U.S. national parks were popular destinations in 2009

2009 was a banner year for America’s National Park System, which remained popular with travelers, both foreign and domestic, despite the sluggish economy. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently announced that the parks experienced 10 million more visitors last year than they did in 2008, which represented a 3.9 percent increase.

The Park Service says that more 285 million people payed a visit to one of the parks or monuments that are under their care in 2009, which made it the fifth busiest year in the history of the system. The record for most visits ever was set back in 1987 when 287.2 million people spent time in the national parks.

The news of the upswing in visitors is seen as a good thing on a number of different levels. It meant that Americans and foreign visitors were still viewing the national parks as quality destinations despite challenging economic conditions around the globe. It was also seen as a good sign for Americans becoming more active, with many travelers hiking the trails and enjoying other outdoor activities.

The list of the top ten most visited parks remains generally the same year in and year out. In 2009 that list, along with the number of visitors, was as follows:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 9,491,437 visitors
Grand Canyon National Park, 4,348,068
Yosemite National Park, 3,737,472
Yellowstone National Park, 3,295,187
Olympic National Park, 3,276,459
Rocky Mountain National Park, 2,822,325
Zion National Park, 2,735,402
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, 2,589,288
Grand Teton National Park, 2,580,081
Acadia National Park, 2,227,698

Hopefully this is a trend that will continue. The parks have been called “America’s best idea”, and visiting any one of the top destinations will only reinforce that. So? What is your favorite national park, and which ones are you planning on visiting this year?

Celebrate Earth Day with a volunteer vacation!

2010 will mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of Earth Day. Originally conceived by Senator Gaylord Nelson, the event was meant to remind us to stop and think about the amazing, yet fragile, planet on which we live, and possibly consider the ways that we can work to protect the environment around us. Today, that message is as important and relevant as ever, and Earth Day is celebrated across the globe in a number of cultures and countries.

This year, Earth Day falls on Thursday, April 22nd, and to celebrate Lake Quinault Lodge and Kalaloch Lodge, both located on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, are offering environmentally conscious travelers a chance to do their part to protect the environment while on a volunteer vacation. Visitors can join the Washington CoastSavers on Saturday, April 17th, as they work to clean up the beaches at Kalaloch, and then celebrate with a barbeque afterwards. A week later, on Saturday April 24th, volunteers have the opportunity to join the park service in restoring Kestner Homestead, a family cabin that was built back in 1862 and is now part of Olympic National Park.
To show their appreciation for the efforts of the volunteers, the two lodges are offering an online only discount for those who choose to stay with them. These Earth Day Volunteer Vacation deals allow guests who particpate in the beach clean up to stay in a Seacrest room at Kalaloch Lodge for just $99 or a log cabin for $109. The special rate is available for a single day between April 15-18, and includes entry to the CoastSavers barbeque as well. Volunteers who elect to stay at the Lake Quinault Lodge can get a one night stay on April 23, in either a Lakeside or Main Lodge room beginning at just $109. That rate includes two box lunches to take to Olympic National Park the following day.

This is the third year that the resorts have offered these volunteer vacation deals, and to further show their commitment to the environment, they’ll throw in a $15 gift certificate for anyone that arrives in or on a “green” vehicle. The gift certificates are redeemable in the lodges’ stores, restaurants, and giftshops, and is another reward for guests looking to further reduce their carbon footprint.

To take advantage of one of these deals simply book online at www.VisitLakeQuinault.com or www.VisitKalaloch.com.

New website helps visitors explore the waterfalls of the Olympic Peninsula

The heavily-forested Olympic Peninsula, a slice of land that juts out into the Pacific in the far northwest of Washington state, is home to 24 major waterfalls. In an effort to make it easier for visitors to find and explore the different falls, Grays Harbor Tourism, Jefferson County Tourism Coordinating Council, and Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau have joined forces to launch a new website, OlympicPeninsulaWaterfallTrail.com.

While the waterfalls and the hiking and biking paths that surround many of the them have been around for years, the website and its handy guide map are new.

The 24 falls and their surroundings vary widely. There are the beautiful Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park , the tiered falls of Gatton Creek near Lake Quinault, and the Wynoochee Falls that form a pristine swimming hole, among others. There are cascades that thunder and others that barely trickle. You can hike, bike or drive to most, while a few are only accessible by boat. Some gush all year-round and others ebb and flow with the seasons. Some are easy to get to and others should only be visited by the more physically fit.

The website helps classify these various falls and makes visiting them easy. It’ll show you pictures of each waterfall, explain how to get there, and warn you of any hazards you’ll face along the way.