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.

8 winter hikes for outdoor enthusiasts

dolomite mountains Warm-weather months aren’t the only time to get a good hike in. In fact, there are many trekking trails all over the world that offer superb hiking and snowshoeing. This winter, why not plan a trip to experience one of these active and enjoyable hikes for people of all fitness levels.

The Dolomites, Italy

While the Dolomite Mountains are beautiful all year long, there is something especially captivating about them covered in a layer of sparkling white snow. While snowshoeing in the Dolomites, you will be able to explore numerous trails while taking in high snow walls, white-capped mountains, and trees so covered in flurries they look fake. Adding to the charm of the trek, ambient Alpine-huts line the path, offering a warm and cozy place to stay with a fireplace, hot cappuccinos, and freshly made strudel. Interested in doing a long trek with a group? Dolomite Mountains, a locally based company, offers an 8-day Dolomite snowshoeing tour.The Swiss Alps, Switzerland

The beauty of the Swiss Alps cannot be described in words. No matter how many photographs I took while I was there I still felt as though the diverse landscape, the snowy mountains, crystal lakes, and lush green fields couldn’t be captured on film but needed to be seen in person. If you’re backpacking, home-base in Interlaken, a hotspot adventure destination on the backpacker circuit. From there, you’ll be able to access the beautiful Bernese Oberland as well as numerous trails and mountains, including my personal favorite, the Jungfrau. Click here to view a list of numerous Swiss Alp winter walks.

utah Zion National Park, Utah, USA

For those who want to experience nature in winter but aren’t big fans of the cold, Zion National Park has mild winters while still getting those blankets of flawless snow that make for stunning photographs. For the most scenic winter hikes, go to the east side of the park (along the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway), where the white frost sticks itself over sheets of flat burnt rock like iced oatmeal cookies. This is where the snow is deepest in the park, so snowshoes are advisable. For a less snowy hiking experience, the Watchman, Coalpits, Chinle, Huber, Eagle Crags, and Scoggins trails, which are unbearable in the summer, are pleasant and sunny in the winter.

Chugach State Park, Anchorage, Alaska, USA

There are many excellent snowshoeing trails in Archorage, one of which is Chugach State Park, the third largest state park in America. Over a half-million acres of well-developed hiking trails give visitors options for easy, moderate, or difficult hikes along with the chance to experience the backcountry of Alaska (and possibly even encounter a moose!). For an easy hike featuring a mixture of lakes, mountains, and thick pine forests, as well as an educational preview of the trek, start at the Eagle River Nature Center, where you can access various paths for beginners, like the Rodak Nature Loop, which gives you access to beaver and salmon viewing, and the 3-mile Dew Mountain Trail, where you will be able to see Dew Mound, a unique glacial erratic, as well as Dew Lake and Eagle Creek Valley. For something a bit more challenging as well as historical, opt for the Crow Pass National Historical Trail, which you can access from either the Eagle River Nature Center or the Crow Creek Trailhead in Girdwood. The trail is 21-miles one-way and gains an elevation of 3,100 feet to 2,100 feet respectively, depending where you start. Along with seeing waterfalls, wildlife, glaciers, and old mining ruins, you will be following the historic Iditarod supply route. Click here for a detailed list of trail maps for the park.

banffBanff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Traversing through Banff National Park during the winter will allow you to experience the Canadian Rockies from a unique perspective. The air is clean and crisp and offers a serenity that can only be found when snow covers the ground. According to BanffNationalPark.com, the region also contains about 932 miles of hiking trails, more than any other mountain park in the world. If you’re looking for an easy trek try the Fenland loop, a 1.2 mile round-trip flat stroll near the Vermillion Lakes that can be accessed along Mt. Norquay Road, between the railroad tracks and the Trans-Canada Highway. If you want something more difficult, do the Sulphur Mountain Summit, which is about 3.5 miles one-way and gains an elevation of 2,149 feet, helping to provide panoramic views of the Bow Valley. You can access the trailhead from the Upper Hot Springs parking lot. For more detailed hike descriptions, click here.

Nahuel Huapi National Park, Bariloche, Patagonia

Often considered the “true wilderness”, Patagonia is a prime destination for snowshoeing. Nahuel Huapi National Park encompasses 1,875,000 acres of land and stretches from the Patagonia Steppes to the high Andes. It is also the country’s first national park. Remember that their winter is from June to September, although all year round you can enjoy hiking on well-marked trails. One of the most interesting features of the area is the vast quantity of crystal-clear lakes and rivers set against backdrops of ancient glaciers, native forests dusted with white powder, deep valleys, and high peak mountains. Take in Tronador, an extinct stratovolcano standing at 11,454 feet, as well as the glacial-formed Lake Nahuel Huapi and panoramic views of the city of Bariloche.

new zealand Westland Tai Poutini National Park, South Island, New Zealand

There are many reasons that New Zealand makes for a perfect winter hiking destination. For one, the country usually enjoys a mild climate. Remember that New Zealand is another country where the seasons are switched, and when traveling there in December through February you will actually be experiencing summer. Nevertheless, a trek at Westland Tai Poutini National Park during these months will expose you to an array of seasons and landscapes. Because the park is split by the Alpine fault, the landscape is dramatically contrasting, with glaciers, the high peaks of the Southern Alps, ice rivers, rainforests, hot springs, coastline, and lakes. Visit Fox Glacier, a large ice rock with a unique location right next to a rainforest, cross over a 230-foot long suspension bridge that swings over Fox River, and, if you’re in really good shape, hike up the high peaks, which offer mountain hut accommodation for those looking to do some serious trekking. Click here for more information on hiking trails.

Yatsugatake Mountain Range, Honshu Island, Japan

While Japan isn’t typically known for its snowshoeing and trekking, the country is actually very mountainous, making it a great spot for winter trekking. The Yatsugatake Mountains, a volcanic mountain range, is home to eight major mountain peaks including Akadake, which is 9,511 feet high. A range of different trails are available for all levels, including rolling hill strolls and steep rocky climbs, all along snow covered trees, deep white valleys, stratavolcanoes, lava domes, and freshly iced mountains with striking definition and patterns. For those who want to do more than just a day hike, mountain huts are available for accommodation. While Yatsugatake is located on the island of Honshu, it is less than 3 hours from Tokyo.

A travel guide to the 2011 Oscar movies

Travel guide to Oscar moviesThe 83rd annual Academy Awards are coming up in a few weeks and the Oscars race is on. This year’s nominations contained few surprises, with many nods for Brit period piece The King’s Speech, Facebook biopic The Social Network, and headtrip Inception. While 2010’s ultimate travel blockbuster Eat, Pray, Love failed to made the cut, there’s still plenty to inspire wanderlust among the Best Picture picks.

Read on for a travel guide to the best movies of 2010 and how to create your own Oscar-worthy trip.

127 HoursLocation: Danny Boyle’s nail-biter was shot on location in Utah’s Blue John Canyon near Moab and on a set in Salt Lake City. Go there: Should you want to explore Moab’s desert and canyons while keeping all limbs intact, check out Moab in fall for bike races and art festivals.



Black Swan
Location: Much of the ballet psychodrama was shot in New York City, though the performances were filmed upstate in Purchase, New York. Go there: To see the real “Swan Lake” on stage at Lincoln Center, you’ll have to hope tickets aren’t sold out for the New York City Ballet, performing this month February 11-26.

The FighterLocation: in the grand tradition of Oscar winners Good Will Hunting and The Departed, the Mark Wahlberg boxing flick was filmed in Massachusetts, in Micky Ward’s real hometown of Lowell, 30 miles north of Boston. Go there: For a map of locations in Lowell, check out this blog post and perhaps spot Micky Ward at the West End Gym.

InceptionLocation: The setting of this film depends on what dream level you’re in. The locations list includes Los Angeles, England, Paris, Japan, even Morocco. Go there: There are plenty of real locations to visit, including University College London and Tangier’s Grand Souk. Canada’s Fortress Mountain Resort where the snow scenes were shot is currently closed, but you can ski nearby in Banff.



The Kids Are All Right
Location: Director Lisa Cholodenko is a big fan of southern California, she also filmed the 2002 Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles. Go there: Love it or hate it, L.A. is still a top travel destination in the US and perhaps this year you can combine with a trip to Vegas, if the X Train gets moving.

The King’s SpeechLocation: A prince and a commoner in the wedding of the century. Sound familiar? This historical drama was shot in and around London, though stand-ins were used for Buckingham Palace’s interiors. Go there: It might be hard to recreate the vintage look of the film, but London is full of atmospheric and historic architecture and palaces to visit. If you’re a sucker for English period films or places Colin Firth has graced, tour company P & P Tours can show you around many historic movie locations like Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

The Social NetworkLocation: Another Massachusetts and California movie, this very academic film shot at many college and prep school campuses, but none of them Harvard, which hasn’t allowed film crews in decades. Go there: If you enjoyed the Winklevoss rowing scene, head to England this summer for the Henley Royal Regatta June 29 – July 3.

Toy Story 3 – Location: The latest in the Pixar animated trilogy is set at the Sunnyside Daycare. Go there: Reviews are mixed, but Disney’s Hollywood Studios has a new Pixar parade, to let fans see their favorite characters in “person.” Visit any Disney gift shop to make your own toy story.

True Grit – Location: The Coen brothers western remake may be set in 19th century Arkansas, but it was filmed in modern day Santa Fe, New Mexico and Texas, taking over much of towns like Granger. Go there: If you’re a film purist or big John Wayne fan, you can tour the locations of the original film in Ouray County, Colorado.

Winter’s Bone – Location: Many moviegoers hadn’t heard of this film when nominations were announced, set and shot in the Ozark Mountains in southern Missouri. Go there: The difficult film centers around the effects of methamphetamine on a rural family, but travel destinations don’t get much more wholesome than Branson, Missouri. Bring the family for riverboat shows and the best bathroom in the country.

[Photo by Flickr user Lisa Norman]

Top ten hotel rooms with a view

Hotels aren’t the sum of travel, but the right hotel can bring magic to a journey. Friendly employees, amazing furnishings, and great locations can all make a good holiday great. And an exceptional view, above and beyond the rest, can stick in one’s memory forever. Here are ten hotels strewn around the world, each with ridiculously stunning views.

1. Shearwater Resort, Saba. Shearwater’s Cottage Rooms, which overlook the resort’s cliffside pool from an altitude of 2000 feet and sport views of the ocean and several neighboring islands (St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, and Nevis) are in a league of their own. See above for evidence. Shearwater’s owners also recommend the views from their Ocean View Suite. Cottage Rooms from $175; Ocean View Suite from $250.

2. Longitude 131, Ayers Rock Resort, Australia. The tents at Longitude 131 at Ayers Rock feature heart-stopping panoramic views of this most iconic of Australian sights. This is real fantasy territory, with rates well beyond feasibility for most. From A$4080 for two for two nights ($4095).

3. Hotel on Rivington, New York, New York. The corner king rooms at this Lower East Side outpost of extravagance have floor-to-ceiling glass walls affording astounding views of the city. Aim for a room on a higher floor. From $379.

4. Hotel de Crillon, Paris, France. Terribly exorbitant, yes–not sure that a room at this price point should ever be recommended–but the views are exquisite here. Do you best to nab a room with a view over the Place de la Concorde to the Eiffel Tower. From €630 ($875).

5. Sheraton Iguazú Resort and Spa, Iguazú Falls, Argentina. The only hotel inside the Iguazú National Park offers awe-inspiring views of the falls themselves. The Falls View rooms, all with balconies, are perfect for the view-minded. From $255.

6. Campi ya Kanzi, Mtito Andei, Kenya. Campi ya Kanzi lies in a 400 square-mile are of Maasai-run land in southern Kenya. Mount Kilimanjaro is 35 miles away from the camp site, which consists of six tented cottages and two suites. Suites run $1600 for two; single occupancy $900.

7. The Intercontinental, Kowloon, Hong Kong. Stunning Hong Kong Harbor provides the world one of its most exciting skylines, and a harbourview room at the Intercontinental is one of the best places to glimpse it. From around HK$2600 ($335).

8. The Fairmont Banff Springs, Banff, Alberta, Canada. The most iconic of Canada’s mountain lodges, the Fairmont Banff Springs is in a league of its own as far as picturesque placement is concerned. Many rooms offer extraordinary views as well. Book a valley view room (not a mountain view room) to take full advantage of the Rockies’ scenic majesty. From around C$439 ($437).

9. Explora, Torres del Paine, Chile. Gorgeous if minimalist modernism features here in the wilds of Chilean Patagonia, courtesy of famed Chilean architect Germán del Sol. Views of Macizo del Paine are drop-dead extraordinary. They’re also most definitely not cheap. Four nights will run $5840 for two.

10. La Haut Plantation, St. Lucia. The least expensive of the options here is this reasonable stunner, which has great views of St. Lucia’s famous Pitons. Even the least expensive Standard Garden rooms here boast incredible views of the Pitons. From $120 in low season.

A list like this one is of course necessarily quite subjective, and my evaluation here is designed to suggest and expose more than it is intended to lay down the law. Have a hotel view in mind that you think belongs on this list? Add it in the comments below!

(Images provided by hotels, except for the view from the Sheraton Iguazú Resort and Spa [Flickr / Tran’s World Productions] and view from the Fairmont Banff Springs [Flickr / dbaron]

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Q & A with travel and fiction writer Hilary Davidson

I recently chanced upon a copy of Hilary Davidson’s The Damage Done and found myself smitten. Davidson’s story, which centers around a glamorous if complicated travel writer embroiled in a messy family mystery, is a compelling read. It’s also of particular interest to travel media types: Davidson’s protagonist, like Davidson herself, is a travel writer.

Q: Describe your profession.

A: For the past 12 years, I’ve been a freelance travel writer. For the past five years, I’ve been writing fiction, too. Fiction used to be something I snuck in at odd hours, either early in the morning or very late at night, but since I got a two-book deal with Tor/Forge last year, the two have been on a pretty even footing.

Q: In your novel The Damage Done, the protagonist is a travel writer whose main base is New York. You are a travel writer living in New York. The question has to be asked: What are the points of overlap between Hilary Davidson and Lily Moore?

A: We’ve traveled to many of the same places, and we both love film noir and vintage clothes. If we met in a parallel universe, we’d probably raid each other’s closets. But our personal lives couldn’t be more different: when Lily comes home to New York, it’s to identify her sister’s body at the morgue, only to discover that the corpse belongs to a woman who’d stolen her sister’s identity and that her sister is missing. I have to confess, I don’t have a sister. Also, Lily has a complicated on-again, off-again relationship with her former fiancé, who she suspects may have been sexually involved with her sister. I’ve been married for a decade.

Q: As a travel writer, what is your preferred medium? Your beat?

A: I am the world’s most boring travel writer. Most of what I’ve written – including all of my 17 Frommer’s guidebooks – have been about my hometown, Toronto, or my adopted home, New York, where I’ve lived for the past nine years. Writing for magazines has let me be more adventuresome and see places such as Spain and Peru and Easter Island. I also run a website, the Gluten-Free Guidebook, which is about my travels since I was diagnosed with celiac disease almost seven years ago. I realized that I was doing a lot of research before and during every trip, and if I put what I learned online, it could help other people, too.Q: You moved from Toronto to New York in 2001. Is your hometown loyalty to New York or Toronto? Or is it divided?

A: I feel a greater affinity and affection for New York, which may have something to do with moving here a month after 9/11 and watching the city come back from those sad days. New York energizes me and Toronto relaxes me, and I feel lucky that I get to move back and forth between both.

Q: Any NYC or Toronto off-the-beaten path secrets you’d like to share?

A: In New York, I feel like much of the Bronx is an off-the-beaten-path secret. Some of the most interesting spots in the city are there: the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage, Wave Hill, Pelham Bay Park, and Woodlawn Cemetery. Toronto has little gems scattered throughout the city, like the Malcove Collection, an art gallery hidden on the University of Toronto grounds – an amazing collection that runs the gamut from Byzantine artifacts to Russian icons. I also love the Scarborough Bluffs, on the eastern edge of the city; early settlers in the area thought they were like the white cliffs of Dover.

Q: What are some of your favorite places to visit, either for work or relaxation?

A: I love visiting Spain, which may have something to do with why I have Lily living there. Barcelona is one of my favorite cities in the world; I love its quirky architecture and it’s a foodie paradise, especially for gluten-free diets. But the most interesting trips I’ve ever taken have been to Peru and Turkey. My favorite get-away-from-it-all spot is Banff, in the Canadian Rockies, especially in the middle of winter.