Where to See the Most Beautiful Spring Blooms
With spring officially underway, landscapes across America have begun to burst into color with incredible blooms. Some of the most lovely scenery in the country becomes infinitely more magical as seasonal plants and flowers come to life. If you're looking to take advantage of this unique time of year, head to one of these locations below. With desert valleys, mountain meadows, prairie fields, and more, there's something for everyone, everywhere. Desert "Superblooms" in Death Valley - California Wildflower bloom in Death Valley National Park - courtesy of nps.gov Death Valley is famous for its spectacular, spring wildflower displays, but those are the exception, not the rule. Only under perfect conditions does the desert fill with a sea of gold, purple, pink or white flowers. These tend to average once a decade, with the most recent superbloom years being 2016, 2005, and 1998. Most of the showy desert wildflowers are annuals, also referred to as ephemerals because they are short-lived. Oddly enough, this limited lifespan ensures survival here. Rather than struggle to stay alive during the desert’s most extreme conditions, annual wildflowers lie dormant as seeds. When enough rain finally does fall, the seeds quickly sprout, grow, bloom and go back to seed again before the dryness and heat returns. By blooming enmasse during good years, wildflowers can attract large numbers of pollinators such as butterflies, moths, bees and hummingbirds that might not otherwise visit Death Valley. If you're not sure when to plan a trip, the National Park Service and several websites exist to track the Death Valley blooms each season. While there is not predicted to be a superbloom in Death Valley in 2023 due to a lack of fall and winter rains, visitors can still spot decent spring flora most years. Rarely is there a year totally absent of flora. However, elsewhere in California there may be superblooms to visit this year. California even has a tracking page for bloom predictions. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is expected to have small pockets of wildflower blooms throughout the park this year. Sand verbena, desert lily, dune evening primrose, and desert sunflowers are blooming with enthusiasm at Coyote Canyon/DiGiorgio Road, Henderson Canyon Road, and June Wash. Chino Hills State Park also has a great wildflower viewing experience along Bane Road and the Bane Ridge Trail with flora including canterbury and school bells, arroyo lupine, and California poppy. Ennis Bluebonnet Trails - Texas Ennis bluebonnets - courtesy of Ennis Bluebonnet Trails Festival Ennis, Texas was designated by the 1997 State Legislature as the home of the Official Texas Bluebonnet Trail and was designated the Official Bluebonnet City of Texas. From April 1-30, Ennis showcases over 40 miles of mapped driving Bluebonnet Trails sponsored by the Ennis Garden Club. These trails are the oldest such trails known in the state, and tens of thousands of visitors make the short trek to Ennis to view this wonderful wildflower show. The Ennis Garden Club will drive the trails to check the bloom status each week starting in April. The Club then reports to the Ennis Welcome Center about the latest status of the bluebonnets so that visitors can be well informed where the best flowers are on the trails at the time of their visit. Each year, the bluebonnets will appear on different trails as these are natural to the area. In Ennis, the bluebonnets typically peak around the 3rd week of April. This can vary year to year due to weather conditions and terrain, so please check their website or call before visiting. The Ennis Welcome Center will be open 7 days a week in April (closed Easter Sunday). Downtown Ennis also hosts an annual Bluebonnet Festival in the middle of April. The event features kids activities, live music, arts and crafts vendors, food, and, of course, wildflower walks. Biltmore Blooms - North Carolina A bird's eye view of the gardens and conservatory at the Biltmore - courtesy of biltmore.com Spring at the historic Biltmore estate in North Carolina is one of the property's most glorious seasons. Experience a spring break mountain escape with all the charm of a European retreat. Immerse yourself in thousands of colorful tulips as Biltmore Blooms transforms our gardens and grounds. The estate's horticultural experts continually work to preserve Frederick Law Olmsted’s original vision for the gardens and grounds, including the Rose Garden that features more than 250 varieties. As a century-old model for forest conservation (and, more recently, for sustainability, thanks to nine acres of solar panels), Biltmore continues to honor George Vanderbilt’s legacy of environmental protection. Skagit Valley Tulip Festival - Washington The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in Washington state was officially inaugurated in 1984 by the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce. Chamber directors Jerry Diggerness and Joan Houchen saw that people were coming by the thousands to view the tulips and, through a retreat, decided to add events and festivities to enhance the visitors’ trip to the Skagit Valley. In 1994 the Tulip Festival broke off from the Chamber of Commerce and became an entity of its own, eventually opening a separate office and store. The festival is one of the destination events for the Pacific Northwest, held through the entire month of April, celebrating millions of tulips bursting into bloom. As with all things governed by Mother Nature, the tulips bloom according to their own schedule sometime during the festival. The tulips allow us to share our corner of the world and showcase Skagit Valley agriculture. Crested Butte Wildflower Festival - Colorado Crested Butte, Colorado - courtesy of Crested Butte Wildflower Festival A little later in the year, during July, the "Wildflower Capital of Colorado" hosts a Wildflower Festival. The event is an annual 10-day festival offering over 200 workshops in wildflower expertise each July, be it painting, pollination, photography, culinary arts, or leading hikes into the wild beyond in the heart of Crested Butte. The festival is held by a local organization dedicated to preserving and celebrating the beauty of the montane and alpine wildflower environments in and around the Gunnison Valley. Holland's Tulip Time - Michigan Holland's only tulip farm is ablaze with acres of tulips from late April to mid-May. Veldheer farms began in 1950 when Vern Veldheer planted a couple hundred tulip bulbs as a hobby. Now, Veldheer's plants around 5 million tulip bulbs each year! In addition to tulips, there are several other imported flowers and perennials for you to enjoy and even purchase for your own garden. Several varieties of lilies bloom throughout the spring and summer, and you can enjoy the beautiful perennial gardens through mid-October. Veldheers is a must visit for garden and floral enthusiasts. Over 8 days in May, the town also hosts the Tulip Time festival. It features events and activities that take place in different locations, most within a 4-mile radius of Downtown Holland. Tulips can be seen for no charge in public parks and along downtown streets. However, for just a $15 ticket you can access an incredible, unique display of 65,000 tulips create by world renowned Dutch horticulturist, Ibo Gülsen. The outdoor exhibit allows visitors to be in the midst of the blooms at eye-level for an exciting display and photo-perfect experience. Wildflower Pilgrimage in the Smokies - Tennessee & North Carolina Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, Great Smoky Mountains National Park - courtesy of Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage After a quick drive through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you'll quickly see why it's dubbed "Wildflower National Park," in the spring and summer. For an expert-led tour, arrange your trek during the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage (SWFP) in April, which takes you the park's most beautiful displays with a naturalist. The SWFP is an annual nonprofit event features professionally-guided walks, exhibits, and other learning opportunities to explore the region's rich natural and cultural resources. Pilgrims from more than 40 states and several countries make the pilgrimage each year to learn more about fungi, ferns, wildflowers, trees and shrubs, medicinal plants, insects (terrestrial and aquatic), salamanders and snakes, birds, mammals (bats to bears), journaling, art and photography, and park history. Kauai's McBryde Garden - Hawaii Located on the South Shore of the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i, McBryde Garden is nestled in the picturesque and historic Lawa’i Valley. The garden is a veritable botanical ark of tropical flora and home to the largest ex situ collection of native Hawaiian flora in existence. Our extensive collections of palms, flowering trees, rubiaceae, heliconias, orchids, and many others have been wild-collected by botanists and biologists from throughout tropical regions around the world and transported to McBryde Garden to research, cultivate and thrive. Tours of McBryde Garden and the adjacent Allerton Garden are available by appointment only. Visitors are transported into the garden via a short, narrated shuttle ride along the stunning coastline of the South Shore. Be on the lookout for whales, dolphins and other marine life as you make your way into the garden over a historic railroad trestle road and into the magnificent valley. Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve - California Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve - courtesy of timeout.com Each spring, the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve comes alive with the seasonal surprises of the Mojave Desert Grassland habitat. The duration and intensity of colors and scents vary from year to year. The wildflower season generally lasts from as early as mid-February through May, with a variety of wildflowers creating a mosaic of color that changes daily.Eight miles of trails through the gentle rolling hills, including a paved section for wheelchair access, make the park a wonderful place to hike and explore any season. Get away from the city and relax in the quietude of the countryside, with the birds singing and hawks gliding silently overhead. Benches located along the trails make good places to sit quietly and watch for wildlife, such as meadow larks, lizards, and gopher snakes. If you're lucky, you may spot a coyote or bobcat. Numerous burrows around the trails may shelter mice, gophers, kangaroo rats, beetles, scorpions, or others. Delta Magnolias and Wetland Blooms - Mississippi Known for is dependability, resiliency and of course, beauty, Mississippi is aptly named the Magnolia State for sharing qualities with the flowering tree within its history and people, and these characteristics are especially present in the Delta region. Experiencing this beloved flower in the spring, whether it’s through Quapaw Canoe Company’s Mississippi River excursions or along the Blues Highway, is an ideal time to visit given its peak in bloom and Mississippi’s gorgeous climate during the spring months. As one of the most well-preserved wetlands in the United States, the coastal region of Mississippi is untouched oasis, offering a variety of aquatic plant life (and of course, beautiful Gulf views). The American Lotus, native to Mississippi and a symbol of enlightenment, blooms in the marshes along the coast, bringing new life each spring and a vibrant yellow-white color to the area. North Cascades National Park - Washington North Cascades wildflowers - courtesy of travel-experience-live.com Wildflowers can be found everywhere in the North Cascades in Washington state. They occur across the entire range of habitat types from wet hillside seeps and moist, shady forest floors to dry east-side slopes and exposed alpine ridges. The great differences in elevation, exposure, and precipitation that exist in the North Cascades promote a range of flowering times. Some plants are flowering by late February and early March in the low elevation forests, and as late as August and early September in the alpine zone. While most of the flowers are insect or wind pollinated, those blooming during the relatively warmer days of April and May, such as salmonberry, Indian plum, and red-flowering currant will be visited by hummingbirds returning to breed. The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch - California For over sixty years, Mother Nature has transformed the rolling hills of North San Diego County into one of the most spectacular and coordinated displays of natural color and beauty anywhere in the world. The 55-acres of Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers that make up The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch in Carlsbad, California, are in bloom for approximately six to eight weeks each year – from early March through early May – literally bringing the famous fields back to life. This annual burst of color, which has become part of the area’s local heritage, also is one of nature’s official ways of announcing the arrival of spring here in Southern California.
Inspiring Places to Celebrate Women's History Month
March is Women's History Month, and if you're looking for a great way to celebrate, plan a trip to one of these places full of incredible history and museums, monuments, and educational experiences. Across the country, these inspiring sites highlight women's involvement in abolitionism, the suffrage movement and fight for political equality, labor rights and strides made in the workforce, and other incredible accomplishments. Learn about Harriet Tubman in Maryland Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center - courtesy of nps.gov Harriet Tubman was perhaps the most famous American abolitionist, guiding nearly 70 slaves up the East Coast to freedom in the north through the Underground Railroad. One of two park locations dedicated to this amazing woman, Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Maryland is a tribute to her daring and important work to rescue enslaved African Americans. Escaped slave Harriet Tubman made 13 trips back to Maryland before the Civil War to help free over 70 slaves on the “Underground Railroad.” Follow her path on Maryland’s Eastern Shore for 125 miles and 36 sites, including station houses, secret meeting places, and spots where daring rescues and escapes occurred. The Byway also includes the visitor center at Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park in Church Creek, which houses exhibits about Tubman’s rescue missions and later activities as a spy during the Civil War. About an hour east of Washington, D.C., the Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center is dedicated to preserving her memory and continuing her work of fighting for the rights of women, minorities, and the disabled. Revisit the women's suffrage movement in New York The M'Clintock House in Seneca Falls, New York - courtesy of nps.gov On July 16, 1848, Mary Ann M'Clintock hosted a planning session for the First Women's Rights Convention. At this session she, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and perhaps several others drafted a document they called the Declaration of Sentiments. It was ratified on the second day of the First Woman's Rights Convention and signed by 100 men and women. Modeled on Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, this document proclaimed that "all men and women are created equal." The Women’s Rights National Historical Park tells the story of the first Women’s Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, New York in July 1848. It includes to homes of early women's rights activists, such as the Elizabeth Cady Stanton House, the M'Clintock House, and the Richard Hunt House, and includes an up-close look at artifacts and stories of the women’s suffrage movement. Conveniently located just a short drive from Seneca Falls is the town of Auburn, where tourists can learn more about Harriet Tubman’s work for both civil rights and women’s suffrage after the war at her former home, now a national historic site. After emancipating herself and members of her family, she moved them from Ontario, Canada to Fleming and here in Auburn, New York in 1859. Central New York was a center for progressive thought, abolition, and women’s suffrage where Tubman continued to fight for human rights and dignity until she died in 1913. About an hour away from Seneca Falls and Auburn is Rochester, New York. A National Historic Landmark, the Susan B. Anthony house at 17 Madison Street was the headquarters of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and Anthony was even arrested in the house’s front parlor for voting illegally in 1872. Anthony was also an abolitionist and an advocate for equal education and pay for women. In 1906, she died in the house, 14 years before the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote in 1920. See Amelia Earhart's Birthplace in Atchison, Kansas Amelia Earhart's childhood home and birthplace - courtesy of travelks.com Before Amelia Earhart took to the skies, she grounded herself in her family home in Atchison, Kansas. Called the Otis House, after her grandfather, Judge Alfred G. Otis, Amelia was born in the southwest bedroom and raised there until she was 12. Earhart would grow up to be the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Even though she lived in many different cities, she considered Atchison her hometown. The Amelia Earhart Birthplace, which is on the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places, stands to be one of the few remaining tangible associations with this aviation legend. Visitors who tour her home not only get a glimpse into life in the early 20th century, but they also learn about the Ninety-Nines, an organization of 99 female pilots who elected Amelia Earhart as their first president. In addition to touring Earhart’s birthplace and childhood home, don’t miss the opportunity to meet Muriel, the last surviving 1935 Lockheed Model 10 Electra airplane, located in the Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum. It’s identical to the one flown by Earhart on her fateful quest to fly around the world — a quest on which she lost her life. Visitors are invited to try their own navigation skills and pilot Amelia’s historic 1932 flight across the Atlantic Ocean via virtual reality. The experience mirrors obstacles Amelia overcame to become the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic. Visitors will be provided a virtual reality headset that will place them inside the cockpit of Amelia’s “Little Red Bus”, a Lockheed Vega 5B. Discover Rosie the Riveter's legacy in Richmond, California Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Park visitor education center - courtesy of nps.gov When World War II began, millions of American men left their jobs and joined the military. The shrinking workforce and growing war industry led to more diverse hiring practices and huge social changes. Initially white women were recruited, followed by minority men, and finally minority women. Doing their jobs well and supporting the war effort, women earned a new respect and "cracked open" the door to equal rights. This would have a profound impact on the Women's Movement and change American culture forever. During World War II, six million women entered the workforce. "Rosie the Riveter" and her "We Can Do It" motto came to symbolize all women Home Front workers and is remembered at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park. Visit historic sites and museums across Washington, DC The Hall of Portraits in the Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument - courtesy of nps.gov The nation's capital is home to several sites and places honoring the legacy of women in America. Be sure to stop at some (or all!) of these places below in you find yourself in town: Mary McLeod Bethune was a renowned educator, organizer, national political leader, president of the National Association of Colored Women and founder of the National Council of Negro Women. Bethune’s house became the first headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women where Bethune and the council spearheaded strategies and developed programs that would advance the interests of African American women and the black community in D.C. Today, this location is preserved as the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site.Constructed in 1800 on Capitol Hill, the Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument stands as a testament to the community of women who dedicated their lives to winning women’s rights. The National Woman’s Party used the building as their headquarters for nearly 90 years. Named after Alva Belmont (National Woman’s Party President from 1920-1933) and Alice Paul (one of the most prominent members of 20th-century women's rights movement), the monument tells the story of those who advocated for the Equal Rights Amendment and equality for women.As an extension of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial is a statue of three uniformed women tending to a wounded soldier. The memorial was erected in 1993 to honor the contribution of women in the Vietnam War, many of whom were nurses.Just a few blocks northeast of the White House, easily recognized by the large sculptures displayed on the median of New York Avenue, the National Museum of Women in the Arts is the only museum in the world that exclusively celebrates female artists. Visit to see the only Frida Kahlo paintings on display in Washington, D.C., along with a wide range of paintings, photographs, sculptures, and other works of art by female artists.The table where the Declaration of Sentiments was signed is now on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.A statue of Eleanor Roosevelt stands at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Avoid Crowds at These Outdoor Attractions in Colorado
Planning a trip out west for the summer? Colorado's Rocky Mountains and scenic natural areas are a popular choice for travelers. If you're looking to avoid big crowds, plan to make a trip to Grand Junction, Colorado—an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Recently named to The New York Times’ list of “52 Places To Go in 2023” and located just a few hours west of Denver, visitors find themselves surrounded by more than 1 million acres of public lands providing access to rivers, canyons, mesas and mountains. And, with so much space to roam, Grand Junction offers a welcome respite from summer crowds. From road cycling and mountain bike trails galore, to epic watersports and action-packed ATV experiences, this vibrant Colorado town packs a big punch and provides the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable adventure. Here a few hidden gems near the Colorado town. The Colorado National Monument The perfect place for canyoneering, rock climbing, and hiking is Colorado's "unofficial national park." The Colorado National Monument is a breathtaking must-see while visiting the area and a lesser-known gem in the park system. At 7,000 feet, the Monument offers incredible hiking trails and inspires photographers with panoramic views of towering red rock spires. Visitors can drive or bike across the National Monument’s Rim Rock Drive to enjoy 20,000 acres of vibrant red sandstone canyons and mesas rising above the Colorado River. Start the day with exciting terrain and breathtaking views of Colorado National Monument through a new guided climbing trip from Grand Junction Adventures. Climbers will have the option to experience the western desert sandstone rock slabs or red sandstone towers with the safety and navigational skills of a certified guide. Rattlesnake Canyon Rattlesnake Canyon - courtesy of visitgrandjunction.com Outside of Grand Junction, there is a collection of 35 natural arches tucked away in Rattlesnake Canyon. These soaring spans, protected in the 123,400-acre McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, form the second largest concentration of arches in the world. The Rattlesnake Canyon Arches are one of Colorado’s most spectacular wonders, but also one of its best-kept secrets. Adrenaline Driven Adventures is now offering Jeep and RZR Tours that take guests to the arches making them more accessible than ever before. Grand Junction Adventures is also offering new guided day trips to view the arches that include a 13-mile off road drive as well as a guided hike and lunch. The Colorado Riverfront Trail The Riverfront Trail - courtesy of visitgrandjunction.com Easily accessible from Downtown Grand Junction, the Colorado Riverfront Trail is a 30-mile flat, mostly paved trail that connects Palisade in the east to Fruita in the west with Grand Junction, which makes it incredibly easy to bike ride to all of the towns. There are over 200 species of birds that visit the Audubon Section of the Colorado Riverfront Trail including bald eagles, blue heron, osprey, several varieties of hawks and ducks. Order gourmet deli sandwiches and yummy snacks to-go from The Hog & The Hen, or Kulina Lani Organic Sourdough Bakery and enjoy a scenic picnic along the trail.The confluence of two of the largest rivers - the Colorado and the Gunnison - makes Grand Junction a paradise for those seeking water-based activities. With multiple parks along the rivers and adjacent lakes like the James M. Robb-Colorado River State Park and Highline Lake State Park, jet boating, wakeboarding, paddle boarding, windsurfing, and more are all available to visitors. Paddleboarding, kayaking, tubing and wading are available along the Colorado River at the newly opened Riverfront at Las Colonias Park. The 130 acre park is the latest development in the “string of pearls,” connecting points of the Colorado River with parks in the Grand Junction area along the Colorado Riverfront Trail.Getting out on the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers is easy with many put-in areas, as well as guides to take guests on rafting, canoeing or kayaking trips. Float along the Colorado River in Ruby-Horsethief Canyon or take on class III rapids in Westwater Canyon with the help of Rimrock Adventures. Grand Junction Adventures offers guided standup paddleboarding down the Gunnison River. Jet Boat Colorado offers tours on the Colorado River in custom New Zealand-style jet boats. Grand Junction's Mountain Bike Trails Mountain biking on the Lunch Loop Trail - courtesy of flickr.com Grand Junction is a mountain biker’s paradise. The Lunch Loops trails are a straight shot from downtown Grand Junction and the perfect spot to sneak in a lunchtime ride. Located on the side of the Grand Mesa, Powderhorn Mountain Resort is more than just a ski resort. In the summer months, Powderhorn opens its lifts to those looking for a downhill two-wheel thrill. The nearby Kokopelli’s Loop Trails Area is a playground for mountain bikers offering spectacular points to look down on the Colorado River set against red rock walls. For expert riders, there is the Palisade Plunge, one of the longest downhill-only mountain bike trails in the country. Boneshaker Adventures offers mountain bike camps. Their experienced and passionate coaches can help those new to the sport build a solid foundation, or help experienced riders step up their skills to the next level. Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Reserve Paint horse and foal - courtesy of visitgrandjunction.com The Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Reserve encompasses more than 30,000 acres of rugged canyons and plateaus, and is home to roughly 100 wild mustangs. It is one of only three ranges in the U.S. set aside specifically to protect wild and free roaming horses. Wild horses have lived for more than a century in the rugged maze of canyons, buttes, sage-dotted meadows and pinyon-juniper forests atop the Little Book Cliffs. Ask Marty Felix about any of the wild horses and she probably can tell you the horse's name, it's lineage and where on the range it can be found at various times of the year. Known as "The Wild Horse Lady" because of her long history working with the area's horses, Felix first set eyes on a band of wild horses in the Book Cliffs on March 18, 1973. "I was hooked just like that," she says. She's been at it since then. Felix visits the range at least once a week as a volunteer for the federal agencies that manage the land and monitor the herd. She and other members of Friends of the Mustangs photograph the horses, help count horses and foals and assist in fertility-control so the herd doesn't outgrow the available forage. Visitors are treated to marvelous silence, solitude, wide-open vistas and even a few geologic oddities. But of course the main attraction is the range's 124 horses, which Felix says tend to run in small bands of four or five. Summer days can be hot, and visitors to the remote area at any time of year should take plenty of water, food, clothing and supplies in case of unexpected storms or a vehicle breakdown. Felix discourages travel when rain is in the forecast. Late spring and early summer are the perfect times to visit the wild horses. During this time of year, many mares descend to lower elevations near the trailhead with their young foals to graze. The best viewing times are early morning and evening, according to Felix. "To see the horses, you have to look with your binoculars in the far, open fields," she says. "You might only get to see them from a distance. They're not going to be standing by the road."Felix suggests Indian Park as the best place for viewing horses. It's accessible from the Winter Flats and Dry Fork roads, which begin near De Beque about 30 miles east of Grand Junction on Interstate 70. Another good access point is Coal Canyon Road, which begins at the Cameo exit from I-70 about 15 miles east of Grand Junction. (Note that Coal Canyon Road is closed from Dec. 1 to May 30 to protect foaling areas.) All routes require high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Three National Parks That Are Both Beautiful and Budget-friendly
National parks are a great way to get away from the world and appreciate the beauty of nature, and with the US being home to over 60 national parks, you are really spoilt for choice when deciding which one to visit. Travel Lens decided to make that choice a little bit easier. They looked at entrance fees, the number of recreational visitors, the distance to the closest city, outdoor activities, and online reviews from sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. Using all of this data together, they found parks that are both beloved for their natural beauty and top-rated activities, as well as affordable thanks to lower fees and easy access to major towns. With spring and warmer, sunnier days ahead, you'll want to plan a trip to one of these great parks soon! 3) Olympic National Park Waterfall in Olympic National Park - courtesy of nps.gov / Pete Zaidel Third place in the rankings is Olympic National Park with a total park score of 7.75 out of 10. The Washington-based national park is just 1.8 miles away from Port Angeles, its closest city. Olympic National Park also has 45% of its reviews mentioning the word “beautiful”, making it a great place to enjoy some scenery. However, it does come at a cost, with a $15 entrance fee. The park protects over 75 miles of Pacific Coast, 800 lakes, and 4,000 miles of rivers and streams that support some of the most extensive runs of wild salmon, trout, and char remaining in the Pacific Northwest. Through the management of fish and aquatic environments, the park works to preserve and restore native fishes and their habitats and provide recreational fishing opportunities for the enjoyment of park visitors. Many wild animals dwell within Olympic National Park. Despite their abundance, viewing wildlife is often a matter of luck and diligence. Most wildlife activity occurs around dawn and dusk, when animals feed. Plan excursions during these parts of the day to increase your chances of seeing wildlife. Olympic's diverse environment and epic scenery is the ultimate destination for amateur and professional photographers alike. Whether you're inspired by rich green forests, reflective glacier carved lakes, snowcapped subalpine mountain vistas, or red-orange coastal sunsets, Olympic has it all. Painters from all over the world come to Olympic National Park to paint. Set up your easel, break out your paint burshes, and set up your palette. Whether on a mountain ridge, a deep rainforest, or a sunny beach, Olympic National Park is your canvas! 2) Cuyahoga Valley National Park Blue Hen Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park - courtesy of nps.gov Cuyahoga Valley National Park takes second place with a national park score of 8.16 out of 10. Despite being one of the smaller national parks on our list, with an area of just 131.8km2, there are still plenty of things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The Ohio-based national park also boasts a free entrance fee, meaning anyone can go and enjoy it, as well as a short distance to its closest city. Just three miles separate Cuyahoga Valley and Peninsula. A railroad runs through Cuyahoga Valley National Park, making it one of the most distinctive national parks. Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad tickets sell out quickly, especially in the fall when the park is ablaze with the hues of autumn. A Bike Aboard program allows you to pack up your bike, ride the train for a few stops, and ride your bike back to your starting point. The park has nearly 125 miles of hiking routes, one of which is Virginia Kendall Ledges. It's a 2.2-mile trek through a densely wooded area filled with enormous limestone boulders, mossy cliffs, and caverns. One of the best paths for photographing is this one since it changes appearance depending on the season. The route here descends into a bit of valley and then back up again, culminating with an overlook that is a favorite site for sunset viewing. The trail is unpaved and uneven, making it a somewhat challenging trek. 1) Great Smoky Mountains National Park Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountain National Park - courtesy of nps.gov Great Smoky Mountains National Park takes the top spot with a national park score of 8.45 out of 10. Great Smoky Mountains National park, which sits on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, ranked highly across all our sections, recording the most recreational visitors out of all of our national parks, with over 14 million visitors. The Great Smoky Mountains also had the second-highest percentage of reviews that mention the word “beautiful." Hikers enjoy the Smoky Mountains during all months of the year with every season offering is own special rewards. During winter, the absence of deciduous leaves opens new vistas along trails and reveals stone walls, chimneys, foundations, and other reminders of past residents. Spring provides a weekly parade of wildflowers and flowering trees. In summer, walkers can seek out cool retreats among the spruce-fir forests and balds or follow splashy mountain streams to roaring falls and cascades. Autumn hikers have crisp, dry air to sharpen their senses and a varied palette of fall colors to enjoy. Cades Cove is a broad, verdant valley surrounded by mountains and is one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smokies. It offers some of the best opportunities for wildlife viewing in the park. Large numbers of white-tailed deer are frequently seen, and sightings of black bear, coyote, ground hog, turkey, raccoon, skunk, and other animals are also possible. An 11-mile, one-way loop road circles the cove, offering motorists the opportunity to sightsee at a leisurely pace. Allow at least two to four hours to tour Cades Cove, longer if you walk some of the area's trails. Traffic is heavy during the tourist season in summer and fall and on weekends year-round. While driving the loop road, please be courteous to other visitors and use pullouts when stopping to enjoy the scenery or view wildlife. An inexpensive self-guiding tour booklet available at the entrance to the road provides a map and information about the cove. — Visit Travel Lens for the complete rankings.
Visiting a National Park This Year? Here are the Best Places to Stay
To call the United States’ array of National Parks incredible would be nothing short of an understatement. Amidst the vaster-than-we-can-grasp protected wilderness are soaring mountains, expansive plains, and ever-bubbling volcanic rage, all ripe for exploration. While we don’t want to draw much attention away from the real stars of the show, but if you’re not hauling a tent out there, you’re gonna need somewhere to lay your head at night and contemplate the wonders you’ve seen. To help you with adventure planning, The Daily Navigator curated some of the best accommodations in the most popular National Parks. Yosemite: Evergreen Lodge at Yosemite Evergreen Lodge - courtesy of thedailynavigator.com Price: $150-$350 (seasonal) The feel: Old-fashioned outdoor getaway The Rundown: Get the family in the car, throw the cell phones in the trunk, and check in at Evergreen Lodge. Will they begrudge you for taking them deep into the woods in Yosemite National Park? Yes. Will they fall in love with the surroundings, splash around in the seasonal pool, and pass out in their beds after a day’s hiking in the park? You betcha. It’s simple. It’s right where you want it. And it’s bliss. Yellowstone: Old Faithful Inn The Price: $159-$400 (seasonal) The Feel: Historic frontier brought to the 21st century The Rundown: Arguably the most famous hotel in the entire National Park system, the Old Faithful Inn is almost spectacular as its nearby namesake. The building itself is credited as the inspiration for parkitecture, the rustic style of hotels seen across the NPS. It’s the largest log structure in the world, and it owns the record in style. Inside, guests marvel at the grandeur of the beam work and giant stone fireplace while the outside deck looks over the eponymous geyser itself. Grab a glass of wine and enjoy the show. Glacier: Many Glacier Hotel Many Glacier Hotel - courtesy of thedailynavigator.com The Price: $230+ The feel: Simple, stunning, solitude The Rundown: Glacier National Park is as close as the States comes to the Swiss Alps. Monumental snowcapped peaks frame the landscape, and Many Glacier Hotel is privy to the most spectacular view of it. Sitting on the banks of Swiftcurrent Lake, nowhere in the park is better. Rooms are simple but comfortable, but with the scope for adventure at the hotel door, you won’t be spending much time there anyway. The lobby might draw you in for a few post-hike tipples – it’s pretty impressive in its own right. Grand Canyon: High Country Motor Lodge High Country Motor Lodge - courtesy of thedailynavigator.com The Price: $100-$250 The feel: Motel for millennials The Rundown: While motels have long been a symbol of the classic road trip, it’s time they received the update they’ve been screaming for. The High Country Motor Lodge took that concept and ran with it, creating an affordable roadside stay with a little more behind it. The property encourages its guests to get out into the wilderness surrounding the motel “in all directions” but adds the thoughtful perk of recovery-inducing saunas and plunge pools to help ease the pain of a long day on the trails. Once you’re dry, swing by the suave little bar for a cocktail, wake up and repeat. Zion: Zion Mountain Ranch Zion Mountain Ranch - courtesy of zmr.com The Price: $200+ The feel: Cozy cowboy with a taste for luxury The Rundown: Pack a cowboy hat. You’ll be gutted if you don’t. Zion Mountain Ranch is dazzling. The sun setting over the plains, buffalo grazing, ranchers at work on their horses – it’s a Western fairy tale. Don’t lower your expectations because you’re on a ranch, though. The designers here have created immaculate guestrooms. Yes, they’re rustic, but whatever cowboy lives in these rooms is probably wearing LV boots. Rocky Mountain: The Estes Park Resort The Estes Park Resort - courtesy of thedailynavigator.com The Price: $120-$350 The feel: Full-on nature immersion The Rundown: The Rocky Mountains are staggering. The country’s largest and highest mountain range needs to be seen to be believed, and never should a visit be limited to a single day. The Estes Park Resort puts you in the heart of the mountains. It’s also lakeside, so if you have anti-hikers in tow, there’s no guilt in leaving them to enjoy the sun in the summer. Naturally, you’ll need a vehicle, but you’re only 4 miles from the entrance to the park. The spa will be waiting for you on your return. Great Smoky Mountains: LeConte Lodge LeConte Lodge - courtesy of highonleconte.com The Price: $150+ The feel: No frills off the trodden path adventure The Rundown: One for the adventure. There’s no car access to LeConte. You’ll have to hike at least five miles from the nearest parking to get there. Once you arrive, your accommodation is limited to a quaint wooden cabin. There are no frills here. You’ll eat family-style with any other guests, and your days will be spent wandering the Smoky Mountains before you finally make the five-mile return leg. Outdoors at its best. Arches: Red Cliffs Lodge Red Cliffs Lodge - courtesy of thedailynavigator.com The Price: $150+ The feel: Dusty desert decadence The Rundown: Perched on the edge of the Colorado River with red mountains exploding upwards behind it, the Red Cliffs Lodge is a unique stay. Within its dominion are a Western Film Museum, a winery, and a horse corral. Make no mistake; this is the Wild West. It’s only fifteen minutes to Arches National Park and boasts a number of comfortable suites to cater to most budgets. Guests rave about the on-site restaurant, the Cowboy Grill, so don’t be a stranger downstairs.
10 Coolest Winter Places in America
Snowstorms used to mean long days spent making snow angels and having snowball fights followed by big mugs of hot cocoa topped with marshmallows. Alas, we're not kids anymore. But that doesn't mean we can't still get outside and play. There are lots of grownup winter activities, like, say, leading a pack of sled dogs across the Maine wilderness or snowshoeing over pathways carved back in the Ice Age (when it was considerably chillier). One thing that hasn't changed? That cup of hot cocoa still hits the spot.Get the best view of the Northern Lights in Fairbanks, Alaska The northern lights - Courtesy of chenahotsprings.com Thanks to its proximity to the North Pole, and the lack of urban light pollution, this isolated area is one of the best places to take in the Aurora Borealis. The green ribbons of light are caused by charged particles from the sun interacting with the earth's atmosphere, and the crystalline skies here, about 360 miles north of Anchorage, come alive (the local university offers forecasts for viewing). If you're looking for some guidance, book an Aurora Viewing Tour. The trips depart from Chena Hot Springs Resort, about 60 miles from downtown Fairbanks, where guests take a military-style SUSV to the top of Charlie Dome. 907/451-8104, chenahotsprings.com/winter-activities, $75 per person. Compete in your own Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York Ice hockey in Lake Placid - Courtesy of roostadk.com Ever watch bobsledders zooming down the track during the Olympics and think, "I could do that?" Well, in Lake Placid, you can. The town has hosted the Winter Games twice (in 1932 and 1980), and now caters to visitors seeking glory. Any reasonably fit person can take a bobsled run (with both a professional driver and a brakeman keeping things safe) at the Olympic Sports Complex. At the nearby Olympic Center, you can pretend you are Apolo Anton Ohno and speed skate around the oval. The center has activities for people of all ages, including a torch run, snowboarding race, and hockey slap shot contests. 518/946-2223, whiteface.com, prices for activities vary. Relax with a glass of ice wine in Traverse City, Michigan There aren't many places in the U.S. with the appropriate conditions to make ice wine (most of it is produced in Germany and Canada). This town, a four-hour dive from Detroit, is graced with panoramic views of Lake Michigan, and the cold air coming off the lakes is perfect for chilling grapes. The wine makers at Chateau Grand Traverse use Riesling grapes that have been left on the vine after the harvest to freeze in the chilly northern Michigan air. The winery offers free tours and tastings of its other wines, and you can also sample wine made from cherries, the area's other bounty. 12239 Center Rd., 800/283-0247, cgtwines.com.Ski down untouched trails in Park City, Utah Skiiing on untracked powder in Park City, Utah - Courtesy of pccats.com Park City has three resorts and some of the country's best skiing, but the best way to get off the runs and really experience the countryside is on a snowcat. Small groups of skiers pile into trucks with tracked wheels that can handle the area's diverse terrain and travel to parts of the mountain with "virgin" runs untouched by other skiers. Park City Powder Cats will take you to Thousand Peaks Ranch in the Uinta Mountains for up to 12 runs through quiet bowls and glades. 435/649-6596, pccats.com, from $449 for a day trip. Take a sleigh ride in the wilderness in Jackson Hole, Wyoming Sleigh ride in National Elk Refuge - Courtesy of nersleighrides.com Jackson Hole may be a premier ski destination, but a much less publicized highlight of a visit to the town is a sleigh ride at the nearby 25,000-acre National Elk Refuge. From mid-December to early April, visitors can enjoy a horse-drawn ride through the park to see thousands of elk. Guides with Bar T5 will also point out the park's other wildlife, such as eagles and trumpeter swans. Free shuttle buses depart from the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center, 800/772-5386, bart5.com, $18 for adults, $14 for children 5-12. Zoom through America's first national park on a snow coach in West Yellowstone, Montana Roads at the West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park are not plowed in winter. If you want access to this part of the park, populated by bison, pronghorn antelope, and bighorn sheep, you'll need to rent a snowmobile or book a snow coach tour. Some vehicles come equipped with handlebar warmers and you can even rent cozy layers if you didn't pack enough for the frigid air. The park's abundant animal population doesn't seem to mind the chill. destinationyellowstone.com/play/snow-coach, from $105 for trips not including park fees. Snowshoe the Ice Age Trail in Chetek, Wisconsin Don't be intimidated: Snowshoeing on Wisconsin's nearly flat Ice Age National Scenic Trail is totally doable. The state's National Scenic Trail encompasses about 620 miles of marked pathways that feature landscapes left behind when glacial ice carved the earth more than 12,000 years ago. In winter, a section of this trail is open to snowshoers at Chippewa Moraine State Recreation Area. Rent your snowshoes from the visitors' center (free, but donations are encouraged) and loop the 6.5-mile trail, studded with frozen mini-lakes and countless five-foot-tall boulders. 13394 County Hwy M, 888/936-7463, dnr.wisconsin.gov.Take the reigns on a dog sledding tour in Newry, Maine Dog sledding in Mahoosuc - Courtesy of mahoosuc.com Located in Newry, Maine, and with over three decades of full-time, year round guiding, Mahoosuc is one of the most respected and experienced recreational guide services in New England and Canada. Day trips on Umbagog Lake or gentle trails in the Mahoosuc Mountains are available Tuesday through Thursday and some weekends, mid-December through mid-March, and depending on snow conditions. A hearty warm homemade lunch cooked over a campfire is included on day trips, as well as the use of their insulated winter parkas, warm boots and other cold-weather gear. Mush! 207/731-8888, mahoosuc.com, starting from $450 per person for day trips. Sled around a high-country hamlet in Silverton, Colorado Forget cars. In winter, residents of Silverton prefer to get around on kicksleds (essentially chairs placed on six-foot-long steel runners). The townsfolk are so committed to winter fun that they refrain from plowing after the first bountiful snowfall so that the fresh powder will pack into a perma-crust for smoother sledding. Guests and non-guests can rent sleds (as well as skis, snowshoes, and other equipment) from the Wyman Hotel, and take advantage of the area's average annual snowfall of 150 inches. 1371 Greene St., 970/387-5372, thewyman.com.See freaky ice formations beneath the earth in Lava Beds National Monument, California Crystal Ice Cave - Courtesy of nps.gov Winter temps in this part of northern California average in the 40s during the day and the 20s at night. Not chilly enough? Go underground into some of the local caves, where the air hovers at the freezing point year-round. To safely journey into the caves at Lava Beds National Monument, rent a helmet and headlamp from the visitors' center. Then go 100 feet beneath the earth's crust into the Crystal Ice Cave, where freaky ice formations include a 20-foot-high crystal curtain. 530/667-8113, nps.gov/labe, $25 per vehicle for a seven-day entrance.
Discover 6 Perfect Florida State Parks
In Florida, a day at a park doesn’t always have to mean hanging out with The Minions, Mickey or Big Bird, though it often does. No surprise, considering the Sunshine State is synonymous with popular theme and water parks. But, Florida is also home to 175 state parks scattered from the Panhandle to the Keys, each offering an opportunity to experience the state’s myriad natural and cultural treasures, whether streams and rivers threading through a verdant landscape, a system of caverns peppered with stalactites, miles of undeveloped sandy beaches, dense tracts of forests dripping with moss, or historic forts and lighthouses. The entire compendium of state parks shows off Florida’s grand diversity of ecosystems, from mangroves to pinelands to dunes, as well as the resident and migrant creatures that call these vast expanses home or pay a seasonal visit. In the six state parks below, a grand array of enticing scenery and activities are on full display. (You can learn more at floridastateparks.org.) 1. Oleta River State Park Just 30 minutes from downtown Miami, Oleta is considered Florida’s largest urban park and one offering numerous water- and land-based activities. Inside the park, BG Oleta River Outdoors rents canoes and kayaks so visitors can paddle through dark, foliage tunnels along the mangrove-lined river and then on to peaceful Biscayne Bay and the Intercoastal Waterway with opportunities to spot river otter, and sea turtles. (This concession also offers full moon and one-hour Friday sunset kayak tours.) And, despite Miami’s perfectly flat topography, Oleta is considered one of Florida’s best mountain biking venues, with more than a dozen miles of interconnected, challenging single track coursing beside the park’s waterways. 2. Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park Bill Baggs Cape - Istock/lucky-photographer On the southern tip of Key Biscayne, Bill Baggs is most noted for its one-mile-some beach -- perfect for sunning and swimming -- that’s often named as one of the top 10 beaches in the U.S. by Dr. Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University, aka Dr. Beach. Bird watchers are also attracted to this park that’s a stopover on the Atlantic Flyway for migrating species, such as Cerulean and Bay-breasted wood-warblers. Anyone walking to the southern tip of the Pond Trail will be near the Cape Florida Lighthouse, South Florida’s oldest structure that provides stunning views of Biscayne Bay, Key Biscayne and South Beach. 3. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park Named for the tallest of the coastal dunes along the Gulf of Mexico that resembles a ship’s sail, rising over 25 feet high, Topsail Hill, located in the Florida Panhandle, preserves these white quartz dunes with lakes -- a unique ecosystem -- where fresh and saltwater mix. Those with a fishing license can try to snag catfish, bream or bass in one of these lakes, or cast from the beach for Spanish mackerel, pompano or red fish. The paved Campbell Lake Bike Trail -- named for this coastal dune lake, a popular picnic spot -- that’s shaded by tall longleaf pines appeals to cyclists. 4. Hillsborough River State Park Hillsborough River State Park - Istock/benedek Just a few minutes north of Tampa, Hillsborough is one of the few spots in Florida featuring whitewater rapids. Those who bring their own canoe relish the small section of Class II rapids. The park also rents canoes that can be put in just below the rapids on this blackwater river, the color deriving from the tannins leaching from fallen leaves. Growing along the shore, live oaks, magnolia and cypress trees provide for shaded paddling, with opportunities to see otters or alligators on the banks. History buffs often sign up on a guided tour of the reconstructed Fort Foster, a replica of the circa 1837 fort from the time of the Second Seminole Indian War. 5. Honeymoon Island State Park Having received its name after several dozen honeymoon cottages were constructed (and subsequently demolished) in the early 1940s, this barrier island remains a stunning day-trip from Tampa for nature lovers. Though beachgoers flock to the sandy and seashell/rock studded four-mile stretch, a wild landscape of tide pools, sand dunes and salt marshes await those walking past the last parking lot to the shaded Osprey Trail. Hikers will find monarch butterflies fluttering about and the ever-present scent of pine. A real treat is seeing osprey with their young. 6. Caladesi Island State Park A short ferry ride away from Honeymoon Island, Caladesi was once attached to its sister island prior to a major hurricane in 1921. Though now connected to Clearwater Beach after a land bridge formed, Caladesi feels like the Florida of another era, once visitors wander past the ranger station/concession, with nothing but the sounds of bird calls, and the tide lapping at the powdery beach. In 2018, Dr. Beach ranked Caladesi’s dazzling quartz sands as one of the country’s top 10. A network of sandy trails wind through the heart of this island where signs remind visitors that the dense interior is snake territory.