ADVERTISEMENT
  • The Avenue of the Giants California Scenic Redwood Trees Highway
LeftLeft

    Northern Coast,

    California

    welcomia / iStock

    Save up to 50% on Hotels

    The Coast Ranges of California span 400 miles (644 km) from Del Norte or Humboldt County, California, south to Santa Barbara County. The other three coastal California mountain ranges are the Transverse Ranges, Peninsular Ranges and the Klamath Mountains.Physiographically, they are a section of the larger Pacific Border province, which in turn is part of the larger Pacific Mountain System physiographic division. UNESCO has included the "California Coast Ranges Biosphere Reserve" in its Man and the Biosphere Programme of World Network of Biosphere Reserves since 1983.
    Find more things to do, itinerary ideas, updated news and events, and plan your perfect trip to Northern Coast
    ADVERTISEMENT

    Northern Coast Articles

    Adventure

    10 Most Beautiful Waterfalls

    Few things in nature are as mesmerizing as a waterfall—the thunderous roar as water spills over cliffs, the light glistening off the spray, the sheer force of it all. We found the 10 most enticing cascades on the planet. Some are obvious choices (who could resist the honeymooners' classic Niagara?), others are more obscure (ever heard of Langfoss?), but they all share an important quality: One look, and you're bound to be transfixed for hours.   1. NIAGARA FALLS New York and Canada The most powerful waterfall in North America, Niagara straddles the international border between Canada and the U.S., near Buffalo, New York. It is divided into three distinct cascades: The 167-foot-high American Falls and the 181-foot-high Bridal Veil Falls sit on the U.S. side; the 158-foot-high Horseshoe Falls drops on the Canadian. People debate which country holds the better view, but the truth of it is, the best vantage point isn't from either shoreline. It's from the water. The Maid of the Mist ventures to both sides along the Niagara River. The 600-passenger vessel gets so close to the action, in fact, that guests are outfitted with rain ponchos to keep them dry from the torrential spray. If you do take the half-hour ride, you'll join the company of former passengers Theodore Roosevelt and Marilyn Monroe (open April through late October, $13.50 per person). Closest major city: Niagara sits 17 miles north of Buffalo; from there, the falls are an easy 25-minute drive along I-190. Best time to go: Summer crowds can overwhelm, so visit during the shoulder seasons instead. You can't go wrong in May, June, and September.   2. HANAKAPI'AI FALLS Kauai, Hawaii Hanakapi'ai calls to mind the prehistoric, untouched beauty of the landscapes in the Jurassic Park films (minus the dinosaurs, of course). The thin veil of water plunges 300 feet from volcanic-rock cliffs cloaked in tropical rain forest. Better still, to get there, you follow the famously scenic  Kalalau Trail, which traces the lush, green Na Pali Coast for 11 miles along the northern coast of the island. You can access the trail from Ke'e Beach. You don't need a guide for the hike—the trail is clearly marked and well trod—but remember to pack water because the sun can get pretty hot here and the hike is strenuous in a few sections. En route, you'll pass through bamboo forests and cross a freshwater stream; two miles in, you'll reach a quiet inlet of Ke'e Beach, where it's not unusual to spot pods of dolphins playing in the surf. Closest major city: The trailhead at Ke'e Beach is a quick 15-minute drive north from the town of Hanalei, Kauai. From there, the hike takes two to four hours round-trip, depending on your fitness level and how long you linger at the beach and the waterfall. Best time to go: You'll find the best deals on flights and hotels from mid-September through December, and from January through May. Avoid hiking the trail in August, when temperatures can climb into the 90s. Be sure to get an early start; the parking lot at Ke'e Beach fills up by mid-morning.   Related: World's Most Beautiful Lakes   3. PLITVICE LAKES  Croatia If the Grand Canyon were covered in Technicolor green moss, spotted with 16 lakes across its base, and laced with thousands of falls along its walls, it would look a little something like Plitvice Lakes National Park in southwestern Croatia ($15 entrance fee, per person). The color of the water is intensely turquoise, thanks to the unique mix of minerals and organisms in runoff from the Dinaric Alps. The Plitvice National Park Service offers three-hour tours, starting at $130 for groups, but it's more fun to explore at your own pace, stopping to duck under waterfalls when you need to cool off. Allow a solid two to three hours to poke around, and be sure to take in the view from the first entrance to the park. The perch, high above a series of caves, overlooks all the lakes. Maps for sale ($4 each) at the tourist information booths, located at each of the park's two entrances, will help you navigate the park's labyrinth of trails and boardwalks. Closest major city: The park is 80 miles south of Zagreb and an easy two-hour drive by car. Best time to go: The weather is reliably warm and sunny from May through September.   4. IGUAZÚ FALLS  Argentina A network of 275 falls that spans nearly two miles across, Iguazú is so striking in its immensity that when Eleanor Roosevelt first saw the falls, she remarked, "poor Niagara." The water plummets with such intense force that the spray almost looks as if it's shooting up from the pools below. One of the most popular sections is Devil's Throat, a horseshoe-shaped waterfall that's 269 feet wide and 2,300 feet long. You could visit Iguazú on your own, but you'll see more with an experienced guide. The full-day excursion with Viator takes you by bus to Devil's Throat and the falls' Upper and Lower Circuits and also grants you access to the Train of the Forest, a railway system that travels through the park and to the footbridges overlooking the falls ($35 per person). Closest major city: Iguazú is 670 miles (and a 90-minute flight) north of Buenos Aires. Best time to go: For the best prices and warm temperatures (75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit), go in October. Avoid January, February, and Easter vacation, when Argentines and Brazilians flock to the falls. And stay away during May and July, the two rainiest months.   Related: World's Most Beautiful Castles   5. YOSEMITE FALLS  California A poster child for the American West, this three-tiered fall stretches 2,425 feet from top to bottom. The waterfall itself is gorgeous, but it is the surroundings-granite cliffs and Giant Sequoia trees-that make it one of the most striking sights in the country. The falls are visible from many places around Yosemite Valley, particularly near Yosemite Lodge. From the lodge's parking lot, you can get even closer by taking one of the  National Park Service's free, 20-minute shuttle bus rides to stop no. 6, where a one-mile loop trail leads to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall. Closest major city: Yosemite National Park is 195 miles (and a four-hour drive) east of San Francisco. Best time to go: The falls are at their most spectacular when the winter ice and snow are melting, from March to June. Peak flow is in May.   6. VICTORIA FALLS  Zimbabwe and Zambia More than twice as high as Niagara Falls and about a mile across, the absolute mass of this gusher is mind-boggling. The force of the water falling into the pool below is so great, in fact, that on clear days you can see the spray from as far as 30 miles away. The local populace is equally impressive: Baboons, elephants, and hippos are often spotted along the shores of Victoria. Safari Par Excellence can set you up with everything, whether you're looking for a simple rafting trip on the Zambezi River leading up to Victoria (from $135 per person for a half-day) or a helicopter ride to view the white rhinos in nearby Mosi-oa Tunya National Park (from $120 per person). Closest major city: Livingstone, Zambia, is about eight miles from Victoria Falls. Most visitors fly into Livingstone International Airport and then take a shuttle to their hotel, where tour operators pick up guests and transport them to the falls. Best time to go: The perfect window is from February to May, when the rainy season has just ended but the falls are still gushing.   Related: World's Newest Natural Wonders   7. SUTHERLAND FALLS  New Zealand Set on the southwestern tip of the South Island, Fiordland National Park is perfectly calibrated to create cascades: The rugged landscape gets a steady supply of rain 300 days a year and has hundreds of falls to show for it. The true masterpiece of hte bunch is Sutherland. Its water drops 1,904 feet and shifts to the right at one point and then back to the left at another, forming three distinct sections. The best way to see the trio is by hiking a three-mile portion of the Milford Track, one of New Zealand's most popular trails. You can access the Milford near the town of Quintin, at the Quintin Hut, then follow the trail south for approximately 45 minutes to the base of the falls. Closest major city: Fiordland National Park is about 280 miles southwest of Queenstown. Most visitors rent a car to make the drive, which takes about five hours from Queenstown. Best time to go: Go during New Zealand's summer, December to February, when the days are long and the temperatures hover around a comfortable 70 degrees Fahrenheit.   8. GULLFOSS FALLS  Iceland Located on the southwest coast of Iceland, this is one of the most unconventional-looking waterfalls around. It's two-tiered, and even though neither drop is particularly high, together they make for an incredible sight. The first fall cascades to the right, the water churning around before hitting a sheer cliff, where it turns to the left and drops again. Viator Tours operates a half-day trip that stops at Gullfoss and two more of Iceland's biggest attractions: Geysir, which can spout water up to 230 feet high, and the Kerid volcanic crater ($88 per person). Closest major city: Viator Tours provides transportation to and from Reykjavik. The bus ride is 75 miles and takes about an hour and a half. Best time to go: Go during June, July, and August, when the ice has melted and temperatures are at their warmest (ranging from 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit).   Related: Top U.S. Water Parks   9. ANGEL FALLS  Venezuela The tallest waterfall in the world at 3,211 feet, Angel Falls is so high that some of the water evaporates before it even reaches the pool below. When you look up from the base, the waterfall seems to come from nowhere. Unlike most falls, this one isn't fed by snowmelt, a lake, or a river, but by rainfall from the tropical clouds. Getting to and from Angel Falls on your own is logistically tricky, so it's necessary to see this cascade with a guide. The three-day tour from Akanan Travel & Adventure includes airfare from Caracas, Venezuela's capitol, to Angel Falls; hammocks to sleep on; all meals; and insider access to the falls, including hikes, canoe rides, and a dip in a hidden pool at the base of the waterfall ( $450 per person). Closest major city: Angel Falls is located in  Canaima National Park, which has an on-site airport that connects visitors to and from Caracas. Best time to go: Akanan's tours run from July through November, when the waterfalls flow is at its heaviest.   10. LANGFOSS WATERFALL  Norway Instead of falling in a straight drop like most waterfalls, Langfoss slips down a cliff, maintaining contact with the rocks the entire way down, before spilling into Akra Fjord. Langfoss isn't the biggest waterfall in Norway, but its combined height (2,008 feet) and width (205 feet) are an impressive combination. The mountainside in the background turns bright green with new vegetation in the summer, providing a striking contrast to the whitewater of the falls and the charcoal-gray rocky outcroppings. It's one of the few waterfalls in Norway that hasn't been tapped for hydroelectric power and is still in its natural state. The  Langfoss Waterfall Fjord Cruise travels past tiny farms and rugged mountains on its way to the gusher ($45). Closest major city: From Oslo, you can drive the 246 miles (about five hours) to the small town of Etne, where Langfoss falls; you can also fly from Oslo directly into Haugesund airport and then drive 43 miles to Etne. Best time to go: The weather around Langfoss is at its best from June through September.   See more popular content: 10 Islands to See Before You Die Top Budget Destinations for 2011 9 Must-Visit Caribbean Islands Top 10 Most Travel-Inspiring Films of the Year

    10 Endangered State Parks

    California's Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve has made big news twice in the past two years. The first time came in December 2010, when scientists thought they'd discovered an unusual form of bacteria that devoured arsenic while it lurked in the mud around the lake's knobby limestone spires. But it was the second headline, five months later, that was really scary. That was when California's state parks department announced that Mono Lake itself was about to be wiped out—though by a far more mundane force. SEE THE STATE PARKS NOW! Mono was one of 70 parks targeted by the state in an effort to cut $22 million from California's budget gap, which totaled $9.2 billion at the time. Also on the list: Jack London's former home and writing studio in Sonoma County and a handful of old-growth redwood forests along the northern coast. All told, California was talking about mothballing about 25 percent of its 278 parks. The news hasn't been much better elsewhere. New York, Illinois, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Virginia, and Idaho have contemplated closing parks in recent years; Ohio has considered leasing some state park lands for oil and gas drilling to help raise money; and Virginia has explored corporate partnerships to keep park gates open. What gets lost in this game of budgetary Russian roulette is how precious these lands can be. State parks, such as the ones you'll see here, often rival their national-park cousins in sheer beauty: Did you know that Niagara Falls is actually a New York state park? Last year, the nation's 6,624 state parks attracted 720 million visitors, more than twice what the national parks see, and they do it with almost $1 billion less in annual operating revenue. "Some states have had cuts of 30, 40, 50 percent or more in their operating budgets, and some budgets have been cut twice in one year," says Rich Dolesh, the vice president for conservation and parks at the National Recreation and Park Association. Yet, true to their more-with-less ethos, state parks are finding imaginative ways to hang on. Michigan has seen some success selling annual passes to its parks system, and other states have made arrangements with communities and nonprofits to share the financial burden—at least for a while. In April 2012, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pledged $89 million for repairs and improvements to his state's parks. As for California: As of press time, 65 of the 70 endangered parks had been temporarily spared—including Mono Lake—thanks to help from the communities that depend on them. They've cobbled together private donations, volunteer staffing, and funding by city and county governments and nonprofits to try to bridge the gaps. We may not be out of the woods yet, but we're certainly sniffing out the trail. 1. MONO LAKE TUFA STATE NATURAL RESERVE  California This park's namesake tufa towers, limestone formations that rise from its 65-square-mile lake, are impressive from wherever you're standing. But to fully apprecate them, you've got to approach like an osprey might: coming in low over the water. Can't fly? Then bring a canoe. Up close, the spires resemble white-chalk skyscrapers, a kind of surreal city that's visited by more than a million migratory birds each year. Just don't get too close to the ospreys themselves. From April through August, the birds nest on the towers, and it's forbidden to come within 200 yards. Like anything else this old—the lake has been around for anywhere from 760,000 to 3 million years—Mono Lake endured its share of woe long before the latest California budget struggle. Between 1941 and 1981, Mono lost half its volume and doubled in salinity after four of its five tributaries were diverted to supplement Los Angeles's water supply. Even now, it's almost three times as salty as the ocean. Yet, thanks to the Mono Lake Committee, which rallied to reclaim those lost streams in 1978, the lake is slowly filling up again. And now that the nonprofit Bodie Foundation has stepped in to help keep Mono Lake open to the public, you'll be able to witness the lake's gradual climb back to a healthy level—however long that takes. Let's hope we can say the same for the rest of California's parks. Where to Stay: There's no camping at Mono Lake, but you'll find a range of accommodations in Mammoth Lakes, a ski town 40 miles south. The pet-friendly Mammoth Creek Inn Hotel and Spa has a new spa and fitness center and 26 renovated rooms (themammothcreek.com, doubles from $109). While You're There: You can't very well travel to Mono Lake and not tack on a visit to Yosemite National Park, just 13 miles west. Although, with nearly 12,000 square miles to explore, you'll need more than a brief detour to tackle it all (nps.gov, admission $20 per car). How to Help: Make a donation to the Bodie Foundation, specifying that you'd like the money to go toward Mono Lake (bodiefoundation.org). Park Info: 1 Visitor Center Drive, Lee Vining, Calif., 760/647-6331, parks.ca.gov, hours vary (call the park in advance to check), admission free, parking $3. 2. NIAGARA FALLS STATE PARK  New York Niagara Falls has an image problem. Really. Start with the fact that almost no one knows that this crown jewel of the state park system is a state park—not to mention that, at 127 years old, it's also the nation's oldest. The American side has long played second fiddle to the casino-and-hotel-lined Canadian section, due in part to New York State's $1 billion park-repairs deficit, which has left its falls in desperate need of pedestrian bridges, railings, walkways, and upgraded water and electrical systems. Last year, the New York Times had one word to describe the 400 acres surrounding Niagara: "shabby." But even in reduced circumstances, Niagara is worth the trip. There's actual nature on the American side—it feels like a park, not a Vegas Strip knockoff. And that nature has a pedigree: The park was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, the man behind New York's Central Park. In April, the state launched a $25 million project that will address the park's urgent infrastructure needs as well as restore elements—native plantings, intimate overlooks—outlined in Olmsted's plan. Today, prime viewpoints can be found on Goat Island, which sits between the American and Canadian falls. But the best bang for your buck is the $1 elevator ride up the Observation Tower at Prospect Point, which yields a priceless view from 220 feet. No raincoats necessary. Where to Stay: The 39-room Giacomo, in a 1929 Art Deco building, opened three years ago with modern furniture and abstract art; rooms also have free Wi-Fi, Keurig coffeemakers, and refrigerators (thegiacomo.com, doubles from $139). The Giacomo is two blocks from the park, and you can see the rapids from the hotel's 19th-floor Skyview Lounge. While You're There: If you've brought your passport, the Butterfly Conservatory at Canada's Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens is worth a border crossing. Its 2,000 airborne inhabitants (from 45 species) have been known to alight on certain lucky visitors (niagaraparks.com, admission $13, parking $5). How to Help: Donate to any New York state park via the Natural Heritage Trust (nysparks.com), the Alliance for New York State Parks (allnysparks.org), Parks & Trails New York (ptny.org), or any individual park's website. Park Info: First St. and Buffalo Ave., Niagara Falls, N.Y., 716/278-1796, nysparks.com, open 24 hours daily, admission free. 3. LUDINGTON STATE PARK  Michigan Michigan's Recreation Passport Program, a $10 annual park pass, has pumped $6 million into the state and local parks system since it launched in 2010. The bad news: Collectively, parks around the state still need more than $300 million in repairs. The roof at Ludington's nature center buckled under heavy snow in 2009, and it still hasn't been fixed. Now the entire building has to be torn down. Sadly, there's no money for that either. Ludington deserves better. Snug between Lake Michigan and Hamlin Lake, the nearly 5,300-acre park has seven miles of sandy, dune-strewn beaches, a historic lighthouse you can climb, more than 20 miles of hiking trails (plus paths for biking and cross-country skiing), and the shallow, clear Big Sable River, which is perfect for drifting down in an inner tube. No wonder Ludington has been a Great Lakes-area favorite since it was established 76 years ago. Where to Stay: Ludington's four campgrounds fill up quickly; reserve campsites six months in advance or cabins and yurts one year out, when openings are posted (midnrreservations.com, camping from $16). You can also try the Lamplighter Bed & Breakfast, an 1892 home with an original oak banister, leaded-glass windows, and a porcelain-tiled fireplace (ludington-michigan.com, doubles from $115). While You're There: Explore downtown Ludington, a onetime logging-town-turned-beach-retreat, or go further back in time at Historic White Pine Village, two miles south. The site has a collection of 29 restored (or re-created) 19th-century buildings, enhanced with educational exhibits (historicwhitepinevillage.org, adults $9). How to Help: Make a tax-deductible donation to a specific park or purchase a gift certificate (for camping fees, mooring fees, and merchandise) at michigan.gov. Park Info: 8800 W. M-116, Ludington, Mich., 231/843-2423, michigan.gov, open daily 8 A.M.-10 P.M., admission $8. 4. CACHE RIVER STATE NATURAL AREA  Illinois There are more famous swamps than the one in Cache River State Natural Area, a nearly 15,000-acre Illinois state park 30 miles from the Kentucky border. The Everglades, say, or Okefenokee. But who wants a crowd along? One of the northernmost examples of a true Southern swamp, the delightfully under-the-radar Cache River park gets only about 200,000 annual visitors—that's about one visitor per acre per month. Other life forms aren't nearly so scarce here: The park's wetlands, floodplains, forests, and limestone barrens harbor more than 100 threatened or endangered species. It's best explored by canoe, along six miles of paddling trails that bring you face-to-face with massive tupelo and cypress trunks. There are also 20 miles of foot trails in the park and a floating boardwalk that leads to the center of Heron Pond, which is carpeted in summer with a bright-green layer of floating duckweed. BYO boat, or rent one from White Crane Canoe and Pirogue Rentals in Ullin, Ill., about 12 miles west (whitecranerentals.com, canoe rental $15 per person per day). Where to Stay: A half-hour drive west of the park, Anna, Ill., has a handful of antiques shops, a pottery museum, and the Davie School Inn, an 11-room, all-suite B&B in a converted 1910 schoolhouse (davieschoolinn.com, doubles from $100). While You're There: Work in a detour to Metropolis, Ill., a.k.a. Superman's hometown. The Super Museum has more than 20,000 TV and movie props and other collectibles amassed by owner Jim Hambrick (supermuseum.com, admission $5). How to Help: Join the Friends of the Cache River Watershed nonprofit (friendsofcache.org). Park Info: 930 Sunflower Lane, Belknap, Ill., 618/634-9678, dnr.state.il.us, visitors center hours Wed.-Sun. 9 A.M.-4 P.M., admission free. 5. RED ROCK STATE PARK  Arizona When the grandest of canyons is in your backyard, it's easy to take your lesser landmarks for granted. That seemed to be the case in Arizona, which targeted 13 of its 22 parks for closure in 2010, including Red Rock. Fortunately, not everyone was so quick to write off the little guys. Red Rock's lifeline arrived via the Yavapai County and City of Sedona governments and the Benefactors of Red Rock State Park, which jointly raised $240,000 to temporarily finance the park. That will keep this 286-acre nature preserve open at least until June 2013. Among the best ways to take in the rust-colored canyon are the park's five miles of hiking trails and one mile for biking and horseback riding. Birding is big here, too: Every Wednesday and Saturday at 8 A.M. (7 A.M. in summer), guides lead aviary walks along the banks of Oak Creek, and guests can follow along with the park's checklist of feathered regulars: black-chinned hummingbirds, great blue herons, and the occasional yellow-billed cuckoo. Everything in Red Rock is colorful! Where to Stay: Sedona's hotels can be pricey, so try an apartment or casita rental on vrbo.com, with over 150 local listings—some under $100 per night. While You're There: Get your massage fix. Sedona regulars favor Stillpoint...Living in Balance, naming its massage the "Best of Sedona" in a local poll the past four years (stillpointbalance.com, 70-minute massage $90). How to Help: Visit benefactorsrrsp.org to make a donation, or sign up for a subscription to Arizona Highways magazine: $5 of the $24 cost will be directed to the park of your choice (arizonahighways.com). Park Info: 4050 Red Rock Loop Rd., Sedona, Ariz., 928/282-6907, azstateparks.com, open daily 8 A.M.-5 P.M., admission $10 per car or $3 for individuals. 6. BLACKWATER FALLS STATE PARK West Virginia Blackwater Falls's namesake cascade isn't just the most picturesque spot in this 2,456-acre park—it's also one of the most photographed places in the state. The area is equally eye-catching when it's dressed in the bright greens of spring, the Crayola-box colors of autumn, or silvery winter, when parts of the falls freeze into man-size icicles. The falls themselves—more brown than black—get their distinctive hue from tannic acid that leaches into the river from hemlock and red spruce needles upstream. But there's something potentially more serious darkening the future of West Virginia's state parks: hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) wells that could be built on ecologically significant public lands. Surface rights don't always include the mineral rights when park land is acquired; in West Virginia, the mineral rights under approximately 40 percent of the state parks, including Blackwater, are privately held. It's those split-custody parks that experts say are at greatest risk. Chief Logan State Park, about 200 miles away, already lost a fracking battle when the state's Supreme Court, over the objection of the W. Va. Department of Environmental Protection, voted unanimously in 2010 to allow natural gas drilling in the park—a process that typically calls for not just drilling, but also the construction of roads and the clear-cutting of trees. Almost the entire state of West Virginia sits atop the Marcellus Shale, the natural-gas source targeted at Chief Logan, which means that a dozen or so other parks could soon find themselves fighting for their rights, too. Where to Stay: Outdoorsy types can pitch a tent at 65 campsites, or upgrade to one of 26 deluxe cabins with full kitchens, private bathrooms, and fireplaces—but not A/C. For that creature comfort, you'll need to book a night in the 54-room lodge, which also has a game room and an indoor pool (blackwaterfalls.com, camping from $20, lodge rooms from $84). While You're There: Plan a day trip to the small yet lively town of Elkins, W. Va., taking the hour long scenic route through Blackwater and Canaan Valley State Park. In Elkins, the Randolph County Community Arts Center hosts free concerts, arts workshops, and traveling exhibitions year-round—its third Smithsonian exhibition just came through this summer (randolpharts.org). How to Help: Donate cash, stock, or even office supplies to Friends of Blackwater, a group focused on preserving the ecosystem of Blackwater Canyon (saveblackwater.org). Park Info: 1584 Blackwater Lodge Rd., Davis, W. Va., 304/259-5216, blackwaterfalls.com, open 6 A.M.-10 P.M., admission free. 7. HONEYMOON ISLAND STATE PARK Florida You'd expect a place called Honeymoon Island to be dreamy, and with four miles of white beaches and two more of nature trails (where osprey, terns, and bald eagles nest), Florida's most popular state park is tailor-made for romantic strolls. Even back when it was known as Hog Island—before a 1930s developer put up a string of beach cottages and renamed the spot to lure newlyweds—visitors to the tiny barrier island were all but guaranteed dolphin sightings and stunning sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico. The cottages are gone now, but more than a million people still cross the bridge to the island each year to spend the day swimming, surfing, kayaking, and collecting shells along the north shore. The only thing you can't do is sleep under the stars. Last year Florida proposed adding a privately run RV campground to Honeymoon Island State Park, citing high demand for more camping opportunities in state parks. However, area residents protested the campground and its potential disruption of the park's ecosystem, and the plans were dropped. For now, at least, the beaches close at sunset, with only those osprey, terns, and eagles to look after them. Where to Stay: Hotels and vacation rentals abound in the adjacent towns of Dunedin and Clearwater. Frenchy's Oasis Motel, 11 miles south of the park, gives the old-fashioned motor lodge a Mid-Century Modern spin with starburst clocks, a bright, citrusy palette, and free Wi-Fi (frenchysoasismotel.com, doubles from $119). While You're There: Before a hurricane divided them in the 1920s, Honeymoon Island and neighboring Caladesi Island were a single land mass. Today, you can only reach car-free Caladesi by boat (or Jet Ski). The only public ferries leave from Honeymoon Island; rides take 20 minutes and run every half hour starting at 10 A.M. (caladesiferry.org, $14 round-trip). How to Help: Make a tax-deductible donation through Florida's Help Our State Parks (HOSP) program (mailed to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Recreation and Parks, 3900 Commonwealth Blvd., MS 540, Tallahassee, FL 32399). Park Info: 1 Causeway Blvd., Dunedin, Fla., 727/469-5942, floridastateparks.org, open daily 8 A.M. to sundown, admission $8 per vehicle ($4 for solo drivers) or $2 for pedestrians and cyclists. 8. KATY TRAIL STATE PARK  Missouri The largest rails-to-trails conversion in America, the 240-mile Katy Trail spans Missouri's midsection, from Clinton in the west to Machens in the east, along the former track of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) Railroad (a.k.a. the Katy). The mostly flat path is open to hikers and cyclists—and in some sections, horseback riders—and traverses historic railroad bridges, tunnels, forests, valleys, and open fields. In spots, it skirts the edge of the Missouri River. Some hardy souls tackle the whole trail (a roughly five-day undertaking for an experienced cyclist). Those who prefer a more leisurely trek should consider a daytrip between Rocheport and Boonville, two early-19th-century towns (the latter established by Daniel Boone's offspring) separated by 12 miles of nature preserves, vineyards, and river views. Of course, all those miles of pathway—including 500 bridges and 60 buildings—don't just tend themselves, and it is estimated that the Katy Trail has $47.5 million in deferred maintenance projects, accounting for nearly a quarter of the total $200 million backlog of repairs needed in Missouri's parks. Where to stay: There are no campgrounds in the park, but you can have your pick of small-town inns along the route. Some cater to cyclists with extras such as free laundry service, double-size whirlpool tubs, and free bike storage and tune-up tools. Rocheport's School House Bed & Breakfast, in a three-story brick schoolhouse from 1914, sweetens the deal with fresh-baked cookies at check-in (schoolhousebb.com, doubles from $149). While you're there: Missouri's 100-plus wineries produce nearly half a million cases of wine each year. Les Bourgeois Vineyards and Winery, the state's third-largest, is just outside downtown Rocheport on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River (missouriwine.com, open daily 11 A.M.-6 P.M.). Bonus: The School House Bed and Breakfast gives rides to guests who are too tired to make the uphill trek. How to help: Donation boxes are posted at all trailheads; you can also "adopt" a section of trail or a bike rack or make a tax-deductible donation at katytrailstatepark.com. Park Info: Clinton, Mo., to Machens, Mo., 800/334-6946, katytrailstatepark.com, open sunrise to sunset, admission free. 9. VALLEY OF FIRE STATE PARK  Nevada In the past four years, general funding for Nevada's state parks has been reduced by roughly 60 percent, with almost $3 million cut in 2011 alone. While no closures are planned, the parks are suffering from reduced maintenance, and staffing levels have been cut by 19 percent, even as attendance has grown. One of the state's best-loved parks is the Valley of Fire, 42,000 arid acres about an hour's drive northeast from Las Vegas. The park delivers its own kind of high-stakes drama, trading neon and nightclubs for 150-million-year-old sandstone formations and 3,000-year-old petroglyphs (images carved in rock). You could even say it has star quality: The surreal, burnt-sienna landscape stood in for Mars in the 1990 movie Total Recall. If you're embarking on your own photo safari or DIY sci-fi flick in Nevada's largest state park, don't miss Arch Rock, Elephant Rock, or the Beehives, all of which are essentially solid-stone versions of exactly what they sound like. And be sure to take snapshots with and without people in the frame—the structures are even more outstanding when you can get a sense of their scale. Most important of all: Bring lots of water with you. There are few facilities within the park, and the sandy stretches of some hikes make them more strenuous than you'd think, particularly in the summer, when Mojave Desert temperatures top 120 degrees. Best to come in spring or fall for a more comfortable trip. Where to Stay: The park contains 72 campsites, including RV spots with water and electrical hookups (campsites $20 per night plus $10 for hookups; $2 discount for Nevada residents). If that's not your speed, the family-run North Shore Inn has a pool, in-room fridges, and powerful air conditioning (northshoreinnatlakemead.com, doubles from $85). While You're There: When you've had your fill of heat, the waters of Lake Mead are about six miles away. Boat rentals for fishing and water skiing are plentiful; the nearest outfitter is Echo Bay Marina, on the lake's northern reach (echobaylakemead.com, five-seat fishing boats $60 for a half-day rental). How to Help: There's a donation jar in the visitors center where you can deposit a contribution. Park Info: Interstate 15 at Highway 169, Exit 75, Overton, Nev., 702/397-2088, parks.nv.gov, open daily sunrise to sunset (except for campers), admission $10 per vehicle (or $8 for Nevada residents). 10. OHIOPYLE STATE PARK  Pennsylvania If ever there were an all-purpose park, southwestern Pennsylvania's Ohiopyle State Park is it. Looking for waterfalls? It has four (including the one in our slide show, which seems as if it must have inspired Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater house, just five miles away). Trails? Hikers get 79 miles of them—plus 27 miles for cyclists, 11 for folks on horseback, and nearly 40 for cross-country skiers. And why not throw in a natural water slide or two? The lifeblood of the 20,000-acre park, however, is the Youghiogheny River Gorge-a.k.a. the Yough. The Middle Yough, which flows to Ohiopyle from Confluence, Pa., is the gentler section, with Class I and II rapids for rafters and kayakers; the Lower Yough, downstream, gets up to Class IV whitewater. Combined, they attract a good chunk of the 1 million people who visit the park every year. But if Ohiopyle has a little something for everyone, there's a lot more to the park than meets the eye—and that's just the problem. Like some 60 other Pennsylvania state parks (as well as West Virginia's Blackwater Falls, on page 60), Ohiopyle is situated atop the natural-gas-rich Marcellus Shale-and the state doesn't own the mineral rights underneath the park. In fact, the mineral rights to about 80 percent of Pennsylvania's state park lands are privately owned (or available for lease), and under current legal precedent, mineral rights are given precedence over surface rights. Parks advocates fear that it won't be long before a drilling rig is erected in a state park. Sound alarmist? Well, Pennsylvania issued its first lease for oil and gas extraction on state forest lands back in 1947 and drilling continues today. Where to Stay: The quietest campsites in Ohiopyle's Kentuck campground are the walk-in sites numbered 51-64 and 103-115; however, some folks have found the camp's firm 9 P.M. quiet hours a little too restrictive. If your brood tends to get livelier as the night wears on, consider a vacation rental in Hidden Valley, Pa., or Seven Springs, Pa., both less than 30 miles to the northeast; these two ski towns have solid selections of rental condos and homes that can be deeply discounted in the off-season (vrbo.com). While You're There: Two Frank Lloyd Wright homes are within a 10-minute drive of the park: world-famous Fallingwater, designed in 1935 (fallingwater.org, admission $8), and the lesser-known Kentuck Knob, built in 1956 (kentuckknob.com, tours from $20). How to Help: Send a donation through paparksandforests.org, or pick up a 16-month (Sept. 2012-Dec. 2013) Civilian Conservation Corps wall calendar, the profits from which are reinvested in parks (888/727-2757, $8.50). Park Info: 124 Main Street, Ohiopyle, Pa., 724/329-8591, dcnr.state.pa.us, open from dawn to dusk, admission free.

    Budget Travel Lists

    Top 8 Places to See the Northern Lights

    This article was written by Zoë Smith on behalf of Viator.com's Travel Blog. One of the world’s most dazzling natural phenomenons, few vistas can top the Northern Lights, officially known as the Aurora Borealis (signifying the meeting of Aurora, Roman goddess of the dawn, and Borealis, the Greek North Wind). Created by solar winds interacting with charged particles in the earth’s magnetic field, the Lights appear as otherworldly streaks of green, red, yellow, and purple light dancing across the arctic skies. Visible throughout the so-called ‘Northern Lights Oval,' countries lying in the far-northern latitudes, optimally between 10 and 20 degrees from the magnetic North Pole, are most likely to catch a glimpse of the spectacle, which occurs predominantly between late-September and late-March, often close to midnight. While travelers flock to the world’s northernmost countries for a glimpse of the Northern Lights, seeing them is no exact science and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a good look. From the snow-enveloped wilderness of Siberia to the northernmost tip of Canada, here are some of the best places to see the Northern Lights. So wrap up warm, pick a crisp, clear night, and cross your fingers. IcelandWith its stark beauty, starry skylines and magnificent frosted landscapes, Iceland’s unique backdrop makes it a favorite place for photographers to capture the Lights. Auroral activity is greatest during the mid-winter months and the lights are visible from locations all over the country (on clear nights, you might even catch a few glimmers in Reykjavik). Two of the most popular watching areas are the ‘Golden Circle’—encompassing the Thingvellir National Park and the Haukadalur geothermic valley—and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, home to the famous Snaefellsjokull glacier, both easy trips from Reykjavik. For some of the clearest views and viewpoints away from the crowds, head to the northern coast on the brink of the Arctic Circle—the volcanic Reykjanes Peninsula and the northern city of Akureyri are both great choices. Browse Northern Lights Tours from Reykjavik and read more about Things to Do in Iceland in Winter. AlaskaIn the far north of the United States, Alaska’s vast snowy wilderness casts an eerie shadow beneath the glow of the Northern Lights and the further you venture out of the cities, the brighter the lights seem to shine. Fairbanks, Denali, and the Yukon Territory are all popular locations for watching the lights (the Fairbanks Visitors Bureau claims an 80 percent chance of seeing them if you stay there for three nights), or else, you can hire a knowledgeable guide and just head north. Alaska also offers some of the most unique ways to see the lights, meaning that you’re guaranteed a memorable experience with or without the lightshow. Take an arctic cruise from Fairbanks, Anchorage, or Ketchikan and view the lights from the water; go ‘flightseeing’ for a chance to get up close to the lights by flying over the Arctic circle; take an overnight train over the snow covered Alaska Range; or stave off the frostbite by soaking in the Chena Hot Springs while you wait. Read more about When to Visit Alaska. LaplandThose looking for a dose of wintertime magic will find plenty to fuel their imagination in Lapland, Finland’s northernmost region and Santa Claus’ official European base. Along with visiting the home of Mr. Claus and whizzing over the snow on a husky-driven sled, viewing the Northern Lights is a right of passage for visitors to Lapland. In Finland the lights are known as Revontulet, meaning ‘Fox fire’, named after the local fairytale featuring a fox whose swishing tail sent sparks flying across the North sky. Northern Lights tours are everywhere in Lapland with in-season viewings occurring on an average of two out of three nights, and there are a plethora of viewing options. Take a reindeer safari, climb to popular lookout points on a snowmobile, stay overnight in an igloo or visit the world’s first Northern Lights Observatory atop the 904-meter Haldde Mountain. RussiaThe Northern Lights still hold special significance for the Russian Saami tribes, who gather to watch the lights from the shores of the vast Lake Lovozero and read their fortunes in the colored streaks. Perhaps one of the lesser-visited Northern Lights regions, Russia is the go-to place if you want the wilderness to yourself, with a mammoth stretch of the country lying close to the Arctic Circle and almost all of the northern regions offering great views. The Kola Peninsula, snaking towards Scandinavia in Northwestern Russia, is one of the principal Lights-watching areas thanks to its prime location on the Northern Lights’ belt and a number of guided excursions run from the Arctic city of Murmansk. Get there in December or January and you’ll be gifted with pitch-black days and nights, as the sun disappears from view for around six weeks. Alternatively, Severodvinsk is renowned for having some of the brightest lights in Russia, with red and green glows even visible from inside the city and Salekhard is the world’s only city located on the Arctic Circle putting it firmly inside the superior viewing zone. DenmarkThe most southern country in Scandinavia might be a bit far away from the Arctic Circle, but there are still opportunities to see the Lights on Danish shores. Greenland’s Inuit population have been enjoying some of the clearest views of the Northern Lights for centuries, believing that the eerie illuminations are the lost souls of the dead, and today the territory retains one of the highest hit rates of Aurora sightings. Head to the popular town of Kangerlussuaq or take a cruise along the sparsely populated East coast, with a backdrop of towering icebergs. Alternatively, Denmark’s Faroe Islands, a remote archipelago stranded halfway between Iceland and Norway, are likely one of the most unique locations to experience the Lights, with regular flights from Copenhagen. SwedenEach Scandinavian country has its own stake in Northern Lights tourism, but Sweden boasts its own unique claim to fame. Jukkasjarvi was home to the world’s first ice hotel and bar, fashioned entirely out of the cold stuff, inspiring dozens of imitations around the globe, and remaining one of the most atmospheric places to base your Northern Lights excursion. Abisko National Park is another one of Sweden’s highlights, where you can head to Torneträsk Lake, renowned for its unique micro-climate which affords weatherproof clear skies or visit the legendary Aurora Sky Station where you can take a chair-lift up to the summit, explore the special Northern Lights Exhibition and watch the night sky from the open-air observation deck. There are plenty of other prime spots, too—the Tornedalen region, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Laponia and the far northern town of Luleå are all popular choices. Time your visit for the darkest part of the year, between November and February, and if you’re lucky enough to catch the sky ablaze, make sure you keep quiet—local Sámi mythology dictates that it’s bad luck to make a noise during the Aurora Borealis. NorwayWith its wild landscapes blanketed with snow and ice-capped fjords glistening beneath the stars, Norway offers one of the most otherworldly backdrops for watching the Northern Lights. With the northern half of the country stretching into the Arctic Circle and more viewing locations than anywhere in Scandinavia, Norway has some of the brightest and most frequent sightings in the world. The Lofoten islands, Alta, Svalbard, and Finnmark all have high rates of Lights spottings, but Tromsø remains one of the most popular destinations, so much so that Hurtigruten ships even run Northern Lights cruises along the rugged Norwegian coastline. And there’s plenty to pass the time while you’re waiting for the midnight lightshow—Norway is one of Europe’s premier winter sports destinations, with skiing, snowshoeing, dog-sledding and snowmobiling all popular ways to enjoy the snow. Read about more Winter Activities in Norway. CanadaWith the north of the country lying within the North Magnetic Pole and the western Yukon Territory crowned as one of the world’s best viewing spots, there are plenty of good reasons to take your Aurora quest to Canada. Make the most of snow while you’re there, by learning the popular local sport of dog mushing (riding husky-driven sleds) and exploring some of the most stunning winter landscapes in the Northern Hemisphere. Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador offer plenty of opportunities to see the Lights, as well as being snowmobiling hotspots home to over 1,500km of trails; or spot two winter wonders in one trip, with a visit to Manitoba, on the cusp of the Aurora Oval and a popular place to witness polar bears in their natural habitat. For a real adventure though, take a boat or plane to Iqaluit, a natural paradise tucked away on Baffin Island, where you’ll be in the heart of the Arctic and far away from the lights of the city. Book a 3-Day Northern Lights Tour in Whitehorse from Vancouver.

    ADVERTISEMENT
    ADVERTISEMENT

    More Places to go