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UPDATE: Five national parks in Utah have re-opened, though the government shutdown remains in effect. CNN reports that since October is one of the busiest months for visitors exploring Utah’s stunning canyons, deserts, and million-year-old rock formations, the state has decided to fund the re-opening of five national parks (Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion), plus three other sites (Natural Bridges, Cedar Breaks national monuments, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area) with its own money. The sites are scheduled to re-open fully on Saturday October 12 for at least the next 10 days, with plans to continue funding the parks if the shutdown drags on further.
Of the many facets of day-to-day life that will be directly affected by a government shutdown (healthcare, IRS, the military) that begins today, travel and tourism concerns are relatively low on the list. However, for travelers who booked their trip months ago – not to mention tourism offices who rely on those visitors actually showing up – the closures can seriously upset your plans. Though flight and hotel bookings (and, thankfully, public transportation) remain unaffected, some itineraries (especially to destinations in the Western U.S.) will have to be re-arranged entirely.
Of the thousands of worthy sightseeing spots in the U.S., 401 of them are national parks. These include everything from preserves like Florida’s Big Cypress Swamp to monuments like the Statue of Liberty to the massive, hugely popular Yellowstone National Park, which receives over 3.5 million visitors per year. A full database of sites can be found here. Below, we’ve compiled five of the most-visited national park sites, coupled with alternative sites you can visit instead. Read more
Oh, the difference a month makes. Even at the tail-end of March, most of the contiguous United States were still far too frosty for anyone to utter “spring” without sarcasm in their voice. But now, temperatures are rapidly rising, mountainous towns are finally thawing out, and roadways that have been closed for the winter are opening back up. Here are three of my favorite springtime road trips – they’re certainly worth a spin before summer swoops in, and if you’re looking to avoid the crowds. Read more
We’ve all been there – you make plans to hit the slopes during winter, you blink, and suddenly spring is at your doorstep. Warmer weather and longer days are no doubt ahead of us, but that doesn’t mean that blustery ski hills are being imminently shut down. You may have to look a little harder or drive a bit farther, but there are still excellent deals to be had when visiting high-elevation ski resorts that keep the powder flowing right on through April. Here are some of our favorites. Read more
When you were a kid, how great was that game “King of the Mountain?” If you missed out (or had parents who cared for your safety), the objective was simple: climb to the top of a large landmass – usually a hill or a pile of dirt – and remain at the peak as its “king,” all while combating shoving usurpers gunning for your title. Unless you wound up as the bruised and battered kid at the foot of the hill, it was a fun game. But standing atop a mound and christening it your kingdom is a childish lark. It’s not like you can claim an entire mountain for yourself nowadays, right? Well, with enough cash, becoming master of your very tall domain is actually a lot easier than you think.
A handful of ski resorts throughout the country are offering Own the Mountain packages – deals that, for a fee, allow you full, private access to the powder. Typically, exclusive mountain access can be acquired on a non-holiday, and can run a price tag of a few thousand dollars. That may seem like a hefty sum, but when divided equally among participants, the cost per skier on some mountains equates to a little more than the price of a daily lift ticket.
Experience the serenity of the West and take your summer vacation to Big Sky, Montana, where the 320 Guest Ranch is offering summer leisure packages with rates as low as $123 per night for three nights. This historic ranch is an ideal spot for fly-fishing, hiking, and white water rafting. The picturesque Gallatin Mountains surround the property, and the famous Yellowstone National Park is just 45 minutes away.
Wake up every morning to a complimentary hot breakfast at the ranch, certain to fill you before heading out and exploring the great outdoors in Big Sky. The 320 Guest Ranch hosts a pig roast every Monday night, where guests pay $10 per person for an all-you-can-eat cookout. On Wednesday nights, join in on the Chuck Wagon Barbeque, and travel to the riverside BBQ dinner by wagon or by horseback.
This deal is available for any three-night stay when arriving on a Sunday or Monday, with bookings in deluxe one-room cabins or two-bedroom riverfront cabins. Inside each cabin you’ll find a full bath, your choice of two queen beds or a king bed arrangement, and a front porch. After September, the rates drop down to $89 per night (breakfast not included). This deal is only bookable by phone. Call 800-243-0320 to book. For more information, visit the 320 Guest Ranch.
We travel bloggers adore making lists of where our readers should go in the new year. But let’s face it, every list, whether it has destinations or groceries on it, is subjective. Which is why, to lend a veneer of objectivity to this list of top family vacation picks for 2012, I consulted the three best-traveled people I know. Read more
In summer, it’s hard to beat those days when you can just lie around and do nothing. And what could be better than doing nothing in the middle of pristine Montana wilderness? New this summer, the Ranch at Rock Creek has set up 12 hammocks on its 6,600 acres (six along Rock Creek, six in the property’s mountains) that offer just such a respite.
The scenic hammock spots, dubbed “Cowboy Kips,” can be reached by hiking, biking, or a short drive. The ranch’s chef will pack you a gourmet picnic with snacks like breakfast burritos and homemade trail mix bars (or pretty much anything else you fancy) along with water, soda, beer, or a bottle of wine. Should you feel alone in the wilderness, don’t fret: The hammocks also come outfitted with walkie-talkies, a first-aid kit, and instructions on what to do in an emergency.
Opened in May 2010, the Ranch at Rock Creek is located outside Philipsburg, Montana, about one hour 45 minutes southeast of Missoula International Airport. All-inclusive rates (starting at $900/person/night for a lodge room or $5,600/night for a 5-bedroom cabin) encompass everything you could ask for during your stay: lodging, meals and beverages (including alcohol), on-site activities like horseback riding and paintball, as well as day trips to Philipsburg and nearby ghost towns. www.theranchatrockcreek.com
For general trip-planning information, see our Montana Travel Guide.
Put together a horse and rider, skier, tow rope, and a snow-packed obstacle course with ramps to jump and rings to grab, and what do you have? Skijoring, a winter sport that’s almost as exhilarating to watch as it is to participate in.
Skijoring (photos courtesy of Steve Sunday; Leadville/Lake County Visitor Center) has long been practiced in places like Scandanavia and Alaska. Instead of a horse, skiiers can also be pulled by a dog, snowmobile, or even a mule. Skijoring has become much more popular in the last few years, and along with the growth, competitions have popped up all over the country. Many events include lessons for rookies before the main competition, during which veteran teams take to their saddles and skis and blast through the course in pursuit of the fastest time – and, usually, a not-too-shabby purse – in an unforgettable, Wild West display of skill and athleticism.
Skijoring competitions are often part of winter festivals that are a draw in their own right, with everything from polar plunges to snow mountain biking on the docket – all of which make for a winter weekend getaway way more interesting than, say, just hitting the slopes. Here, a few spectator-worthy destinations, with the added bonus that most events are free to watch. Read more
If you need any extra incentive to add a dash of adrenaline to your next trip, consider this: Americans came in dead last in a recent survey designed to gauge travelers’ taste for adventure, behind Kiwis, Canadians, Australians and Brits (in order of most to least adventurous).
The survey, done by adventure travel specialist Intrepid Travel, asked 1,000 respondents from five countries to reveal how likely they were to try a variety of travel experiences. The “intrepid” survey choices included eating a deep fried tarantula, sleeping in village hut, going on safari, haggling at local markets and exploring ancient ruins.
Of course, surveys like this should be taken with a grain of salt, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t consider haggling in a local market or traipsing around ancient ruins all that intrepid (though yes, eating a hairy arachnid, deep-fried or not, would certainly earn you that honor in my book). But the survey did provoke a fun trip down memory lane to some of my most exciting – and, therefore, cherished – travel moments. Here are a few: Read more
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