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.
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.
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:
- Lake Placid, New York
- Hood River, Oregon
- McCall, Idaho
- Salida, Colorado
- Boone, North Carolina
- Livingston, Montana
- Ely, Minnesota
- Davis, West Virginia
- Bethel, Maine
- 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."
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:
- Arizona: Ancient Pathways
- New Hampshire: Jack Mountain Bushcraft and Guide Service
Know of other courses or guides who offer survival training?
Source: New York Times
Puget Sound Journey's Nov/Dec issue has a great article on how snowshoeing is "an escape from both urban and ski-resort crowds." 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:
- 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 lifts and runs and mostly stick together yet with the freedom hiking allows to stop and snack, look at vistas, etc.
- 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.
- 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.
- Unique way to "walk" in nature and share an outdoors experience.
- 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 and email it to your mom.
- 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).
Any other reasons snowshoeing is either neat-o in general or eco-friendly? Any other tips for people organizing group snowshoeing trips?
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:
- Students, teachers, and school administrators
- College alumni
- Clubs and associations
- Religious organizations
- Sports teams
- Family reunions
- Birthday celebrations
- Friends and colleagues
- And other groups
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!
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).
- The number of shark-related fatalities has dropped from 13% in the 1990s to 8%, attributed largely to advances in safety practices, medical treatment, and greater public awareness.
- In 2005, surfers and boardriders composed 54% of victims worldwide; swimmers 37%; and divers 5%.
- There appear to be "no causative factors" for bites.
- The average depth in which bites occur is 20 feet and average distance offshore was 330 feet.
- Florida, South Africa, and Australia have the highest number of shark bite incidents.
- Although some degree of conditioning can occur between sharks and cage diving boats, this happens when operators do not comply with regulations and allow sharks to feed on the bait. However, this conditioning occurs between the shark and cage diving boats and cannot be linked to any conditioning with bathers as potential prey items.
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.
While summer ended with the quiet dawn of fall, winter vacations in sunny destinations are coming soon, including trips to Maui, Cancun, the Bahamas, and anywhere else you can still get a tan and splash around.
Scuba diving is one of those activities you can still do in the winter - in sunny destinations. I've heard Grand Cayman is a diver's mecca, and the Great Barrier Reef and Red Sea also rank high. Since I'm terrified of being masked and submerged for extended periods of time, my water activity consists of snorkeling in shallow bays near shore.
However, divers take note: Scubaratings.com is a site that allows you to find dive packages and rate dive trips to various destinations. It looks like a divers' community site, complete with a new "Dive Grid" where you enter in trip criteria (number of divers, travelers, dates, number of rooms needed, etc.) and see results of vacations that are specific to divers.
In doing a basic search for 6 nights, scuba diving 5 days, and traveling solo, I got results ranging from $463 to $8,011 across 11 countries (from Trinidad to Tanzania). Quite the range of budget to luxury packages. Dig around and see if the dive grid or site works for you. Summer may be over, but sun worshippers and adventurers who gear their travel around warm-weather activities can start planning now for winter getaways.
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.
- Conservation International and ResponsibleTravel.com jointly launched an initiative to get travelers off the beaten path in a sustainable way by promoting community-based tourism. Here are two wonderful examples of how this program is helping travelers see the real Ethiopia or tour Thailand via locally arranged tours. They offer tours in many other countries as well.
- Maui's Pacific Whale Foundation, an organization solely dedicated to marine ecotourism and habitat preservation, has naturalists aboard every snorkeling cruise, whale-watching tour, and other water activity. Great for families who seek to add a little education to their adventure and enlighten the kiddies.
- Costa Rica is a pioneer in ecotourism and one of the best places to see nature's bountiful biodiversity. Ergo, there are several ecotour operators of choice. A few that look appealing are Adventure Life, "affordable, personalized tours" from Key to Costa Rica, and customized adventure tours from Southern Explorations.
- Sierra Club has outings across the U.S. and Canada. Outdoor adventures such as kayaking, canoeing, hiking, rafting, sailing, biking, and specific family adventures are all done in an eco-friendly manner.
- Volunteer through Earthwatch Institute to help scientists in the field across the world do research that helps preserve habitat, animal species, and local cultures. This organization is a leader in sustainability, but there are plenty of volunteer vacation opportunities where you can make a positive impact while traveling.
You can plan a group ecotour or sustainable travel vacation with friends, family, or members of an association or organization you belong to using TripHub's travel planning tools.
Know of any other great ecotours or organizations that facilitate sustainable travel?
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.)
The Travel Channel has compiled a list of what they call the best beaches for naturalists. Have a look. Then walk, don't run, to plan a trip with friends (even family), if you dare to go bare.
- Centre Helio Montalivet in Bordeaux, France
Best for purists
- Couples Resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Best for couples or groups of couples new to going nude
- Wreck Beach in Vancouver, British Columbia
Best for young adults
- Samurai Beach in Port Stephens, Australia
Best for anyone
- Hedonism II in Negril, Jamaica along the famous 7-mile beach
Best for hedonists and swinging singles (pun very much intended)
- Pinho Beach (Praia do Pinho) in Santa Catarina, Brazil
Best for anyone
- Red Beach in Crete, Greece
Best for rustic naturists
- Haulover Beach near Miami, Florida
Best for organized group activites such as nude volleyball, nude swimming
- Red, White, and Blue Beach in Santa Cruz, California
Best for groovy, bohemian nudists
- Little Beach in Maui, Hawaii
Best for body surfing in the buff
Any other note-worthy nude beaches? How do y'all feel about nude beach-going?
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.
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.
Richard Bangs, adventure travel veteran, award-winning author and filmmaker, and founding partner in small-ground travel company Mountain Travel-Sobek (operating since 1969), 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.
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?
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 hover over a keyboard 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 surfed the net:
- "Fish River Canyon - the oldest, and second largest, canyon in the world"
- "...hiking up a huge red dune at sunrise surrounded by miles of the same as far as the eye could see..."
- "...visiting a cheetah farm and petting tame cheetahs..."
- "...visiting a village of the Himba tribe - one of the few tribes left in Africa living completely in their traditional ways..."
- "...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, you can easily find a blog that speaks to your adventurous spirit.
However the adventure traveler in you likes to play, TripHub's planning tools can be helpful in organizing a group trip geared around kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, camping, mountain biking, scuba diving, or trekking in places where English is a foreign language.
I ran across Sunset magazine's top camping spots in the western U.S. and couldn't help but drool over the cover photo and idea of escaping the city for s'mores, campfire-cooked grub, and snuggling up in a sleeping bag. Ah, summer. Close enough to smell in the air and start making plans for camping trips.
Sunset's favorites read like the greatest hits of America's western frontier, so I couldn't help but point them out as ideas for group camping trips. Highlights:
Washington: Olympic National Park1,442 square miles offer a constellation of landscapes no other national park can match
California: Yosemite National ParkGet up close and personal with Yosemite's grandeur at one of 13 park campgrounds
Wyoming: Yellowstone National ParkDiscover a world's worth of attractions: geysers, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and some of the best wildlife-watching anywhere
Arizona: Grand Canyon National ParkAbsorb the park's immense beauty by spending a night there, beneath the stars
The West's other National Parks
Find great intimacy with the outdoors at Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain, and Zion
Where's your favorite place to camp with friends and family? This is a hit list of the best in the west. But what about the east coast or midwest? I've camped in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and along the beaches of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Any tips for great campgrounds for outdoor escapes?
No, not via foot clips. I'm not ready to be clipped to my pedals. Apparently, shocks, wrist pads, sleek biker wear and other cool upgrades flew past me while my mountain bike collected dust.
I mountain biked on off-pavement trails with friends and saw other groups on the trail doing the same. It's been years since I've been on a bike or off-road trekked. In talking to one of my trail pals about biking tours, biking trips, and the mountain biking world (he's much more advanced than I am), I realized this is a whole new world of exploring for me. I've biked before, but not like this.
Of course, like usual, I'm late. I got into Pearl Jam after the grunge era had died, so it's no surprise that I'm "discovering" the joys of off-road mountain biking long after most others have. It's never too late to tackle a new adventure, right?
Weaving through trees on a trail of soil, bare roots, and other forms of earth, my rigid bike frame left my wrists a wee bit jarred this weekend. But the thrill of zipping around corners, splattering mud, and enjoying this with good friends was exhilarating. I'm hooked.
Here are ideas for mountain biking travel with groups:
Mix camping and mountain biking. Mountain biking is a great way to justify sitting by the fire or campsite the remainder of the vacation. Plus, camping already brings you to the great outdoors; might as well pedal through more of it.
Family reunions are great for visiting with family, eating way too much potato salad, and sometimes can be daunting. Perhaps organize a group of adventure-minded family members together to rent bikes for a few hours.
Plan a mountain biking excursion with friends. Gas prices keep rising. You can road trip to an area then keep exploring (without the petroleum price tag) by bike.
Book an escorted bike tour through Tuscany, the French countryside, or anywhere else with gentle slopes, lush scenery, and flavorful food when stopping for breaks.
Join a mountain biking club such as Washington-based Backcountry Bicycle Trail Club to meet others that share your passion for pedal power, puddle jumping, hill climbing (ahem, or pushing your bike up steeper hills, like I do), and go on group biking adventures this summer.
Sound like fun but a hassle to plan and organize? TripHub can help simplify the trip planning process by giving you tools to organize RSVPs, money matters, and ability to discuss hotel room options, for example.
I'd love to hear of any other mountain biking clubs or quality tours (or any other ways to incorporate mountain biking into a vacation). What did I miss?
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?
Women-owned tour operators such as Adventurous Wench might just be for you. This company offers escorted, small group tours tailored to women's adventure cravings. The company seems to have a solid mission of putting private tours together around the world (from Costa Rica to Tuscany and Sedona to Patagonia) where women can relax while experiencing new cultures and invigorating activities. Adventurous Wench, saucy name and all, arranges everything from lodging and meals to activities; plus, they customize trips for groups of 5 or more.
If you're looking for an escorted group tour or planning a group vacation and incorporating tours into the mix, you can use TripHub's planning tools to coordinate the trip, gather RSVPs, organize money matters, even book other components of the trip that escorted tour operators may not arrange such as airfare, airport transportation, extended stays, etc.
The federal government recently directed all national parks to cut 20% 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 (such as Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility), 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."
Question: 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.
Comments? Agree (partially)? Disagree (partially)? I'm curious how others feel about this topic.
I worked at a national park one summer during college. It was the only travel-related "offline" job I've ever held, but gave me insights into the types of people visiting national parks and why these American treasures are still ranked high for so many summer vacations.
National parks are ideal for group travel.
- Open space and natural resource bounty create a wide range of activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, rock climbing, river rafting, swimming (often all in the same park).
- Families flock to parks and the parks welcome them with family-friendly passes that offer discounts.
- Inexpensive or free entry fees are helpful for budgeting the family, girls mountain retreat, guys rugged adventure, or other group trip.
- National parks offer a way for people to connect with nature and loved (or liked) ones all at once. Getting away from the noise of everyday or city living to the quiet beauty of a natural park is a real way to reconnect with others.
- Plus, there are a range of accommodation options nearby or within the national parks: hotels, lodges, bed and breakfasts, resorts, campgrounds, and RV lots.
Whether it's a family reunion, wedding, classmate or friend reunion that brings you together, national parks are some of the most popular places to share vacation experiences.
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 (for now) and still offer respite from the urban jungles and sprawling suburbs that many of us live in.
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.
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