The great American experience is about so many things: bluegrass and beaches, snow-covered peaks and redwood forests, restaurant-loving cities and big open skies.
Bright Lights, Big Cities
America is the birthplace of LA, Las Vegas, Chicago, Miami, Boston and New York City – each a brimming metropolis whose name alone conjures a million different notions of culture, cuisine and entertainment. Look more closely, and the American quilt unfurls in all its surprising variety: the eclectic music scene of Austin, the easygoing charms of antebellum Savannah, the eco-consciousness of free-spirited Portland, the magnificent waterfront of San Francisco and the captivating French Quarter of jazz-loving New Orleans. Each city adds its unique style to the grand patchwork that is America.
On the Road Again
This is a country of road trips and great open skies, where 4 million miles of highways lead past red-rock deserts, below towering mountain peaks and through fertile wheat fields that roll off toward the horizon. The sun-bleached hillsides of the Great Plains, the lush rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, the sultry swamplands of the South and the scenic country lanes of New England are a few fine starting points for the great American road trip. Veer off the interstate often to discover the bucolic 'blue highways' of lore.
On one evening in the US, thick barbecue ribs come piping hot at a Texas roadhouse, while chefs blend organic produce with Asian accents at award-winning West Coast restaurants. Locals get their fix of bagels and lox at a century-old deli in Manhattan's Upper West Side and, several states away, plump pancakes and fried eggs disappear under the clatter of cutlery at a 1950s-style diner. Steaming plates of lobster from a Maine pier, oysters and champagne from a California wine bar, Korean tacos out of a Portland food truck – these are just a few ways to dine à la Americana.
The USA has made tremendous contributions to the arts. Georgia O'Keeffe's wild landscapes, Robert Rauschenberg's surreal collages, Alexander Calder's elegant mobiles and Jackson Pollock's drip paintings have entered the vernacular of 20th-century art. Chicago and New York have become veritable drawing boards for the great architects of the modern era. And from the soulful blues born in the Mississippi Delta to the bluegrass of Appalachia and Detroit's Motown sound – plus jazz, funk, hip-hop, country, and rock and roll – America has invented sounds integral to modern music.
Who makes the best pizza - New York or Chicago?
5 min read — Published Feb 4, 2022
Something clicked when pizza arrived in the USA more than a century ago. But who does it better? New York or Chicago?
Tips & Travel trends to help you pick the perfect time to visit this destination.
Put these must-see destinations on your next travel wish list.
Add visiting these must-see local hot spots and culture centers to your next travel itinerary.
Everything you need to know about services, requirements, and the application process when traveling internationally.
Check out these fun-filled activities that the entire family can enjoy.
Browse the various transportation options to make your trip that much easier when you arrive.
Ways to maximize the fun without spending a dime on your next great adventure.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout USA.
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. Clingman's Dome mountaintop observatory during sunset in the Great Smoky Mountains. ©Sean Pavone/Alamy Stock Photo 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. How one first-time hiker conquered the Appalachian Trail 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. Two hikers (one carrying a baby) descend stairs on a steep section of the Alum Cave Trail.. ©Theron Stripling III/Shutterstock 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. Llamas resting and eating on a foggy day after carrying supplies to the top of Mt. LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. ©epantha/Getty Images 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. US 441 road (aka the NewFound Gap) winding through the forest in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. ©Norman Lathrop/500px 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. Synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus) flashing light above green foliage during their mating season. ©Putt Sakdhnagool/Getty Images 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. A Bull Elk in a field at Great Smoky Mountain National Park, near Cataloochee. ©Jack Nevitt/Shutterstock 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. The Henry Whitehead wood cabin, at Cade's Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. ©AppalachianViews/Getty Images 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. Gatlinburg-Great Smoky Mountains National Park snowy landscape in Winter. ©Dave Allen Photography/Shutters 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. Rhododendrons are plentiful in the Smokies around bodies of water, like these growing near Laurel Falls ©Betty4240/Getty Images 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. Aerial of Newfound Gap Road (US Route 441) cuts through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on an autumn morning. ©rickberk/Getty Images 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. A wooden hut at the farmstead exhibition in Oconaluftee Visitor Centre on the US-441 in the Great Smoky Mountains. .. ©fotoMonkee/Getty Images 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. Setting sun over the Great Smoky Mountains' Newfound Gap. ©SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images 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. The sun rises on a cool autumn morning in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. ©Tony Barber/Getty Images 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.
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. Thousands of years ago, valleys like this one were carved by huge sheets of ice © Getty Images/Cavan Images RF 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. Vintage red car on a mountainous road in the Glacier National Park. ©EdwinM/Shutterstock 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. Scenic Views of Two Medicine Lake, Glacier National Park Montana Getty Images/iStockphoto 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. Iceberg Lake in Glacier National Park © Meghan O'Dea / Lonely Planet 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. St. Mary's Falls in Glacier National Park © Meghan O'Dea / Lonely Planet 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. The Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park © Meghan O'Dea / Lonely Planet 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. The interior of the Lake Mcdonald Lodge is classic "parkistecture". ©Kit Leong/Shutterstock 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. Accommodation by a lake in Glacier National Park. ©OLOS/Shutterstock 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. The Granite Park Chalet in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA © Chuck Haney / DanitaDelimont.com / Alamy Stock Photo 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. The original Sperry Chalet was built by the Great Northern Railway in Glacier National Park, Montana © Shutterstock / Nikki Yancey 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 near Glacier National Park in Montana © Meghan O'Dea / Lonely Planet 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. Teepees on the Blackfeet Reservation on the eastern side of Glacier National Park ©Justin Foulkes/Lonely Planet 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. Whitefish, Montana is one of the towns closest to Glacier National Park, and is a great travel and supply hub ©Craig Moore/Getty Images 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. The famous Going to the Sun Road that crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass in the heart of Glacier National Park, MT. It's the only road across the park and open for biking during limited hours. Getty Images 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 center at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park © Shutterstock / Jim Parkin 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.
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. Yosemite National Park Valley on a cloudy autumn morning from Tunnel View ©haveseen/Shutterstock 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. Two rock climbers on portaledges on Triple Direct, a big wall climbing route at El Capitan © Getty Images/Image Source 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. Valley view in Yosemite National Park, California, USA, captured with Fisheye lens. © Allard Schager / Getty Images 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. El Capitan is one of the most iconic features of Yosemite National Park © Getty Images/Image Source 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 with sunrise ©David Kiene/Getty Images 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. A man stands on the end of the rocky overhang at Glacier point lookout. ©Erik Bouma/500px 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 with Some Merced River Overflow in Foreground ©John Alves/Getty Images 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. El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall, as seen from Tunnel View. ©13119/Shutterstock 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. A young man walks past Cathedral Lake during a 27.3 mile backpacking trip from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley, California. ©Keri Oberly/Getty Images 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. Historic Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley © Moment Editorial/Getty Images 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. Badger Pass ski lodge in Yosemite National Park, California, USA 1950. Scanned film with grain. Getty Images 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. Yosemite has been drawing visitors and residents for thousands of years, from the Ahwahneechee to modern tourists road tripping in early automobiles © Bettmann Archive via Getty Images 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. Mother with infant on her back at the the base of giant Sequoia trees... ©My Good Images/Shutterstock 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. Tourists board a free Yosemite shuttle service bus at Yosemite Valley. ©Michael Vi/Shutterstock 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.
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. The Temple of Dendur in the Sackler Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art © Guillaume Gaudet / Lonely Planet 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. A guided tour group looks at an antique Indian golden case from Goa on view at the Nature of Islamic Art exhibit in New York City © Getty Images 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. A crowd of people inspect a painting at The Metropolitan Museum of Art © Guillaume Gaudet / Lonely Planet 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. Some of the efforts to make the Met more inclusive and comprehensive include these bronze sculptures by the Kenyan-American artist Wangechi Mutu, filling four front facade niches for sculptures were left open for 117 years of the museum's history © dpa / picture alliance via Getty I 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. Garden and arches at the Cloisters Museum in New York © Manuel Hurtado / Shutterstock 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 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. An exhibition of Greek sculpture shows off the Met's classical collection © Studio Barcelona / Shutterstock 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. Met workers prepare to put up Rhianna's 2015 Met Gala dress by Chinese couturiere Guo Pei as part of an exhibit that included 20 Chinese art masterpieces from the museum's collection © Getty Images 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.
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. A bronze cast piggy bank weighing 550 pounds, has been located at the corner of Pike Place Market since 1986 © f11photo / Shutterstock 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. Fresh seafood is always an option at Pike Place Market © Eakkarat Rangram / Shutterstock 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. The Pike Pub & Brewery is a lively South Arcade hotspot © Eric Broder Van Dyke/Shutterstock 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. The Market Theater Gum Wall in downtown Seattle is a local landmark in Post Alley under Pike Place Market © f11photo / Shutterstock 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. Avoid the crowds by visiting Pike Place Maket in the early morning © Darryl Brooks / Shutterstock 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.
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. The Spreckels Temple of Music in Golden Gate Park. ©V_E/Shutterstock 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. de young, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California, USA. ©Checubus/Shutterstock 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. June 7, 2018: Japanese Tea Garden inside Golden Gate Park. ©Toms Auzins/Shutterstock 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 Beach Chalet is located above the Golden Gate Park Visitor's Center and features historic WPA frescoes created by Lucien Labaudt in the 1930's celebrating the history of Golden Gate Park ©LightRocket via Getty Images 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. The new Golden Gate Park ferris wheel, part of its 150 anniversary celebrations, arrived in 2020 and is one of the park's most sought-after new attractions © Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images 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. A festival takes place in Golden Gate Park in 2010 ©Eric Broder Van Dyke/Shutterstock 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. The M.H. de Young bus stop; Shutterstock ID 3554606; your: Meghan O'Dea; gl: 65050; netsuite: Digital Editorial; full: golden gate park POI Shutterstock / Rafael Ramirez Lee 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. Golden Gate park, San-Francisco, California, USA ©Akropot/Getty Images 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.
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. Children riding in goat-drawn carriages in Central Park circa 1904. © Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images 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. A couple pauses for a cigarette in snowy Central Park. © Phil Greitzer/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images 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. Statue of Romeo and Juliet in front of the Delacorte theatre in Central Park © Ruben Martinez Barricarte/Alamy 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. Central Park, Upper West Side, and Beyond ©Ryan D. Budhu/Getty Images 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. A young girl flies a kite in Central Park ©Granger Wootz/Getty Images 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. Exterior view of the Tavern on the Green inside Central Park in Manhattan, New York City © Shutterstock / EQRoy 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. Visitors ice skate in Central Park circa 2017 ©Winston Tan/Shutterstock 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. A dog walker walks by one of New York's ubiquitous hot dog stands ©Guillaume Gaudet/Lonely Planet 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. A team plays softball at the Heckscher fields in Central Park to benefit New Yorkers with disabilities. © Barbara Alper/ Getty Images 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.
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. Ellis Island can only be reached by ferry © iofoto/Shutterstock 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. The historic Registry Room on Ellis Island, where millions of immigrants were processed © PriceM/Shutterstock 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. The National Museum of Immigration on Ellis Island © Dan Herrick/Lonely Planet 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.
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. Visitors to the observatory can view the 430 inch Hobby-Eberly Telescope. ©Walter Bibikow/Getty Images 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. McDonald Observatory at Mount Locke in the Davis Mountains, as seen from Highway 118 © Witold Skrypczak / Alamy Stock Photo 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.
Cultural Diversity: San Diego
Sustainable Cycle Trail: Virginia Mountain Bike Trail
The Travel Kitchen: Nashville Hot Chicken
Penguins run amok in Chicago aquarium
Lost luggage turns into bargain buys at this store
Tips for a Multigenerational Disney Vacation
Discover Rapid City, South Dakota
Small town charm in the Catskills
Comfort food on-the-go