National Parks | Moon Travel Guides Trip Ideas, Itineraries, Maps & Area Experts Thu, 22 Feb 2018 16:45:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 National Parks | Moon Travel Guides 32 32 125073523 Best Natchez Trace Hiking Wed, 21 Feb 2018 00:16:48 +0000 The Natchez Trace Parkway isn’t just a great drive. It’s also an access road to great walks, some short, some long. Here are a few of the best.

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The Natchez Trace Parkway isn’t just a great drive. It’s also an access road to great walks, some short, some long. Here’s the best of Natchez Trace hiking.

Garrison Creek (Tennessee, milepost 427.6)

The history is as rich as the forest at this creek and trailhead. In the 18th century the woods gave way to a garrison (hence the name) to protect troops from Native American attacks. The long-gone fort was used again in the parkway’s history, most recently as a base during road construction.

Today a paved lot at the site of the former fort includes plenty of parking spots, restrooms, and picnic tables nestled under the shady trees, and room for horse trailers (in the back of the lot). It makes a good place to stretch your legs and eat lunch.

Walk just a few minutes from the parking lot to see small Garrison Creek, which winds its way through the forest. Unlike other waterways along the Trace, this creek is too shallow for swimming. But it makes for pretty scenery and a place for dogs or horses to take a drink.

As the northern terminus of the Highland Rim Trail section of the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail, Garrison Creek Trailhead is popular with day hikers, backpackers, and equestrians. You will need to cross the creek if you decide to hike here. There’s not a bridge, but several logs and fallen trees make crossing possible.

This is also the starting point for November’s 46-mile Natchez Trace Trail Run, an out-and-back double marathon trail run.

trail map carved into a wooden sign in Garrison Creek Tennessee

Garrison Creek trail map. Photo © Margaret Littman.

Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall (Alabama, milepost 338)

The first stop while heading south on the Trace after crossing the Alabama-Tennessee state line (milepost 341.8) is the somber, yet inspiring, Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall (256/764-3617, 8am-4pm daily, free), referred to by locals as “Tom’s Wall.”

Named for the late Tom Hendrix, the man who spent more than 30 years building what has become the largest unmortared wall in the country, the mile-long wall is a monument to Hendrix’s great-great grandmother, Te-lah-nay, and her journey on the Trail of Tears. Each stone, hand-placed by Hendrix (or visitors) beginning in 1988, symbolizes a single step Te-lah-nay took. Today the wall includes stones from more than 120 different countries.

Once here, you can walk in solitude along the maze-like wall, reflecting on its significance and the way in which the United States has treated Native Americans. The land is largely flat and easy to traverse, with many places to stop and rest along the way. Some parts of the path may be difficult for wheelchairs to maneuver. Much of the wall winds its way under oak tree canopies, providing welcome shade in the hot Alabama summer. Some people believe certain stones have specific properties, such as one that is said to cure infertility.

Set aside at least 30 minutes to walk along the wall; double that if you want to sit and listen to stories told by Hendrix’s family. Visitors are welcome to bring their own rocks to add to the wall. Please note that Hendrix’s family considers this a sacred space; treat it respectfully.

Take the first left turn (east) after milepost 338 onto County Road 8 (CR-8). The entrance to the monument is 150 yards down on the right. Because it isn’t an official Trace stop, this is one of the few places on the Trace where you won’t see clear signage (though the signage for County Road 8 is clear). To get back on the Trace after you visit the wall, simply turn around on CR-8, drive 150 yards, and turn left to continue heading south on the parkway.

path through forest along a stone wall in Alabama

Visit the Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall to take a walk on solitude. Photo courtesy of the Alabama Tourism Department.

Rock Spring (Alabama, milepost 330.2)

The first true Alabama Trace stop is a pretty oasis and easy hike. On the left side of the road, follow a short road to a loop parking lot. The parking lot is not visible from the parkway, so look for signage on the right.

From here you can access a simple half-mile loop trail to a bubbling spring. Allot about 20 minutes to walk in this shaded oasis. The terrain is easy, with some picturesque square stepping stones that enable you to cross Colbert Creek (this portion isn’t wheelchair accessible). Birders and wildlife-watchers love this area because the spring provides a home to beavers, ruby-throated hummingbirds, salamanders, and other wildlife. This is a good place to take in wildflowers as well, particularly in the late summer and early fall, when delicate jewelweed is in bloom.

Other than a few parking spots, picnic tables, and the trail, there are no other amenities at this stop.

Bailey’s Woods Trail (Oxford, Mississippi)

Even those who don’t think of themselves as fans of the great Southern writer William Faulkner (1897-1962) will be charmed by Rowan Oak (916 Old Taylor Rd., 662/234-3284, grounds dawn-dusk daily, house 10am-4pm Tues.-Sat., 1pm-4pm Sun. Aug.-May, 10am-6pm Mon.-Sat., 1pm-6pm Sun. June-July; grounds free, house $5), his former family home. The Greek Revival-style house, sitting on 29 acres, offers insight about the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner, as well as his creative process. Rowan Oak feels like Faulkner is just out for a walk, with his outline for A Fable scrawled on the walls to help him focus and numbers scribbled next to the phone in the 1844 building. Faulkner restored much of the home himself.

The grounds are said to be the inspiration for Yoknapatawpha County, the fictional setting for all but three of Faulkner’s works. The grounds connect to the University of Mississippi campus through the Bailey’s Woods Trail. It takes about 20 minutes to walk the length of this National Recreational Trail, which comes out at the University Museum. The trail is about two-thirds of a mile long and is well-maintained. Four footbridges span steep areas in the woods.

If you want more than a self-guided look around, call ahead to schedule a tour. Note that the entrance to the home is easy to miss when rounding the bend on Old Taylor Road. From town, drive slowly after passing 10th Street, then turn right.

North of University Avenue and up a few blocks is Saint Peter’s Cemetery (Jefferson Ave. and N. 16th St.), where you can see William Faulkner’s tombstone. The large monument is close to the sidewalk and often covered with whiskey bottles that fans leave for their favorite author.

oak-lined walkway leading to William Faulkner home in Oxford Mississippi

Pay a visit to William Faulkner’s home Rowan Oak in Oxford and hike through the Bailey’s Woods Trail. Photo © mtnorton, licensed CC BY 2.0.

Cypress Swamp Loop Trail (Mississippi, milepost 122)

The Cypress Swamp Loop Trail takes you on a walk of just under half a mile. It starts on a bridge that leads to a boardwalk, which spans a swamp of water tupelos and bald cypress. Because this trail is away from the parking lot and the road, it is unusually quiet and serene. If you’re lucky, you may see some wildlife, such as herons or alligators.

The boardwalk leads to a dirt trail, shaded in the woods, that loops around and comes back to the parking area. This is a very easy trail, about a 20-minute walk, assuming a leisurely pace to take in the unusual views. There are a few steps on the bridge to get down to the swamp level, so it is not wheelchair accessible.

The entrance is on the east side of the parkway. The parking area is visible from the road, but the swamp is not.

To access the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail from this stop, cross the parkway (to the west side) and look for the green hiking sign. From here it is 14.1 miles south to the West Florida Boundary or 8.9 miles north to the Yockanookany Trailhead.

bald cypress trees covered in moss and surrounded by swamp water in Mississippi

Take a peaceful walk through a Cypress Swamp. Photo © jlwhaley/iStock.

Natchez Trace Multi-Use Trail (Mississippi, milepost 105-100)

Yet another unexpected gem along the Natchez Trace Parkway is the Natchez Trace Multi-Use Trail. Designed for cyclists, pedestrians, and others not in motorized vehicles, this paved recreational trail parallels the parkway, offering a safe way to enjoy the scenery without being in traffic. The trail starts at Reservoir Overlook (milepost 105.6) and runs along the parkway for almost 10 miles. The southernmost access point on the trail is at the Chocktaw Agency (milepost 100.7). (You can continue walking or cycling south, but there is no parking or access to the trail beyond this.) There are plans to eventually extend the trail to the Clinton Visitor Center at milepost 89.

The trail also traverses the city of Ridgeland, where you can access shopping and local parks. Download a full map at

Remember to look both ways when crossing the trail, as bikers and those on inline skates may be traveling at a speedy clip.

The Natchez Trace Parkway isn’t just a great road trip route. It’s also an access road to great walks–some short, some long. Here's the best of Natchez Trace hiking trails, all of which offer a nice break from driving and an opportunity to stretch your legs, in Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Nashville to New Orleans Road Trip.

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The 12-Day Nashville to New Orleans Road Trip Mon, 05 Feb 2018 06:31:21 +0000 With just under two weeks, you can wind your way from one epic music and food city to the next. Take the route here, or start your trip in New Orleans and follow this guide in reverse to end your journey in Nashville.

The post The 12-Day Nashville to New Orleans Road Trip appeared first on Moon Travel Guides.

With just under two weeks, you can wind your way from one epic music and food city to the next. The total drive is 620 miles; 444 of these curve down the National Park Service’s Natchez Trace Parkway. You’ll hear everything from country to Creole; visit the birthplace of the King and a place where civil rights stood proud. You can easily reverse the route from south to north, ending in Tennessee.

The trip will take longer on two wheels or horseback, but the Natchez Trace is well-suited for such modes of transport. Check out the Essentials chapter in Moon Nashville to New Orleans Road Trip for more specifics on planning such a journey.

The parkway mileposts are numbered from south to north, so it’s easy to start your trip in New Orleans and follow this guide in reverse to end your journey in Nashville. Either way, your trip is bookended by good food and music.

view from front lawn of Tennessee State Capitol Building with a flower bed designed to look like stars

Set on the top of a hill and built with the formality and grace of classic Greek architecture, the Tennessee State Capitol building strikes a commanding pose overlooking downtown Nashville. Photo © fotoguy22/iStock.

Day 1


Arrive in Nashville. Check into a downtown or South Nashville hotel, such as the Thompson or Union Station. Set out on foot to the Tennessee State Capitol and the Civil Rights Room at the Nashville Public Library.

Feast at Chauhan Ale & Masala House for lunch. Stroll lower Broadway and enjoy dancing at the honky-tonks on your first night in town. Grab dinner at Pinewood Social.

Day 2

Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in the morning and grab an early lunch at Arnold’s Country Kitchen to fuel up. In the afternoon, check out the Ryman Auditorium and Johnny Cash Museum.

In the evening, see a show at the Grand Ole Opry. Call Jake’s Bakes to have warm cookies delivered to your hotel room before you tuck yourself in.

As you head west to the Natchez Trace Parkway the next morning, drive by Centennial Park and see The Parthenon.

double arch bridge on the natchez trace parkway in tennessee

The arches of the Double Arch Bridge aren’t symmetrical, but instead flow with the rolling hills of the countryside. Photo © JPaulMoore/iStock.

Day 3

Nashville to Alabama Border (120 miles)

Up and at ’em! Fuel up both yourself and your car with biscuits from Loveless Cafe and gasoline from a nearby station. Your first stop on the Natchez Trace Parkway is a prime photo spot: the Double Arch Bridge.

If you’re up for exiting the scenic parkway, you have several good options for food, drink, and entertainment in Franklin, Leiper’s Fork, and Columbia, which is where you’ll find the James K. Polk Home & Museum. Other highlights include the Franklin Theatre. While in Franklin, take a tour at Carnton, a historic former plantation, where you can experience Civil War history from an intimate vantage point.

Along the Trace itself you should stop at the Meriwether Lewis Monument and Gravesite, which is a somber memorial to a man who helped the country expand. This is also where to camp for the night before crossing into Alabama.

Day 4

Alabama Border to Mississippi Border (30 miles)

You’ll be covering fewer miles on the Trace today but plenty of territory when it comes to Native American, music, and military history.

Stop at the Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall and learn about the Trail of Tears.

Take a side trip to the Quad Cities region, where the namesake cities of Muscle Shoals, Florence, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia offer myriad opportunities. Muscle Shoals is home to important music sites like 3614 Jackson Highway and Fame Studios. Shop for unique clothing items or souvenirs in Florence, then tuck in for the night.

grassy knoll of bear creek mound in mississippi

The Bear Creek Mound has existed since around AD 1100-1300, part of what is referred to as the Mississippian period in geology. Photo © marekuliasz/iStock.

Day 5

Mississippi Border to Tupelo (45 miles)

Don’t forget to get gas in the Quad Cities before heading back to the Trace. Next you’ll head south on the Trace, bound for Tupelo, stopping at Bear Creek Mound and Pharr Mounds on the way.

Once you arrive in Tupelo, sample the blueberry doughnuts at Connie’s Fried Chicken, and then head to the Elvis Presley Birthplace, where you’ll honor the King’s legacy and learn how he got to be who he was. Catch a show at the Blue Canoe, then head back to your hotel so you can be rested and ready to go in the morning.

Days 6-7

Tupelo to Memphis (110 miles)

Arrive in Memphis and check into a downtown hotel, such as the Peabody or Big Cypress Lodge. Head straight to Graceland to immerse yourself in the world of the King. Eat lunch at The Little Tea Shop downtown, and then head over to Mud Island for the afternoon.

Go treasure-hunting at A. Schwab, then grab some Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken for dinner.

Stroll Beale Street in the morning, stopping at the W. C. Handy Home and Museum. Eat lunch along South Main, then go to the National Civil Rights Museum, followed by a trip to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and the Blues Hall of Fame Museum that afternoon.

Head to dinner at the Soul Fish, then hang out for a drink or two at Young Avenue Deli.

Head back to Tupelo on the evening of day seven, so that you’ll be ready for the side trip to Oxford, Mississippi, the next morning.

people walking along a shop-lined Beale Street in Memphis Tennessee

Stretch your legs with a stroll down Beale Street. Photo © Nclauzing/iStock.

Day 8

Tupelo to Ridgeland (275 miles with Oxford)

Before you leave Tupelo, stop by the Natchez Trace Parkway Headquarters and Visitor Center on the Trace itself. This is the best place on the 444-mile route to meet with rangers, ask questions, watch a film, and buy some souvenirs.

Gas up the car for the 45-minute drive to Oxford, home of Ole Miss. Wander the University of Mississippi campus, where you can tour the University Museum and several of the campus’s historic civil rights sights. Visit Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s home, then get lunch in The Square, the center of all things Oxford.

You have about an hour on the road to hook back up with the parkway (remember to fuel up). Then continue south. Two of five Native American ceremonial mounds are visible at the Owl Creek Mounds Archaeological Site, just off the parkway. Stop here to see sites that were likely Indian temples and then head south to the six Indian burial mounds at Bynum Mounds.

Take a quick hike at Cypress Swamp, then make for Ridgeland, another 150 miles down the Trace, to spend the night.

Day 9

Ridgeland to Natchez (110 miles)

Ridgeland is just east of Jackson, Mississippi’s capital city. You have many museums from which to choose on your days in Jackson. The perfectly preserved Eudora Welty House and Garden feels like the author has just run out to lunch and she’ll be back in a few. The civil rights collection at the Margaret Walker Center on the Jackson State campus, and the Smith Robertson Museum show different perspectives on the state’s complicated civil rights history.

From Jackson you’ll head back on the Trace for the last piece of your parkway drive. Appreciate the leisurely pace as you drive, stopping to read historical signs. Allocate enough time at Mount Locust Historic House, an 1800s building and grounds with cemeteries, walking trails, and more. Drive on to Emerald Mound, because while you may have seen a lot of Indian mounds on this trip, this is one on which you can climb. Like Mount Locust, Elizabeth Female Academy is one of the few remaining buildings (or portions thereof) on the parkway.

You’ve made it to the southern terminus!

Natchez is known for its antebellum architecture. Don’t miss the opportunity to stay in one of these sweet, restored homes. At Devereaux Shields House you’ll get a wine reception at night, perfect for after you pull off the road. Check in, wander the manicured garden, and then head to King’s Tavern for flatbread and beer for dinner. The restaurant, which may be haunted, is in the oldest building in the state.

light shines through a stained glass ceiling inside the old state capitol building in Baton Rouge

Built in 1847, the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge is a national landmark that has been carefully restored and now houses the city’s political history museum. Photo © IVANVIEITO/iStock.

Day 10

Natchez to Baton Rouge (100 miles)

From Natchez, take US 61 south and continue to Baton Rouge, capital of Louisiana. Tour both Louisiana’s Old State Capitol and the current Louisiana State Capitol, an art deco limestone stunner. Drive through Spanish Town, the city’s oldest neighborhood, dating to 1805. Visit the Old Louisiana Governor’s Mansion, which first resident Huey Long wanted to look like the White House.

Order boudin balls and fried green tomatoes at Beausoleil Restaurant and Bar for dinner. Continue the history vibe by spending the night at Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Day 11

Baton Rouge to New Orleans (80 miles)

Start your day in the French Quarter with some warm café au lait and sugar-covered beignets at the world-famous Café Du Monde, part of the historic French Market, a collection of eateries, gift stores, and praline shops.

After breakfast, stroll through picturesque Jackson Square and tour the stunning structures that surround this well-landscaped park and promenade. Besides the majestic St. Louis Cathedral, you’ll see curious historical exhibits inside the Cabildo and the Presbytère and glimpse period Creole furnishings inside the 1850 House, part of the lovely Pontalba Apartments.

Stroll past the quaint boutiques and verdant balconies of Chartres Street, stop by the Beauregard-Keyes House and Garden Museum, then cross the street for a self-guided tour of the Old Ursuline Convent. Afterward, walk over to Royal Street for a guided stroll through the Gallier Historic House Museum. A few blocks away, you’ll spot the Old U.S. Mint, a magnificent, red-brick edifice that now houses a state-of-the-art concert space and an engaging museum about the city’s musical heritage.

At night, don your finest attire for a quintessential French Creole dinner at Galatoire’s Restaurant on Bourbon Street. Afterward, walk to the world-famous Preservation Hall for a short jazz concert. End your evening at the candlelit Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar for a late-night drink.

bright white St. Louis Cathedral in a well manicured park on a sunny day in New Orleans

Stroll through picturesque Jackson Square and tour the stunning structures in the park, including the St. Louis Cathedral. Photo © Meinzahn/iStock.

Day 12

Board the St. Charles streetcar and head to the Garden District, where you can visit Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and stroll amid historic homes. Take time to explore the antiques shops, art galleries, and varied boutiques along funky Magazine Street.

In the afternoon, head through the CBD to The National WWII Museum, where you can watch an immersive documentary and experience exhibits pertaining to the Allied victory in World War II.

Splurge on a modern Creole dinner at the classic Commander’s Palace restaurant. Afterward, catch some live rock, funk, jazz, and blues music at well-loved Uptown joints like Tipitina’s, or venture to Rock ’n’ Bowl for a concert and a round of bowling.

In just under two weeks, you can wind your way from one epic music and food city to the next. Check out this 12-day Nashville to New Orleans road trip itinerary for an unforgettable trip through Southern culture, history, and nature.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Nashville to New Orleans Road Trip.

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Visiting Patagonia’s Perito Moreno National Park Sat, 13 Jan 2018 17:00:14 +0000 The Sierra Colorada’s intensely colored sedimentary summits are the backdrop for the lake-laden, wind-whipped, and wildlife-rich high country of Parque Nacional Perito Moreno, which is possibly Patagonia’s wildest park.

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The Sierra Colorada’s intensely colored sedimentary summits are the backdrop for the lake-laden, wind-whipped, and wildlife-rich high country of Parque Nacional Perito Moreno, named for the founder of Argentina’s park system. Possibly Patagonia’s wildest park, where Paleo-Indians covered cave walls with images of guanacos and human hands, it’s a major reason travelers have braved the past rigors of La Cuarenta.

belgrano lake winds through the Sierra Colorada in Perito Moreno National Park in Argentine Patagonia

Lago Belgrano in Parque Nacional Perito Moreno. Photo © Dmitry_Saparov/iStock.

Comprising 115,000 hectares of Patagonian steppe, sub-Antarctic forest, glacial lakes and fjords, and high Andean pastures, the park is 220 kilometers northwest of Gobernador Gregores via RN 40 and RP 37. It’s 310 kilometers southwest of the town of Perito Moreno via RN 40 and RP 37.

At 900 meters, its base elevation is higher than Los Glaciares, and its climate is colder, wetter, and more unpredictable. Its highest summit is 2,254-meter Cerro Mié. Snowcapped 3,700-meter Cerro San Lorenzo, north of the park boundary, is even higher.

In the drier eastern steppes, the dominant vegetation consists of bunch grasses known collectively as coirón. To the west there’s a transitional wind-flagged forest of lenga and ñire, the ubiquitous southern beeches. In more sheltered areas, there are dense and nearly pure lenga stands along the shores of Lago Azara and Lago Nansen.

Troops of guanacos patrol the steppes and even some of the high country where there is summer pasture; the huemul (Andean deer) grazes the uplands in summer but winters at lower elevations. The puma is the top predator, but there are lesser killers in red and gray foxes. The pilquín or chinchillón anaranjado is a species of viscacha unique to Santa Cruz province and southernmost Chile.

The largest birds are the Andean condor and the flightless rhea. Other impressive species include the águila mora (black-chested buzzard eagle), the large ñacurutú owl, Patagonian woodpeckers, and the carancho (crested caracara). The many lakes and streams support abundant wildfowl, including flamingos, black-necked swans, grebes, wild geese, and steamer ducks. Unlike other Patagonian lakes, those within the park have remained free of introduced fish species.

South American guanaco grazing in Perito Moreno National Park in Patagonia

Guanacos graze in the Patagonian steppes. Photo © Mandy2110/iStock.

Sights and Recreation

While Lago Burmeister is worth a visit, the cave paintings are closed to public access. There are large troops of guanacos on Península Belgrano, reached by an isthmus immediately west of Estancia Belgrano (which is no longer a tourist ranch).

One of the best day hikes is 1,434-meter Cerro León, a 2.5-hour climb immediately north of Estancia La Oriental, which offers the area’s best, easily accessible panoramas (be prepared for changeable weather). The volcanic overhang known as the Cerro de los Cóndores is the flight school for condor chicks.


There are free but barren campsites with pit toilets at the APN’s Centro de Informes, at the park entrance. The more appealing Lago Burmeister campground consists of Tehuelche-style lean-tos in dense lenga forest. The water is potable, but no supplies are available—campers must bring everything.

On Lago Belgrano’s north shore, Estancia La Oriental (Rivadavia 936, San Julián, Buenos Aires tel./fax 011/4152-6901, Nov.-Apr., US$150 d, US$70 dorm for up to 4 people, camping US$30 per tent for up to 3 people, with hot showers) has both conventional accommodations (seven rooms sleeping up to 22 guests) and protected campsites near the lodge. The breakfasts (US$10) of homemade scones, bread, jam, ham, and cheese deserve a detour, but the dinners (US$35) are nothing special.

Transportation and Services

Rangers at the Centro de Informes, at the park entrance, provide maps and brochures and offer guided hikes and visits; they can also be reached through the APN (Paseo 9 de Julio 610, tel./fax 02962/49-1477, in Gobernador Gregores. There is no admission charge, but the park closes to the public from May to October.

Rental cars offer the greatest flexibility, though it’s possible to hire a car and driver in Gobernador Gregores or the town of Perito Moreno. Hitching from the highway junction is feasible but uncertain.

Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Patagonia.

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Ice Climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park Fri, 22 Dec 2017 06:04:10 +0000 Are you itching to check something off your adventure bucket list this winter? This might just be the nudge you are looking for: right now, ice climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park is not just good—it’s fantastic.

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Are you itching to check something off your adventure bucket list this winter? This might just be the nudge you are looking for: right now, ice climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park is not just good—it’s fantastic.

Mother Nature set the stage for superb ice climbing in RMNP back in October and November of last year. An early snowstorm, followed by warm temperatures, then by another blast of powder followed by warmth produced ice early in the season. A visit to the Facebook group Colorado Ice Conditions or Mountain Project will provide you with visuals of the slick stuff and how it has built up over the past several months—not just in Rocky, but all over the state.

man ice climbing frozen falls in Colorado

Ice climbing is a fantastic winter bucket list activity. Photo © frontpoint/iStock.

Six outdoor adventure guiding companies—located in Colorado, Washington and Wyoming—hold permits to lead climbing outings in the park, and contacting one of these concessionaires is a good place to start if you’re a beginner.

But first, a few bits of information for your back pocket:

  1. Ice climbing is more about balance and finesse than “muscling” your way up a frozen waterfall. If you have a background in gymnastics or dance, your ice climbing skills could develop quicker than you might think. People who play racquet sports also often do well with ice climbing—particularly the axe swinging part—as they are used to fine tuning motion in their wrists.
  2. There’s a sweet spot for great ice climbing. Ice is finicky and ever-changing. If at all possible, try to get out when the outside temperature registers between 20-30°F. Without going into the physics of it all, ice is more difficult to climb when the mercury dips below 20 degrees. Your personal resolve might also be tested while pressing up against ice in very cold weather (but hey, that’s all part of the adventure, right?).
  3. Ice climbing can be great fun for families, and there’s gear out there to outfit little ones. However, most guides will tell you that youth ages 12 and older will likely have a more enjoyable experience than elementary school aged children. Brisk temperatures can quickly take their toll on kiddos. Also know that in Rocky, hiking at least one mile is required to access even the most beginner level ice features.
  4. The RMNP ice climbing experience is special for many reasons, but particularly because of the outstanding views afforded at many of the park’s climbing spots. The most popular location for beginner, top-rope ice climbing is Hidden Falls, an approximately 75-foot column of ice located in Wild Basin. If you become hooked on the sport, your bucket list could eventually expand to include routes on Loch Vale Ice, Jewel Lake Ice, All Mixed Up, or Dreamweaver.
  5. You might just fall in love with the sport. People typically feel a great sense of accomplishment after ascending and descending ice. The experience is often described as “otherworldly” and induces something akin to a natural high.
person attempting ice climbing on a frozen waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Ice climbing Jaws Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo courtesy of Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides.

Ready to give ice climbing a try? The next step is picking up the phone and establishing rapport with a guide. Estes Park-based Colorado Mountain School has the longest history of running climbing programs in the park and is a great place to start. Otherwise, your choices include: Kent Mountain Adventure Center (CO), American Alpine Institute, Ltd. (WA), Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides (CO), Jackson Hole Mountain Guides (WY), or San Juan Mountain Guides (CO).

Looking for more adventures in Colorado? Grab a copy of Moon Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Jamaica’s Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park Thu, 21 Dec 2017 18:32:54 +0000 Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park covers the highest and steepest terrain in Jamaica. This alpine terrain is the last known habitat for the endangered giant swallowtail butterfly, the second-largest butterfly in the world, which makes its home especially on the northern flanks of the range.

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Consisting of nearly 81,000 hectares (200,000 acres) in the parishes of St. Andrew, St. Mary, St. Thomas, and Portland, the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park (BJCMNP, tel. 876/920-8278) covers the highest and steepest terrain in Jamaica. This alpine terrain is the last known habitat for the endangered giant swallowtail butterfly, the second-largest butterfly in the world, which makes its home especially on the northern flanks of the range.

Several endemic plant and bird species reside in the park as well, and many migratory birds from northern regions winter there. Among the most impressive of the native birds are the streamertail hummingbirds—known locally as doctor birds—and the Jamaican tody, the Jamaican blackbird, and the yellow-billed parrot. The Blue Mountains generally are the source of water for the Kingston area, one of many reasons it is important to disturb the environment as little as possible. The BJCMNP has the largest unaltered swath of natural forest in Jamaica, with upper montane rainforest and elfin woodland at its upper reaches.

The Blue Mountains offer respite from the heat and bustle of Kingston. Photo © Nandeno Parkinson/iStock.

Blue Mountain Peak

The pinnacle of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, Blue Mountain Peak can be reached by a variety of means, depending on the level of exhaustion you are willing to endure. Generally, hikers leave before first light from Whitfield Hall at Penlyne, St. Thomas, after having arrived the previous day.

For ambitious hikers, there’s a 4.5-kilometer (2.8-mile) trail from Mavis Bank to Penlyne Castle, which is pleasant and covers several farms and streams. This option also obviates the need to send for a 4WD vehicle. From Penlyne Castle, follow the road to Abbey Green (3.2 kilometers/2 miles), and from there to Portland Gap (3.7 kilometers/2.3 miles). At Portland Gap a ranger station, sometimes staffed, has bunks, toilets, showers, and campsites. These facilities can be used for US$5 by contacting the JCDT, which asks that visitors register at the ranger station. From Portland Gap to the peak is the most arduous leg, covering 5.6 kilometers (3.5 miles). Warm clothes, rain gear, and comfortable, supportive footwear are essential. Blue Mountain Peak is also a mildly challenging three- to four-hour hike from Whitfield Hall, a rustic farmhouse with a great stone fireplace.

From Portland Gap westward along the Blue Mountain range, there are several other lofty peaks along the ridge with far less traffic. These include Sir John’s Peak, John Crow Peak, and Catherine’s Peak. Guide to the Blue and John Crow Mountains by Margaret Hodges has the most thorough coverage of hiking trails throughout the national park. Otherwise, local people are the best resource.

early morning light sets Jamaica's Blue Mountains aglow

Hikers typically set out early to be at the top of Blue Mountain Peak for sunrise. Photo © Oliver Hill.

Getting There and Around

The Blue Mountains are accessible from three points: from Kingston via Papine; from Yallahs, St. Thomas, via Cedar Valley; and from Buff Bay, St. Mary, on the North Coast, via the B1, which runs alongside the Buff Bay River. The B1 route is a very narrow road barely wide enough for one vehicle in many places.

There are two main routes to access the south-facing slopes of the Blue Mountain range. The first, accessed by taking a left onto the B1 at the Cooperage, leads through Maryland to Irish Town, Redlight, Newcastle, and Hardwar Gap before the Buff Bay River Valley opens up overlooking Portland and St. Mary on the other side of the range. The second route, straight ahead at the Cooperage along Gordon Town Road, leads to Gordon Town, and then taking a right at the town square over the bridge, to Mavis Bank. Continuing beyond Mavis Bank requires a 4WD vehicle, and you can either take a left at Hagley Gap to Penlyne, or straight down to Cedar Valley and along the Yallahs River to the town of Yallahs.

Getting to and around the Blue Mountains can be a challenge, even if keeping lunch down on the way isn’t. Only for the upper reaches, namely beyond Mavis Bank, is it really necessary to have a 4WD vehicle; otherwise the abundant potholes and washed-out road is only mildly more challenging to navigate than any other part of Jamaica due to the sharp turns.

A hired taxi into the Blue Mountains will cost upward of US$30 for a drop-off at Strawberry Hill, and at least US$100 for the day to be chauffeured around. Route taxis travel between Papine and Gordon Town (US$3) throughout the day, as well as to Irish Town (US$4); you’ll have to wait for the car to fill up with passengers before it departs.

To reach Whitfield Hall, the most common starting point for hiking up Blue Mountain Peak, 4WD taxis can be arranged by calling Whitfield Hall.

Many travelers find letting a tour operator take care of the driving is the easiest, most hassle-free way to get around the island. One of the most dependable and versatile tour companies on the island is Barrett Adventures (contact Carolyn Barrett, cell tel. 876/382-6384). Barrett can pick you up from any point on the island and specializes in off-the-beaten-path tours.

Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon Jamaica.

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Parque Nacional Torres del Paine Hiking and Climbing Mon, 11 Dec 2017 18:06:24 +0000 Some of the Andes’s youngest peaks, the Torres del Paine are among the most emblematic in the entire range. Here's everything you need to know to explore hiking trails and climbing opportunities,.

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Some of the Andes’s youngest peaks, the Torres del Paine are among the range’s most emblematic sights. Some 10 million years ago, a magma intrusion failed to reach the earth’s surface, cooling underground into resistant granite. In the interim, water, ice, and snow have eroded softer terrain to liberate the spires as one of the world’s most dramatic landscapes.

So strong a draw are the Torres that some visitors pressed for time settle for day tours that allow only a few hours in the park. Others walk to their base from Hostería Las Torres, a relatively easy day hike where it’s hard to avoid the crowds. A longer and more tiring alternative, up the steep Río Bader canyon, provides a different perspective and the Andean solitude that many hikers seek.

spiries of Torres del Paine in Patagonia

The Torres del Paine are among the most emblematic sights in the Andes. Photo © Paiphoto9/Dreamstime.

Cuernos del Paine

On a 10-day trek over the now-famous Paine Circuit, this author met only three other hikers.Many park visitors misidentify the Cuernos del Paine (Horns of Paine) as the Torres. Located almost immediately south of the Torres proper, the saw-toothed Cuernos retain a cap of darker but softer metamorphic rock atop a broader granitic batholith that, like the Torres, never reached the surface before cooling. It’s the contrast between the two that gives the Cuernos their striking aspect.

As with the Torres, day-trippers can admire the Cuernos from the park highway. The best views, though, come from the “W” trail along the north shore of Lago Nordenskjöld, between Hostería Las Torres and Lago Pehoé.


Paine Circuit

Nearly three decades ago, under a military dictatorship, Chile attracted few foreign visitors, and hiking Torres del Paine was a solitary experience. On a 10-day trek over the now-famous Paine Circuit, this author met only three other hikers. Parts of the route were easy to follow, while others were barely boot-wide tracks on steep slopes, or involved scrambling over granite boulders and fording waist-deep glacial meltwater.

Today, much has changed. At peak season, hikers are so numerous that the route can approach gridlock (hyperbole intentional). Rudimentary and not-so-rudimentary bridges make water crossings easier. In addition to the lean-tos that once sheltered shepherds, there are enough comfortable refugios (shelters) and organized campgrounds that it’s theoretically possible to complete most of the circuit without a tent or even a sleeping bag. Still, hikers must remember that this is rugged country with unpredictable weather and come well-prepared.

Most hikers tackle the circuit counterclockwise from Guardería Laguna Amarga, where buses from Puerto Natales stop for passengers to pay the park admission fee. An alternative is to continue to Pudeto and take a passenger launch to Refugio Pehoé, or else to the park’s Administración (involving a longer and less interesting approach). Both of these mean doing the trek clockwise.

A trail along Lago Nordenskjöld’s north shore provides access to the Torres’s south side, offering easier access up the Río Ascencio and Valle del Francés on the shorter “W” route to Lago Pehoé. The circuit follows the river’s west bank south to Laguna Amarga. (A Laguna Azul, exit or entrance is feasible as well by crossing the Río Paine by a cable raft at the river’s Lago Dickson outlet, with help from the staff at Refugio Dickson.)

The full circuit takes at least a week to complete. Before beginning, hikers must register with park rangers. Camping is permitted only at designated sites, a few of which are free. Purchase supplies in Puerto Natales, as only limited goods are available within the park, at premium prices.

The W-Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park. Photo © Scott Biales/iStock.

The “W” Variant

From Guardería Laguna Amarga, a narrow undulating road crosses the Río Paine on a narrow suspension bridge to the grounds of Estancia Cerro Paine, at the foot of 2,640-meter Monte Almirante Nieto. The estancia operates a hotel, refugios (shelters), and campgrounds, and the staff also shuttles hikers back and forth from Laguna Amarga (US$5.50 pp).

From Estancia Cerro Paine, a northbound trail parallels the route from Guardería Laguna Amarga, eventually meeting it just south of Campamento Serón. The estancia is more notable, though, as the starting point for the “W” route to Lago Pehoé, a scenic and challenging option for hikers lacking time for the full circuit. On the western edge of the grounds, the footbridge crosses the Río Ascencio to a junction where a northbound lateral trail climbs the river canyon to Campamento Torres, where a short but steep trail ascends to a nameless glacial tarn at the foot of the Torres proper. Weather permitting, this is a recommended day hike from the estancia, though many people prefer to camp or spend the night at the refugio.

From the junction, the main trail follows Lago Nordenskjöld’s north shore, past another refugio and campground, to the free Campamento Italiano at the base of the Río del Francés valley. While the main trail continues west toward Lago Pehoé, another northbound lateral trail climbs steeply up the valley, between the striking metamorphic Cuernos del Paine to the east and the 3,050-meter granite summit of Paine Grande to the west, to the free Campamento Británico.

Hikers in search of peace and quiet can make a strenuous detour up the Valle Bader, a steep rugged river valley that’s home to a climber’s camp at the Cuernos’ base. The route is mostly unmarked, but experienced cross-country walkers can handle it.

Other Trails

After heavy runoff destroyed the once-sturdy bridge at Lago Paine’s outlet in the early 1980s, the Río Paine’s north shore became isolated from the rest of the park. A good road, though, still leads from Guardería Laguna Amarga to Laguna Azul’s east end, which has a campground and cabañas, as well as the Sendero Lago Paine, a four-hour walk to the lake and a simple refugio (shelter). A trekkers’ alternative is the Sendero Desembocadura, which leads north from Guardería Laguna Amarga through open country to Laguna Azul’s west end and continues to Lago Paine, but this takes about eight hours. From the north shore of Lago Paine, the Sendero Lago Dickson (5.5 hours) leads to the Dickson Glacier.

Several easy day hikes are possible near Guardería Lago Pehoé, directly on the road from Laguna Amarga to the visitors center. The short Sendero Salto Grande trail leads to the thunderous waterfall, at Lago Sarmiento’s outlet, that was the circuit’s starting point until unprecedented runoff swept away the iron bridge to Península Pehoé in 1986. From Salto Grande, the Sendero Mirador Nordenskjöld is a slightly longer but still easy walk to a lakeshore vista point, directly opposite the stunning Cuernos del Paine.

From Guardería Lago Grey, 18 kilometers northwest of the visitors center by road, a short footpath leads to a sandy beach on Lago Grey’s south shore, where steady westerlies often beach icebergs from Glaciar Grey. The longer and less visited Sendero Lago Pingo ascends the Río Pingo Valley to its namesake lake (5.5-6 hours). A basic refugio and two free campgrounds are along the route.

Lago Grey and the Patagonian ice field in Torres del Paine national park

Lago Grey is located on the western side of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. Photo © davidionut/iStock.


Though popular, hiking is not the only recreational option. Despite similar terrain, Paine attracts fewer climbers than Argentina’s neighboring Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, perhaps because fees for climbing permits have been high here. At present, permits are free of charge; before being granted permission, climbers must present Conaf with climbing résumés, emergency contacts, and authorization from their consulate.

When climbing in sensitive border areas (meaning most of Andean Chile), climbers must also have permission from the Dirección de Fronteras y Límites (Difrol) in Santiago. It’s possible to do this through a Chilean consulate overseas or at Difrol’s Santiago offices or, preferably, online. If you arrive in Puerto Natales without permission, it’s possible to request it through the Gobernación Provincial (tel. 061/241-1423), the regional government offices on the south side of Plaza Arturo Prat. The turnaround time is 48 hours.

While climbing and mountaineering activities may be undertaken independently, local concessionaires can provide training and lead groups or individuals with less experience on snow and ice. Big Foot Adventure Patagonia (tel. 061/241-4611 in Natales) has a Refugio Grey base camp, where it leads half-day traverses of Glaciar Grey’s west side (US$140) and 2.5-hour kayak excursions (US$90). It also operates guided three-day, two-night descents of the Río Serrano (US$795-1,090 pp, depending on group size). Except for weatherproof clothing, the company provides all equipment.

What better way to explore the natural beauty of Chilean Patagonia than on foot? Learn about hiking and climbing in Torres del Paine National Park.

Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Patagonia.

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3 Days of Winter Romance in the Grand Canyon Mon, 11 Dec 2017 17:27:19 +0000 The most romantic time to visit the South Rim is during the winter, when crowds are lighter, sunrises are later, and frosty temperatures make snuggling by a fireplace even more fun.

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The most romantic time to visit the South Rim is during the winter, when crowds are lighter, sunrises are later, and frosty temperatures make snuggling by a fireplace even more fun. This Grand Canyon itinerary is sure to set the mood for an intimate 3-day getaway.

Day 1

Check into elegant El Tovar or a cozy cabin at Bright Angel Lodge. Some of the cabins have fireplaces or canyon views. If you want to impress your sweetie with a romantic dinner, make reservations in advance for El Tovar’s candlelit dining room.

Snow covered ground at Hopi Point with a pink and purple sky stretching above the canyon.

The pastel hues of a winter sunset at Grand Canyon National Park’s Hopi Point. Photo © Kesterhu/iStock.

Day 2

After breakfast, pick up a picnic lunch at the General Store deli and spend a few hours exploring the overlooks along the West Rim’s Hermit Road. Hike the Rim Trail from Pima Point to Hermits Rest (1.1 miles), where you can warm up with some hot chocolate. Rumor has it that Mary Colter, the architect of this fanciful structure, liked to steal away for a few moments of solitude along the rim close by. See if you can find her special perch or, if it’s not too icy, hike a short distance down nearby Hermit Trail.

Winter sunsets arrive early and paint the canyon walls in glowing orange, pink, and lavender. Hopi Point is popular at sunset; opt for Pima or Mohave Points if you’d prefer to avoid a crowd. After watching the celestial show, return to the village and warm up by your cabin’s fireplace. No fireplace of your own? There’s usually a blaze going in El Tovar’s Rendezvous Room, and the lounge is a cozy spot for a warm drink.

The Shrine of the Ages hosts occasional evening programs in winter. But the most awe-inspiring show is outdoors: On dark, clear nights millions of diamond-bright stars will take your breath away. Pick up a star map at one of the park’s shops or use a stargazing phone app. If you bundle up and bring a flashlight, you can view the night sky almost anywhere, but the amphitheater at Mather Point has front-row seats.

Snow covers the ground at Yaki Point in the Grand Canyon.

Enjoy a breathtaking view at Grand Canyon’s Yaki Point in Winter. Photo © Spondylolithesis/iStock.

Day 3

Sunrise or sleep in? If you decide to greet the dawn from somewhere other than your window, grab a coffee at the Canyon Coffee House in Bright Angel Lodge, and then hop the shuttle to Yaki Point. Watch as buttery golden sunlight spreads over the canyon’s inner peaks.

Return to the village for a hearty brunch, and then stroll along the rim to Hopi House, designed by architect Mary Colter in 1905. Inside this historic structure is the canyon’s finest collection of Native American jewelry, perfect if you want a memento of your special weekend.

Spend the rest of the day exploring the East Rim by car. Watch the sunset from Lipan Point or Desert View Watchtower, another of Mary Colter’s romanticized re-creations. To the west, inner canyon temples and buttes fade to layered silhouettes in blues and purples—a dramatic finale to the weekend.

Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon Grand Canyon.

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Visiting the Glaciers of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares Thu, 30 Nov 2017 22:32:45 +0000 Whether you're a day visitor, a hiker, or a mountaineer, there are plenty of sights in Argentina's Parque Nacional Los Glaciares to enjoy. Read on for information about the park's many lakes and glaciers, plus hikes and tours.

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On the eastern Andean slopes, Parque Nacional Los Glaciares comprises over 750,000 hectares, where slowly flowing ice gives birth to clear frigid rivers and vast lakes, interspersed with Magellanic forests, along the Chilean border west and north of El Calafate. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s famous for the Glaciar Perito Moreno, which draws thousands of visitors as well as scientists absorbed in glaciology and climate studies. The northern sector draws those seeking to spend several days in vigorous exercise, for either trekking or the riskier technical climbing.

Hugging the Chilean border, the elongated park stretches well over 100 kilometers from north to south. There are four significant access points, but just two of those get the great majority of visitors.

Since nearly all visitors come to see Glaciar Perito Moreno, most stay at El Calafate, 80 kilometers east by paved highway; the only accommodations closer to the glacier are expensive ranches and lodges just outside park boundaries with small capacities. At the Río Mitre entrance, this main Glaciar Perito Moreno approach, the Administración de Parques Nacionales (APN) collects a US$22 admission fee (payable in pesos only) from nonresidents of Argentina. Lake excursions into the park leave from Punta Bandera, a short detour north from the Moreno Glacier road. Passengers on lake excursions from Punta Bandera must also pay the fee.

The other main access point is the village El Chaltén, 220 kilometers to the northwest by a paved but roundabout route, with abundant accommodations in all categories and easy trail access even for those without their own vehicles. This northernmost sector—a three-hour bus trip from El Calafate by paved highway—attracts hikers and serious mountaineers. Backpackers should note that no campfires are permitted within the park. Carrying a camp stove is obligatory for cooking. This southern approach includes the APN visitors center (tel. 02962/49-3004, 9am-5pm daily, occasionally until 8pm), which has natural history exhibits, provides a decent trail map (scale 1:75,000), and also issues climbing permits (free).

There is additional park access at Lago Roca, southwest of El Calafate, and at little-visited Helsingfors, to the northwest. Accessible by gravel road, the Lago Roca sector has campgrounds and some ranch accommodations, but few trails. To the northwest, on the south shore of Lago Viedma, reached from El Calafate by a roundabout combination of paved and gravel routes, the park’s Helsingfors sector has limited but scenic hiking and private accommodations at its namesake lodge. There is no public transportation.

At present, the Lago Roca, Helsingfors, and El Chaltén sectors remain fee-free.

the icy glacier of Perito Moreno in Patagonia's Parque Nactional Los Glaciares

Glaciar Perito Moreno is one of South America’s greatest sights and sounds. Photo © Renan Greinert/Dreamstime.

Glaciar Perito Moreno

Where a low Andean pass lets Pacific weather systems cross the cordillera, countless storms have deposited immeasurable meters of snow that, over millennia, have compressed into Glaciar Perito Moreno, a rasping river of ice that’s one of the continent’s greatest sights and sounds. Fifteen times during the 20th century, the advancing glacier blocked Lago Argentino’s Brazo Rico (Rico Arm) to form a rising body of water that eventually, when the weight became too great for the natural dam, triggered an eruption of ice and water toward the lake’s main glacial trough.

The last event took place on March 10, 2016, but the avalanche of ice and water could easily have been a metaphor for the flood of tourists that invaded El Calafate in anticipation. On any given day, massive icebergs still calve off the glacier’s 60-meter face and crash into the Canal de los Témpanos (Iceberg Channel) with astonishing frequency.

Perched on newly modernized catwalks and overlooks, many visitors spend entire days either gazing at or simply listening to this rumbling river of ice. Descending to lake level is prohibited because of the danger of backwash and flying ice chunks.

Sights and Tours

Hielo y Aventura (Av. Libertador 935, El Calafate, tel. 02902/49-2205) offers full-day “mini trekking” excursions onto the ice (US$140 pp includes transportation from El Calafate). Other options include the more strenuous Big Ice trip (US$152 pp with transporation) and a passive Safari Náutico navigation (1 hour, US$23 pp, transportation not included) that approaches the glacier’s face.

Organized tours to the glacier, 80 kilometers southwest of El Calafate via RP 11, leave every day, as does scheduled transport. Transportation is usually extra for everything except bus tours.

In addition to regularly scheduled transportation, guided bus tours are frequent, but both are less frequent in winter. Competent operators include Aventura Andina (Av. del Libertador 761, Local 4, tel. 02902/49-1726), Cal Tur (Av. Libertador 1080, tel. 02902/49-1368), Cordillera del Sol (25 de Mayo 43, tel. 02902/49-2822), Eurotur (Av. del Libertador 1025, tel. 02902/49-2190), Mundo Austral (Av. Libertador 1114, tel. 02902/49-2365), and Rumbo Sur (9 de Julio 81, Local 2, tel. 02902/49-2155).

El Calafate’s Hostel del Glaciar runs its own guided minivan excursions (US$40 pp), leaving about 8am daily and returning around 5pm. These include more hiking and a navigation for a waterside view of the lake.

tourist on a boat gazing at Upsala glacier in Los Glaciares national park

Take a boat tour to Glaciar Upsala. Photo © Melissa Schalke/Dreamstime.

Glaciar Upsala

Even larger than the Glaciar Perito Moreno, 50 kilometers long and 10 kilometers wide at its foot, Glaciar Upsala is impressive for its sheer extent, the sizable bergs that have calved off it, and their shapes and colors. It’s accessible only by crowded catamaran trips from Punta Bandera via Lago Argentino’s Brazo Norte (North Arm).


At midday the boat anchors at Bahía Onelli. Bring a bag lunch (skipping the restaurant) to hike to ice-clogged Lago Onelli. The land portion of this excursion is regimented, and the guide-suggested pace—30 minutes from dock to lakeshore—is appropriate for those on crutches. Smoking is prohibited on the forest trail.

Visitors should realize that this is a mass-tourism excursion that may frustrate hikers accustomed to freedom of the hills. If you take it, choose the biggest available ship, which offers the most deck space to see the Spegazzini and Upsala Glaciers. On board, the freshest air is within the cabin of the ALM, whose seats are cramped but where smoking is prohibited; on deck, desperate smokers congregate even in freezing rain. Reasonably priced cakes, sandwiches, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate are available on board.

Puerto Bandera is 45 kilometers west of Calafate via RP 11 and RP 8. For information and reservations, contact concessionaire Solo Patagonia (Av. Libertador 867, El Calafate, tel. 02902/49-1155 or 02902/491428). The full-day trip costs about US$110 per person, US$65 ages 8-16, with a four-course lunch and open bar; it does not include transfer to Puerto Bandera or the US$22 park fee.

On its small cruiser Leal, Cruceros Marpatag (9 de Julio 57, Local 10, El Calafate, tel. 02902/49-2118) offers a full-day excursion, with a six-course gourmet lunch (wine included), to the Spegazzini and Upsala glacier fields (US$270-340 pp, including transfers and park admission). The triple-deck 22-cabin catamaran Santa Cruz now offers three-day, two-night cruises to Upsala and Spegazzini (US$1,785-3,900 s, US$3,360-5,680 d), with a final day’s lunch facing the Perito Moreno Glacier.

Lago Roca

Also known as La Jerónima, the park’s little-visited southwesterly sector along Lago Roca’s Brazo Sur (South Arm) offers camping and cross-country hiking. There are no formal trails, only routes such as the one from the campground to the summit of Cerro Cristal, 55 kilometers from El Calafate. The most striking feature is the high shoreline, dry from the days when the lake backs up behind the advancing Glaciar Perito Moreno. Unlike other sectors, Lago Roca charges no admission fee.

clear green glacial water at the foot of Cerro Fitz Roy in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares

The spires of the Fitz Roy range match those of Torres del Paine. Photo © Michal Jastrzebski/Dreamstime.

Sector Fitz Roy

In the park’s most northerly sector, the Fitz Roy range has sheer spires to match Torres del Paine. Even if you’re not a top technical climber, trails from the village of El Chaltén to the base of summits such as Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre make for exhilarating hikes. It’s even possible to traverse the southern Patagonian ice fields. Visitors seeking a sedate outdoor experience will find a handful of former sheep ranches, onetime Patagonian wool producers that have reinvented themselves as tourist accommodations.

Hiking and Trekking

From a signposted trailhead at El Chaltén’s north end, the Sendero Laguna Torre is an 11-kilometer track gaining about 200 meters in elevation as it winds through southern beech forests to the climbers’ base camp for Cerro Torre; figure 3 to 3.5 hours. At the lake, in clear weather, there are extraordinary views of Cerro Torre’s 3,102-meter summit, crowned by the so-called ice-and-snow “mushroom” that technical climbers must surmount. While Italian Cesare Maestri claimed that he and Austrian Toni Egger reached the summit in 1959 (Egger died in an avalanche, taking the camera with him), Italian Casimiro Ferrari made the first undisputed ascent in 1974.

From the Madsen pack station, the more demanding Sendero Río Blanco trail rises steeply at the outset before leveling out through boggy beech forest and continuing to the Fitz Roy base camp, climbing about 350 meters in 10 kilometers. About midway to Río Blanco, a signed lateral trail leads south to Laguna Capri, which has backcountry campsites.

From Río Blanco, a vertiginous zigzag trail ascends 400 meters in just 2.5 kilometers to Laguna de los Tres, a glacial tarn whose name commemorates three members of the French expedition—René Ferlet, Lionel Terray, and Guido Magnone—who summited Fitz Roy in 1952. Truly a top-of-the-world experience, Laguna de los Tres offers some of Patagonia’s finest Andean panoramas.

From the Río Blanco campground (reserved for climbers), a northbound trail follows the river’s west bank north to Laguna Piedras Blancas, whose namesake glacier continually calves small icebergs. The trail continues north to the Río Eléctrico, beyond the park boundaries, where a westbound trail climbs the river to Piedra del Fraile and a possible circuit of the Campo de Hielo Sur. This is only for experienced snow-and-ice trekkers. At the Río Eléctrico, it’s also possible to rejoin the road from El Chaltén to Lago del Desierto.

From the park visitors center, a short ascent (about 45 minutes) leads to the Mirador de los Cóndores, for good views of El Chaltén and the confluence of the Río de las Vueltas and the Río Fitz Roy.

From the same trailhead, the hike to Loma del Pliegue Tumbado is a 500-meter elevation gain that yields some of the area’s best views. Weather permitting, the panorama takes in Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre, Cerro Solo, Glaciar Torre, and Lago Torre, but the wind at the overlook can be overpowering. Four hours is about right for an average hiker, but the truly fit can do it in three. The descent takes about 2.5 hours.

Glaciar Viedma

From Lago Viedma’s north shore, south of El Chaltén, the park’s best lake excursion is the Viedma Discovery’s full-day catamaran to Glaciar Viedma, which can include an ice-climbing component. The less ambitious can settle for just a boat trip.

Sailing from Bahía Túnel, the vessel rounds the ironically named Cabo de Hornos (Cape Horn) to enter an iceberg-cluttered area before anchoring in a rocky cove. After disembarking, visitors hike to an overlook (the glacier is Argentina’s largest, though its lakeside face is small) with additional views of 2,677-meter Cerro Huemul. Those who want to can strap on crampons and continue onto the glacier for about 2.5 hours (even some sedentary city-dwellers do so).

The bilingual guides know glaciology. While the price here does not include lunch, they do provide an aperitif on the glacial rocks.

Departure time from El Chaltén is 8:30am, while the boat sails from Bahía Túnel at 8:15am; the cost is US$160 pp, including transportation from El Chaltén. The more demanding “Viedma Pro” version, which involves ice climbing, costs US$200. The twice-daily “Viedma Light” boat trip alone is US$55 pp. For details, contact Patagonia Aventura (Av. San Martín 56-B, tel. 02962/49-3110, El Chaltén).

Parque Nacional Los Glaciares map in Argentinean Patagonia

Map of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares in Argentina

Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Patagonia.

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Best Haleakala Hikes Thu, 30 Nov 2017 20:10:22 +0000 If you’re an outdoors enthusiast, no trip to Maui is complete without tackling at least one of Haleakala’s trails. With that thought in mind, here’s a rundown of the most popular hikes, listed from shortest to longest.

The post Best Haleakala Hikes appeared first on Moon Travel Guides.

Thanks to the colorful cinder cones and trails that crunch underfoot, anyone who hikes across Haleakala Crater will swear they could be on the moon. Covering a total of 19 square miles, the crater basin is a vast wilderness with 30 miles of trails. It’s a place of adventure, mythology, and silence—and home to Maui’s best hiking. If you love the outdoors, no trip to Maui is complete without a spending a day on the crater floor.

Hikers need to be prepared, however, as temperatures can range from 30°F to 80°F over the course of a single day. The hiking is at high elevation, 7,000 to 10,000 feet, and hiking back up generally takes twice as long as the hike down. Hike Maui (808/879-5270, $179) is the only company that offers commercially guided hiking tours. Should you go on your own, here’s a rundown of the most popular hikes, listed from shortest to longest. All mileage is round-trip.

landscape view of Haleakala National Park, home of the best hiking in Maui

No Maui trip is complete within a visit to Haleakala National Park. Photo © mdlart/iStock.

Pa Ka‘oao

0.4 mile
If you don’t feel like watching the sunrise with 200 other people, huff your way up the five-minute Pa Ka‘oao Trail that leaves from the Visitors Center parking lot. The view from the top looks down toward the crater, and it’s better than from the parking lot. Bring a flashlight for the walking the trail before sunrise.

Leleiwi Overlook

0.5 mile
Running late for sunrise? Consider hiking to Leleiwi Overlook (8,840 feet). Located by mile marker 17.5, Leleiwi has smaller crowds and is usually warmer. The view looks down on the crater floor and the sheer multihued cliffs, although since the lookout faces east, it isn’t as good for sunset.

Hosmer’s Grove Nature Trail

0.5 mile
Unlike other trails in the park, the Hosmer’s Grove Nature Trail is at the park’s lower boundary just after you enter the park. The short trail loops through a dense grove of trees, planted in 1910 as part of an unsuccessful experiment to test the viability of the lumber industry. Surrounded by sweet-smelling pine and fir, grab a fleece and go for a stroll through the 20-plus species of trees, listening for forest birds that flit around in the treetops. To reach the trailhead, make a left on the road pointing toward the campground immediately after entering the park. The walk, over mostly level ground, should take 30 minutes. To extend the trip, hike the Supply Trail for 2.3 miles to where it meets with the crater rim.

Halemau‘u Trail (Switchback Trail)

7.5 miles
Beginning from an altitude of only 7,990 feet, the first 1.1 miles of the Halemau‘u Trail meander through scrub brush before bringing you to the edge of a 1,000-foot cliff. The view down into the Ko‘olau Gap is better here than from the summit, and although the trail is well-defined, the drop-offs can be a bit disconcerting. After 3.7 miles—and a 1,000 foot drop—the trail passes Holua Cabin, where you can turn around. Tack on another mile by continuing to Silversword Loop, a section of the crater known for its numerous ‘ahinahina, or endangered silversword plants.

the barren landscape of the Sliding Sands hiking Trail in Haleakala National Park

The 8-mile Keonehe‘ehe‘e (Sliding Sands) Trail is barren and windswept, but offers sweeping views of cinder cones. Photo © photo75/iStock.

Keinehe‘ehe‘e Trail (Sliding Sands Trail)

8 miles
Starting at the summit visitor center at 9,800 feet, Keonehe‘ehe‘e descends 2,500 vertical feet to the crater floor below. This trail is barren, windswept, without shade, and a stunning conduit to the cinder cones. You can turn around anytime you want to hike out. Continuing to Kapalaoa Cabin adds 3.5 miles round-trip.

Sliding Sands-Switchback Loop

12.2 miles
If you’re in good shape and have a full day to devote to exploring the crater, this is hands-down the best day hike in the summit area. Park at the Halemau‘u trailhead, then hitch a ride to the top, where you’ll hike down to the crater floor on the Sliding Sands Trail. Follow the signs toward Holua Cabin and the Halemau‘u Trail, where a leg-burning, switchbacking, 1,000-foot climb leads back to the car.

If you really want an island adventure that you’ll never forget, consider hiking the trail at night in the light of a full moon. For this night hike, bring a backpack of extra clothing, carry extra water and a flashlight, and dress for windchill that can drop below freezing any time of year.

Kaupo Gap

Of all the hikes in Haleakala Crater, none are more legendary, or more extreme, than “shooting” the Kaupo Gap, a two-day trip, with a stay at Paliku campground, that drops 9,500 vertical feet over 17.5 miles. Permits are required for camping at Paliku, in the crater’s remotest corner, 9.2 miles from the Sliding Sands trailhead.

On the second day of the hike, you’ll descend from Paliku outside the national park boundary, and legally continue across private land until you reach Kaupo Store. Along the trail, keep an eye out for goats and deer that roam the windswept grasslands. When you finally finish the hike in Kaupo, it’s best if you’ve prearranged a ride. If not, you may have to convince the rare passerby to shuttle your sweaty body all the way to the other side of the island. Despite the logistical challenges and the grueling backcountry terrain, this is a unique and memorable hike.

Map of Haleakala National Park, Hawaii

Haleakala National Park

Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Hawaii.

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Rocky Mountain National Park: Snowshoeing with a Ranger Mon, 27 Nov 2017 19:48:56 +0000 Snowshoes dramatically improve visitors’ ability to explore Rocky in the winter months. The strap-on devices provide traction on firm, icy terrain, and keep you afloat on softer snow.

The post Rocky Mountain National Park: Snowshoeing with a Ranger appeared first on Moon Travel Guides.

Individuals unaccustomed to cold climates often learn the hard way how to travel Rocky Mountain National Park’s trails in the winter. Wearing boots or athletic shoes, hikers will head up a trail, feeling confident because the snow is packed down. But then the inevitable happens: postholing. One or both legs plunge deep—up to knee height or further—into a softer patch of snow. Additional steps only result in more of the same wet misery.

Snowshoes dramatically improve visitors’ ability to explore Rocky in the winter months. The strap-on devices provide traction on firm, icy terrain, and keep you afloat on softer snow. Several regularly occurring ranger-led programs offered each winter serve as a great introduction to the sport. To participate, you’ll need to pay admission for the park and bring your own pair of snowshoes. Rentals are available at outdoor stores in Rocky’s gateway towns of Grand Lake and Estes Park.

woman strapping on snowshoes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Snowshoes provide traction on firm, icy terrain, and keep you afloat on softer snow. Photo © Tereza Venn.

On Rocky’s west side, two snowshoe programs are offered once a week during the winter months—one beginner outing, and one intermediate outing. Each program is two hours and sets off from a trailhead in the Kawuneeche Valley. Expect mostly level terrain for the beginner outing, and a small climb—somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 feet—during the intermediate program.

On the east side, a two-hour snowshoe ecology walk is offered three times a week in the winter. Typically, a trail in the Bear Lake area is explored. While participants get comfortable with their snowshoes, rangers discuss winter goings-on in a subalpine forest—perhaps pointing out delicate animal tracks or ‘snow knees:’ tree trunks that have been bent into a ‘knee’ shape due to prolonged pressure from heavy snow.

two people snowshoeing in the Rockies

Snowshoeing offers another fun way to explore the Rockies. Photo © miws16/iStock.

Reservations for any snowshoe program must be made up to seven days in advance. A word to the wise: plan on securing your reservation (in person at a visitor center, or over the phone) earlier rather than later. Rangers will take up to 25 participants, and often all of the spots are spoken for several days before the program.

In truth, there’s not a great deal of technique involved with snowshoeing, but venturing out with a group for your first go-around is a good way to establish a baseline level of comfort. You might also feel tentative about navigating Rocky’s trails in the snow, and rightly so. It’s easy to get disoriented on a trail, particularly after a fresh snowfall. By leaving the navigation up to an experienced ranger, you’re free to focus on the beauty of a wintertime Rocky.

To learn more about snowshoe outings happening this winter, check out Rocky’s park newspaper, or call the park’s information line at 970/586-1206. Participants must be eight years old or older, and there is a limit of six people per reservation. In addition to snowshoes, you’ll need proper winter attire, a map, snacks, and water.

Gear up for your visit with maps, itineraries, and more ideas for exploring with Moon Rocky Mountain National Park.

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