Summer Travel: Luxe Hotels In Or Near National Parks

grand canyon
Flickr user YoTut

Planning a trip this summer? Why not make it family friendly with at trip to a national park? While we love spending our days hiking, biking or riding the river, we’re not always about camping out or grabbing the nearest roadside motel after a long day outside. Here are some of our favorite luxe hotels in or near national parks:

Budget Tip: Time it right by visiting a National Park in the US on August 25th (National Park Service Birthday), September 28th (National Public Lands Day) or Veterans Day Weekend (November 9-11th), the parks won’t charge admission!

Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park
Yellowstone National Park is the world’s first national park with 2.2 million acres of natural wonders and wild animals. Top sights include the Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, the Grand Prismatic Spring on the Lower Loop, Mammoth Hot Springs on the Upper Loop and Yellowstone Falls near the shared section of the two. At the southern edge of Yellowstone Park lies Grand Teton National Park, which boasts majestic views of the jagged peaks of the Teton Ranges and miles of hiking and wildlife watching by Snake River.

Stay here:
Hotel Terra Jackson Hole (Jackson Hole, Wyoming)
Located at the gateway to Grand Teton National Park and a short one hour drive to the southern entrance to Yellowstone National Park, the LEED-Silver Certified and AAA Four Diamond luxury Hotel Terra Jackson Hole’s has a special “Passport to the Parks” package that offers three nights lodging, a seven-day park pass and more.

Or Try:
Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa (Teton Village, Wyoming)
The AAA Four Diamond Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa is also steps from the entrance to Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park and one hour south of Yellowstone. Their “National Park Explorer” package includes a $50 gas voucher and daily breakfast credit for a three-night stay, as well as a seven-day park pass.

Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and has a depth of over a mile. Known for its visually overwhelming size and intricate and colorful landscape, the Grand Canyon boasts some of the world’s most jaw-dropping and dynamic views.

Stay Here:
L’Auberge de Sedona (Sedona, Arizona)
Situated just 45 minutes south of The Grand Canyon in Sedona, Arizona, this luxurious hotel offers a special package that helps guide travelers to and from the canyon named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The two-night package offers a day-long tour and breakfast credit.

Saguaro National Park and Coronado National Forest
Divided into two sections, called districts, Saguaro National Park is 91,442 acres, 70,905 acres of which are designated wilderness. The park gets its name from the saguaro, a large cactus, which is native to the region. Close by is the Coronado National Forest, which is spread throughout mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. Divided into five ranger districts, each consist of multiple “ski island” mountain ranges.

Stay here:
Tanque Verde Ranch (Tuscon, Arizona)
Tanque Verde translates as the “green pool,” a name given by the Pima Native Americans due to the seasonal river that runs through the land to create a mountainous desert oasis of vibrant cacti and various unique plants. All-inclusive rates mean that three meals daily are covered, and the resort offers a number of activities, including guided hikes, biking and horseback riding.

Banff National Park
Spanning 2,564 square miles of valleys, mountains, glaciers, forests, meadows and rivers, Banff National Park is one of the world’s premier destination spots and one of the most visited national parks in the world.

Stay here:
Fairmont Banff Springs (Alberta, Canada)
Nestled in Canada’s first national park and the world’s third, the Fairmont Banff Springs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built in 1888 as a Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) hotel.

Shenandoah National Park
This 200,000-acre park is haven to deer and songbirds and is an ideal location for outdoor activities for the whole family. It’s also an easy drive from major cities like Washington, D.C., and Richmond. If we were planning a day trip, we’d do the challenging yet manageable hike called “Old Rag” along Skyline Drive and take a pre- or post-trip visit to nearby Charlottesville.

Stay here:
Salamander Resort & Spa (Middleburg, Virginia)
Salamander Resort & Spa is set to open this August in the heart of Virginia wine and horse country in the quaint 18th-century village of Middleburg and a short two-hour scenic drive along Virginia’s Skyline Drive to Shenandoah National Park. Set on 340 acres of farmland, the brand new resort offers a culinary program led by Chef Todd Gray of Equinox Restaurant in D.C., including two restaurants, a wine bar, a cooking studio and a two-acre culinary garden; a world-class spa with 14 treatment rooms and an onsite equestrian program to rival any other in the world.

New Orleans Roadfood Festival rolls in March 24-25

new orleans foodThat New Orleans is a food town is no secret. What I just discovered, however, is that it’s host to a food festival spawned by one of my favorite pastimes ever: road food (and no, I’m not referring to this kind). Way back in the day, when I was a wee college student, I discovered the late, great Gourmet magazine, and became obsessed with “Roadfood,” a column (now a website) written by the road-trippin’, big-eatin’ couple Jane and Michael Stern.

In every issue, the Sterns would choose a micro-region of the U.S. and a local specialty on which to focus their column. Each month, I read about chicken and dumplings in Indiana, pasties from Montana, green chile from El Rito, New Mexico, or barbecue from Owensboro, Kentucky. Then I’d wipe the drool off of the pages and stash each article away in a manila folder to be saved for future road trips, both real and imagined.

Apparently, nearly half a decade ago, while I was lost in some “best roadside diner biscuit” reverie, the Sterns helped create the New Orleans Roadfood Festival. The 4th annual food fiesta will be held March 24-25 in the city’s historic French Market. It will provide a showcase for over 30 restaurants across the country, which will serve the dishes that made them famous. Attendees will be able to street-feast upon Texas and Memphis barbecue, Tucson’s best tamales, custard from upstate New York, Cajun and Creole delicacies from across Louisiana, and many other regional culinary specialties. There will also be cooking demos, live music, a beignet-eating contest for the N.O. Fire Department, and a kickoff party featuring the Sterns, local chefs, and noted cookbook author Lynne Rossetto Kasper.

And get this: admission to the festival is free. You’ll still have to pay for those good eats, but a portion of the proceeds will benefit Cafe Reconcile, a non-profit restaurant that uses innovative strategies to provide life skills and job training to youth from at-risk communities in area. Just in case you need a guilt-free reason to indulge. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

How to Fight a Food Coma and Treat Indigestion

[Photo credit: Flickr user Adam Melancon]

Take a photographic adventure with National Geographic

Photographic adventures from National Geographic mix travel and learningFans of National Geographic have long been drawn to the magazine’s fantastic photos, with many of us wishing we had the skills to take similar shots ourselves. Now, National Geographic Expeditions is offering us the opportunity to go on a photographic adventure while building and honing those skills along the way.

Nat Geo Expeditions is the travel arm of National Geographic, offering up some excellent adventure travel opportunities to a number of far flung places. But they also offer aspiring photographers the chance to take part in photography workshops held throughout the country including New York, Washington DC, Tuscon, and Santa Fe. Those workshops range in length from 4 to 7 days, and will teach you everything you need to know about using that fancy digital camera that you bought, but never got around to learning how to operate. For dates and pricing on those workshops click here.

Perhaps even more exciting however are the Photo Expeditions that Nat Geo has to offer. Those trips are 8-12 days in length and will send you off to some amazing places where you’ll learn everything you’ve always wanted to know about photography. Destinations include Alaska, Bhutan, Morocco, Costa Rica, and the Galapagos Islands. Much like the workshops, these trips are designed for photographers of all skill levels and are led by National Geographic photographers with years of experience in the field. They also happen to add healthy doses of culture and adventure to the mix. For more information on the Photo Expeditions click here.

For someone who loves to snap photos (like me!), but wishes they had a firmer grasp on the technical aspects of the art (also like me!), these workshops and expeditions are fantastic opportunities to learn from an expert. So whether you use a point and shoot or a high-end DSLR, a National Geographic photographic adventure is sure to be a fantastic experience.

[Photo Credit: National Geographic Expeditions]




From four-wheeling to cattle roping, saying ‘I do’ just got a little more adventurous

Weddings were never my thing. Between the dress, the invitations, the cakes, the chaos – the concept is too overwhelming for me to digest. I’ve participated and planned dozens of weddings for my nearest and dearest and while I couldn’t be happier for their nuptials, I’d be the first one barefoot on an island eloping without witness if I were to get married (sorry, Mom).

But for those who want a traditional wedding with a twist, The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain, in Tuscon, has a few options for you. At the resort, future brides and grooms have the option of exchanging vows reflecting a different approach to the traditional wedding ceremony. Some of the adventure wedding options include:

Four-Wheel Wedding Adventure: Hop in a Jeep tour into the High Sonoran Desert and recite your nuptials amid thousands of saguaro cacti and the desert landscape. Advice to the bride: Consider a dress other than white, as four-wheeling through the dessert isn’t the cleanest activity.Hiking Adventure Nuptials: You and your guests will hike to legendary Lower Javelina and Wild Burro trails to a private outdoor ceremony, where a Native American flautist performs a wedding song and the ceremony ends with a Native American sage blessing. Side note: You might want to leave your fancy shoes back at the hotel for this one. Who says hiking boots won’t look good with your white scalloped lace dress?

Mountain Bike Vows: Guests ride into the pristine Tortolita Reserve via mountain bikes. Seems like a lot of work required to reach your betrothed, but afterwards, the couple is treated to an outdoor a massage and a romantic breakfast is included on the following day. Don’t forget your he

Western Horseback Ceremony: Forget the flower girls and saddle up the steeds! The bride and groom are married on horseback while an acoustic guitar player follows you through the dessert.

Wedding Rodeo: You have to love any wedding ceremony that includes a lasso. Guests venture to the famous and exclusive White Stallion Ranch, where a cowboy minister performs the ‘western’ wedding ceremony. After the “I dos”, return to the White Stallion Ranch for your own Wedding Rodeo, where cowgirls and cowboys rope and ride.

As if getting married isn’t adventurous enough, the resort also offers hiking, canyoneering, birding, rock climbing, and archeological touring. I say go for it! After all, what better way is there to say “I do” then four-wheeling through the dessert or roping in cattle?

Think local for a low-cost wine-tasting trip

When most people think of going on a wine-tasting trip, their thoughts tend to head west – to California, Washington, and Oregon. It’s not surprising. From Napa Valley in California to Walla Walla in Washington, these states are some of the biggest producers of wine in the US. But if you don’t live in one of these states, there’s no need to venture far from home for a weekend of swirling and sipping. In fact, almost every state in the US has at least one winery, so you can enjoy a low-cost wine tasting vacation in a long weekend. Check out these wine-tasting regions in every corner of the country.

Midwest
The Midwest states have traditionally been agriculture centers. Now many farms are trading potatoes and corn for grapes, and opening their doors to tourists. Illinois is home to around 80 wineries located on six wine trails within a few hours of Chicago. Most of Michigan’s 50 or so wineries are located in the west and southwest, near Traverse City or along the coast of Lake Michigan. Even Missouri has five wine trails scattered around the state.

Northeast
New York’s Finger Lakes area is the jewel of the northeast wine region. Nearly 100 wineries are spread along three main wine trails, which surround four beautiful lakes. Not to be outdone, Maryland has almost 30 wineries open for tastings, and even tiny Rhode Island has five.

Southeast
Kentucky is now making a name for itself in the wine world, with over 30 wineries clustered in the north central area of the state. Florida is home to over 15 scattered wineries and Virginia, the largest producer in the region, has nearly 150 wineries on several easy to follow trails.

West/Southwest
Grapes in Arizona? Yep, there are over 20 wineries in the state, most just south of Tuscon. New Mexico has almost 40, most of which are clustered around Albuquerque and Taos, and Texas is home to over 80 wineries, predominantly in Hill Country, south of Austin. Colorado, which has over 60 wineries, boasts the highest grape-growing elevation in the country, and even Nebraska has more than 30 wine producers operating in the state.