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Wild & Wonderful Leaf-Peeping Destinations You Haven't Seen Yet

By Maya Stanton
January 12, 2022
Adirondack Glamping
Courtesy Mariah Baron
Go way beyond the conventional fall getaway with a new interactive foliage map that unlocks the secrets of spectacular campsites across America.

Leaf-peeping season is flying by, but there’s still time to catch the colors in all their glory—if you know where to look. Enter: The fall-foliage map from Hipcamp, a website that aims to get people outside and into nature via campsites at national parks and private properties around the country. Input your travel dates, tailor your search by price, group size, amenities, activities, or terrain, and the results will reveal where leaves are still at their peak and what properties are available to book, so you can choose a location and pick your accommodation in one fell swoop. Having a tough time deciding between New England and the Smokies? Let the destination be your guide. From glamping in the Adirondacks to snuggling up in a tipi at an animal sanctuary in the shadow of Mt. Rainier, these are not your average drive-in campsites.

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Glamping at Wintergreen Lake in the Adirondacks. (Courtesy Mariah Baron)

Get away from city life and back to nature with a glamping trip to Wintergreen Lake, a private retreat in the Adirondacks run by the same family for seven generations. Go for a hike and feel the leaves crunch beneath your feet, then spend the afternoon on the water, canoeing or kayaking, before heading back to home base: a platform tent kitted out with soft rugs, cozy linens, and mood lighting, courtesy of string lights at the entryway and lanterns at the bedside. A nearby cabin with full electricity and comfy couches supplies an extra lounge area, while the lakeside firepit—complete with a pair of the region’s namesake Adirondack chairs—provides the perfect position for star-gazing, bird-watching, or canoodling.

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Butterfly Farm Sanctuary's EarthSeed tent. (Courtesy Bryan Collings)

In the Great Smoky Mountains, the Butterfly Farm Sanctuary offers an Instagram-worthy photo op for anyone seeking personal clarity minus the roughing-it part of the outdoor experience—in the spiritual retreat’s EarthSeed tent, you'll find solitude without sacrificing the amenities. With its queen-size bed, carpeted floors, and in-tent furnace allowing for year-round use, nearby bathroom and kitchen facilities (vegetarian cooking only!), and a private deck for morning meditations, you’ll be saying “serenity now” in no time.

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Beechwood Cabin Tent. (Courtesy Andrew Shepherd)

For something similarly civilized but a little more spacious, consider one of the cabin tents at Thus Far Farms in South Carolina—it’s the best of both worlds, with sturdy wood flooring and metal roofing, plus canvas tenting to remind you that you’re out in the elements (but still keep you warm and dry). There’s a kitchen with a camp stove and dish-washing area for easy meal prep, dining tables inside and out, a wood stove, and an indoor toilet; the solar-heated shower is just steps outside the door.

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Forage for mushrooms at Hawk Meadow Farm. (Courtesy Ezekiel Gonzalez)

Fans of fungi will appreciate a stay at a working shiitake farm in the Fingerlakes, set on 60 acres of woods and fields in the middle of wine country, complete with a crystal-clear stream, plenty of leafy colors, easy access to vineyards, and log-grown fresh mushrooms for breakfast.

If 'shrooms aren't your thing, try taking in the stunning views of the Blue Ridge mountains from a private perch on a North Carolina farm, just outside of Pisgah National Forest. Pitch your tent at one of the secluded campsites, explore the property’s fields and trails, and revel in seclusion under the stars. But only if you want to be alone—the property is also home to a music and arts retreat, so the vibe is warm and welcoming, with live jam sessions and a community house with a wood-burning stove. Be sure to tour the solar-powered recording studio and tropical subterranean greenhouse before you make tracks.

Further north, on the banks of the Winooski River in Vermont, a public campground called Onion River plays host to campers, hikers, and leaf-peepers from May to October. It’s not quite as private as some of the other places mentioned here, but the beautiful surroundings more than make up for it. Go for a dip in the river if it’s not too cold, pick apples from the orchard, and wander the trails before heading back to your site for a quiet evening around the firepit.

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Adventure

Travel 101: How to Raft the Grand Canyon

WHEN SHOULD I GO? Thanks to its desert location and dramatic changes in elevation, Grand Canyon National Park is a veritable climate roller coaster, with recorded temperatures spanning from winter lows of -22ºF to summer highs of 120ºF. Amazingly, these shifts have no impact on water temperature: Because the Colorado River is dam-released from the bottom of the country’s second-largest man-made reservoir, Lake Powell, waters remain at or near a brisk 46ºF, even during the blazing summers. While you’re welcome to raft year-round, keep in mind that each season offers a markedly different experience. May through September is the most crowded, when the summer sun offers a welcome respite from the chilling rapids. But consider the less crowded months of April and October, when you’ll practically have the river (and the limited campsites) all to yourself. Plus, spring and fall come with their own natural perks. April is peak wildflower season in the canyon, while October brings about the so-called “yellow” season, when golden plants all seem to miraculously blossom at the same time. You might say rafting the Colorado River is like Choose Your Own Adventure: It’s an infinitely customizable trip that you can cater to your skill level, stamina, and schedule. The easiest option is a half-day, “smooth water” raft trip with Colorado River Discovery (raftthecanyon.com, from $87 plus $6 river-use fee). You’ll start at the base of the 700-foot-tall Glen Canyon Dam, near the town of Page, Ariz., and encounter no rapids along the way. The most hardcore trips, which require expertise and months to years of planning, are the 12- to 25-day self-guided journeys, which take rafters from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek—a whopping 225 miles. HOW EARLY SHOULD I START PLANNING? Your planning schedule will all depend on the length of your trip and whether or not it’s professionally guided. For quick day tours, you can book online, often at the last minute. But most other options require months to years of planning. For overnight self-guided trips, you’ll need a permit from the National Park Service. Only two raft groups can disembark each day, so you should have a date in mind and pounce on the slot when it becomes available a year in advance. Longer guided trips can be booked with one of the park’s approved tour outfitters, and many fill up two years early. Finally, if you’re hoping to set out on a large-scale, self-guided river trip (12 to 25 days), it’s all about luck: To receive a permit, you’ll need to enter a weighted lottery system (nps.gov/grca). Names are drawn and launch dates are assigned each February, but keep in mind that it can take years to have your name selected, so be open to other types of trips as a backup plan. WHY SHOULD I CONSIDER A PROFESSIONAL OUTFITTER? Unless you have experience with whitewater rafting, you’ll definitely want to use one of the National Park Service’s approved tour vendors. While the river may look peaceful from up above, it can actually be rather treacherous for amateurs. The most intense rapids—labeled either Class V on a standard river scale or size 10 on the Grand Canyon’s unique ranking system—can include enormous waves, steep drops, waterfalls, and extremely narrow passageways between dangerous cliffs. But it’s notjust safety that makes outfitters so great: They also, quite simply, make planning infinitely easier. Most tour companies will provide rafts and oars (as well as auxiliary watercraft, such as kayaks and stand-up paddleboards), helmets and life jackets, sleeping accommodations (such as sleeping bags, mattress pads, or tents), food, and, perhaps most importantly, bathroom accommodations. In addition, tour operators will shuttle guests down to the river, which can often be an adventure in its own right for travelers going it alone. WHAT ELSE WILL I DO ON THE TRIP? The river may be the focus of your rafting adventure, but it’s also a fantastic delivery device, connecting the canyon’s many diverse activities. During layover days and meal breaks, you might find yourself rock climbing, bird watching, swimming along the banks, cliff jumping, searching for hidden waterfalls and grottoes, or touring ancient Anasazi granaries and dwellings. Rafting offers a serious upper-body workout, so consider a hike to get your legs moving. By heading into one of the many narrow limestone slot canyons and going up in elevation, you’ll find a totally different view of the river—an outstanding perspective on how far you’ve traveled and how much river is still left to conquer. WHAT WILL I SEE ON THE JOURNEY? Bald eagles spend winters along the Colorado River, stocking up on trout.Bighorn sheep can be seen negotiating the steep cliffs leading down to the water.Eight species of bats live in the desert uplands, but feed on bugs right along the river.Arizona’s state mammal, the raccoon-like ringtail, is a nocturnal hunter, frequently seen scavenging around campsites.The rare California condor can often be glimpsed circling on thermal wind currents high overhead.WHAT SHOULD I PACK? L.L. Bean Neoprene Paddling Gloves: The Colorado River remains at or near a chilly 46°F, even in the summer. Neoprene gloves are a lifesaver, and these come with a Sharkskin grip so you won’t drop your paddle (llbean.com).Pelican iPhone Case: Professional photographers swear by Pelican’s heavy-duty camera cases, but you’ll love its water-resistant, crush-proof iPhone covers, which are O-ring sealed and include an attached carabiner (cabelas.com).Outdoor Research Bug Bivy: River banks can be notoriously buggy, so campers swear by this affordable sleeping sack that comes complete with a protective layer of mosquito netting (rei.com).

Adventure

Canada's Natural Wonders Are Free in 2017

Nature is a little bit like love: Poets and philosophers and songwriters have struggled to describe it since, it seems, the beginning of time. Its majesty, simply put, cannot be simply put. Perhaps one of the best portrayal came from the celebrated naturalist, John Muir when he wrote “This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.” But enough of the sentimentality. The only real way to understand nature is to experience it for yourself. You’ve likely entertained the notion of visiting Yellowstone, Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. Maybe you’ve already been. But on the occasion of Canada’s 150th birthday celebration, we’ve been spending a lot of time lately learning about our mighty northern neighbor. When it comes to breathtaking nature, Canada’s got serious game. (No, really—those geese!). But all groaners aside, there are 46 national parks in the country and 171 national historic sites. Parks Canada, which was registered as a government agency under the National Parks Act of 1911, oversees all those national parks, the one urban national in Ottowa, and 125 national historic sites, the first of which, Fort Ann National Historic Site in Nova Scotia, was designated 100 years ago in 1917. We recently told you that 2017 marks the 150th anniversary of Canada and offered a rundown of its diverse offerings, from natural wonders to sports to cultural destinations. But here's the biggest news yet: on the occasion of the nation's birthday, Parks Canada is giving the world a gift. All year they’re giving out the Discovery Pass, which affords free entry to any park and historic site—148 in all—for a carload of up to seven people. The pass typically goes for $136 Canadian dollars. Little wonder, then, that as of early April, they’ve received 5.9 million orders for the pass, says Eric Magnan, media relations officer at Parks Canada. Additionally, boats get free lockage to the seven national sites, a fee that typically runs $8.80 per foot. (And take note: a small boat is 25 feet.) “It’s a great opportunity to visit hidden gems,” Magnan says. Among the many suggestions he gave us is Rocky Mountain Historic Site, which is situated close to Banff National Park, offers a heritage camping experience of sleeping in teepees. Also, the Grasslands is still considered a somewhat undiscovered destination, especially for horse riders, he notes.   “The diversity of activities and landscapes makes our national parks different and unique. In a few hours’ drive you can totally disconnect from urban life,” says Magnan. “For me, that feeling of being free in a national park, that’s really what thrills me.”  So about those sites, Canada is home to some of the most superlative sites the planet has to offer—the biggest, highest, darkest of their class. Take, for instance, Kluane National Park and Reserve in the southwest Yukon. It’s where Mount Logan juts 5,959 meters into the sky, higher than any other peak in the nation. It’s also where you’ll find the country’s largest ice field, so it’s no surprise that it’s a destination for rafting-loving adventurers. The calving glaciers make for spectacular scenery on the water.  Speaking of scenery on the water, the Bay of Fundy, part of Fundy National Park in New Brunswick, offers quite a spectacle: the world’s highest tides. At the head of the bay, waves can rise as high as 16 meters, which translates to about the height of a four-story building. Inland there's plenty of camping options, including yurts. For a different kind of extreme excursion to water, check out Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake. This Ontario destination, often referred to an inland ocean, has long stunned people with its intense storms. It’s part of a National Marine Conservation area, soon to be recognized as one of the largest protected areas of fresh water in the world. And while we’re on the topic of fresh water, the world’s largest freshwater archipelago, Georgian Bay Islands National Park, features woodlands that offer bike trails, secluded campsites, waterfront cabins and hiking trails with unbeatable shoreline views. The Discover Pass also offers access to a huge range of awe-inspiring historical sites, including feats of industrial and manufacturing progress that man has been able to achieve over the years, each quite consummate in its own right and, of course, a wondrous sight to behold. What’s more, each embodies a moment of history, a turning point in the nation. Take, for instance, Red Bay National Historic Site in Newfoundland and Labrador, the world’s largest and most complete industrial-scale whaling station. With its large population of right and bowhead wales, the area drew multitudes of whalers from Spain’s Basque during the mid-16th century. They established a major whaling port that stands mightily today. Over in Ontario you’ll find the Peterborough Lift Lock at the Trent-Severn Waterway, the world’s highest hydraulic lift, which opened in 1904. Elsewhere in Ontario, an industrial feat from later in the 20th century is on display at the HMCS Haida, the world’s only surviving tribal class destroyer. Known as "Canada's most fightingest ship," it tread waters during WWII, the Korean War and the Cold War and today it sits majestically in Hamilton’s gorgeously revived Bayfront Park. This is merely a tiny sampling of Canada’s rich offerings. We’ll leave it up to you to head north and discover the rest. 

Adventure

3 Gorgeous Places to See Spring Flowers

Spring is on the way, we promise! And we don’t just love the longer days and the warm sun. Some of the world's best travel destinations are hotspots for beautiful spring flowers. We're here to show you some of the most beautiful places to see the most colorful blooms. 1. AMSTERDAM Step into a Technicolor wonderland! Keukenhof Gardens, outside Amsterdam, is one of the world’s most spectacular flower gardens in April when the tulips are in bloom. Take a guided tour, or rent a bike to go exploring. Or if you really want to indulge, book one of Avalon Waterway’s Tulip Time river cruises. The Netherlands is tulip-crazy all spring long, and Budget Travel loves Amsterdam for museums filled with Van Goghs and Vermeers, its charming canals, and affordable lodging. 2. DEATH VALLEY, CALIFORNIA Sure, the name sounds bleak, but when winter rains water the California desert and the sun warms the land, wildflowers bloom in the spring. While not every year is categorized a “super-bloom” (a perfect storm of gentle rain, sun, and warm winds), it’s always a knockout, with Desert Gold, Evening Primrose, and Desert Dandelion putting on quite a show. 3. KAUAI, HAWAII It’s always prime time for flowers in Hawaii, but spring is affordable “shoulder season” here and the Hawaiian island of Kauai has a special treat: The new McBryde Gardens, part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden network, which premiered in 2017. You’ll see Bird of Paradise, Hibiscus, and the Banana Shrub, which actually smells like a banana daiquiri!

Adventure

Confessions of a National Park Ranger

ALL THAT FRESH AIR COMES AT A PRICE There's a saying about park rangers: "You get paid in sunrises and sunsets." That's really true. You don't do this job for the pay. Sometimes you have to wonder why we work so hard to get these federal positions. The people who are attracted to the job are outsiders—they enjoy solitude, they enjoy nature. It's the most unlikely group of people you'd expect to want to work with the federal government. And you have to give up a lot. It's extremely difficult to have a family or meet someone. You work seasonal positions for years until you finally get a permanent spot, only to realize you like a seasonal girl who's not going to be around in six months. TWO PARTS ACTION-ADVENTURE FLICK, ONE PART OFFICE SPACE I've had moments where the job is as exciting as anything you can imagine. You're fighting wildfires, getting lowered from helicopters on a rescue, chasing someone down with a gun on your side, going out on a manhunt. Then sometimes you're directing traffic or dealing with the bureaucracy of the federal government.  LOST FROM THE GET-GO It doesn't matter which park you're working, people are like deer in the headlights. They're totally out of their element, they don't know where anything is, and half the time they haven't done any research before their trip. At the Grand Canyon, people will show up on the North Rim only to find out they're on the wrong side—and then they're shocked that they have to drive all the way around the canyon to get to the South Rim. I had one lady bawling when I told her it was a five-and-a-half-hour drive to the other side. She was like, "There's no bridge?!" NO COMMON SENSE There's no shortage of stupidity when it comes to what people will do. They'll sit right at the edge of the canyon, where there are no guardrails and it's a 1,000-foot drop. And people forget that they're at 8,500 feet. They wonder why they're having chest pains. They think they're having a heart attack, and we have to remind them it's the altitude. Then there are always people who hike down into the canyon and are totally unprepared—no water, no idea how long it will take. They don't realize there's a big change in temperature and conditions when you drop from 8,500 feet to 2,200 feet. That's one of our most common rescues. They always say they were so in awe of the beauty that they didn't realize how far they'd gone. PEOPLE WILL DO ANYTHING FOR A PICTURE It's absolutely astounding what people will do just to prove they saw something. They'll jump from rock pillar to rock pillar—nothing below—just to get the right angle for a shot of the canyon. Sometimes someone's camera falls over the edge and they're crawling over to try to get it. Or they'll stop in the middle of the road, with cars behind them, just to get a picture of a deer (you know, we've all seen deer, but these are deer with the Grand Canyon in the background). AMERICANS ARE THE WORST I've seen far more interest from foreigners in our national parks than by Americans. You'll be talking to someone from New Zealand and they're asking you about the geography, the culture, the history. And then an American asks you where the burger stand is. I'll LET YOU IN ON A SECRET—MAYBE People are always asking where the best place in the park is, or where they should go to watch the sunset. If I can tell someone is really interested, I'll probably tell him. But if it's some entitled jackass who rushes up to me like, "Hey, man, I got 20 minutes in the park. What's the absolutebestspot?"—no way. And then sometimes you do share, and it backfires. Someone once told me I ruined his vacation because I gave him the wrong place to watch the sunset. BEING A MEMBER HAS ITS PRIVILEGES In any profession, you're going to get certain privileges, but I try not to take advantage of my position. But yeah, there have been times when I've gotten pulled over, and I made sure my badge was right next to my driver's license so the cop sees it. There's kind of an understanding. WHEN THE MOMENT IS RIGHT... There's something about national parks. You're in an unbelievably romantic place. It gets your juices flowing, creates a spark. Things happen. There are definitely times when a ranger has to approach a car because the windows are a bit steamy. But sometimes we turn a blind eye to it. We're all human. SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 15 More Places Every Kid Should See Before 15 10 Most Sacred Spots on Earth Secret Hotels of Florida's Gulf Coast 12 Elevators You Have to See to Believe Tax Refund = Vacation! 7 Amazing Trips That You Can Afford Right Now