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10 Most Visited National Parks in America
The National Park Service has released its Annual Visitation Highlights for 2017, and as always we’re finding travel inspiration in its listing of the most visited places in the system, which includes national parks, recreation areas, monuments, battlefields, and more. Overall, the NPS welcomed more than 331 million visitors in 2017, falling just slightly short of breaking the record set in 2016. The two most visited NPS-designated areas were the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway running through some of the most beautiful countryside in Virginia and North Carolina, with more than 16 million visits, and the 82,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area protecting ecologically and historically important lands around the San Francisco Bay Area, with more than 14 million visits. As for the most-visited national parks in America, the top 10 list remains fairly consistent year-to-year, and we heartily recommend a visit to at least one of these gems in 2018: 1. GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK More than 800 square miles in North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains (nps.gov/grsm) welcomed an estimated 11,338,893 visitors in 2017 to take the top spot. The park’s namesake mist, iconic Roaring Fork Motor Trail, abundant campsites, hiking routes that include a segment of the Appalachian Trail, and incredible wildflowers and fall foliage make this park one of the most beloved travel sites in the U.S. 2. GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK What can we say about the Grand Canyon (nps.gov/grca) that hasn’t already been said? Encompassing nearly 2,000 square miles in the Arizona desert, with legendary lookouts, rafting in the Colorado River, and the sheer awe the vast canyon inspires, this national park drew an estimated 6,254,238 visitors last year. 3. ZION NATIONAL PARK This jaw-dropping park in the southwest Utah desert is movin’ on up, with Zion (nps.gov/zion) going from fifth place in 2016 to third place in 2017 with an estimated 4,504,812 visitors. We’re big fans of Zion’s nearly 230 square miles, offering camping, hiking, those iconic red cliffs, and an overall blissful vibe. (And, as a bonus, Utah boasts four other incredible national parks that are just a road trip away from Zion.) 4. ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK Colorado really does have it all. In addition to its towering peaks (and peerless skiing), beautiful rivers, and range of wildlife, it’s also home to one of America’s favorite national parks. Rocky Mountain (nps.gov/romo), in northern Colorado, straddles the continental divide, delivers gorgeous aspen, bighorn sheep, endless trails, and much more, luring an estimated 4,437,215 visitors in 2017. 5. YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK More than 1,000 square miles in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite (nps.gov/yose) is iconic even to travelers who haven’t been there yet, with its giant sequoias, incredible waterfalls, and “stars” like Half Dome and El Capitan. Despite the floods and wildfires that plagued the state of California in 2017, Yosemite drew an estimated 4,336,890 visitors. 6. YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK In Yellowstone (nps.gov/yell), “rush hour” can mean being stuck behind a herd of bison that has chosen just the right moment to cross the highway in the Lamar Valley and stop traffic for miles. Including portions of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, Yellowstone’s 3,400 square miles were the very first national park in the world, and with its herds of bison, families of grizzlies, geysers like Old Faithful, hot springs, and gigantic waterfalls, the park remains a favorite, drawing an estimated 4,116,524 visitors last year. (Yellowstone is also a road trip away from Montana's Glacier National Park and adjoins Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park; both parks made this year's top 10 list.) 7. ACADIA NATIONAL PARK For travelers who can’t decide between a mountain and a seaside vacation, Acadia (nps.gov/acad), nearly 50,000 acres on Mountain Desert Island, in Maine, obliges with both the highest peak on the East Coast, the crashing waves of the North Atlantic, forest trails, the charming town of Bar Harbor, and an array of wildlife that includes moose, black bear, and whales. In 2017, the park welcomed an estimated 3,509,271 visitors. 8. OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK Craving a real American rainforest? Surprisingly, Washington State is where you’ll find one, with Olympic (nps.gov/olym) encompassing more than 1,400 square miles on the Pacific Northwest’s Olympic Peninsula. Last year, an estimated 3,401,996 visitors headed here for climbing, hiking, and exploring the mountains, old-growth forests, and the Pacific coast. 9. GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK Experienced travelers (or, frankly, anyone who takes a quick look at a map) know that you can easily combine a trip to Grand Teton (nps.gov/grte) with a trip to neighboring Yellowstone. But Grand Teton’s 310,000 acres, in Wyoming, boast enough wonders to keep any visitor busy for days, with the jagged namesake mountain range, beautiful Jackson Hole, and incredible hiking, camping, and fishing. Last year, an estimated 3,317,000 visitors did just that. 10. GLACIER NATIONAL PARK Glacier (nps.gov/glac) happens to be my favorite and, not coincidentally, most visited park. Covering more than 1,500 square miles in northwestern Montana (and adjoining Waterton Lakes National Park, in Alberta, Canada), Glacier offers the legendary Going-to-the-Sun Road, which takes visitors up to the continental divide, at Logan Pass, where you may find snow in July (and sometimes even in August), and the uncanny mountain goats that make this rocky terrain their home. Don’t miss canoeing on Lake McDonald, hiking the old-growth Trail of the Cedars, and stargazing with a ranger on select evenings. While I was not one of the estimated 3,305,512 visitors in 2017, I’ll be back as soon as I possibly can.
Acadia's Dark Sky Festival Is Calling All Photographers and Artists
There are few places in the U.S. that enjoy a truly dark sky at night anymore, and the area in and around Acadia National Park, on Mount Desert Island on the part of the Maine coast that locals call Down East, is one of them. Each year, the Acadia region celebrates its awe-inspiring starlight nights with its Night Sky Festival. A GROWING ASTRONOMY FESTIVAL The Acadia Night Sky Festival has grown over the past decade from a small local event to one that draws visitors from all over the U.S. and Canada and offers dozens of workshops and esteemed astronomy researchers. Participants can stargaze from the top of Cadillac Mountain, take evening cruises on Frenchman Bay, and sign up for telescope lessons. A COOL CONTEST The 10th annual Acadia Night Sky Festival (acadianightskyfestival.org) will run from September 5 through 9 this year, but there’s an inspiring contest happening right now that might interest the photographers and visual artists in your life: The festival planning committee is soliciting entries for its festival poster now through March 16. “Art submissions should portray the night sky above Acadia and/or Down East Maine,” says Alf Anderson, co-chair of the Acadia Night Sky Festival marketing team. A PRESTIGIOUS PRIZE The winning image will be featured on the festival’s posters, brochures, website, and other marketing platforms, and the winning photographer or visual artist will receive two round-trip tickets from Boston to Bar Harbor, ME (Acadia’s gateway community), courtesy of Cape Air. For contest rules, visit acadianightskyfestival.org.
Planning to visit Maine? Read these tips from a top guidebook author
It's leaf-peeping season! We asked Moon Maine author Hilary Nangle how to make the most of a trip to Maine. (Moon is, of course, a wonderful guidebook series with a great emphasis on budget-minded travel.) When should out-of-state folks visit Maine to see the fall foliage? When you go will determine where you go. Maine's a huge state, and foliage usually peaks in the northern zones by the last week in September, while along the southern coast, peak is closer to mid October. A great planning tool is: http://www.state.me.us/doc/foliage/ Your biggest decision will be where to go. Among my favorite spots for foliage: —Rangeley, which blends lakes and mountains; —Greenville, a quiet end-of-the-paved-road town on the shores of Moosehead Lake and edged by wilderness. It's within striking distance of Baxter State Park, home to Mt. Katahdin, Maine's tallest peak and the terminus of the Appalachian Trail; —Mt. Desert Island, home to Acadia National Park, for the combo of foliage and ocean. (See more on Acadia, below.) —Bethel, on the Maine side of the White Mountains, a classic New England village, complete with ivy-covered prep school and white steepled churches, cradled by forested peaks. It's often possible to find a last-minute reservation or accommodation, but don't count on it. Book in advance for lodging and any must-do dining or activities. Sure you can drive by the foliage, but it's even better to get off the road and hike, bike, or paddle. That's especially easy in the Acadia National Park or Baxter State Park areas, but Maine has fabulous state parks that offer opportunities for hiking and paddling, as well as plentiful preserves. What is your advice about what people can typically expect weather-wise in Sept. and in Oct. in Maine? September through mid October is my favorite time of the year weather-wise in Maine. The weather remains mild—days are often warm, with temperatures in the 60s to low 70s, nights cool, dropping into the 40s or lower in the mountains or up north. That said, this is northern New England, so be prepared for anything, including rain, fog and, in the northern parts of the state or over the highest peaks, perhaps even snow. And truly, there's nothing prettier than a dusting of white atop a mountain in full fall color. Any tips on planning a visit to Acadia National Park? Acadia is spectacular in autumn with the color-dappled peaks reflecting in the lakes and ocean. It's a quieter time in the park, but not too quiet. Bar Harbor can be busy with cruise ship visitors, but it's easy to escape any crowds by stepping into the park for a walk or bike ride on the carriage roads or an invigorating hike. A real plus is that The Island Explorer bus system runs through Columbus Day, so there's no need for a car. It circulates around most of the island, and even carries bicycles. Just be sure to purchase a park pass. While the major resort hotels and the fancier B&Bs; tend be booked well in advance, smaller motels and less-fancy places as well as those outside of the Bar Harbor often not only have room, but are charging off-season rates. If you don't like to be in hub of the island hubbub, consider staying in either Southwest Harbor, a year-round community with a nice selection of lodgings and restaurants, or Northeast Harbor, which is primarily a peak summer resort community (note that it's downtown suffered a devastating fire this summer that burned three buildings). If you arrive without lodging reservations, stop at the Thompson Island Visitor Center, open through Columbus Day, which often knows where rooms are available. You can also buy your park pass here. Visit the park's web site, download a copy of The Beaver Log, and use it to plan park activities. It lists walks, talks, hikes, boat cruises, and other activities within the park. Must-dos for me include a sunrise drive along the Park Road, a walk or pedal on the carriage roads, tea and popovers on the lawn at the Jordan Pond House (weather permitting), an invigorating hike, a cone from Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream in Bar Harbor, visiting the Whale and Abbe Museums in Bar Harbor, the Gilley Museum in Southwest Harbor and the Seal Cove Auto Museum, and, again weather permitting, a boating excursion. What's new in Portland? Portland has long been a foodie favorite, and it has a number of new restaurants that are well worth a visit. —Evangeline, French —Emelitsia, Greek, —The Grill Room: Steaks and pizzas —Green Elephant: Vegetarian and Vegan And Stephen Lanzalotta, previously of Sophia's Bakery, has moved his baking talents to a new kitchen at Micucci's Market. Keeping with the food theme, Oct. 23-25 is Harvest on the Harbor, a delicious celebration of local foods. This new event will bring more than 100 food experts to the city for talks, tastings, demonstrations, a marketplace, and meals. Also new is the Ocean Gateway terminal, home to The Cat ferry to Nova Scotia and other large vessels visiting Portland. Also worth noting is the reopening of the Inn by the Sea, in Cape Elizabeth, 15 minutes from downtown Portland. Renovations added a full service spa to this oceanfront inn that's always been ahead of the curve: It's certified green and pet friendly. What's a best-of-coastal Maine trip look like, with perhaps a few highlights or a few suggestions of lesser known towns, restaurants, beaches, forests, or whatnot? In my book, I outline a 10-day Icons-of-the-Maine-Coast tour, and that, as the name suggests, hits only the high points. I think any "Best-of" tour along the coast needs to hit those, but ideally also will hit some off the off-the-beaten-track gems, and those often require noodling down the fingers of land that reach seaward from Route 1, Maine's coastal artery, and also ferrying to some of the offshore islands. So, staring in Kittery, I'd mosey through the Yorks and Kennebunks, and up to Portland, always sticking to the roads closest to the coastline in order to visit beaches and see lighthouses and wander about the smaller villages. In Portland, I'd ferry out to one of the islands dotting Casco Bay, perhaps Eagle Island or Peaks, or book a trip aboard Lucky Catch Lobster Tours to learn everything there is to know about the tasty crustaceans. Must visits include the Portland Museum of Art and Victoria Mansion, and don't miss French fries and a shake at Duckfat, mmmmm. Continue up through Freeport, home to L.L. Bean, and Brunswick (don't miss the Bowdoin College Museum of Art) and onto Bath, with a visit to the Maine Maritime Museum and a detour down to Phippsburg and Popham. Continue north, passing through Wiscasset, then dropping down the Pemaquid Peninsula to see the lighthouse and Fort William Henry and stopping in Round Pond for lunch or dinner at one of two dueling, classic, no-frills lobster shacks on the postcard-perfect harbor. Return to Route 1, then drop down the Port Clyde peninsula, and perhaps take a day trip (ideally an overnight) on Monhegan Island. Rockland, home to the Farnsworth Museum of American Art, and Camden are Mid-coast icons, and Maine's windjammer fleet is based in this region. Most go out for sails of three to seven days, but there are day-sails, such as A Morning in Maine or Appledore. For a quieter, quirkier taste of the mid coast, stop in Belfast and Searsport, and visit the Penobscot Marine Museum and BlueJacket ShipCrafters, which has an amazing display of model ships. If you're craving fried fish and good pie, you can't go wrong at either Angler's or Just Barb's. In Stockton Springs, stop at Fort Knox and (if you're not afraid of heights) zip up the elevator to the new Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory, in the tower for spectacular views; on a clear day, they extend from Mt. Katahdin, Maine's tallest peak in Baxter State Park, to Cadillac on Mount Desert Island. Noodle down the Blue Hill Peninsula and cross the bridge spanning Eggemoggin Reach to Deer Isle. This region is salted with artists and artisans, thanks to the presence of the renowned Haystack Mountain School of Craft, as well as with boat builders, thanks to the WoodenBoat, both the magazine and the school. If this is still a bit too crowded for you, ferry over to Isle au Haut to visit a remote section of Acadia National Park. Back on Route 1, continue northeast, then drop down to Mt. Desert Island for a visit to Acadia National Park. Be sure to walk or pedal the carriage roads, and splurge on tea and popovers at the Jordan Pond House. If you have kids, don't miss a boat trip with Diver Ed. Another unique way to view the park is on a bird-watching tour with Michael Good of Down East Nature Tours. Afterwards, chill with an ice cream from Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream. Be sure to loop around to Northeast Harbor—Redbird is a fabulous spot for lunch—and on to Southwest Harbor—sip on coffee or wine at Sips. From Bass Harbor, join Kim Strauss on a cruise to Frenchboro, for a taste of a real island. Back on the mainland continue north on Route 1. If it's autumn, and the foliage is near peak, take Route 182 which loops inland through the rolling countryside and lakes of the Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land, it's a gorgeous drive. Otherwise, scoot down the Schoodic Peninsula to the pink granite shores of the Schoodic section of Acadia National Park. If you're a bird watcher, be sure to visit the Petit Manan section of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Reserve, in Steuben. In season, I'd dip down to Jonesport for a puffin-watching trip to Machias Seal Island, otherwise on to Lubec, if for no other reason to indulge in Bold Coast Smokhouse's salmon sticks and Monica's Chocolates. Walk off the ice cream on the trails near West Quoddy Head. Finish up in Eastport, the first city in the country to see the sun's rays. Its fortunes vary from year to year, but it's always fun to poke around a bit. Tell us about the guidebook Moon Maine. Covering a state the size of Maine in the depth required for a detailed guide book is a difficult task in itself, given the travel required, but making it even more of a struggle is that shops, restaurants, and accommodations open, close, or change hands. I can visit a town, then find out two weeks later that a restaurant I loved has closed, an inn where I stayed has a new owner, or a shop has changed its inventory. It's an endless task, but one that I thrive upon. I have a good network of friends who keep me updated on changes, and that helps immensely. So does reader feedback, and my readers let me know when I'm right or when their experience hasn't matched mine. That's the primary reason I blog: to keep readers updated of changes that might affect their plans. I think what makes Moon Maine and Moon Coastal Maine stand out is that I've lived in Maine since childhood, I'm not someone swooping in to write a guidebook, and because I live here, I'm privy to a lot of info that's not widely available. I'm also a foodie, not in the fine dining sense (although I do enjoy that), but in that I seek out local finds: cheesemakers, chocolatiers, wineries, lobster shacks, fried seafood dives, fish smokers, hot dog havens (okay, that's really my husband's thing), farmers' markets, farm stands, homemade ice creams, and other places where one can get a real taste of Maine, perhaps piece together a picnic, or purchase delicious souvenirs. Want to know more? Hilary has a blog. You can also buy her guidebook, Moon Maine, at Amazon.com.
Best value in RV campers
Airstreams first hit the highways 78 years ago, and now the silver bullet is having a renaissance. Kampgrounds of America has teamed up with the RV manufacturer to offer nightly Airstream rentals at campsites across the U.S. KOA hasn't confirmed just how many parks will participate, but 25 Airstreams are already available in Sugarloaf Key, Fla.; Bar Harbor, Maine; and Las Vegas. —Andrea Sachs, from the May 2009 issue of Budget Travel
More Places to go
Penobscot Bay (French: Baie de Penobscot) is an inlet of the Gulf of Maine and Atlantic Ocean in south central Maine. The bay originates from the mouth of Maine's Penobscot River, downriver from Belfast. Penobscot Bay has many working waterfronts including Rockland, Rockport, and Stonington, and Belfast upriver. Penobscot Bay is between Muscongus Bay and Blue Hill Bay, just west of Acadia National Park. 11,000 years ago, at the beginning of the Holocene epoch, the Gulf of Maine's sea level fell as low as 180 feet (55 m) below its present height. Penobscot Bay was then a continuation of Penobscot River that meandered through a broad lowland extending past present day Matinicus Island.Penobscot Bay and its chief tributary, Penobscot River are named for the Penobscot Indian Nation, which has continuously inhabited the area for more than ten thousand years, fishing, hunting and shellfish gathering in and around the bay and river. A part of the Wabanaki Confederacy, the Penobscot Indian Nation's present reservation includes Indian Island, north of Orono, Maine, and all the islands of Penobscot River above it. Ancient remains of their campsites dating back millennia have been found on the bay's shores and islands. The bay was the site of a humiliating American defeat during the Revolutionary War. A Continental Navy flotilla consisting of 19 warships and 25 support vessels was dispatched on July 24 to recapture the mid-coast of Maine from the British who had captured part of the territory and constructed fortifications near the bay, naming the newly captured territory New Ireland. The American besiegers became stalled in their assaults due to dissension between Solomon Lovell and Dudley Saltonstall, two of the expeditions commanders, and after a British flotilla led by George Collier arrived on August 13, the American fleet fled, beaching and burning their ships in the face of a superior British force. All 44 ships were either destroyed or captured, in what proved to be America's worst naval defeat until Pearl Harbor, 162 years later.There are many islands in this bay, and on them, some of the country's most well-known summer colonies.
Belfast is a city in Waldo County, Maine, in the United States. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 6,668. Located at the mouth of the Passagassawakeag River estuary on Belfast Bay and Penobscot Bay. Belfast is the county seat of Waldo County. Its seaport has a wealth of antique architecture in several historic districts, and remains popular with tourists.
Bangor () is a city in the U.S. state of Maine and the county seat of Penobscot County. The city proper has a population of 33,039, making it the state's 3rd-largest settlement, behind Portland (66,882) and Lewiston (36,221). Modern Bangor was established in the mid-19th century with the lumber and shipbuilding industries. Lying on the Penobscot River, logs could be floated downstream from the Maine North Woods and processed at the city's water-powered sawmills, then shipped from Bangor's port to the Atlantic Ocean 30 miles (48 km) downstream, and from there to any port in the world. Evidence of this is still visible in the lumber barons' elaborate Greek Revival and Victorian mansions and the 31-foot-high (9.4 m) statue of Paul Bunyan. Today, Bangor's economy is based on services and retail, healthcare, and education. Bangor has a port of entry at Bangor International Airport, also home to the Bangor Air National Guard Base. Historically Bangor was an important stopover on the great circle route air route between the U.S. East Coast and Europe. Bangor has a humid continental climate, with cold, snowy winters, and warm summers.
Camden is a town in Knox County, Maine, United States. The population was 4,850 at the 2010 census. The population of the town more than triples during the summer months, due to tourists and summer residents. Camden is a summer colony in the Mid-Coast region of Maine. Similar to Bar Harbor, Nantucket and North Haven, Camden is well known for its summer community of wealthy Northeasterners, mostly from Boston, New York and Philadelphia.