Samantha Brown joins Nature Valley’s Preserve The Parks initiative

Samantha Brown wants to Preserve the Parks!Popular television personality and travel expert Samantha Brown has joined forces with Nature Valley in an effort raise awareness of their wonderful National Parks Project. This program, now in its second year, works to raise funds for the National Parks Conservation Association, an organization dedicated to ensuring that America’s national parks are protected for future generations to enjoy as well.

This year, Nature Valley will donate at least $400,000 to the NPCA with the potential of up to an additional $100,000 coming through a consumer outreach program at PreserveTheParks.com. Customers are encouraged to visit that website and enter UPC codes from specially marked packages of Nature Valley products. For each UPC code entered, the company will add another 10¢ to their already generous donation.

Brown, who is a big proponent of the national parks, is the latest celebrity to publicly support Nature Valley’s efforts. She has called the parks “some of the world’s greatest treasures,” and has lauded them for being fantastic travel destinations that don’t require visitors to journey to some far flung, exotic place to experience their beauty.

For those planing on visiting a park this summer, Brown has some good tips to consider before they go. She recommends calling the park, or visiting its website, ahead of time to get information on any activities and educational programs that they have to offer and adjusting your scheduling accordingly to take advantage of them. She also says that when visiting a park, be sure to dress appropriately by leaving the flip-flops behind and donning a good pair of hiking shoes. Tossing a spare jacket into your daypack is always a good idea as well, as the weather can change quickly in the backcountry.Samantha also notes that the parks are especially great destinations for young travelers, offering up experiences and memories that will stay with them for a lifetime. For families traveling with small children she suggests creating fun quizzes about what they see and do in the park during their visit. Those quizzes not only reinforce the experience, but they also helps to pass the time in the car on the way home as well.

Brown says adventure travelers will find plenty to love in the parks as well. She points out that they are a great place to challenge yourself physically with many of the parks offering fantastic opportunities for paddlers and backpackers. Those who want to take it a bit easier can hike shorter trails or rent a bike to experience the park at their own pace. Either way, they are great destinations for anyone looking to get outside, take in some fresh air, and enjoy a little physical activity this summer.

Find out more about the Preserve the Parks project at the official website, where you’ll also discover ways that you can get involved in helping to protect the parks. Nature Valley is also giving away a trip to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Park, which you can sign up to win as well.

Photo of the day – Cunningham Cabin, Grand Tetons

photo day cunningham cabin grand tetons

Today’s Photo of the Day was snapped last summer by JasonBechtel inside the famous Cunningham Cabin in Grand Teton National Park. The sky, mountains, and clouds contrast startlingly with the log cabin interior, presenting a skillfully handled double framing. The contrast is so sharp that it almost looks fake.

We’re fans of JasonBechtel, and in fact today’s selection isn’t his first visit to our rodeo. But even if you’ve never submitted an image to us for consideration, don’t be shy. We want to see your work. Upload an image or several to Flickr’s Gadling Group Pool. Chosen images end up as future Photos of the Day.

5 great domestic adventure destinations

Five great domestic adventure destinationsBack in early January we posted our suggestions for the best adventure travel destinations for 2011, with places like Ethiopia, Croatia, and Guyana all earning a nod. While we gave plenty of praise to those exotic locales, we also gave a big tip of the hat to the good ole’ U.S. of A. as well. We went on to espouse the virtues of adventure travel right here at home, which includes not only plenty of great destinations but also the ability to visit them without breaking the bank in the process.

So, whether you’re into climbing mountains, hiking trails, or paddling whitewater, here are five great domestic adventure destinations guaranteed to fill your need for an adrenaline rush and help you conquer that wanderlust in the process.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
It may be hard to believe, but the state of Michigan is actually home to a spectacular wilderness area that has a lot to offer the adventure traveler. The Upper Peninsula, or “U.P.” as it is known, is the perfect setting for outdoor enthusiasts year round. There are hundreds of miles of trails to be hiked or biked in the warmer months and during the winter they serve as excellent cross country skiing or dog sledding routes as well. Paddlers will enjoy the Lake Superior coastline, which offers an experience not unlike sea kayaking, while campers and backpackers will appreciate the dense, but beautiful, state and national forests that are found throughout the area. Wildlife is in abundance as well, with black bear, deer, wolves, coyotes, and many other creatures inhabiting the wilderness as well. Perhaps the best reason to visit the U.P. however is for the solitude. The peninsula makes up about 1/3 of the entire size of the state of Michigan, but only about 3% of the state’s total population actually lives there, which means there are plenty of wild spaces and few people to bump into on the trail.
Five great domestic adventure destinations.Yosemite National Park, California
One of the most spectacular outdoor playgrounds in the entire world is located right in central California. Yosemite National Park is well known for its spectacular scenery that features towering granite cliffs, sparkling clear waterfalls and streams, and thick forests that include groves of Sequoia trees. The park has more than 750 miles of hiking trails alone and whitewater rafting along the Merced River is also a popular summer time activity. In the winter months skiing, both downhill and cross country, are permitted within the parks boundaries, and snowshoeing is a fantastic way to explore the wilderness as well. Yosemite also happens to be home to some of the best rock climbing in the world, with the legendary El Capitan drawing climbers from across the planet. That rock face isn’t for beginners however, and if you’d prefer an easier way to the top, you might want to consider hiking up Half Dome, another one of the parks major attractions, instead.

Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming
Often overshadowed by other national parks in the area, Wyoming’s Grand Tetons National Park is a spectacular destination in its own right. With more than 200 miles of hiking trails, it is an ideal destination for backpackers. But less experienced hikers beware, due to its combination of remote backcountry and altitude, it can be a challenging place to explore. The park also happens to be bisected by the Snake River, which provides world-class fly fishing opportunities and easy kayaking as well. Mountaineers love the remote nature of the Teton Mountains, which afford them real opportunities to test their alpine skills on any number of challenging peaks, including the 13,770-foot Grand Teton itself. The park has plenty to offer wildlife spotters too. While visiting, keep your eyes peeled for moose, grizzly bear, wolves, coyotes and much much more.

Maine’s North Woods
For considerably easier, but no less satisfying, mountains to climb, look no further than Maine’s North Woods. The region is a dramatic, and mostly untouched, wilderness that is a fantastic destination for hikers and backwoods campers, offering thick forests and plenty of low altitude (read 2000-3000 feet) peaks to bag. As you can imagine, wildlife is in abundance here as well, with moose and black bear making regular appearances, along with otter, deer, and even bobcats. Paddlers can choose to enjoy a serene day in a canoe on one of the many lakes that dot the area or elect to head over to Maine’s Atlantic Coast for a decidedly different, and more challenging, experience in a sea kayak. With over 3.5 million acres of forest spread out across northern Maine, there is plenty of backcountry to explore.

Taos, New Mexico
Located in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountain region, Taos is one of those towns that sits at the epicenter of an outdoor enthusiasts’ paradise. In the winter, it is one of the best ski and snowboard destinations in the entire country, and the miles of local trails are fantastic to explore while snowshoeing as well. During the summer, those same trails make Taos a world-class mountain biking destination and rock climbers will love the variety of challenges they find in the nearby mountains too. The warmer weather also brings excellent whitewater rafting, as well as fantastic opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, and trail running through a pristine wilderness that never fails to surprise visitors with its beauty and wonder. The village of Taos is a great destination in its own right, enchanting travelers with its down home charm, and it serves as a prefect base camp for those who come to play in the backcountry.

There you have it. Five great domestic destinations to that will give you plenty to see and do no matter what time of the year you visit. It’s still plenty early in 2011 to start planning your own escape to one of these outdoor paradises.

[Photo credit: Attila Nagy and chensiyuan via WikiMedia]



Jackson Lake Lodge: Culinary Surprise in the Grand Tetons

I dashed off to Jackson Hole for a few days not too long ago. Driven by the need to unwind for a bit and a decade-long desire to visit the setting of some of my favorite novels (by Tim Sandlin), I set my sights on the Grand Tetons and didn’t look back. What I found upon my arrival at the Jackson Lake Lodge, one of the three hotels in the area run by the Grand Teton Lodge Company, was an unexpected culinary experience that capture me from the moment I saw the menu.

The mid-tier offering of the Grand Teton Lodge Company – with Jenny Lake Lodge at the upper end and Colter Bay Village the bargain offer – the Jackson Lake Lodge has spacious and comfortable rooms, though they are of course consistent with the price point. This is what made the property’s high-end restaurant, Mural Room, particularly exciting: it was an inspired and local menu at an affordable hotel.

Normally, mid-range hotels deliver solid, reliable, basic fare, with a decent steak constituting the top end of the menu and the rest of it being rather pedestrian. Mural Room stands that thinking on its head, with an exciting menu that blends creativity, local favorites and ol’ reliable dishes that you’d expect to be on hand for those who aren’t terribly adventurous. Of course, the local touches on the Mural Room menu are not surprising. When bread is served, it comes in the shape of a carefully sculpted moose – not my scene, but I do understand the appeal in general. Instead, I was drawn to the menu items that took advantage of the area’s local fare, such as hazelnut and ginger buffalo carpaccio and southwest and molasses spiced elk loin. Whether you go for the unique local stuff or stick to the standby dishes (like the prime rib), you’ll walk away satisfied, as the chef clearly has his act together.

What really blew my mind wasn’t the local ingredients or even the entrees. Rather, it was the lobster and brie bisque. Served with chunks of lobster and a creamy soup around it, the dish was an unexpected seafood delight far away from the place these crustaceans call home.

The price points were a bit high for the Jackson Lake Lodge: the restaurant offered entrees at close to $30 or more (in most cases) in the company’s mid-level property. That said, there’s always room to splurge while on vacation, and a bargain vacation often has room for a fantastic meal that defines the trip’s culinary experience. Mural Room delivers this experience – to the point where you’ll probably want to make reservations a week before you arrive.

My trip to Jackson Hole was long anticipated, which of course led to unnecessarily high standards. Mural Room delivered, becoming the defining moment of my trip. Some properties have a culinary surprise buried deep in the website – this is one of them.

20 great bike rides

For many travelers, the default mode of transport is a plane or a car, but they’re certainly not the only options. Have you ever considered adding a bicycle ride to your next trip? Riding a bike has a number of advantages over other forms of transportation. You’ll move slower, no doubt, but with that slowness comes an increased awareness of your surroundings, a chance to get some fresh air and exercise and the sense of accomplishment that comes with a great ride. Whether you’re looking to ride across the USA or simply take a leisurely pedal around a nearby town, Gadling has compiled the following list of 20 great bike rides. Take a look below!

Mackinac Island, Michigan
Straddling the divide between Lake Huron and Michigan, Mackinac Island transports bikers to the simpler days where horse drawn carriages and bicycles were the main modes of transportation. Not having to worry about sharing the road with motorized vehicles, with the exception of emergency and service vehicles, this island is a cyclist’s haven. With 3 bike rental outfits to choose from, anyone can enjoy this National Historic Landmark filled with Victorian charm on 2 wheels and after a visit here, you will not want to return to the hustle and bustle of the 21st Century.

Newport, Rhode Island
It is understandable that images of the renowned Newport Mansions are the first to come to mind when you hear “Newport, Rhode Island.” Admittedly grand on the inside, riding by these mansions from the outside and through the surrounding parts of town are just as breathtaking. Take the path passing by the Newport Harbor, Brenton Cove, Ocean Ave, and of course Bellevue Ave where you get a feast for the eyes with the famed Marble House, The Elms, and Chateau sur Mer, among other grand homes and before long, you can understand why the rich chose this location as their summer playground.

Monterey Bay, California
California’s Monterey Bay is filled with many options for a scenic bike ride. The famous 17 mile drive meanders through Pebble Beach but those who prefer skipping the entrance fee can be rewarded with an equally scenic ride on what some dubbed the “Poor Man’s 17 Mile Drive”. Drive down to the Asilomar State Beach where parking can usually be found and ride along the coastline through the town of Pacific Groves where in the spring you may come upon the harbor seal pups lounging on the sand and frolicking in the ocean. Do not forget to bring binoculars for those otter sightings as you bike through Monterey and Cannery Row.

Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii
When one thinks of Maui, biking is probably not on the top of the list. However, they would be missing one of the best bird’s eye view experience. Although Haleakala National Park eliminated commercial downhill bike tour operations a few years back, bikes are still allowed. Those wishing to bike downhill from the summit can rent bikes from Haleakala Bike and experience unparalleled views of the island itself as they bike down. Two tips for riders: Have someone drop you off at the summit so you will not have to ride back up to pickup your car and wear layers that you can peel off as you descend from 40 degree temps at the top to 80s at the bottom.

Napa Valley Silverado Trail, California

Although not along a coast or body of water, the Napa Valley Wine Country is a beautiful place for a scenic bike ride. Start in picturesque Yountville and take the less crowded Silverado Trail that parallels CSR 29. You will find yourself surrounded by the yellow mustard fields in the spring and vineyards that stretch for miles that for a moment, you might think you were in Tuscany. You can not go wrong with a bike ride here any time of year. After an invigorating ride, you can enjoy a leisurely picnic and a wine tasting or two at a choice of wineries, including Duckhorn and Rutherford Hill.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

South of the famous Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming’s other gem, Grand Teton NP offers hundreds of miles of hiking trails but biking paths are harder to find. Since accessibility is limited in areas, joining their “Scenic Guided Bike Ride” would be the best and safest option. The bike tour will have you riding through open prairies, under the peaks of the Teton Mountain Range, and through sagebrush flats where you may spot where the buffalos roam.

Sausalito/San Francisco, California
Marin County’s Sausalito is reminiscent of a coastal Mediterranean town with its colorful houses clinging to the hillsides and houseboats along the north end of town. Riding through downtown will offer you views of the SF skyline and the bridge in the distance and those who are on a mission to chase that mirage can ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and back or through San Francisco and return by ferry.

Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
New England’s Martha’s Vineyard south of Cape Cod is a popular spot for celebrities but knows how to retain its low key atmosphere. With over 44 miles of bike trails and roads available, there are options for beginners and advanced riders alike. The “down-Island” route is mainly flat, great for beginners and families while the “up-Island” route is for more experienced riders. Either way, you will get to experience the versatility of this place with its changing landscapes from the gorgeous waters and beaches to the meadows to the red Aquinnah Cliffs. Before long it will seem like everything is a vista point.

Lake Tahoe, California
Tahoe, known for its ski slopes and casinos may find that it may still be a hidden gem for mountain biking. Northstar Ski Resort opens up its lift access for downhill mountain biking adventures in the summer. Just purchase a lift pass and you can take the lift up and bike down. For those less adventurous, get a “pedaling only pass” to access the park and cross country ride for free from a choice of beginner to advance trails all with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and trees.

Coronado, California
San Diego County’s picturesque coastal community offers a village atmosphere with a downtown filled with shops, restaurant, and theaters. With many bike friendly areas to choose from, you are treated to ocean views, architecture, and history including the home of Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum. He was so in love with Coronado, many erroneously thought his vision for the Emerald City must have stemmed from the Hotel del Coronado. Erroneous or not, anyone can see how a place like Coronado can be so inspirational.

— The above was written by Joyce Zee, Seed contributor.



Rock Creek Park Trails, Washington DC (5-50 miles)
Suggested starts: N. Pitt St and Second St. in Alexandria or Dupont Circle in DC

There are so many great bike paths in the DC area, but this is one of my favorite rides, from Alexandria’s Old Town with its many federalist buildings, along the Potomac River, past Reagan National Airport and Arlington Cemetery, across the river at Memorial Bridge to the Lincoln Memorial, and then into Rock Creek Park. There are a few tricky transitions, particularly around the Lincoln Memorial, and the path is very popular on weekends. Parts of the Rock Creek Park roads are bikes-only on weekends. You can take your bike on Metro for the return trip too.

Mississippi River trail to Chain of Rocks Bridge, St. Louis Missouri (20 miles)
Suggested start: Commercial St. and Carr St., downtown St. Louis

St. Louis is my hometown now and this is a frequent route because it is relatively flat and has some great views both of the River and the industrial side of the city. You can see the Arch at many points along the river, as well as pass multiple levees and locks. It ends at a bridge that is closed to car traffic and figured prominently in the movie “Escape from New York”. There are links to other trails that cross the river and you can return on the Illinois side, for some variety. Few services along the way, bring lots of water.

Brooklyn Bridge, New York City (5 miles)
Suggested start: Park Row and Centre Streets, New York City, across from City Hall

This is the one iconic ride in Manhattan that anyone can do, and while packed on the weekends (and you share the path with pedestrians), during the week it can be very enjoyable. It is a bit of a climb too. Finding the path on the Brooklyn side can be a challenge, and if you want more than the bridge ride you can travel across Chambers Street in Manhattan and connect with the path along the Hudson River along the West Side Highway.

Crater Lake Rim Road, Oregon (33 miles)
Suggested start: Rim Village parking lot

This road circles Crater Lake, a volcanic caldera that contains almost pure water of the most amazing color blue. The road is only open during July and August since at more than 7,000 feet it is snowed in the rest of the time. There is light auto traffic but the views are unparalleled of the lake and the surrounding mountains. If the 33-mile ride isn’t sufficient, you can hike down to the lake in one spot too. Only attempt this if you are in excellent shape and have ridden at altitude before.

St. Michaels to Easton, Maryland (36 miles)
Suggested Start: Courthouse on Washington St. in St. Michaels

This part of Maryland is completely flat and very picturesque. You will be near water and boats and biking on very rural (meaning little traffic but plenty of ruts) roads. There is even a short ferry to take across the Tred Avon River that runs frequently. There are numerous historic buildings that date from colonial times and dozens of B&Bs and restaurants to take advantage of when you are done biking. Some of the roads are in poor condition so better to use a heavier mountain or hybrid bike for this trip.

Shelter Island, New York (10-50 miles)
Suggested start: Greenport, NY ferry terminal/Long Island Railroad train station

Shelter Island is a small island that is nestled between the two forks of Long Island, and is a biking paradise. The roads are well maintained, there is hardly any traffic, and while it has hills, you are never far from water and great views of the Peconic Bay . You can do many trips in the area, including a circle one that takes in both ferries, but starting in Greenport is best for the variety of services, restaurants, and places to stay nearby. Plus, you can take your bike on the Long Island Rail Road to there too.

Saltspring Island, British Columbia, Canada (~30 miles)
Suggested start: Sydney, BC ferry terminal

This trip will take some planning but is worth it because you have virtually no traffic once the cars leave the ferry, have lots of interesting places to visit, and you’ll be biking through some of the most spectacular scenery in North America. There are dozens of small islands that are perfect for biking and BC Ferries and the ferry from Sydney is a good place to start. Saltspring Island is one of the bigger islands in between Vancouver Island and the mainland, and you can take other ferries to other islands as well as Vancouver Island to continue your exploration.

Santa Monica to Manhattan Beach, California (10-40 miles)

Suggested start: Dockweiler Beach State Park

The best beach bike path is very crowded in summer, but great the rest of the year. You visit the Venice Boardwalk, go around the Marina Del Rey’s many boat docks, underneath the flight path of LAX airport, and past many surfers to end up in trendy Manhattan Beach. Parking is difficult, and finding your way around the Marina can be a challenge.

Death Valley, California (10-100 miles)
Suggested start: Furnace Creek Visitor Center

There are no water views on this ride but you are traveling between two lovely mountain ranges with hardly any traffic. Skip the summer months, but this ride is great the rest of the year when temperatures are more moderate. You can go up to a century to Jubilee Pass (1300 foot) or more moderate distances. The road is a bit rough in spots and no shoulders.

Paradise, Mt. Rainer, Washington (40 miles)
Suggested Start: Nisqually Entrance of the park

This is another trip for very experienced cyclists. You are riding on narrow mountain roads with no shoulders and at altitude, and this route will rise more than 3,000 feet in the 20 miles it takes you to get to Paradise. The good news is that the return trip will take no time at all and it is a breeze. The best time to do this ride is in late August or September. Weekends can be crowded with cars. The views of the mountains are unparalleled.

— The above was written by David Strom, Seed contributor.

Need more inspiration to get outside? Keep reading!