Photo Of The Day: Skyline Drive

David Fulmer, Flickr

Though some national parks are re-opening thanks to state funding, Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park remains closed. So, although you can’t take a cruise on Skyline Drive in real life (at the moment), enjoy this shot of how the road presumably looks right now.

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Last Minute Labor Day Road Trip Ideas

Labor day road trip

If a Labor Day road trip sounds like a good idea, you’re not alone. Over 30 million Americans will be hitting the highways for the long weekend, traveling across town, from state to state or around the nation. Like that idea but have no plans? Here are some must-stay places along some of the best American scenic drives that are not just a place to park, but also a way to extend the journey and experience the destination.

Hana Highway in Hawaii is a winding path with ocean on one side and jungles on the other that leads to one of Maui’s best kept secrets of quintessential Hawaiian tradition and charm, the town of Hana. Warning: With over 600 curves in the road from just east of Kahului to Hāna, virtually all of it through lush, tropical rainforest, you may have a hard time keeping your eyes on the road.

Where to Stay: Travaasa Hana, an oceanfront resort that features experiential programming based on five pillars – adventure, culinary, culture, fitness and wellness – inspired by Hana tradition. Guests can partake in net throwing classes (a revered Hawaiian skill), traditional Hawaiian spa treatments and meals made with locally sourced ingredients.

Trail Ridge Road in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park is the highest continuously paved road in North America. With more than eight miles lying above 11,000 feet and a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet, Trail Ridge Road provides a stellar view of Rocky Mountain National Park’s golden aspen leaves and autumn mountain scenery.

Where to Stay: The Della Terra Mountain Chateau has 14 romantic suites, each with its own private balcony hot tub, amazing mountain view and warm breakfast for an authentic Colorado mountain experience.Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most visited sections of the National Park System, and features 469 miles of stunning views with old farmsteads, mountain meadows and one of the world’s most diverse displays of plants and animals. The parkway connects Shenandoah National Park near Waynesboro, VA (Milepost 0), with Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, NC (Milepost 469).

Where to Stay: The Carolina Inn is a historic property located on the campus of the University of North Carolina that allows guests to enjoy a variety of activities and experiences both on campus and in downtown Chapel Hill.

The Montana Scenic Loop spans the Northern Rockies in a nearly 400-mile long loop, featuring spectacular mountain vistas and abundant wildlife and wilderness within several National Forest lands. At the heart of the 400-mile loop is the Bob Marshall Wilderness flanked by the Great Bear Wilderness on the north and the Scapegoat Wilderness to the south.

Where to stay: Moonlight Basin in Big Sky, Montana, is a year-round resort in Montana’s Rocky Mountains located close to Yellowstone National Park. Moonlight Basin features a world-class spa, and a variety of dining options and luxury accommodations that are perfectly suited for families or couples to create a well-rounded Montana vacation.

Labor Day travel will see upwards of 33 million people hitting the road for the long weekend, noted AAA in a USA Today report this week. That’s an almost three percent increase from last year, the highest Labor Day road trip travel volume since 2008, and the trend is expected to extend through the fall and winter.

How to Plan a Stress Free Summer Road Trip



Flickr photo by Stuck in Customs

Five national parks to visit in the fall

Fall is a wonderful season to visit a national parkLabor 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.
Visit a national park in the fall for a spectacular experience
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]

Shenandoah National Park celebrates 75 years

I’m currently sitting in a rocking chair in Big Meadows Lodge at Shenandoah National Park listening to a young man talk about his day to what I presume to be his girlfriend back home. “We just spent two hours laying in the grass,” he says, adding “it felt good to just be really, ridiculously lazy.” I don’t know who this guy is or where he is from, but I think many of us can relate to his feeling of uninhibited bliss when visiting our nation’s great parks.

In a radio address in 1932, William Carson – the chairman of the Commission of Conservation and Development for Virginia – predicted that “scenery is going to be Virginia’s next cash crop.” He was right. Whether you want to just take in the views of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains or get out and be active, Shenandoah National Park has been a treasured getaway since its inception in 1935.

This year, the park is celebrating its 75th year with a rededication ceremony and a contest that will gift a lucky visitor with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a two-night stay in the park. On June 25th, the park will waive all entrance fees and has planned a full day of activities for its rededication, including plenty of projects and games for the kids. Park employees are expecting President Obama – who officially resides a little over two hours away in Washington, DC – to make an appearance at the ceremony. The park, which was established in 1935, has never made an official press announcement about the event, yet all 900 tickets to the big shebang were sold out back in May.

Park supervisor Karen Beck-Herzog says “75 years later, I think the park’s founders have delivered the dream.” Even if you can’t join in on events during the park’s official party, you can visit and pick up a brochure that doubles as a game of questions about the park and surrounding communities (or download it at online). Fill it out and send it in by November 1st to be entered in a contest with a grand prize for a vacation package at Skyland Resort, which is located in the park. The package includes a two-night stay, a biplane ride over the Shenandoah Valley, a guided horseback ride, and two limited edition prints of the park that are signed and numbered by artist Kevin H. Adams. There will also be 16 additional drawings for other prize packages that were generously donated by people and organizations that love the park.

I’ll be here for the next few days relaxing, hiking, and learning about this park’s legacy. Stay tuned.

[Photo by Libby Zay]

Gadling gear review: Outdoor Research women’s Frescoe Hoody activewear

women's activewearI love hoodies, and ever since I was old enough to waddle around in my brother’s hand-me-downs (which unfortunately included his tighty-whiteys, until I was old enough to realize that, while my mom’s thriftiness was admirable, clothing your daughter in boy’s underwear was not), I’ve worn them. The versatility, quirky style, and marsupial-like comfort a great hoody can provide make it an unbeatable wardrobe staple for travel or at home.

When I started running a decade ago, zip-up sweatshirt hoodies were my favorite layering accessory. Unfortunately, they’re bulky, and one of the reasons I took up running was so I could exercise while traveling. Thus, like most active women, I require workout gear that fulfills my various needs.

That’s why I love Outdoor Research’s Frescoe Hoody. This lightweight pullover debuted last spring in the Seattle-based company’s women’s apparel line, just in time for me to give it a test-run on a monthlong backpacking trip through Australia.

For this particular trip, I needed a piece of activewear that could perform well in a variety of climates (it was winter in the Southern Hemisphere). It also needed to serve as sleepwear in a Sydney backpacker’s, and at a friend’s Arctic-like, 120-year-old stone cottage in the rainy Barossa Valley. Most important: I would have little opportunity to do laundry, so the hoody needed to, as advertised, deliver moisture-wicking, “quick-dry performance,” and remain stink-proof.women's activewearThe Frescoe Hoody is made of Dri-Release® E.C.O. fabric: 83% recycled polyester, 15% organic cotton, and 2% Spandex. New for 2011 is Built-in FreshGuard® odor neutralization. I have no idea what that last part means from a manufacturing standpoint, but it’s a huge selling point for someone (that would be me) who has been known to travel for weeks at a time in climatic extremes ranging from tropical jungle to high-altitude blizzard, sans access to laundry services. My test hoody didn’t have FreshGuard, and still miraculously kept stench at bay.

Pros

I confess that when I first received my Frescoe in the mail and unpacked it, I was dismayed by both the color (see Cons) and size. Although I’d ordered an XS (sizes go up to L), the “relaxed fit” was still generous. I’m 5’2″, and wear a 32A bra, so the V-neck (which is double-layered, to help prevent gaping, I presume) was a bit too low for me, but I’m used to that. How the flat-chested do suffer.

  • From the first time I wore it, however, I decided I loved the Frescoe’s slouchy design, in part because the bottom hem has a wide, flattering, slightly stretchy band. It’s slimming, but also retains body heat. The fabric is soft, light, and unbelievably comfortable, and the hood stays put but doesn’t constrict (there are no drawstrings). When I got too warm on a run, the hoody was easy to whip off while maintaining my pace, due to its loose fit. Once tied around my waist, it didn’t hinder my movement with weight or bulk.
  • women's activewear
  • What really made me fall in love with the Frescoe, however, are two fantastic features: a tiny, hidden zippered pocket ideal for holding keys, a Chapstick, and a couple of bucks, and cuff fold flaps. For cold-handed types like me, these are ideal when it’s too warm for gloves.
  • I’ve worn my Frescoe in Seattle drizzle, hiking and camping in Shenandoah National Park, and on the windy beaches of Kangaroo Island in South Australia. On that trip, I was only able to do laundry once, 10 days into my trip. Yet the top survived daily runs for two weeks, before being crammed in my backpack for four days while I was in the blistering heat of the Ningaloo Reef region in Western Australia. On day 20, the Frescoe emerged, still smelling reasonably fresh, to accompany me on a long run around Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. I even slept in it that night because it passed the “sniff test.” What? Like you haven’t done the same thing.
  • The $55 price tag may seem a bit steep for what is essentially a glorified long-sleeve T-shirt. But when you take into consideration the bells and whistles, performance ability, durability, and responsible manufacturing materials, it’s a steal.

Cons

  • At 11.8 ounces, the Frescoe isn’t as lightweight and compressible as some activewear, but it’s not bad and it kept me warm. Given how well it performs, I don’t mind a little extra bulk in my baggage.
  • women's activewearMy only other nitpick are the colors. I admittedly have a pet peeve about women’s gear that only comes in impractical, pastelly or bright hues. I do, however, like the little flower graphic on the Frescoe’s right hip. New 2011 shades (available starting in February) include Mist (light blue), Fuschia, Mandarin, and Mushroom (brown-grey).

My own hoody is Fossil, a not-terribly flattering greyish-green that makes me look somewhat cadaverous. It’s practical, however, and never shows dirt. If OR could make this baby in charcoal, burgundy, forest green, or black, I’d buy another one in a heartbeat to wear on the street, or while tossing back an apres-ski cocktail or four.

In summary, I was really impressed with the Frescoe Hoody. It delivered on its promises to stay dry and not get stinky, and the hidden zip and cuff fold features totally rock for practicality, cleverness, and cuteness. I highly recommend this top as a multi-use travel wardrobe staple. P.S. It’s also great to wear for lounging or while typing up Gadling posts.