The Budget Traveler’s Guide to Cycling the National Parks
America’s national parkland is certainly no secret - more than 330 million people visited National Park Service sites last year, typically entering the park in a car, SUV, or camper, and spending their days driving to marquee attractions like Old Faithful, the giant redwoods, and the Continental Divide, and hiking the glorious trails.
But there is another way to navigate a national park: Cycling. The benefits include a healthy workout each time you hit the road, no worries about parking your car at, say, a tourist-packed waterfall or hot spring, and virtually 360 views everywhere you go. Sure, cycling always requires a little prep and know-how, and for that we turned to Grace Heimsness, a bike tour guide for Trek Travel with some important questions.
BT: What should cyclists know before traveling to a national park?
Grace Heimsness: Definitely study up on the typical weather for the time of year in which you'll be traveling so that you can pack and dress accordingly. Layers are a must in almost all parks, as is good footwear! Keep in mind that many parks close certain areas and trails seasonally. You can look these up on the park website in advance. This will give you an idea of where you'll be hiking ahead of time, and make sure you pack enough food, water, sunscreen, and clothing for the adventure. Don’t forget to study up on park rules! Three important ones are to pack out what you packed in, leave no trace, and keep your Clif bars to yourself (and let the wildlife take care of its own lunch!).READ: 11 Safety Essentials for a National Park Trip
BT: When is the best time for cyclists to travel to national parks?
GH: It depends on the park, but summer is a great time. Early spring and late fall tend are also great, as the parks tend to be less busy. Keep in mind, however, that some areas of the park might be closed in the colder months. April-May and late October-November are my favorite times to visit.
BT: What is a good national park for a cycling beginner?
GH: The west side of Zion National Park is a great place for those who are just getting into cycling. While the road on the east side of the park--with tight corners, lots of traffic, and more punchy climbs--might be better for more seasoned cyclists, Zion Canyon Road is ideal for beginners and veterans alike. The road is closed to all traffic except park shuttles, and the gentle climb up to the Narrows is approachable for most fitness levels. Cycling in the shadows of stone giants like the Court of the Patriarchs and Angel's Landing provides an incredible opportunity to connect with the park on a profound level.
BT: What is a great national park for a more advanced cyclist?
GH: Crater Lake National Park in Oregon is an excellent choice. Going around the rim provides an excellent 360-degree experience of the park, and the frequent climbs and descents make for a challenging and rewarding conquest. Keep in mind that early in the season, half of Rim Road is typically closed due to snow.
BT: Any other favorite national parks for cyclists?
GH: Grand Tetons National Park has a fantastic bike path system, and the views of the Tetons from the valley are unbeatable.
BT: What essentials should cyclists pack with them in order to make the most of their ride through a national park?
GH: Make sure to bring your cell phone, layers, snacks, plenty of water, tools and parts for minor repairs, and a map of the park. Bring a pair of walking shoes if you plan to take a hike mid-ride. And always ride with both front and rear lights - the more visible you are to other vehicles, the better.
BT: Do you have any tips on how to stay hydrated and fueled for a bike ride through a national park?
GH: As a bike tour guide, my mantra is: Eat before you're hungry; drink before you're thirsty. A good rule of thumb is to drink one bottle of water per hour and one snack every 90 minutes or so.
BT: Are there any other important tips or advice that you want to share with cyclists?
GH: Wear sunscreen, even on cloudy days. Smile, wave, and play nice with other visitors. Lastly, respect your public land! We are fortunate to be surrounded by so much beauty, and it's our responsibility to take care of the planet that provides for us.
This Baby Bison Video Is a Dose of Travel Spring-spiration!
Sometimes just the right image, or moving image, is worth well over the fabled “thousand words.” OUR FAVORITE VIDEO OF THE WEEK When it comes to delivering spring-spiration to travelers weary of the cold weather (and as I’m typing this, a cold rain is falling outside my window here in New York), our contacts at one of America’s favorite parks have come through for us today. This video of the first baby bison born this year at Custer State Park, SD (travelsouthdakota.com), will steal your heart - and possibly inspire you to book a trip this spring or summer to South Dakota. SOUTH DAKOTA MAY BE CALLING YOUR NAME We love Custer State Park’s 1,300 free-roaming bison, and the fact that visitors to the park can see animals in their natural habitat along the park’s 18-mile Wildlife Loop. And we’re not just talking cute little cinnamon-furred baby bison but also herds of fully grown bison, majestic elk, stately bighorn sheep, and lots of deer. Any visit to this region of South Dakota should also include stops in Rapid City, Mount Rushmore, and the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2018. WHAT’S YOUR BEST-EVER WILDLIFE-SPOTTING STORY? Tell us in the comments below what your favorite wildlife-viewing experience has been. Or post your pics to Instagram and tag them #MyBudgetTravel.
8 (Other) U.S. Canyons to Add to Your Must-See List
The Grand Canyon National Park celebrates its centennial this year. The fanfare is well deserved, but it’s far from the only American canyon worth visiting. There's an array of gorgeous gorges across the U.S. with diverse landscapes, and unlike the always popular Grand Canyon, you can have them all to yourself if you time it right. Stopping at the rim and peering down into the depths of each of these destinations is a perfectly fine start, but there’s much more to be done in and around each of these incredible canyons. From the Grand Canyon of the Pacific to the Grand Canyon of the East, and the lesser-known rock formations in between, here are eight stunning geological wonders to visit next. 1. Cedar Breaks National Park: Utah For: superlative stargazing Sitting at more than 10,000 feet, Cedar Breaks crowns the grand staircase, the geologic formation covering much of southern Utah and including the Grand Canyon. Here, the rust-red rocks give way to lush meadows of wildflowers and subalpine forest. An International Dark Sky Park in one of the most naturally dark regions in the continental U.S., the area comes alive at night, when crystal-clear skies afford unobstructed views of the constellations, the Milky Way, and much more. Cedar Breaks staff and astronomy volunteers provide telescopes and guidance at complimentary star parties, held in the park during the summer months and in nearby Brian Head Town in winter. 2. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: Colorado For: fabulous fishing (Eugene Everett/Dreamstime) Over the last two million years, the Gunnison River sculpted sheer cliffs and spires and exposed rock dating back 1.7 billion years, some of the oldest in North America. The canyon takes its name from these dark metamorphic rock walls and the shadows that cover them for much of day, but the focus is on the Gold Medal-designated trout-fishing waters: Starting 200 yards downstream of Crystal Dam and extending to the North Fork of the Gunnison River, the canyon is an angler's paradise. Experienced hikers can traverse one of the treacherous inner gullies to cast a line in a secluded section or venture down the East Portal Road for a more accessible fishing spot. 3. Royal Gorge Bridge & Park: Colorado For: righteous rock climbing Surprisingly, the most iconic feature of this natural wonder is the man-made suspension bridge spanning the massive gorge 956 feet above the Arkansas River. The rock walls are so tall, the Empire State Building could stand straight up underneath with a few feet to spare. This summer, the Via Ferrata—an assisted rock climb with steel cables and iron rungs, led by a trained mountain guide—adds to the roster of adrenaline-packed activities, allowing visitors of all abilities to reach new heights. 4. Earl M. Hardy Box Canyon Springs Nature Preserve: Idaho For: sensational stand-up paddleboarding Located 20 miles from Twin Falls, this box canyon is one of the northwest's best-kept secrets. Don't be afraid to get your feet wet: Its gentle waters open up to exploration via kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard. The pristine water bubbles up from the ground and through basalt rock before joining the Snake River. Pooled or flowing, the Caribbean blue–hued water provides a stunning contrast with the rocky canyon walls and prime floating. 5. Letchworth State Park: New York For: high-flying hot air balloon rides (James Vallee/Dreamstime) The Genesee River roars between cliffs soaring up to 600 feet, creating the so-called Grand Canyon of the East. There are more than 66 miles of marked hiking trails winding through the thick forests around the gorge. While there are additional paths for horseback riding, biking, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing, the canyon truly shines from a bird’s eye view, floating above in a hot air balloon. 6. Waimea Canyon: Hawaii For: big-league birdwatching (Kelpfish/Dreamstime) Nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, these brilliant red walls towering up to 3,000 feet began forming millions of years ago. A combination of volcanic activity and the Waimea River carved out the gorge seen today. Waterfalls and lush green plants add to stunning scenery, which is best experienced on your own two feet. Hiking along one of the many trails offers time to observe and listen to the native forest birds while soaking up panoramic views. 7. Canyon X: Arizona For: phenomenal photography Canyon X, considered a worthy alternative to the nearby, often overcrowded Antelope Canyon, still remains exclusive as it becomes more accessible. Only small, guided groups are allowed to explore its narrow red-rock walls, which adds to the appeal of this remote slot canyon for shutterbugs and hikers alike. As you wind your way through the Navajo sandstone, you'll come across unique textures, patterns, lines, formations, and shifting hues of red—prime subjects for creative photography. 8. Bryce Canyon: Utah For: superb skiing (Clarkdanalynn/Dreamstime) What makes Bryce Canyon extra special is the seasonal shift in perspective as the temperatures drop and the look of the scenery changes. When winter arrives and tourist numbers dwindle, snow blankets the brilliant red rock formations known as hoodoos, topped by clear bluebird skies. These red, white, and blue scenes are best explored on snowshoes or skis. On cross-country skis, you can follow one of the groomed trails leading to viewpoints on the rim; on snowshoes or ice cleats, you can venture into the canyon for a closer look at the hoodoos and other rock formations from below. Even on weekend days, the paths are quiet and viewpoints are clear.
A Locals' Guide to Outdoor Adventures in Durango, CO
Ask anyone who lives in Durango, CO, and they’ll tell you that it’s a place where you can get more: More trails within city limits than any other town in the state, more time with family, more time on the trails, rivers, and ski slopes. Just a short drive from the airport, visitors can find nearly infinite vacation opportunities right in town and in the surrounding area, from natural wonders like the San Juan Mountains to rich culture encompassing traditional Native American and Southwestern traditions, a dose of “wild west” history, and a deep culinary scene that will satisfy any appetite. That array of vacation options is one of the reasons that Budget Travel named Durango one of our 10 Coolest Small Towns in America 2018. When we take a look at Durango’s “sweet spot” on the map—on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, offering awe-inspiring 360-degree views, Southwestern sun, and hundreds of miles of trails—we’re inspired to ask some locals for their best outdoor adventure recommendations. With that in mind, we turned to three exceptional Durango outfitters for their “locals know best” secrets—where to bike, paddle, and ride, then grab a bite to eat in and around this mountain paradise. Adventure at Your Doorstep “We’ve got exceptional trailhead development right in town,” says John Glover, manager of Mountain Bike Specialists. “That means you can easily reach trails that cover hundreds of miles in the surrounding mountains—visitors don’t usually have that back home.” With the San Juan National Forest to the north and the Animas River running right through city limits, Durango delivers adventure right to you. All you have to do it step in. Road & Mountain Biking Plenty of visitors come to Durango just for the incredible cycling opportunities, and the town is home to one of the oldest cycling advocacy groups in the U.S. Whether you’re into road biking or fat tires or you’re still a beginner, the Durango area offers plenty to keep you busy. “We recommend that newcomers start out on the Horse Gulch Trail system right in town,” says John Glover, because it’s an easy system that allows cyclists to evaluate their skills and comfort level before trying other local trails. “More experienced cyclists may want to try the Colorado Trail, which starts up in the nearby mountains and ends in Durango.” When I asked Glover where an inexperienced cyclist might start (asking for a friend, of course), he suggested the Animas River Trail, a paved trail that runs from the north end of town to the south, a great way to get to know Durango on two wheels. Watersports Durango and its surrounding area offer ample opportunities for hitting the water, from family-friendly lakefront such as Vallecito Lake to thrilling whitewater rafting on the Animas River. Guided tours of the Animas River range from one hour to most of the day. “The Animas is a great place for people to experience whitewater for the first time,” says David Moler, owner and guide of Durango Rivertrippers & Adventure Tours, which offers two- and four-hour guided river tours. The Animas is rated Class III rapids on a scale of I to V. “It’s a good all-around family-friendly rafting experience,: says Moler. His trips “put in” on the north side of town, near City Market, and “take out” on the south side, near Home Depot, but because Durango Rivertrippers & Adventure Tours has a tribal permit, they are also allowed to continue rafting downstream all the way to beautiful Basin Creek. The whitewater rafting experience is safe and fun, and some paddlers like to navigate the river via whitewater kayaks, which are shorter than those used on lakes or open water. Horseback Riding With San Juan National Forest as its backyard, Durango plays host to some of the finest horseback riding in the U.S. With old west heritage and history at your elbow and great riding outfitters around the corner, you’ve got to hit the trail! A guided horseback tour of the San Juan National Forest is unforgettable. We caught up with Anne Rapp, of Rapp Corral, and asked her to share her favorite place to send visitors on horseback. “Pine River Trail,” she says. “It’s in the wilderness without mountain bike usage,” meaning the horses will feel that they have the trail to themselves. If you’re not quite up for riding but want a classic western horse-related adventure, book a carriage ride that begins at the front steps of Durango’s classic Strater Hotel and takes you up into the mountains. More Outdoor Fun With so many miles of trail accessible from town, hiking is, of course, always a good idea. Most of the areas mentioned above for cyclists and horseback riding are also popular with day hikers and backpackers alike. Climbing is also popular up in the San Juan Mountains, and sportsmen prize the opportunities for fishing and hunting in the greater Durango region. Some visitors just want to pile into the car and explore the San Juan Skyway from Durango to Ouray. Others will want to hop a ride on the coal-fired, steam-driven Durango & Silverton Narrow-Gauge Railroad through San Juan National Forest, originally built for the cowboys and miners who populated the towns. Book a scenic Jeep tour in Silverton, and don’t miss Mesa Verde National Park, a little over a half-hour outside of Durango, where you can take a ranger-led tour of the Ancestral Pueblo people’s cliff dwellings and other important sites. Anne Rapp offers some practical suggestions for outdoor adventurers visiting Durango: “Be prepared for different weather conditions, bring layers everywhere you go, a good pair of walking shoes, a change of clothes in the car, and ample snacks and water in case the road or the trail draws you farther along—after all, nothing is holding you back!” Food & Drink When your day’s outdoor adventure is done, you’re going to want to tuck into some great chow and raise a glass, right? More than 100 local restaurants serve up a wide variety of cuisines, something for every taste. John Glover recommends Carver Brewing Company (everyone in town calls it “Carver’s”) for craft beer and affordable, cosmopolitan cuisine that uses local greens and meats. Moler is partial to Diamond Belle Saloon, at the Strater Hotel, not just because of the great food but also because “it feels like stepping back in time.” Anne Rapp heartily recommends Serious Texas and Zia for their affordable prices and great fare. Lodging Whether you’re looking for an iconic hotel experience such as the Strater, or a home rental, cabin, RV hookup, or traditional campsite, Durango has something to suit your needs. Visit Durango.org to start planning your outdoor adventure in one of the Coolest Small Towns in America! Budget Travel has produced this article for Durango, Colorado. All editorial views are those of Budget Travel alone and reflect our policy of editorial independence and impartiality.
7 Crazy-Thrilling Zip Lines We Dare You to Ride
Zip lines channel that same sensation as a roller-coaster—all while zooming past Mother Nature’s finest. But today’s rides are pushing the limits, getting faster, steeper, and longer as more destinations add zip lines as a way to explore. Here are seven options around the United States that could give even the most extreme adrenaline junkie a fix. 1. Royal Gorge Cloudscraper: Cañon City, Colorado Built in 1929, the Royal Gorge Bridge ranks as the highest suspension bridge in the U.S., clocking in at 955 feet high and 1,260 feet long. Many visitors are content to view the canyon from the overpass, but for a different—and even higher—canyon view, the hands-free zip line gives visitors the chance to hurtle from one side of the gorge to the other. The single-ride line extends 2,350 feet at a height of about 1,200 feet and can reach speeds as high as 40 miles per hour. (Open seasonally; royalgorgebridge.com) 2. Mammoth Mega Zip: Mammoth Mountain, California Beginning in the summer of 2019, the Mammoth Mega Zip will catapult riders down the steepest zip line in the country, courtesy of a 2,100-foot vertical drop. Zip line riders take the resort’s mountainside gondola up to the launching pad, which is sits 11,053 feet in the air. Once there, riders choose between going down the zip line seated or Superman-style. (Translation: on their stomach). The zip line’s design, with side-by-side cables, lets riders race a friend at speeds that can top 60 miles per hour. (Open seasonally; mammothmountain.com) 3. MEGA ZIPS: Louisville, Kentucky Ranging from about 100 to 165 feet below Louisville, one of the largest caverns in the U.S. and a former limestone quarry has been transformed into the only fully underground zip line course in the world. The Louisville Mega Cavern includes the MEGA ZIPS, where riders don mining helmets, fully equipped with lights, to trek through the two-and-a-half-hour tour, which includes six zip lines and two bridges. Ceiling heights within the cave reach anywhere from 70 to 90 feet, including one stretch where you can race the person next to you on a dual line. (Open year-round; louisvillemegacavern.com) 4. X-Tour + SuperZip: Hocking Hills, Ohio Hocking Hills sits in the uppermost corner of the Ohio Appalachia, dotted with state parks. The Hocking Hills Canopy Tours makes the most of this idyllic location, offering various types of zip lines. For the most heart-pounding experience, combine the X-Tour with the SuperZip. The X-Tour plunges from one tree platform to the next (11 in all), with one zip halfway through the tour that goes right through a waterfall and ends in a recessed cave. After the tour, wind your way up the 85-foot tower to take the one-line SuperZip down the hillside. Expert riders can reach speeds up to 45 to 50 miles per hour. (Open seasonally; hockinghillscanopytours.com) 5. Stowe ZipTour: Stowe Mountain, Vermont Glide down a mountainside on this three-line zip course, starting near the summit of Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield. Riders start at the top of the Stowe Mountain Ski Resort, first hooking into the ominously named Nosedive Zip, the third-longest continuous line in the country with a 4,462-foot span. The course's two other lines are equally impressive, with lengths measuring 2,247 and 3,484 feet. (Open seasonally; stowe.com) 6. Icy Strait Point ZipRider: Hoonah, Alaska Beyond the thrill of soaring along one of the world’s longest zip lines, extending two miles down an Alaskan mountain, riders can also watch for area wildlife like grizzly bears, eagles, deer, or even whales in the distance. Most riders make their way to Hoonah via the cruise ships that dock here, not far from Glacier Bay National Park. The zip line, which starts at a point higher than the Empire State Building, is the only one in the world to include six side-by-side cables, so riders can go down in groups. (Open year-round; icystraitpoint.com) 7. HeliZippin’ Volcano: Hilo or Kona, Hawaii Speeding over a tropical jungle is just part of the fun at the HeliZippin’ experience at KapohoKine Adventures on the Big Island. First, guests board a helicopter to get an aerial view of the Kilauea Volcano before whizzing through the landscape on the 8-line zip course. Riders pass over multiple waterfalls on course, the longest of which spans 2,400 feet. From the zip line, visitors then hike with a ranger-trained guide through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (Open year-round; kapohokine.com)