Great Smoky Mountains National Park To Charge Fees For Camping

Great Smoky Mountains will charge new camping fee in FebruaryEarlier this week the National Park Service announced that it would begin implementing a reservation system and charging fees for the use of backcountry camping sites inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The move was announced last March, but it has taken until now for the system to be put into place. The NPS says the new fees will be used to improve customer service in trip planning, reservations and permits.

Starting February 13, the Park Service will begin charging $4/person for anyone looking to camp inside the park. On that same day, a new online reservation system will go into operation, allowing visitors to book a campsite up to 30 days in advance. Permits will also be available within the park itself at the Backcountry Office inside the Sugerlands Vistor Center. The NPS hopes these options will allow campers plenty of flexibility in their plans even if they are attempting to make a last minute booking.

Visitors to the park should see a direct impact from the fees that are collected as they’ll help fund additional staff in the Backcountry Office and put more rangers into the field. Those rangers will help ensure a safer and cleaner environment for hikers and backpackers, while enforcing regulations designed to make the park safer.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the entire U.S. system. On an annual basis it sees more than 9 million visitors pass through its gates. With over 522,000 acres of wilderness, it is also one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States, which only adds to its popularity as a great travel destination.

[Photo Credit: National Park Service]

Exploring Downtown Asheville, North Carolina

asheville north carolina

Asheville, North Carolina, is a town of many titles. Self Magazine considers it the Happiest City for Women, while to Rolling Stone, it’s America’s New Freak Capitol. Outside Magazine calls it one of America’s Best Outside Towns, while AmericanStyle names it among the country’s Top Arts Destinations.

Indeed, Asheville offers a little something for everyone. Many visitors are drawn by the city’s proximity to the historic Biltmore Estate, scenic Blue Ridge Parkway and famed Great Smoky Mountains. But Asheville’s charming downtown district is a treasure all of its own, with its array of Art Deco buildings, art galleries, socially conscious boutiques and gourmet restaurants. The “Buy Local” movement is strong in Asheville, with many store windows sporting signs that read “Love Asheville, Choose Independent” and “Local Is The New Black.” You won’t find any McDonald’s or fast fashion chain stores, but you will find an eclectic mix of places to eat, shop and see. Here are some highlights from a recent trip.

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Asheville’s array of artisan and ethnic food shops make it a perfect town for sampling. Start at the Laughing Seed Café, where you’ll find fresh, organic, farm-to-table vegetarian food. If the famed house veggie burger leaves you hungry, try a kathi roll at Chai Pani, a funky Indian street food joint. Then, unwind with a cup of Hotcha green tea and a book on Eastern philosophy in the pillowed recesses of Dobra Tea; their smoothies are also incredible. Cap off your eating adventure with sweet tea truffles at The Chocolate Fetish.

If you decide to go beyond downtown Asheville, don’t miss the inventive Mexican fare at White Duck Taco Shop, like the Banh Mi Tofu taco or the delectable Chips and Queso. Down at the Biltmore Village, you’ll find the Corner Kitchen, which offers gourmet but unpretentious cuisine that is sourced from area farmers and producers. The Obamas are said to be fans.

Shop

If you’re in the market for handblown glass terrariums, hemp tunics and natural oatmeal soaps, you’ve come to the right place. The historic Grove Arcade and Woolworth Walk are Asheville’s shopping epicenters, playing host to a variety of local artists, crafters and small business owners. The Mountain Made gallery at Grove Arcade is a highlight, with artisan products from across western North Carolina. Book lovers will get lost at the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, a cozy spot that combines two of life’s greatest pleasures: books and bubbly.

For clothes shopping, head to Spiritex, an eco-fashion boutique that sells organic cotton clothing produced within a 120-mile radius. Both Frock and Minx offer expertly curated selections of women’s apparel, much of which is also made in America.

See

At the turn of the century, Asheville was a popular mountain resort for luminaries like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Today, the city is home to an impressive array of Art Deco architecture, second only to Miami in the Southeast. The most famous example is George W. Vanderbilt’s famed Biltmore Estate, located just out of town. But downtown Asheville has a fair share of highlights too. The best way to tour the city’s architectural wonders is the free self-guided Urban Trail Walking Tour, which consists of 30 educational stops around the city. After winding up the two-hour tour, it will be clear why Asheville is regularly named one of the Most Beautiful Places in America.

[Photo Credit: Jessica Marati]

Nature Valley Trail View is ‘street view’ for national parks

Yellowstone National ParkEarlier this week, Nature Valley launched a fun new website that delivers a Google Street View-like experience for hiking trails in some of America’s most popular and iconic national parks. Dubbed Nature Valley Trail View, the new site allows hikers to explore over 300 miles of trail directly from their browser.

Much like its counter-part from Google, Trail View actually puts us on the ground and gives us a 360-degree view of the surroundings as we take a virtual hike through the wilderness. It also offers information about the trail that is currently being displayed, including: its length, level of difficulty and important points of interest along the way. This makes it a great tool for scouting potential hikes in the national parks before we go while also providing insights into what to expect when we’re actually out on the hike.

At the moment, Trail View features three of the more popular and famous national parks – Grand Canyon, Great Smokey Mountains, and Yellowstone. The video below gives us a glimpse at the technology that has gone into creating the new website, which is just the latest initiative from Nature Valley, a company that has a long history of supporting the national parks in a variety of important ways.

Enjoy the video then go take a virtual hike.


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]

Off the beaten path: Road trip to a rarely visited National Park

The big national parks are popular for a reason, but here are 10 other national parks and forests you may not have visited, and some fun activities to do while you are there. Consider one of these off-the-beaten-path parks for your summer round-trip:

Acadia National Park is a beautiful piece of the Maine coastline. Bring your alarm clock so you can wake early and hike to the top of Cadillac Mountain just before dawn. From this spot, you’ll be the first person to see the sun rise over the US!

The White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire has some of the most rugged hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Mount Washington is located here and has the highest recorded winds on the planet. Take the train to the top and check out the buildings that are literally chained down so they don’t blow away!

While the Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited national park, few travelers leave their car. Take a few days to hike the Appalachian Trail here. It bisects the park and delineates Tennessee from North Carolina. See if you can count the 100 tree varieties found in the region.

The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado, has the tallest sand dunes in the nation (Star Dune is over 750 feet). Bring your old skis or snowboard and spend a day sand-boarding!

The Bridger-Teton National Forest, in Wyoming, includes the Wind River Range. Don’t forget your fishing pole or your backpack. The high alpine lakes are home to world-class trout fishing and humans rarely venture to these parts.

In southwest New Mexico, the Gila National Forest encompasses the Gila Wilderness. The Gila was the first place to receive a Wilderness designation and for good reason. The hiking is epic and varies from high alpine forest to deep desert canyons. Be respectful, but look for the abandoned cave dwellings that you can still explore!

Dinosaur National Monument is in both Colorado and Utah. This area is famous for the hundreds of dinosaur skeletons excavated here. Raft the Green River on the “Gates of Ladore” stretch. It takes you through the confluence of the Yampa and Green Rivers and into the monument. The white water is exciting and the views are spectacular.

Arches National Park, located in southern Utah, boasts the greatest concentration of natural arches in the world. Bring your running shoes to do a short trail run in Devils Garden.

Also located in southern Utah, Bryce National Park is a chimneyed deep canyon. Travel via burro to the bottom of the canyon for a unique experience you are sure to remember!

Redwood National Park, located in northern California, has the tallest trees on the planet. Either bring your bike or a convertible because you will want to look up to this humbling experience.

This summer take a road trip and explore some National Parks and Forests. It is a great way to stretch your legs and see something new in the U.S.

Travis Crooke is a Seed.com writer.