Canon Offers Free Photography Workshops In US National Parks

Camera manufacturer Canon has once again teamed up with the American Park Network to offer free photography and videography workshops in U.S. national parks. These workshops, which include video for the first time, will be available in a variety of locations and offer park visitors a chance to learn new skills, or hone existing ones, in some of the most photogenic environments on the planet.

The Photography in the Parks program has already been wrapped up in the Grand Canyon, Zion and Yosemite National Parks this year, but new opportunities begin in other parks as early as today. For example, workshops in Yellowstone run from July 21-31 and are held three times daily. Anyone wishing to participate can join in the fun at 8:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. at the Old Faithful Lodge. Participants are encouraged to arrive 15-30 minutes early. Other upcoming workshops will be held in Grand Teton National Park (August 1-2), Rocky Mountain National Park (August 5-11) and Acadia National Park (August 18-29).

Instructors will be on hand to provide tips on how to get the most out of your digital camera or camcorder. They’ll also have a variety of Canon products available to test as well, including their wonderful EOS DSLR cameras, EF lenses, PowerShot point and shoot and Vixia camcorders. Those expert photographers will demonstrate fun and creative ways to capture the exact photo you’re trying to achieve.

For more information check out the Photography in the Parks website and start making your plans to sit in on one of these classes soon. This is a great opportunity to get a free workshop that could improve your travel photography skills.

Summer Challenge: Bag A ’14er’ In Rocky Mountain National Park

For outdoor enthusiasts and adventure travelers, Rocky Mountain National Park happens to be 415 square miles of paradise. Featuring more than 350 miles of hiking trails, a half-dozen campsites, excellent fishing and miles of scenic cycling routes, the park is an alpine playground set in the Front Range of Colorado. It also happens to be home to one of the most well known and accessible “14ers” in the entire state.

What’s a 14er you ask? Good question! In Colorado a 14er refers to any mountain that is 14,000 feet in height or taller. The state has 53 of them and they are a source of considerable pride amongst the very active outdoor community there. Many climbers even make it a goal to stand at the summit of each and every one of those peaks, including the only 14er located inside Rocky Mountain National Park itself, Longs Peak.

Named after Major Stephen Long, who explored the region back in the 1820s, Longs Peak stands 14,259 feet in height. During the winter months it presents a fairly significant technical climbing challenge that requires the use of crampons, ice axes and other specialized gear. But in the summer the trails are cleared of snow and ice, removing most of the technical obstacles and allowing just about anyone in reasonable physical condition to hike to the top.The most popular and accessible path to the summit is known as the Keyhole Route. This tough but manageable trail starts at about 9400 feet and winds its way to the top along a path that is well marked with a series of bull’s-eyes. Along the way hikers will need to negotiate a large boulder field and scramble up to a rock landmark known as the Keyhole, which is located at about 13,000 feet and gives the route its name. From that point on the climb gets a bit more harrowing as exposed ridges and rocky outcroppings add a new element to the trek, but hikers that take their time and attempt the final push to the top in good weather should have little difficulty in reaching the summit.

Those that do make the hike are rewarded with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. Longs Peak is the tallest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park and from the summit you can see for miles in all directions. That view is not only well worth the climb, but it will also make you forget about all the hard work it took to get to the summit in the first place.

Despite the fact that Longs Peak is very accessible to non-climbers there are a few things to keep in mind before attempting the climb. First, the trail is about 15 miles in length round trip, so be prepared to start early and expect a long day. The route features approximately 5000 feet of vertical gain as well, which means climbers will be working hard – at altitude no less – while on the ascent. Additionally, the thin air can cause all kinds of issues including shortness of breath, headaches, nausea and so on. For many hikers this isn’t a major issue, provided they go slow, take breaks and don’t overexert themselves.

The weather conditions on Longs Peak can also have a major impact on the hike. When the route is dry it is a fairly straightforward ascent, but in the summer, late afternoon thunderstorms are not uncommon and can cause the rock to become quite slippery, greatly increasing the overall level of difficulty. Also, due to the high altitude, it is possible for it to get cold, or even snow – even at the height of summer. Climbers should be sure to dress appropriately and bring extra clothing just in case.

The best time to hike Longs Peak is between July and September. During that period the mountain is at its safest thanks to warm and predictable weather. The route can get a bit crowded at times, particularly on weekends, but that adds a level of camaraderie to the trek and makes it a bit easier to follow the path to the summit.

If you decide to add Longs Peak to your Summer Bucket List, I’d recommend making nearby Estes Park your base camp. The town has surprisingly diverse options for both dining and accommodations and serves as a gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. In fact, after you’re done conquering the mountain, spend a few extra days in town enjoying whitewater rafting, mountain biking, kayaking or simply lounging about and enjoying the fantastic scenery.

If you’re looking for a great summer adventure and you’ve always wanted to climb a mountain, then a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park should be on your list of must see places. Longs Peak provides a great challenge with a fantastic payoff and when you’re done, you’ll have just 52 more 14ers before you’ve bagged them all.

Celebrate National Park Week: 5 Luxe Places You Can ‘Camp’ Sans Tent

National Park Week has begun! Many travelers will be taking advantage of free access to our country’s best national parks but, if they’re anything like this writer, won’t want to sleep in a tent after.

So, instead of camping try “glamping” at some of these great hotels near national parks that let you enjoy nature without giving up your creature comfort – no camping required.

Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Just minutes from Grand Teton National Park and a short drive from Yellowstone National Park, Four Seasons Jackson Hole offers a famed wildlife safari program, complete with an in-house wildlife biologist. Can’t make it during National Park Week? Enjoy special backstage access to these National Parks through the hotel’s summer packages.

Moonlight Basin, Montana
Located just 18 miles from Yellowstone National Park, Moonlight is surrounded by Montana’s spectacular Rocky Mountains. Moonlight Basin’s Mountain Concierge Team can plan experiences from rafting on the Gallatin River to fly-fishing adventures and more.

Estes Park, Colorado
As a gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, the year-old Della Terra Mountain Chateau is one of the area’s most luxe boutique properties.

Terranea Resort, California
This Destination Hotels & Resorts property located on the Southern California coast in Rancho Palos Verdes offers a unique starting point for exploration of Channel Islands National Park.

Travaasa Hana, Maui
The closest lodging to Haleakala National Park, filled with beautiful hikes through bamboo forests, past towering waterfalls and the famous “Pools of Ōheo.”

[Image courtesy of Yellowstone National Park]

Five national parks to visit in the fall

Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer, and although the season will linger for a few more weeks, it is time to start looking ahead to the fall. Autumn brings crisp air, cooler temperatures, and shorter days, and along with it comes a rainbow of colors splashed across the trees. It is a perfect time to visit one of America’s national parks, as thinning crowds bring solitude and silence to those wild spaces. Here are five great destinations for this, or any other, fall.

Great Smokey Mountains National Park
On an annual basis, the Great Smokey Mountains National Park is the most visited in the entire park system. Each year, more than 9 million people pass through its gates, which makes this recommendation a bit of a cliche. But fall brings a dramatic transformation to the miles of forests that stretch out across North Carolina and Tennessee. The leaves first begin to change at higher elevations, then sweep down the sides of the mountains over a few weeks time, bringing bright golds and reds to the region. The colors are at their peak in late October and early November. Be sure to visit during the week to avoid the crowds.

Fire Island National Seashore
Located not far from New York City, the Fire Island National Seashore is a barrier island with 26-miles of protected coastline to explore. Accessed by ferry or one of two bridges, the park offers beautiful sand dunes, rolling ocean waves, and a surprising amount of woodlands. Visitors in the fall quickly learn where the island derives its name, as the copious amounts of poison ivy – a scourge during the summer months– begins to turn a deep scarlet. By late October, the trees take on traditional autumn colors as well, and the annual migration of birds and monarch butterflies from the island is in full swing. It is an amazing time to visit a place that is off the radar for many travelers. Glacier National Park
With its high mountain peaks, crystal clear lakes, and thick forests, Glacier National Park offers breathtaking scenery in any season. Fall is short in northern Montana however, providing a narrow window for visitors to enjoy the views before the early snows begin to fly. None the less, it is the perfect time to visit the park, which sees few travelers after the traffic of summer subsides. Early October turns the larch and aspen trees to orange and yellow before they drop their leaves for yet another year, and while they are awash in color, they are spectacular to behold. Those wishing to drive Glacier’s famous Going to the Sun Road had better hurry however, as it closes for the season on September 19.

Shenandoah National Park
Nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River Valley of Virginia, this park offers more than 500 miles of hiking trails through some of the most beautiful forests east of the Mississippi River. In the fall, the oak and maple trees, which are abundant throughout the area, assume fiery hues of orange and yellow, delivering a classic seasonal experience to the region. The park’s famous Skyline Drive offers 105 miles of autumn colors to enjoy from your car, although the Fall Foliage Bike Festival may be the best way to take them all in. The festival, now in its 21st year, features 12 different routes and three days of cycling from October 21-23, which is traditionally when the colors are at their finest.

Rocky Mountain National Park
The leaves have already begun to change at the higher altitudes of northern Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, where the annual “Aspen Gold Rush” heralds the coming of fall. Over the next few weeks it will spread down the mountains and valleys before the colors reach their peak at the end of September and slowly fade throughout October. Until then however, visitors are treated to a spectacular display of nature’s beauty that is best taken in on one of the parks 359 miles of hiking trails.

While we may lament the departure of summer for yet another year, fall has its own unique qualities for us to enjoy as well. These parks, and a number of others, will give you plenty of reasons to welcome the change in season and enjoy the colorful months ahead.

[Photos courtesy of the National Park Service]

Despite population diversity, U.S. park visitors are overwhelmingly white

Although the U.S. population continues to diversify, that trend has not been reflected in the demographics for visitors to U.S. parks. MSNBC reports that on Wednesday, the National Park Service (NPS) released a survey that shows that 78 percent of visitors to America’s national parks between 2008 and 2009 where white non-Hispanic, while Hispanics accounted for nine percent and African-Americans only seven percent. In comparison, the most recent U.S. census revealed that only 64 percent of the population was non-Hispanic white.

Why are people of color staying away from U.S. parks? Rob Lovitt, author of the MSNBC article, suggests fear of the unknown as well as the assumption that the parks are only for adventurous outings, such as hiking and camping. Helping minorities feel welcome once they are in the parks has also been a concern of the NPS.

Trying to make “America’s Best Idea” a concept that all Americans can embrace is the only way that parks will continue to be part of the American experience. Shelton Johnson, an African-American park ranger that was interviewed for the MSNBC story, points out that some of the first men to serve as rangers in America’s parks were the so-called “Buffalo Soldiers,” members of the African-American regiments of the U.S. Army from 1899-1904.

“This puts African-Americans at the very beginning of national park history, yet African-Americans only constitute 1 percent of visitors to the park,” said Johnson. “If you don’t know you have cultural roots in the parks, then you’re not going to feel a sense of ownership in them.”

One way that the NPS is hoping that minorities feel ownership in the parks is by developing programs that introduce minority kids to the wonders of the national parks. Current programs include Wildlink, which introduces inner-city youth from Oakland and Stockton to the parks through five-day wilderness trips to Yosemite, and the Camp Moreno Project, which gives Colorado kids the opportunity to go camping in Rocky Mountain National Park. The hope is that the more visitors the parks can attract the more park supporters there will be, thus ensuring that all 394 national parks will be around for all Americans to enjoy.

Check out the full story on MSNBC.

[flickr image via compass points]