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    Southern Shore,

    New Jersey

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    The Jersey Shore (known by locals as The Shore) is the coastal region of the U.S. state of New Jersey. Geographically, the term encompasses about 141 miles (227 km) of oceanfront bordering the Atlantic Ocean, from Perth Amboy in the north to Cape May Point in the south. The region includes Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic, and Cape May counties, which are in the central and southern parts of the state. The Jersey Shore hosts the highest concentration of oceanside boardwalks in the United States. Famous for its many boardwalks with arcades, amusement parks, and water parks boasting hundreds of rides and attractions, the Jersey Shore is a popular vacation spot with residents of North Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Certain shore communities are also popular with visitors from the nearby states of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, as well as the Canadian province of Quebec. Due to New Jersey's peninsular geography, both sunrise and sunset are visible over water from different points on the Jersey Shore. Hurricane Sandy in 2012 devastated much of the northern part of the region, and spawned the demolition and rebuilding of entire neighborhoods, with reinvention on a physically and financially elevated and economically upscale level; this process of gentrification is rapidly escalating property values and transforming many communities on the Jersey Shore into a second home for the New York financial community, akin to the more established Hamptons.
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    Southern Shore Articles

    Budget Travel Lists

    10 socially distanced travel experiences near Indianapolis

    The state of Indiana is in Stage 4.5 out of 5 of reopening due to COVID-19. The good news is that Indiana has not only farmland but also rivers, forests, and lakes that are great ways to have socially distanced travel fun. 1. Turkey Run State Park There are many ways to explore Turkey Run, especially the ravines and sandstone gorges. Trail 2 and Trail 3 (Ladders Trail) are notable hiking trails and were voted as the top two hiking trails on VisitIndiana.com. Trail difficulty ranges from “easy” to “very rugged.” Other activities include camping, hiking, fishing, boating, birding, hunting, bicycle riding, horseback riding, and geocaching. Turkey Run State Park is open for nearly all activities. The public outdoor swimming pool is closed for the summer season, and the drinking fountains are turned off. The Nature Center and historic buildings are open but may have limited hours and visitor capacity. 2. Brown County State Park Within an hour drive from Indianapolis, the largest state park in Indiana has many opportunities to recreate responsibly. It has the longest mountain biking trail in Indiana, which Bike magazine said has the most varied terrain east of the Mississippi, and the hiking Fire Tower Trail which was ranked as the fourth best hiking trails on VisitIndiana.com. You can also go horseback riding on well-marked trails or visit picnic areas, fishing and boating lakes, and tennis courts. Stay overnight in various campsites, cabins, or lodging. The state park is open for nearly all activities. The public outdoor swimming pool is closed for the 2020 summer season, and drinking fountains are turned off. Gates may be closed on busy weekends when parking capacity is reached. Photo by Katelyn Milligan 3. Kosciusko County lakes Build your own weekend getaway by visiting Lake Wawasee, Tippecanoe Lake, Winona Lake, or Barbee Lake which are some of the lakes formed from glaciers in Kosciusko County in northern Indiana. On the water, each lake has opportunities to go boating, fishing, skiing, or kayaking, and outside of the lake, there are areas to go biking, geocaching, and bird watching. Stay in hotels, resorts, rental houses, or condos. Most of the area is commercialized and has several local tourism attractions. Most places are open, but check for COVID-19 updates and restrictions on their website. 4. Hoosier National Forest Hoosier National Forest spans nine counties in southern Indiana. You can hike, mountain bike, ride horses, camp, fish, hunt, or canoe. There are many special places, like the Charles C. Deam Wilderness, to visit within the 203,000 acres of land. Most areas are open. After you’re done exploring, cool off from the hot weather by visiting the nearby Patoka Lake, the second-largest reservoir in Indiana. If you a weekend getaway, Patoka Lake has houseboat rentals and floating cabins, and within a half hour drive is the iconic hotel The French Lick Resort which has many outdoor leisure activities like golf, horse stables, swimming pools, and sporting clay ranges. Most places are open with social distancing guidelines in place. 5. Clifty Falls State Park If you are looking for waterfalls, creeks, and canyons made from the last Ice Age, then Clifty Falls State Park is the place to visit. Big Clifty, 60 feet in height, and Tunnel Falls, 83 feet in height, are popular waterfall attractions. In addition to hiking, there are picnic tables and tennis courts. Clifty Falls is located in Madison, IN. It is open for nearly all activities. The public outdoor swimming pool is closed for the summer season, and the drinking fountains are turned off. Photo by Patrick Williams / @cartoonsushi6. Indiana Dunes National Park Explore the 15,000 acres of sand and beaches among this shifting Hoosier landscape. Swim on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, or hike the multiple trails of dunes, wetlands, prairies, rivers, and forests. The 1.5 mile 3 Dunes Challenge reveals a great view of Lake Michigan. It is currently recommended to visit West Beach due to the open space available there. Near the Indiana Dunes central beach is the Michigan City Lighthouse, built in 1904, and pier. Most beaches, trails, and restrooms are open. Park closures and updates are in a constant flux. Visit here for the most recent information. 7. Canoe Country Located in Daleville, IN, rent a kayak, canoe, or inner tube for the day and float down the White River with different options for length of trip. Park at the main building and board a shuttle that drops you off upriver so you will end up back at your car. Along the river, spot turtles basking in the sun or eat a packed lunch on the riverbank. Due to Covid-19, online reservations are required, and they close at 3 p.m. For evening activities or eateries, check out the nearby cities of Yorktown, Muncie, or Anderson. Photo by bellena/Shutterstock8. Shipshewana Located in northern Indiana, this town is home to the third largest Amish community in the U.S. and operates the Midwest's largest flea market. Shops have a reputation for selling hand-crafted wares and antiques. The flea market is outdoors and is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays through September 30. The Blue Gate Restaurant, known for home cooked Amish meals and featured in USA Today, Chicago Tribune, and The New York Times, is also open and following state guidelines. LaGrange County is currently requiring face masks to be worn indoors or when 6 feet social distancing cannot be maintained while outdoors. A violation of this may result in a fine. 9. Mammoth Cave National Park Exactly a three hour drive from Indianapolis is Mammoth Cave National Park, which has the world's longest cave, 400+ miles. below ground and 53,000 acres of forest. There are 70 miles of trail, including tree covered ridges and valley floors, nearby the Green River. The visitor center, food/beverage opportunities, and retail sales have recently reopened. From June 1, 2020 - July 31, 2020, you can take a 2 mile round-trip, 1.5 hour self-guided Extended Historic Tour of Mammoth Cave, done at your own pace. Make a reservation online for your ticketed entrance time because tickets are limited to reduce capacity. Park campgrounds are open. Masks are strongly encouraged. Check the website for additional information on park operating modifications. 10. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden The Cincinnati zoo, the fifth-oldest zoo in the U.S., is open to the public with new changes in place. Outdoor animal habitats and large garden exhibits are open as well as the train ride and giraffe feeding. Some indoor animal habitats are closed, and animal encounters are closed momentarily. Per Ohio’s city ordinance, face masks are required in all buildings and high congestion areas. Indoor restaurants and gift shops are closed at this time, but outdoor dining options are available. Online reservations with reserved entry times are required to ensure limited capacity. To learn more, visit the Reopening FAQ. Katelyn Milligan is a Budget Travel intern for Summer 2020. She is a graduate of Purdue University.

    Road Trips

    Affordable Summer Road Trips: One-Tank Escapes From 9 Cities

    Road trip season is here, and there's no better way to kick off summer than hopping in the car and exploring destinations that are an easy, fun drive away. Here are nine destinations that will pay off big dividends on the less-than-two-hour investment—and one tank of gas—it takes to get there. 1. FROM CHICAGO: INDIANA DUNES, IN The Indiana Dunes sit along a 15 mile stretch of Lake Michigan’s southern shore. It’s only about 35 miles down I-90 from Chicago International Airport, but you’d be forgiven if you thought you were whisked away to the Sahara. Even the pine forests around the dunes sit on sand. Then, of course, the sprawling, shimmering lake will remind you that you are absolutely not in the desert. This destination draws birders in the spring, kayakers and other water sport enthusiasts in the summer, and anglers in the fall. There’s plenty for everyone else to enjoy throughout the 15,000-acre site as well, like tranquil forests, scenic prairies and marshes, a visitor center with a bookstore and junior ranger guides for kids, and 50 miles of trails—many of them quite rugged. And no need to rush back to Chicago at the end of the day. The surrounding area has eateries ranging from a sushi stop to laid-back pubs to a steakhouse, not to mention restaurants focused on seasonal farm-to-table menus. 2. FROM BOSTON: CONCORD, NH About 75 miles north of Boston, a straight shot up I-93, New Hampshire’s state capital offers more than just a hearty helping of outdoor options, like the wooded hiking trails at Audubon McLane Center, and New England history (see: the Pierce Manse, a museum in what was once the home of Franklin Pierce, the 14th president, and the majestic gold-domed state house, which was built in 1819). Fueled in part by urban types relocating here in search of a slower-paced life, a burgeoning dining scene has been taking shape alongside the longstanding institutions. Newell Post, for instance, is a popular breakfast/lunch stop that's been serving familiar dishes with a regional accent since it opened in 2012, and Revival, a locally minded eatery that opened in 2017, has been drawing crowds with its updates on classic New England fare. Concord also has a bigger music scene than most towns its size, with cafes and small venues hosting local indie performances while the Capitol Center for the Arts sees bigger acts. 3. FROM NEW YORK CITY: TARRYTOWN, NY For most travelers, New York City is the final destination, not a pass-through point, but whether you’re visiting the east coast or have lived in one of the five boroughs your whole life, it’s worth packing your bags for a trip to Tarrytown. This veritable country escape is a 30-minute drive from Midtown, just off the New York State Thruway (I-87) at the eastern landing of the Tappan Zee Bridge, or a 38-minute ride on MTA’s Metro-North Railroad, which leaves frequently from Grand Central. Quaint but lively, Tarrytown is a throwback to village life. There are pretty green spaces, a charming Main Street, and picturesque brick buildings that play host to restaurants, ice cream shops, antique stores, and cute boutiques, not to mention the grand, historic Tarrytown Music Hall where you can catch a broad range of local and national acts. If history piques your interest, take note that the town was a thruway on the Underground Railway, a hometown of Washington Irving, and a retreat for the Rockefellers, who built a family estate here in 1913. It’s a terrific place to catch your breath after a few days in the city. 4. FROM TORONTO: PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY (Alisonh29/Dreamstime) Prince Edward County is to Toronto what the Hudson Valley is to New York City, which is to say a super-hip urban escape with a growing number of gorgeous boutique hotels and dynamite creative restaurants, food trucks, and farmers’ markets. That should come as no surprise, given the regions abundant organic farms. With its rural landscape and natural attraction, PEC, about two and a half hours from both Ottawa and Toronto, is a refuge for creative types who expanded the area’s artistic footprint with their shops and galleries. And about those natural attractions: Sandbanks, one of the largest beaches in Ontario, offers swimming, fishing, hiking, sailing, and camping, while the pilgrimage-worth Lake on the Mountain, a provincial park (the Canadian equivalent of a state park), delivers a mind-bending sight, with the freshwater lake stretching out onto a cliff over a bay. And what’s more, it’s a terrific wine region, and the sheer number of vineyards make it a destination in its own right. 5. FROM SEATTLE: VASHON ISLAND, WA When you hear “American island escape,” it’s easy to think of Hawaii or North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The Pacific Northwest, though, is dotted with enchanting little islands—many of which are easy to get to and easy to fall for. The 37-square-miles Vashon Island, the largest in the Puget Sound, is about a 90-minute ferry ride from Fauntleroy Terminal in West Seattle, and the destination (population 10,000) is nothing short of a rural old-world paradise. Thanks to its backwoods roads, stretches of farmland, and protected waters of Quartermaster Harbor, the island is best explored by bike or kayak, both of which you can rent. Many of the small towns along the highway can be loosely described as artist colonies with a hippie vibe. Galleries, cafes, and an array of restaurants proliferate, plus there are seasonal performances, like outdoor concerts and Shakespeare in the Park, and the Vashon Center for the Arts (vashoncenterforthearts.org), a regal performance space and gallery that came with a $20 million price tag when it opened in 2016. Today it’s home to the Vashon Opera, a decade-old company, and host to a variety of local and national acts. With that many options, you’ll likely need more than a weekend. 6. FROM AUSTIN: GEORGETOWN, TX A mere 30 miles north of Austin, Georgetown was once a sleepy bedroom community, but lately it's come into its own, largely because real estate prices and lack of availability have pushed artists, musicians, and other creative types out of what some refer to as the music capital of the world. In the past few years, Georgetown has emerged as a portrait of modern America against a historic backdrop. It was once a stronghold of Western life along the Chisholm Trail, and the town square, a lively gathering place, is also a historic site to behold, with gorgeously preserved Victorian-era buildings. Dining options range from high-end bistros to cheery, creative pizza shops, like 600 Degrees Pizzeria. But what really makes this small town a culinary destination is its wineries, including the Georgetown Winery right in the middle of the town square. For those looking to do extensive vineyard visits, take note: The town is 90 minutes from Hill Country, a thriving wine region that's quite vast, as to be expected in Texas. 7. FROM DENVER: CHEYENNE, WY When it comes to short trips from Denver, we’re casting our vote for crossing state lines and checking out Cheyenne, despite Colorado's many adorable mountain towns. The Wyoming state capital is about 100 miles from Denver International Airport, and to make things easy, there’s a shuttle from the terminal to downtown Cheyenne (greenrideco.com). The city's biggest claim to fame is the annual Cheyenne Frontier Days, a festive pageant-like salute to rodeo and all things Western, but there are plenty of ways to celebrate America's vintage Western spirit here year-round. For starters: check out the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum, the Cowgirl Museum of the West, and more. It's an easy city to explore on foot: The Victorian-style downtown includes a delightful mix of country-chic outfitters, hip boutiques, bookstores, and vintage shops, plus a variety of restaurants, many of which offer noteworthy craft beer selections. 8. FROM LOS ANGELES: PASADENA, CA Los Angeles may have the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, but its neighbor to the east has some sparkle of its own. A little more than ten miles from downtown L.A. via CA-110, Pasadena boasts world-class arts institutions, an array of delicious places to eat and drink, and a picturesque, walkable old-town area, all against a backdrop that looks like something out of a film set—and that’s because it might very well be one. Pasadena is an unsung hero of the movie-making scene, and it’s such a staple that there’s an entire walking tour devoted to filming locations around town. But it’s not all stardust and sequins. Stroll along Old Pasadena’s Colorado Boulevard, where you’ll find big-brand chains and indie boutiques alike; pop into the Norton Simon Museum (nortonsimon.org), where classic works by Picasso and Degas complement modern pieces like massive murals by California native Sam Francis; book a table at one of the city’s 500 restaurants (think green juice and avocado toast at Sage Vegan Bistro and blockbuster northern Italian fare at Union Restaurant); and catch a show or a game at the Rose Bowl before you head back to La-La Land. 9. FROM NASHVILLE: FRANKLIN, TN A 20-mile shot down I-65 from Nashville, Franklin (population 75,000) has serious music-world credentials—enough to hold its own against Music City. This powerhouse town has country and western in its blood: Stars like Wynonna Judd have been known to pop in for the famous open-mic night at Puckett’s Grocery, and country royalty like Alan Jackson and Keith Urban have owned property in the area. With a beautiful 16-block stretch of historically preserved buildings—an array of shops, galleries, and homes—plus a storybook-worthy Main Street, downtown Franklin is Americana incarnate. Main Street is anchored by the landmark Franklin Theatre, a performance and movie venue that's been lovingly restored to its original 1937 glory. Further afield, the quaint hamlet of Leiper’s Fork is a hip one-stop shop for anyone seeking old-school Southern soul. You’ll find it here in antique shops and galleries, eateries dishing out classic regional fare, distilleries producing small-batch whiskies, and local institutions like Finds in the Fork, a paradise for vinyl collectors. Weather permitting, settle in for an alfresco flick at the Leipers Fork Lawnchair Theater. It’s country living at its finest.For travel inspiration, know-how, deals, and more, sign up for Budget Travel's free e-newsletter.

    National Parks

    Park-to-Park Adventure: Glacier to Yellowstone

    “Montana!” Quite honestly, that's the first word out of my mouth when I learn that the National Park Service is celebrating its centennial in 2016. Thinking like a travel editor requires that most news items be filtered through the lens of “Is there a travel angle?” For me, the words “national park” brings to mind Montana’s two: Glacier and Yellowstone. And so my family’s “Park-to-Park Adventure” is born. I resolve to bring my wife and daughters to Glacier in summer 2016, then make our way to Yellowstone, stopping at some of the beautiful towns along the way. The NPS centennial isn’t the only inspiration, of course: Like Paris, Montana is “always a good idea," and perhaps never more so than this record-breakingly hot summer in New York City. Plus, my wife, Michele, lived in Montana in high school and college, and our daughters, now 9 and 13, enjoyed brief visits when they were younger. One more incentive (shh! don't tell): I’ve somehow managed never to visit Wyoming, Montana’s beautiful neighbor to the southeast and home to most of Yellowstone’s 3,500+ square miles. In mid-July, we board a plane in NYC and fly to Glacier International Airport, in Kalispell, Montana. Here, the story of our amazing two-week adventure out west. (If you’re inspired to book your own trip, learn more at VisitMT.com.) KALISPELL Our stay in the Flathead Valley city of Kalispell is short, just an overnight between picking up our rental car at Glacier International Airport and heading up to the park the next morning, but it’s just what we need to get acclimated to life in Big Sky Country. The lobby of the Kalispell Grand Hotel delivers a bit of the Old West without overdoing the kitsch: Beautiful dark wood, a comfy sitting area, great home-baked cookies, and a warm welcome from the staff. Rooms are nicely appointed, allowing guests to enjoy contemporary conveniences while still feeling that they’ve stepped back about a century. Right up Main Street from the hotel, we are overjoyed to discover Norm’s Soda Fountain, an old-timey lunch counter and candy store that serves fantastic burgers (including choices of both beef and bison) and our first taste of… wait for it… huckleberry ice cream! We learn that here in the Rockies, huckleberry season is short (mid-to-late summer) but its sweetness is extended by the blue fruit’s transformation into syrups, candies, ice cream, and more. Next morning, we pack up the car and stop at the Super One so we can stock our kitchen in Glacier and beyond: Pancake mix is at the top of my kids’ list, but we also load up on easy-to-cook staples and picnic favorites to maximize our budget and to be prepared for whatever adventures the park presents us. Pro tip: We pick up a cheap ice chest for the duration of the road trip, eventually leaving it with our friends in Billings just before boarding our plane back home. The drive from Kalispell to Glacier National Park climbs up Highway 2 for less than an hour, and if it were located just about anywhere else in the U.S., that ride alone would be considered a spectacular must-see. In western Montana, it's just par for the course. We love seeing the peaks of Glacier’s mountains looming up ahead. Before we enter the park, we stop in the tiny town of West Glacier (mostly motels and shops) to visit the strategically placed Alberta Visitor Center. Even though Canada is not on our itinerary for this trip, the Alberta displays devoted to the Canadian Mounted Police, western heritage, Native American culture, and wildlife are totally worth a stop. And (I'm burying the lede) the immense T-Rex fossil in the lobby will delight visitors of all ages. (And, note to self: Next time we visit Montana, let’s leave some time to cross the border into beautiful Alberta.) GLACIER NATIONAL PARK As we pass through the entrance to Glacier National Park ($30 per car for up to a week-long stay), we begin to recognize sights from Glacier’s webcams, which we’ve been following all winter and spring in anticipation of this visit. (The bridge! The ice cream shop! The lake!) The webcams inspired us, then helped us plan our trip, but as we finally arrive in the park, the pinch-me feeling is almost too much to bear: We can’t quite believe we’re actually here. Our cabin for the next three nights is in Apgar Village, a small community of lodgings, restaurants, and outfitters at the southern shore of Lake McDonald. The cabin is just roomy enough (bedroom with two big beds, full eat-in kitchen, bathroom) that we enjoy the minimal time we’ll spend there (mornings, evenings), but once we get our luggage loaded in and the kitchen stocked, we’re ready to get back outside. We happily wade in nearby McDonald Creek and skip rocks in Lake McDonald while the peaks of the Continental Divide stand sentinel in the distance. In mid-July, there’s still plenty of snow in the mountains, and the creek and lake water, fed by snow melt, is still incredibly cold (frame of reference for travelers who like to make these comparisons: colder than the ocean in Maine, for real). We also notice that the rocks along Lake McDonald are multi-colored, reflecting the grinding of the glaciers against the mountains for thousands of years. Here, I point out to my older daughter, Clara, is the perfect vacation spot for a rising 8th grader who will be studying earth science in September. One of the things that make national parks such amazing vacation experiences is that the natural wonders are complemented by the presence of knowledgeable, friendly rangers. Our first day in Glacier is made even more special by our chat with a ranger manning a telescope in Apgar Village. We couldn’t help but ask what he was doing pointing a telescope at the sky in the middle of the afternoon. Turns out he was studying sunspots and the sun’s corona, and invited us to join him. My younger daughter, Rosalie, especially enjoyed the experience and it inspired us to pick up a Junior Ranger activity book for her at the Apgar Visitor Center. For the next three days, Rosalie would record our activities in hopes of receiving a Junior Ranger badge. (She succeeded, with a ranger signing her book and presenting her with a badge at the Apgar Nature Center a few days later.) Dinner that first night in Glacier is home-made burgers in our little kitchen, and that suits us just fine. We turn in early, with visions of the Continental Divide (tomorrow morning’s destination) dancing in our heads. The drive from Apgar Village to Logan Pass, at the Continental Divide, is less than an hour, but the Going-to-the-Sun Road offers such an array of views (tree-filled valleys below, granite peaks and the Big Sky above), you can actually spend half a day just getting to the pass. We opt for efficiency this morning, though, because we’ve learned that getting to the Logan Pass parking lot before 10 a.m. during summer’s high season is the only way to guarantee a parking spot. We don’t rush up to the pass (and I take the opportunity to point out to Clara that the sheer rock faces that the road hugs are like geologic time capsules with their varied colors and shapes), but we don’t take our time either. We arrive at the Logan Pass Visitor Center right on time, and, sure enough, we nab one of the last available parking spots. Stepping out of the car, we realize that as we drove the winding highway up to the 6,000+ foot pass, the temperature dropped into the 40s, and we’re grateful for those layers we packed. In sweatshirts and jeans in mid-July, we hit the trail to the appropriately named Hidden Lake Overlook. Up a winding boardwalk, then a dirt trail, then a rock trail, and then another boardwalk, visitors traverse this subalpine environment, where pine trees are twisted and stunted by the winter winds and snow, flowers grow for a heartbreakingly brief instant in midsummer, and it’s perfectly acceptable to pause and catch your breath now and then (possibly from the high altitude, and possibly from the sheer beauty). Long story short: A July snowfall (yes, it happens up here) has left some of the trail covered in slippery snow, and by the time we reach the incredible overlook, we’ve earned the unforgettable view with slips, slides, and one fall that almost resulted in my rolling down a steep hill. (My kids were briefly terrified, then merely embarrassed for me as I got to my feet and brushed the snow from my 501s.) We snap pics of the lake below (if that July snow ever melts, the trail to Hidden Lake will open to visitors, but we won’t be in Glacier long enough on this trip and we simply enjoy the amazing overlook). The big stars up here, though, aren’t water or rock: They’re goats. Actually, mountain goats are more closely related to antelope than the tin-can eating farm denizens they’re named for. Adults and kids are awed by the white, bearded mountain goats that clip-clop their way over the rocks, across the boardwalk overlook, and up the sides of the mountains. Fair warning: Once you’ve looked one in the eye, you’re forever hooked on this unique subalpine environment, and start counting the days till you can return. Sure, Logan Pass may be the high point, both literally and figuratively, of Glacier National Park, but we are by no means done with all the park has to offer. We picnic by St. Mary’s Lake, on the east side of the park, noting evidence of the relatively recent forest fire that turned some of the area around the lake into charred stumps. Rangers are eager to point out that fire is an essential element of forest ecology, not a catastrophe but a means to clear out underbrush and for certain trees, including lodgepole pine, to spread their seeds via pine cones that open up only when exposed to extreme heat. And with the beautiful lake spread out before us, I wouldn’t trade our humble picnic (bologna on sourdough bread, carrot sticks, and apples) for any Michelin-starred menu in the world. We briefly exit the park on our way to the Two Medicine area, where two lakes (Upper and Lower Two Medicine) await, and one of our favorite waterfalls enthralls us: Running Eagle Falls is impressive both from the creek bed at its base and also from an easy overlook above, and as temperatures climb in the afternoon sun, we happily splash one another with the icy water. Tonight, we’re splurging (a little) on dinner at the East Glacier Lodge. Built in the glory days of the Great Northern Railroad, the lodge dazzles visitors with a cavernous lobby whose pillars are actual tree trunks. After a comfort-food meal (I tried the fish-and-chips, washed down with a huckleberry margarita, which is actually a thing and it’s pretty great), Michele notices that the lobby boasts a grand piano that welcomes “accomplished musicians” to play. I gladly sit down and entertain my family and the lodge’s staff and guests with some jazz piano. Rather than return to our cabin at Apgar Village via Going-to-the-Sun Road, we opt for the perimeter of the park, which takes about the same amount of time minus the switchbacks and vertigo. We sleep like stones. Next morning, after another of my pancake breakfasts, we are determined to conquer Lake McDonald in canoes. Joined by Michele’s friend Tami and her daughter Alex, who are visiting Glacier from Spokane, we rent two canoes from the vendors at the river bank, do a little practicing close to shore, then head out to explore the lake on a perfectly cloudless day with a slight breeze. We’re impressed by how our girls take to the discipline of padding and steering, and later in the day they insist that Alex teach them how to do some standup paddle boarding. I’m worried, of course, but tell myself that with life vests and swimming lessons my daughters will survive. They do more than survive: They thrive on the thrill of SUP, and watching them take to it reminds me to savor these days when both girls navigate that border between needing me and, um, not so much. One of their rewards for trying something new and tricky? BBQ ribs in our cabin kitchen, of course. After dinner, we go back to the lake to watch the shadows fall on the water. We’re surprised to find a gentleman playing an alpine horn, a very long tube with a brass mouthpiece. He plays simple folk melodies, sending low, resonant notes out over the lake to bounce off the surrounding mountains. The melancholy echoes are the perfect soundtrack for our last evening in the park. Next morning, we resolve to enjoy our final hours in Glacier at the iconic Trail of the Cedars. An easy hike along a boardwalk, the trail takes us past ancient cedar trees, including downed stumps with roots in the air, hollow trees perfect for photo ops, and the beautiful Avalanche Falls. (Don’t worry, the avalanche happened a long time ago, and you can safely traverse Avalanche Creek on a footbridge that’s perfect for snapping photos.) It’s hard to say goodbye to Glacier, and we can only do it by promising one another that we’ll be back sooner rather than later. But out next national park is Yellowstone, several hundred miles to the southeast, and we’ve got some pretty cool destinations to visit between here and there. Once we’ve driven out of Glacier, we can’t help but look forward to our next stop: the Flathead Valley town of Bigfork, whose gigantic Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi and the perfect place for the family to test its newfound paddling skills. BIGFORK Our next two night are at the gorgeous Bridge Street Cottages in Bigfork. With lots of room, a full kitchen, a front porch (!), and an easy walk to the Swan River, Electric Avenue (the town’s evocatively named main street), and a playground for shaking our sillies out. One of the nice things about visiting Bigfork after Glacier is that the town can pack your dance card to such as extent that you don’t spend much time looking back: Live theater, great food, and views of the lake and the surrounding mountain ranges. We decide that, having conquered Lake McDonald in canoes and on paddle boards, it’s time to get serious: Two tandem kayaks to explore Flathead Lake. We turn to the professional, reliable, and affordable Base Camp Bigfork, which delivers two kayaks, life vests, and a “dry bag” right to the dock on Bigfork Bay, provides a little coaching. I share a kayak with Clara, Michele shares a kayak with Rosalie, and we’re off. We get used to the tandem paddling and steering on the bay, then head out into the lake for a three-hour paddle that is, for me, the high point of our entire trip. We paddle past pine forests, beach our kayaks for a picnic, collect the incredible colored rocks on shore, and Michele even creates an impromptu mosaic out of rocks on shore. It’s only when we’re back in Bigfork (Basecamp meets us back at the dock to collect our equipment and settle up) that we realize that none of us has ever kayaked more than 10 minutes in our lives. It is an exhilarating day. PHILIPSBURG Anyone traveling from Glacier to Yellowstone will be grateful for the town of Philipsburg, a little mining town in Granite County, a short drive south of Interstate 90. Especially if you’re driving with kids, Philipsburg may be the town of your dreams: Stop here to learn how to pan for gems and chow down at "The World’s Greatest Candy Store." Any questions? The Sapphire Gallery will teach you how to turn a pile of dirt and rubble into a smaller pile of beautiful raw sapphires: You purchase a bag of gravel mined from the nearby mountains, then swirl it around in a pan to align the gravel so that the raw sapphires (much denser than the surrounding debris) sink to the bottom center. Then you turn your sieve upside down and pick out the raw sapphires. Staff is on hand to help, and you can then take your favorite sapphires to be analyzed to determine which ones are good candidates for heat-treating, which gives sapphires their shine and their color. We ended up with three good candidates, paid to have them heat treated, and they arrived in the mail a few weeks later, even more beautiful than we’d hoped. Even if we weren’t a little peckish after our sapphire activity, it’d be difficult to say “no” to The Sweet Palace, billed as “The World’s Greatest Candy Store” and located right next door to the Sapphire Gallery. As you walk in the door, you’re greeted by the unmistakable aroma of taffy, fudge, and other other delights all blending together in way that takes you back to your childhood, or the childhood of your dreams. Rows and rows of candy jars, ranging from well-known favorites to unusual regional treats, invite you to overindulge. We do. I hand each of my daughters a candy bag and instruct them to pick out no more than one pound each. It occurs to me only later, as they spread their bounty on their hotel beds, that one pound of candy is a little much; oh well, we’re on vacation, right? For dinner, we enjoy Tommyknockers, across the street from our hotel. The burgers and lemonade are just what we need after a day on the road, and I especially enjoy a refreshingly light craft beer, brewed just down the street at Philipsburg Brewing Company. We bed down in style at The Broadway Hotel, where each room is decorated in the style of a particular travel destination. Appropriately enough, we get a U.K.-themed room that suits my family's literary taste (Dickens, Austen, Rowling) perfectly. In the morning, we join other hotel guests in a hearty breakfast of home-baked quiches, pastry, and more. Even though we weren't traveling with a dog, we appreciated the hotel's pet-friendly policies, and we loved chatting with the staff about the town's mining history and cool comeback in recent years. BIG SKY From Philipsburg, we could power right on into Yellowstone in about four hours, but instead we opt for a pitstop in Belgrade for the truly exceptional sandwiches, ribs, and variety of sauces at Bar 3 Bar-B-Q, then one more stop, a night at Huntley Lodge at Big Sky Resort. Over the years, we’ve noticed that ski resorts in summer can be affordable and beautiful. The drive down from Interstate 90 via MT-85/191 is one of the most beautiful drives in the U.S., flanking the Gallatin River for much of the way. As we pull into Big Sky, we note that the terrain is already changing from the dramatic granite peaks of western Montana, and we know we’re getting closer to Yellowstone country. The girls put their newfound panning skills to the test at the resort’s kid-friendly sluice (no sapphires here, but cool treasures nonetheless). We enjoy a roomy lodging that includes a loft, and we rest up for the adventure that awaits us tomorrow. YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, just outside the park, combines what we love about national parks with what we love about the best zoos: Here, grizzlies and gray wolves rescued from the wild (some have been injured or abandoned by parents, others have become dangerously acclimated to human food) are kept in spacious exhibit areas where they can live out their days with ample food and water and the loving attention of a nonprofit organization devoted to preserving wildlife and educating the public. We especially enjoy the exhibits because these two species are native to Yellowstone National Park but are difficult to actually see on a three-day visit like ours. Entering Yellowstone knowing that we’ve already had our up-close-and-personal experiences with grizzlies and wolves is a great feeling. Yellowstone National Park ($30 per car for up to a week-long stay), the first national park, was founded in 1872 and remains one of the most popular in the U.S. More than 3,500 square miles that include portions of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, the park boasts more than 10,000 “hydrothermal” spots like geysers and hot springs, more than the rest of the world combined, thanks to the "supervolcano" under the park, which heats rainwater and melted snow into steam that rises back up to the earth's surface. As we enter Yellowstone, I’m psyched to be visiting this park for the first time. A few earlier plans to visit the park always managed to fall through and I’ve been an avid fan of the place from afar, following the reintroduction of wolves here in the 1990s, the new findings about the “supervolcano” under the park, and, of course, hearing from Budget Travel readers over the years about how much they love this place. There’s a lot to love: In many respects, Yellowstone combines the majesty of Glacier with the eye-candy of Yosemite, with sudden changes in terrain and wildlife seemingly around every bend of the road. All that awesomeness comes at a price, though: As we pay our entry fee, I ask the ranger on duty if there are any attractions in Yellowstone that require an early arrival time, such as Logan Pass did at Glacier. She replies, “Yes, pretty much all of them.” Our home for the next three nights is Hayden Lodge, at the Canyon Lodge complex in Canyon Village, and we’re thrilled to find that the room is not only brand-new and extremely design-forward and green, but also includes a patio. Our patio faces east, so on our first evening we are treated to a rising full moon, which recalls folk singer Bill Stains’s classic song “My Sweet Wyoming Home” and its lyric, “Watch the moon smilin’ in the sky…” We set out the next day to explore the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, fully aware that the name raises expectations for anyone who’s been to the better-known canyon in Arizona. We’re pleased to find that none of the photographs of Yellowstone’s canyon do it justice: Standing on the overlooks of the upper and lower falls is one of those experiences that can’t really be brought home except in memory. The scale is tremendous, the distances difficult to appreciate until you’re standing there. The lower falls are the ones farther down the Yellowstone River and they are much taller than the upper falls, raising a confusing point of nomenclature that we notice visitors discussing in various languages all day. Along with travelers from all over the globe, we happily snap pics even as we know that they won’t fully convey the feeling of standing by the canyon. After our day at the canyon, a little awed by the sights and a little sluggish from the altitude (in Glacier, our highest point was around 6,000 feet at Logan Pass; here in Yellowstone we’re at about 8,000 all the time), we grab an early dinner at Canyon Village’s cafeteria, an affordable option with no-frills comfort food like burritos, shepherd’s pie, hot dogs, and chicken fingers. We devote the next day to the natural loop of Yellowstone’s main road, which allows visitors to hit nearly all the park’s major attractions in one big circle. We head toward the Old Faithful Visitor Center with a slightly jaded attitude: Sure, we’ve got to see the iconic geyser, but we’re not looking forward to the throngs. But the visitor center offers such a great array of exhibits devoted to the supervolcano that is Yellowstone, we soon perk up and really dive into the informative displays; there’s also a great short film about the park, and a “Young Scientists” section with hands-on activities. And, of course, the geyser itself does not disappoint. Once as reliable as its name, Old Faithful now tends to erupt roughly every 90 minutes, and rangers keep visitors informed as they monitor the next impending display. We loved it. Other stops along the loop include the Grand Prismatic, an otherworldly pool of bubbling mud and steam; Lake Yellowstone, much bigger than Glacier’s Lake McDonald and much wilder in just about every way; and numerous pullouts where steam happens to be rising out of the ground. We spot bison in several places, including one or two that are surprisingly close to the road, something you get used to quickly in Yellowstone. We stop to see Yellowstone Lodge, the first hotel in the park, and marvel at the way terrain and trees change within just a few miles of one another here: From the moonscape of the Grand Prismatic, we’re quickly back in lush pine forests, then just as quickly we’re surrounded by giant boulders that look as if they were dropped from the sky by playful aliens. We’re just as sorry to leave Yellowstone as we were Glacier, but on our last day here we have two cool things to look forward to: The drive to the park’s northeast exit will take us through the fabled Lamar Valley, and we’ll be meeting friends in nearby Cooke City for dinner. Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley is perhaps best known as the place where gray wolves were reintroduced to the park in the mid-1990s. These days, it’s the place you’re most likely to spot a wolf, but your chances are still pretty slim. The valley has a gentle beauty that’s different from the more rugged spots elsewhere in the park. Gone are the hydrothermal displays and in their place, pine forests, immense meadows, and wildlife encounters that we’ll never forget. On our way out of the park, we don’t see any wolves, but we don’t really fret about it: We are treated to an absolutely unreal bison extravaganza. Rutting bulls are everywhere in the valley, butting heads in their ritual attempts to impress a mate, rolling around in the dust like gigantic puppies, and liberally crossing the highway as if cars were a minor irritation. Of course I shoot endless stills and video, capturing one bison in particular as he gets especially close to our car and crosses the highway right in front of us. COOKE CITY We arrive in Cooke City tired but happy to meet up with our friends Keith and Molly, longtime Billings residents who have been visiting a family cabin in Cooke City on weekends and vacations for years. Cooke City, named one of Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Towns in America in 2012, is a tiny Wild West outpost, with the iconic Cooke City Store (often referred to as "the red store"), souvenir shops, and the best burgers I’ve had in years: You must stop by Beds N Buns for a Cheddar Bomb, a burger served on an onion kaiser roll and smothered in onions, pickles, and melted cheddar (406-838-2030). And we explore a nearby park that boasts a waterfall as dramatic as any in Glacier or Yellowstone. (I have promised not to reveal its location lest it become overrun with visitors: Some insider secrets, after all, must actually remain insider secrets.) We sleep soundly amid the utter silence of the mountains here in Cooke City before experiencing one more staggeringly beautiful highway in the morning. BEARTOOTH HIGHWAY At the risk of sounding like a movie trailer: In a world full of dramatic highways, the Beartooth Highway stands above them all. Literally. We hit the highway on our way from Cooke City to Billings, and the road takes us into the clouds. Above the treeline, we’re covering ground that’s inaccessible from mid-October well into the spring due to the feet of snow that pile up here. The views are endless, the switchbacks challenging, and the pullouts are some of our most vivid memories. At one point near the highway’s highest point (around 13,000 feet), we get out of the car to drink in the view of a massive valley before us and Clara and Rosalie begin to spontaneously dance. When we get back home to New York, we’ll ask them what their favorite place in Montana was and they’ll both answer “Beartooth Highway!” BILLINGS As our park-to-park adventure, which kicked off in Kalispell two weeks earlier, draws to a close, we pull into Billings, “Montana’s Trailhead,” for a relaxing weekend with friends and our flight back home. Montana’s biggest city, Billings is a destination unto itself, decidedly urban compared with our days on the road, our paddling expeditions, hikes on snowy trails, and dips in ice-cold mountain lakes. We love the Yellowstone Art Center, the Western Heritage Center, and the Downtown Brewery District, among many other spots. Boarding that plane back to NYC wasn’t easy, but Michele, Clara, Rosalie, and I continue to relive our extraordinary two weeks in Big Sky Country and hope our trip will inspire you to follow in our footsteps.

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