Nature Valley Trail View is ‘street view’ for national parks

Earlier this week, Nature Valley launched a fun new website that delivers a Google Street View-like experience for hiking trails in some of America’s most popular and iconic national parks. Dubbed Nature Valley Trail View, the new site allows hikers to explore over 300 miles of trail directly from their browser.

Much like its counter-part from Google, Trail View actually puts us on the ground and gives us a 360-degree view of the surroundings as we take a virtual hike through the wilderness. It also offers information about the trail that is currently being displayed, including: its length, level of difficulty and important points of interest along the way. This makes it a great tool for scouting potential hikes in the national parks before we go while also providing insights into what to expect when we’re actually out on the hike.

At the moment, Trail View features three of the more popular and famous national parks – Grand Canyon, Great Smokey Mountains, and Yellowstone. The video below gives us a glimpse at the technology that has gone into creating the new website, which is just the latest initiative from Nature Valley, a company that has a long history of supporting the national parks in a variety of important ways.

Enjoy the video then go take a virtual hike.

2012 opening dates for Yellowstone lodges announced

The opening dates for the lodges inside Yellowstone National Park were announced earlier this week giving travelers an opportunity to start booking their accommodations well in advance of any planned visits later this year. While largely shut down for the winter months, the park’s historic and iconic lodges will open in stages throughout the spring in order to meet demand for the busy summer travel season ahead.

Starting in late April, the roads leading into Yellowstone will be cleared of snow, allowing vehicle access to the park once again. The exact dates for when those roads open can’t be predicted, as late season snow storms and heavy accumulations can present unexpected challenges. Once those roads do begin to open, however, park restaurants and gift shops near Old Faithful and Mammoth will soon follow.

The first lodges to resume operation for the season will be the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, both of which open on May 4. A week later they’ll be joined by the Lake Yellowstone Hotel and the Old Faithful Lodge, which are now accepting reservations for arrivals starting on May 11. The rest of the Yellowstone accommodations, including the Old Faithful Inn (May 18) and the Roosevelt Lodge (June 8), will open in the weeks that follow.

Spring and early summer are the perfect times to visit Yellowstone as the park returns to life following a long winter. In addition to blooming flowers and budding trees, the park’s abundant wildlife is generally more active too and sharp-eyed travelers will often catch a glimpse of newborn bison, elk and even bear.

If you have plans to visit Yellowstone this year you can check for room availability and book your stay by clicking here.

Yellowstone tops 3 million summer visitors for third straight year

For the third straight year, Yellowstone National Park has seen more than 3 million visitors pass through its gates during the summer months alone. Those lofty numbers come despite a colder than normal start to the season and a host of unique PR challenges that could have easily discouraged travelers from visiting.

Winter in the western U.S. was a long and cold one, with heavy snow lasting well into the spring. When the roads into Yellowstone opened in May, there was still plenty of snow and ice throughout the park. That resulted in a slower than normal start to the travel season, although June, July, and August, traditionally the three busiest months of the year, rebounded nicely.

It was a challenging summer for visitors to America’s first national park. Avalanches and rock slides closed roads early on, making travel difficult. Later forest fires were a small, but potential danger, and in July, a grizzly bear attacked and killed a hiker. That tragedy was the first of its kind inside Yellowstone in more than 25 years.

Despite those challenges however, visitors still flocked to the park, with more than 900,000 in July alone. Those impressive numbers prove that the national parks remain a popular option for travelers looking to explore the best outdoor destinations in the U.S.

Visit Yellowstone with Ken Burns this winter

Filmmaker Ken Burns and his longtime collaborator Dayton Duncan have partnered with travel company Tauck to create a series of classic travel itineraries based around his films. These trips, entitled Ken Burns American Journeys, offer travelers the opportunity to experience Civil War battlegrounds, jazz festivals, and, of course, national parks from the unique perspective of Burns himself.

In January of 2012, Tauck will give travelers a once in a lifetime chance to meet both Burns and Duncan, in one of the most magical environments possible – Yellowstone National Park. Highlights of the trip will include a visit to Lamar Valley, home to one of the most diverse displays of wildlife in North America, and an excursion to the Geyser Basin to explore Yellowstone’s famous geothermal activity. Visitors will also have the opportunity to visit the park’s interior via snowcoach, soak in the hot springs of Mammoth, and enjoy a keynote address from Burns himself. For more information on this itinerary, including pricing and dates, click here.

For those unable to make that trip, Tauck is offering another winter Yellowstone option as well. The nine-day Wonderland: Yellowstone in Winter itinerary has six departures spread out across January, February, and March, and features much of the same activities above, minus the famous documentarian.

Burns’ fabulous six-part series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea is a love letter to the amazing places that make up the national park system in the U.S. The filmmaker’s appreciation for the parks comes through in these itineraries from Tauck as well, with Yellowstone being right at the top of the list. Fans of the national parks and Burns won’t want to miss out on the opportunity to visit Yellowstone with the man himself.

This past January I was fortunate enough to visit Yellowstone in the winter myself, and I can tell you that it truly is an amazing experience. Even if you’ve been to the park before, if you haven’t visited in winter, you really haven’t seen what Yellowstone has to offer. The quiet solitude gives the world’s first national park a peaceful tranquility and the pristine snow makes it even more beautiful than it is in the summer. The fact that practically no-one visits during the colder months doesn’t hurt either.

Forest fires impact national parks

While parts of the eastern United States continue to struggle with too much water in the wake of Hurricane Irene’s passing, out west the dry conditions have led to forest fires that are having an impact on two of the nation’s most popular national parks.

Late last week, a fire sparked up on the edge of Yosemite National Park when a motor home caught fire. The blaze quickly spread to the Stanislaus National Forest, which borders Yosemite, closing down a popular road leading into the park itself. Over the course of the past five days, the fire has consumed more than 4775 acres, and while firefighters feel they have it under control, the park’s rough terrain hasn’t made the battle an easy one.

Fortunately, most visitors to Yosemite haven’t been effected by the blaze at all. In fact, park officials say that none of the park’s trademark vistas have been obscured by smoke, although nearby Merced River Canyon has seen its walls blackened by the fire. The park itself remains open, although visitors will want to check the status of Highway 140 before using that entrance.

Meanwhile, lighting strikes were responsible for igniting five forest fires in Yellowstone National Park last week as well. The fires were discovered throughout the day on Thursday after a storm passed through the area the night before. Park Service firefighters reacted quickly to each of the blazes, and they were contained before the flames could spread too widely. Yellowstone remains at a “very high” risk for wildfires at the moment however, and heading into the long Labor Day weekend, there are some concerns about more fires springing up.
Yellowstone was of course the site of one of the largest and most devastating forest fires in U.S. history, when more than 793,000 acres were consumed by flames in 1988. The remnants of that wildfire are still evident today, but it has also brought renewed life to the park’s ecosystem as well. While it is a long, slow process for the forest to rebuild itself, it is amazing to see plants and animals return to the park as the natural ecological forces take over.

If your Labor Day plans include camping in a local, state, or national park, be sure to check-in with park rangers to find out of their are any fire restrictions in effect. Campfires, grills, or camping stoves can all be very dangerous during the late summer.

You can also check to find the status on the most recent wildfires in your area as well.

[Photo credit: AP Photo/The Reporter via Rick Roach]