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?

Photo of the day (8-13-09)

AlphaTangoBravo or Adam Baker is quickly becoming one of my favorite contributors to Gadling’s Flickr photo of the day pool. This amazing sunset was taken at the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Adam calls it Maize and Blue.

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Submit it to Gadling’s Flickr group right now! We just might use it for our Photo of the Day!

Yo-Yo travel to day hike ventures on the Continental Divide

For National Trails Day this past weekend, I hoofed it around Manhattan making my own trail between 2nd Avenue and the Hudson River and back, criss-crossing streets that had trees that depended upon which park I happened to pass. People watching was more my past-time than communing with nature.

For a few days late nod to National Trails Day, I’ve become engrossed in the hiking trails to be found along the Continental Divide. It all started when I found a video of Francis Tapon’s 6,000 mile trip along the Continental Divide. Tapon, a walking type traveler that must sport some great boots, took this journey two years ago.

This travel feat, the first yo-yo trip of the Divide where a person begins and ends in the same place, was one where Tapon passed through scenery quite opposite to my journey around Manhattan. Tapon’s scenery fit song lyrics to elementary music class favorites like “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful” –as cornball as that sounds.

The snapshots also pay tribute to the notion that spring weather in the United States is not the same. Although some people are throwing backyard barbecues and tossing back beers to cool off by Memorial Day, other places are still covered with snow. As Tapon passed along the trail, the snow lessened.

A person doesn’t have to be a hiking animal like Tapon to partake in the enjoyment. The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail offers several options. There are day hikes and longer that have been mapped out by folks who have made trail development and maintenance their passion. Here’s are links on the Continental Divide Trail Alliance website to hikes in Montana and Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. One detail I appreciate about this website is how the trails have been organized according to which ones are family-friendly to difficult. Family-friendly designates those that are easier to traverse. The trail descriptions also provide information about how to get to particular trail heads and variations on hiking in each location.

From browsing the list, here is one hike from each area that I can personally vouch for based on experience. I’ve seen these spots myself. There’s a big difference in the scenery among these choices which adds to the notion that if you’ve seen one, you definitely have not seen them all:

  • Anaconda/Pintler Wilderness–Montana. I pass through here each summer on the way to Philipsburg. Anaconda, the town with the same name is touted as “Where Main Street Meets the Mountains.” A brother of a friend of mine camped at Lost Creek State Park campground near here and said it was the most gorgeous place he’s ever been.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park–Colorado. When I hiked here, the wildflowers were gorgeous. I was by myself and did not see another person for the few hours I set out to enjoy the scenery.
  • San Pedro Parks Wilderness, Santa Fe National Forest–New Mexico. If you head to this trail in the winter, cross-country skiing is in order. Cross-country skiing in New Mexico is sublime.
  • Shosone Lake Loop, Yellowstone National Park. When I was in Yellowstone, I hiked in back of the Roosevelt Lodge. The Shosone Lake Loop is closest to Old Faithful. You can’t go wrong in Yellowstone wherever you roam. Old Faithful is worth hanging around for as long as you’re in the area.

Photo of the Day (10.11.08)

Maybe it’s because I work for an adventure travel magazine, but I am always drawn to outdoor shots. Taking nature photos can be difficult because the scope is so large, but in this one carlhancock draws us in with the mountain’s reflection. Then again, it’s probably hard not to take a good picture in Rocky Mountain National Park, but this one manages to be a truly excellent one.

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