Nature Valley Trail View Adds Sequoia National Park To Virtual Hikes

Nature Valley Trail View now offers virtual hikes of Sequoia National ParkIn March of last year, Nature Valley launched their Trail View website, giving deskbound outdoor enthusiasts the opportunity to take a virtual hike through three of the most popular national parks in the U.S. The website employed technology similar to Google’s Street View to give us the opportunity to explore more than 300 miles of trails in the Grand Canyon, Great Smokey Mountains and Yellowstone. Now, just in time to celebrate National Park Week, the site is adding yet another spectacular park to the mix.

Nature Valley has announced that starting today an additional 50+ miles of trail located inside Sequoia National Park will be available to virtual explorers. Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Sequoia is of course best known for the trees from which it derives its name. The Giant Sequoias are known to grow to heights in excess of 200 feet, putting them amongst the largest living organisms on our planet. With the addition of the park to the Nature Valley Trail View site, you can now take a stroll amongst those magnificent trees directly from your favorite web browser.

Adding another park to the website isn’t the only upgrade to Trail View today. The site is also becoming more mobile friendly in an effort to accommodate smartphones and tablets as well. That will include the ability to download .pdf files with information about the parks and specific trails too. This could become a handy resource for travelers headed out to one of these destinations who might need a little help finding your way around.Nature Valley’s commitment to the national parks doesn’t end there, however. Over the past few years, the company has been a tireless advocate for the parks. Through its annual Preserve the Parks campaign they’ve managed to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to the National Parks Conservation Association. With another $500,000 donation this year, the four-year total will exceed $1.8 million. This is in addition to some fantastic park restoration projects that conducted with volunteers who are eager to help protect their favorite parks as well.

As a fan of the national parks, I truly appreciate the efforts that Nature Valley has put forth to help preserve some of our most amazing landscapes. Their work is helping to ensure future generations will have the opportunity to enjoy these places as well. And with their Trail View website, they allow me to take a virtual escape now and again, which certainly comes in handy when I’ve spending far too much time indoors.

[Photo Credit: Dcrjsr via WikiMedia]

Google Maps Now Lets You Explore The Grand Canyon

Google Maps brings Street View to the Grand CanyonHave you always dreamed of hiking the Grand Canyon but just can’t get past all of the walking that would entail? Then you’ll be pleased to learn that the latest update to Google Maps brings Street View technology to the national park, allowing us to take a virtual tour of its trails without ever leaving home.

Back in October we told you how Google planned to capture images from the trail by using their new high-tech Trekker camera system. The device is worn like a backpack and automatically snaps photos while some lucky Google employee wanders the landscape. Yesterday, the company announced that it has now incorporated the images and data that were collected on that October excursion, bringing more than 75 miles of Grand Canyon trails directly to your browser.

Amongst the more well known routes that are now included on Google Maps are both Bright Angel Trail and South Kaibab Trail, both of which provide superb views in their real and virtual states. You can even explore nearby Meteor Crater or wander along the banks of the Colorado River, the force responsible for carving the Canyon over many millions of years.

Now we at Gadling would never advocate using Street View as a substitute for actually visiting any destination, let alone one as amazing as the Grand Canyon. But we do think that this makes an excellent tool for someone who wants to explore the site before they go so they have an idea of what to expect when they get there. It also serves as a great reminder of just how amazing travel can be on those days when you are stuck at your desk for hours on end. The next time that happens, just open your browser, hop over to Google Maps and spend a little time hiking the Canyon. It’s not as good as the real thing, but it sure beats the work you’ll be avoiding.

[Photo Credit: Google]

Rafter Mysteriously Goes Missing In Grand Canyon

The Grand CanyonThe National Park Service has a mystery on their hands and it is proving to be a difficult one to solve.

Twenty-one-year-old Kaitlin Kenney was part of a month-long private rafting party in the Grand Canyon when she mysteriously went missing last week. Kenney was last seen on Friday, January 11, in a camp near Tapeats Creek along the northern bank of the Colorado River. What happened to her after that is still open for speculation, as no trace of the young woman has been found since.

Other members of the rafting group used a satellite phone to contact the Park Service over the weekend and the NPS scrambled search parties to go looking for Kenney. Searching from both the air and on the ground, teams have combed the area where she was last seen and so far have come up empty. The Park Service says that they spent two days checking every accessible trail, beach, drainage and backcountry area in the vicinity to no avail. The search is ongoing, although efforts have been scaled back.

What might have happened to the missing rafter is open to debate. Other members of her party say that she would never have tried to climb out of the canyon on her own and speculation is that she may have accidentally fallen into the water sometime in the night. At this time of year the Grand Canyon can be a cold place and the waters of the Colorado are frigid, making hypothermia a real danger. SAR teams have combed the river looking for Kenney, however, and still haven’t found any clues.

[Photo Credit: National Park Service]

The West’s Best Hostels For Winter Sports Enthusiasts

backcountry skiContrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be young, broke, or drunk to stay at a youth hostel. I’ll be the first to admit not all hostels are created equal, but as a perpetually cash-strapped journalist in her 40s, they’re often my only option for indulging in the snowy outdoor pursuits I love. Fortunately, there are clean, efficient, well-run hostels throughout the West that make a stay pleasurable, rather than painful.

There are other good reasons to bunk down at a hostel, whether it’s a dorm, private, or shared room. If you’re planning to play all day (and possibly night), who needs an expensive room? Hostels are also great places to meet like-minded people to hit the backcountry or slopes with – a huge advantage if you’re traveling solo.

Most hostels also possess a decidedly low-key, “local” atmosphere where you’ll get the inside scoop on where to cut loose (on the mountain or off). In many instances, hostels also offer tours or activities, or partner up with local outfitters, which make life easier if you don’t have a car or require rental equipment. Also…free coffee.

Below, in no particular order, are some of my favorite Western hostels, based upon their proximity to snowy adventure:

St. Moritz Lodge
, Aspen, CO

I’ve been a regular at this place for a decade now, and I’m still smitten. Its groovy, ’70s-meets-Switzerland ambience; friendly, helpful staff; clean, well-lit rooms, and free mega-breakfast kick ass…what’s not to love? It’s just a few minutes walk from the slopes, and free parking is plentiful. A dorm bed is $44, and a private room/shared bath $95, high season.

The Abominable Snowmansion, Arroyo Seco, NM
Just outside of Taos is this classic, rambling old hostel with a communal feel. Arroyo Seco is an adorable mountain hamlet (all you need to know is that Abe’s Cantina gives great green chile). A private room/bath at this hostel is $59 in winter, and the region abounds with backcountry opps and natural hot springs.banff national park HI-Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel, Banff National Park, Alberta
The photo at right shows the sauna at this off-the-grid cabin near stunning Lake Louise. If you’re good with no shower and using an outhouse, this 20-bed spot will keep you cozy after a day ice-climbing, snow-shoeing, or skiing the backcountry.

Grand Canyon International Hostel
, Flagstaff, AZ

Owned by the same people who have the janky Du Beau hostel in town; I recommend this place instead, which is located in a historic, multi-story building minutes from downtown. “Flag” has loads of opportunities for outdoor buffs, from backcountry, to downhill skiing at Arizona Snowbowl, 20 minutes away. The hostel also offers year-round tours to the Grand Canyon, 80 minutes away. Flagstaff itself is a happening little college town; before heading out for the day fuel up on caffeine and divine, house-baked goods at Macy’s European Coffeehouse (I accept bribes in this form).

Alyeska Hostel, Girdwood, AK
Girdwood is pure Alaska-weird. Moose wander the main street, and quirky locals are just as likely to invite you to an all-night kegger in the snow as they are to take you cross-country skiing (the bonus of being female in Alaska, I discovered). This tidy hostel will set you back $20 for a bunk bed, making it the best deal in (a very, very small) town.

Hostel Tahoe, King’s Beach, CA
I’ll be honest; I’ve never bothered to stay in a hostel in Lake Tahoe for two reasons: dirt-cheap motels abound, and my brother lives there. But I came across this place researching this story, and it looks great. You’ll need to self-drive or shuttle to ski (it’s mid-way between South and North Shore, but right by a bus stop servicing Northstar, Squaw, and Alpine Meadows), and it looks infinitely more pleasant than some of the budget lodging I’ve enjoyed in Tahoe in the past. King’s Beach is old-school Tahoe at its best: funky, boozy, and a bit down-at-the-heels.

Crested Butte International Hostel, CO

Cheap lodging is tough to come by in Colorado ski towns, which is what makes this place such a find. Eighty dollars for a private queen with shared bath in downtown CB is a hell of a deal, and a $39 dorm bed can’t fail to make cash-strapped skiers and snowboarders happy. This is also the place to induct hostel-phobic friends or partners. I find it rather sterile, but it’s spotless, quiet, and kid-friendly. With two apartments for families ($184/night) and off-site condo rentals also available, CBIH makes family vacay do-able. Bonus: loads of free parking, and just 100 yards from the free mountain shuttle (Mt. Crested Butte is 3 miles away).

Fireside Inn Bed & Breakfast and Hostel
, Breckenridge, CO

This sprawling, historic old home converted into a warren of rooms is a treasure if you’re a lover of hostels. Friendly and walking distance to downtown (you can shuttle to the Breck Connect Gondola, Peak 7 and 8, and the Nordic Center), it’s got the patina of years on it, but it’s cozy, homey, and a great place to meet like-minded travelers. Love.

The Hostel, Jackson Hole, WY
In this spendy little ski town, affordable accommodations are rare as a ski bum with a Platinum card. Located at the base of Teton Village, The Hostel offers dorm beds and private rooms. Backcountry fans will love being just one mile away from the glory of Grand Teton National Park (be sure to check park website for information on restrictions or necessary permits)

[Photo credits: skier, Flickr user Andre Charland; hostel, Flickr user Mark Hill Photography]

Nordic Skiing Basics

Photo Of The Day: Grand Canyon After The Storm

Sometimes, the wait is worth it. After surviving a snow, hail and wind storm, Flickr user oilfighter captured this breathtaking image of the sun breaking through the clouds into the crests of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

In the Gadling Flickr Pool, he recounts the adventure:

It has snowed the whole day at Grand Canyon, causing us to be confined to the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge. Finally, during the late afternoon, the clouds broke a little, and the snow finally stopped. We jumped into the car and drove out to Point Royal. As I walk towards the view point, the weather was beginning to turn south again, and I saw a group of photographers take cover and shouting at each other to run back to the car.

I got setup on the edge as the overlook was clearing out. Finally, it was just me left. It began to hail as I was setting up, and the wind was really strong, which was a good thing. I was betting that the wind would clear a hole in the clouds. Not long after I got setup, the scene unfolded in front of me. It was amazing! The light streaks lasted all but 1 minute, but it was enough for me to take a few pictures. This is probably one of the most dramatic pictures I’ve taken.

Do you have any great stories behind your travel photos? Upload your shots to the Gadling Flickr Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user oilfighter]