8 Fall Vacations for Foliage, Fewer Crowds & Stunning Scenery

Ziplining at the Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming, just one of the activities at the all-inclusive guest ranch (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Cool weather, brightly colored foliage, and destinations largely free from crowds make fall the perfect time to travel. Here are eight vacation ideas for the months ahead, ranging from the mountains of Montana to the Natchez Trace and even the Galapagos Islands

1. Pacific Coast Cycling: The Pacific Coast Route is one of America’s premier cycling routes and autumn is an optimal time to avoid heavy tourist traffic. Pedal south through the lush forests of western Washington before following the Columbia River to the Oregon coast, then enter California and encounter massive redwoods coastal headlands and sandy beaches with bike paths. Ride the route on your own with maps from Adventure Cycling Association, or join other on a tour.
 
2. Fall Under the Big Sky: A visit to Big Sky, Montana, and stay at The Wilson Hotel offers the opportunity for fall adventures in Yellowstone country, as elk bugle and pockets of aspen trees turn golden against the backdrop of the green forest. Hike and mountain bike trails surrounding town, fish the famed Gallatin River or take one last tour of Yellowstone National Park’s natural wonders and wildlife before roads close for the season.
 
3. Traffic-Free Natchez Trace: The Natchez Trace is a historic travel corridor through Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi used by American Indians, settlers, soldiers and future presidents. And with no commercial traffic, the Natchez Trace Parkway is a cyclist’s dream come true. Join Cycle of Life Adventures for a fall tour to enjoy the changing colors of maple, hickory, oak and other hardwood trees, milder temperatures and overnight accommodations in small towns along the parkway.
 
4. National Parks RV Trip: National parks saw record crowds over the summer, but now that fall is here it’s a great time to visit for fewer crowds, less traffic and pleasant temperatures. Blacksford rents fully stocked Mercedes-Benz Sprinter overland adventure vehicles from Winnebago with an all-inclusive pricing model that includes unlimited miles, no generator fees, bedding, kitchen and bath supplies, free Wi-Fi, a free annual pass to the national parks and 24-hour roadside assistance.
 
5. Arizona + Black Canyon Mountain Biking: Explore all the Sonoran Desert has to offer with the Best of Phoenix and Black Canyon Trail Mountain Biking Tour from Escape Adventures. This trip is ideal for close groups of biking friends looking for a warm fall or winter excursion. Highlights include exploring the 21,099-acre McDowell Mountain regional park, riding conservancy lands and ripping more than 40-miles of fast and flowy singletrack.
 
6. Jackson Hole Glamping: Wyoming’s Fireside Resort offers 25 pint-sized, luxuriously outfitted tiny house rental units designed by Wheelhaus. The resort is located a short distance from Grand Teton National Park and the Jackson Hole ski slopes, making it the perfect place to post up for a fall getaway or winter ski trip.
 
7. Play Cowboy at a Dude Ranch: Red Reflet Ranch is a 28,000-acre luxury resort and working ranch on the west slope of the Bighorn Mountains, just three hours from Yellowstone National Park. Guests stay in private chalets and enjoy family-friendly activities like horseback riding, ATVing, ziplining, swimming, hiking, fishing, shooting and feasting on farm-to-table cuisine.
 
8. Autumn Galapagos Adventure: Fall is one of the best times of year to visit Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, particularly when it comes to wildlife and weather. The Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel has joined forces with Scalesia Galapagos Lodge to offer a new weeklong program that includes day trips aboard Yacht Sea Lion, glamping in luxury tents on Isabela Island and visits to remote and mysterious places that illustrate the incredible diversity of the archipelago.

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NYS Opens First Nature Trail in US Designed for Autism Spectrum at Letchworth State Park

First Trail in U.S. Designed Specifically for Autism Spectrum Disorder Communities and Families

Project Supported By More Than $3.3 Million in Private Funds

The nation’s first nature trail specifically designed to address the sensory needs of those with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities is open at Letchworth State Park in western New York State © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The nation’s first nature trail specifically designed to address the sensory needs of those with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities is open at Letchworth State Park in western New York State. Supported by more than $3.3 million in private fundraising, the new Autism Nature Trail is a one-mile hiking loop that includes eight marked sensory stations, each designed to address a different sensory experience in a safe and supportive environment.

“New York State is leading the nation in creating this public trail purposefully designed to bring the benefits of the outdoors to those on the autism disorder spectrum and their families,” Governor Kathy Hochul said. “State Parks should be accessible to everyone, and this is a welcoming and inclusive place for an underserved community.”

Activities along the Autism Nature Trail support and encourage sensory perception and integration, while also providing enjoyable activities for visitors of all abilities and ages. The stations engage each visitor’s senses, using nature and natural materials as the tools for skill-building. The trail is set up to allow for safe social distancing and planned interaction.

Sensory stations and other features of Autism Nature Trail include:

  • Sensory Station, where a collection of leaves, moss, fossils, animal fur, acorns and other objects are to be touched, handled, and even smelled;
  • Sunshine Slope, a gentle maze in an opening that includes a viewing platform, three cuddle swings, and an “Alone Zone;”
  • Music Circle, where a variety of nature-inspired musical instruments encourage creativity, either alone or with others;
  • Curiosity Corner, an open space with a gliding seat, ant-shaped boulders, and access to a shortcut back to the beginning of the trail;
  • Reflection Knoll, a quiet point halfway on the trail under a canopy of trees, with etchings of woodland creatures hidden in the boulders;
  • Meadow Run and Climb, a place with paths to run, jump and balance along serpentine berms and an obstacle course;
  • Design Zone, where visitors can manipulate materials from along the trail into patterns and structures;
  • Playful Path, a place of twisting paths with different surfaces including coarse gravel, log rounds, and sand;
  • The Nook, an area of carefully spaced seating set under a natural canopy;
  • The Celebration Station, as the final stop on the trail, this area has a place for visitors to express themselves through writing and drawing about their experiences on the trail.

Located near the park’s Humphrey Nature Center with parking, restrooms and Wi-Fi, the ADA-compliant trail was designed with input from Dr. Temple Grandin, a cattle industry expert who was diagnosed with autism in 1950 at the age of two and is now one of the world’s most well-known advocates for the autistic community.

Support and programming for the trail comes from the nearby Perry Central School District in Wyoming County and Rochester’s Camp Puzzle Peace, an Adirondack summer camp for families living with developmental disabilities. Fundraising for the trail is being managed on behalf of State Parks by the Natural Heritage Trust. The trust is a not-for-profit charitable corporation that receives and administers gifts, grants, and contributions to support public programs for parks, recreation, cultural, land and water conservation and historic preservation purposes.

Last month, Autism Nature Trail supporters marked the sudden loss of one of the project’s most devoted early advocates, ANT co-founder Susan Herrnstein. Her family has requested that any donations in her memory be made to the Autism Nature Trail through the Natural Heritage Trust.

Fundraising will continue to support visitor programming for the Autism Nature Trail. So far, more than 650 separate donations have been made to the project, reflecting more than 430 individual donors, 50 corporate donors, 25 community groups, and 15 foundations.

State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, “The public-private partnership that envisioned and accomplished this innovative project shows what the power of collaboration and commitment can achieve. State Parks values our dedicated staff and partners who have put in countless hours and is grateful for the generous financial support provided by so many donors.”

“Our hope is that the Autism Nature Trail will become an exemplar, widely replicated, taking from what we learned in the seven-year process of creating a first-of-its-kind experience in nature,” Loren Penman, an Autism Nature Trail co-founder and member of the Genesee Regional Park Commission, said. “While others retrofit public places to make them accessible, we have created an accessible place and made it public–and that has made all the difference.”

Gail Servanti, an Autism Nature Trail co-founder and member of the Genesee Regional Park Commission, said, “This is our dream come true and I eagerly await the positive impact a walk on the Autism Nature Trail will have on individuals and families of all abilities.”

“Camp Puzzle Peace was founded out of a desire to share a love of nature and to allow all families to experience the joy of the outdoors in a meaningful way,” Camp Puzzle Peace Executive Director Jen Hackett said. “We are very proud to partner with New York State to expand our purpose by providing programming on the Autism Nature Trail for all families, regardless of ability or diagnosis.”

Perry School District Superintendent Daryl McLaughlin said, “The eyes of the world are on this project.  Everything we are doing has never been done before.  This project represents what is possible when individuals, groups, and municipalities engage with one another to advance a cause.  The Autism Nature Trail will be a powerful instructional space where cutting-edge learning and teaching will occur for all individuals.  This project also will be a paradigm shift for economic development.”

About 1 in 54 children in the U.S. have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ASD is reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups and often has a tremendous impact on parents, siblings, and members of the extended family.

Statistics show that young people with autism spend disproportionate amounts of time indoors, often finding comfort in digital activities which results in social isolation. This disconnectedness not only affects individuals with ASD but also can affect caregivers and entire families, who can sometimes feel uncomfortable in outside settings.

For more information on the Autism Nature Trail, visit: https://autismnaturetrail.com/.

Visited by nearly one million people annually, Letchworth State Park covers more than 14,000 acres and is one of the most scenically magnificent areas in the eastern U.S. In 2015, readers of USA Today voted it the best state park in the United States. Surrounded by lush forests, the Genesee River roars through the gorge over three major waterfalls between cliffs as high as 600 feet in some places. The park features 66 miles of hiking trails, as well as trails for horseback riding, biking, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing. Letchworth offers nature, history and performing arts programs, as well as guided walks, tours, a summer lecture series, whitewater rafting, kayaking, a pool for swimming and hot air ballooning.

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees more than 250 individual parks, historic sites, recreational trails, and boat launches, which were visited by a record 78 million people in 2020. A recent university study found that spending by State Parks and its visitors supports $5 billion in output and sales, 54,000 private-sector jobs and more than $2.8 billion in additional state GDP. For more information on any of these recreation areas, visit www.parks.ny.gov, download the free NY State Parks Explorer mobile app or call 518.474.0456. Also, connect with us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

See: DRIVEABLE ADVENTURES: HIKING/CAMPING IN THE ‘GRAND CANYON OF THE EAST’ – NY’S LETCHWORTH STATE PARK

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View the Aurora Borealis from a Pair of Glass-Topped ‘Igloo Cabins’ in Finnish Lapland

Wow House “igloo” is lodging for a new Stars of Scandinavia tour from Off the Map which features exceptional viewing of the Aurora Borealis (photo by Tundrea)

The new Stars of Scandinavia tour from Off the Map Travel takes visitors to two locations in Finland known for exceptional Aurora viewing. The six-day tour features accommodations in new luxurious igloo-style, glass-roofed cabins with a striking presence against the Finnish tundra. Guests can lie on the luxe queen-sized beds in comfort and warmth while experiencing the magic of the Northern Lights overhead. Rooms have been specially outfitted with low-level red lighting to enable guests’ eyes to adjust to the night sky.

The program begins in Tromso, Norway and travels first to Kilpisjärvi, Finland where the new two-story Wow House “igloo” cabins face North for optimal viewing of the Northern Lights. Just 30 miles from the Arctic Ocean, Kilpisjärvi has virtually no light pollution with a population of a little over 100 residents.

The second stop travels south to Rovaniemi, Finland, the capital of Lapland, located right on the Arctic Circle. Here the Lappish Kammi Suites have been ecologically designed to provide both clear viewing of the Aurora and sustainable accommodations. The igloo design extends to full glass domes over the bedroom on the mezzanine level for clear viewing of the night sky.

Daytime activities offer a range of Lapland adventure with dogsledding, a fat bike tour over the frozen tundra, and snowmobiling to the border point of Norway-Finland-Sweden to meet reindeer and indigenous people in an exploration of Sami culture.

The six-day/five-night “Stars of Scandinavia” tour is priced starting at £179 5 ($2454 USD per person at the time of writing), based on double occupancy, including some meals, all transfers, four-star accommodations in Tromso, four nights in luxury glass-roofed “igloos,” and all activities. Airfare is additional. The tour is available from December 2021 through March 2021.

The new concept was developed by travel experts at Off the Map Travel who recognized a desire for visitors to experience an exciting, socially distanced holiday. “With two top locations for viewing the Northern Lights, plus a range of outdoor activities, we can offer a trip that’s both fulfilling and safe,” notes Jonny Cooper, founder of Off the Map Travel. “The snowy magic of Lapland makes for a special winter experience,” he added.

The team at Off the Map Travel works with experiences and destinations that allow people to explore hidden wonders of our planet. Specializing in Soft Adventure, Off the Map Travel creates tailor-made holiday itineraries offering authentic experiences not offered by many larger travel companies.

For more information on Off the Map Travel itineraries visit www.offthemap.travel; call +44 (0) 800 566 8901; email info@offthemap.travel  or join in the conversation on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube or Pinterest.

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Biden Restores Protections for Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monuments

President Biden is restoring Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to the borders that were in place on January 20, 2017 © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s effort to better protect, conserve, and restore the lands and waters that sustain the health of communities and power our economy, President Biden is signing three proclamations restoring protections for Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monuments. By restoring these national monuments, which were significantly cut back during the previous administration, President Biden is fulfilling a key promise and upholding the longstanding principle that America’s national parks, monuments, and other protected areas are to be protected for all time and for all people.

The President’s protection of these three national monuments is among a series of steps the Administration has taken to restore protections to some of America’s most cherished lands and waters, many of which are sacred to Tribal Nations. The Administration has halted leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, committed to restore protections for the Tongass National Forest under the Roadless Rule, and initiated the process to protect Bristol Bay and the world-class salmon fishery it supports. The Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay, the Everglades, the Columbia River Basin, and dozens of other special places are also back on America’s conservation agenda.

The Biden-Harris Administration’s land, water, ocean, and wildlife conservation efforts are critical to solving the climate crisis, protecting public health, promoting wildlife and biodiversity, and rebuilding America’s economy. As part of his Build Back Better Agenda, the President has proposed the creation of a new Civilian Climate Corps, which would partner with unions in putting to work a new generation that looks like America – with good benefits and pay – on the path to family-supporting careers in fields restoring the health of our public lands, coasts, waters, and forests, advancing environmental justice, and helping communities better prepare for the impacts of a changing climate. The President has also set the first-ever national conservation goal, which the Administration is pursuing by supporting locally-led and voluntary conservation efforts across the country and creating more equitable access to the outdoors, including by investing in urban parks.

President Biden’s action to restore Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monuments is consistent with recommendations from Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who – with the support of the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, and Justice, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality – reviewed the actions of the previous administration that drastically reduced protections for these places. As part of this review, Biden-Harris Administration leaders met with Members of Congress, state and local government officials, representatives of Tribal Nations, and a wide range of stakeholders. Secretary Haaland also visited Utah to directly meet with local residents and tour the area. After gathering information and input, the Department of the Interior provided the President a report with recommendations on future protection for the areas.

“These protections provide a bridge to our past, but they also build a bridge to a safer, more sustainable future — one where we strengthen our economy and pass on a healthy planet to our children and our grandchildren,” President Biden said at the signing ceremony.

The specific actions that President Biden is taking are:

  • Restoring the Bears Ears National Monument to the boundaries established by President Obama on December 28, 2016 and retaining protections for an additional 11,200 acres added by President Trump in 2017. Restoring these protections will conserve a multitude of sites that are culturally and spiritually important to Tribal Nations— including petroglyphs, pictographs, cultural sites, dwellings, and areas used for traditional rituals, gatherings, and tribal practices — as well as paleontological objects, landscape features, historic objects, and plant and animal species. Restoring the Monument’s boundaries and conditions restores its integrity, upholds efforts to honor the federal trust responsibility to Tribal Nations, and conserves these lands and waters for future generations. With this action, the total protected area of Bears Ears National Monument is 1.36 million acres.

    In restoring the Bears Ears National Monument, the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to ensuring that there is adequate staffing and resources to appropriately protect the area’s natural and cultural resources, to manage the increased visitation that the area continues to experience, and to make Bears Ears a model for Tribal participation in the management of the Monument. The Bureau of Land Management plans to assign additional rangers to the region; install appropriate signage and infrastructure to inform and support visitors; begin working with local communities, the State of Utah, and Tribal leaders on assessing the potential opportunity for a Bears Ears visitors center that highlights the monument’s cultural resources; and support the Bears Ears Intertribal Commission’s participation in management of the National Monument.
  • Restoring Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to the boundaries that were in place on January 20, 2017. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was first protected in 1996, and as described in Proclamation 6920, the landscape holds world-class geological objects of historic or scientific interest, including the Grand Staircase, White and Vermilion Cliffs, Kaiparowits Plateau, Escalante Natural Bridge, Grosvenor Arch, and numerous other enumerated geologic objects. The Monument also contains vast paleontological objects including significant fossils of marine and brackish water mollusks, turtles, crocodilians, lizards, dinosaurs, fishes, and mammals, as well as a host of cultural objects associated with both ancient indigenous cultures and early Latter-Day Saint pioneers, including, but not limited to, petroglyphs and pictographs, occupation sites, campsites, granaries, and trails. The Monument also contains hanging gardens, tinajas, and rock crevice, canyon bottom, and dunal pocket communities, protecting the region’s unusual and diverse soils, endemic plants and pollinators, relic vegetation, and diverse wildlife. Restoring the Monument’s conditions and boundaries will restore its integrity, support the continued scientific exploration as outlined in Proclamation 6920, protect our shared lands and waters for future generations, and continue this administration’s historic efforts to honor the Federal trust responsibility. The total protected area of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is restored to 1.87 million acres.  

Restoring protections to the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, as established by President Obama on September 15, 2016. The Monument is composed of two units, the Canyons Unit and the Seamounts Unit, each of which showcases unique geological features that anchor vulnerable ecological communities threatened by varied uses, climate change, and related impacts.  Under the restored protections, commercial fishing in the National Monument will be prohibited, with fishing for red crab and American lobster to be phased out by September 15, 2023. Consistent with President Obama’s Proclamation 9496, recreational fishing in the National Monument may continue.

The Monument includes Oceanographer, Gilbert, and Lydonia canyons; and Bear, Mytilus, Physalia, and Retriever seamounts. Restoring the Monument’s conditions will restore its integrity, expand the opportunity for unique scientific study and exploration, and protect and preserve natural and cultural resources for all Americans. With this action, the management conditions directed in Proclamation 9496 for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument, which is composed of 4,913 square horizontal miles, vertically encompassing the water column above, will resume.