Must see attractions in North America

  • Top ChoiceSights in Southern USA

    Great Smoky Mountains National Park

    The story of the Smoky Mountains began in primordial times when clashing supersized continents created a chain of mountains that are today among the oldest on the planet. Some of the rock here formed at the bottom of an ancient sea over a billion years ago, which were later uplifted when the African tectonic plate slammed into the side of North America. The human history here is ancient, too – Indigenous peoples have lived in the region of the Smoky Mountains since prehistoric times, an archeologists have found 10,000 year old hunting projectiles and ceramics from 700BCE. When European settlers arrived in the 17th century, they encountered the Cherokee, who lived in settlements along the river valleys. The Smokies lay at the center of their vast territory until they were forced out of the region on the Trail of Tears. In the 1900s lumber companies arrived, nearly wiping out the forests. Luckily, in the 1920s a few visionary locals fought for the park’s creation, which finally became a reality in 1934. Today, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited in the United States. That's in part thanks to its easy access from numerous major metros, including North Carolina's research triangle, Knoxville, Tennessee; Atlanta, Georgia; and Washington, DC. It's also thanks to the early decision to make the park very drivable, with a mixture of roads and hiking trails that appeal to a variety of nature lovers from casual history buffs and wildlife watchers to seasoned backpackers and thru-hikers. The cherry on top is that this national park is free to access, with no entrance fees or America the Beautiful pass required. If that piques your interest, we have information on how and when to visit, what to see, where to camp, and which trails should be on your Smoky Mountains bucket list. Whether it's your first time in the Smokies or you're a long-term regular, just read on. Hiking in Smoky Mountains National Park The Smokies are part of the vast Appalachian chain, among the oldest mountains on the planet. Formed more than 200 million years ago, these ancient peaks were once much higher – perhaps as high as the Himalayas – but have been worn down by the ages. You can contemplate that remote past while huffing your way up to the top of a 6000ft peak overlooking the seemingly endless expanse of undulating ridges that stretch off into the distance. There are mesmerizing viewpoints all across the park, as well as one mountaintop lodge that can only be reached by foot. Home to more than 800 miles of walking trails, the national park has no shortage of great hikes, from short waterfall jaunts to multiday treks across the breadth of the mountains. Here are a few highlights: Clingmans Dome No matter when you visit, the highest peak in the national park offers dazzling views. From the circular, flying-saucer-like viewing platform, you'll have a sweeping 360-degree panorama of the undulating waves of forested peaks that stretch off into the distance. While it's an easy but steep uphill walk along the paved half-mile path to the observation tower, there are many outstanding trails that cross through here – including the Appalachian Trail and the Alum Cave Bluffs trail. And if you come in winter, when the access road is closed, you'll have those grand views all to yourself. The Appalachian Trail America's most fabled walk in the woods stretches for nearly 2200 miles across 14 states. Some 71 miles of the challenging trail runs along the spine of the Smoky Mountains, taking you to soaring overlooks, through misty coniferous forests and past old-fashioned fire towers offering staggering views over the park's verdant expanse. Even if you don't have a week to spare (much less six months to hike the whole Appalachian Trail), you can still enjoy some marvelous day or overnight hikes along this legendary trail. Mt LeConte One of the most challenging and rewarding day hikes in the park is the ascent up Mt LeConte, the third-highest peak in the Smoky Mountains. Several trails wind their way up, passing rushing rivers, waterfalls, log bridges and precipitous views before reaching the summit at 6593ft. At the top, you can pay a visit to the rustic lodge that's been in operation since before the creation of the national park in 1934. Book a cabin (well in advance) to make the most of this extraordinary Smoky Mountain experience. Alum Cave Bluffs One of the 10 most popular trails in the Smoky Mountains, Alum Cave Bluffs often draws a crowd. It's a fantastic walk crossing log bridges, spying old-growth forest and enjoying fine views, though you should try to be on the trail before 9am to enjoy the scenery without the maddening crowds. Highlights include Arch Rock, where handcrafted stone steps ascend steeply through the portal of an impressive stone arch that looks like something Frodo was compelled to climb. Beyond this interesting formation, the trail crosses the Styx Branch and begins a steep ascent. The forest gives way to open sky at the next point of interest, a large heath bald where mountain laurel and blueberry bushes grow in a dense mass. After some huffing and puffing, you’ll be repaid for your efforts at a scenic vista called Inspiration Point. From here, it’s a short climb to Alum Cave Bluffs. As it turns out, the name is a misnomer. Waiting for you is not a cave, but rather a rock overhang. Moreover, the rocks contain not alum, but sulfur and rare minerals, some not known to occur elsewhere. If you’re game for more delightful punishment, you can continue on from Alum Cave Bluffs to the summit of Mt LeConte, 2.7 miles up the trail. Ramsey Cascades One of our favorite hikes in the park, the trail to Ramsey Cascades travels through old-growth forest dotted with massive tulip trees to one spectacular waterfall. You'll need to work hard to make it here – it's tough going, with an elevation gain of 2280ft. The hike's start is deceptively easy, along a wide, packed trail beside the rushing Middle Prong of the Pigeon River. At mile 1.5 things get interesting (hard, rather) as the path narrows and winds its way uphill over spidery roots and past scenic overlooks of the rushing river below. Around mile 2.6 you'll pass massive old-growth trees that have loomed over the forest canopy for centuries. The final half-mile steepens even more before you finally reach the refreshing falls, which plunge 100ft over chiseled ledges of gray stone. Congratulations, you've made it to the highest waterfall in the park. Don't ruin the moment by trying to climb up the waterfall, as a few people have died falling from the slippery rocks up top. Instead, keep an eye out for well-camouflaged salamanders on the periphery of the pool at the base of the cascades. Camping in the Smokies Great Smoky Mountains National Park provides varied camping options. LeConte Lodge is the only place where you can get a room, however, and you have to hike to the top of a mountain to enjoy the privilege. Gatlinburg has the most sleeping options of any gateway town, though prices are high. Nearby Pigeon Forge, 10 miles north of Sugarlands Visitor Center, and Sevierville, 17 miles north, have cheaper options. The National Park Service maintains developed campgrounds at nine locations in the park (a 10th remains closed indefinitely). Each campground has restrooms with cold running water and flush toilets, but there are no showers or electrical or water hookups in the park (though some campgrounds do have electricity for emergency situations). Each individual campsite has a fire grate and picnic table. Many sites can be reserved in advance, and several campgrounds (Cataloochee, Abrams Creek, Big Creek and Balsam Mountain) require advance reservations. With nine developed campgrounds offering more than 900 campsites, you'd think finding a place to pitch would be easy. Not so in the busy summer season, so plan ahead. You can make reservations for most sites; others are first-come, first-served. Cades Cove and Smokemont campgrounds are open year-round; others are open March to October. Backcountry camping is an excellent option, which is only chargeable up to five nights ($4 per night; after that, it's free). A permit is required. You can make reservations online, and get permits at the ranger stations or visitor centers. Be sure to know the campground regulations. Driving the Smoky Mountains As Philip D'Anieri explains in The Appalachian Trail: A Biography, building scenic byways into national parks was a controversial idea at the time parks like Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains were first established. Did they give the American public well-deserved access to natural spaces where they could find recreation and spiritual contemplation, or did they represent the intrusion of the urban world into pristine natural spaces best experienced on foot? That's a debate that still grips the outdoor community today, but in the end, roads are part of what make the Great Smoky Mountains experience what it is today. A slow ride along stretches of Little River Road, Cades Cove Loop Road, through the Cataloochee Valley, or Upper Tremont Road is the perfect way to take it easy – and with 384 miles of road in the Smokies, you can keep coming back for more. Here are some highlights: Newfound Gap Road The only paved route that bisects the park, the Newfound Gap Road offers fabulous scenery of the mountain forests as it curves its way for 33 miles between Cherokee, NC, and Gatlinburg, TN. While you could make the north–south traverse in an hour or two, it's well worth taking it slow, stopping at scenic overlooks, having a picnic lunch beside a rushing mountain stream and going for a hike or two along one of the many memorable trails that intersect this iconic motorway. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail Although it's just 5.5 miles long, this scenic road holds a treasure chest of natural wonders. Named after the fast-flowing mountain stream that courses beside it, the Roaring Fork takes you to lookouts with panoramic views over the mountains, past pockets of old-growth forest and right beside shimmering waterfalls tumbling over moss-covered stones. You'll also see vestiges of human settlement in the area, including an old farmstead that sheds light on the area's early inhabitants. Several excellent hiking trails start from this road, including to the lovely Grotto Falls. Foothills Parkway After years of construction and tens of millions of dollars in investment, a new 16-mile stretch of the Foothills Parkway was slated to open in late 2018. Visitors can now enjoy a 33-mile stretch of magnificent views on the newly extended parkway. More things to do The sun-dappled forests of the Great Smoky Mountains are a four-season wonderland. Rich blooms of springtime wildflowers come in all colors and sizes, while flame azaleas light up the high-elevation meadows in summer. Autumn brings its own fiery rewards with quilted hues of orange, burgundy and saffron blanketing the mountain slopes. In winter, snow-covered fields and ice-fringed cascades transform the Smokies into a serene, cold-weather retreat. This mesmerizing backdrop is also a World Heritage Site, harboring more biodiversity than any other national park in America. Here are a few activities that will get you in on the fun: See the fireflies Each year in late spring or early summer, parts of the national park light up with synchronous fireflies, a mesmerizing display where thousands of insects flash their lanterns (aka abdominal light organs) in perfect unison. The event draws huge crowds of people to the Elkmont Campground, one of the best places in the Smokies to see it. Dates of the event change every year, but it can happen anytime between late May and late June. Viewing dates are typically announced in April. All those who want to see the event must obtain a parking pass through a lottery system, and then take a shuttle to the site. The service runs from the Sugarlands Visitor Center for eight days of predicted peak activity during the fireflies’ two-week mating period. Wildlife watching in Cataloochee Tucked into the eastern reaches of the national park, Cataloochee is one of the top wildlife-watching spots in the Smokies. You can watch massive elk grazing, see wild turkeys strutting about and perhaps even spy a bear or two. Hiking paths crisscross the valley, including the Boogerman Trail, which leads through old-growth forest. Cataloochee was also home to one of the largest settlements in the Smokies, and you can delve into the past while wandering through log cabins, a one-room schoolhouse and a photogenic church, all dating back to the early 1900s. Rafting the Pigeon River Many winding creaks and crystal-clear streams rushing through the Smokies find their way into the Big Pigeon River. When they converge, they create a fantastic setting for white-water adventures on churning rapids amid a gorgeous forest backdrop. Families with small kids can enjoy a peaceful paddle on the Little Pigeon, while those seeking a bit more adventure should opt for the Upper Pigeon with its class III and IV rapids. It all makes for a fun day's outing with some of the best rafting in the southeast. History at Cades Cove Surrounded by mountains, the lush valley of Cades Cove is one of the most popular destinations in the national park. The draw: great opportunities for wildlife-watching, access to some fantastic hiking trails, and remnants of buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, on an easy tour of the area, you can visit old churches, barns, log houses and a working gristmill, most of which date back to the first European settlement in the 1820s. When to visit The park is open year-round, but summer and fall are the most popular seasons, lush with wildflowers and colorful fall foliage. Some facilities are closed late fall through early spring, and roads may be closed in winter due to inclement weather. In April, spring makes its appearance with wildflowers, bigger crowds (during spring break) and the reopening of most campgrounds and roads. Nights can still dip below freezing (take note campers), but days can be delightfully sunny and warm. May is one of the best months to see spring wildflowers and flowering trees such as dogwoods and redwoods in the forests. Warm days mix with rainfall (a year-round possibility), and lodging prices are still lower than peak summer rates. June and July are some of the most popular months in the park with school out for the summer, the synchronous fireflies putting on their show, and the Independence Day Midnight Parade in Gatlinburg. The fall leaf-peeping peak kicks in around October, when campgrounds fill up and roads slow to a crawl on weekends. By November, the crowds thin as the blazing autumn colors now litter the floor (rather than the treetops). Some roads and campgrounds close for the season. You can score good deals on lodging. Christmas is a big production in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Bryson City, with plenty of colorful lights and family-friendly events. Grab your snowshoes and see the park free of crowds in January and February, when the waterfalls turn into ice sculptures and roaring fires at your rental cabin are peak hygge. Planning your trip The closest airports to the national park are McGhee Tyson Airport near Knoxville (40 miles northwest of Sugarlands Visitor Center) and Asheville Regional Airport, 58 miles east of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Further afield you'll find Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, 140 miles southwest of the park, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, 170 miles east, and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, 175 miles south of the park. After you fly in, you'll need a car as there's no public transportation to the park. There's a wide variety of car-rental outfits at each of the airports, however. Unlike other national parks, Great Smoky Mountains is free to enter. The only fees you'll be charged are for camping or if you rent a picnic pavilion. There are four visitors centers inside the park itself at Cades Cove, Oconaluftee, Sugarlands and Clingmans Dome, as well as three info centers outside the park in "gateway" towns of Gatlinburg, Sevierville, and Townsend, Tennessee. The number one thing to be aware of during your visit is the Smoky Mountains' beloved bear population. A number of regulations are in place specifically to reduce the chances you might have the wrong kind of bear encounter. To wit, dogs must be on a leash at all times within the park and are not allowed on hiking trails. Food and cooking equipment must be kept in your vehicle whenever they aren't in immediate use, along with water containers and anything with a strong scent, like candles or your favorite body wash. Food storage lockers are available at several campgrounds, and garbage disposal units are specially designed to deter bears. History of Smoky Mountains National Park Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto was probably the first European to reach the Smokies, when he arrived in the southern Appalachian mountains in 1540. De Soto led an expedition of 600 men on a long, wandering journey from which only half of them would return. On their march west along the southern edge of the Smoky Mountains, the Spaniards stopped to camp alongside the Oconaluftee River. There they encountered Cherokee, who had long since established seasonal hunting camps, as well as trails through the mountains that connected various settlements. Cades Cove likely once housed a permanent Cherokee village, called Tsiyahi or ‘Place of the Otters,’ which was located along the banks of Abrams Creek. The other permanent Cherokee settlement within today’s park boundaries was Oconaluftee village, set along the river near the present-day Oconaluftee Visitor Center. The Smokies remained largely unexplored by Europeans for the next two centuries. Then in 1775 the American naturalist and Quaker William Bartram spent several months in southern Appalachia during his four-year journey through the southeast. He became one of the first to accurately write about the region – both about its wildlife and its native people. The German immigrant John Jacob Mingus and his family were among the first Europeans to set up homesteads in the Oconaluftee River Valley when they arrived in 1798 (their descendants would remain in the region, and later set up the Mingus Mill). Over the next few decades, other homesteaders put down roots in Cades Cove and the Cataloochee Valley, too. Although the settlers were generally on good terms with the Cherokee, Indigenous people were nearly entirely gone from the area by 1819 after the Cherokee nation and other tribes were forced to cede all of their lands in the Smoky Mountains in the 1819 Treaty of Calhoun. In the decades following the Civil War, a new threat soon faced the Smokies: logging. At first, it started out small, with selective timber cutting carried out by local landowners throughout the Smokies. By 1900, however, industrialists saw enormous financial opportunities in the large stands of old-growth forest in the mountains and began buying up properties and commencing large-scale operations. While huge swaths of the forest were being felled by lumber companies, more and more locals were beginning to notice the devastation left by clear-cutting. In the early 1920s a few key figures from Knoxville, TN, and Asheville, NC, began to advocate for the conservation of the Smokies. Ann Davis was one of the first to put forth the idea of creating a national park in the Smokies. After visiting several national parks out west in 1923, she and her husband, Willis Davis, worked tirelessly to recruit allies towards the goal of creating the park. She even entered politics, and in 1924 became the first woman elected in Knox County to serve in the Tennessee State House of Representatives. Negotiations began in 1925 and were complex – given there were more than 6000 property owners involved. In 1926 President Calvin Coolidge signed legislation creating Great Smoky Mountains National Park (along with two other national parks). Once signed it was up to the park boosters to secure the funds to purchase the 150,000 acres before the Department of the Interior would assume responsibility. Even with cash in hand, purchases of the small farms and miscellaneous parcels (some of which had yet to be surveyed and appraised) was a cumbersome and lengthy process. Many landowners were reluctant to leave the only home they’d ever known, and some people – such as John Oliver of the Cades Cove community – fought the park commission through the Tennessee court system. In 1930 the first superintendent of the park arrived, and he formally oversaw the first transfer of land – 158,876 acres deeded to the US government. At long last the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a reality, though it wasn’t until 1934 that the park was officially established. A few years later, in 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the national park for the ‘permanent enjoyment of the people’ at the newly created Rockefeller Monument at Newfound Gap. As the Great Depression swept across the nation in the early 1930s, President Roosevelt came up with an innovative solution to put people back to work. He created the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, which would serve two purposes: it would create jobs and it would help in the nation’s reforestation. CCC camps were set up across the country, with 22 created inside the national park. Around 4000 men, mostly aged 18 to 20, would work for the corps, which ran from 1933 to 1942. The men worked a variety of jobs: planting trees, building bridges and footpaths, erecting fire towers and clearing fire roads. Their handwork is still all over Great Smoky Mountains, including shelters built along the AT where hikers still overnight. Buy the Great Smoky Mountains National Park guide ahead of your trip.

  • Sights in The Interior

    Denali National Park & Preserve

    In our collective consciousness, Alaska represents the concept of the raw wilderness. But that untamed perception can be as much a deterrent as a draw. For many travelers, in-depth exploration of this American frontier is a daunting task. Enter Denali National Park & Preserve: a parcel of land that's easily accessible without losing its primeval feel. Things to do in Denali National Park Here, you can peer at a grizzly bear, moose, caribou, or even wolves, all from the comfort of a bus. On the other hand, if independent exploration is your thing, you can trek into 6 million acres of tundra, boreal forest and ice-capped mountains – a space larger than Massachusetts. This all lies in the shadow of Denali, once known as Mt McKinley and to native Athabascans as the Great One. Denali, at 20,308ft (6190m) is North America’s highest peak, rightly celebrated as an icon of all that is awesome and wild in a state where those adjectives are ubiquitous. Denali Of course the park's massive signature summit and namesake is a must-see. But despite its lofty heights, the mountain is not visible from the park entrance or the nearby campgrounds and hotel. Your first glimpse of it comes between Mile 9 and Mile 11 on Park Road – if you’re blessed with a clear day. What makes Denali one of the world’s great scenic mountains isn't its visual presence in the park, but the sheer independent rise of its bulk. Denali begins at a base of just 2000ft, which means that on a clear day you will be transfixed by over 18,000 feet of ascending rock, ice and snow. By contrast, Mt Everest, no slouch itself when it comes to memorable vistas, only rises 12,000ft from its base on the Tibetan Plateau. If you’re a seasoned alpinist you can mount an expedition to the summit yourself, or be among the 25% of Denali climbers who are part of guided ascents. If you’re looking for a local guiding company, try Alaska Mountaineering School, which charges $8300 to lead you up the mountain. Another acclaimed company with a high success rate is Seattle-based Alpine Ascents. Its trips start at $8400 excluding meals, lodging and flights to Alaska. Book at least a year in advance. Wildlife Because hunting has never been allowed in the park, professional photographers refer to animals in Denali as "approachable wildlife." That means bear, moose, Dall sheep and caribou aren’t as skittish here as in other regions of the state. For this reason, and because Park Rd was built to maximize the chances of seeing wildlife by traversing high open ground, the park is an excellent place to view a variety of animals. On board the park shuttle buses, your fellow passengers will be armed with binoculars and cameras to help scour the terrain for animals, most of which are so accustomed to the rambling buses that they rarely run and hide. When someone spots something and yells "Stop!," the driver will pull over for viewing and picture taking. The best wildlife watching is on the first morning bus. Hiking If you’ve never veered off the beaten path, consider launching your trail-free hiking career in Denali National Park & Preserve. In most national parks in North America, hikers are constantly reminded to stay on marked trails in order to prevent soil erosion, deter damage to flora and fauna, and minimize the risk of getting lost. But Alaska – being Alaska – operates a little differently. Since most national parks in the state don’t have an extensive network of marked trails, visitors are actively encouraged to get off the beaten track and explore the backcountry on their own. Denali’s 92-mile-long Park Road provides an excellent transport link into the depths of the park with regular hop-on, hop-off shuttle buses plying the route. Additionally, thanks to its high altitude, most of the park is above the treeline, allowing hikers to enjoy broad vistas across obstacle-free tundra. Not only does this mean Park Rd will be rarely out of sight (even when it’s 5 miles away), it also prevents any surprise encounters with wildlife. Regardless of where you’re headed, remember that 5 miles is a full-day trip for the average backpacker in Denali’s backcountry. A good compromise for those unsure of entering the backcountry on their own is to take a ranger-led Discovery Hike: hiking without a trail but with a guide. To join a ranger on an easy, guided stroll (ranging from 30 minutes to 2½ hours) along the park’s entrance-area trails, check out the schedule at the Denali Visitor Center. There are also four hikes in the park entrance area that can be accessed from the Wilderness Access Center (WAC). Eielson Visitor Center Eielson Visitor Center, on the far side of Thorofare Pass (3900ft), is the most common turning-around point for day trippers taking the shuttle (an eight-hour round-trip from the park entrance). This remote outpost is built directly into the tundra slopes and the mountain seems to almost loom over you from the observation decks. Inside there’s a massive panorama to give you an idea of the mountain’s topography, as well as more utilitarian features such as toilets and potable water. The 7400-sq-ft facility cost around $9.2 million to build, and features several green design elements, including solar and hydroelectric power. You'll also find two steep trails – one that leads up to ridge lines that tower over the park, and one that plunges to a riverbed where wildlife spottings are not uncommon (and sometimes far too close for comfort). Two ranger-led hikes are offered daily in summer: a two-hour, two-mile alpine hike, starting at noon and heading up the ridge behind the facilities; and an easier one-hour, 0.5-mile loop, starting at 1pm. Polychrome Pass This scenic area, at 3500ft, has views of the Toklat River to the south. Polychrome Pass Overlook, which is a regular stop on Denali tour- and shuttle-bus routes, gets its name from the multicolored hues of the local rock faces. There's relatively easy access to ridge trails if you want to hike at higher altitudes. Denali's sled dogs Denali is the only US national park where rangers conduct winter patrols with dog teams. In summer the huskies serve a different purpose: amusing and educating the legions of tourists who sign up for the park’s free daily tours of the sled-dog kennels, as well as dog demonstrations. During warm months, the dogs briefly pull rangers in an ATV for the crowds. The 40-minute show takes place at park headquarters; free buses head there from the Denali Visitor Center, departing 40 minutes before each starting time. These demonstrations are incredibly popular – there's no cap on visitors, so just plan on experiencing crowds. Watching the dogs literally jump for joy when it's their turn to pull the ATV. It's clear that they not only love running and pulling – they live for the experience. The Stampede Trail and the Magic Bus The Stampede Trail was an overgrown, semi-abandoned mining road in April 1992 when an idealistic 24-year-old wanderer called Chris McCandless made camp in an abandoned bus west of Healy, equipped with little more than a rifle, 10lb of rice and a copy of Louis L’Amour’s Education of a Wandering Man in his bag. His quest: to attempt to survive on his own in the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness. McCandless’ death a few months later, in August 1992, was famously chronicled in the book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer in 1996. But it was Sean Penn’s cinematic rendering of the book in 2007 that brought the story to international attention and turned the Stampede Trail and the so-called "Magic Bus" into a pilgrimage site for a stream of romantic young backpackers. The deluge of hikers has led to problems. Thanks to two dangerous river crossings along the Stampede Trail’s muddy if relatively flat route, some of the more amateurish hikers have found they've bitten off more than they can chew. As a result, search-and-rescue teams are called out five or six times a year to aid stranded or disorientated travelers and, in 2010, a Swiss woman tragically drowned while trying to cross the Teklanika River. Today the Magic Bus – a 1946 International Harvester (number 142) abandoned by road builders in 1961 – has been moved to the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks, but a replica of bus 142 sits outside the 49th State Brewing Company in Healy. You can still hike the Stampede Trail, however, which begins 2 miles north of Healy (the first 8 miles are accessible in a vehicle). Go prepared, preferably in a group, and take extreme precautions when crossing the Savage and Teklanika Rivers (and if they’re flowing high, don’t cross them at all). Bears are common in the area and the mosquitoes are savage. Alternatively, you can take an ATV tour along the trail in summer, or head out in winter on a dogsledding trip from EarthSong Lodge. Dining in Denali 49th State Brewing Company You can have the best evening out in Denali at 49th State Brewing Company, a multifarious place which is 1) a brewpub brewing its own fine ales; 2) a wonderful flame-grilled restaurant; 3) a live-music venue; and 4) a dedicated purveyor of dozens of whiskeys. A celebratory atmosphere is generated at the communal tables both inside and out, where fun games shorten the wait for your food. Brewery tours with free tastings take place on Fridays at 4pm. 229 Parks South of McKinley Village, a stylish timber-frame hideaway called 229 Parks is quintessentially modern Alaskan: locally owned, organic and fervently committed to both the community and environment. Everything is made on-site, including the bread and butter, and the menu changes daily, though it usually features local game dishes and a veritable cornucopia of vegetarian options. And don’t worry if you can’t finish every mouthful: scraps go to feed local sled dogs. Reservations definitely recommended. Prospector's Pizzeria and Alehouse Prospector's is perennially busy and with good reason! Set in the Old Northern Lights Theater building, this cavernous alehouse turned pizza parlor has quickly become one of the most popular eating establishments in the park area. In addition to a menu with two-dozen oven-baked pizza choices, there are some 50 beers available on tap from almost all of Alaska’s small breweries. Moose-AKas There are lots of young Eastern Europeans working the tourism season in Alaska, and this restaurant is testimony to the fact. Started by a Serbian former season worker turned American, Moose-AKa's serves fried crepes, schnitzel, Russian salad, stuffed peppers and of course, moussaka. It's vegan- and vegetarian-friendly, and a great departure from the usual bar food. Denali National Park hotels, hostels, camping, and lodges Aside from a few options in the community of Kantishna, lodgings are generally not available inside park boundaries, so if you want overnight shelter within the park you’ll need a tent or RV (recreational vehicle). That said, there are a lot of unique options close to the park well worth booking. You should definitely reserve something in midsummer – even if it’s just a campsite – before showing up. Note the Denali Borough charges a 7% accommodations tax on top of listed prices (except for campsites). The Earthsong Lodge North of Healy, off Mile 251 on the George Parks Hwy, this spotlessly clean lodge is pretty much on its own in green fields above the treeline. The private-bath cabins have an appealing at-home styling, with decorative touches such as sprays of wildflowers and hand-carved ornaments. Breakfast and dinner are available in the adjacent Henry's Coffeehouse and there are sleddog demos, a nightly slide show and dog-sled and cross-country-skiing tours in winter. The lodge is just a short climb away from stunning views of the mountain, and just in case you wanted to know more about that peak, proprietor Jon Nierenberg, a former Denali ranger, quite literally wrote the book on hiking in the park’s backcountry. Carlo Creek Lodge The 32-acre grounds here, nestled amidst the mountains, are nothing short of spectacular, and the hand-hewn log cabins are filled with genuine old-Alaskan charm. Maintained by the descendants of the original homesteaders who settled this scenic little plot by the creek, the lodge has a fresh feel but still a healthy respect for tradition. Communal amenities include a laundry room, spiffy shower block, barbecue and cooking areas. Denali Mountain Morning Hostel Perched beside the gurgling Carlo Creek, this is the area’s only true hostel. That's cool – it makes up in quality for a lack of hostel quantity. The setting is a dream – mountains to one side, a stream running through it all. The hostel features a hodgepodge of tent-cabins, log cabins and platform tents. Only open during summer. There’s a fire pit, and visitors can cook meals and swap tales in the "octagon" – the hostel’s common area. Laundry facilities are available and the hostel offers free shuttle services to/from the park's Wilderness Access Center throughout the day. Wonder Lake Campground This is the jewel of Denali campgrounds, thanks to its eye-popping views of the mountain. The facility has 28 sites for tents only, but does offer flush toilets and piped-in water. If you’re lucky enough to reserve a site, book it for three nights and then pray that Denali appears during one of the days you’re there. Note that there is a $6 registration fee added on top of the camp fee. Camp Denali Verging on legendary, Camp Denali has been the gold standard among Kantishna lodges for the last half century. Widely spread across a ridgeline, the camp’s simple, comfortable cabins elegantly complement the backcountry experience while minimizing impact on the natural world. Think of it as luxury camping, with gourmet meals, guided hikes, free bicycle and canoe rentals, killer views of the mountain, and staff so devoted to Denali that you’ll come away feeling like the beneficiary of a precious gift. If you can't handle the outhouses or the seven-minute walk to the bathroom, book the nearby, affiliated North Face Lodge with en-suite rooms for the same price. Denali Dome Home B&B This is not a yurt but a huge, intriguing geodesic house on a 5-acre lot, offering a fantastic B&B experience. There are seven modern rooms (with partial antique furnishings), an open common area with fireplace, and a small business area. Also: it's a dome home! How cool is that? The owners are absolute oracles of wisdom when it comes to Denali, and do a bang-up job with breakfast. They also offer car rental. Tips for visitors When to visit The summer months from early June until the second week after Labor Day is the main visiting season, when shuttle and tour buses operate and ranger-led activities are plentiful. Summer itself has many mini-seasons: during June you may see caribou, moose and Dall sheep calving, and alpine-zone wildflowers blooming. The park is at its most accessible in July, while in August, autumn colors start creeping in. In September, moose rut and the northern lights begin to make their presence known. Also, mosquitoes start thinning out. During the spring and fall, visitors may drive to Mile 30, but only until snow closes the roads, which can be as early as October and last until April. Also, if you swing by Cannabis Cache to pick up a smokeable stash, don't forget that Denali National Park is federal land and cannabis is only legal in Alaska. Leave your weed at the hotel and don't run afoul of the park rangers. Getting oriented The park entrance area, where most visitors congregate, extends a scant 4 miles up Park Road. It’s here you’ll find the park headquarters, visitor center and main campground, as well as the Wilderness Access Center, where you pay your park entrance fee and arrange campsites and shuttle-bus bookings to take you further into the park. Across the lot from the WAC sits the Backcountry Information Center, where backpackers get backcountry permits and bear-proof food containers. The Denali visitor center is the place to come for an executive summary of Denali National Park & Preserve, with quality displays on the area’s natural and human history. Every half hour in the theater, the beautifully photographed, unnarrated film Heartbeats of Denali provides a peek at the park’s wildlife and scenery. You can also pick up a selection of park literature here, including the NPS’ indispensable Alpenglow booklet, which functions as a user’s manual to Denali. The Park Road A straight shot into the heart of Denali, Park Road is also the jumping-off point for most hikes. It begins at George Parks Highway and winds 92 miles through the heart of the park, ending at Kantishna, the site of several wilderness lodges. After that the road passes the Savage River (Mile 14) – which has an established trail alongside the river – and then dips into the Sanctuary and Teklanika River valleys. Both these rivers are in excellent hiking areas, and three of the five backcountry campgrounds lie along them. Park Road continues past rivers, backcountry campgrounds, overlooks and mountain passes that afford stunning views on those rare clear days. Kantishna (Mile 90) is mainly a destination for people staying in the area’s private lodges. The buses turn around here, and begin the long trip back to the Wilderness Access Center. Backcountry camping Permits are needed if you want to camp overnight and you can obtain these at the Backcountry Information Center, where you’ll also find wall maps with the unit outlines and a quota board indicating the number of vacancies in each. Permits are issued only a day in advance, and the most popular units fill up fast. It pays to be flexible: decide which areas you’re aiming for, and be prepared to take any zone that’s open. If you’re picky, you might have to wait several days. The history of Denali National Park The region that is now Denali National Park has been home to humans for over 11,000 years. For Athabascan people, this was a fertile hunting ground where the tribe would reliably encounter Dall sheep, caribou, moose, and even grizzlies. It was also game that attracted white settlers in the early 20th century, after gold was found near Kantishna in 1905 and big game hunters followed the miners' stampede. Conservationist Charles Alexander Sheldon began work the year following Kantishna's gold boom to protect the park's wildlife from the kind of wholesale hunting frenzy that decimated bison herds in across the Great Plains. Sheldon mounted a campaign, but it was a long play to get what was then known as Mt McKinley declared a national park. The concept of national parks – and conservation in general – were still new. Yellowstone National Park was just 34 years old and though Mesa Verde had just entered the club, it had been rammed through by President Teddy Roosevelt using his controversial Federal Antiquities Act of 1906. The kind of archeological discoveries found in Chaco Canyon were scant in the remote Alaskan backcountry. Instead, Sheldon turned to another invention of Roosevelt's – the Boone and Crockett Club, a conservation group dedicated to preserving wildlife and habitat for regulated hunting. The Boone and Crockett Club helped persuade Alaska's representatives and the Department of the Interior that Denali needed official protection as a national park. It wasn't until 1921 that the process of lobbying and legislating was complete. In 1923, when the railroad first arrived in Denali, 36 visitors enjoyed the splendor of the brand new park. Nowadays some 400,000 visitors are received annually. That's not the only change that Denali National Park has seen over the last century of its existence, however. As a result of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the park was enlarged by 4 million acres, and renamed Denali National Park & Preserve. However, it wasn't until 2015 that the name of the mountain itself was restored to Denali by President Barack Obama after almost 120 years as Mt. McKinley.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Montana

    Glacier National Park

    The rival of any of the United States' most spectacular national parks, including Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park is full of jagged peaks produced by dramatic geologic thrust faults and carved by ancient ice. But its mountains and dense forests are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg here – Glacier boasts deep ongoing ties to Indigenous tribes, one of the finest scenic parkways in the whole National Parks system, historic 'parkitecture' lodges and 740 miles of hiking trails punctuated by wandering grizzlies and moose. Highlights of Glacier National Park Glacier's Glaciers Many are surprised to learn that the park's current number of glaciers – 26 (35 were identified and named in 1966) – is significantly less than other American national parks, including the North Cascades (with over 300) and Mt Rainier (with 25 on one mountain). Today's visitors could be some of the last to actually see a glacier in the park. Current figures suggest that, if current warming trends continue, the park could be glacier-free by 2030. Head to Jackson Glacier Overlook for an easy-access vantage point. This popular pull-over, located a short walk from the Gunsight Pass trailhead, offers telescopic views of the park’s fifth-largest glacier, which sits close to its eponymous 10,052ft peak – one of the park's highest. Going-to-the-Sun Road A strong contender for the most spectacular road in America, the 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road was built for the express purpose of giving visitors a way to explore the park's interior without having to hike. This marvel of engineering is a national historic landmark that crosses Logan Pass (6,646ft) and is flanked by hiking trails, waterfalls and endless views. The opening of the road marks the official start of the park's crowded summer season. Logan Pass Perched above the tree line, atop the wind-lashed Continental Divide, and blocked by snow for most of the year, Logan Pass – named for William R Logan, Glacier’s first superintendent – is the park’s highest navigable point by road. Two trails, Hidden Lake Overlook, which continues on to Hidden Lake itself, and Highline, lead out from here. Views are stupendous; the parking situation, however, is not – you might spend a lot of time searching for a spot during peak hours. Two Medicine Valley Before the building of Going-to-the-Sun Road in the 1930s, the Two Medicine Valley was one of the park’s most accessible hubs, situated a mere 12 miles by horseback from the Great Northern Railway and the newly inaugurated Glacier Park Lodge. Famous for its healthy bear population and deeply imbued with Indigenous beliefs, the region is less visited these days, though it has lost none of its haunting beauty. Located around 3 miles to the northwest, 8020ft Triple Divide Peak marks the hydrologic apex of the North American continent. Empty a bucket of water on its summit and it will run into three separate oceans: the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Arctic. Hikes There are nearly a thousand miles of hiking trails in Glacier National Park, from short jaunts just off Going-to-the-Sun Road to epic backpacking excursions into bear country. Here are a few of the trail highlights: The Highline Trail A Glacier classic, the Highline Trail contours across the face of the famous Garden Wall to Granite Park Chalet – one of two historic lodges only accessible by trail. The summer slopes are covered with alpine plants and wildflowers while the views are nothing short of stupendous. With only 800ft elevation gain over 7.6 miles, the treats come with minimal sweat. The Iceberg Lake Trail Deservedly, one of the most popular of Glacier's hikes, this 9 mile there-and-back takes you to the eponymous deep glacial cirque surrounded by 914m vertical walls. The sight of icebergs floating in the lake's still waters in the middle of summer is breathtaking. The ascent above Many Glacier Valley is fairly gentle with awesome views and passes meadows filled with wildflowers. Sun Point to Virginia Falls Handily served by the free park shuttle, myriad trailheads along the eastern side of Going-to-the-Sun Road offer plenty of short interlinking hikes, a number of which can be pooled together to make up a decent morning or afternoon ramble. If you take the busy St Mary Falls Trail, you’ll climb undemanding switchbacks through the trees to the valley’s most picturesque falls, set amid colorful foliage on St Mary River. Beyond here, a trail branches along Virginia Creek, past a narrow gorge, to mist-shrouded (and quieter) Virginia Falls at the foot of a hanging valley. It’s approximately 7 miles round-trip to Virginia Falls and back. The easy hike takes about four hours. Piegan Pass A popular hike among Glacier stalwarts, this trail starts on Going-to-the-Sun Road at a handy shuttle stop on Siyeh Bend just east of Logan Pass and deposits you in Glacier’s mystic heart, Many Glacier, with transport connections back to St Mary or even Whitefish. It also bisects colorful Preston Park, one of the region’s prettiest and most jubilant alpine meadows. The 12.8-mile trail (allow six hours) starts at the Siyeh Bend shuttle stop. Dawson-Pitamakan Loop This spectacular 18.8-mile hike along exposed mountain ridges crosses the Continental Divide twice and can be squeezed into a day for the ambitious and fit or, alternatively, tackled over two or three days with nights at backcounty campgrounds. Blessed with two spectacular mountain passes and teeming with myriad plant and animal life, including grizzly bears, this is often touted by park rangers as being one of Glacier’s hiking highlights. Places to stay near Glacier National Park Glacier's classic 'parkitecture' lodges – Many Glacier Hotel, Lake McDonald Lodge and Glacier Park Lodge – are living, breathing, functioning artifacts of another – more leisurely – era, when travelers to this wilderness park arrived by train and ventured into the backcountry on horseback. But that's not the only option for a place to stay in Glacier National Park. There are also beloved back-country chalets, numerous campgrounds for RV travelers and tent campers, and also motel-style accommodations in and around the park. These are a few of the best: Lodges These early 20th-century creations were built with Swiss-chalet features and prototypical Wild West elements. Today they seem to consciously and appealingly conjure up a romantic, almost mythic, vision of rustic comfort – ideal reflections of the beautiful scenery on their doorsteps. Glacier Park Lodge Set in attractive, perfectly manicured flower-filled grounds overlooking Montana’s oldest golf course, this historic 1914 lodge was built in the classic national-park tradition, with a splendid open-plan lobby supported by lofty 900-year-old Douglas fir timbers (imported from Washington State). Eye-catching Native American artwork adorns the communal areas, and a full-sized tipi is wedged incongruously onto a 2nd-floor balcony. In keeping with national-park tradition, the rooms here are ‘rustic’ with no TVs or air-conditioning. Rocking chairs are dispersed inside, and out on the shaded porch where the views of the Glacier peaks are worth the price of admission alone; the pool out back has little shade. Two restaurants and a bar are also open to nonguests. Lake McDonald Lodge Fronting luminous Lake McDonald and built in classic US 'parkitecture' style, the lodge welcomes its guests through a more mundane backdoor setting – they originally disembarked from a boat on the lakeside. Small, comfortably rustic rooms are complemented by cottages and a 1950s motel. Built on the site of an earlier lodge commissioned by park pioneer George Snyder in the 1890s, the present building was constructed in 1913 and rooms remain sans air-conditioning and television – it's worth requesting one of the more than two dozen rooms and cabins renovated for the 2016 season. Deluxe ones even boast some boutique stylings, including tiled bathrooms, extremely comfy king-sized beds and a touch of art. Two restaurants are on-site and evening ranger programs are held nightly in the summer. The lakefront location is fairly ideal and close to trailheads on Going-to-the-Sun Road. Many Glacier Hotel Enjoying the most wondrous setting in the park, this massive, Swiss chalet–inspired lodge (some of the male staff wear lederhosen) commands the northeastern shore of Swiftcurrent Lake. It was built by the Great Northern Railway in 1915, and the comfortable, if rustic, rooms have been updated (restoration work continues) over the last 15 years. The deluxe rooms feature boutique-style elements, including contemporary tiled bathrooms. The raised stone hearth with a unique chimney system from the 1940s marks the center of the large lobby and lounge area where guests gather to take in the shimmering snow and glacier-capped peaks (anyone can try out the lobby piano circa 1877). Some of the park's most iconic hikes leave from nearby. Several restaurants are part of the complex, and hikers can stock up on food and other supplies at the cafe and shop downstairs. Historic Chalets Granite Park Chalet A popular stopping point for hikers on the Swiftcurrent Pass and Highline trails, this very basic chalet (pit toilets) dates back to the park's early 20th-century heyday. A rustic kitchen is available for use (with propane-powered stoves), though you must bring and prepare your own food. Snacks and freeze-dried meals are available for purchase. Twelve guest rooms sleep from two to six people each. Bedding costs $25 extra per person. Book in advance as it gets busy, and remember to bring as much of your own water as possible (bottled water and sodas are available to buy). Reservations should be made online. Sperry Chalet Constructed by the Great Northern Railway in 1914, much of this 17-room historic Swiss-style chalet burned down in a 2017 fire, but its historic features were maintained in the rebuild. It's a good three-hour hike from the nearest road, and guests must either walk or horseback ride here via an ascending 6.5-mile trail that begins at Lake McDonald Lodge. With no lights, heat or water, this was part of an old accommodations network that once spanned the park before the construction of Going-to-the-Sun Road, Sperry offers phenomenal views. Be sure to bring a flashlight for midnight trips to the outdoor toilets. Rooms are private; walls, however, are paper thin. Rates include three excellent meals (box lunches are available) and mules can be hired to carry gear. Belton Chalet Built and opened the same year as the national park (1910), this Swiss chalet overlooking the railroad tracks in West Glacier was Glacier’s first tourist hotel. Other incarnations followed, including time as a pizza parlor, and it lay rotting until a late-1990s refurb, which dusted off 25 traditional yet elegant rooms, arts-and-crafts-style furnishings, a spa and a celebrated taproom. Two stand-alone cottages and a fairly spectacular cabin, in the Old West rustic vernacular, are open year-round and are ideal for families. Camping There are a lot of places to pitch a tent or park an RV in Glacier National Park. Here are a few of the most popular: Apgar Campground This large wooded campground, the park's largest, is a good choice for its proximity to the conveniences of Apgar Village and West Glacier, as well as for being only a short stroll to Lake McDonald. It feels, however, far from a wilderness experience. Avalanche Creek Campground This lush campground abutting the park’s old-growth cedar forest gets more rainfall than most. Some sites are overshadowed by old stands of hemlock, cedar and Douglas fir, but you’re close to Lake McDonald and right in the path of a couple of very popular trailheads. Expect no quiet or privacy during the daytime. Many Glacier Campground With access to phenomenal trails, this heavily wooded campground is one of the park’s most popular. It lies within strolling distance of the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn complex, which includes a restaurant, hot showers, a laundry and camp store. Primitive camping available through the end of October. Half of the sites are reservable, including numbers 94 and 92, which are the best spots along the river. Bowman Lake Campground Rarely full, this campground 6 miles up Inside North Fork Rd from Polebridge offers very spacious sites in forested grounds, and beautiful Bowman Lake is only steps away. It has a visitors information tent with reference books and local hiking information. The road from Polebridge can be especially rough after heavy rain. Also offers primitive camping through to end of October. Sprague Creek Campground Off Going-to-the-Sun Road on the shore of Lake McDonald, the park’s smallest campground draws mostly tents – no vehicles over 21ft are allowed – and feels more intimate than many of the park’s other options, at least at night when the passing traffic goes to bed. Arrive early to claim a site overlooking the lake. Hiker/biker sites $5. The Indigenous history of Glacier National Park For thousands of years, the Blackfeet (Niitsitapi), Salish, and Kootenai tribes called Glacier National Park home, worshiping at sacred sites including Two Medicine and Chief Mountain that remain integral to their creation stories. After initial contact with white settlers when the Lewis and Clark expedition passed through the region in, the Blackfeet, Salish, and Kootenai suffered during the westward expansion of white settlers in the early 19th century and the near extinction of the buffalo that was part of the United States' Indian removal strategy. Relying increasingly on government money, Native Americans had little choice but to agree to one-sided treaties in 1855. The reservation originally included all of the Glacier National Park region east of the Continental Divide; however, the Blackfeet sold a portion of what is now Glacier National Park to the United States government, and in 1910 that land was turned into the eighth national park in the system. Today, approximately 10,000 Blackfeet live on a 3812-sq-mile reservation immediately to the east of the park. The reservation includes important park access points such as St Mary and East Glacier and, despite their dispossession, the land in and around the east side of Glacier holds significant ceremonial and cultural significance. Visiting Glacier National Park Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell has year-round service to Salt Lake, Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle and Las Vegas, and seasonal service to Atlanta, Oakland, LA, Chicago and Portland. Alaska, Allegiant, American Airlines, Delta and United have flights to FCA. Amtrak 's Empire Builder stops daily at West Glacier and East Glacier Park, with a whistle stop in Browning. Xanterra provides a shuttle (adult $6 to $10, child $3 to $5, 10 to 20 minutes) from West Glacier to their lodges on the west end, and Glacier Park Collection by Pursuit offers shuttles (from $15, one hour) connecting East Glacier Park to St Mary and Whitefish. Glacier National Park runs a free hop-on, hop-off shuttle bus from Apgar Transit Center to St Mary over Going-to-the-Sun Road from July 1 to Labor Day; it stops at all major trailheads. Xanterra concession operates the classic guided Red Bus Tours. If driving a personal vehicle, be prepared for narrow, winding roads, traffic jams, and limited parking at most stops along Going-to-the-Sun Road. When is Glacier National Park open? Although the park remains open year-round, most services are closed between October and mid-May. Nevertheless, visiting the park on snowshoes or cross-country skis in the dead of winter is a memorable experience. Going-to-the-Sun Road opens when they finish plowing, which could be as late as July. The East Side of the park reopened March 18, 2021 after an extended closure by the Blackfeet Reservation to protect the tribe against the COVID-19 pandemic. Campgrounds, certain roads, lake access, and other park features are being reopened slowly on a case-by-case basis. Definitely check the Glacier National Park website for the latest updates as the park opens back up. Visitor Centers The LEED–certified Apgar Visitor Center with a large parking lot and free Wi-Fi signal is 1½ miles north of West Glacier at the west end of Going-to-the-Sun Road. Catch the free park shuttle here for all points along Going-to-the-Sun Road to Logan Pass, where you transfer to continue to St Mary Visitor Center. The Logan Pass Visitor Center sits in the most magnificent setting of all the park's visitor centers, and features park information, interactive exhibits and a good gift shop. The Hidden Lake Overlook Trail and Highline trails begin there. Accessibility Most sights and campgrounds within the parks are wheelchair accessible; for a complete and detailed list, download Glacier's own accessibility brochure (available at any entrance station). It's an excellent source of information on everything from hotels and campgrounds to visitor sites and ranger-led activities. Service animals are allowed in Glacier. All lodging options within Glacier have wheelchair-accessible rooms. Shuttle buses in Glacier all have wheelchair lifts and tie-downs, and the drivers can assist disabled passengers on and off. If you need to make arrangements in advance, call any park visitor center. Glacier National Park produces braille handouts, audio described videos and large print brochures. Discount passes to the parks and national forests are available for people with disabilities.

  • Sights in Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks

    Grand Teton National Park

    Awesome in their grandeur, the Tetons have captivated the imagination from the moment humans laid eyes on them. While their name is often ascribed to French trappers, another theory is that it was dubbed for the Thítȟuŋwaŋ band of the Lakota Sioux who inhabited the area long before. The Shoshone were the primary tribe who summered around the Grand Tetons, though they too were forced onto reservations in the 1870s after the establishment of nearby Yellowstone National Park. The Tetons weren't formally mapped until almost two generations after Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery first saw these peaks. It was only in the final decade of the Shoshone's free presence on their ancestral lands that a series of surveying expeditions passed through, ahead of what would become a steady stream of white settlers. The history of Grand Teton National Park One of the men on those late 19th century expeditions was William Henry Jackson, a photographer whose documentation of the landscape helped raise public awareness of the Tetons with potential tourists and politicians back east. Over the next twenty years, influential figures like Presidents Grover Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt took note and made early attempts to protect the Tetons from development, while climbers like Wyoming State Auditor William Owen started a long tradition of outdoor recreation in what was then the Teton Forest Reserve. Despite the growing attention of nascent conservationists and the relatively sparse claims by ranchers and homesteaders, the Tetons weren't designated a national park in 1929. Much of the Snake River Valley was later donated to the park by John D Rockefeller, who acquired it through secret purchases to skirt the protestations of private land owners in the area who opposed the creation of a national park. Just a couple decades later, however, many locals had forgotten their animosity as a new generation of tourists trickled in via automobile, bringing business to Jackson Hole. Highlights of Grand Teton National Park Today there's more to see than ever in Grand Teton, whether you're passing through on the way to Yellowstone or planning to dive deep into this corner of the Wyoming backcountry. Mormon Row Mormon Row is possibly the most photographed spot in the park – and for good reason. The aged wooden barns and fence rails make a quintessential pastoral scene, perfectly framed by the imposing bulk of the Tetons. The barns and houses were built in the 1890s by Mormon settlers, who farmed the fertile alluvial soil irrigated by miles of hand-dug ditches. Just north of Moose Junction, head east on Antelope Flats Road for 1.5 miles to a three-way intersection and parking area. Landmark buildings are north and south of the intersection. Grand Teton Crowning glory of the park, the dagger-edged Grand Teton (13,775ft/4199m) has taunted many a would-be mountaineer. The first white men to claim to have summited were James Stevenson and Nathanial Langford, part of the 1872 Hayden Geological Survey. However, when William Owen, Franklin Spalding and two others arrived at the top in 1898, they found no evidence of a prior expedition. So they chiseled their names in a boulder, claimed the first ascent, and ignited a dispute that persists today. Jackson Lake Dam This 1916 dam has scenic lake views and paved wheelchair-accessible trails at its southern edge. The Jackson Lake Dam raises the lake level by 39ft, and was paid for by Idaho farmers who still own the irrigation rights to the top 39ft of water. It was reinforced between 1986 and 1989 to withstand earthquakes. Jackson Point Overlook The best vistas in the area are at Jackson Point Overlook. William Jackson took a famous photograph from this point in 1878, when preparing a single image could take a full hour, using heavy glass plates and a portable studio. The viewpoint is a short walk south from a parking area. Jenny Lake The scenic heart of the Grand Tetons and the epicenter of the area's crowds, Jenny Lake was named for the Shoshone wife of early guide and mountain man Beaver Dick Leigh. Don't miss the Jenny Lake Overlook which looks out at the Ribbon Cascade from the tracks of an ancient glacial moraine. Seven miles south of Signal Mountain, the Jenny Lake Scenic Drive branches west to begin Grand Teton's most picturesque parkway. The Cathedral Group turnout boasts views of the central Teton spires, known as the Cathedral Group. Interpretive boards illustrate the tectonic slippage visible at the foot of Rockchuck Peak (11,144ft), named for its resident yellow-bellied marmots (aka rock chucks). String Lake is the most popular picnic spot, with dramatic views of the north face of Teewinot Mountain (12,325ft) and Grand Teton from sandy beaches along its east side. The road becomes one-way beyond String Lake, just before exclusive Jenny Lake Lodge. Oxbow Bend Oxbow Bend is one of the most beloved spots in the park for tourists packing binoculars, cameras, and telescopes. It's a pretty corner full of wildlife at the foot of Mount Moran where moose, elk, sandhill cranes, ospreys, bald eagles, trumpeter swans, Canada geese, blue herons and white pelicans emerge every dawn and dusk. Laurance S Rockefeller Preserve For solitude coupled with the most stunning views that don't include the Grand, visitors should check out Laurance S Rockefeller Preserve, one of the newer sections of Grand Teton National Park. Once the JY Ranch, an exclusive Rockefeller family retreat, these 3100 acres around Phelps Lake were donated in full by Laurance S Rockefeller in 2001. His grandfather, John D Rockefeller, who donated some 33,000 acres of former ranchland to Grand Teton National Park. Things to do in Grand Teton National Park Some 12 imposing glacier-carved summits frame the singular Grand Teton (13,775ft). And while the view is breathtaking from the valley floor, it only gets more impressive on the trail. It's well worth hiking the dramatic canyons of fragrant forest to sublime alpine lakes surrounded by wildflowers in summer. This wilderness is home to bear, moose and elk in number, and played a fundamental role in the history of American alpine climbing. Rock climbing and fishing are also possible. Hiking With almost 250 miles of hiking trails, options are plentiful. Backcountry-use permits are required for overnight trips. Cascade Canyon Ultra-popular, this day hike scales to a gorgeous alpine lake via a gradual climb. From the Jenny Lake western boat dock, it's a 14.4-mile round-trip (18.4 miles without the boat shuttle across the lake) to alpine gem Lake Solitude, but you can turn around earlier and still soak in views. The trail passes popular Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls before climbing Cascade Canyon to the Forks. Go right for Lake Solitude (9035ft). Be mindful of the moose and bear that frequent the area. Teton Crest Trail An epic 40-mile backcountry ramble over the lofty spine of the range, the Teton Crest offers jaw-dropping views and a fair share of high exposure. This classic four- or five-day route dips in and out of the neighboring Jedediah Smith Wilderness, with numerous "outs" via the canyons and passes that access the trail on either side. Hikers must arrange for a shuttle or have two cars to leave at the start and end points. Camping permits are required. There are many options for starts and stops, but we suggest going in at the String Lake Trailhead. Death Canyon Death Canyon is one of our favorite hikes – both for the challenge and the astounding scenery. The trail ascends a mile to the Phelps Lake overlook before dropping down into the valley bottom and following Death Canyon. For a tougher add-on with impossibly beautiful views, turn right at the historic ranger cabin onto the Alaska Basin Trail and climb another 3000ft to Static Peak Divide (10,792ft) – the highest trail in Grand Teton National Park. Rafting, paddling, and fishing Rafting trips There are a number of rafting companies that operate on the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park. National Park Float Trips out of the Triangle X Ranch offers dawn, daytime and sunset floats, plus a four-hour early evening float and cookout. Trips run out of Moose. Solitude Float Trips is a highly recommended rafting company which runs Deadman's Bar-to-Moose trips and sunrise trips, plus shorter 5-mile floats. Canoes and kayaks You can also rent canoes and kayaks to paddle Jackson Lake and Jenny Lake. Signal Mountain Marina on Jackson Lake and the Snake River rents canoes ($25 per hour), kayaks ($20), motorboats (from $42) and pontoon cruisers ($105); gasoline is extra. You can also hire a guide there for fly-fishing on the lake (half-day for two people $312) and scenic Snake River float trips (adult/child US$77/50). Fly fishing and angling Fishing is a Tetons draw, with several species of whitefish and cutthroat, lake and brown trout thriving in local rivers and lakes. Get a license at the Moose Village store, Signal Mountain Lodge or Colter Bay Marina. Anglers must carry a valid Wyoming fishing license. The Snake, Buffalo Fork and Gros Ventre Rivers are closed November 1 to March 31. In general, anglers are limited to six trout per day, with varying size limitations. Get a copy of the park's fishing brochure for details. Climbing The Tetons are known for excellent short-route rock climbs, as well as classic longer routes to summits such as Grant Teton, Mt Moran and Mt Owen (12,928ft), all best attempted with an experienced guide. Jenny Lake Ranger Station is the go-to office for climbing information. It sells climbing guidebooks, provides information and has a board showing campsite availability in Garnet Canyon, the gateway to climbs including the technical ascent of Grand Teton. An excellent resource and the spot to meet outdoor partners in crime, the member-supported American Alpine Club's Climbers' Ranch has been a climbing institution since 1970. Winter sports In Grand Teton National Park, much is closed for winter. Dates for service openings and closures vary greatly from year to year, depending on snow conditions. Get information on weather, road, ski and avalanche conditions from the Jackson Visitor Center. Spur Ranch Log Cabins, which stays open for most of the year, sits close to the center of Moose. There is limited tent and RV camping (December to April 15, US$5) near the Colter Bay Visitor Center, though tent sites may be on snow. On the eastern edge of the national park, the 1926 Triangle X Ranch has wood cabins at discount winter rates. Cross country skiing Between mid-December and mid-March, the park grooms 15 miles of track right under the Tetons' highest peaks, between the Taggart and Bradley Lakes parking area and Signal Mountain. Lanes are available for ski touring, skate skiing and snowshoeing. Grooming takes place two or three times per week. The NPS does not always mark every trail: consult at the ranger station to make sure that the trail you plan to use is well tracked and easy to follow. Remember to yield to passing skiers and those skiing downhill. You can find rental equipment in Jackson. Snowshoeing Snowshoers may use the park's Nordic skiing trails, too. For an easy outing, try Teton Park Rd (closed to traffic in winter). Remember to use the hardpack trail and never walk on ski trails – skiers will thank you for preserving the track! From late December through to mid-March, naturalists lead free two-hour, 1.5-mile snowshoe hikes from the Taggart Lake trailhead three times per week. Traditional wooden snowshoes are available for rental (adult/child US$5/2). The tour is open to eight-year-olds and up. Lodging in Grand Teton National Park Demand for lodging and camping in Grand Teton is high from Memorial Day (late May) to Labor Day (early September); book lodges well in advance. Accommodations range from basic campgrounds to high-end lodges. Lodges Jenny Lake Lodge Worn timbers, down comforters and colorful quilts imbue these elegant cabins with a cozy atmosphere. Jenny Lake Lodge doesn't come cheap, but the Signature Stay package includes breakfast, five-course dinner, bicycle use and guided horseback riding. Rainy days are for hunkering down at the fireplace in the main lodge with a game or book from the stacks. Jackson Lake Lodge With soft sheets, meandering trails for long walks and enormous picture windows framing the peaks, the Teton's premier lodge is the perfect place to romance. Nearby, you may find the 348 cinder-block cottages overpriced for their viewless, barracks-like arrangement, though renovations have made them pleasant inside. The secluded Moose Pond View cottages feature amazing porch-side panoramas. Even if you aren't staying here, you should stop in to appreciate the lodge's great room with its floor-to-ceiling windows and two massive fireplaces. Jackson Lake Lodge also has a heated pool and pets are allowed ($20 extra). Ranches Climbers' Ranch Started as a refuge for serious climbers and traditionally run by the American Alpine Club, the rustic log cabins of Climbers' Ranch are now available to hikers, who can take advantage of the spectacular in-park location. There is a bathhouse with showers and a sheltered cook station with locking bins for coolers. Bring your own sleeping bag and pad (bunks are bare, but still a steal). Turpin Meadow Ranch For a true wilderness getaway or some of the best Nordic terrain in the region, check out this luxury dude ranch offering acres of cross-country skiing right outside the cabin door, in addition to fat-bike touring and snowmobiling. In summer there's mountain biking, horseback riding, pack trips and wildlife watching. Turpin Meadow Ranch 's cabins feature smart retro decor and fireplaces. Camping Camping inside the park is permitted in designated campgrounds only and is limited to 14 days (seven days at popular Jenny Lake). Most campgrounds and accommodations are open from early May to early October, depending on the weather conditions. The NPS operates the park's six campgrounds on a first-come, first-served basis. Most campsites get snatched up before 11am: Jenny Lake fills much earlier; Gros Ventre usually stays open. Signal Mountain Campground is a popular base because of its central location. Colter Bay, Jenny Lake Campground, and Lizard Creek have tent-only sites reserved for walk-in hikers and ride-in cyclists (US$11-12). Some lesser-known, first-come, first-served sites near the park may have fewer amenities, but they also have openings when NPS campgrounds are bursting, and charge a third to half of the price. Secluded Sheffield Campground is a five-site USFS (US Forest Service) campground, 2.5 miles south of Yellowstone National Park's South Entrance and just south of Flagg Ranch. Cross the Snake River Bridge, then go a half-mile east on a rough dirt road from a subtly signed turnoff. Located 7 miles northeast of Kelly on the shores of Slide Lake, Atherton Creek Campground has 20 sites, drinking water and pit toilets. Eight free, minimally developed, first-come, first-served campgrounds are strung out along the bumpy and unpaved Grassy Lake Rd, which begins just west of the parking lot at Flagg Ranch. The first (and most popular) campground is 1.6 miles along the road and has four riverside campsites. Each of the next three riverside campgrounds, in the 1.5-mile stretch past Soldiers' Meadow, has two sites. The last four campgrounds, spaced out along the next 3.5 miles, are useful for hikes into Yellowstone's southern reaches. All sites have toilets and trash service but no potable water. Camping is only allowed in designated sites. Tips for visitors Park permits (hiker or bicycle $20, vehicle $35) are valid for seven days. Alternatively, you can purchase passes including an annual Grand Teton National Park pass (US$70) or the America the Beautiful (all national parks) pass ($80). The map you get at the entry station provides a broad overview, but stop by Colter Bay Visitor Center or the Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center for more detailed hiking and backcountry information. Permits are required for backcountry camping, and can be reserved at Recreation.gov in advance (US$45) from January to May 15, or in person ($35) the day before your trip. Equipment can be rented or purchased in Moose at Adventure Sports or Moosely Mountaineering.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Yosemite & the Sierra Nevada

    Yosemite National Park

    Yosemite means "killer" in the Indigenous Miwok language, and in today's parlance it's indeed an impressive, awesome site. Everywhere you look in Yosemite, there are lofty granite domes, sheer cliffs, turbulent rivers, glassy lakes, hypnotizing waterfalls and serene meadows – not to mention spectacular viewpoints to take in all of these and more in a panoramic vision. The third US national park, Yosemite perhaps best exemplifies the kind of place worth preserving for recreation and conservation, from the park's most recognizable natural features such as Half Dome, El Capitan, Mariposa Grove, and Yosemite Falls, to the summer paradises of Tuolumne Meadows and Glacier Point. It's no wonder that over 5 million visitors arrive every year to take in Yosemite's grandeur. It was here that conservationist John Muir fell hard for mother nature, penning rhapsodic dispatches on the beauty of the Sierra Nevada that contributed to its preservation as a national park. Yosemite not only stirred Muir, it has also captivated generations of rock climbers who continue to flock to the park's challenging routes and rock faces each year. And the park continues to inspire new ways of considering and experiencing the outdoors – for example, the relatively new sport of slacklining was born in Yosemite from tired climbers trying new tricks in between projects. Activities in Yosemite There are over 800 miles of trails, from easy half-mile strolls along the valley floor to overnight backpacking expeditions and thru-hikes. There are 13 campgrounds as well as a number of backcountry sites, with Camp 4 and Tuolumne Meadows attracting close-knit communities of climbers in the summer months. Backpacks, tents and other equipment can be rented from the Yosemite Mountaineering School. Horseback riding, swimming, rafting and kayaking, skiing, fishing, and even golf and hang gliding can be found here, too. Plus there's Yosemite's after-dark entertainments – in addition to events at the Yosemite Theater, other activities scheduled year-round include campfire programs, children’s photo walks, twilight strolls, night-sky watching, and ranger talks and slide shows. The tavern at the Evergreen Lodge has live bands some weekends, too. Best views of Yosemite Valley The park’s crown jewel, the spectacular, meadow-carpeted Yosemite Valley stretches 7 miles long, bisected by the rippling Merced River and hemmed in by some of the most majestic chunks of granite anywhere on earth. Ribbons of water, including some of the highest waterfalls in the US, fall dramatically before crashing in thunderous displays. The counterpoint to the sublime natural scene is bustling Yosemite Village. The best all-around photo op of the Valley can be had from Tunnel View, a large, busy parking lot and viewpoint at the east end of Wawona Tunnel, on Hwy 41. It’s just a short drive from the Valley floor. The vista encompasses most of the Valley’s icons: El Capitan on the left, Bridalveil Fall on the right, the green Valley floor below, and glorious Half Dome front and center. This viewpoint is often mistakenly called Inspiration Point. That point was on an old park road and is now reachable via a steep hike from the Tunnel View parking lot. The second view, known as Valley View, is a good one to hit on your way out. It offers a bottom-up (rather than top-down) view of the Valley and is a lovely spot to dip your toes in the Merced River and bid farewell to sights like Bridalveil Fall, Cathedral Rocks and El Capitan. Look carefully to spot the tip-top of Half Dome in the distance. As you head west out of the Valley on Northside Dr, look for the Valley View turnout (roadside marker V11), just over a mile past El Capitan Meadow. Near the base of Yosemite Falls, the collection of buildings known as Yosemite Valley Lodge includes modern, motel-like accommodations, restaurants, including the recently upgraded Base Camp eatery and Starbucks, shops, a bar, a bicycle-rental stand, a pool, a tour desk and other amenities. The amphitheater hosts regular evening programs, and the pool is open to the public. The Yosemite Valley shuttle bus stops right out front, as do Yosemite Area Regional Transport System (YARTS) buses. All guided tram tours, ski shuttles and hiker buses also leave from here; tickets are available from the tour desk in the lobby. Climbing El Capitan At nearly 3600ft from base to summit, El Capitan ranks as one of the world’s largest granite monoliths. Its sheer face makes it a world-class destination for experienced climbers, and one that wasn’t topped until 1958. Since then, it’s been inundated. Look closely and you’ll probably spot climbers reckoning with El Cap’s series of cracks and ledges, including the famous ‘Nose.’ At night, park along the road and dim your headlights; once your eyes adjust, you’ll easily make out the pinpricks of headlamps dotting the rock face. Listen, too, for voices. The meadow across from El Capitan is good for watching climbers dangle from granite (you need binoculars for a really good view). Look for the haul bags first – they’re bigger, more colorful and move around more than the climbers, making them easier to spot. As part of the excellent ‘Ask a Climber’ program, climbing rangers set up telescopes at El Capitan Bridge from 12:30pm to 4:30pm (mid-May through mid-October) and answer visitors’ questions. See the Yosemite Guide listing for a schedule. Half Dome Rising 8842ft above sea level, and nearly a mile above the valley floor, Half Dome serves as the park’s spiritual centerpiece and stands as one of the most glorious and monumental (not to mention best-known) domes on earth. Its namesake shape is, in fact, an illusion. While from the valley the dome appears to have been neatly sliced in half, from Glacier or Washburn Points you’ll see that it’s actually a thin ridge with a back slope nearly as steep as its fabled facade. As you travel through the park, witness Half Dome’s many faces. For example, from Mirror Lake it presents a powerful form, while from the Panorama Trail it looks somewhat like a big toe poking out above the rocks and trees. Glacier Point Constructed to replace an 1882 wagon road, the modern 16-mile stretch of Glacier Point Rd leads to what many people consider the finest viewpoint in Yosemite. A lofty 3200ft above the valley floor, 7214ft Glacier Point presents one of the park’s most eye-popping vistas and practically puts you at eye level with Half Dome. Lying directly below Glacier Point, Half Dome Village is home to Yosemite Valley’s second-biggest collection of restaurants, stores and overnight accommodations. Originally called Camp Curry, it was founded in 1899 by David and Jennie Curry as a place where everyday visitors could find ‘a good bed and a clean napkin at every meal.’ Starting with just a handful of tents, the camp quickly grew, thanks in large part to David Curry’s entrepreneurial drive and booming personality. One of his biggest promotional schemes was the Firefall, a nightly event and significant tourist draw. Yosemite Falls One of the world’s most dramatic natural spectacles, Yosemite Falls is a marvel to behold. Naturalist John Muir devoted entire pages to its changing personality, its myriad sounds, its movement with the wind and its transformations between the seasons. No matter where you are when you see it (and it regularly pops into view from all over the Valley), the falls will stop you in your tracks. In spring, when snowmelt gets Yosemite Creek really pumping, the sight is astounding. Another sign of springtime is 'frazil ice', the strange slurry – not exactly ice or snow – that moves like lava from the bottom of the falls under Yosemite Creek bridges. On nights when the falls are full and the moon is bright, especially in May and June, you might spot a ‘moonbow’ (aka lunar rainbow or spraybow). In winter, as the spray freezes midair, an ice or snow cone, depending on its density, forms at the base of the falls and can top out at several hundred feet. To get to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall, get off at shuttle stop 6 (or park in the lot just north of Yosemite Valley Lodge) and join the legions of visitors for the easy quarter-mile stroll. Note that in midsummer, when the snowmelt has dissipated, both the upper and lower falls usually dry up – sometimes to a trickle, other times stopping altogether. Bridalveil Fall In the southwest end of Yosemite Valley, Bridalveil Fall tumbles 620ft. The Ahwahneechee people call it Pohono (Spirit of the Puffing Wind), as gusts often blow the fall from side to side, even lifting water back up into the air. This waterfall usually runs year-round, though it’s reduced to a whisper by midsummer. Bring rain gear or expect to get wet when the fall is heavy. Take the seasonal El Capitan shuttle or park at the large lot where Wawona Rd (Hwy 41) meets Southside Dr. From the lot, it’s a quarter-mile walk to the base of the fall. The path is paved, but probably too rough for wheelchairs, and there’s a bit of an uphill at the very end. Avoid climbing on the slippery rocks at its base – no one likes a broken bone. The Yosemite Conservancy is planning to remodel the usually overflowing parking lot and trail access to make it more visitor friendly. If you’d rather walk from the Valley, a trail (part of the Loop Trails) follows Southside Dr, beginning near the Yosemite Heritage Conservation Center and running about 3.8 miles west to the falls. Tuolumne Meadows About 55 miles from Yosemite Valley, 8600ft Tuolumne Meadows is the largest subalpine meadow in the Sierra. It provides a dazzling contrast to the valley, with its lush fields, clear blue lakes, ragged granite peaks and domes, and cooler temperatures. During July or August, you’ll find a painter’s palette of wildflowers decorating the meadows. Hikers and climbers will find a paradise of options. Satisfying burgers and hot dogs, not to mention a few salads, are served up at Tuolumne Meadows Grill. Grab a seat outside at a picnic table. Tuolumne Meadows Store has everything you need to pack a picnic lunch. Tuolumne Meadows sits along Tioga Rd (Hwy 120) west of the park’s Tioga Pass Entrance. The Tuolumne Meadows Hikers’ Bus makes the trip along Tioga Rd once daily in each direction, and can be used for one-way hikes. There’s also a free Tuolumne Meadows Shuttle, which travels between the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge and Olmsted Point, including a stop at Tenaya Lake. The Majestic Yosemite Hotel Almost as iconic as Half Dome itself, the elegant Majestic Yosemite Hotel has drawn well-heeled tourists through its towering doors since 1927. Of course, you needn’t be wealthy in the least to partake of its many charms. In fact, a visit to Yosemite Valley is hardly complete without a stroll through the Great Lounge (aka the lobby), which is handsomely decorated with leaded glass, sculpted tile, Native American rugs and Turkish kilims. You can relax on the plush but aging couches and stare out the 10 floor-to-ceiling windows, wander into the Solarium, or send the kids into the walk-in fireplace (no longer in use) for a photo. You can even sneak up the back stairs for a peek into the private Tudor Room, which has excellent views over the Great Lounge. The hotel was designed by American architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood, who also designed Zion Lodge, Bryce Canyon Lodge and Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge. If the hotel’s lobby looks familiar, perhaps it’s because it inspired the lobby of the Overlook Hotel, the ill-fated inn from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Yosemite Ski Area The California ski industry essentially got its start in Yosemite Valley, and Badger Pass (now called the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area) was California’s first alpine ski resort. After Yosemite’s All-Year Hwy (now Hwy 140) was completed in 1926 and the Ahwahnee Hotel (now called the Majestic Yosemite Hotel) opened its doors the following year, Yosemite Valley quickly became a popular winter destination. When Wawona Tunnel opened in 1933, skiers began congregating at Badger Pass. In 1935, a new lodge opened on Glacier Point Rd, and a newfangled device called ‘the upski’ was installed at the pass. The crude lift consisted of nothing more than two counterbalanced sleds, but it worked, and this place became California’s first alpine ski resort. In winter, a free shuttle bus runs between the Valley and the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area. Also in winter, wilderness permits are available by self-registration at the A-frame building, where the first-aid station and ski patrol are also situated. Rangers usually staff the office from 8am to 5pm. The history of Yosemite National Park The Ahwahneechee, a group of Miwok and Paiute peoples, lived in the Yosemite area for around 4000 years before a group of pioneers, most likely led by explorer Joseph Rutherford Walker, came through in 1833. There were an estimated 3000 people living in 22 villages in the valley alone. During the gold-rush era, conflict between the miners and native tribes escalated to the point where a military expedition (the Mariposa Battalion) was dispatched in 1851 to punish the Ahwahneechee, eventually forcing the capitulation of Chief Tenaya and his tribe. Tales of thunderous waterfalls and towering stone columns followed the Mariposa Battalion out of Yosemite and soon spread into the public’s awareness. In 1855, San Francisco entrepreneur James Hutchings organized the first tourist party to the valley. Published accounts of his trip, in which he extolled the area’s untarnished beauty, prompted others to follow, and it wasn’t long before inns and roads began springing up. Alarmed by this development, conservationists petitioned Congress to protect the area – with success. In 1864 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, which eventually ceded Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to California as a state park. This landmark decision, along with the pioneering efforts of conservationist John Muir, led to a congressional act in 1890 creating Yosemite National Park; this, in turn, helped pave the way for the national-park system that was established in 1916. Yosemite Tickets and Tours Admission to Yosemite costs $35 per car, $30 per motorcycle, $20 per person on foot or by bicycle. Guided tour packages are offered by a number of third-parties, including some based within the park and some outside its bounds: Yosemite Conservancy - Park-affiliated nonprofit offers multiday courses, custom trips and seminars that are great alternatives to tours. Sierra Club - The national environmental nonprofit has both paid trips and free activity outings sponsored by local chapters. Discover Yosemite Tours - Operates bus tours year-round from Oakhurst, Fish Camp and Bass Lake. Aramark/Yosemite Hospitality - The park’s main concessionaire runs bus and tram tours, including a very popular wheelchair-accessible two-hour Valley Floor Tour and day trips from the Valley to either Glacier Point or Tuolumne Meadows. Stop at the tour and activity desks at Yosemite Valley Lodge, Half Dome Village or Yosemite Village; call 209-372-4386; check www.travelyosemite.com; or the Yosemite Guide for information and pricing. Tenaya Lodge - Large family-friendly resort in Fish Camp operates full-day park tours in luxurious Mercedes Benz buses with retractable roofs that allow you to experience the natural sights a little more naturally. Guests of the lodge have priority. Green Tortoise - Runs backpacker-friendly two-day ($300) and three-day ($360) trips to Yosemite from San Francisco where travelers sleep in the converted bus or in campgrounds, cook collectively and choose from activities like hiking, swimming or just hanging out (and there’s always some great hanging out). Prices (which change annually) include most meals and the park entry fee. Incredible Adventures - This outfit uses biodiesel vans for its San Francisco–based tours to Yosemite, from one-day sightseeing tours ($159) to three-day camping tours ($489). Park entry fees and most meals are included, and it provides all cooking and camping gear except sleeping bags.

  • Sights in Crater Lake National Park

    Crater Lake National Park

    The ancient mountain whose remains now form Crater Lake was known to the the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin Band of the Snake as Giiwas, or "sacred place." It earned that name after the region's Indigenous people witnessed a catastrophic volcanic explosion around 7700 years ago, an even that knit itself into their oral histories in such detail that Klamath mythology predicted geological discoveries that weren't made until millennia later. It may be hard to picture now, but Mount Mazama was a roughly 12,000ft volcanic peak that was heavily glaciered and inactive for many thousands of years until it came back to life. When the top of the mountain blew, it scattered ash for hundreds of miles as flows of superheated pumice solidified into massive banks. These eruptions emptied the magma chambers at the heart of the volcano, and the summit cone collapsed to form the caldera. Sparse forests can still be seen growing in pumice and ash in the Pumice Desert, just north of Crater Lake along North Entrance Rd. Further afield, outside the park, beloved attractions like Umpqua Hot Springs hint at the region's ongoing geologic activity. Slowly over time, snowfall and rain contributed to the lake water – and the purity of the sources combined with the lake's great depth (at 1943ft down, it's the deepest lake in the United States) give it that famous hue. Those gloriously blue waters of Crater Lake reflect surrounding mountain peaks like a giant dark-blue mirror, making for spectacular photographs and breathtaking panoramas. Highlights of Crater Lake National Park The park's popular south entrance is open year-round and provides access to Rim Village and Mazama Village, as well as the park headquarters at the Steel Visitors Center. In winter you can only go up to the lake's rim and back down the same way; no other roads are plowed. The north entrance is only open from early June to late October, depending on snowfall. The Rim Drive No matter what else they get into, most visitors cruise the 33-mile loop Rim Drive, which is open from around June to mid-October and offers over 30 viewpoints as it winds around the edge of Crater Lake. A 7-mile side road leads to the Pinnacles, pumice and ash formations carved by erosion into 100ft spires ('hoodoos'). A paved side road on the east side leads to amazing views from Cloudcap Overlook, almost 2000ft above the lake. Without any stops, it takes about an hour to do this drive (but you'll want to stop!). Wizard Island Whether you're just gazing at Wizard Island from the rim of Crater Lake, or visiting it by boat, it's definitely one of the most prominent features of this national park. The island is actually the top of a cinder cone and rises about 755ft above the surface of the lake. On the island you can hang out and swim or hike up to the top of the cone and circle the rim (2.5 miles round-trip). The Fumarole Trail (1.4 miles roundtrip) leads around the coast along cool lava formations. You'll have to reserve in advance to get a boat shuttle here, only available in summer. Tours One of the most popular things to do at Crater Lake is to take the informative, ranger-led, two-hour-long Crater Lake Trolley tours. The old-fashioned, wood-paneled vehicle makes five to seven stops and saves you from having to drive and park, plus you get very insightful narration along the way. Two-hour boat tours are also available and require a fairly strenuous 30- to 40-minute hike down the crater to the dock (then back up again). The two-hour tour ($44 per person) takes you around the lake, or include Wizard Island ($55 per person) for a chance to swim and hike. You can also just take a shuttle to Wizard Island ($28 round-trip). Reserve, as these are popular. Hiking and snowshoeing Crater Lake has over 90 miles of hiking trails, although some higher ones aren't completely clear of snow enough to hike until late July. The trails closer to Crater Lake Lodge and Mazama Village are the busiest but with a little determination and sweat you can lose the crowd to find some spectacular trails and mind-bending views. Wildflowers bloom through the hiking season and the higher the elevation, the later the blooms. In winter, only the southern entrance road to Rim Village is kept plowed to provide access to several Nordic skiing trails. Rentals are unavailable inside the park, so bring skis with you. Only experienced skiers should attempt the dangerous, avalanche-prone loop around Crater Lake, which takes two to three days and requires a backcountry permit from park headquarters. Snowshoes are provided for free ranger-led snowshoe walks in winter. Call ahead for reservations. Mt Scott This strenuous 5 mile round trip hike takes you to an incredible lake vista atop 8929ft Mt Scott, the highest point in Crate Lake National Park. It starts easily, through a meadow then climbs more steeply the higher (and more out of breath) you get. Because of the high elevation you can expect snow around the top of the trail year-round. It's said that this is the only place in the park where you can get the entire lake in a camera frame. This is also a great place to spot Grouse, Clark's Nut Crackers, Steller's Jays and other birds. Garfield Peak From the eastern edge of the Rim Village parking lot, this short but steep 3.4 mile trail leads up 8054ft Garfield Peak to an expansive view of the lake, the Klamath Basin and southern Cascade mountains; in July the slopes are covered with wildflowers. This is one of the most popular hiking trails in Crater Lake but even with the crowds, it's worth it. Expect snow at the upper elevations all season long. Be prepared to get winded by the altitude if you're not acclimatized. Watchman Lookout Tower For a steep but shorter 1.4 mile hike, trek up to the Watchman, an old 1932 lookout tower on the opposite side of the lake that boasts one of the park's best views – and definitely the best views of Wizard Island. Wear good shoes to traverse a scree area. Expect a colorful palette of wildflowers from late August into October and snow year-round. It can get windy up here so dress in layers. Castle Crest Wildflower Garden Trail For flower enthusiasts, there's an easy 1-mile nature trail near the Steel Visitors Center that winds through the Castle Crest Wildflower Garden. This trail built in 1929 was one of the first interpretive wildflower trails built in a national park. The path meanders though meadow lined with forest and is dotted with wet meadows with stepping stones and little streams. Surprisingly, it's lightly visited so it's a great place to find some peace and quiet. Do expect mosquitoes. The most flowers bloom early in the season around June. Cleetwood Cove Trail The very popular and steep 2 mile trail at the northern end of the crater provides the only water access at the cove. Bring a swimsuit to take a dip in the lake (this will be with a whole bunch of other people) and waterproof shoes since the bottom here is sharp rock. Geology nerds will also love the chance to see the volcanic rock that makes up the caldera. Boat tours are available from here but reserve in advance. If the parking lot is full, park along the road (although even that might be full). Pinnacles Overlook Trail This short 1.2 mile trail is actually outside the park and gives you a glimpse of some different geology. Follow Pinnacles Rd (off of East Rim Dr) and keep going down Pinnacles Rd (about another 6 miles) until you reach Pinnacles Overlook. The colorful spires you look down on are around 100ft high. The spires are fumaroles, where volcanic gas rose up through hot ash deposits, cementing the ash into solid rock. As a side trip, you can also stop and take the Plaikni Falls Trail to Plaikni Falls (off of Pinnacles Rd) before you reach the Pinnacles Overlook Trailhead. Crater Lake Resort, RV park, and campground Construction began on the grand old Crater Lake Lodge in 1909 and it opened in 1915, but it's been steadily evolving ever since, with regular updates and renovations that haven't diminished it as a stunning example of the classic "parksitecture" style that first welcomed tourists to the country's earliest National Parks. Still, the intense winter weather conditions on the mountain took their toll, and the Lodge was almost razed in the 1970s until the local community rallied to have it added to the National Register of Historic Places. An extensive retrofitting in the early 1990s saved the Lodge, and today it boasts 71 simple but comfortable rooms – don't expect TV or a telephone. It's the common areas that are most impressive – large stone fireplaces, a fine dining room, rustic leather sofas and a spectacular view of Crater Lake from the patio are what make this place really special. Park lodging is closed mid-October to late May, depending on snowfall. Cabins and camping in Mazama Village are another option for lodging. Open approximately mid-June through September or October (depending on the weather), this is the park's main campground. The 40 pleasant cabin rooms (no TV or telephone) are located in attractive four-plex buildings. Mazama Village is 7 miles from Crater Lake, with a small grocery store and gas pump nearby. There are over 200 wooded camp sites, too, with showers and a laundry; Some sites are first come, first served. Whether you're pitching a tent or posting up in a cabin, it's wise to reserve as early as possible. Other than Crater Lake Lodge and Mazama Village, the nearest non-camping accommodations are 20 to 40 miles away. Fort Klamath has several good lodgings. Union Creek, Prospect, Diamond Lake and Lemolo Lake all have nice, woodsy places to stay. In particular, the lodge at Diamond Lake is a classic 1920s alpine lake retreat that's a little worn around the edges but still hints at century-old glam. There's lots of accommodations in Medford, Roseburg and Klamath Falls, too. Visiting Crate r Lake Most people visit Crater Lake by car; it's wise to carry chains in winter. The north entrance and most of the roads inside the park are closed from November usually until June. Hwy 62 and the 4-mile road from the highway to park headquarters are plowed and open year-round. The 3-mile road from headquarters to Rim Village is kept open when possible, but heavy snowfall means it may be closed; call ahead to check (541-594-3100). It's best to top up your gas tank before arriving at Crater Lake. There's reasonably priced gas at Mazama Village (summertime only); the closest pumps otherwise are in Prospect, Diamond Lake and Fort Klamath. Amtrak trains link up with the Crater Lake Trolley once daily in summer so you can make it up to the lake and back in a day. However, you'll have to spend the night in Klamath Falls one night either on the way in or out (depending on which direction you're headed). The Steel Visitors Center three miles south of Rim Village provides good information, with a film about the park, backcountry permits and weather info. Rangers are available to answer questions. Remember that you're at high elevation and pack accordingly, bringing lots of water, sun protection and convertible clothing for the fickle weather. Summer is often cold and windy, so dress warmly. The park's eating facilities are limited, though you can always bring a picnic and find a fabulously scenic spot. Rim Village has a small cafe and there's an upscale dining room nearby at the lodge where you can feast on Northwestern cuisine from a changing menu that includes dishes like bison meatloaf and elk chops with huckleberry sauce. Try for a table with a lake view (there are only a few). Dinner reservations are recommended. Mazama Village has a small grocery store and a decently priced restaurant called Annie Creek, too.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Upper East Side

    Metropolitan Museum of Art

    What started with a handful of paintings brought over from Europe or donated by a coterie of philanthropically minded robber barons in the 19th century has since become a massive collection of two million works of art representing 5000 years of history. It's also become one of the most beloved corners of New York City. The Met (as it's affectionately known) has been memorialized in the verses of Leonard Cohen and Jorge Luis Borges, featured prominently on Gossip Girl, and was sorely missed when it closed its doors as the COVID-19 pandemic rocked New York City. The Metropolitan Museum of Art's 17 acres of exhibit space are full of treasures that have captivated visitors since 1870. You can see everything from ancient Sasanian textiles to Henry VIII’s armor, from the oldest piano in existence to works by Dutch masters like Vermeer, from remarkable quilts out of Gee's Bend, Alabama to Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's classic portrait Washington Crossing the Delaware . That's not to mention all the perennially popular exhibits on fashion, too, ranging from embroidered kimono to pieces from contemporary designers like Marc Jacobs and Comme des Garçons. What to see at the Met When the Met was founded 151 years ago, it was intended not as an emblem of empire like the British Museum or of revolution like the Musée du Louvre. Instead, it was designed to educate and edify a teaming city of immigrants, and underscore the uniquely global culture of 19th century New York City. Whether that stated purpose has been meet by modern, post-colonial standards is up for debate in recent years – a conversation many museums are reckoning with worldwide. Still, the Met is an ever-evolving classic. As the 2021 PBS documentary Inside the Met notes, what should have been a blockbuster birthday year for the museum's 150th anniversary turned into a reassessment of its approach to both inclusivity and accessibility, including the Met's use of digital space. Newly reopened as of March 13, 2021, the Met is showcasing its global collection in new contexts and inviting fresh discussion about some of its oldest works from contemporary artists. There's certainly too much to list in its entirety, but here are some of the best highlights: The Egyptian Collection The 1st-floor ancient Egyptian collection is unrivaled; packed with 26,000 objects spanning six centuries. Absolutely don't miss the Temple of Dendur, built around 10 BCE and relocated to New York in 1978 as a gift from Egypt to the United States for their efforts to help save priceless antiquities like the Temple from the Aswan High Dam project. Arms and Armor The Arms and Armor Department became part of the Met in 1912 thanks to a private donor, but the collection grew immensely when British culture shifted as the Edwardian Age gave way to world wars, inspiring many families to sell off their collections. But it isn't only European suits of armor examples on display – the thousand pieces set out for the public include 16th and 18th century samurai armor from Japan, Turkish swords forged during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, and artifacts from Tibet. Islamic Art and Artifacts A special collection of Islamic art showcases the profoundly influential motifs found in a variety of artistic works from carpets, cast metal objects, illustrated folios, tiled prayer niches, and even caskets. The collection is comprised of unique pieces from throughout the Muslim world, from Iranian mosaics to an intricate gold container made in Goa to contain a bezoars (talismanic gallstones, essentially) that blend Islamic arabesques with Portuguese colonial influences. Travel buffs shouldn't miss the Astrolabe of ‘Umar ibn Yusuf ibn ‘Umar ibn ‘Ali ibn Rasul al-Muzaffari, a Yemeni prince. Near Eastern Art Fifteen incredible rooms of the Met are devoted to an extensive collection of art and artifacts from the Middle East. Objects range from Assyrian stone reliefs to cuneiform tablets to ancient Iranian pottery which was made nearly four thousand years before the Common Era. There are tiny incense burners and drinking vessels and massive installations like the iconic human-headed winged bull (technically called a lamassu) statues from the Assyrian city of Nimrud. European Paintings The Met started with a handful of Roman sarcophagi and 174 paintings purchased in Europe to kick-start the museum's collections – you've come a long way, baby. On the 2nd floor, the museum now houses numerous masterworks from the 13th through 20th centuries. There's a Duccio di Buoninsegna Madonna painted around 1290 CE, the famous Juan de Pareja portrait painted by Velázquez in 1650, and Gustav Klimpt's 1912 Mäda Primavesi. Some are OG members of the Met collection like The Meeting of Alexander the Great and Diogenes by Gaspar de Crayer, sold to the Met by co-founder John Taylor Johnson. Others are newcomers like Virgin and Child Enthroned – bought by the Met before COVID-induced acquisition freezes – and the 1636 van Dyck portrait of English Queen Henrietta Maria, bequeathed to the Met by Jayne Wrightsman in 2019. One thing's for sure – there's no shortage of characters, stories, and techniques to absorb. Asian Art Some of the oldest works of art on display at the Met are in the Asian Art galleries, which hold 35,000 objects dating back as far as 5000 years. They're also some of the oldest pieces of non-European art in the Met's collection, joining the museum thanks to its earliest patrons. Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian and Tibetan paintings, woodcuts, textiles, pottery, decorative objects, lacquers, calligraphy and metalwork await, including Ming vases, Edo-era kimono embroidered with scenes from The Tale of Genji, Buddhist sutras illustrated in gold and silver by Korean master artists, and golden crowns from India. The American Wing The American Wing features decorative and fine art from throughout the long, diverse history of the United States, with 20,000 works by artists of Indigenous, Latin American, African American, Euro American descent. From intricately carved and inlaid Tsimshian head dresses to crisp Victorian portraits to fancy Federal furniture, there's a little bit of everything. Increasingly the Met has grappled with the legacy of colonialism and imperialism inherent in such global collections that were started in eras where standards for respectful acquisitions were much different. But the American Wing is one area where the Met's fresh commitment to changing conversations about its collections and including more diverse voices is on full display. Recent exhibitions have included Indigenous responses to Euro-American works in the collection, while some of the more recent acquisitions in the American wing have showcased an emerging dedication to correcting the museum's track record on including Black artists. The Cloisters The Met Cloisters are one of the best-beloved parts of the museum, but they aren't actually on the Fifth Ave campus with the rest of the sprawling collection. Instead, they sit on a hilltop overlooking the Hudson River, filled with the Met's medieval treasures, including frescoes, paintings, and the famous tapestry series The Hunt of the Unicorn (1495–1505). It's a little sanctuary within the bustling city, and is a fitting setting for the often sacred context of these artworks. Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas The breadth and depth of works from Africa, Oceania,  South and Central America, and Caribbean works are on full display in the Nelson A. Rockefeller wing of the museum. The expansion of this collection makes it feel relatively new compared to other portions of the museum (it only opened in the 1960s) despite the ancient nature of the ceramics, textiles, jewelry, garments, and other archeological finds on display. That said, this wing will be undergoing renovation through 2024 to better give these gorgeous works their due. One goal, for example, is to let more natural light in to the galleries, showcasing how colorful and bold many of these artworks can be in contrast to, as one docent put it in Inside the Met, the current, more muted vibe that might evoke painful colonial tropes of "darkest Africa." As Long as the Sun Lasts was designed by the artist Alex Da Corte as the Met's 2021 Roof Garden Commission © Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, photo by Anna-Marie Kellen" data-embed-button="images" data-entity-embed-display="media_image" data-entity-embed-display-settings="{"image_style":"","image_link":""}" data-entity-type="media" data-entity-uuid="d4de934f-c501-4a82-80e7-14dde53a1b24" data-langcode="en" title="Alex Da Corte 1.jpg"> Visiting the Met The Met is located on the Upper East Side and is easily accessible by bus, subway or on foot. Drivers can park in the garage at the parking garage at Fifth Ave and 80th St, where rates range from $23 for an hour to $55 for the day (New York City prices, natch). The parking garage is also home to the Met's bike racks. Cyclists can also use the museum's bike valet service from May 29 to September 6 at the Fifth Ave plaza near 83rd St. Bicycle valet is available from on weekends from 10:30am - 5:30pm and on select holidays including May 31, July 5 and September 6 during the same hours. Starting in 2018, the Met changed its admissions policies from a long-standing pay-as-you-wish model to one that charges an entrance fee for those who are not residents of New York State, New Jersey or Connecticut. Visitors from further afield must pay $25 for adults, $17 for seniors 65 and over, and $12 for students. Children under 12 are free. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Met continues to require timed, ticketed entry, and it's best to make your reservations well in advance to suit your schedule. The Met is open Thursday through Monday from 10am - 5pm and is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. If you dislike crowds, avoid weekends. Self-guided audio tours (adult/child $7/5) are available in 10 languages; download the Met's free smartphone app for excerpts. Guided tours of specific galleries are free with admission. Tickets are good for three consecutive days, and also give admission to the Met Breuer and Cloisters. If visiting April through October, head up to the excellent roof garden, which features rotating sculpture installations by contemporary and 20th-century artists – though the grand city and park views are the real draw. Enjoy a sundowner cocktail from its on-site bar, the Cantor Roof Garden Bar. Accessibility at the Met Entrances located at the Fifth Ave and 81st St and through the parking garage at Fifth Ave and 80th St are accessible for visitors with disabilities. The Met is accessible for those who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices, with elevators available if you need to avoid stairs or slopes. Wheelchairs for use during your visit are available on a first-come, first-served basis from the coat check at the 81st St entrance. For those attending with a caregiver or assistive interpreter, admission for your companion is free and arrangements can be made at the front desk. The availability of assistive devices and printed materials for visitors who are deaf, heard of hearing, or visually impaired are limited at this time due to COVID-19 sanitation protocols.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Downtown, Pike Place & Waterfront

    Pike Place Market

    A cavalcade of noise, smells, personalities, banter and urban theater sprinkled liberally around a spatially challenged waterside strip, Pike Place Market is Seattle in a bottle. In operation since 1907 and still as lively today as it was on day one, this wonderfully local experience highlights the city for what it really is: all-embracing, eclectic and proudly unique. A 2017 expansion of the market infrastructure added vendor space, weather-protected common areas, extra parking, and housing for low-income seniors. If you’re coming from downtown, simply walk down Pike Street toward the waterfront; you can’t miss the huge Public Market sign etched against the horizon. Incidentally, the sign and clock, installed in 1927, constituted one of the first pieces of outdoor neon on the West Coast. From the top of Pike Street and 1st Avenue, stop and survey the bustle and vitality. Walk down the cobblestone street, past perpetually gridlocked cars (don’t even think of driving down to Pike Place) and, before walking into the market, stop and shake the bronze snout of Rachel the Market Pig, the de-facto mascot and presiding spirit of the market. This life-size piggy bank, carved by Whidbey Island artist Georgia Gerber and named after a real pig, collects about $10,000 each year. The funds are pumped back into market social services. Nearby is the information booth, which has maps of the market and information about Seattle in general. It also serves as a ticket booth, selling discount tickets to various shows throughout the city. Pike Place Market History Pike Place Market is the oldest continuously operating market in the nation. It was established in 1907 to give local farmers a place to sell their fruit and vegetables and bypass the middleman. Soon, the greengrocers made room for fishmongers, bakers, butchers, cheese sellers, grocers selling imported wares, and purveyors of the rest of the Northwest’s agricultural bounty. The market wasn’t exactly architecturally robust – it’s always been a thrown-together warren of sheds and stalls, haphazardly designed for utility – and was by no means an intentional tourist attraction. That came later. An enthusiastic agricultural community spawned the market’s heyday in the 1930s. Many of the first farmers were immigrants, a fact the market celebrates with annual themes acknowledging the contributions of various ethnic groups; past years have featured Japanese Americans, Italian Americans and Sephardic Jewish Americans. By the 1960s, sales at the market were suffering from suburbanization, the growth of supermarkets and the move away from local, small-scale market gardening. Vast tracts of agricultural land were disappearing, replaced by such ventures as the Northgate Mall and Sea-Tac airport. The internment of Japanese American farmers during WWII had also taken its toll. The entire area became a bowery for the destitute and was known as a center of ill repute. In the wake of the 1962 World’s Fair, plans were drawn up to bulldoze the market and build high-rise office and apartment buildings on this piece of prime downtown real estate. Fortunately, public outcry prompted a voter’s initiative to save the market. Subsequently, the space was cleaned up and restructured, and it has become once again the undeniable pulse of downtown; some 10 million people stroll through the market each year. Thanks to the unique management of the market, social-services programs and low-income housing mix with commerce, and the market has maintained its gritty edge. These initiatives have prevented the area from ever sliding too far upscale. A market law prohibits chain stores or franchises from setting up shop and ensures all businesses are locally owned. The one exception is, of course, Starbucks, which gets away with its market location because it is the coffee giant’s oldest outlet, moving here from its original location in 1976. In 2015, ground was broken on the "Pike Up" project, a 30,000-sq-ft extension of Pike Place. Made possible by the demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the MarketFront complex opened in 2017 with new shops, restaurants and stalls, and links the market to the waterfront via terraces, staircases and green space. Main and North Arcades Rachel the Market Pig marks the main entrance to the Main & North Arcades, thin shed-like structures that run along the edge of the hill; these are the busiest of the market buildings. With banks of fresh produce carefully arranged in artful displays, and fresh fish, crab and other shellfish piled high on ice, this is the real heart of the market. Here you’ll see fishmongers tossing salmon back and forth like basketballs (many of these vendors will pack fish for overnight delivery). You’ll also find cheese shops, butchers, stands selling magazines and candy from around the world, tiny grocery stalls and almost everything else you need to put together a meal. The end of the North Arcade is dedicated to local artisans and craftspeople – products must be handmade to be sold here. It's also abloom with flower sellers. The Main Arcade was built in 1907, the first of Frank Goodwin’s market buildings. Down Under As if the levels of the market that are above ground aren’t labyrinthine enough, below the Main Arcade are three lower levels called the Down Under. Here you’ll find a fabulously eclectic mix of pocket-size shops, from Indian spice stalls to magician supply shops and vintage magazine and map purveyors. Economy Market Building Once a stable for merchants’ horses, the Economy Market Building on the south side of the market entrance has a wonderful Italian grocery store, DeLaurenti – a great place for any aficionado of Italian foods to browse and sample. There’s also Tenzing Momo, one of the oldest apothecaries on the West Coast, where you can pick up herbal remedies, incense, oils and books. Tarot readings are available here on occasion. Look down at the Economy Market floor and you’ll see some of its 46,000 tiles, sold to the public in the 1980s for $35 apiece. If you bought a tile, you’d get your name on it and be proud that you helped save the market floor. Famous tile owners include Cat in the Hat creator Dr. Seuss and former US president Ronald Reagan. South Arcade If you continue past DeLaurenti, you’ll come into the South Arcade, the market’s newest wing, home to upscale shops and the lively Pike Pub & Brewery. It's not technically part of the historic market, but is with it in spirit and rambunctious energy. Corner and Sanitary Market Buildings Across Pike Place from the Main Arcade are the 1912 Corner & Sanitary Market Buildings, so named because they were the first of the market buildings in which live animals were prohibited. It’s now a maze of ethnic groceries and great little eateries, including Three Girls Bakery, which is as old as the building itself and the insanely popular Crumpet Shop. When you've finished devouring your baked goods, you can digest a bit of radical literature in bolshie bookstore, Left Bank Books. Post Alley Between the Corner Market and the Triangle Building, narrow Post Alley (named for its hitching posts) is lined with shops and restaurants. Extending north across Stewart Street, it offers two of the area’s best places for a drink: the Pink Door Ristorante, an Italian hideaway with a cool patio, and Kells, an Irish pub. In Lower Post Alley, beside the market sign, is the LaSalle Hotel, which was the first bordello north of Yesler Way. Originally the Outlook Hotel, it was taken over in 1942 by the notorious Nellie Curtis, a woman with 13 aliases and a knack for running suspiciously profitable hotels with thousands of lonely sailors lined up nightly outside the door. The building, rehabbed in 1977, now houses commercial and residential space. Post Alley continues on the southern side of Pike Street where you'll find the beautifully disgusting gum wall. The once venerable red-brick facade is now covered in used pieces of chewing gum, originally stuck there by bored theater-goers standing in line for a nearby ticket office in the 1990s. Despite early attempts by the city council to sanitize, the gum-stickers persevered and in 1999, the wall was declared a tourist attraction. Feel free to add your own well-chewed morsels to the Jackson Pollock–like display Next head to one of the market's best hideaway spots, the bar and pizza restaurant Alibi Room. Triangle Building All in a row in the diminutive Triangle Building, sandwiched between Pike Place, Pine Street and Post Alley, is a huddle of cheap food take-outs including Mee Sum Pastry (try the steamed pork bun), a juice bar and Cinnamon Works – all great choices for a stand-up snack. First Avenue Buildings These downtown-facing buildings, added mainly in the 1980s, blend seamlessly into the older hive. Here you'll find Pike Place's only two accommodations – Pensione Nichols and Inn at the Market – a couple of classic pubs and community resources such as a medical center. North End The market's North End stretches along Pike Place from Pine Street to Victor Steinbrueck Park – a popular meeting point for daily walking tours. The 1918 Soames-Dunn building, once occupied by a seed company and a paper company, is now home to the world's oldest Starbucks. Beware of crowds and errant elbows knocking over your mermaid-logo coffee cup. Pike Place Market Hours Early birds catch more than worms at Pike Place Market. Arrive promptly at 9am for some real-life street theater at market roll call before wandering over to the Main Arcade to see the fish throwers warming up. The purpose of roll call is allocating space to the market’s temporary craft-sellers. As Pike Place has more than 200 registered vendors but only 130 available trading spots, each day is nail-biting. By 9:30am the spots have been assigned and everyone is on their way. Roll call is held at the north end of the North Arcade.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Golden Gate Park & the Avenues

    Golden Gate Park

    When Frederick Law Olmsted, architect of New York's Central Park, gazed in 1865 upon the plot of land San Francisco Mayor Frank McCoppin wanted to turn into a vast city park, he was understandably skeptical. Here was a swath of 1,013 acres of unlovely, dubious sand dunes on the outskirts of town, buffeted by powerful winds blowing in off the dark grey Pacific. The landscape architect turned down the job, despite the opportunity to create a park bigger than New York's before his first masterpiece was even finished. But Olmstead would have to chuckle, and change his tune, a century later to see what Golden Gate Park became – from bonsai, buffalo, and redwoods to Frisbees, free music, and free spirits, when in the 1960s San Francisco's back yard became the epicenter of the Summer of Love. Today it still seems to contain just about everything its denizens love about their city. You could wander the park for a week and still not see it all – but any given visit is a chance to walk through San Francisco history, from the park's oldest corners at its eastern end to where the park's borders give way to surf spots on the Pacific coast. Walk through history in Golden Gate Park The creation of Golden Gate Park Golden Gate Park was the brain child of several local politicians angling to flip a piece of former Mexican territory on the outskirts of San Francisco into a profitable expansion of the growing city. Not the least of these city schemers was then-mayor Frank McCoppin, who saw an opportunity to not only give San Franciscans more elbow room while lining his own pockets on construction grift, but also solve a problem that had lead to lengthy legal battles – namely, the presence of well-to-do and opportunistic squatters trying to lay claim to the Outside Lands now that San Francisco's fortunes looked rosy. Despite Olmsted's assertion a park larger than New York's Central would never succeed on the proposed site, tenacious young civil engineer William Hammond Hall and master gardener John McLaren got to work. They had a unique vision for the time that would banish commercial eyesores like casinos, resorts, racetracks and an igloo village and instead showcase mother nature. It was an unorthodox view in an era when Central Park wasn't even yet complete, ten years before even such majestic and one-of-a-kind landscapes as Yellowstone would be preserved from development as national parks. What to do in Golden Gate Park Ultimately, McCoppin, Hall and McLaren had their ways, producing a green space that "feels wild....shaggy and labyrinthine and confusing," in the words of Gary Kimya, scholar of San Francisco history. Indeed, he wrote in Cool Grey City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco that "The paradox of Golden Gate Park is that its wildness is almost completely man-made. Every inch of the park had to be won. The loss of San Francisco's great sand dunes...is tragic...but [represents an] ultimately triumphant negotiation between man and the world." Several of Golden Gate Park's earliest features give teeth to that assessment. The Conservatory of Flowers, opened in 1879 and filled with rare specimens from South and Central America and aquatic Plants native to the Amazon. Stow Lake was created in 1893 with its picturesque Strawberry Hill, a favorite for families for over a hundred years. The Japanese Tea Garden is another early success – the oldest such public Japanese garden in the United States, it's been here since  the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894. The carefully tended garden is full of imported plants, birds, and fish that have flourished for over a century in the once-inhospitable Outside Lands far from their native Nippon. In 1906, nearly forty years after the dunes turned into a park larger than Olmstead's masterpiece, the devastating earthquake that shook San Francisco left thousands of refugees camping out in parks around the city, from Dolores Park in the Mission to Golden Gate Park. Some of the shacks built by the US Army to house earthquake victims were later moved to permanent lots, and are still in use today. As the city recovered, several new institutions found a home in Golden Gate Park, including the including the Kezar Stadium (former home to the Oakland Raiders), California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum. The park's beloved Windmills bookended the earthquake, one built in 1903 and the other in 1908. The spiky Dahlia Garden appeared in the mid-1920s, as did the Shakespeare Garden with its collection of 200 plants mentioned in the Bard's writings. The WPA and the Summer of Love During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration was not only busy decorating Coit Tower with controversial murals, they were adding new features to Golden Gate Park, including the San Francisco Botanical Garden, the archery field, Anglers Lodge, and the Model Yacht Club. They also restored the 1926 art deco Horseshoe Pits, and built the Beach Chalet with its gorgeous frescos that tell the story of Golden Gate Park's construction. Most impressive, the Hoover Grove of giant sequoia were planted in 1930 to honor casualties from World War I, on the south edge of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Here you can peep these towering giants without driving out to the Marin Headlands and Muir Woods National Monument. So much for Olmstead's jab that "There is not a full-grown tree of beautiful proportions near San Francisco." The park's features and usages continued to evolve over the decades. Stow Lake's lovely boathouse was added in 1946. Twenty years later, in the Panhandle fringes of the park near Haight-Ashbury, the Human Be-In ushered in the Summer of Love, when thousands of youth were drawn to Hippie Hill by the promise of utopia fueled by free concerts from local bands and plentiful cannabis and LSD. Visit Golden Gate Park on April 20th of any given year (and, let's be honest, in certain pockets any day of the week) and you'll catch a whiff of the Hippie Hill scene from fifty years ago. Golden Gate Park today One of the most recent permanent additions to Golden Gate Park is the National AIDS Memorial Grove. Built in 1991, it's a touching tribute to the millions of lives lost during the plague years, which hit San Francisco's queer community hard and left the city shaken after the dark 1980s. That's not all, however. The park is still constantly evolving year to year. Today Golden Gate Park hosts events like the Bay to Breakers 12K race, as well as the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Outside Lands music festivals which take place every October. In December, the Christmas lights are a draw for families and visitors. In 2020, the city celebrated the park's 150th anniversary with temporary art installations like local artist Charles Gadeken's Entwined light show in Peacock Meadow (240 John F Kennedy Drive). Another new addition to mark the anniversary was the SkyStar Wheel, Golden Gate Park's own ferris wheel that will be in place until March of 2025. That same year, protestors marked Juneteenth by toppling some of the park's historic statues, including those of Francis Scott Key, Padre Junipero Serra, and Ulysses S. Grant. Other changes during the COVID-19 pandemic have included the Golden Gate Park Sunday Roller Disco Party, a free community-led party for roller skaters at " Skatin' Place," a spot near 6th Ave & Kennedy Drive, most Sundays from noon to 5PM that features live DJs. Keep your eyes pealed during the summer months for one of the 12 pianos hidden around the Botanical Garden for anyone to play, part of an event called Flower Piano that includes free piano lessons, community sing-alongs at sunset, and more. Getting to Golden Gate Park At over three miles long and half a mile long, there's a lot of ground to cover in Golden Gate Park, and a lot of entrances. The most popular entrance is in the Panhandle via Fell St, but coming in from 9th Avenue off Lincoln puts you right by some prime attractions. JFK serves as one of the main arteries in the park for cars, along with Transverse Drive, Chain of Lakes Drive, and 25 th Ave/Crossover Drive/19 th Ave/Park Presidio – these later streets are not part of the Slow Streets program the city has implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic to give San Franciscans more room to walk and bike away from crowds. Check the park website to see the latest on road closures for events and other initiatives. Biking, walking, and skating are all popular here. Numerous bus and trolly routes serve Golden Gate Park, too, and you'll find entry points lining the side of the park all the way around its perimeter. The park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are restrooms sprinkled throughout the park, Vehicle parking in Golden Gate Park There are over 4,700 street parking spots throughout the park. Accessible parking is available at the McLaren Lodge, Music Concourse (behind Bandshell), MLK Drive & Music Concourse and on JFK/Transverse Drive. The 800-space Music Concourse garage ($33 for the day) as well as over 4,700 street parking spots throughout the park. Music Concourse garage is the main parking lot for the SkyStar Observation Wheel, as well as the De Young Museum, several gardens, and Cal Academy. It can be reached via Fulton St. at 10th Avenue and is open every day of the week from 7AM to 7PM. The Golden Gate Park shuttle The Golden Gate Park free shuttle runs from 9AM to 6PM on a cadence of every 15 to 20 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as on city holidays.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Upper West Side & Central Park

    Central Park

    One of the world’s most renowned green spaces, Central Park comprises 843 acres of rolling meadows, boulder-studded outcroppings, elm-lined walkways, manicured European-style gardens, a lake and a reservoir — not to mention an outdoor theater, a memorial to John Lennon, an idyllic waterside eatery and a famous Alice in Wonderland statue. Highlights include the 15-acre Sheep Meadow, where thousands of people lounge and play on warm days; Central Park Zoo; and the forest-like paths of the Ramble, popular with birdwatchers. In warm weather there are free outdoor concerts on the Great Lawn and top-notch drama at the annual Shakespeare in the Park productions held each summer at the open-air Delacorte Theater. Other recommended stops include the Shakespeare Garden, on the west side between 79th and 80th Sts, with its lush plantings and excellent skyline view. The history of Central Park Like the city’s subway system, the vast and majestic Central Park, a rectangle of open space in the middle of Manhattan, is a great class leveler – exactly as it was envisioned. Created in the 1860s and ’70s by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux on the marshy northern fringe of the city, the immense park was designed as a leisure space for all New Yorkers regardless of color, class or creed. Central Park is actually only the fifth largest park in New York City, trailing behind other local greenspaces like Pelham Bay and Van Cortlandt parks in the Bronx, the Greenbelt on Staten Island, and Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens. But over 800 acres is nothing to sneeze at in tony, dense upper Manhattan – even in the mid-19th century when New York City was just a fraction of its present size, much of the land had to be acquired by eminent domain. Ironically, what is now Central Park was commandeered from settlements like Seneca Village, home to the very immigrants and free Black community members the park was ostensibly supposed to benefit. From that raw, swampy material Olmsted and Vaux were tasked with creating a place where the rich could see and be seen in their carriages and promenading in fine clothing, and later where the middle and lower classes could gather away from pubs and in lieu of garden cemeteries. Olmsted was inspired by Birkenhead Park near Liverpool – the first taxpayer funded public park in England – during a trip he later recounter in his travel memoir Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England. The trick, of course, would be to create what felt like a natural American landscape where once there had been pig mucks and and urban detritus. The result was, after many years, huge sums of money, thousands of laborers, and slow progress during the Civil War, a sprawling green space that felt distinct from the city bordering it in both its democratic vision and pastoral expanse. It was also a triumph of engineering. Olmsted and Vaux (who also created Prospect Park in Brooklyn) were determined to keep foot and road traffic separated and cleverly designed the crosstown transverses under elevated roads to do so. It’s also an oasis from the urban crush: the lush lawns, cool forests, flowering gardens, glassy bodies of water and meandering, wooded paths provide the dose of serene nature that New Yorkers crave. The legacy of Central Park The success of Olmsted's vision – and his first major project – went on to launch his career (and influence generations of landscape architecture) with commissions from Buffalo to San Francisco, from the manicured grounds of the Biltmore Estate to the trailing parks of Atlanta. It's no wonder it's one of the most popular film locations in cinematic history, cropping up not just as a background but a character in movies like Hair, When Harry Met Sally, Enchanted and The Muppets Take Manhattan. It's also no wonder that Central Park quickly became a nexus of New York architecture, fringed by buildings that both benefit from proximity to the city's back yard and try to live up to its larger-than-life legacy. From penthouse apartments of the Dakota Building where Lauren Bacall, John Lennon and other luminaries lived to recent additions like the tall, skinny Central Park Tower that climbs to 1,550 feet over its namesake, the skyline rimming Olmsted's creation is almost as iconic as downtown treasures like the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, or the Brooklyn Bridge. Things to do in Central Park Today, this ‘people’s park’ is still one of the city’s most popular attractions, beckoning throngs of New Yorkers year round. While parts of the park swarm with joggers, inline skaters, musicians and tourists on warm weekends, it’s quieter on weekday afternoons, especially in the less-trodden spots above 72nd St, such as the Harlem Meer and the North Meadow (north of 97th St). During summer in Central Park, you can try activities from fishing to camping without once leaving Manhattan, or make like countless movie characters and head to the Victorian Bow Bridge, which spans Central Park Lake and connects Cherry Hill and the Ramble. Nearby, ornate Bethesda Fountain edges the lake, and its Loeb Boathouse is a beloved attraction where you can rent rowboats or enjoy lunch. Speaking of eats, Central Park's designers may have intentionally included few buildings in their landscape, but Tavern on the Green is a New York classic for a reason. Designed by Vaux himself in 1870 as an actual sheep paddock, the structure was turned into a restaurant in 1934 by Robert Moses, and it eventually earned a landmark reputation in the city's already competitive, legendary food scene. Former New York Times restaurant critical Ruth Reichl once observed in the pre-smartphone 1990s, "To thousands of visitors, Tavern on the Green is New York. They are so happy to be here that you see them all around the room, videotaping one another as they eat their meals." Though it closed in 2009 for a few years, Tavern on the Green has been open again since 2014. Folks flock to the park even in winter, when snowstorms inspire cross-country skiing and sledding or just a simple stroll through the white wonderland, and crowds turn out every New Year’s Eve for a midnight run. Also very popular is skating on one of two stretches of ice in Central Park – Wollman Rink, located in the southeast part of the park, and Lasker Rink in the north. The Central Park Conservancy offers ever-changing guided tours of the park, including ones that focus on public art, wildlife and places of interest to kids (check online for dates and times; most tours are free or $15. To get the lay of the land at a faster clip, there's numerous running routes through Central Park, too. Getting to Central Park Central Park is accessible by numerous forms of transit, including the N, R, Q trains with service to 57th Street & 7th Avenue; the 1, 2, 3, A, B, C, and D trains with service to 59th and Columbus Circle and Broadway at 72nd, 96th, & 110th Streets; and the B and C trains with stops along Central Park's west flank. As for bus routes, there are over a dozen to choose from, but some of the most accessible include the M10 the runs up the Central Park West side, the M20 from Penn Station, and the Q32 from Grand Central. Free and metered street parking exists around Central Park, though you'll want to be sure to check signage to make sure you won't run afoul of the meter maids. There are numerous paid lots and garages, too, where you can park for an hour or for the day. Central Park accessibility Central Park's rolling topography was created well before the ADA became the law of the land, so you might be curious how it holds up for visitors with disabilities. The Central Park Conservancy publishes an accessibility map to help visitors plan ahead for use of a wheelchair, rollator, cane, or other mobility aids. The accessibility map has marked and color coded different degrees of incline throughout the park, as well as where you may find obstacles like stairs, or accessible features from restrooms to trails to subway stations. Central Park is also home to the Robert Bendheim Playground, which was redesigned in 1996 to accommodate children of all abilities. It features ramps, a wheelchair accessible water feature, an elevated sandbox, and play structures with auditory features for Deaf and hard-of-hearing kids and their caregivers.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Financial District & Lower Manhattan

    Ellis Island

    Located in New York Harbor, Ellis Island is the US's most famous and historically important gateway and is home to one of the country’s most moving museums. It pays tribute to the indelible courage of more than 12 million immigrants who passed through this processing station between 1892 and 1924, after journeys that often took weeks and were spent under difficult conditions. More than 100 million living Americans are the descendants of these arrivals hoping to attain the American dream for themselves and their children. The Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration delivers a poignant tribute to their experiences. Housed inside the restored Main Building of the former immigration complex, you'll find narratives from historians, immigrants themselves and other sources that animate a fascinating collection of personal objects, official documents, photographs and film footage. Visitors keen to trace their ancestors’ details can avail of searchable historic records. Ellis Island has featured in many movies, including The Godfather: Part II and Brooklyn and is part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. It is only accessible to the public by ferry, and purchasing tickets online in advance can help to avoid long queues. History Ellis Island is named after one of its previous owners, Samuel Ellis, but was previously known as Little Oyster Island, while the original native Mohegan name for the island was "Kioshk," meaning "Gull Island.” Ellis Island was used by the military for much of the 19th century and house batteries and naval magazines. Prior to 1890, individual states regulated immigration into the US, but around that time, rising political instability, economic distress and religious persecution in Europe fueled one of the largest mass human migration in history. The US Government decided to construct a new immigration station on Ellis Island, and opened its doors on January 1, 1892. A teenage girl from Ireland called Annie Moore was the first immigrant to be processed there, accompanied by her two younger brothers. Over the next 62 years, more than 12 million immigrants arrived to the US via Ellis Island. First and second class passengers arriving by steamship in New York Harbor were not required to undergo the inspection process as they were considered 'affluent', but third class or steerage passengers or those with legal or health problems were sent to Ellis Island to be processed. The inspections took place in the Registry Room (now known as the Great Hall) and they lasted several hours. As well as a legal inspection carried out with the help of interpreters, doctors scanned every individual for physical ailments and medical conditions. Only 2% of people were excluded from entry; reasons for denial included having a contagious disease or concerns they wouldn't find legal employment. In 1897, a fire on Ellis Island burned the immigration station completely to the ground, and federal and state immigration records dating back to 1855 were lost. While ship manifests were burned, customs lists were kept in the US Customs Office and are available to view. A new fireproof facility was built after that and it opened in 1900. As increased restrictions were introduced to limit the numbers entering the US, Ellis Island experienced a decline in usage from the early 1920s. US embassies were established all over the world and paperwork and medical inspections were completed there. By 1924, only war refugees, displaced persons needing assistance and those with problems with their paperwork were brought to Ellis Island for the inspection process. It served various purposes since, including being a World War II detention center for enemy merchants, until it was officially closed in 1954. What to see at Ellis Island The Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration is located in the Main Building, and it has exhibits, theaters, a gift shop, café and visitor facilities. When you arrive, stop in the museum lobby to pick up your free audioguide, which offers rich insights into the exhibits and is also available in a version aimed at children. Check at the Information Desk for guided tours, programs and the documentary film schedule. The museum has three floors of exhibits documenting immigrants’ experiences at Ellis Island, as well as the general history of immigration to the US. If you're very short on time, consider focusing on the 2nd floor, where you'll find the two most fascinating exhibits. The first, Through America's Gate, examines the step-by-step process faced by the newly arrived – including the chalk-marking of those suspected of illness, a wince-inducing eye examination, and 29 questions – in the beautiful, vaulted Registry Room. The second, Peak Immigration Years: 1880–1924, explores the motives behind the immigrants' journeys and the challenges they faced in beginning their new American lives. For a history of the rise, fall and resurrection of the building itself, make time for the Restoring a Landmark exhibition on the 3rd floor; its tableaux of trashed desks, chairs and other abandoned possessions are strangely haunting. If you don't feel like carrying around an audioguide, you can always pick up one of the phones in each display area and listen to the affecting recorded memories of actual people who came through Ellis Island, taped in the 1980s. Another option is the free 35-minute guided tour with a park ranger or volunteer, best booked in advance and also available in American Sign Language. For the complete experience, catch the 35-minute film, Island of Hope, Island of Tears, shown throughout the day in one of two theaters. And if you have ancestors who came through Ellis Island, you can look up their ship manifests and immigration records in the American Family Immigration History Center on the 1st floor and get them printed out for display for a fee. The rest of Ellis Island’s buildings — the 1930s’ ferry building, hospital, morgue, contagious disease wards, offices, housing and maintenance facilities — can be viewed only on a guided tour that must be booked in advance. Tickets and other practicalities Statue Cruises is the only ferry company authorized to provide tickets and transportation to Ellis Island. Ferry tickets can be purchased online here or by calling 1-877-LADY-TIX. They are also available at the Statue Cruises ticket booths in Castle Clinton in Battery Park in New York City or at the ferry departure point in Liberty State Park in New Jersey. Ferry tickets for visitors aged 13-61 cost $23.50, children aged 4-12 pay $12 and senior tickets are $18. There are no additional costs to visit the National Museum of Immigration. Hard Hat tours are open to visitors over the age of 13, and adult tickets cost €68.50, including the ferry trip. The tour offers a 90-minute guided tour of the unrestored hospital complex on the south side of Ellis Island, and includes the art exhibit Unframed – Ellis Island by French artist JR. Self-guided audio tours are included with every ferry ticket purchase and content is available in 12 languages: Arabic, English, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. A family-friendly tour is also available, as are an American Sign Language version and an Audio Descriptive version. Ferry schedules change seasonally and during periods of high tourism. Up-to-date schedules are posted on the Statue Cruises website. For updates on island openings, please visit the National Park Service website.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Fort Davis & Davis Mountains

    McDonald Observatory

    The hottest ticket in West Texas? A reservation for one of the thrice-weekly Star Parties at McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis. Located on Mount Locke and Mount Fowlkes in the remote Davis Mountains, the Observatory and its telescopes enjoy some of the darkest skies in the continental United States. For visitors, this means that stars, planets, constellations and meteors can be observed at night in their full sparkling glory, undiminished by artificial light from cities and suburbs. During the two-hour Star Parties staff members point out and discuss prominent stars and constellations. Telescopes are available for sky viewing after the talk. Home to several of the largest telescopes in the world, the Observatory is also a popular daytime destination. Guided tours to the research telescopes are offered several times per week. Filtered telescopes in the visitor center allow daytime visitors to view the sun safely during solar viewing programs. Visitors who are not up for a tour or talk can simply purchase a general admission ticket, which includes a self-guided tour of the summits of Mount Locke and Mount Fowlkes. The general admission ticket also allows access to the visitor center exhibit gallery and gift shop. The Observatory is 450 miles west of Austin and 520 miles southwest of Dallas. It is closed to the public on Sunday and Monday. Star Parties are typically thrown on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights. The start time varies with the season. The Star Parties also book up at least two weeks in advance. History of McDonald Observatory McDonald Observatory conducts research for the University of Texas at Austin Astronomy Program. The Observatory and its research were made possible by banker and lawyer William Johnson McDonald, who left much of his estate to the University for the construction of the Observatory after his death in 1926. Dedicated in 1936, the Struve Telescope was the first telescope built here. It is named for the Observatory’s first director, Dr. Otto Struve. With a 2.1-meter mirror, it was the second largest telescope in the world at its dedication. Its instruments have since been upgraded, and it is still in use today. The Harland J Smith telescope, which has a 2.7-meter mirror, was completed in 1968 and is also still in use. The Hobby-Eberley Telescope has a 11-meter mirror, and it is one of the largest optical telescopes in the world. It was dedicated in 1997 and upgraded in 2017. It studies the light from stars and galaxies to help astronomers gain an understanding of their properties. It is also used for ground-breaking research into dark energy. There are numerous other smaller telescopes on the grounds. The Observatory is currently collaborating with several US universities in the development of a 25-meter telescope with seven mirrors in Chile. Named the Giant Magellan Telescope, it is scheduled to be operational in 2029. What you need to know about Star Parties Held Tuesday, Friday and Saturday evenings, the parties begin in the outdoor amphitheater with a brief orientation chat by staff. During the 30-minute Constellation Tour that follows, you can sit back and soak up the mythology and science behind your favorite constellations – while gazing at the star-speckled sky overhead. The Milky Way is breathtaking on a clear night, cutting a silky path across the cosmos. The evening ends with 90 minutes of stargazing through telescopes set up at the Rebecca Gale Telescope Park. Staff and volunteers are available for questions. Visitors will not be viewing the stars through any of the research telescopes, which provide data to scientists but not visual images. What to bring Feel free to bring binoculars, but to ensure dark skies and the best viewing experience for all visitors, do not bring white-light flashlights. Bring redlight flashlights and headlamps instead. Bright camera screens and flash photography are also discouraged. Dress warmly and in layers, and it’s fine to bring a blanket too. The Star Parties are held outdoors at a high elevation, where the temperature is about 10 degrees cooler than it is at the base of the mountains. Best time to visit When making your reservation, remember that light from a full moon can diminish the visibility of the stars and the Milky Way. For optimal viewing conditions consider attending a Star Party before the first quarter moon or a few days past the full moon. Fall usually has the clearest skies, while July and August see the most rain. Daytime programs A general admission ticket provides public access to the visitor center and its exhibits. A self-guided tour of the grounds is also included. You do not need a reservation for a general admission ticket. There is an extra fee for the guided tour and the solar viewing program. Reservations are recommended for these two add-on activities since space is limited. The self-guided tour begins atop Mount Locke, where scenic overlooks take in the Davis Mountains and various telescopes in the distance. The Struve Telescope and the Harland J Smith Telescope and their domes are on Mount Locke. The tour continues to the summit of Mount Fowlkes. The large silver dome here holds the Hobby-Eberly Telescope. Its cutting-edge instruments allow astronomers to view hundreds of galaxies at once, to study the chemistry of galaxies and to search for stars. You can view the telescope from the George T Abell Gallery inside the dome. You must drive to both Mount Locke and Mount Fowlkes. The 90-minute guided tour stops by the Harlan J Smith Telescope on Mount Locke and the Hobby-Eberly Telescope on Mount Fowlkes. Guides discuss the history of the Observatory, the design of the telescopes and current research projects. You will not be looking at the stars though the telescopes, however. Visitors drive their cars to the domes. During the 45-minute solar viewing program, staff discuss the history and characteristics of the sun. Filtered telescopes with cameras share images of the surface of the sun on-screen. The programs are typically held at 1pm on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Dark Skies West Texas has some of the darkest skies in North America, meaning its stargazing is exceptional. This status is threatened, however, as commercial development leads to an increase in artificial light, which diminishes the view. The Observatory is working with Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park and other regional partners to monitor light pollution. Another goal is to replace and retrofit light fixtures in the region so that they minimize light pollution. The partners also promote dark-sky friendly practices across West Texas and work to educate the public about the importance of dark skies. Plan your visit The Observatory is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm. A general admission ticket is $3. Guided tours are $10 for adults and $5 for children under 5 years. Star Party tickets are $25 for adults and $5 for children under 5. Senior and military discounts are available for guided tours ($8) and Star Parties ($20). The solar viewing program is $5. The Observatory is in the Central Time Zone (CDT). The visitor center phone number is 432-426-3640. Check the website for details about accessibility.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Midtown

    Empire State Building

    The Chrysler Building may be prettier, and One World Trade Center taller, but the queen bee of the New York skyline remains the Empire State Building. NYC's former tallest star has enjoyed close-ups in around a hundred films and countless skyline snapshots. Heading up to the top is as quintessentially New York as pastrami, rye and pickles. It's been scaled by King Kong, drawn lovers together in films like Sleepless in Seattle, and survived a 1945 plane crash. It was lit up in tribute to front-line workers as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the boroughs, just ninety years after construction began and it became an instant icon of a rapidly growing city. It's recognizable to Manhattanites and visitors from all over the world, and to many it's synonymous with the Big Apple itself. The history of the Empire State Building The statistics are astounding: 10 million bricks, 60,000 tons of steel, 6400 windows and 328,000 sq ft of marble. Built on the original site of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, construction took a record-setting 410 days, using seven million hours of labor and costing a mere $41 million. It might sound like a lot, but it fell well below its $50 million budget (just as well, given it went up during the Great Depression). The Empire State Building was designed by the prolific architectural firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon. According to legend, the skyscraper's conception began with a meeting between William Lamb and building co-financier John Jakob Raskob, during which Raskob propped up a No 2 pencil and asked, 'Bill, how high can you make it so that it won't fall down?' Coming in at 102 stories, the towering building would have been impossible with the engineering of the electric elevator – can you imagine having to walk up all those stairs? Prefabricated I-beams, columns, and other components manufactured in Pittsburgh were also crucial to ensuring quality and speed of construction. Steelworkers assembled the parts on site, sometimes high up in the sky – a site captured in iconic photos of riveters on the high iron. Many of the workers were members of the Mohawk nation and came to New York from the Kahnawake reservation near Montréal to ply their trade. Their affinity for heights earned them the nickname "skywalkers," and is a tradition that continues today. The Art Deco limestone tower officially opened for business on May 1, 1931, just after the Great Depression had halted the white-hot race to build ever-taller sky scrapers (including Empire State's early rival, the Chrysler Building), with the Empire State Building reigning supreme. Generations later, Deborah Kerr's words to Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember still ring true: 'It's the nearest thing to heaven we have in New York.' How tall is the Empire State Building? The Empire State Building stands 1454ft from top to bottom. Though it's no longer the tallest building in New York's skyline by a long shot, the views remain sublime. Unless you're Ann Darrow (the unfortunate woman caught in King Kong's grip), heading to the top of the Empire State Building should leave you beaming. There are two observation decks. The open-air 86th-floor deck offers an alfresco experience, with telescopes (previously coin operated; now free) for close-up glimpses of the metropolis in action. Further up, at the top of the spire, the enclosed 102nd floor is New York's second-highest observation deck, trumped only by the observation deck at One World Trade Center. Needless to say, the views through the floor-to-ceiling windows over the city's five boroughs (and four neighboring states, weather permitting) are quite simply exquisite. On a clear day you can see as much as 80 miles in the distance. The views from both decks are especially spectacular at sunset, when the city dons its nighttime cloak in dusk’s afterglow. Plan your visit As one of NYC 's most popular sights, it can see long queues, though a new entrance redesign has eased some of the bottlenecks. Getting here early (like 8AM) or late will help avoid delays, as will buying tickets in advance online (worth the $2 convenience fee). Your first stop is the Story of an Icon museum on the 2nd floor, which was completely redesigned in 2019 with multimedia exhibits on the building's history and its place in the United States' cultural imagination. The path through the displays leads you to the observatory elevators. As one would expect, the views from both decks are especially spectacular at sunset. For a little of that 'Arthur's Theme' magic, head to the 86th floor between 10pm and 1am Thursday to Saturday, when the twinkling sea of lights is accompanied by a soundtrack of live saxophone (requests are welcome). Since 1976, the building’s top 30 floors have been floodlit in a spectrum of colors each night, reflecting seasonal and holiday hues, or for local sports teams or charitable organizations. Famous combos include orange, white and green for St Patrick’s Day; blue and white for Chanukah; red, white and green for Christmas; and rainbow colors for Gay Pride weekend in June. For a full rundown of color schemes and the schedule, check the website. A tour app is available in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Portuguese, Japanese and Korean. Getting there The Empire State Building can be accessed by public transit using a number of lines. Take the Subway 6 to 33rd St or the B,D,F, M, N,Q,R, or W trains to 34th St-Herald Sq. You can also take the M1, M2, M3, M4, M5, M34, or M55 bus routes to the Empire State. Did you know? A locked, unmarked door on the 102nd-floor observation deck leads to one of New York's most outrageous pie-in-the-sky projects to date: a narrow terrace intended to dock zeppelins. Spearheading the dream was former New York governor Alfred E Smith, who went from failed presidential candidate in 1928 to head honcho of the Empire State Building project. When architect William Van Alen revealed the secret spire of his competing Chrysler Building, Smith went one better, declaring that the top of the Empire State Building would sport an even taller mooring mast for transatlantic airships. While the plan looked good on paper, there were two (major) oversights: dirigibles require anchoring at both ends (not just at the nose, as planned) and passengers (who travel in the zeppelin's gondola) cannot exit the craft through the giant helium-filled balloon. Regardless, it didn't stop them from trying. In September 1931, the New York Evening Journal threw sanity to the wind, managing to moor a zeppelin and deliver a pile of newspapers fresh out of Lower Manhattan. The famous antenna was originally meant to be a mooring mast for zeppelins, but the Hindenburg disaster slammed the brakes on that plan. Though the ambitious plan for docking airships never got off the ground, years later an aircraft met up with the building with tragic consequences: a B-25 bomber crashed into the 79th floor on a foggy day in 1945, killing 14 people.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Northern Virginia

    Mount Vernon

    If George Washington showed up today at his Mount Vernon estate in Virginia, he would find things essentially as he left them when he died in 1799. The mansion’s rooms have been meticulously preserved with his own furnishings or period likenesses, including his study, his bedchamber and the New Room, one of the grandest rooms in colonial America. But above all, Washington was a farmer at heart. On 500 hilly acres surrounding the mansion, you’ll find four gardens, a working farm and the restored quarters of enslaved people who worked the plantation. A not-to-be-missed education center offers interactive exhibits and videos that trace Washington’s life and legacy. History George Washington’s father, Augustine Washington, built a small house on the property in 1734. The future president’s half-brother, Lawrence, lived there until his death from tuberculosis in 1752, when his widow leased the house to the young Washington (and he inherited it upon her death). Washington renovated the house to what we see today, including raising the roof to make it two-and-a-half stories, and adding the north and south wings, the cupola and the piazza. At nearly 11,000 square feet, the mansion was 10 times the size of an average home in colonial Virginia. As much as he loved it, Washington barely saw the estate between 1775 and 1783, when he was serving as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. After the war, he returned to Mount Vernon, expanding the plantation to nearly 8000 acres. His home life was interrupted again while he served as the United States’ first president (1789-97). At the end of his service, he returned to Mount Vernon, where he died. The house fell into shambles until 1858, when the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association bought the estate and about 200 acres for $200,000. The association continues to own and operate the estate. Highlights of Mount Vernon Ford Orientation Center Just beyond the main entrance, the Ford Orientation Center offers resources to help plan your visit. A variety of short films provide background, including Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware River, challenges he faced in building a new nation and how Mount Vernon was saved from dereliction. Allow at least three hours for a property visit. The mansion From the orientation center, follow a tree-shaded pathway to the mansion, where you’ll line up on the Bowling Green (front lawn) for your visit. As you make your way through the rooms, guides describe highlights. Look for family portraits, the Washington coat of arms and the key to the Bastille that Washington received from the Marquis de Lafayette in 1790. You’ll end on the terrace overlooking the Potomac River, where you’ll want to pull up a rocking chair and take in the splendid view. Donald W. Reynolds Museum & Education Center Twenty-three state-of-the-art galleries and theaters delve into George Washington’s life and legacy at this relatively new museum and education center. You’ll watch his progress from being a surveyor, learning to lead in the French and Indian War and expanding his plantation at Mount Vernon before he went on to head the ragtag Continental Army, win the Revolutionary War and become the first president of the United States. You’ll learn about his marriage to Martha Dandridge Custis in 1759 (and see a display of her gold silk damask wedding dress). One fascinating gallery uses futuristic forensics to create three life-size figures of Washington, at ages 19, 45 and 57. The Revolutionary War Theater takes you into the throes of war with 4D effects, including  falling snow, fog, flashing lights and a rumbling cannon. Another gallery explores Washington’s dependence on enslaved people for Mount Vernon’s success, including personal stories of several residents. And this is where you’ll find Washington’s famous false teeth—in reality they were not made from wood but ivory, gold, lead and human teeth (which may have been pulled from enslaved people). Allow at least an hour to see all the exhibits. Gardens Four gardens serve different purposes, including a formal garden used to entertain the Washingtons’ guests; the greenhouse, where Washington cultivated tropical plants (including limes and lemons for fancy dinners); a kitchen garden; and a small botanical garden, where he experimented with new plant varieties. Farm A four-acre farm demonstrates what life was like on Washington’s one-time 8000-acre plantation. People in costume work in the fields and harvest crops. Farm animals run around including Hog Island sheep, Dominique Chickens and Red Devon cattle. There’s also a replica of a cabin where enslaved people would have lived. The tombs George Washington died on December 14, 1799, and, although Congress wanted him laid to rest within the newly built U.S. Capitol, he was buried at his request at Mount Vernon. A brick tomb in a woodsy enclosure holds him, Martha and other family members. It’s a quiet place to contemplate the life and times of the father of the US. Other practicalities There’s a food court, colonial-style restaurant and gift shop near the entrance. Several companies offer seasonal boat trips to Mount Vernon, including the City Cruises Mount Vernon Sightseeing Cruise, departing from Washington, DC’s Wharf and from Alexandria, Virginia. You can also hop on a bike and pedal along the scenic Mount Vernon Trail (10 miles from Alexandria). George Washington’s Distillery Washington also was a whisky distiller, boasting one of the nation’s largest distilleries at the time. Located 2.7 miles from the estate’s main entrance, it burned down in the 1800s but was faithfully recreated in 2007 and is open to visitors. Did you know? Although the mansion looks like it’s made of stone, it’s not. Washington “rusticated” the exterior, a less expensive method of producing a stone look by using yellow pine siding sprinkled with sand. Tickets and other practicalities ·      15 miles south of Washington, D.C. ·      Public transportation: Metro (yellow line) to Huntington, then hop on the Fairfax Connector bus 101 ·      Price: $28 adults, $15 youth (6-11), children under 5 free.  General admission includes audio tour. Buy tickets online in advance to save time (and money). ·      Separate reservation must be made for a mansion tour ·      Variety of other tours offered daily, including an in-depth mansion tour ·      Distillery open Sat-Sun Apr-Oct by tour only; adm $10

  • Top ChoiceSights in National Mall

    National Air and Space Museum

    The legendary exhibits at the National Air and Space Museum include the Wright brothers' flyer, Chuck Yeager's Bell X-1, Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St Louis, Howard Hughes' H-1 Racer and Amelia Earhart's natty Vega 5B. The hugely popular Smithsonian museum in Washington, DC, maintains the world's largest and most significant collection of aviation and space artifacts, encompassing all aspects of human flight. It presents programs, educational activities, lectures and performances that reflect the American spirit and the innovation, courage and optimism that have led to triumphs in the history, science and technology of flight. Children and adults alike love walking through the Skylab Orbital Workshop and viewing the Apollo to the Moon exhibit. History of the museum The Smithsonian Institute's connection to flight began in 1861 when its first secretary, Joseph Henry, invited Thaddeus S.C. Lowe to inflate his hot air balloon on its grounds. In 1876, a group of 20 kites was acquired from the Chinese Imperial Commission, seeding what would later become the largest collection of aviation and space artifacts in the world. The collections were first housed in the institute's Arts and Industries building, and were expanded after World War I to a Quonset hut erected by the War Department behind the Smithsonian Castle. Affectionately known as the "Tin Shed," the new building opened to the public in 1920 and remained in use for the next 55 years. President Harry Truman signed a bill in 1946 establishing the Smithsonian's National Air Museum to memorialize the development of aviation; collect, preserve and display aeronautical equipment; and provide educational material for the study of aviation. As the technology continued to advance and the collection expanded to include artifacts related to rocketry and spaceflight, it became clear that the museum was entering a new phase. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed a law that changed the name to the National Air and Space Museum to memorialize the development of both aviation and spaceflight. The museum's collection on display expanded to include missiles and rockets. Funding to construct a new building was approved in 1971, and the National Air and Space Museum's new building was inaugurated with great fanfare on July 1, 1976. The collection that started in 1876 with a group of 20 kites has grown to nearly 60,000 objects now, and more avionic pieces reside in Virginia at the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center, an annex that holds more of this museum's extraordinary collection. Both buildings combine to welcome more than eight million visitors per year. What to do at the museum The Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall is the museum's entrance gallery, and it will appeal to aviation enthusiasts as it showcases the Spirit of St. Louis, the North American X-15A-1, John Glenn’s Mercury spacecraft, the Viking Lander, Pioneer 10, SpaceShipOne and a touchable lunar sample. How Things Fly is a fun, interactive gallery allowing children and adults to explore the principles of flight through hands-on activities. It features a Cessna 150, a section of a Boeing 757 fuselage, a model of the International Space Station and more than 50 interactives, including a visitor-operated supersonic wind tunnel. Space-lovers will enjoy Exploring the Planets, which takes visitors on a tour of the solar system and imparts some of the knowledge scientists have acquired by exploring the planets via space missions and observations from Earth. The largest single artifact in this gallery is a full-scale replica of a Voyager spacecraft. And of course, the full-scale mock-up of the Hubble Space Telescope is always a popular attraction and is on display in the Space Race exhibition. Tickets and other practicalities The National Air and Space Museum is located on the National Mall at Sixth Street and Independence Avenue SW. It is near Metrorail stops on the blue, orange, yellow and green lines, and the closest Metrorail stop is at L'Enfant Plaza. Metrobus stops are located on Independence Avenue SW and along 7th Street SW. Admission is free, although there are charges for immersive experiences including the IMAX theater planetarium and flight simulators. The museum often observes extended hours during the spring and summer - check the website for details. Note: In late 2018, the museum began a seven-year complete renovation so the west wing of the building is currently closed for the first phase of the renovation. In 2022, the first new galleries will begin to open to the public and the east wing of the building will close for renovation. Accessibility at the museum The Central Smithsonian Accessibility Office has an accessibility map that depicts accessible entrances, curb cuts and designated parking for Smithsonian facilities on the National Mall. There are seven National Park Service designated accessible parking spaces located on Jefferson Drive across from the museum. Visitors with disability hang tags or license plates can park for free at metered spaces controlled by the DC government along Independence Avenue SW. The museum has two wheelchair-accessible exterior ramps, and an elevator is available at the entrance to the How Things Fly gallery on the first level and The Wright Brothers gallery on the second level. Standard and bariatric wheelchairs are available on loan from the security desk. All restrooms are accessible, and there are two family/companion care restrooms inside the Flight Line Café entrance on the first level. Braille and tactile guides are available at the Southwest Airlines Welcome Center. The museum can be navigated with Aira, a free app that connects users with sighted agents who provide visual descriptions on-demand. Audio-described, docent-led tours and discovery stations with models and tactile components are provided, and sign language interpreters can be made available for tours, public programs or evening lectures with advance notice. A pre-visit social narrative is available to help prepare visitors with cognitive and sensory processing disabilities for the situations they might encounter when visiting the museum, and address what to expect, museum rules and other safety information. Further information on accessibility can be found here.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Financial District & Lower Manhattan

    One World Observatory

    Spanning three levels at the top of the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, One World Observatory offers dazzling panoramic views over Manhattan's crystal garden of skyscrapers. On a clear day you'll be able to see all five boroughs and parts of surrounding states, as well as the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty – both looking as small as children's toys from this lofty perch atop the One World Trade Center. The awesome vista of New York is only revealed after the screens showing an introductory video abruptly disappear, revealing the view through immense picture windows. Admiring the city from above is a great way to get a feel for how everything fits together and plan the rest of your New York sightseeing. The location has a powerful resonance. The footprints of the original World Trade Center towers – preserved today as the National September 11 Memorial Museum – are visible in the shadow of the current One World Trade Center, which stands 408 feet (124m) taller than the original towers. Highlights of the view Once the intro video ends and the screens slide back, everyone rushes for the windows to gaze out over an astonishing bird's-eye view of New York. The first thing to look for is the Brooklyn Bridge – the first fixed crossing over the East River, still standing proud after 150 years – lined up alongside the newer Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. Looking southwest, you'll spot the Statue of Liberty floating on her green island off the Jersey shore; there's a reason the statue looks tiny from this height – at a modest 93m tall, it's almost half a kilometer shorter than One World Trade Center. Facing north, the Empire State Building is instantly recognizable amongst the cluster of first generation skyscrapers in the center of Manhattan. Peer closely and you may also spot the Chrysler Building and the Flatiron Building amidst the taller towers. Note the piers lined up along the Hudson River, where transatlantic steamships docked during New York's golden age. To make the skyscraper-spotting easier, the tower's iPad-based guide – the One World Explorer – allows you to zoom in on the view to highlight individual buildings. History & Architecture New York's highest observation deck sits on top of the 94-storey One World Trade Center, built to replace the two World Trade Center towers destroyed during the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The original plans were drafted in 2002 by Daniel Libeskind, the architect behind the Jewish Museum in Berlin, but the structure was redesigned by David M Childs, the brains behind Singapore 's Changi airport terminal. Construction started in 2006 and the tower topped out on 10 May 2013. As well as being the tallest building in America, this tapered tower is currently the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, and the sixth tallest building in the world by pinnacle height. The height isn't accidental – the antenna takes the building to 1776 feet (541m), a tribute to the year the American Declaration of Independence was signed. Architecturally, the tower resembles a rectangular prism twisted through 90° – an optical illusion created by its chamfered edges, which split the facade into a series of opposing isosceles triangles. It was the first major building constructed using the Building Information Model, a digital platform created to manage all the phases of planning, design and construction in a single virtual space. The experience Reaching the observation deck, 386.5m above street level, is almost as much fun as admiring the view. Starting on the ground floor, you'll pass a giant electronic world map highlighting the homelands of visitors to the tower (with data obtained from ticket scans) and the multiscreen installation, Voices, which tells the story of the people behind the One World Trade Center. But the real show begins when you board the Sky Pod elevators, whose LED wall panels provide a virtual journey through the evolution of the Manhattan skyline over the past five centuries. These hi-tech elevators  zip visitors to the top in just 47 seconds at a speed of 36.5 kmph – one of the fastest elevator rides in the world. Out of interest, the first tourist to climb the tower was New Jersey free climber, Justin Casquejo, who wriggled through a hole in the security fence while the tower was under construction and reached the top of the antenna aged just 16. He was promptly arrested and sentenced to 23 days community service; he also had to write a 1200-word essay explaining what he had learned from the experience. Once you reach the observation levels, the first step is the introductory video show before the views are unveiled, but you can also look down on the vista directly from above at the Portal – a circular glass porthole which shows real-time footage of the street below. As you might expect, there are various places to eat and plenty of stands selling souvenirs. Tickets & other practicalities The One World Observatory gets busy, particularly at weekends and during the peak tourist season, so it pays to book ahead and skip the line. In summer and during some holiday periods, hours are extended as late as 10pm (with last ticket sales at 8:45pm), but it's best to check the website in advance if you want tickets at a specific time of day. If you don't have a ticket ahead of time, come as soon as they open to avoid a queue. If you're pressed for time, for $53 you can buy a priority-admission ticket that will let you skip all the lines, plus let you use the digital iPad One World Explorer guides, which automatically identify the skyline sights. Various train and subway lines meet at World Trade Center station but it's worth exiting the subway a stop early at Park Place station so you can approach the tower on foot at street level and get a full sense of its scale. There are meal options on site, all charging a premium; you're better off going over the road to the Le District and Hudson Eats food courts in the Brookfield Place complex. Hotels near One World Observatory If you want to stay in Lower Manhattan, you'll pay a premium, but there are some good choices in the neighborhood. Frederick Hotel Club Quarters World Trade Center AKA Tribeca Conrad New York

  • Top ChoiceSights in Marfa

    Chinati Foundation Museum

    As you step inside the historic artillery shed, with its enormous windows, sweeping desert views and sun-dappled aluminum boxes, the Marfa hoopla suddenly makes sense. Artist Donald Judd single-handedly put Marfa on the art-world map when he created this museum on the site of a former army post. The grounds and abandoned buildings now house one of the world’s largest permanent installations of minimalist art. The whole place is an immersive, breathtaking blend of art, architecture and landscape. The best way to immerse yourself in Judd’s work is on a guided tour. Tours are currently offered at 9am and 10am on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and they last 90 minutes. Tours stop at the artillery sheds, which hold Judd’s 100 untitled works of aluminum. The guided tour also visits his 16 untitled works in plywood and the Arena. Visitors can explore Judd’s 15 untitled works in concrete on their own after the tour. Specialty tours and full collection tours include the works of other artists. If you don't have time for the guided tour, at least check out his works in concrete on the 1.6-mile self-guided tour. The vast grasslands and open spaces that backdrop the hollow concrete boxes are integral components of the piece and the scene is mesmerizingly beautiful. The self-guided tour also swings by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Brueggen’s Monument to the Last Horse. Guided tours are $25 and self-guided tours are $15. The separately run Judd Foundation maintains and preserves the living and working spaces of Donald Judd in downtown Marfa. A guided tour of his studios and library is available ($25). Buyenlarge /Getty Images" data-embed-button="images" data-entity-embed-display="media_image" data-entity-embed-display-settings="{"image_style":"","image_link":""}" data-entity-type="media" data-entity-uuid="196abd4b-e018-4e09-b6e2-a8a26d64bddb" data-langcode="en" title="Untitled box-like art, sometimes called Judd cubes, by Minimalist artist Donald Judd, though he dete"> Donald Judd Known for his stark and vivid minimalist installations, Donald Judd was also an architect,  furniture designer, essay writer, art collector, art critic and passionate advocate for art and expression. After a stint as an engineer for the US Army in Korea in the mid-1940s, Missouri-born Judd moved to New York City, where he studied art history and philosophy at Columbia University and painting at the Art Students League. He was a painter as well as a prolific art critic in his early twenties. Three-dimensional artwork became his focus, and he worked from his home and studio at a five-story building he purchased at 101 Spring Street in Manhattan. Judd began buying studios, residences and ranches in Marfa in 1973. He eventually dropped out of the New York art scene as he turned his focus to his holdings in West Texas. Here he began creating and installing permanent works of art, with an embrace of open space as his canvas and industrial materials as his preferred artistic medium. In 1979 he purchased a 400-acre former army base and its 32 abandoned buildings on the outskirts of Marfa. It would soon become the home base for the Chinati Foundation, which he established in 1986 for the purpose of permanently displaying his site-specific works and those of an international array of artists. The foundation is named for the Chinati Mountains southwest of Marfa. A passionate if often cantankerous advocate for the arts, Judd was also a visionary. His dreams of displaying art in a space-appropriate setting, where it could be appreciated for its own sake, have been realized in Marfa. He died at age 64 in 1995. Buyenlarge / Getty Images" data-embed-button="images" data-entity-embed-display="media_image" data-entity-embed-display-settings="{"image_style":"","image_link":""}" data-entity-type="media" data-entity-uuid="fff70202-9907-4f26-8a2f-6f6aeedaab6a" data-langcode="en" title="Untitled box-like art, sometimes called Judd cubes, by Minimalist artist Donald Judd, though he dete"> Permanent Collection The centerpiece of the Judd collection is 100 untitled works in mill aluminum. For this creation, Judd adapted two artillery sheds, replacing garage doors with squared and quartered windows and adding a vaulted roof, which doubled the height of the building. The sculptures are spread across both sheds and arranged in rows of three. And though all of the sculptures have the same dimensions, each one has a unique interior shape. Natural light fills the sheds through the prominent windows, which also frame the vast desert grasslands that unfurl toward the horizon. His 15 untitled works of concrete were cast and installed between 1980 and 1984. Visitors literally step into the “canvas” as they wander past the concrete boxes on the high desert plain. The Judd-restored Arena – which served as a fort gymnasium and later as a horse arena – is another highlight. It is notable for its stripped-down appearance, with long, alternating bands of concrete and gravel filling the floor space and marking the piece. Other permanent works? A fluorescent light installation by Dan Flavin, a replica of an abandoned Soviet Union schoolhouse by Ilya Kabakov, and an untitled work by Robert Irwin encompassing an entire abandoned military hospital. These installations are not currently included on any guided tours but may be included in future specialty or full collection tours. Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen created another outdoor piece, Monument to the Last Horse, which sits near the 15 untitled works of concrete. The horseshoe-shaped sculpture gives a nod to an older monument that marked the grave of Louie, the last surviving cavalry horse at the fort. Like the original marker, the sculpture is inscribed Animo et Fide – Spirited and Faithful. Plan your visit Reservations are currently required for guided tours and self-guided tours – be aware that only a handful of Judd’s indoor exhibits are currently seen during guided tours. The museum is located in the high desert, so sunlight can be powerful during the day. Dress appropriately and wear comfortable and sturdy closed-toe shoes. The museum is in the Central Time Zone. El Paso is in the Mountain Time Zone, so there is an hour difference to consider if you are driving from El Paso. Things to do in Marfa A high plains cattle town with an artsy side, Marfa is an appealing basecamp for exploring West Texas. And the mysterious Marfa Lights, which occasionally twinkle on the distant horizon, keep the vibe quirky. Look for the lights at the Marfa Mystery Lights viewing area about 9 miles east of town on Hwy 90/67. Overnight visitors can sleep in a vintage trailer, a yurt or a tipi at free-spirited El Cosmico Campground. Don't miss the Marfalafel at Food Shark, a food truck serving Mediterranean fare, and the burritos at Marfa Burrito. Be aware that restaurant hours are fickle and many popular spots are closed early in the week.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Tulum

    Tulum Ruins

    Tulum is one of the most visited archaeological zones in Mexico and for good reason: it’s sublime. The ruins sit on seaside cliffs, high above turquoise waters that extend as far as your eye can see. True, the structures themselves are modest in comparison to other grand Maya cities. But Tulum captures your imagination like no other, perhaps conjuring visions of pre-Columbian tradesmen arriving in canoes laden with goods, and the Maya workers who received them, contemplating the same bracing views. History Inhabited as early as 564, Tulum’s heyday wasn’t until 1200–1521 when it served as an important port town, controlling maritime commerce along the Caribbean coast to Belize. When the Spanish conquistador Juan de Grijalva sailed past in 1518, he was amazed by the sight of the walled city, its buildings painted a gleaming red, blue and yellow, and a ceremonial fire burning atop its seaside watchtower. Yet, only 75 years after the Spanish conquest, the city was abandoned, its population decimated by European-borne diseases. For hundreds of years afterward, nature reclaimed the city, and it was unknown to the outside world until the mid-1800s when explorers John Stephens and Frederick Catherwood published detailed descriptions and drawings of it. Foreign travelers didn’t begin arriving in earnest for another 100-plus years, though Maya pilgrims and indigenous refugees taking shelter during the Caste War used the site intermittently. Meaning of Tulum Tulum means “wall” in Yucatec Maya, a reference to the city’s fortifications; 19th-century explorers used the name and it stuck. Originally, the city was called Zamá, or “dawn,” because it faced east. How to navigate Tulum Tulum is a compact archaeological zone, contained entirely within its enormous stone walls. The entrance is on the north side. Starting with the oceanfront structures and walking clockwise through the site, you’ll see it all in a couple hours, longer if you stay for a swim. The exit is through the south wall. Principal structures The three ramparts (walls) surrounding Tulum are 3m to 5m high, and measure between 170m to 380m long. They served to enclose and fortify the city, protecting the city’s civic-ceremonial buildings, palaces and the ruling classes who lived there. The vast majority of the residents, Tulum’s working class, lived outside the walls. The most photographed structure is Templo del Dios de Viento, a small temple perched on a rocky outcrop, the Caribbean waters perfectly framing it. The structure’s circular base is associated with the god of wind, for which it is named. It’s believed that the roof had a special opening that would whistle when hurricanes approached to warn Tulum’s residents. Templo del Dios Descendente is named after the relief figure of a descending god above the building's door. The image, perhaps the most iconic of Tulum, is associated with the highly revered god of bees. At the spring equinox, a ray of sunlight shines through the temple, aligning perfectly under the image. Sitting on a dramatic bluff, El Castillo is the tallest (7.5m) and most imposing structure in Tulum. Built in several phases, it served as a lighthouse, with a shrine at the top doubling as a beacon to lead canoes to the beach landing. Look for the plumed serpents hugging the pyramid’s corners, a reflection of regional influence of the Toltecs. Templo de las Pinturas was an observatory used to track the movements of the sun. It features some of Tulum's most elaborate décor – now quite weathered – including carved figures of the descending god, stucco masks and colorful murals on interior walls depicting various Maya gods. The beach Tulum is one of the few Maya ruins with a beach – two, in fact – the ancient structures sitting like sentinels above them. Add to that the seaside cliffs and the impossibly blue waters, and bringing your swimsuit is a no-brainer. The main beach is beneath El Castillo, at the bottom of a steep wood staircase. By late morning, it’s often crowded with visitors playing in the waves and posing on the sand. A second beach, just as lovely, is below the Templo del Dios de Viento. Reachable by a sandy trail, it’s typically cordoned off but is a good spot for selfies. Tours Tours (from M$700) are offered onsite by certified guides who hustle for customers at the visitors complex and near the ticket booth. Tours last about two hours and can offer invaluable insights into this ancient city. Tickets Tickets cost M$80 and can only be purchased onsite. The ruins are open from 9am to 5pm, but the last entry is at 3:30pm. Things you should know Arrive early. It’ll give you a shot at enjoying the ruins before the mass tour groups descend, typically by 11am. Visitors are not allowed to climb on or enter most the structures in order to protect them from erosion. Respect the barriers and “do not enter” signs. Bring a hat and plenty of water. May to September are the hottest months here, but it’s sunny and humid year-round and the ruins have very little shade. Eating and drinking Centro Artesanal Tulum, a handicrafts mini-mall in the visitors complex, has a few sit-down restaurants and fast-food joints. Prices are inflated, but they’ll do in a pinch. You can grab snacks and drinks here too. (There’s even a Starbucks.) Getting there Tulum’s visitor complex is just off Hwy 307, on the outskirts of town. From there, it’s another 1km to the ticket booth and archaeological site – a trolley (M$55) shuttles people or you can just hoof it. From town, taxis charge a fixed rate to the complex (M$100). Northbound colectivos (shuttle vans) will drop you on the highway (M$20) a couple blocks away. If you’re driving, there’s plenty of parking in the main lot (M$180). Alternatively, Tulum’s beach road becomes a pedestrian-only road to the ruins, about a 400m walk to the ticket booth. It’s a popular access point for those staying on the oceanfront (and for those who want to hit the beach after a visit to the ruins).

  • Sights in Tulum

    Reserva de la Biosfera Sian Ka'an

    While floating down a canal that Mayans dug by hand centuries ago, you see tall grasses on either side and colorful birds flying overhead. You hear the haunting call of a howler monkey in the distance, like you’re a thousand miles from civilization. This is Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, the largest protected area on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, and home to endangered creatures and some of the Yucatán’s most sublime landscapes. A visit here, just south of Tulum, offers a window into the world beyond all-inclusive resorts and glittery nightclubs. Ecology The name Sian Ka’an – Yucatec Maya for "where the sky is born" – perfectly captures the magnificence of this 1.3 million acre reserve. Sian Ka’an is one of the most biodiverse places in the world, composed of a delicate balance of ecosystems : tropical forests and coral reefs, mangroves and savannahs, impossibly blue lagoons and miles and miles of untouched beaches. It is also one of the few places in the world where petenes (tree islands that form in swamps) thrive and cenotes (freshwater sinkholes) are found. Sian Ka’an is home to a brilliant diversity of fauna too: spider monkeys, howler monkeys, American crocodiles, jaguars, pumas, Central American tapirs, four sea turtle species, giant land crabs, more than 330 bird species (including roseate spoonbills and flamingos), manatees, dolphins and some 400 fish species. History Sian Ka’an was inhabited by ancient Maya peoples for over 1200 years, its waterways forming an important trade route between the coastal city of Tulum and the interior. Twenty-three known archaeological sites exist in the reserve, the earliest dating to 350 BC. By the mid-1500s, the Maya abandoned Sian Ka’an for reasons unknown. The region remained largely untouched until the early 1900s when a railway line was built through the southern end of Sian Ka’an, connecting the port of Vigía Chico to present-day Felipe Carrillo Puerto. The train was initially built to support the Mexican military during the Caste War; later it was used to transport chicle harvested in the region. (It was used for just 27 years; vestiges of the original tracks can still be seen today.)  Sian Ka’an was protected as a biosphere reserve in 1986, when the Mexican government recognized that uncontrolled development – mostly land clearing for cattle pastures and timber extraction – would have a devastating effect on the region.  A year later, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site for its exceptional biodiversity and its vast wetlands. Today, more than half of Sian Ka’an is off limits except for scientific research. The rest is reserved for sustainable development and low-impact activities like ecotourism. Only 2000 people live in Sian Ka’an, mostly in fishing villages. Excursions Sian Ka’an is best explored with a guide, as there are few trails and navigating the waterways on your own can be difficult. Several regional tour operators offer excursions into the reserve including birdwatching tours and kayaking through lagoons, visiting Maya ruins, swimming in ancient canals and snorkeling along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Full-service excursions typically include door-to-door transportation and snacks but can be pricey, running around $85-$165 per person for a half-day trip from Tulum. Maya-run Community Tours Sian Ka'an is a good option that directly benefits the local community. If you’re on a budget, local boatmen offer lagoon and canal tours from Laguna Muyil near Hwy 307. Tours (8am-4pm daily) last 2½ hours and cost $35-$50 per person, depending on the number of people in the boat. The dock is at the end of a short dirt road, just south of the Muyil Ruins (aka Chunyaxché Ruins). Alternatively, visit the ruins (M$45 or about $2) and take a 500-meter boardwalk trail (M$50 or about $2.50) from the east side of the site to the lagoon. If you have a rental car, you also can make the trek to Punta Allen – a fishing village at the end of Sian Ka’an’s coastal road. From here, Cooperativa Punta Allen runs various excursions ($150 per boat) including dolphin- and turtle-watching tours and snorkeling. Fly-fishing tours ($300 per boat) also offered. While possible to do as a day trip, an overnight stay makes the trip easier and more enjoyable. Eating and lodging Most people visit Sian Ka’an as a day trip from Tulum, which has a variety of accommodations and restaurants. Inside the reserve, Punta Allen has a handful of simple hotels and restaurants (note: there’s no cell service, and electricity runs only a few hours each day); a few higher-end fishing lodges and rental homes also are along the coastal road. Getting there and other practicalities There are two main entrances to Sian Ka’an. The most popular follows the coastline, south from Tulum’s beach road. A huge arch marks the reserve’s entrance where admission (M$37 or about $1.80) is collected and registration required. From the arch, a rutted dirt road runs through the reserve, occasional openings in the palm forest leading to gloriously empty beaches and peeks of turquoise lagoons. The road ends at the village of Punta Allen – a bumpy 35-mile ride that takes about 2 to 3 hours, longer after a heavy rain. Public transportation along this road is sporadic, so joining a tour or driving a rental (four-wheel drive is helpful) are your best options. A second, lesser known, entrance to Sian Ka’an is next to Muyil Ruins (aka Chunyaxché Ruins). Several buses (M$28 or about $1.40) make the 20-minute trip from Tulum to Muyil each day. From there, you can either enter the reserve via the archaeological site or walk down a short dirt road less than a quarter mile (250m) south of the ruins (look for it near an Oxxo minimart). Both lead to Muyil lagoon where you can take boat trips through the northwestern tip of the reserve.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Williamsburg

    Colonial Williamsburg

    Image by Thomas Faull/Getty Images RF The restored capital of England’s largest colony in the New World is a must-see attraction for visitors of all ages. Colonial Williamsburg is a living, breathing, working history museum in Virginia, with a painstakingly-researched environment that brilliantly evokes 1700s America. It contains 88 original 18th-century buildings and several hundred faithful reproductions, as well as an impressive museum complex. Townsfolk and ‘interpreters’ in period dress go about their colonial jobs, emulating daily life. Laudably, the park doesn't gloss over America's less glorious moments. Today's re-enactors debate and question slavery (52% of the population of 18th-century Williamsburg were slaves), women’s suffrage, the rights of indigenous Americans and whether or not it is even moral to engage in revolution. You can even stay in colonial houses at the center of the Historic Area for a fully-immersive experience. History of Colonial Williamsburg Williamsburg was founded as the capital of the Virginia Colony in 1699 and was Britain’s largest settlement in the New World. It was named after England's reigning monarch, King William III, and was the center of the religious, economic and social life of the state. It was also a center of political activity during the American Revolution. The capital of Virginia was moved to Richmond following the Declaration of Independence from Britain in 1776, and Williamsburg entered a long period of stagnation and decay. The Reverend William Archer Rutherfoord Goodwin began the preservation and restoration effort that resulted in the creation of Colonial Williamsburg in the 1920s. The Episcopal priest and historian did so by obtaining the support and major financial commitment of John D. Rockefeller Jr., the wealthy son of the founder of the Standard Oil monopoly. The restoration and recreation of Colonial Williamsburg was seen by the city as a way to celebrate rebel patriots and the early history of the US. What to do at Colonial Williamsburg You’ll feel as if you've traveled back in time in the Historic Area, where most original buildings, homes and shops have been reconstructed on their original foundations. Prominent buildings include the Capitol, the Governor's Palace, the Courthouse, the Raleigh Tavern and the Magazine. You’ll see rare animal breeds and lovingly-restored gardens that add to the authenticity of the experience. You can also take a leisurely carriage-ride ride through the area by horse-drawn carriage. The Art Museums are well worth a visit, with colorful and whimsical folk art made by amateur artisans on display at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, and objects that are both useful and beautiful in The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. The Arboretum will appeal to nature-lovers as it features 25 period species of oak trees and more than 30 historic gardens. As well as the regular attractions, Colonial Williamsburg puts on special programming for holidays and commemorative seasons throughout the year. Tickets and other practicalities Colonial Williamsburg is located in Williamsburg, Virginia, and is part of Virginia's Historic Triangle, which includes Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown. Amtrak serves the Williamsburg Transportation Center with a connecting train from Washington, DC. The center is just blocks from the Historic Area and offers car rentals and taxi service. Park for free at the Visitor Center and take the complimentary shuttle to the Historic Area or walk along the tree-lined footpath. There is also free parking at the Art Museums. A program detailing the day’s events will be given to you with your ticket, which helps when planning your time at the site. Walking around the historic district and patronizing the shops and taverns is free, but entry to building tours and most exhibits is restricted to ticket holders. Single-day tickets cost $44.99 and children aged 6-12 pay $24.99, and they allow visitors to access a selection of guided sites, historic trades and gardens, as well as staged performances on the Charlton Stage and in the Hennage Auditorium and Art Museums. Three-day tickets cost $54.99 with children aged 6-12 paying $29.99 and all tickets can be booked online here. Expect crowds and lines, especially in summer. There are a number of taverns and a bakery where visitors can dine, and there's also a bakery in the Art Museums. Where to stay Colonial Williamsburg has several options for on-site accommodation, including four hotels - Williamsburg Inn, Williamsburg Lodge, Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel & Suites and Griffin Hotel. Visitors can also stay at Colonial Homes in the heart of the Historic Area, which have been reproduced to be true to the time period of Colonial America. Accessibility at Colonial Williamsburg Discounted admission tickets are available at on-site ticketing centers, and the Visitor Center, hotels, restaurants, museums and shops are largely accessible. Interpreters in the Historic Area can provide directions to accessible areas, and special parking arrangements can be made, as needed. Colonial Williamsburg’s shuttle buses are wheelchair accessible. Folding wheelchairs may be rented from the Visitor Center. While ramps and wheelchair lifts are available at selected exhibitions, many of the historic buildings require at least a few steps. Visitors with disabilities may request reasonable accommodations or modifications to assist them in accessing Colonial Williamsburg’s programs, services and facilities. Headsets with adjustable volume control are available for programs in the Hennage Auditorium of the Art Museums. Colonial Williamsburg will contract a signing interpreter to accompany hearing-impaired guests through the Historic Area, and requests for this service must be made at least two weeks in advance. Further information on accessibility can be found here.