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As convenient as airlines can be, the act of flying often sucks the joy out of getting there, wherever ‘there’ might be. After enduring the endless security lines, the tedious boarding process, and the subpar airplane food, we arrive at our destination cranky, tired, and often a little disoriented. Not so with train travel. Assuming you have the luxury of time, trains can be one of the most enjoyable ways to explore a new country, with their slower pace and more civilized atmosphere.
More and more travelers are now rediscovering the magic of trains, and luckily, supply is meeting demand. Countries are investing in their rail networks as a viable source of tourism revenue, and promoting off-the-beaten-path destinations as stop-offs along the way. Want to wander through Vienna en route to Stockholm? Or spend two weeks visiting natural wonders in western USA? These new train routes could be worth looking into.
Since 1911, intrepid passengers have cruised inland along the Noyo River aboard the California Western Railroad, a 40-mile route between Fort Bragg, CA and Willits, CA. The rail service was originally created to ferry timber to and from the Pacific Coast, and indeed the route itself winds through stunning redwood forests in the Noyo River Canyon. These days, the ‘Skunk Train,’ as it’s commonly known (thanks to a pungent odor emitted by the old trains’ exhaust gases), is one of the state’s most popular train routes, despite its brevity. A tunnel collapse earlier this year forced a temporary closure, but as of this month, the one-of-a-kind historic rail service is open to passengers once more. Choose from a Saturday evening “Sunset BBQ Excursion,” ($70) which involves a stop-off in Northspur Station, or a simple 4-hour trek between Fort Bragg and Willits ($49). Read more
The Tour de France is happening as we speak, and aren’t you just kicking yourself for not being there to catch the action? Well, you can do more than just watch: Google’s current “Your Tour“ interactive site allows users to ride along with the cyclists, exploring the trails and scenery from their perspective. Google is unveiling new routes this week as the race progresses; keep an eye out for Champs-Élysées, set to be unlocked on July 21.
For nine more newly-debuted destinations to explore on Google Street View, read on! Read more
As the summer hits full swing in the United States, over 2,000 federal recreation sites open up to the masses. Many of these National Parks and Monuments are inaccessible during the winter, meaning travelers who wish to capitalize on the season need to choose their destinations wisely. Admittedly, road trips aren’t as affordable as they once were thanks to rising gas prices, but for those eager to load up the station wagon (or the Prius) and visit a variety of parks, the America The Beautiful pass could prove a worthwhile investment.
At $80, this pass is valid for a full year from the time that you purchase it (in fact, I’d recommend purchasing it at the start of a new month, resulting in a theoretical usage period of nearly 13 months.) If you’re planning to visit just one park this year, it’s not worthwhile, but for the right crowd, it represents an outstanding value. Here’s a breakdown… Read more
Memorial Day Weekend is the unofficial start of summer – and with it, the beckoning of warmer weather and the great outdoors – and in the upcoming months, there’s a slew of ways to do just that at national parks across the country. Since there are parks in four U.S. territories and every state except Delaware, chances are there’s one within easy distance for you, and entry fees are usually no more than $20 per car.
Here, some of the best offerings guaranteed to inspire you to lace up the hiking boots and get outside. Some highlights: a full moon hike this weekend and the fourth annual National Get Outdoors Day on June 9, which comes with free entry into many popular parks, including Grand Canyon National Park and state parks across the country.
An annular eclipse of the sun – the kind that results in a dramatic “ring of fire” effect, viewable in the United States for the first time in 18 years – will take place around sunset on May 20, with solar celebrations and viewing events scheduled at dozens of national parks in the western United States.
The eclipse will have the best viewing in a 200-mile-wide diagonal swath from the California-Oregon coast all the way to west Texas. The most avid astro-philes, however, should head to the tiny southern Utah town of Kanarraville. It was identified by NASA officials as one of the prime “sweet spots” for viewing the rare phenomenon, during which the moon will block most of the sun.
If you need another excuse to get outside and enjoy the beautiful spring weather, the National Park Service is offering free admission to all National Parks – all 397 of them! – from April 21 through April 29, 2012 during National Park Week.
While most parks are free and open to the public year round, over 100 parks charge a fee to enter. The National Parks that usually charge admission include the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, Yosemite, the Everglades, Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, Arches National Park, and many more. But during National Park Week, all entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees are waived. Read more
Nationwide heat waves have made it feel like summer is in full swing, but the year’s steamiest season officially kicks off June 21. To celebrate, the National Park Service is waiving entrance fees at its 394 parks for that day only.
That means you won’t have to spend a penny to witness the Grand Canyon’s vertigo-inducing cliffs or be dwarfed by Yosemite’s massive sequoias.
The only drawback here is that the solstice falls on a Tuesday. If you’re bound by vacation days instead of a school calendar, we still suggest playing hooky and checking out one of our Top 10 National Park Hikes. Favorite picks include spelunking in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave, exploring Bryce Canyon’s otherworldly hoodoos, and retreating to Shenandoah National Park’s leafy section of the Appalachian Trail.
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It’s awards season in Hollywood, and in the travel industry, it’s apparently contest season. At least, that’s what the flurry of e-mails in my inbox seems to indicate, with several excellent opportunities that are targeting adventurous travelers. There are fantastic prizes up for grabs – a Kenyan safari, anyone? – and no purchase necessary for any of them. Here are my top picks.
Travel Photo Contest Awards a $9,000 Kenyan Safari: Those stunning snaps you took on your most recent trip could win you all kinds of good stuff, thanks to a newly announced travel photography contest by award-winning travel site and outfitter iExplore. The top prize is a two-person Kenyan safari (photo at left courtesy of Flickr/Henry Scott), valued at $9,000. The six-night trip includes game drives and stays at luxurious lodges and tent camps. Prizes are also offered for runners-up and all finalists, as well as 50 “Judge’s Favorites.”
The process to apply is fairly straightforward: Just register, upload your photo (you can register one per e-mail address), and spread the word to get votes. Winners are selected by popular vote and via judging by a panel of travel writers and photographers. The contest runs through April 22; register here.
For spectacular views and outdoor pursuits, the Grand Canyon is hard to beat. Sedona’s secluded Enchantment Resort offers two unique ways to see the natural wonder with new packages that add in a dose of luxury to the experience.
With the Grand Canyon by Trail package, guests enjoy one day of sightseeing by mini-coach (seats 10) courtesy of Pink Jeep Tours. Start with a drive through nearby Oak Creek Canyon and Flagstaff’s Ponderosa Pine Forest before lunch at El Tovar lodge and a tour on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. The return trip includes a stop at the Navajo Indian Reservation.
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