The Acadia Night Sky Festival begins today

The Acadia Night Sky Festival begins today!Starting today, and running through next Monday, Acadia National Park, located near Bar Harbor Maine, will play host to the third annual Acadia Night Sky Festival. The event, which is designed to celebrate and promote the stunning night skies above the park, will mix live music, art, and science, with a healthy dose of stargazing.

The event is designed to be family friendly, offering plenty of activities that both kids and adults will enjoy. Some of those activities include daily children’s book give-a-ways, photography workshops, lectures, picnics, and more. Tonight there will be boat cruises to take in the night sky while out on the water, and the rest of the weekend includes scheduled “star parties” at various locations around the park, including Cadillac Mountain and Schoodic Peninsula.

The skies above Acadia are described as “the largest expanse of naturally dark sky, east of the Mississippi,” something that is seen as a spectacular natural resource by the organizers of this event. As our urban environments continue to expand, and bring plenty of light pollution with them, fewer and fewer people actually get to experience a night sky in all of its glory. This festival hopes to remind us just how beautiful – and humbling– that view can be.

The Acadia Night Sky Festival comes to a conclusion at dawn on Monday, September 26th, with early risers enjoying a sunrise on Cadillac Summit, as the night sky fittingly gives way to the sun.

And don’t forget, entry into the park is free on Saturday.

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]

5 great ways to explore national parks under your own power

Traveling through the national parks under your own power is its own rewardThere is no doubt that America’s national parks are popular tourist destinations. The past few years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of visitors to the parks, and many of them have been setting attendance records as a result.

With the summer fast approaching, many of us are no doubt making plans for our vacations, with many electing to visit a national park once again this year. The vast majority of those visitors will never wander far from their car, but to get a true sense of what the parks have to offer, you really should ditch the vehicle and strike out under your own power. In doing so, you’ll get a much better sense of the landscapes around you, and have a better chance of connecting with nature too. Here are five ways that you can do just that.

Hike the Great Smoky Mountains
With more than 800 miles of trail in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, there is a route for just about everyone. From short excursions and day hikes, to multi-day epics for the backpacker crowd, this is a park that is sure to please any outdoor enthusiast. With lush green forests, crystal clear streams, and breathtaking mountain tops, the Smoky Mountains have it all. But you can’t experience the best they have to offer from you car, so put on your hiking shoes and hit the trail. I recommend the 8-mile round-trip hike to Charlies Bunion, a popular mountain walk that is more than worth the effort.

Raft The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is truly one of the great natural wonders of the world. It is so vast in size and scope that you simply have to see it to truly understand just how large it really is. That size is magnified even further while you’re rafting the mighty Colorado River, with the mile-high walls of the Canyon looming far overhead. Visitors have a number of options when it comes to paddling the river, ranging from short half and full day excursions to multi-day options lasting as much as 25 days in length. The whitewater in the Grand Canyon will have your heart pounding in your chest, and once you’ve calmed down from the adrenaline rush, you can enjoy a gentle drift down the Colorado, with those amazing landscapes completely surrounding you.
Go Climbing In Yosemite
In addition to being one of the most beautiful places you will ever see, Yosemite also happens to be one of the great rock climbing destinations on the planet. Each year, climbers from all over the world descend on the park to test their skills on its legendary rock walls, some of which are so famous that they are well known by their unique names. There are routes available for all skill levels, including beginners, but obviously this is not an activity for everyone. For those not wanting to climb rock walls, I’d recommend the Half-Dome Summit Trail, which offers access to the top of one of Yosemite’s most famous landmarks along a route that includes cables to help you make your way. (Permit required!)

Kayak The North Woods in Voyageurs
Voyageurs National Park, located in the extreme northern border of Minnesota and Canada, is one of the best hidden gems in the entire National Park System. It is remote, pristine, and quiet, with some of the thickest forests you’ll find in the U.S. The best way to explore this park, no, the only way to explore this park, is from the seat of a kayak. Visitors can paddle through a series of interconnected waterways that wander past wilderness islands and shorelines with plenty of wildlife to view along the way. If you have more than a day, you may want to camp at one of the campsites that are only accessible by boat.

Cycle Through Acadia
With its spectacular mix of ocean views and mountain vistas, Acadia National Park, located in Maine, makes for a fantastic summertime destination. But to really see the park, you should leave your vehicle behind and hop on your bicycle instead. The 27-mile long Park Loop Road is an excellent ride for those who want to explore the park, but that route can get crowded with cars, especially in the summer. For more solitude, hit the Heart of Acadia loop trail, which is a 22-mile long road that is completely free of motor vehicles. The path is best suited for mountain bikes, but offers some of the best views in the park, including scenic overlooks that will take your breath away. You won’t be disappointed!

While these are perfect examples of national park adventures sans cars, nearly every park in the U.S. system has similar options. Need further incentive to explore the park under your own power this year? Consider this, the price of gas is expected to hit record levels this summer, which means you can save a little cash by leaving the car behind and exploring on foot, bike, or other means.

[Photos courtesy of the National Park Service]

Nature Valley kicks off 2011 Preserve the Parks campaign

Nature Valley begins the 2011 Preserve the Parks CampaignAs we’ve mentioned on several occasions recently, Saturday kicked off National Parks Week here in the U.S. To help celebrate, Nature Valley, in conjunction with the National Parks Conservation Association, launched their 2011 Preserve the Parks campaign in the beautiful desert near Joshua Tree in California.

Nature Valley started the campaign last year after their customers expressed how much they loved the national parks. In 2010, the Preserve the Parks program raised $400,000 for the NPCA, with those funds going directly to protect national parks from a variety of threats. The 2011 edition of Preserve the Parks hopes to raise even more money, while also taking a more direct, active role in the preservation of these fantastic natural spaces.

This year, Preserve the Parks has a charismatic and charming spokesman to help spread the word about the campaign. Josh Holloway, who played Sawyer on the television show Lost, is an avid outdoorsman who also happens to love America’s national parks. He was on hand for the kickoff event this past weekend to not only help get the festivities underway, but to also get a little dirty too. Holloway joined a host of volunteers who went to work building trails and helping to protect the habitat of desert tortoises that inhabit the region around Joshua Tree.I had the opportunity to chat with Josh on several occasions throughout the day and came away quite impressed. This isn’t the case of a celebrity spokesperson slapping their name on a project and paying lip service to it. Josh truly does have a love for the outdoors and was eager to lend a hand in the actual physical work of the day. For most of the morning he had a shovel, rake, or other tool in his hand, and was doing his part alongside the rest of the volunteers who were there to take part in a restoration project.

Nature Valley beings 2011 Preserve the Parks campaignDespite the warm weather (temperatures approached 95 degrees Fahrenheit) the Nature Valley event drew an impressive turnout from volunteers. After a brief orientation about the area, including instructions on how to avoid stepping on a tortoise den, we were off on a mile long hike to the various work sites. Once there, we broke into teams that took on a variety of projects that included clearing trails of plants and other debris to more clearly define where to walk, as well as restructuring part of the landscape to allow water to flow naturally, without causing undue erosion. These simple efforts can go a long way toward protecting the area and ensuring that those who visit it can pass through without endangering the creatures that live there.

Nature Valley has a number of other similar events planned for the summer ahead, when the program will really kick into high gear. Those events will take place in Yellowstone, Acadia, Biscayne and several other national parks. Details on those events has yet to be completed, but you can watch the Preserve the Parks website for details on when they’ll be occurring and how you might be able to join in.

National Parks Week is a time that is dedicated to celebrating the spectacular natural beauty that exists inside America’s wilderness wonderlands. It is also a great time to acknowledge some of the threats that face the parks, such as environmental concerns, land management issues, lack of funding, and more. Organizations like Nature Valley and the NPCA recognize the importance of the parks on American culture and are working hard to protect them for future generations to enjoy as well. Programs such as the Preserve the Parks campaign are a perfect model of how businesses, non-profits, and grassroots activists can all work together to improve and protect the parks.

Nature Valley launches Preserve the Parks campaign
This trip was payed for by Nature Valley, but the ideas and opinions expressed here are my own.

National parks are free again next weekend!

Next weekend, August 14-15, is the third, and final, fee free weekend in America’s national parks for 2010. For those two days, more than 100 of the parks will open their gates to the public at no cost, giving visitors a chance to experience “America’s best idea” for themselves.

The complete list of parks that will be waiving their entry fees can be found by clicking here. That list includes such spectacular icons as Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Acadia, as well as lesser known, but no less amazing, parks like Big Bend, the Dry Tortugas, and Crater Lake. All told, more than 40 states are represented on the list, which means there is a national park or monument that will be free to visit next weekend near just about everyone in the U.S.

The fee free weekends have been very popular that past few years, and crowds in the parks will no doubt be high. But if you can’t make it out to your favorite national park on the 14th or 15th, never fear, as there are still two more fee free days to come in 2010. On Saturday, Sept. 25th, the parks will be free in celebration of Public Lands Day and then once again on Thursday, Nov. 11th, in honor of Veteran’s Day.

With summer quickly coming to a close, take advantage of this last fee free weekend of the year for some outdoor fun and adventure.

[Photo credit: National Park Service]