Saturday, April 25, 2015

Smokies Announces Synchronous Firefly Viewing Event Dates

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have announced the dates for the firefly viewing event in Elkmont. The ticketed event will take place from Tuesday, June 2nd through Tuesday, June 9th. The online ticketing system, operated through, will again provide visitors with guaranteed parking passes for Sugarlands Visitor Center where ticket-holders will park for reserved shuttle service to Elkmont.

Every year in late May or early June, thousands of visitors gather near the popular Elkmont Campground to observe the naturally occurring phenomenon of Photinus carolinus, a firefly species that flashes synchronously. Access to the viewing area during the 8-days of predicted peak activity is provided through a shuttle service beginning at Sugarlands Visitor Center. All visitors wishing to view the synchronous fireflies at Elkmont must have a parking pass.

The parking pass covers a maximum of 6 persons in a single passenger vehicle (less than 19 feet in length). Four passes for oversize vehicles, like a mini bus (19 to 30 feet in length and up to 24 persons), will also be available. Each reservation costs $1.50. Parking passes are non-refundable, non-transferable, and good only for the date issued. There is a limit of one parking pass per household per season. Each reservation through will receive an e-mail confirmation and specific information about the event.

The number of passes issued each day is based on the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking lot capacity. Passes will be issued with staggered arrival times in order to relieve congestion in the parking lot and for boarding the shuttles. The shuttle buses, which are provided in partnership with the city of Gatlinburg, will begin picking up visitors from the Sugarlands Visitor Center RV/bus parking area at 7:00 p.m. The cost will be $1.00 round trip per person, as in previous years, and collected when boarding the shuttle.

The shuttle service is the only transportation mode for visitor access during this period, except for registered campers staying at the Elkmont Campground. Visitors are not allowed to walk the Elkmont entrance road due to safety concerns.

The parking passes will be available online for sale beginning at 10:00 a.m.on Thursday, April 30. The park will hold back 85 passes for each day to accommodate individuals who did not learn of the need to pre-purchase tickets. These 85 passes will go on sale online at 10:00 a.m. the day before the event and will be available until 3:30 p.m. on the day of the event or until the passes are all reserved.

Passes can be purchased at Parking passes may also be obtained by calling 1-877-444-6777, but park officials strongly encourage the use of the online process because it provides more information to visitors about what to expect when they arrive at the park. The online process is also faster which enables a better chance to secure a pass. The $1.50 reservation fee covers the cost of processing the request for the passes. The park will not receive any revenue from the parking reservations or the shuttle tickets.

For more information about the synchronous fireflies, please visit the park website.

If planning to visit the Smokies for the synchronous firefly events, or anytime this summer, please make sure to visit our accommodations page to find the perfect cabin or chalet for your visit.

Grand Teton Trails

Big South Fork and Obed Trails Highlighted in the Mountain Laurel Walks Celebration

Six of the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area and the Obed Wild and Scenic River trails are showcased in this year's Mountain Laurel Walks Celebration. These trails generally have excellent views of the beautiful, native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) shrub that is usually in bloom in later May and early June as well as many wildflowers and are excellent hikes for bird watching.

• Angel Falls Trail at Leatherwood Ford (2 miles, easy effort) is a relatively flat hike which offers visitors a view of the old Leatherwood Ford crossing, Big South Fork River, scenic geology and finishes with Angel Falls. There are two small bridges.

• Burnt Mill Loop (4.4 miles, moderate effort) gives hikers the opportunity to view both the plateau and the gorge. It offers the longest section of trail on the Clear Fork River; the trail also offers a picnic area and restrooms at the trailhead. There is one set of steps and one ladder.

• Gentlemen's Swimming Hole Loop (2.1 miles, moderate effort) showcases the confluence of Clear Fork River and North White Oak Creek.Visitors can also stop in to Historic Rugby to gain insight to the area's past.

• Honey Creek Loop (5.2 miles, difficult effort) is the most challenging trail in Big South Fork. With multiple stream crossings and over 500 feet change in elevation, five waterfalls make the hike a must for any visitor.

• Point Trail (3.8 miles, moderate effort) is the longest trail within Obed Wild and Scenic River. Hikers will enjoy bubbling streams, Obed Arch, and finish with a breathtaking view of the gorge from the overlook. There is one bridge with stairs.

• Twin Arches Upper Loop (2 miles, easy effort) showcases the beauty of the Big South Fork. The loop offers a spectacular view of the gorge and the largest arch east of the Mississippi. There are four sets of stairs (two are quite steep).

The Mountain Laurel Walks is an annual celebration of late spring in the Upper Cumberland Plateau and is organized by the Morgan County Tourism Alliance. For more information on these trails and other recreational opportunities in the Big South Fork and the Obed Wild and Scenic River, please call (423) 286-7275 or (423) 346-6294.

Grand Teton Hikes

NPS Announces $26 Million in Centennial Challenge Projects

From trail repairs to new wayside interpretive panels, road and bridge repairs and restoring the most photographed barn in America, the National Park Service this week announced $26 million for more than 100 initiatives that will help parks prepare for centennial visitors.

The National Park Service received a $10 million Congressional appropriation that was matched with $15.9 million from more than 90 partner organizations. The 106 projects, located at more than 100 parks in 31 states and the District of Columbia, are designed to improve visitor services, support outreach to new audiences, and leverage partnerships to reinvigorate national parks while forging connections with communities.

“As the National Park Service approaches its Centennial in 2016, the National Park Foundation and local park friends groups have pledged to raise private funds to improve the facilities, accessibility, and programs of our national parks, matching the federal appropriation and resulting in a $26 million investment in the parks," said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

Among the projects funded with these grants, Yellowstone National Park and the Yellowstone Park Foundation will improve the connection from Gardiner, Montana, with the park’s iconic Roosevelt Arch entry. The $2 million project with $1.5 million from the Yellowstone Park Foundation and $500,000 of federal funds, will improve the road, parking, walks, signage and pedestrian areas to meet modern road and accessibility standards.

The Grand Teton National Park Foundation will provide a $23,000 match with $23,000 of centennial challenge funds to address deferred maintenance on the T.A. Moulton Barn and the Reed Moulton Barn, two iconic barns in the Mormon Row Historic District in Grand Teton National Park.

Other projects include $38,000 towards rehabilitation of the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park, and $105,000 to replace the Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point footbridges along the Cascade Canyon Trail in Grand Teton National Park.

For a complete list of the centennial challenge projects, please click here.

Grand Teton Hikes

Friday, April 24, 2015

Shenandoah National Park Announces Entrance Fee Increase

As part of a nationwide initiative, Shenandoah National Park will begin charging increased entrance fees in two stages, beginning on May 1, 2015.

In the fall of 2014, the National Park Service began a review of entrance fees charged throughout the National Park System, in part, to bring greater consistency to fees being charged at parks of similar size and complexity. To solicit public input, Shenandoah National Park launched a civic engagement campaign in December 2014 which included a series of public meetings aimed at discussing the increase needed to bring the park's fees into compliance with other similar parks in the nation.

During the public comment period, the park received over 240 formal comments through e-mails, letters and on-line comments, as well as, over 100 comments on the park's Facebook page. While the majority of comments supported an increase, many people felt that the original proposal was too much of an increase to make all at once. To respond to public comments, the park modified the proposal to phase implementation of entrance fee increases beginning in 2015, and followed by a second and final increase on January 1, 2017.

"The fee program is critical to the park," stated Jim Northup, Shenandoah National Park Superintendent. "Eighty percent of fees collected stay right here in the park and are put to work improving facilities and services important to visitors.Without this funding, park staff would have to forego these projects. The additional revenue from this increase will allow us to sustain this world-class park."

Entrance fees have supported a wide range of projects that improve park conditions and visitor experience including, rehabilitating trails and trailhead signs, developing and installing exhibits in visitor centers, improving park water systems, rehabilitating wastewater treatment plants, providing ranger programs, improving ADA accessibility at Rapidan Camp and park comfort stations, and maintaining open vistas at park overlooks.Additional revenue raised by a fee increase may be used to rehabilitate/rebuild Front Royal Entrance Station for increased staff safety and improved access, restore wetlands in Big Meadows campground by removing a loop in and establishing replacement sites in a less sensitive area, as well as, restore backcountry stone structures, retaining walls, bridge structures, and huts.

The entrance fees and schedule are as follows:

Park Annual Pass
Effective May 1, 2015 = $40
Effective January 1, 2017 = $50

Per Vehicle (1-7 days) 
Effective May 1, 2015 = $20
Effective January 1, 2017 = $25

Per Person (1-7 days) 
Effective May 1, 2015 = $10
Effective January 1, 2017 = $10

Motorcycle (1-7 days) 
Effective May 1, 2015 = $15
Effective January 1, 2017 = $20

Beginning this spring, the Park will also charge a $10 per-person fee for visitors participating in special ranger-led van tours to Rapidan Camp, President Hoover's former retreat and a National Historic Landmark located within the Park. Children 12 and under will not be charged for this tour. The Park has also decided to move the group campsite currently at Loft Mountain to an underutilized area at Dundo Picnic Grounds, reducing conflicts within the main campground.Two 20-person group sites will be established at Dundo. The cost per site will be $45.

Grand Teton Hikes

Shenandoah National Park Hosts Wildflower Weekend 2015

Native spring wildflowers and children's creativity will be celebrated during Shenandoah National Park's 29th annual Wildflower Weekend, May 9-10, 2015.

Special hikes and programs will focus on the diversity and value of hundreds of species of flowering plants that are protected by the Park. Visitors may also view the winning entries in the Park's first "Youth Art in the Park" wildflower art contest. The top-winning works will be exhibited at Byrd Visitor Center (mile 51 on Skyline Drive) on Wildflower Weekend, and later at Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (mile 4.6).

Featured programs during Wildflower Weekend are "Bee Wild and Go Native ~ How to Create Your Own Wildlife Habitat," a PowerPoint presentation by Jack Price;and "Simply Beautiful," a nature photography workshop by Ann and Rob Simpson. Both programs will be on Saturday, May 9, at Byrd Visitor Center.

On Sunday, May 10, Park Botanist Wendy Cass will lead a hike on the Fox Hollow Trail (mile 4.6), highlighting a new program funded by the Shenandoah National Park Trust to control invasive plants and restore native ones in targeted areas of Shenandoah National Park.

There will be additional to hikes to waterfalls, peaks and other favorite wildflower trails, a bird walk, wildflower identification for beginners, and a program designed for children ages 7-12. New programs include a short hike down to Jeremy's Run and a hike around the summit of Bearfence Mountain.

All programs are free and no reservations are needed. The complete program schedule is posted here.

Grand Teton Hikes

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Throwback Thursday

A total of 36 square miles of Mt. Rainier’s surface is covered by glaciers and perennial snow fields. Or, to put in another way, roughly 9% of the entire national park! And it’s no wonder – the park receives heavy amounts of snow each year. In a typical year roughly 643 inches of snow will fall in the Paradise valley. During the winter of 1971-1972, however, Paradise broke the world record for most snowfall in one year when 1122 inches, or 93.5 feet, of snow fell in the valley! Although summer temperatures usually reach into the 60s and 70s, snow can fall anytime. Peter Whittaker, owner of Whittaker Mountaineering, once told Backpacker Magazine that he's seen two feet of snow fall at Paradise on July 4th. But don’t let this deter you in anyway. The Skyline Loop Trail in Paradise is one of the greatest hikes in the entire National Park System. This hike was so incredibly beautiful that it was the first time that I ever kept my camera in my hand for the entire trip. The amazing scenery never ended!

Grand Teton Hikes

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Forest Service Expands Access to Youth Conservation Corps Program

The U.S. Forest Service is announcing new Youth Conservation Corps job opportunities on national forests throughout the country. Young people from across the United States are encouraged to apply for these jobs at a local forest or with a partner organization. Some residential YCC opportunities are also available for selected applicants.

As part of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps initiative to put America's youth to work protecting, restoring and enhancing America's Great Outdoors, the Forest Service is expanding access for urban and other underrepresented groups through YCC opportunities. In 2014, the Forest Service employed more than 1,400 YCC members, a 34 percent increase from 2013. Those members contributed 364,000 cumulative hours of work on Forest Service lands, with a value generation of more than $8 million, a 47 percent increase from 2013.

The YCC and a previous companion program, the Young Adult Conservation Corps, has launched the careers of many Forest Service employees and has had a profound impact on the personal and professional development of people across the country, including Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

The Youth Conservation Corps program was established in 1974 to help young people ages 15 to 18 gain an understanding of and appreciation for the nation's environment and heritage, and thereby further the development and maintenance of the natural resources by America's youth. YCC provides teenagers gainful employment, while they learn land management and work ethic skills.

This year, select programs will offer participants accommodations including lodging and food, while developing life skills by preparing their own meals, maintaining a clean and safe living environment, and communicating and working with others on a daily basis. Residential YCC programs participants are provided 24-hour supervision.

Young people ages 15 to 18 who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents are eligible to participate in this program. Interested participants can find out more about current YCC opportunities by visiting the Forest Service website. Those interested in applying can complete an application online or mail it to the host Forest Service unit. Most of the programs will accept applications through April 2015. For more information about the Youth Conservation Corps, please contact Kristina Bell at

Grand Teton Hikes