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National Parks

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Visiting Voyageurs National Park in Winter

Two centuries ago, only Native Americans and French Canadian “voyageurs” saw the pelt-rich terrain of northern Minnesota. Today, Voyageurs National Park is still a haven for furry animals and hardy souls in winter. Brave the often extreme weather conditions (ice on the lakes, for example, can be five feet thick) and you’ll be in the good company of moose, white-tailed deer, mink, beavers, bald eagles, and the eastern timber wolf. Rangers at Voyageurs’ Rainy Lake Visitor Center teach clinics on how to make your own snowshoe and, once finished, take people deep into the forest of pines, birches and cedars on evening wolf howls. Two of the best ways to get lost is on the 2.5-mile Sullivan Bay snowshoe trail and the 11-mile Black Bay cross-country ski trail. Sullivan Bay is a hard-packed up-and-down route on the shores of Kabetogama Lake (one of Voyageurs network of 30 lakes). The groomed Black Bay Trail zips past beaver ponds under a grove of aspens. Spearfishing for northern pikes is popular on Kabetogama in winter, but that’s one sport rangers don’t teach. However, the park staff does plow a 7-mile road on Rainy Lake so anglers can set up their ice houses to fish for walleye and burbot.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/24/13 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Visiting Zion National Park in Winter

With winter daytime temperatures in the mid-50s, Zion is a coveted off-season secret with hikers. The red and amber canyon walls that form a tower of massive rock is usually blanketed by snow at higher elevations (7,000 to 9,000 feet). Down at the 4,000-foot high Park Headquarters, however, all you’ll need is a decent pair of boots. Flurries rarely make it to these lower heights. A good warm-up near headquarters is the 2-mile round-trip Watchman Trail. Climbing to a plateau near the base of a twisted monolith, the trail offers views of lower Zion Canyon, the Towers of the Virgin, and West Temple formations. Far more impressive is a hike in the Narrows where you walk in the Virgin River through a 1,000-foot-deep-chasm that’s a mere 20-feet wide. You’ll need a wet suit and booties because of the cool water temperatures, but that’s a small price to pay to have this monster slot to yourself.  If you have your heart set on cross-country skiing, head to the rarely visited Kolob section of Zion. Pinnacles project out of the high mesa floor that, at 7,000 feet, is covered with snow.  


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/23/13 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Visiting Yosemite National Park in Winter

Head to the Grand Canyon or Yosemite National Park in summer and “forever wild” might feel more like “forever congested.” Come winter, these same parks are virtually uninhabited, almost returning to their original state. Cold weather can add a sense of wild enchantment—a layer of frost on the Canyon’s North Rim, icicles hang from Yosemite’s granite grandeur, the mixture of fresh snow and the briny Atlantic at Acadia. So grab your hiking boots, snowshoes, or cross-country skies and check out the country’s most scenic spots the way Muir and Abbey did, alone in their own private playground.  

First stop, Yosemite National Park. Yosemite is a winter wonderland where you can play amidst sheer granite cliffs and domes, iced-over waterfalls, and towering trees. To truly savor the feeling of being alone in a national park, make snow angels at the roots of 200-foot sequoia trees in Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove. A 2-mile snowshoe trek in and you’re staring at these titanic trees, their shaggy orange bark a striking contrast to the frigid whiteness that envelops the rest of the forest. Cross-country skiers cherish the ten miles of groomed track that leads to 7,000-foot high Glacier Point. Here, a backcountry hut offers accommodations and a thrilling view of the Yosemite Valley. The sheer walls of the silvery Half Dome plunges some 4,500 feet down to a handful of figures swirling on the luminescent orb otherwise known as the Curry Village ice rink. The park is also home to one of the oldest downhill ski areas in California, Badger Pass, built in the late 20s in a bid to get the 1930 Winter Olympics. The bid failed but the resort, with a vertical drop of only 800 feet, is now one of the best places in the West to learn how to ski. At night, take refuge around the massive fireplace in the Ahwahnee Hotel’s Great Lounge. This spacious lodge was built of heavy timber and stone in 1927.  
(Photograph by the talented Benny Haddad)

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/22/13 at 01:00 PM
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Friday, March 04, 2011

The Historic Nelson’s Dockyard National Park in Antigua

There are few other Caribbean islands that can match the impressive history of Antigua. The biggest attraction on the island, English Harbour, is a long inlet popular with the Caribbean yachting sect, especially during Sailing Week festivities in late April. From 1784 to 1787, however, it was home to the British fleet and naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson. The restored Georgian buildings and pier are now part of Nelson’s Dockyard National Park. You’ll get a guided tour of the buildings and a bit of history on Nelson, who was only 27 when he became Commander-in-Chief of the Leeward Islands. Up the hill from English Harbour stands a dilapidated fortress called Shirley Heights. The view of the harbor and the rocky coastline from the Lookout is the best on the island. If you’re lucky enough to tour the facility on a Sunday, you’ll hear a steel drum band play live music and watch a game of cricket. The lone cannon at Shirley Heights points to the terra cotta roof of a rambling house that’s owned by singer Eric Clapton. Yes, “Slowhand” plays his guitar, not surprisingly, on Caribbean time.


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/04/11 at 02:00 PM
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Friday, January 14, 2011

National Park Service Announces Free Days for 2011

If you’re planning to hit one of America’s National Parks in 2011, you might save yourself some cash if you visit during one of their free dates during the year. Staring with the upcoming Martin Luther King weekend (January 15-17), other free days at the Parks include National Park Week (April 16-24), the first day of summer (June 21), National Public Lands Day (September 24), and the weekend of Veterans Day (November 11-13). Many park concessions will also offer discounts on fee free days, saving visitors money on food, lodging, tours, and souvenirs.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/14/11 at 02:00 PM
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Friday, October 29, 2010

Yellowstone in Winter, at a Discount

America’s natural wonders were chosen to be national parks to preserve their indigenous state. Yet, if you venture to places like Yellowstone in the summer, “forever wild” seems more like “forever congested.” Come winter, these same parks are virtually uninhabited, almost returning to their original state. Who wouldn’t relish the opportunity to cross-country ski or snowshoe with more bison and elk than homo sapiens? Now Yellowstone National Park Lodges has made it even more attractive, reducing their price at the lodge to $109 per person for a two-night stay. Rates include two breakfasts, a one-hour hot tub rental, unlimited ice skating and skate rentals, in-park transportation, and guided tours. Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel makes a great base to look for wolves in Lamar Valley or explore the wondrous travertine terraces just outside the front door of the lodging. Call 866-439-7375 and ask for the "Frosty Fun at Mammoth" package. The rates on the website were incorrect when I last checked.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/29/10 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Marsh, Billings, Rockefeller—Quite the Trio

“Every middle-aged man who revisits his birthplace after a few years of absence looks upon another landscape than that which formed the theater of his youthful toils and pleasures,” said George Perkins Marsh in 1847 in a speech at the Agricultural Society of Rutland County, Vermont. Growing up in Woodstock, Vermont, Marsh had seen three-quarters of Vermont’s forest cover destroyed for potash, lumber, crops, and pasture.  17 years later, Marsh would delve further into these egregious practices in his epic book on the American environment, Man and Nature. Reflecting on what he had seen, Marsh wrote about a concept of sound husbandry where men could mend nature.

A generation younger, Frederick Billings was deeply touched by Marsh’s writings and, in 1869, purchased Marsh’s childhood home in order to make the estate a model of progressive farming and forestry. Beginning in the 1870s, Billings designed a forest with numerous tree plantations and constructed a 20-mile network of carriage roads to showcase his work. On the lowlands, Billings developed a state-of-the-art dairy. In 1982, Billings granddaughter, Mary French Rockefeller and her husband, the conservationist Laurance Rockefeller, established the farmland as the Billings Farm & Museum. In June 1998, the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Mansion and the surrounding forest became the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park.

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller is the first unit of the National Park System to focus on the theme of conservation history and stewardship, the main concern of Marsh and Billings. With their emphasis on the careful cooperation of man and nature, they had the utmost desire to pass land on, undiminished, even enhanced, to the next generation and generations to come. The Park Service will continue a program of forest management on the site, offering workshops on how to use the forest most efficiently.

Tour the exhibits in the Carriage Barn, then hit the carriage path trails like my family did this past weekend through Billings’ dream 550-acre forest. 11 of Billings’ original plantings remain including groves of Norwegian spruce and Scottish Pine from the 1880s, mixed in with the an indigenous Vermont forest of white pine, red pine, and maples. The longest carriage path trail circles around The Pogue, a shimmering body of water backed by the foliage of Mt. Tom.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/06/10 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, March 29, 2010

Undiscovered Labrador

Cruise North Expeditions, the Inuit-owned cruise company that brings travelers to the remote Canadian outposts of Baffin Island, Hudson Bay, and the High Arctic, has just announced their first land-based safari. This summer, the company is offering 4 and 7-night packages to Canada’s newest national park, Torngat Mountains. Located at the northern tip of Labrador, this large chunk of wilderness has no amenities, no roads, and no accommodations, thus the necessity to head here with a reputable outfitter like Cruise North. You’ll hike with Inuit and Park City wardens to spot moose, caribou, and polar bear, sea kayak amidst the whales and icebergs, and spend the night at safari-style tent camps dining on traditional Inuit cuisine. Prices start at $3190 per person, including lodging, food, and all amenities.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/29/10 at 01:00 PM
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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Win a Trip to One of America’s National Parks

In celebration of the latest Ken Burns documentary, “America’s Best Idea: The National Parks,” the National Parks Foundation and ARAMARK Parks and Destinations are offering a free three night trip for two, including airfare and lodging, to one of their properties. They include Skyland Resort in Shenandoah National Park, Far View Lodge in Mesa Verde National Park, and Lake Quinault Lodge in Olympic National Park. All you have to do is visit during the month of February and share at least one memory at any of America’s National Parks and you could be on your way back. Winners are announced in March.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/18/10 at 02:00 PM
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about us
photo of Steve Jermanok
Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk. is an Austin-Lehman Adventure's Top 125 Best Travel Blog Semi-Finalist

Adventure Travel Trade Association