Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Top 6 Reasons to Visit the Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited park in the country. More than 10 million people visit the park each year to take-in the spectacular scenery. Although it may seem crowded during certain seasons, it’s very easy to escape the crowds by heading off on one of the more than 800 miles of trails. Here’s a quick rundown on why the Smokies are a hiker’s paradise.

Fall Colors
The Great Smoky Mountains are one of the best places in the country to see fall colors. From late September through early November autumn slowly creeps down from the highest elevations to the lowest valleys in the park. As a result of its rich diversity of trees – roughly 100 species of native trees live in the Smokies - park visitors will enjoy a myriad of colors, from spectacular reds and oranges, to brilliant golds and yellows. Although driving along the park roads is a popular way of seeing fall colors, hiking amongst the trees is by far the best way to enjoy them. At any point during the autumn cycle almost every trail will offer great viewing opportunities. We’ve published a guide that highlights some of the best trails as the season progresses.


Grassy Balds
One of the great mysteries of the Southern Appalachians, which includes the Great Smoky Mountains, is whether or not the treeless mountain tops and ridges, known as “balds,” are natural or if they were manmade. No one knows for certain how they came into existence. Even their age is unknown. The general consensus, however, seems to be that the early settlers in the region cleared many of these areas for grazing purposes so that the lower elevations could be used for growing crops during the summer months. Some of the best examples of grassy balds in the Smokies include Gregory Bald, Spence Field, Russell Field, Silers Bald, Andrews Bald, Parsons Bald and Hemphill Bald. However, Andrews Bald and Gregory Bald are the only two balds that are maintained by the park. The others have been left to eventually be reclaimed by forest.

One of the great annual events in the Southern Appalachians is the spectacular flame azalea, mountain laurel and rhododendron blooms of late spring. Some of the best examples of these beautiful displays from Mother Nature occur atop these balds. In particular, Gregory Bald, Andrews Bald, Spence Field and Rocky Top offer some of the best displays of these flowers. Moreover, these are among the best hikes in the park, all of which offer sweeping panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains.


The Mt. LeConte Lodge
Although there are a handful of other national parks that offer hike-in lodging, one of the great traditions in the Great Smoky Mountains is an overnight excursion at the Mt. LeConte Lodge. Sitting near the top of 6593-foot Mount LeConte, the lodge offers an excellent opportunity to enjoy a backcountry experience in relative luxury (compared to roughing it!) for those that don’t like to backpack. The only way to reach the lodge is by taking one of 6 trails that meander up the third highest mountain in the park. The most popular route is the Alum Cave Trail. If you take the Trillium Gap Trail don't be surprised to see a pack-train of llamas. The lodge is resupplied by llamas with fresh linens and food three times a week.


Early Settler History
The Great Smoky Mountains has done an excellent job of preserving its rich history of settlement prior to becoming a national park. All across the valleys, from Cades Cove, Elkmont, Big Creek, Smokemont, Deep Creek and everywhere in between, you can find the homes, farms and churches of the early settlers, as well as the remnants and relics leftover from the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930s, and the logging boom of the early 1900s. There are many outstanding hikes that visit these historical sites, including the Rich Mountain Loop, which visits the home of John Oliver, a veteran of the War of 1812. He and his young family were among the first white settlers to settle in the Cades Cove area. His cabin dates from the 1820s and is one of the oldest structures in the Great Smoky Mountains. You could also take the Little Brier Gap Trail to visit the Walker Sisters Place, the home of the five Walker sisters. The last surviving sister was one of the last remaining homesteaders to live within the park boundaries.


Waterfalls
On average the lower elevations of the Smokies receive roughly 55 inches of rainfall each year, while the highest peaks receive more than 85 inches, which is more than anywhere else in the country except the Pacific Northwest. With all that rain the park is naturally blessed with an abundance of streams. Using modern mapping technology scientists have recently determined that the park contains roughly 2900 miles of streams. With elevations ranging between 6643 feet 840 feet, there are several waterfalls located throughout the park. Grotto Falls has the distinction of being the only waterfall that you can walk behind. Although Abrams Falls is arguably the most scenic and impressive waterfall in the Smokies, I personally like the hike along the Middle Prong Trail to Indian Flats Falls.


Wildflowers
The Great Smoky Mountains are home to more than 1600 species of flowering plants. During each month of the year some forb, tree or vine is blooming in the park. During the spring wildflowers explode during the brief window just prior to trees leafing out and shading the forest floor (from about mid-April thru mid-May). Although there are many parks that are larger, the Great Smoky Mountains has the greatest diversity of plants anywhere in North America. In fact, north of the tropics, only China has a greater diversity of plant life than the Southern Appalachians. Wet and humid climates, as well as a broad range in elevation, are two of the most important reasons for the park's renowned diversity. Hikers can enjoy wildflowers on almost any trail in the park. We’ve published a guide that highlights some of the best wildflower hikes during the spring season.





Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
HikinginGlacier.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
TetonHikingTrails.com

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Top 5 Reasons to Visit Rocky Mountain National Park

Encompassing more than 265,000 acres, and with more than sixty peaks topping out above 12,000 feet, Rocky Mountain National Park is home to some of the most spectacular scenery on Earth. From wooded forests to alpine tundra, these majestic mountains provide habitat to more than 60 species of mammals, while more than 280 species of birds visit or reside within the park. With more than 350 miles of trails meandering throughout the park, Rocky Mountain is also widely recognized as a hiker’s paradise. Here’s why you should plan to visit Rocky sometime this year:

The Continental Divide
One of the best things about Rocky Mountain National Park is its accessibility to the high country. No other park in the country allows visitors to gain lofty elevations so easily. Roughly one-third of the park is above tree-line, and more than 60 peaks top out above 12,000 feet, including 14,259-foot Longs Peak, the highest peak in the park. In addition to trails like the Flattop Mountain Trail or the route to Mt. Ida, visitors can also drive over the Continental Divide along the highest continuous paved road in North America. With a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet, and more than eight miles traveling above 11,000 feet, Trail Ridge Road connects Estes Park with Grand Lake. The road also provides access to outstanding tundra hikes such as the Ute Trail, the Tundra Communities Trail and the Alpine Ridge Trail.


Wildflowers
Wet springs can bring exceptional wildflower blooming seasons in Rocky Mountain National Park. Even during normal years the park explodes with a variety of wildflowers. Some of the varieties visitors might enjoy include Alpine Clover, Rock Primrose, Western Wallflower, Sky Pilot and Alpine Sunflowers in the tundra areas of the park, as well as Mountain Iris, Lupine, Mariposa-lily and Colorado Columbines in the lower elevations. Some of best wildflower hikes include Big Meadows, Cascade Falls, Emerald Lake and the Lumpy Ridge Loop, among many others.


Longs Peak
At 14,259 feet, Longs Peak is the highest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. The iconic sentinel is seen from almost anywhere in the park, as well as from many locations around northern Colorado. It’s also one of most popular “fourteeners” for hikers and climbers to tackle in a state that boasts a total of 53 peaks above 14,000 feet. Although considered a mountaineering route, thousands of hikers attempt to summit the peak each summer using the famous Keyhole Route. Personally, I don’t want anything to do with the narrow ledges and steep cliffs along the upper portions of the route. I much prefer safer climbs such as Hallett Peak and the Chapin-Chiquita-Ypsilon Mountains route to cure my big mountain summit fever.


Elk Rut
The annual elk rut is one of the premier attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park. Each fall elk descend from the high country to the lower elevation meadows during the annual breeding season. During the rut, bull elk compete with one another for the right to breed with herds of females. Mature bulls compete for cows by bugling, posturing, displaying their antlers and herding, while occasionally fighting off young challengers. The peak season for the rut generally lasts from mid-September to mid-October in Rocky Mountain National Park.


Fall Aspens
Just as the elk rut is kicking into high gear, another annual event that draws tourists to the park during the autumn are the brilliant fall colors of aspens. Each September the leaves of quacking aspens turn from green to orange and golden yellow throughout the park. Some of best hikes for viewing fall aspens include Bierstadt Lake, Alberta Falls, Cub Lake, Finch Lake, Adams Falls and Chasm Lake, among many others.





Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
HikinginGlacier.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
TetonHikingTrails.com

Thursday, February 18, 2016

National Parks Set Overall Visitation Record - Annual Top 10 Lists

President Theodore Roosevelt was reelected in 1904, the same year rangers started counting national park visitors. There were more than 120,000 visits to America’s 11 national parks in the first year of counting. This week, the National Park Service (NPS) certified 2015 national park visitation at more than 307 million. It also released its popular Top 10 list of the most visited national park sites.

“The popularity of national parks is well known, but last year’s numbers really are extraordinary,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “As the National Park Service celebrates its 100th year, we’re preparing to welcome more visitors than ever including a new generation of park supporters and advocates who are discovering their own national park adventures.”

Today’s figures were an increase from the unofficial visitation total of 305 million reported by the NPS in January. The difference is attributed to the recently-completed NPS visitation audit.

2015 Visitation Highlights:

• 307,247,252 recreation visits, a 4.9%t increase over 2014 and the previous record of 292.8 million recreation visits.

• 57 of the 371 reporting parks set a new record for annual recreation visits.

• Eleven parks had more than 5 million recreation visits in 2015.

• NPS campground tent overnight stays were up 13 percent.

• Backcountry overnight stays were up 7 percent.


Notable Park Milestones in 2015:

• Glacier National Park surpassed 100 million total recreation visits (1910 to 2015)
• Rocky Mountain National Park surpassed 4 million annual visits for the first time.
• Yellowstone National Park surpassed 4 million annual visits for the first time.
• Grand Canyon National Park surpassed 5 million annual visits for the first time.
• Joshua Tree National Park surpassed 2 million annual visits for the first time.


Top 10 Visitation - National Park Units

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park - 10,712,674
2. Grand Canyon National Park - 5,520,736
3. Rocky Mountain National Park - 4,155,916
4. Yosemite National Park - 4,150,217
5. Yellowstone National Park - 4,097,710
6. Zion National Park - 3,648,846
7. Olympic National Park - 3,263,761
8. Grand Teton National Park - 3,149,921
9. Acadia National Park - 2,811,184
10. Glacier National Park - 2,366,056


Top 10 Visitation - All National Park System Units

1. Blue Ridge Parkway - 15,054,603
2. Golden Gate National Recreation Area - 14,888,537
3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park - 10,712,674
4. Lincoln Memorial - 7,941,771
5. Lake Mead National Recreation Area - 7,298,465
6. George Washington Memorial Parkway - 7,286,463
7. Gateway National Recreation Area - 6,392,565
8. Natchez Trace Parkway - 5,785,812
9. Vietnam Veterans Memorial - 5,597,077
10. Grand Canyon National Park - 5,520,736





Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
HikinginGlacier.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
TetonHikingTrails.com

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Top 6 Reasons to Visit Glacier National Park

I know this may sound a little over-the-top, but every person living in this country should visit Glacier National Park at least once in their lifetime. It will forever change them. John Muir once said of Glacier; "Give a month at least to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal. Nevermore will time seem short or long, and cares will never again fall heavily on you, but gently and kindly as gifts from heaven."

I know I can’t, but I'm pretty sure there aren’t too many others that can quite sum-up the Glacier experience better than Muir did. Here are just a few of the reasons on why I think Glacier is so special:

Unparalleled Beauty
In my humble opinion Glacier National Park is by far the most beautiful park I’ve ever seen. This includes almost every major national park in the lower 48. As a disclaimer, I should note that I haven’t been to Alaska….yet. Having said that, my love affair with this park began immediately the first time I laid eyes on it. To be precise, it was during the drive from Browning along Highway 2 as we approached the East Glacier/Two Medicine area. My love and awe for the park has grown after every hike and after each subsequent visit. At every turn on any road or trail is one spectacular scene after another. In fact, there are no bad or boring hikes. Photographers could spend a lifetime here taking photos of scenes that normally show up in Backpacker Magazine or National Geographic. One of the most famous photo locations in the entire National Park System is at a spot known as Wild Goose Island Overlook. You may recognize the scene in the photo below:


Glaciers
Most people assume that Glacier received its name as a result of the 25 glaciers that are located throughout the park. However, the park was actually given its name as a result of the rugged mountains that were carved by massive glaciers during the ice ages. Fortunately, many of the glaciers can be reached by trail. Some of the most popular hikes for enjoying front row views of these glaciers include Iceberg Lake and Grinnell Glacier.


The Highline Trail
The Highline Trail from Logan Pass is widely recognized as one of the best hikes in the park, if not the entire National Park System. At every step and every turn hikers will enjoy absolutely spectacular scenery as they follow along the Continental Divide. The exceptionally beautiful views, the excellent opportunities for spotting wildlife, and the wildflowers all combine to make this a hike you'll remember the rest of your life. If you can make it past the narrow ledge section near the trailhead you’ll have the option of traveling to Haystack Pass, Granite Park Chalet, or making a one-way hike which continues all the way to “The Loop”.


The Going-to-the-Sun Road
The famous Going-to-the-Sun Road is the only road to cross Glacier National Park from east to west. The epic route transports visitors through some of the most spectacular scenery the park has to offer. This engineering marvel spans more than 50 miles across the park's interior, takes passengers over the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, and treats visitors to some of the grandest sights in the Rocky Mountains. Along its course the road passes glacial lakes and cedar forests in the lower valleys, and windswept alpine meadows and sweeping mountain vistas atop the 6646-foot pass.

Several scenic viewpoints and pullouts along the way provide motorists with ample opportunities to stop for extended views and photographs. Once at Logan Pass be sure to visit Hidden Lake Overlook, a relatively easy hike that takes hikers across the Continental Divide just above the Logan Pass Visitor Center.

Some drivers (and passengers) might be a little intimidated by the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Portions of it hug the mountainside as it traverses over steep drop-offs and steers through tight curves. If this gives you any pause, you may want to consider letting the drivers of the iconic Red "jammer" Buses take you across the mountains.


Wildlife
Outside of Yellowstone, Glacier National Park is arguably the best park for spotting and viewing wildlife. Although wildlife are frequently spotted along the road, a venture into the wilderness is likely to bring better results. Trails like Iceberg Lake, Ptarmigan Tunnel, Grinnell Glacier and Swiftcurrent Pass are excellent choices if you wish to possibly see a grizzly or black bear. Bullhead Lake, the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail, Dawson Pass and Cobalt Lake are all great choices for spotting moose. For bighorn sheep, check out Grinnell Glacier, Dawson Pass or the Highline Trail. For the best opportunities to possibly spot a mountain goat, check out Hidden Lake Overlook, the Highline Trail or Piegan Pass.


Backcountry Chalets
2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the Sperry and Granite Park Chalets. Both backcountry chalets were built in 1914 during a period when the Great Northern Railway was promoting Glacier National Park under the "See America First" campaign. Today the two backcountry chalets offer hikers the opportunity to trek to an overnight backcountry destination without being bogged down with a bunch of camping gear.

Perched at an elevation of more than 6500 feet, the Sperry Chalet sits high atop a rock ledge that offers visitors commanding views of majestic mountain peaks, waterfalls, as well as Lake McDonald in the valley far below. The Granite Park Chalet rests just below Swiftcurrent Pass, along the edge of a sub-alpine meadow that offers commanding views of Heavens Peak and the McDonald Valley. Day hikers and overnight guests commonly reach this chalet by one of three trails: the Highline Trail, the Granite Park Trail or the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail out of Many Glacier.





Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
HikinginGlacier.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
TetonHikingTrails.com

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Jennifer Pharr Davis: Why I Love the Appalachian Trail

In this short video, Jennifer Pharr Davis discusses why she loves the Appalachian Trail. In case you're not aware, Jennifer still holds the women's world record for the fastest hike on the A.T. (which was also the overall record for four years) - hiking the trail in 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes. Roughly 71 miles of the Appalachian Trail travels across the crest of the Smokies.

On The Appalachian Trail (With Jennifer Pharr Davis) from Kerrin Sheldon on Vimeo.




Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
HikinginGlacier.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
TetonHikingTrails.com