How to Prepare for a National Park Visit

By Betsy O’Rourke of Xanterra Travel Collection

Known as “the best idea we ever had,” America’s national parks are glorious icons of the country’s natural beauty.  And, with proper preparation, the parks — from California’s Death Valley to Wyoming’s Yellowstone — can offer some of the most spectacular and unforgettable experiences. Follow these 10 savvy tips to prepare for a visit as epic as the scenery.

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1. Choose the right park.

 

First, choose the right park. While the famous parks are the undisputed show stealers, don’t discount the under-the-radar ones for worthwhile experiences, too.

 

The National Park Service offers useful tools to help you find the right park, plan your activities, get the right permits, check the rules, and find local tours that help you get the most out of your trip. The Find A Park site is searchable by park, state, activity, and topic. Recreation.gov is its self-service trip-planning site. FindYourPark.com, a collaboration between the NPS and the National Park Foundation, has a park finder filtered by activity, state, zip code, and park name. Xanterra Travel Collection operates the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Glacier, Zion, Death Valley, Mt. Rushmore and Rocky Mountain national parks.  Go to www.xanterra.com for lodging, dining and activity inspiration.

 

2. Know when to go.

 

While spring break and summer are by far the most popular times to visit a national park, if you have more freedom in your calendar, choose the shoulder season and avoid the crowds.  Parks such as Death Valley are actually best in winter when temperatures are in the 70’s and 80’s with little to no rainfall. Enjoy the spring fed pools with 86-degree water, the lowest elevation golf course in the world, and completely refurbished rooms and restaurants at the Oasis at Death Valley as well as the majestic views, amazing hikes and brilliant night skies the park offers. Other parks like Zion and the Grand Canyon are magical in winter, and at Yellowstone, the winter snow makes animals easier to spot.

 

3. Plan your activities.

 

To the extent possible, develop a plan for your visit. Pick the right activities and determine the skill level needed to safely enjoy them. Rather than racing around trying to see everything, prioritize a few key things.  Start with the park website or if you’re already onsite, go to the park visitor center. Many offer free Ranger-guided and Junior Ranger programs. There are also many tours available, like the famous Red Bus Tours at Glacier operated by Xanterra or many yellow bus tours at Yellowstone, including the family favorite old-fashioned covered wagon BBQ.

YNPL Old Faithful Geyser and Inn from Ground - Andy Austin

4. Check park regulations.

 

Learn the rules for permits, wildlife encounters, camping, trash disposal, and safety. Parks usually require permits to stay at campsites, for some activities (e.g., fishing), and even to access certain hiking trails. Bring paper versions since cellphone service can be unreliable in remote areas.

 

5. Learn about park conditions.

 

Prepare for your park’s natural environment, weather, and any risks or hazards involved in your activities. Study the trails and stay current on the latest weather and road closures via your park’s website and social media channels.  Understand the level of difficulty and technical skills required of certain hikes, i.e. Subway or Angels Landing at Zion.

 

6. Research how to get around.

 

You can drive through some parks easily; others require guests to park outside and shuttle in. Some parks are sprawling and isolated with few roadside facilities, so carry water, and even gas. If you plan to drive off road, make sure your vehicle is equipped for rugged terrain. And always bring maps; don’t count on GPS.

Pool at twilight - The Oasis at the Death Valley

7. Bring proper gear.

 

Pack strategically to guarantee your safety and comfort based on the park, the weather, and your activities. Most important is comfortable footwear — that is broken in. If you plan to hike, bring essentials such as a daypack, hat, water bottles, snacks, sunscreen, flashlight, map, and first aid kit. If you plan to camp out, test your equipment in advance.

 

8. Stay at a national park lodge.

 

If you want to stay inside the park, don’t pass up a national park lodge. Many, like the lodges in Yellowstone and Grand Canyon, are beautiful, historic lodges, and most do not have in-room televisions.  Star-lit skies, fire pits and smores and family games offer a non-digital alternative. Staying in the park is the best way to experience it. Once the day-trippers leave, you can enjoy sunsets, starry nights and sunrise with fewer people around.

 

9. Reserve early.

 

Book your park lodge (or campsite) early; many fill up quickly with some as far as 13 months in advance. This is especially true of peak summer season and holidays. If a lodge is full, check back regularly for cancellations as you may get lucky.

 

Advance reservations are also essential for popular activities with limited capacity, such as the mule rides at the Grand Canyon and the Red Bus tours at Glacier.

 

10. Consider a tour group.

 

Planning a national park trip can be very time-consuming. One way to ensure you’re seeing the best offerings is to opt for a guided tour. Depending on your ideal trip length and level of activity you seek, consider a bike tour with VBT, or a walking/hiking tour with Country Walkers, or a more traditional sight-seeing tour with Holiday Vacations. Packaged tours can save you time and money and they all offer the accommodations, meals, and activities for you with local guides and can arrange air and transfers as well.

 

A nationally known executive and thought leader in travel and tourism, Betsy O’Rourke is Chief Marketing Officer at Xanterra Travel Collection, part of the Anschutz Corporation.

 

Known for its “Legendary Hospitality with a Softer Footprint,” Xanterra Travel Collection manages lodges, restaurants, tours, and activities in the national parks including Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Zion, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain National Parks, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. It also owns and operates the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel in Williams, Ariz., The Grand Hotel in Tusayan, Ariz., The Oasis at Death Valley in Death Valley, Calif., Windstar Cruises, Holiday Vacations, VBT Bicycling Vacations, and Country Walkers. Xanterra is also affiliated with two Forbes Five-Star resorts, The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Sea Island on the coast of Georgia.

 

 


Heritage Travel in the UK and Ireland

By Europe Express 

Photo by Ingo Doerrie

Photo by Ingo Doerrie

The United States is home to a spectacular diversity of cultures—cultures that connect us to histories and communities and people across the globe. Every American has a heritage story that takes us beyond our country’s borders and into the wider world.

Fueled by television shows like “Who Do You Think You Are?” (wherein celebrities trace their ancestry overseas), our interest in our own genealogy has skyrocketed. We’re learning that our identities are strongly rooted in the identities of those who came before us, and that it’s important to know where we come from in order to know where we’re going.

 

What is Heritage Travel?

Heritage travel is a way for people to connect to their roots in their ancestors’ home country. Depending on how much you’d like to learn about your history, this type of travel can encompass a range of activities. Some people may choose to explore the archives of ancestry agencies, while others prefer to simply taste the foods their ancestors ate or walk the streets where their ancestors lived.

 

Heritage Travel Destinations

As part of the English, Irish, Scottish, or Welsh diasporas, many Americans can trace their genealogies to ancestors across the UK and Ireland. If you’re planning a heritage trip to one of these destinations, here are some ideas for your travels:

 

Ireland

Photo by Christian Bowen

Photo by Christian Bowen

Considering that one in every nine Americans can trace their ancestry back to Ireland, the Emerald Isle is among the most popular destinations for a heritage trip. You can access Catholic parish registries in towns like Adare and Shannon, comb through records at the National Archives, or consult with a professional genealogist at the Irish Family History Centre in Dublin. Another great resource is the Glasnevin Cemetery Museum, which employs a resident genealogist to help you access over 1.5 million burial records dating back to 1828.

 

England

Photo by Lea Fabienne

Photo by Lea Fabienne

In 1538, King Henry VIII’s chief advisor, Thomas Cromwell, decreed that every church in England maintain records of all baptisms, marriages, and burials. Today, these parish archives provide information about ancestors who lived as far back as the mid-1500s. The Society of Genealogists in London houses an extensive collection of published family histories, as well as census records for the whole of the UK. In Kew, the National Archives are an excellent resource for military and court records.

 

Scotland

Photo by Mitchell Luo

Photo by Mitchell Luo

Nearly 50 million people around the world claim Scottish ancestry. If you head to Scotland on a heritage trip, you can visit the seat of your ancestor’s clan, get a taste of long-held cultural traditions at the Highland Games, or learn about your ancestor’s trade at museums dedicated to everything from fishing and farming to textiles and war. If you’re in Edinburgh, the ScotlandsPeople Centre at the National Records of Scotland houses a comprehensive collection of census records, marriage and death certificates, parish registries, coats of arms, wills, and more. At the National Library of Scotland, you can look through emigration lists and ship manifests, browse newspaper articles, or locate the graveyards where your ancestors are buried.

 

Wales

Photo by Benjamin Ranger

Photo by Benjamin Ranger

Whether you’re interested in a one-on-one session with a genealogist in Swansea or you’d like to search centuries’ worth of parish records at the Glamorgan Archives in Cardiff, Wales is home to a wealth of family research resources. In addition to its census records, civil registrations, and newspapers, the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth houses an impressive collection of tithe maps, which show the names of landowners and occupants in parishes across the country. If you don’t find what you’re looking for at the National Library, you may have better luck at a Record Office in the county where your ancestors lived. These can often provide you with photographs, sound recordings, or videos that help connect you to your roots.

 

Managing Expectations

It’s important to keep in mind that while it can be easy to get your hopes up about finding information that connects you to those who came before, you might not always find what you’re looking for. Remember that at its core, heritage travel is about making connections to your roots, whether that means hearing the languages, tasting the food, walking the streets, or learning the history of the places your ancestors called home.

 

 

Established in 1990, Europe Express provides high-quality custom travel to Europe, working exclusively with travel advisors to create unique vacations that fit the needs, interests, and budgets of each individual client. The company serves both group and FIT leisure markets and books everything from air and rail to hotels and sightseeing tours. With a well-traveled reservations team and buying offices in Europe, Europe Express provides seamless service before, during, and after each trip.

 


9 ways to preserve the polar regions for future generations

Aspiring polar explorers learn about sustainability and conservation on polar voyages with Quark Expeditions

By Doug O’Neill, Quark Expeditions 

 

It was one of those travel moments that was both Instagram-perfect—yet simultaneously soul-stirring. I stood on the deck of Ocean Adventurer as it sailed into Krossfjord, a 30-km long fjord on the west coast of Spitsbergen in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. Most of my fellow passengers were at breakfast so I had the deck to myself, with my camera at the ready, my eyes peeled on the horizon for my first glimpse of Lilliehöök Glacier, and my ears alert for the signature thunder of glacier calving.

 

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In the midst of all that anticipation of nature’s drama unfolding before me, I was suddenly overcome with a sense of quiet, a stillness that brought with it a razor-sharp clarity of my surroundings.  My mind began to run through an inventory of every stunning image I had experienced in the days leading up to this moment: the sculpted icebergs, the expansive glaciers, the snow-capped mountains, the long-abandoned historic sites, the polar bears prowling along the ice edge, the reindeers that cantered past me when I was on a shore landing, the walruses that gazed at me as I kayaked 30 metres away, of the whales spotted from the ship, and of cliff-tops covered in thousands of nesting Brunnich’s guillemots.

 

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And in my private polar epiphany, I was overcome not only with an intense appreciation for this pristine polar wilderness before me but also with a desire to protect it for every future visitor who came after me.

 

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This realization was by no means unique to me—it’s a moment shared by many who visit the Arctic or Antarctic. And this raised a fairly basic question: what can guests do to help preserve the pristine polar regions?

 

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For this answer, I turned to my colleague, Lyndsey Lewis, Operations + Sustainability Manager at Quark Expeditions, a long-time sustainability advocate and one of the forces behind Polar Promise, Quark Expeditions’ holistic sustainability framework for protecting the polar regions.

 

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9 ways to be kind to the planet on your next polar voyage 

By Lyndsey Lewis, Operations + Sustainability Manager 

 

  1. Pack and use only reusable bottles (the only option when on a voyage with Quark Expeditions), coffee cups and reusable bags that you can take home with you.
  2. Choose refillable toiletry containers or non-plastic packaging that are free of microbeads. Your Quark Expeditions cabin is equipped with refillable dispensers of body wash and shampoo.
  3. Don’t introduce non-native species. Pack clean gear, including clothing, footwear, and bags. Decontaminate boots before leaving and upon returning to the ship by using the provided Virkon disinfectant bath.
  4. Bring a reusable waterproof bag to protect your camera and/or phone from the elements. (Avoid single-use plastics at all times.)
  5. Don’t dispose of waste during shore landings. Where waste is unavoidable, bring along a reusable bag and carry the waste back onto the ship to be disposed of properly.
  6. Support local communities in the Arctic: Purchase goods from local artisans during community visits in the Arctic, but don’t purchase important goods like groceries and supplies as stock is limited and deliveries are rare.
  7. Follow the environmental and conservation guidelines established by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) and the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO), who outline strategies, policies and behaviors to protect the polar regions.
  8. Place a bid during our onboard auctions: proceeds from our onboard auctions support polar research and conservation groups.
  9. Become a Polar Ambassador. Talk to one of our Expeditions Team about becoming a Polar Ambassador.  This program teaches you how to make changes to reduce your carbon footprint every day. It’s also your way of educating your respective communities on the importance of protecting the majestic polar regions.

 

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Quark Expeditions is the leader in polar travels. Quark Expeditions has been taking global travelers on immersive journeys to the Arctic and Antarctica for almost three decades.