Bears Cause Closure Of Great Smokey Mountains National Park Campgrounds

Black bears have shut down campsites in the Great Smokey Mountains National ParkOfficials at the Great Smokey Mountains National Park announced the closure of two campgrounds this week due to increased bear activity in the area. They also posted numerous warning signs throughout the park, reminding visitors to remain aware while traveling through the wilderness. The Bear population has reportedly become increasingly bold when approaching humans, and while there have been no injuries as of yet, park officials are urging caution.

Stretching across parts of Tennessee and North Carolina, the park covers roughly 816 square miles of rugged forest and mountain backcountry. With more than 9 million visitors last year alone, the Great Smokey Mountains is the most visited national park in the entire U.S. system. Many of those visitors come with the hope that they’ll catch a glimpse of one of the park’s many ursine residents.

The two campsites that were closed include the Cosby Knob Shelter, which falls on the Tennessee side of the park, and Campsite 113, which is located in North Carolina. Other sites that are under a bear warning include Derrick Knob Shelter, Russell Field Shelter, Campsites 21, 24, 34, 35 and 61. Additionally, further warnings were given for Abrams Falls Trail, Bullhead Trail and Laurel Falls Trail. Officials said that the closures and warnings will remain in effect indefinitely.

Those who plan on visiting the park and staying for an extended period of time are advised to be very careful with their food and garbage. Either can attract a hungry and curious bear looking for its next meal. Backpackers and campers should use a bear bag to hang their food from a tree and use caution when storing anything inside their tents.

With bear populations in the Smokey Mountains continuing to grow, it’s likely the closures of these campsites could become a regular affair. Lets just hope that both the travelers and the bears stay out of each others way as much as possible and no one gets hurts.

[Photo credit: HBarrison via WikiMedia]

Five national parks to visit in the fall

Fall is a wonderful season to visit a national parkLabor Day marks the unofficial end of summer, and although the season will linger for a few more weeks, it is time to start looking ahead to the fall. Autumn brings crisp air, cooler temperatures, and shorter days, and along with it comes a rainbow of colors splashed across the trees. It is a perfect time to visit one of America’s national parks, as thinning crowds bring solitude and silence to those wild spaces. Here are five great destinations for this, or any other, fall.

Great Smokey Mountains National Park
On an annual basis, the Great Smokey Mountains National Park is the most visited in the entire park system. Each year, more than 9 million people pass through its gates, which makes this recommendation a bit of a cliche. But fall brings a dramatic transformation to the miles of forests that stretch out across North Carolina and Tennessee. The leaves first begin to change at higher elevations, then sweep down the sides of the mountains over a few weeks time, bringing bright golds and reds to the region. The colors are at their peak in late October and early November. Be sure to visit during the week to avoid the crowds.

Fire Island National Seashore
Located not far from New York City, the Fire Island National Seashore is a barrier island with 26-miles of protected coastline to explore. Accessed by ferry or one of two bridges, the park offers beautiful sand dunes, rolling ocean waves, and a surprising amount of woodlands. Visitors in the fall quickly learn where the island derives its name, as the copious amounts of poison ivy – a scourge during the summer months– begins to turn a deep scarlet. By late October, the trees take on traditional autumn colors as well, and the annual migration of birds and monarch butterflies from the island is in full swing. It is an amazing time to visit a place that is off the radar for many travelers. Glacier National Park
With its high mountain peaks, crystal clear lakes, and thick forests, Glacier National Park offers breathtaking scenery in any season. Fall is short in northern Montana however, providing a narrow window for visitors to enjoy the views before the early snows begin to fly. None the less, it is the perfect time to visit the park, which sees few travelers after the traffic of summer subsides. Early October turns the larch and aspen trees to orange and yellow before they drop their leaves for yet another year, and while they are awash in color, they are spectacular to behold. Those wishing to drive Glacier’s famous Going to the Sun Road had better hurry however, as it closes for the season on September 19.
Visit a national park in the fall for a spectacular experience
Shenandoah National Park
Nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River Valley of Virginia, this park offers more than 500 miles of hiking trails through some of the most beautiful forests east of the Mississippi River. In the fall, the oak and maple trees, which are abundant throughout the area, assume fiery hues of orange and yellow, delivering a classic seasonal experience to the region. The park’s famous Skyline Drive offers 105 miles of autumn colors to enjoy from your car, although the Fall Foliage Bike Festival may be the best way to take them all in. The festival, now in its 21st year, features 12 different routes and three days of cycling from October 21-23, which is traditionally when the colors are at their finest.

Rocky Mountain National Park
The leaves have already begun to change at the higher altitudes of northern Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, where the annual “Aspen Gold Rush” heralds the coming of fall. Over the next few weeks it will spread down the mountains and valleys before the colors reach their peak at the end of September and slowly fade throughout October. Until then however, visitors are treated to a spectacular display of nature’s beauty that is best taken in on one of the parks 359 miles of hiking trails.

While we may lament the departure of summer for yet another year, fall has its own unique qualities for us to enjoy as well. These parks, and a number of others, will give you plenty of reasons to welcome the change in season and enjoy the colorful months ahead.

[Photos courtesy of the National Park Service]

Ten Can’t Miss Hikes Courtesy of the National Parks Foundation and Merrell

Ten Can't Miss Hikes From The National Parks Foundation and MerrellJust in time for National Trails Day, the National Parks Foundation and outdoor gear company Merrell, have announced their ten “can’t miss” hikes for the summer ahead. As you can imagine, each of these trails can be found inside a national park, and each makes for a fantastic experience guaranteed to wow outdoor enthusiasts and casual trekkers alike.

The ten trails are located in a variety of places across the country, which means that there is likely to be one of these routes located in your region, no matter where you live in the U.S. They also cross through a wide variety of environments, including mountains, deserts, caves, and more. The shortest of the routes is a mere 650 yards in length, while the longest stretches for five miles through scenic California backcountry, ensuring there is something for everyone on the list.

The ten can’t miss hikes, according to the NPF and Merrell, are as follows:

1. Painted Desert Rim Trail (1 Mile)
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

2. Wapama Falls (5 Miles)
Yosemite National Park, California

3. Rim Rock Nature Trail (1 Mile)
Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado

4. Turtle Mound Trail (.3 Miles)
Canaveral National Seashore, Florida

5. General Bragg Trail (5 Miles)
Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Georgia
6. Interdune Boardwalk (650 Yards)
White Sands National Park, New Mexico

7. Canyons Trail (3.5 Miles)
Jewel Cave National Monument, South Dakota

8. Dog Canyon Trail (4 Miles)
Big Bend National Park, Texas

9. Andrews Bald Trail (3.5 Miles)
Great Smokey Mountains, Tennessee

10. Ocean Path Trail (4 Miles)
Acadia National Park, Maine

There you have it! Ten great trails in ten great national parks locations. Any one of these hikes are a fantastic way to spend National Trails Day, or any other day this summer for that matter. So lace up your hiking boots and get a move on!

What is your favorite trail?

[Photo Credit: chensiyuan via WikiMedia]

REI Adventures offers great national park summer escapes

REI Adventures offers great national park summer escapesNow that Memorial Day has come and gone, and the summer travel season is officially upon us, many travelers will be planning their annual escapes. For more than a few, that will mean a summertime visit to one of America’s national parks, which continue to be favorite destinations amongst travelers everywhere.

With this in mind, REI Adventures, the travel arm of the popular gear stores, has put together a host of great itineraries for travelers looking to visit a national park this year, without having to deal with the hassle of planning for it themselves. The company offers 20 unique trips to some of the best national parks in the U.S. system, including Alaska’s Glacier Bay, Yosemite, Bryce Canyon, and more.

While these trips do indeed offer the classic national park experience, such as backpacking the Grand Canyon or kayaking in Yellowstone, there are a number of them that are unique and adventurous. For example, REI offers a four-day cycling tour of Death Valley, as well as backcountry climbing in Joshua Tree. There is even an option for a family-centric trip through Great Smokey Mountains, the most popular national park of them all.

These tours vary in degree of difficulty and scheduled activities, but they all offer a great national park adventure. So instead of stressing over your summertime plans, let REI Adventures take care of all the details for you. Then, when you’re ready to go, you can simply enjoy the trip, while someone else takes care of the rest.

View the full list of available itineraries here.

U.S. national parks were popular destinations in 2009

2009 was a banner year for America’s National Park System, which remained popular with travelers, both foreign and domestic, despite the sluggish economy. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently announced that the parks experienced 10 million more visitors last year than they did in 2008, which represented a 3.9 percent increase.

The Park Service says that more 285 million people payed a visit to one of the parks or monuments that are under their care in 2009, which made it the fifth busiest year in the history of the system. The record for most visits ever was set back in 1987 when 287.2 million people spent time in the national parks.

The news of the upswing in visitors is seen as a good thing on a number of different levels. It meant that Americans and foreign visitors were still viewing the national parks as quality destinations despite challenging economic conditions around the globe. It was also seen as a good sign for Americans becoming more active, with many travelers hiking the trails and enjoying other outdoor activities.

The list of the top ten most visited parks remains generally the same year in and year out. In 2009 that list, along with the number of visitors, was as follows:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 9,491,437 visitors
Grand Canyon National Park, 4,348,068
Yosemite National Park, 3,737,472
Yellowstone National Park, 3,295,187
Olympic National Park, 3,276,459
Rocky Mountain National Park, 2,822,325
Zion National Park, 2,735,402
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, 2,589,288
Grand Teton National Park, 2,580,081
Acadia National Park, 2,227,698

Hopefully this is a trend that will continue. The parks have been called “America’s best idea”, and visiting any one of the top destinations will only reinforce that. So? What is your favorite national park, and which ones are you planning on visiting this year?