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?

Tragedy in the Grand Tetons is a warning to stay on firm footing

Even with the best of plans, tragedies happen. A mountain side is too steep, the terrain too rugged, one turns left instead of right, and a person can take a tumble. That’s what happened on Tuesday when two hikers veered slightly off-course on Teewinot Mountain in the Grand Teton National Park. One of them slipped and tumbled 300-feet. The tumble killed him.

According to Kurt Repanshek’s post in the National Park Traveler, the two men, Eliot Kalmbach and Jon Winiasz, both in their early twenties, hadn’t planned to do any major climbing so they weren’t wearing helmets or carrying climbing gear. They had talked to park rangers to find out where they should hike before they headed out a couple days before the accident and were following the rangers’ suggestions except that they mistakenly headed across a steeper section of Teewinot after a night of camping at Lupine Meadows. That’s where Kalmbach fell.

Fortunately, Winaisz was able to reach Kalmbach to use his cell phone to call for help. Kalmbach, however was already not breathing and didn’t have a pulse. Thankfully, the rescue of both men took less than three hours. Winaisz was lifted out within two.

This story reminds me of a similar one that happened years ago when one of my husband’s close friends fell to his death in Glacier National Park. My husband worked with this friend at the park’s Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier and remembers exactly what it was like waiting for the body to be recovered. His friend’s death is something he recalls as being one of the worst events of his life.

I can’t imagine what Winiasz is going through after what sounds like a blissful adventure with a friend turned into a trip that he’ll never forget for such a horrible reason. How very sad.

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Unleash your underwater hunter on the Snake River

When the pressure cooker of daily professional live is about to squeeze the last out of tolerance out of your body … go fishing. From what I hear, there are plenty of those meals-waiting-to-happen in the Snake River, and is there a better way to feel good than catching and eating a fish? Okay, you can probably tell that I’m not a fisherman (did it once 20 years ago and thought it sucked), but I can see how some people are into it.

The Teton Moutnain Lodge & Spa has teamed up with Grand Fishing Adventures to get you a kickass fishing getaway. It’s only good through October 15, 2009, so you’ll want to move on this. For just over $2,000, you get four nights in a King or Queen room at the lodge, two days of private guided fly fishing (with equipment and transportation), lunch for your fishing days, dinner for two and breakfast every day. So, even if you don’t catch anything, you’ll still eat like a king. And, if you need more to do, take advantage of a free seven-day pass to Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone.

Even if you aren’t a fisherman, this is still a pretty interesting deal. But, if you like to take part in underwater hunting, this deal is a steal.

Jackson Hole’s Hotel Terra just got bigger

Today, the Hotel Terra Jackson Hole just got a hell of a lot bigger. A new addition is now open for business, increasing the property’s size by a whopping 68,000 square feet. Look for 60 new guestrooms and 4,200 square feet of meeting space. An infinity plunge pool now sits atop a rooftop terrace, and the Chill Spa now has a cutting-edge fitness facility.

The guestrooms are a mix of basic, Urban Studios, and suites of one, two and three bedrooms. The terrace surrounding the plunge pool consists of 1,700 square feet of space with outstanding views of the ski resort and mountains, and the new ballroom has floor-to-ceiling windows that open to a patio overlooking Teton Village.

Photos aren’t available yet, but you can click here to get a sense of what it will look like.

Top 10 national parks, thanks to TripAdvisor

More than 3,000 TripAdvisor readers in the United States have selected the top 10 national parks. Big shock: nine out of 10 are out west. Only Maine made it onto the list. But, let’s face it – if you want big, impressive national parks, you have leave the East Coast.

These readers are definitely interested in the national park scene. More than 70 percent plan to visit one this year, up from 62 percent in 2008. And, searches on TripAdvisor for “national park” and “national parks” are up 21 percent for the first five months of 2009 (relative to the same period last year).

So, what are the top spots?

  1. Zion National Park, Utah
  2. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
  3. White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
  4. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
  5. Redwood National and State Parks, California
  6. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada
  7. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
  8. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
  9. Yosemite National Park, California
  10. Acadia National Park, Maine

“As Americans look for inexpensive travel ideas this summer, many are seeking out the amazing natural beauty that lies in our country’s own back yard,” said Michele Perry, vice president of global communications for TripAdvisor. “National Parks can offer travelers an active, affordable and often awe-inspiring escape outdoors.”