Meet the Newest International Dark Sky Park
Fans of astronomy and beautiful night vistas have a new option for observing the Milky Way. The Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado has been officially designated as an International Dark Sky Park. It has more than 149,164 acres of dunes, wetlands, grasslands, forests and alpine tundra, which offer an array of opportunities to view the night sky and to explore the park after dark by moonlight.
What Is a Dark Sky Park?
The International Dark-Sky Association is a recognized authority on combating light pollution worldwide. Its designation recognizes Great Sand Dunes for the exceptional quality of its dark night skies and for the park’s commitment to preserving and educating about the night sky. It now joins three other national park sites in Colorado and approximately two dozen national parks around the U.S. that have been designated as International Dark Sky Parks.
Great Sand Dunes: A Magnet for Astronomers
Great Sand Dunes National Monument was established in 1932 to protect the tallest dunes in North America. In the late 1990s, it was expanded into a national park and preserved to protect the greater dunes ecosystem that was under threat at that time. It has served as an astronomy destination for decades, thanks to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which shelter the park from much of the sky glow created by Colorado’s Front Range cities.
According to Great Sand Dunes superintendent Pamela Rice, the dry air, high elevation and lack of light pollution all make the park an ideal dark-sky destination. It offers a variety of night sky programs on summer weekends as well as a Junior Ranger Night Explorer program, and it will host a celebration of its new designation in late summer.
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5 Wacky European Attractions You Probably Haven’t Visited (Yet!)
If you’re looking for visitor attractions with a difference, you may be interested in a list of Europe’s most underrated attractions. Author and comedian Danny Wallace has unveiled an alternative guide to exploring Europe in collaboration with train and coach app Trainline, based on research it conducted with vacationers. It found that 45 percent of travelers now demand an “authentic experience” while on vacation, and 26 percent cited “crowds of tourists” as their biggest travel irritation. This was followed by overpriced tourist traps at 24 percent and lines (14 percent) at more popular attractions. “A lifelong fascination of the unusual, unfamiliar and obscure experiences the world has to offer means that I’ve spent the last decade writing about some of the most incredible places and people I’ve met on my travels – often on long train journeys through the breathtaking landscapes of Europe,” says Danny Wallace. Here are the top five attractions selected as the most overlooked in Europe, and to see the rest of the top 30, please visit here. 1. The David Hasselhoff Museum Topping the list, the Berlin-based shrine dedicated to the life and works of “The Hoff” can be found in the basement of the Circus Hostel. A true project of passion, it pays homage to the cult star, courtesy of rare multilingual memorabilia and a wall mural of the man himself. It once sported “strokable” chest hair that has since been stolen by overzealous fans, and Hasselhoff himself paid a visit there in 2017. 2. Floating Cat Sanctuary The world’s only floating animal sanctuary is a refuge for Amsterdam’s stray and abandoned cats. With the chance to admire and play with hundreds of cute, sometimes grumpy and often feisty felines, the modern sanctuary was originally the home of the capital’s famous “cat lady,” Mrs. v. Weelde. 3. Mini Europe A one-of-a-kind shrunken wonderland located on the outskirts of Brussels. Mini Europe offers a Lilliputian view of over 350 miniatures. These represent iconic, important and culturally relevant landmarks across the continent. 4. Subterranean Art Gallery Sometimes referred to as “the world’s longest art gallery,” more than 90 stations in Stockholm that span the underground transport network form part of the Subterranean Art Gallery. They feature an awe-inspiring array of paintings, installations and sculptures. With the subterranean rockface acting as a canvas, this hidden gem offers a truly breathtaking experience beneath the city. 5. Museum of Alchemists and Magicians In a city brimming with history, the Museum of Alchemists and Magicians in Prague brings to light the darker side of the Czech capital’s fantastical past. Featuring genuine artifacts and antiquities from alchemists and magicians past, you can enter the world of some of the most famous dabblers in the dark arts.Get inspired to travel everyday by signing up to Lonely Planet’s daily newsletter.
Memorial Day 2019: 5 Affordable & Authentic Experiences
Memorial Day weekend (May 25 - 27) serves as the unofficial start of summer. Never mind that the holiday is a few weeks in advance of the June 21 solstice and that many school-age kids face one more month of school. The three-day weekend still provides a taste of summer delights to come. While many folks will spend the weekend grilling, shopping, or hitting up local hot spots, some will choose to hit the road. In fact, AAA predicts that nearly 42 million Americans plan to travel for Memorial Day 2019. Keeping in mind that the purpose of the holiday is to honor those who have given their lives in defense of the United States (its original designation was Decoration Day, dating back to the end of the Civil War, when Americans decorated the graves of those who had given what President Abraham Lincoln famously called "the last full measure of devotion" to their country), the Budget Travel editors have rounded up travel experiences that go well beyond the well-trod tourist path. Here, five exceptionally affordable getaways that are a relatively easy escape from urban areas and that also offer unique history, culture, and natural beauty—plus insider tips for getting the most out of your visit. 1. Portsmouth, New Hampshire New England history and culture in a charming, walkable city Why you’ll love it: Walking the brick sidewalks of Portsmouth, NH, can feel like stepping back into Colonial days, a fitting way to commemorate the holiday. As the third-oldest city in the U.S., the seaport certainly boasts ample history, from hands-on experiences at Strawberry Banke Museum to the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion to waterside Prescott Park, and the charming North Church. Even some of the eateries here will, in addition to serving you tasty fare, surround you with New England history, including a repurposed ferry terminal that is now now the popular seafood restaurant Old Ferry Landing, and a 19th-century ships chandlery-turned-bistro, Black Trumpet. Insider tip: Seek out Riverrun Books (32 Daniel Street), an exceptionally inspiring and well-stocked independent bookstore that regularly hosts author readings and other events. Memorial Day weekend festivities: See—and smell!—the Lilac Festival at the historic Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion the morning of May 25. An easy escape from: Boston (a one-hour drive), Providence (less than a two-hour drive), or Hartford, CT (less than a two-and-a-half-hour drive). Why it’s a bargain: Hotels from $121; Airbnb for two from $65. 2. Beacon, New York Artisans and makers in the Hudson River Valley Why you’ll love it: Whether you arrive in town via car or train, the sweeping views of the Hudson River will be your first glimpse of what Beacon has to offer. Before departing the waterfront for Main Street’s unique shops and food, you must experience the Dia:Beacon museum with its world-class collection of modern and contemporary art by masters such as painter/sculptor Frank Stella and "light-sculptor" Dan Flavin. Grab a pint at Hudson Valley Brewery before (or after) you make your way up the town’s main thoroughfare (Beacon’s Main Street literally ascends a gentle hill) to admire the work of local artists and “makers” who have transformed Beacon’s centuries-old manufacturing legacy into a decidedly chic, imaginative contemporary scene. No chain stores or outlets here, just one-of-a-kind and often surprising hand-crafted gifts and food, including the knitters at Loopy Mango boutique, the baking geniuses at Glazed Over Donuts, the mixologists at the Roundhouse, and an array of other shops and eateries. Keep an eye out for painter Rick Price’s murals on the exterior of the public library and both the exterior and interior of Tito Santana Taqueria (yum!). Beacon is also a stone’s throw (well, a short drive) from other Hudson River Valley hot spots such as Minnewaska State Park across the river in Ulster County, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park. It's no wonder that Beacon earned the title "Coolest Small Town in America 2018." Insider tip: Zora Dora Micro Batch’s low-key exterior on Main Street is the gateway to incredible handcrafted gourmet paletas (popsicles), offering an evolving array of flavors including a mind-blowingly delicious pineapple, sea salt, and red pepper paleta you must taste to believe. Zora Dora earned a spot on Budget Travel’s list of the best ice cream shops in the U.S. Memorial Day weekend festivities: The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, in nearby Hyde Park, will host commemorative events all weekend long, including an exhibition devoted to the 75th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion. Easy escape from: New York City (about a 90-minute drive; 90-minute train ride from Grand Central Terminal, with adult fares starting at $35 round-trip for an off-peak ticket bought at the station—it’ll cost you a few dollars more if you buy your ticket on the train) or Albany, NY (about a 90-minute drive). Why it’s a bargain: Hotels in neighboring communities from $79; Airbnb for two in Beacon from $67. 3. Orange Beach, Alabama A Gulf Shore beach town that also offers wild escapes A visit to Orange Beach (and its neighbor Gulf Shores) allows travelers to essentially enjoy two long weekends in one: The first vacation consists of the justly popular attractions that have been drawing Southerners here for generations, including the 30+ miles of Gulf of Mexico waterfront along the coast of what locals refer to as “Pleasure Island” with white-sand beaches, waterparks, zip lines, and fishing. The second vacation—which you can enjoy at exactly the same time—consists of a lesser-known and decidedly wilder side of the Gulf Coast, including the Backcountry Trail through Gulf State Park, 25 miles of trails ideal for cycling, running, or just strolling; and Graham Creek Nature Preserve in nearby Foley, boasting nearly 500 acres of habitat for kayaking or canoeing. And, this being the Gulf Coast, you’ll have access to fresh seafood favorites like shrimp and grits and a variety of platters that have kept travelers returning to Orange Beach and its neighboring communities for years. Insider tip: Go beyond the beach with a half-hour drive west to Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge for kayaking and canoeing amidst migratory songbirds and sea turtles, and sign up for one of the excellent educational guided tours. (Important: Locals gently remind you to pack insect repellent and sunscreen and sun-protective clothing to ensure a comfortable and safe adventure in Bon Secour.) Memorial Day weekend festivities: Run in the Paradise Island 5K on May 26, hear country star Thomas Rhett at the Wharf Amphitheater on May 26, and “ooh” and “aah” at the fireworks at Sparks After Dark at the Wharf the evening of May 27. An easy escape from: Mobile (about a one-hour drive) or New Orleans (about a three-hour drive). Why it’s a bargain: Hotels under $200; Airbnb rentals for two from $111. 4. Rapid City, South Dakota A vibrant urban community in the midst of the Wild West Why you’ll love it: While South Dakota is renowned for wild spaces such as Badlands National Park and Custer State Park and for jaw-dropping feats of monument carving at Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument, many U.S. travelers don’t realize that Rapid City, nicknamed the “Gateway to the Black Hills,” can serve not only as a home base for exploring those famous spots but also as a vibrant urban destination in its own right, home to a variety of live music venues and arts and cultural institutions and festivals. Spend some time on the charming town square, drop by The Journey Museum & Learning Center for interactive exhibits, the Dahl Arts Center for cultural exhibits and free “art adventures," and get up close and personal with Rapid City’s ancient past at APEX Gallery, on the campus of South Dakota School of Mining & Technology, with its fine collection of fossils and minerals. And, of course, you shouldn’t miss the aforementioned wild spaces and monuments, which can all be happily squeezed into your three-day weekend in Rapid City: Mount Rushmore is about a half-hour drive, Crazy Horse Monument is less than an hour, Custer State Park is about a half-hour, and Badlands is less than an hour. Insider tip: Off the city’s main square, look for Art Alley, an informal community art gallery with cool murals devoted to the region’s history and culture. Memorial Day weekend festivities: Visit the May 25 - 27 open house at the Crazy Horse Monument to honor veterans and those who gave their lives in defense of the U.S. An easy escape from: Minneapolis (a 90-minute flight from under $300 round trip) or Chicago (a two-and-a-half-hour flight for under $350); Rapid City is not an easy driving distance from any major urban area. Why it’s a bargain: Hotels from well under $100; Airbnb for two from well under $100. 5. Morro Bay, California A genuine fishing village that welcomes newbies like family Why you’ll love it: Morro Bay is first and foremost an authentic seaside community on the central coast of California. While it’s been a popular vacation spot for central coast residents for generations, the town has managed not to evolve into what experienced travelers would diplomatically refer to as “a little touristy.” We’d love to encourage discerning weekenders from the Bay Area and Southern California (and beyond) to discover Morro Bay’s welcoming locals and under-the-radar delights while appreciating its authenticity. Morro Bay will happily accommodate a variety of travel tastes: Want to chill on a beach and do practically nothing? There’s a beach for that. Want to learn to surf? Lessons are available. How about exploring a gorgeous lesser-known state park, kayaking the town’s eponymous bay, or pedaling your family in a rented surrey around the charming downtown? Gear rentals are an easy walk from comfortable lodging such as the Landing at Morro Bay (with views of the bay and iconic Morro Rock from many rooms) and the super-fresh seafood at Tognazzini’s Dockside Restaurant (stop by the fish market behind the restaurant for Instagrammable tableaus). Insider tip: The immensely delicious breakfast burritos at Frankie & Lola’s combine an old-timey diner aesthetic with Mexican chorizo and cheese and are so big they can serve as both an ample morning meal and a hearty snack or lunch whilst exploring the coast. Memorial Day weekend festivities: Visit Art in the Park, May 25 - 27, at Morro Bay Boulevard and Harbor Street. An easy escape from: San Jose (about a three-hour drive) or Los Angeles (about a three-and-a-half-hour drive); the fact that Morro Bay is not a super-short drive from any major urban area is part of what makes it Morro Bay. Why it’s a steal: Hotels under $150, some starting under $100; Airbnb rentals for two from $79. (All lodging estimates were accurate when we published this story, but as Memorial Day gets closer, hotel rates and Airbnb inventory will likely change.)For travel inspiration, know-how, deals, and more, sign up for Budget Travel's free e-newsletter.
3 Affordable Weekend Escapes for Spring
If hopping in your car and hitting the highway is your idea of a perfect weekend, we suggest you start with these easy escapes that offer a sweet blend of natural beauty, culture, and cuisine. 1. EXPLORE HISTORY IN NORTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA An easy escape from the New York and Philadelphia metro areas, Lackawanna County, in Northeastern Pennsylvania, combines the natural beauty of lakes and mountains with unique museums celebrating American history: Kids of all ages will love Steamtown National Historic Site (above), where you can see steam-powered trains going back to the 19th century and even take a guided train tour; the Anthracite Heritage Museum traces the history of coal mining in the area - my kids discovered that it’s way more fun than that might sound, with “living history” exhibits you can walk right into. Coney Island Lunch in downtown Scranton is a friendly old-timey lunch counter with superb comfort food. We loved our stay at the friendly and affordable Holiday Inn Express in Dickson City, PA. Learn more about Lackawanna County at visitnepa.org. 2. HAVE A MUSICAL WEEKEND ON THE MISSISSIPPI BLUES TRAIL The Mississippi Blues Trail attracts visitors from all over the world, but it’s especially accessible for road trippers in the Deep South. Stops along the trail include historic Clarksdale, the BB King Museum, the Mississippi Grammy Museum, and restored juke joints, such as Club Ebony, where blues music is still king. Musical Mississippi also boasts the grave of the great bluesman Robert Johnson and the birthplace of Elvis Presley, in Tupelo. Learn more about Mississippi at visitmississippi.org. 3. GET WILD ON THE VENTURA COUNTY COAST, CALIFORNIA When Los Angelenos need a break from their big, beautiful city, they head just a few miles up the coast to the Ventura County Coast. The star here is Channel Islands National Park for ferry tours and kayaking the gentle inlets - plus bragging rights when you get back home! The whole Ventura County coastal region is buzzing with up-and-coming wineries, innovative restaurants, beautiful missions, and of course miles of sunny California beaches. Learn more about the Ventura County Coast at venturacountycoast.com.
Look Up: 8 of Canada’s Best Stargazing Destinations
With vast expanses of sky untainted by artificial light, many parts of Canada offer stellar opportunities for stargazing. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (rasc.ca) has recognized nearly two dozen locations as Dark-Sky Preserves—and this year is the 50th anniversary of the July 1969 moon landing, so it’s as fitting a time as any to look up and contemplate the cosmos. As if warm summer nights aren’t reason enough to indulge in an extended gazing session, meteor showers provide even more incentive to head outside. The Perseids are an annual favorite, and this year's celestial show runs July 17 through August 26, peaking August 12 and 13. Check out these eight destinations for unbeatable views of the night sky. 1. Terra Nova National Park: Newfoundland (Courtesy Dave Saunders/Ochre Hill) One of Canada’s newly established Dark-Sky Preserves—just designated in 2018—Terra Nova National Park offers plenty to do from sunup to sundown. By day, wander the park’s trails, take a two-mile stroll around the pond, sign up for a guided hike, or take a dunk in Sandy Pond. Kids will love the visitor center, where they can check out the touch tank and get up close and personal with creatures of the sea. When the sun sets, find a good place to gawk at the constellations. Pack a flashlight and take a hike to Ochre Hill, a fantastic vantage point that was once a fire-watch station. Sandy Point is the darkest place in the park, known for the best views of the night sky. 2. Jasper National Park: Alberta “Power Down. Look Up” is the tagline for Jasper’s annual Dark Sky Festival in October (jasperdarksky.travel), when stargazers can attend photography workshops and talks during the day and gaze into the cosmos at night, with special events such as star sessions atop the Jasper SkyTram. But even if you don’t visit during the festival, there’s plenty to do here: While the sun is out, hike the trails, look for wildlife, or enjoy the region's culinary delights on a Jasper Food Tour (jasperfoodtours.com). Then, turn your attention to the stars at one of this Dark Sky Preserve's scenic spots, like Medicine Lake, Pyramid Lake, Lake Annette, Maligne Canyon, and more. 3. Banff National Park: Alberta Known for its rugged scenery and mountain culture, Banff is paradise for outdoorsy types. Spend the days hiking, biking, and paddle-boarding in Banff National Park, keeping an eye out for some of the park's famous wildlife, including, but not limited to, grizzly bears and bighorn sheep. Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake provide scuba-diving opportunities, and the town of Banff itself has an array of shopping and spa possibilities. Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are short scenic getaways, with Lake Louise around 34 miles away, and Moraine Lake about 12 miles further. Hike, paddle-board, or simply soak in the vistas, and at night, sit back and watch the Milky Way’s virtuoso performance. 4. Gros Morne National Park and L'Anse aux Meadows: Newfoundland Active travelers will delight in this national park's bounty of outdoor pursuits, from hikes through the Tablelands and scenic boat tours of the freshwater-glacier-carved fjords to whale-watching excursions through Iceberg Alley to the north. Set out to Trout River's Eastern Point Trail for gorgeous clifftop views or explore L'Anse aux Meadows, the 1,000-year-old UNESCO World Heritage site where Vikings once lived, then treat yourself to a traditional Jiggs dinner, a classic boiled or Sunday dinner served in some area restaurants, or take the Taste of Gros Morne food tour (tasteofgosmoren.com) to sample the local cuisine before the night's activities. 5. Grasslands National Park: Saskatchewan It may be the country’s darkest preserve, but explore Grasslands National Park by day and you could spot black-footed ferrets, golden eagles, short-horned lizards, and black-tailed prairie dogs, to say nothing of the plains bison, a near-threatened species that was reintroduced in 2005. Soak in the views of badlands and grasslands by car on a cruise along the seasonal Badlands Parkway, or take the Ecotour scenic drive to learn about the heritage and history of the area. Go for a hike, embark on a rugged overnight backpacking adventure, or get in some exercise canoeing, kayaking, or cycling. When you need a rest, be on the lookout for the six “red chair” locations throughout the park. Each of these oversize Adirondack chairs provides a spectacular perch where you can savor the parks' tranquility. When the day’s activities are done, just train your eyes to the sky. 6. Wood Buffalo National Park: Northwest Territories You’d be hard-pressed to find a better destination for stargazing than Wood Buffalo National Park: Clocking in at more than 17,200 square miles, it's Canada's largest national park and the largest Dark Sky Preserve on earth. Each August, the park celebrates its designation with a Dark Sky Festival featuring workshops, guest speakers, and events. The cold, clear winter months frequently deliver spectacular views of the aurora borealis, while fall offers a slightly warmer peek at the Northern Lights. Back on the ground, there's abundant fishing, boating, canoeing, and hiking throughout the park, from the short, easy Karstland loop to rigorous and challenging backcountry routes. 7. Point Pelee National Park: Ontario Looking up is always a good idea in Point Pelee National Park, dubbed a Wetland of International Significance by UNESCO in 1987. Birdwatchers, take note: Some 390 avian species have been spotted here, and spring and fall are the best times to catch a glimpse of the migratory creatures as they travel through the area. Wander along the Centennial Bike and Hike Trail, or hop in a canoe or kayak to paddle among the freshwater marshes that make up two-thirds of the park. At night, of course, you won't want to look anywhere but the sky. The park is open until midnight on certain new moon nights, giving visitors ample time to take in the celestial show. 8. Waterton Lakes National Park: Alberta Hugging the Canadian border north of Montana, Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park comprise the first trans-boundary International Dark Sky Park. While you're waiting for nightfall, grab a fishing license and spend some time by the water, or explore the area on foot or by bike. After sunset, lean back and gaze at the stars from locations like Cameron Bay, which is walkable from town, and the Bison Paddock Overlook, where a short walk will bring you to a promontory facing the valley. (Pro tip: Bring your flashlight. Also, be aware that the 2017 Kenow Wildfire affected a large area of the park, so plan ahead and check for closures before you come.)