventure and exploration!

January 1, 2024

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Adventure Travel, Risks and All

Life is not without risks. But for those who hike the extra mile, grip that extra chunk of cliff while rock-climbing, or sail, paddle, or kayak the less traveled waterways of the world, your life of adventure likely teeters on the edge of danger from time to time.

Adventure travel for groups.

Richard Bangs, adventure travel veteran, award-winning author and filmmaker, and founding partner ground travel company Mountain Travel-Sobek, writes about the inherent risks in any adventure. He contemplates how far you should go to risk your life in seeking lifetime thrills, and when to consider promptly removing your adrenaline-powered foot from the pedal.

Bangs' latest book, "The Art of Living Dangerously" captures the essence of what it means to embrace life's risks and adventures. A seasoned adventurer, Bangs weaves a compelling narrative that blends personal anecdotes with insightful reflections on the nature of risk-taking and the pursuit of the extraordinary. He transports readers to some of the world's most remote and challenging landscapes, while delving into why we seek adventure. The book is not just a catalogue of daring exploits; it's a thoughtful exploration of how stepping out of our comfort zones can lead to personal growth and a deeper understanding of the world.

These days, I'm a fairly tame person with spontaneous adventures when life gets too dull or predictable. Adventure travel for me includes river rafting, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, sailing with wind (as opposed to floating on calm waters, which is also enjoyable with a tall, cool beer in hand).

For adrenaline junkies out there, I say good luck. For occasional adventurers like myself, I also say good luck. The only certainty on any adventure vacation is your decision to go for it. The rest is up to the whims of fate (or the skill of an experienced tour guide, if you're on a guided expedition). How far are you willing to go for an adventure?

December 1, 2023

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Hooked on Mountain Biking

No, not via foot clips. I'm not ready to be clipped to my pedals. I recently went mountain biking with friends and saw other groups on the trail doing the same. In talking to one of my trail pals about biking tours, biking trips, and the mountain biking world, I realized there's a whole new world of exploring out there for me. I've biked before, but not like this. And, while I'm discovering the joys of mountain biking long after the rest of you, it's never too late to tackle a new adventure, right?

In the ever-evolving landscape of adventure travel, mountain biking has ascended to be a mainstream pursuit, offering an invigorating blend of physical challenge, nature immersion, and communal spirit. For groups of friends and family, the allure of mountain biking lies not just in the thrill of the ride, but in the shared experience of exploring diverse terrains and creating lasting memories.

Top mountain biking destinations and tour operators.

Top Mountain Biking Destinations & Tour Operators

Recognizing the growing demand for guided mountain biking adventures, tour operators across the U.S. offer high-quality, safe, and memorable experiences tailored for groups of all sizes and skill levels. With their guidance, travelers can delve into the heart of America's most stunning landscapes on two wheels. Here are some of the most popular mountain biking destinations and select tour operators in each of these markets:

1. Moab, Utah: Moab is the jewel in the crown of American mountain biking destinations. Its iconic Slickrock Trail, a rollercoaster of petrified sand dunes, offers a unique biking experience that's both challenging and exhilarating. Beyond Slickrock, Moab's vast network of trails weaves through a Martian landscape of red rock formations and deep canyons. For groups, Moab offers a range of trails suitable for various skill levels, ensuring that everyone from beginners to experts can enjoy the adventure together.

    • Rim Tours: With over 30 years of experience, Rim Tours offers expertly guided mountain biking tours across the Southwest. Their tours are known for their attention to detail, safety, and route selection, making them an excellent choice for groups and families. Rim Tours' guides are not only experts in biking but also in the geology and history of the regions they explore, adding an educational element to their trips.

    • Western Spirit Cycling: Based in Moab, Western Spirit Cycling specializes in multi-day mountain biking tours. Their itineraries cover some of the most scenic trails in Moab and beyond, including the majestic landscapes of Utah and Colorado. Known for their guides and well-planned routes, they cater to both novice riders and experienced mountain bikers, ensuring a rewarding experience for everyone.

2. Crested Butte, Colorado: Often hailed as the birthplace of mountain biking, Crested Butte's charm lies in its extensive trail network set against a backdrop of stunning Rocky Mountain scenery. Trails like the 401 offer breathtaking views of wildflower meadows and aspen groves. The town's welcoming vibe and diverse trail options make it an ideal destination for groups and families looking to combine biking with a taste of Colorado's mountain culture.

    • Chasing Epic Mountain Bike Adventures: Operating in several top biking destinations, including Crested Butte, Chasing Epic offers all-inclusive, multi-day mountain biking trips. Their packages include guides, high-end bikes, and personalized itineraries, making them a popular choice for groups seeking an upscale biking adventure. They excel in creating trips that balance challenging rides with the enjoyment of local culture and cuisine.

3. Bend, Oregon: Bend stands out for its unique high desert geography, offering over 300 miles of trails. The Phil’s Trail Complex is a favorite, with routes winding through dense forests and open meadows. After a day on the trails, groups can enjoy Bend's renowned craft beer scene, with many breweries offering a relaxing backdrop for recounting the day's adventures.

    • Cog Wild Bicycle Tours: Cog Wild offers a wide range of tours suitable for all skill levels, from leisurely half-day rides to challenging multi-day adventures. Cog Wild is acclaimed for their local knowledge, which ensures that each group experiences the best trails and sights that Bend's unique landscape has to offer. Their tours often include delicious meals and the option to sample local craft beers, making them a hit with groups seeking a holistic Bend experience.

    • Pine Mountain Sports: Pine Mountain Sports offers guided mountain biking tours that cater specifically to the needs and skills of the group. They are known for their personalized approach, ensuring that each experience is tailored to the preferences and abilities of the riders. Whether it's a family outing or a group of seasoned bikers, Pine Mountain Sports provides a safe and enjoyable adventure on Bend's extensive trail network.

4. Brevard, North Carolina: Nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Brevard offers a different take on mountain biking. Here, riders can explore the Pisgah National Forest with its lush forests and cascading waterfalls. The area’s trails range from smooth, flowing singletracks to challenging technical descents, making it a versatile destination for groups of varying abilities.

    • Sacred Rides: As one of the pioneers in mountain bike tourism, Sacred Rides offers guided trips in Brevard and other notable biking destinations. Their tours are renowned for combining thrilling rides with cultural immersion, providing an all-encompassing experience. They cater to a range of skill levels and place a strong emphasis on sustainable travel practices.

    • The Bike Farm: The Bike Farm offers guided rides in the Pisgah National Forest and DuPont State Forest. They are unique in their approach, providing custom experiences that match the skill and interest levels of the group. Additionally, The Bike Farm offers skills clinics and camps, perfect for groups looking to improve their mountain biking abilities while exploring the trails.

5. Park City, Utah: As the first IMBA Gold Level Ride Center, Park City boasts over 400 miles of trails. The Mid Mountain Trail epitomizes the area's appeal, offering a mix of easy riding and more challenging sections. The town itself provides a picturesque base for groups, with its historic Main Street, diverse dining options, and range of accommodations.

    • White Pine Touring: White Pine Touring offers a range of tours that showcase the beauty and diversity of Park City's trail system, which is renowned for its variety and accessibility. Their expert guides are not only adept at navigating the trails but also in providing insights into the local ecology and history, making each trip educational as well as exhilarating.

    • Park City Bike Demos: While known for bike rentals, Park City Bike Demos also offers guided tours. Their unique approach allows groups to test out different types of bikes while exploring Park City's trails, making it an ideal choice for those looking to combine a biking adventure with the opportunity to experience the latest in biking equipment. Their knowledgeable staff ensures a safe and enjoyable experience for all participants.

Not quite ready to book a trip to one of these amazing destinations? Love the idea of bringing bikes along on your next camping trip or planning a mountain bike adventure with friends? The MTB Project, Trailforks and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's TrailLink are great resources for finding mountain bike trails close to home.

Weaving through trees on a trail of bare roots and rocks left my wrists a wee bit jarred. But the thrill of zipping around corners, splattering mud, and enjoying this with good friends was exhilarating. I'm hooked.

July 10, 2023

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Visit to the High Arctic

By guest blogger Roger Herst

You don't travel to the Canada's high Arctic without a good reason. Aboard the Akademik Iofe, a converted Cold War Soviet spy ship, my enthusiastic shipmates and I headed north from Resolute Bay into the Baffin Bay between Ellesmere Island and Greenland. Aboard are professional photographers, geologists, meteorologists, zoologists, professors, writers and just plain lovers of the polar regions. The majority had been to the Antarctic, a large land mass at the South Pole surrounded by water. The opposite north pole is quite different. Here at the top of the planet is ocean covered with sea-ice but surrounded by land.

Travel to the arctic.

I joined this band of brothers in order to tweak my latest novel, No Land too Desolate, a geo-political thriller set in this semi-frozen region, populated by Inuit in scattered in distant villages. These hardy people once derisively referred to as Eskimos still maintain their traditional hunting-fishing cultures, surviving in bitter sub-zero cold without sunlight for four full months of the year. The best and only time for those of us from warmer climates to visit is during the summer when the days are long and the sun never dips below the horizon. Don't dream about the legendary northern skies. There's no darkness to view these heavenly bodies.

In the course of our short trip, it's hard to observe the effects of global warming, though experts who keep annual statistics are unanimous in their evaluation. Each winter the sea ice is thinner and each summer a great deal less survives exposure to sunlight when cold once again heralds the coming of winter.

We travel to shore twice a day to explore the tundra aboard Zodiacs. Near glaciers one can witness calving as tons of ageless compacted snow and ice tumble into the sea. This material is 100 million years old. As this ancient ice floats beside my Zodiac I snatch a hunk to nibble in my mouth, without doubt the purest water I have ever tasted. Small air bubbles trapped in this ice have survived from earliest geological time. In my mouth I sample oxygen and nitrogen older than the air breathed by Abraham 1600 BCE or by an ancient Pharoah, 2500 BCE!

My fellow explorers and I feel privileged to be here, realizing how we live only on the skin of this vast planet. Mother Earth doesn't belong to us. We are only visitors who like the native polar bear and walrus come and go, leaving this eternal legacy to future generations.

Roger Herst is the author of several novels, short stories and scholarly articles. He is an ordained Rabbi with a doctorate in Middle Eastern History, holding undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of California Berkeley, the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins and the Hebrew Union College. He is an avid tennis player and musician. There’s nothing outdoors he doesn’t love.

August 19, 2009. Photo by Roger Herst.

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Top 10 American Outdoor Towns

Groups these days are goin' green like other types of travelers. Sustainability means many things to many people: carbon off-setting, carpooling to save on fuel, choosing environmentally-friendly hotels, packing out what you pack in while hiking or camping.

MSN published a list of top 10 green American towns with an outdoor way of life. How is this sustainable? Green surrounds these places, living local is a way of life and developing an appreciation for nature is as easy as stepping outside and breathing the clean, fresh air.

Looking for an alternative to noisy cities and tourist-packed destinations? Gather a group together for a family or friendship reunion at any of these off-beat U.S. towns:

  1. Lake Placid, New York
  2. Hood River, Oregon
  3. McCall, Idaho
  4. Salida, Colorado
  5. Boone, North Carolina
  6. Livingston, Montana
  7. Ely, Minnesota
  8. Davis, West Virginia
  9. Bethel, Maine
  10. Haines, Alaska

The top 10 list from MSN is courtesy of co-authors Sarah Tuff and Greg Melville based on research from their book "101 Best Outdoor Towns: Unspoiled Places to Visit, Live & Play."

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Outdoor Survival Courses

Imagine you're on a day hike and dusk sets in a little too early. You're low on water. No food left. And no map. As dark settles on the ground, your feet quicken pace to match your racing heart. Will you make it back in time? Are you on the right trail? Can you even see the trail? Or what if an small avalanche rolls across your path in the snow on a winter hike or snowshoe adventure? How would you survive if a day hike goes wrong?

A New York Times article covered courses designed to train people how to survive with just the clothes on their backs and a sharp knife. How Survivor or Lost TV episodal! Seriously, if you're ever in the deep woods, it might not be a bad idea to know what to do. The New York Times article details a group survival trip taken by the author. Gathering nuts and wild onions for a soup over a fire made from twigs and no matches, these troopers brave the cold and learn a greater appreciation for Mother Nature and human's inventions to stay warm and fed.

This type of adventure might be a creative bonding experience for groups of friends. Not that there aren't a significant amount of women who'd do this, but I can particularly imagine this as a guys experience: "putting hair on chest" and proving to themselves they can hunt, gather, make fire, and survive under adverse conditions. A worthy right of passage. If someone can survive in the wild on minimal accoutraments, they've earned my respect.

These courses offer survival training from one-day sessions to nine-week courses:

  1. Arizona: Ancient Pathways
  2. New Hampshire: Jack Mountain Bushcraft and Guide Service

Know of other courses or guides who offer survival training?

Source: New York Times

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Snowshoeing: An Eco-Friendly Winter Activity

As winter blusters its way in, snow fans who want to get their fill of the powder, but away from the crowds and off the beaten path, can reap magnificent rewards with snowshoeing. It's a great group sport for the following reasons:

  1. Like skiing, you can snowshoe at your own pace. Like hiking, this often leads to good conversation with various members of the group, depending on your speed, etc. Unlike skiing, you rarely lose your group to lift lines and runs and can mostly stick together yet with the freedom hiking allows to stop and snack, look at vistas, etc.
  2. Safety in numbers: Should avalanche danger exist, or one person gets injured, there are multiple people to take action and mitigate problems or help in any other way.
  3. Orientation: If solo trekking while snowing, your tracks can easily get erased with new snow, causing some disorientation of where the trail is or which way is north; therefore, it's always good to count on at least one other to share responsibilities for staying on track.
  4. Photo ops: You won't just get scenic shots. You can get proof you were there by having a friend take your photo next to Mt. Spectacular.
  5. Green travel in action: Snowshoeing is one of the best ways to experience winter without noise pollution (as in snowmobiling), expensive gear (as in skiing + lift tickets), and low impact on the environment (it's essentially you, the elements, and your snowshoes).

Want to learn more? REI has a great beginner's guide to snowshoeing that covers everything from how to choose snowshoes to how to dress for snowshoeing, and some basic techniques.

And if you're looking for inspiration, AllTrails makes it easy to explore the best snowshoeing trails in U.S. and to find great trail options near you.

Finally, thanks for all of the great comments!

Kristen C. wrote, "I once had a friend try to convince me to snowshoe and originally I had no interest. But later, I discovered that snowshoeing is nothing more than hiking with stunning views and more access. Now it's one of my favorite pastimes."

Jackson B. shared, "I justy tried snowshoeing recently and it was a really great experience! A few people have told me how great it was, so I decided to try it for myself. I'm not a big skier, so I was looking for a new winter sport. Now I'm convinced that snowshoeing is a great option!"

Marlene N. "Thank you for the motivation, spring is almost here but there is still lots of snow in Montana - I am going to dig out my snowshoes once again."

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Outward Bound for Groups

Outward Bound has an excellent reputation for putting individuals and groups into wilderness adventures that challenging them while helping them grow and bond. If you are part of a club or team and looking for a way to share an unusual outdoors experience and come back united, this is a great option. I've never done it myself, but have heard nothing but praise from those who have.

These are the types of groups they cater to:

Across the U.S., Outward Bound expedition leaders take groups backpacking, kayaking, sailing, dogsledding, and camping.

If you have experience with Outward Bound, please share your thoughts or tips. We'd love to hear!

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Sharks Bites: What Every Swimmer Should Know

Unpleasant yet intriguing as the subject of sharks and the sea may be, I found some good data on Divester for vacationers who surf, swim, scuba dive, snorkel, and enjoy all sorts of water sports. Summer may be over, but many friends and families will soon take trips to beach destinations such as Hawaii, Caribbean, Mexico, or Australia where the sand is as warm as the day.

Sharks are out there. It's true. They are one of the great predators of the sea. But whales still rank higher on the marine food chain, and I've heard they can take a Great White shark down (someone correct me if I'm wrong). Nonetheless, one of the things that stirs shark fears is all the media hype coupled with ignorance about the true nature of shark attacks. How common are they? Divester examined a 200-page report called Finding a Balance. If knowledge is power, here are some statistics to help quell your fears (and mine).

And since the International Shark Attack File reported that there have have been 870 reported, documented shark bites worldwide since 1990, chances are extremely slim you'll have an issue.

Once on a snorkeling tour with my sister, she saw a 4-foot long reef shark swim about 20 feet below her, but the shark had no interest in the snorkel group. Of course, if you're intrigued by sharks enough to swim near them, there are plenty of "swim with sharks" tours out there. Go, adrenaline junkies, go. Me? I'll linger ashore sipping drinks with tiny umbrellas, taking quick dips to cool off.

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Scuba dreamin' on such a winter's day

Since I'm terrified of being masked and submerged for extended periods, my water activity typically consists of snorkeling in shallow bays near shore but I hope to one day get up the courage to take my first dive. The underwater world promises an experience unlike any other full of adventure and serenity.

Tips and resources for your first SCUBA trip.

Whether you're planning your first or fiftieth dive, here are some of the world’s most famous and beginner-friendly scuba diving destinations to inspire your next trip:

    1. The Great Barrier Reef, Australia: The Great Barrier Reef is an iconic diving destination, perfect for beginners. With its warm, clear waters and abundant marine life, it’s a diver's paradise. The reef is home to a kaleidoscope of coral and fish species, providing an ideal and gentle introduction to the underwater world.

    2. Roatán, Honduras: This Caribbean gem offers crystal-clear waters and a mesmerizing array of sea life. The shallow dive sites and minimal currents make Roatán an excellent choice for novices. With its affordable dive packages, it's also a great option for those looking to dive on a budget.

    3. Koh Tao, Thailand: Known as the ‘turtle island’, Koh Tao is famous for its easy dive sites and vibrant marine biodiversity. The island’s calm and shallow bays are perfect for beginners, and there’s a high chance of encountering sea turtles, making for an unforgettable first dive.

    4. Bonaire, Caribbean Netherlands: Bonaire is renowned for its accessible shore dives and exceptionally clear waters, ideal for beginners. The island's protected marine park ensures healthy coral reefs and a rich assortment of marine life, providing an excellent environment for new divers to explore.

    5. Maui, Hawaii: The island of Maui is a dream for novice divers, with its diverse marine life and stunning underwater topography. Molokini Crater, in particular, offers sheltered and calm waters, teeming with colorful fish, making it a safe and enchanting spot for your first dive.

Booking Your Dive Trip:

Several websites offer dive travel packages tailored to beginners including:

Preparing for Your First Dive:

Before embarking on your underwater journey, it’s smart to be well-prepared. Here are some things to consider before your first dive, ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience:

    1. Choose a Reputable Dive School: Your safety and learning experience depend largely on your instructor's expertise. Opt for a certified and experienced dive school or instructor, preferably affiliated with recognized organizations like PADI or NAUI.

    2. Health and Fitness: Scuba diving can be a physically demanding activity. Ensure you are in good health, and if you have any medical conditions, consult a doctor beforehand. Fitness is essential, but you don’t need to be an athlete to dive.

    3. Understanding the Basics: Familiarize yourself with basic diving principles and techniques through introductory courses. Understanding how to use the equipment, managing buoyancy, and learning about pressure changes are crucial.

    4. Breathing Techniques: Learning proper breathing techniques is vital. Unlike on land, divers should breathe slowly and deeply to conserve air and control buoyancy.

    5. Equalizing Pressure: As you descend, pressure increases. It’s important to learn how to equalize pressure in your ears and mask to avoid discomfort.

    6. Communication Underwater: Underwater, you can't speak, so divers use hand signals. Learn the basic signals for communication with your instructor and dive buddy.

    7. Respect for Marine Life and Environment: Underwater ecosystems are delicate. Learn about and practice responsible diving etiquette, like not touching or disturbing marine life and being mindful of your fins to avoid damaging coral.

    8. Dealing with Anxiety: It’s natural to feel anxious before your first dive. Breathing exercises and open communication with your instructor can help alleviate anxiety. Remember, it’s okay to go at your own pace.

    9. Equipment Familiarization Before diving, get familiar with the scuba gear. This includes the mask, snorkel, fins, regulator, buoyancy control device (BCD), and wetsuit. Knowing how to use these properly enhances safety and confidence.

    10. Practice Makes Perfect: Most beginner courses include practice sessions in a pool or shallow water. Take advantage of these to get comfortable with the gear and the feeling of being underwater.

Finally, a good friend added that you shouldn't dive the day before flying home from your vacation. The general rule recommended by most diving organizations, including PADI and DAN (Divers Alert Network), is to wait a minimum of 18 to 24 hours after your last dive before flying. This guideline applies regardless of the depth or duration of your dive. For those engaging in multiple dives or deep dives, a longer interval may be advisable. This precaution helps reduce the risk of decompression sickness, which can be exacerbated by the lower air pressure in airplane cabins. By adhering to this guideline, you can enjoy your diving experience and subsequent flight with peace of mind and safety.

Article updated December 2023.

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Ecotour Adventures

Ecotourism is a growing trend in travel. As our world shrinks, thanks to globalization and population expansion, sustainable travel naturally tags along as people want to help preserve communities, native habitat, and the little creatures that inhabit the planet.

Step out of the ordinary and raft down a river, tour a village, meet the locals, and touch nature without leaving too much of a mark. Here are a few eco-friendly tours and organizations to get your green trip with friends or family started.

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A Cheeky Guide to America's Nude Beaches

Going along with my previous post on the rising nude travel trend, the next logical question is "where are the nude beaches?" since it seems like a natural combination - beach and bare buns. (Unless, of course, the subject makes you uncomfortable as hell and you'd rather go to your happy place and pretend you aren't intrigued. Understandable.)

So, how does one find these elusive edens of au naturel relaxation? A quick internet search can be enlightening (just maybe not at work). There are websites and online communities dedicated to the naturist lifestyle, with maps and guides to help you find your little slice of bare beach heaven.

We've compiled a list of the best U.S. beaches for naturists. Have a look. Then walk, don't run, to plan a trip if you dare to go bare.

Each of these beaches offers a unique experience, from the bustling crowds of Haulover to the tranquil shores of Red Rock. They are united by a common thread: the joy of enjoying nature as nature intended.

Remember to check local rules and regulations, as each beach has its own guidelines for nude sunbathing. And, as always, respect for others and the environment is paramount.

From the sunny coasts of Florida to the rugged shores of Oregon, the U.S. is dotted with havens for those who prefer their beach days au naturel. So grab your sunscreen (lots of it), and embark on a liberating journey. Happy sunbathing! 🌞🌴

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Nude Travelers Everywhere

OK, not literally. Gawkers, stay calm. But nude travel has tripled in the last decade with nude cruises, nude resorts, and an increasing number of clothing-optional travelers flocking to areas where they can bare all. Here's what the American Association for Nude Recreation has to say:

As any kid who breaks loose from you at bath time to go romping through the house can tell you, it's just fun to enjoy your birthday suit once in a while.

When you're nude you're the way you were meant to be: completely natural. Many who enjoy clothes-free recreation and living refer to themselves as naturists and with good reason. Being naked, especially in the great outdoors within appropriate settings, draws one inherently closer to nature.

Yahoo reports on the growing trend, and how Florida's Pasco County (south of Tampa) is turning into a "nudist Mecca" in the United States.

Three of Pasco County's six nudist resorts are taking off the gloves and everything else as they attempt to attract more of the worldwide clothing-optional market, which has tripled in size since 1992.

The American Association of Nude Recreation estimates nudists pump about $400 million into the global tourism economy, up from $120 million in 1992. The association says its ranks have grown 75 percent to 50,000 members in that time.

Nudists can choose from 270 clubs, resorts and campgrounds in the United States.

Why the growing trend in nude travel? Your guess is as good as mine. I've heard about European topless or nude beaches and wonder if the increase in American nude travel is a result of relaxed moral standards from our puritan past or just groovy attitudes toward being more au naturale. I'm curious if the baby boomer hippies from the 60s, now retiring after being in the work force, are fueling this trend. You know, the generation that invented "free love" and peaked at Woodstock? But with rising trends in natural recreational activities such as spa travel and ecotourism as well, I tend to think that for many, it is not a fascination with being surrounded by naked bods, but a draw of being natural and real. Spa industry has boomed over the last decade as well, and spa appeal has long been self-pampering, often in the nude (while scantily clothed in sheets) for ultimate relaxation. Any other ideas on why the trend is growing? (Keep your comments clean or they'll get deleted.)

I highly doubt you'd find me at the flashy new Florida nudist resort and spa called Caliente. I'm more likely to hit a rustic hot springs in a galaxy far, far away from civilization and other people. Hat's off (er, clothes off) to an industry for innovation, though.

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Virtual Adventure Travel

A college pal of mine is off on a 3-month African safari and emails a group of us every couple of weeks with stories from the field. While I'm living vicariously through his travels, he's out in the wild with his girlfriend on group tours, then traveling independently as a couple, then meeting up with friends. Basically, he rocks.

Here's what my friend recently did in Namibia, Africa while I scrolled on my phone:

  1. "Fish River Canyon - the oldest, and second largest, canyon in the world"
  2. "...hiking up a huge red dune at sunrise surrounded by miles of the same as far as the eye could see..."
  3. "...visiting a cheetah farm and petting tame cheetahs..."
  4. "...visiting a village of the Himba tribe - one of the few tribes left in Africa living completely in their traditional ways..."
  5. "...visiting Etosha National Park (some animals seen: 2 elephants; 6 lions; 4 or 5 warthogs; tons of giraffes; tons of zebra; tons of wildebeest; tons of antelope; all kinds of birds including a bunch of ostrich, vultures, a stork, a goshawk, some kory bustards - the largest flying bird in Africa, and lots more)."

He surfs, too. But I admire his ability to plan, save money, and pick up and travel adventurously. Don't we all have at least one friend we live vicariously through? The guy or gal who one-ups us on adventure. We plan a multi-day hike while they zip through tree canopies and scuba dive with sharks. The travel bug is everywhere.

If you don't have a friend like this, here are a few websites that may speak to your adventurous spirit:

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Adventurous Women Tours

Are you a woman of adventure? Love traveling to remote areas, stepping off the beaten path, but prefer the comfort of a group for safety and comaraderie?

Adventure travel has grown immensely popular, and a significant segment of this market is now focused on and led by women. Demand for tours that cater to women's interests and provide a supportive environment for female travelers has led to an amazing and growing number of options for adventurous women. Women-owned tour operators travel to destinations around the world (from Costa Rica to Tuscany and Sedona to Patagonia) where women can relax while experiencing new cultures and invigorating activities. These trips offer a unique blend of physical challenges, cultural immersion, and the camaraderie that comes from traveling with like-minded women.

Women focused and led adventure travel options abound.

Select Tour Operators Specializing in Women's Adventure Travel

These companies feature female guides and create itineraries focused on experiences that appeal to women of all ages and backgrounds:

Many of the larger, leading adventure travel companies also now offer trips tailored for groups of women. For example, REI Adventures offers several trips for women, guided by women. Energizing, inspiring and empowering—there’s nothing like an adventure with an all-woman crew.

Popular Destinations for Women's Adventure Travel

Women's adventure travel is not limited to any particular part of the world, but some destinations have become favorites due to their unique offerings, safety, and accessibility.

Looking for more travel ideas and inspiration? Go Girl Guides offers a broad set of articles about dozens of destinations in the U.S. and around the world.

All women's adventure travel tours provide more than just physical challenges and scenic vistas. They offer a space for personal growth, empowerment, and the breaking of stereotypes. The sense of community and support that comes from these all-female groups creates a unique and nurturing environment, encouraging more women to step out of their comfort zones and explore the world on their terms.

Article updated December 2023.

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Endangered National Park Rangers?

The federal government recently directed all national parks to cut twenty percent from their budgets to focus on "core operations." Aren't they already underfinanced? Trimming 20% from existing tight budgets would mean potentially closing visitors' centers, cutting back on trail maintenance, habitat and species protection services, slowing maintenance of natural and historical monuments and sites, reducing staff, or other (non-core?) services. The current administration contends that volunteers and increased efficiency will pick up the slack where park rangers, staffers, or services have been in the past.

Hmm. I understand the basics of the 80/20 rule: focus on that which drive(s) 80% of the revenue (usually 20% of your time or products). However, at a time when many political issues divide Americans, wouldn't it make sense to leave our national treasures alone, especially since summer vacation is just on the horizon?

Summer is prime vacation season for thousands of school kids, families, college students, teachers, and others. Groups travel together to visit U.S. national parks because of their accessibility, natural and historical rare beauty, sunny, warm weather June through August, and outdoor activities from camping and hiking to swimming and boating and more.

Many journalists, environmental organizations, newspapers, and bloggers are writing about the national park budget woes. It's a hot topic because parks are so fundamental to the American landscape, history, and culture.

The National Parks Traveler points out a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial calling for an "end to ritual neglect" of national parks. Here's a quote:

"National Park Superintendents are running out of tricks, and visitors will eventually notice. Beyond basic services, long-term needs are ignored. Some parks cannot catalog or restore precious artifacts. Most cannot preserve habitat. Invasive species are taking over. The Park Service is putting on an inexplicable happy face."

The most endangered species in many of America's national parks today is the park ranger.

Should we place national park rangers on the endangered species list? The largest amount of protective measures possible come to a species' rescue when placed on the endangered species list. Preservation efforts immediately get underway for the species and surrounding habitat. Protective laws are comprehensive and powerful. So powerful, in fact, that they can return a species back to thriving health. If we want to maintain national parks complete with garbage service, restrooms, drinking water, maintained trails, flora, and fauna, and interpretive tours, perhaps we should get rangers listed.

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Why Are National Parks Ideal for Group Travel?

I worked at a national park one summer during college. It was the only travel-related "offline" job I've ever held, but it gave me insights into who visits national parks and why these American treasures remain so popular.

National parks are a magnet for group trips, be it for friends seeking adventure or families longing for a bonding experience. These vast expanses of wilderness offer an escape from the hustle of daily life and a plethora of activities suited for all ages and interests. From leisurely nature walks to exhilarating hikes, wildlife viewing, and historical tours, our national parks offer a blend of adventure, serenity and educational opportunities.

At many parks there is a range of lodging choices, from comfortable in-park hotels and historic lodges to rustic cabins and cozy bed-and-breakfasts nearby. For those seeking a more immersive outdoor experience, camping is a popular choice. Most parks provide well-equipped campgrounds, some of which can (must) be reserved in advance, while others are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Whether you prefer the comfort of a lodge or the adventure of sleeping under the stars, national parks cater to a variety of preferences and budgets, ensuring a memorable stay in the heart of nature.

The most popular times to visit national parks are typically during the summer months and holiday weekends, coinciding with school vacations and favorable weather. However, this popularity often leads to crowded trails, congested roads, and fully booked accommodations. To avoid these crowds, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons – late spring and early fall – when the weather is still pleasant, and the parks are less crowded. Another strategy is to start the day early or explore less popular trails and areas of the park.

Visiting national parks is also generally an affordable vacation option. The cost of entry varies from park to park, with many offering family passes and annual passes that provide significant savings. Seniors can avail of the Lifetime Senior Pass, which offers access to all national parks at a nominal fee.

Additionally, the National Park Service offers several free entrance days throughout the year, making it even more accessible for families, students, and others on a budget. Keep in mind, though, that this waiver doesn't cover other fees like camping or special tours.

Whether it’s marveling at the geysers of Yellowstone, exploring the depths of the Grand Canyon, or trekking through the lush forests of the Great Smoky Mountains, national parks are a testament to the splendor of the natural world and a reminder of its importance in our lives. And, by planning around peak seasons, considering various cost-saving measures, and embracing the diverse range of activities available, these parks can offer unforgettable experiences that are both enriching and budget-friendly.

When growing up, I can remember driving through a national park with my family and (at a very young age) asking my parents, "Why are there so many trees? Where are all the buildings?" Silly me. As an adult, I find myself increasingly posing the opposite question, "Why are so many trees being replaced with buildings?" At least national parks are protected and still offer respite from the urban jungles and sprawling suburbs that many of us live in.

Article updated December 2023.

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Exploring National Parks

Summer's approaching and thousands of families will go on road trips or fly to visit national parks. Groups of friends will do adventure weekends filled with hiking and backcountry camping to rejuvenate and breathe in raw earthly beauty.

Here's a sampling of national parks to whet your appetite for summer exploring:

Acadia National Park, Maine
A rugged, rocky island replete with wildlife and stunning views all around and plenty to keep the kids (or the kid in you) busy.

Arches National Park, Utah
Here, over two thousand sandstone rock formations stand proudly, boasting the world record for greatest density of natural land arches... great for planning a group hiking vacation.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Badlands is really a misnomer for "bad-ass lands." With 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires set against a backdrop of the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the U.S., this is prime terrain for family or friend road trips (or motorcycling).

Biscayne National Park, Florida
The family or group of college pals can explore this Florida Keys underwater gem of ship wrecks (some listed as National Historic Sites) and wiggly, colorful marine life.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
This park has wide open desert-esque spaces with stunning geological formations; ideal for hiking, backpacking, and contemplating life. Perfect for an adventure group trip.

Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Featuring North America's highest mountain, 20,320-foot tall Mount McKinley (reason enough to go), this park is chock-full of glaciers, wildlife, and mountaineers.

Everglades National Park, Florida
Alligators and crocodiles and flamingoes - all reasons for families to travel to Florida, take a side trip at a family reunion or others to visit the area. While much of this park suffered damage during hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, repair efforts are underway and most of the park is open.

Glacier National Park, Montana
Big sky yields big smiles with mountain peaks and ranges, glistening rivers and lakes and miles of forests. Glacier preserves over 1,000,000 acres of forests, alpine meadows, and lakes - clearly great for group hikes.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
On the Big Island of Hawaii, this park offers numerous hiking trails and campsites in its wilderness and a rare chance to get up close to some of the world's most mysterious and active volcanoes. Great day trip for destination wedding guests or spring or summer breaks.

Clearly, this is the front end of the national park ABCs, but the remaining parks are equally as enticing. Explore for yourself and find the national park that best matches your group's need or desire for activities, adventure, sights, places to stay, and budget considerations.

p.s., An alert reader pointed out the search by activity feature of the National Park Service site. This is a great way to quickly find national parks that suit your get-away plans for things like camping, boating and wildlife watching.

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