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Every April, America observes National Park Week, a perfect time to gather your road trip crew and go explore our treasured landscapes, and it all kicks off with free entry to all National Parks on April 17. But why stop at one? Simply start connecting the dots, driving from one park to the next to experience each location’s unique splendor until you’ve crossed the entire country. We’re in bucket-list territory now.

Beginning in Miami, we’ve crafted a 2,800-mile journey that allows you to hit some of the best parks from coast to coast. Buy your National Parks Pass, fuel up the car, and let’s go! (Since it will also be National Volunteer Week, add extra meaning to the trek by lending a helping hand along the way!)

RELATED: 8 great state park alternatives to National Parks

Day 1

From Miami, make your first stop at Everglades National Park. This 1.5 million-acre wonderland is the country’s largest subtropical wilderness and home to manatees, alligators, and the Florida panther. Bike the Snake Bight Trail, go slough slogging, or kayak the many waterways. You might just spot a gator.

Feeling the heat? Book a sizzling hot Miami hotel here.

Day 2

Your route then heads north along I-75 through Tampa Bay, turning westward on I-10 toward Tallahassee and into Pensacola. Find white sand beaches and warm Gulf waters at Pensacola Beach, then visit Jerry’s Drive In, the rumored home of the original bacon cheeseburger. They serve ’em up for under $5. Keep going and laissez les bon temps rouler (French for let the good times roll) a few hours later in New Orleans. Tradition calls for stopping by Café du Monde for world-famous beignets and a caffeine-fueled pick me up.

Sleep easy in the Big Easy. Book a N’Awlins hotel here.

Day 3

As they say, “Everything is bigger in Texas.” This includes a drive through the state, so mind your fatigue. It’s 900 miles from NOLA to Big Bend National Park, but the long drive includes highlights like Big Beau the alligator in Beaumont, the kooky Beer-Can House in Houston, and puffy tacos at Ray’s Drive Inn in San Antonio. At Big Bend, explore 150 miles of trails or soak your road-weary body in a geothermal hot spring. Be sure to also camp and enjoy one of the best night skies in the country. You won’t be disappointed.

Take a hike, then take a nap. Book a hotel near the park here.

Day 4

The following day, stop by Prada Marfa along US Hwy 90 outside artsy Marfa. This quirky roadside art installation is an Instagram must. From here you have two options: Reconnect with your old friend I-10 and hug the U.S. Mexico border en route to El Paso, or depending on time, head north on U.S. Route 54 to check off another park via a visit to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The desert and dunes, rugged mountains, and steep canyon walls are spectacular. No matter what route you choose, you will eventually reach Las Cruces, New Mexico. Hit the town for an epic green chile food trail known as the “Walk of Flame.”

Ready to flame out? Sleep tight in Las Cruces right here.

Day 5

Rise, shine and visit White Sands National Park. Dunes Drive leads into the heart of the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. Sledding down one of the dunes is also popular. Hiking gets you away from the crowd and is the best way to truly experience this unique and otherworldly landscape. Afterward, head to Truth or Consequences, a town named after a game show and home to quirky eateries and healing waters like Riverbend Hot Springs.

Catching forty winks? Book your T or C room right here.

Day 6

It’s a relatively straight shot across the state’s stunning desert to Arizona from here. When you start seeing billboards teasing mystery and wonder at The Thing up ahead, plan to stop. The Conspiracy Wall alone linking alien involvement in everything from Stonehenge to JFK’s assassination will leave you with more questions than answers all the way to Tucson. Once here, visit Saguaro National Park, a park split into two sections by the city. Check out prehistoric Native American petroglyphs at Signal Hill Petroglyph Site on the park’s west side. The east’s Tanque Verde Ridge trail (a half-mile hike) offers amazing views at sunset. Sleep it all off at the cheap and chic Downtown Clifton Hotel.

Find more Tucson room options here.

Day 7

From Tucson, it’s California dreaming time. Plan your remaining days on the road at Mel’s Diner in Phoenix. This off-the-beaten-path, old-time diner where breakfast is king is a necessity. Then, head for Joshua Tree National Park. It’s just over 300 miles away and the last park before you reach the Pacific. Traditional-style crack, slab, and steep face climbers are all welcome. So are mountain bikers, nature photographers, hikers, horseback riders, and dark sky enthusiasts. With its rich cultural history, surreal geologic features, and enough outdoor fun to keep anyone busy, this true desert wilderness makes for the ideal ending to a memorable National Parks adventure.

Stop Cali dreaming and start sweet dreaming. Book a room here.

Tagged: California, Destinations, Florida, New Orleans

Note: CheapTickets compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

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Note: All travel is subject to frequently changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state and local advisories before scheduling trips.

What a year, what a year. It seem almost every facet of life (including the simple act of purchasing toilet paper) was disrupted in 2020, and travel was no exception. But in a year of radical change, we’ve learned quite a bit about what we value, what we miss most and what the future of travel might look like. Here are some lessons we learned this year that could make travel in 2021 better than ever.

RELATED: 8 essential tips for your National Parks trip

Some social distancing policies actually make for a better experience

Yeah, we sneaked in a Vegas road trip this summer and, you know what, we liked some of the safety measures put in place, including a much more relaxing pool scene thanks to capacity limits. At the Wynn, for example, we had to put our name on a wait list, but once in we were treated to a half capacity pool day that included far less noise and far more elbow room for cocktail sipping. Ditto airline changes where some carriers have gone as far as taking out the middle seat (something we know won’t last) while others switched to boarding the plane from back to front (um, duh). If the future of travel includes more elbow room, we say bring it!

Flexibility is everything

If Covid taught us anything about travel, it’s that we need to be ready for whatever life throws at us, and this is where flexible flights and hotels with free cancellation come in. CheapTickets now lets you filter hotel search results by properties offering free cancellation (note some hotels require you to cancel more than 24 hours before check-in), plus you can click a box to filter your flight results by airlines offering “no change fees” (note that policies vary by airline).

Cleanliness matters

In the “before” times, we may have been willing to spend the night in a storied old motel with a sexy neon sign beckoning us with a blinking “Vacancy” message outside. But now that we know what invisible evils lurk on floors and surfaces, we’ve become a little more careful about where we lay our heads. Fortunately, CheapTickets makes it easy to find properties adhering to higher standards of cleanliness: Just tick the “Enhanced cleaning” filter when searching hotels and rest easy.

Vacation rentals offer a respite away from the crowds

“Social distancing” became the million dollar phrase in 2020. And while rules of “six feet apart” caused many of us to stay a world apart from the trips we wanted to take, the new guidelines also helped us discover that vacation rentals offer much more than just a home away from home. Rental homes also let us explore the world without the close encounters hotels require in their shared lobbies, elevators and check-in desks. And we can keep them as clean as we want them to be; better yet, some are even great for working remotely.

You don’t have to go far from home for an incredible trip

No matter where you live, chances are there’s a lake, a winding river, an urban park, a forest preserve, a snow-capped mountain, or an ocean within reach. And chances are that in 2020 you rediscovered the splendors of the place you call home. Whether that meant booking a downtown hotel at a rock-bottom rate, wandering an alleyway covered in murals or spending a couple days at a vacation rental a mere hour away, we’ve all now realized that pandemic or not, everyone’s own backyard is a pretty special place.

The romance of the road is alive and well

Not everybody loves a road trip. For some of us, they conjure childhood memories of being crammed into the backseat with our mortal enemy (i.e. sibling) coupled with claustrophobic cries of “are we there yet.” But in a year when air travel was limited, those of who did pile into our cars discovered the open highway was our ticket to jaw-dropping scenic byways, untrampled trails carved within precious National Parks, kitschy roadside diners with al fresco dining and, let’s be real, a freedom we didn’t think possible in 2020. Here’s to more road trips in 2021 and—hopefully—cheap gas prices! Not sure where to go? Find some inspiring road trip ideas here.

Traveling virtually can be unexpectedly exciting and real

Many of us experienced virtual travel for the first time this year, since we didn’t have much chance at the real thing. Between museum tours, international cooking classes, city excursions and even theme park rides, it seems there wasn’t an immersive experience you couldn’t have on-screen. Even major events like concerts and comedy shows went virtual, and we love them all for keeping us entertained while at home. You can check out some of the past year’s major highlights here.

Tagged: Cheap Tips, COVID-19, Flights, Tips & advice

Note: CheapTickets compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

Jason Heidemann and Martina Sheehan

Jason Heidemann and Martina Sheehan

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Note: All travel is subject to frequently changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state and local advisories before scheduling trips.

In the year of social distancing, National Parks may seem like the obvious answer to wanderlust. Unfortunately, we all have the exact same thought. The 10 most visited national parks in the United States all attract millions of people annually. Nothing can deflate a profound experience with nature like hiking to a pristine mountain lake and finding a hoard of Instagramers. However, many state parks offer the same breathtaking scenery sans the crowds. Here are eight awesome state parks to check out now.

RELATED: What to pack for a camping trip

Eldorado Canyon State Park vs. Rocky Mountain National Park: Colorado

Photo: Courtesy of Boulder, CO

Located near Rocky Mountain National Park in Boulder County, beautiful Eldorado is a haven for rock climbers boasting more than 500 technical routes. As a result, “Eldo’s” cliffs have become a draw for climbers from all over the world.  However, non-climbers will love the 11 miles of stunning trails ranging from difficult to easy. Being located near the Denver area makes this park a popular destination in the summer months. In winter, strap on cross country skis or snowshoes and enjoy some true peace and quiet.

Custer State Park vs. Yellowstone National Park: South Dakota

Photo: Courtesy of South Dakota Dept. of Tourism

Millions flock to Yellowstone each year to take in the abundant wildlife. But it’s not the only wildlife hog out there. At Custer State Park, one can see mule deer, antelope, mountain goats, elk, coyotes, bighorn sheep, wild turkeys, prairie dogs, mountain lions, bobcats and… most popular of all, buffalo. While much of this wildlife is easily viewed a car via scenic drives, there is an abundance of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Additionally, the park hosts a vast array of activities including rock climbing, bird watching, canoeing, kayaking, snowshoeing. It should go without saying but… don’t feed or approach the wildlife.

Sinkyone Wilderness State Park vs. Redwood Forest National Park: California

Photo: Courtesy of Kingdom California

For those who really want to put an emphasis on social distancing, Sinkyone is just the place. Also referred to as the Lost Coast, this wilderness area presents a nice alternative to Redwood National Park. While reaching it is somewhat of an ordeal due to lack of major roads or highway access, those who visit will be rewarded with stunning wilderness, zero sounds of traffic, and no signs of civilization. The impact of humans in this region is minimal with just a single-track trail across coastal bluffs for miles. The park hosts old redwood groves, canyons, tide pools, seasonal wildflowers, waterfalls and dark sand beaches. Wildlife include elk, harbor seals and sea lions along the coastline, and gray wales during winter and early spring. Note: Beware of the occasional extended visit due to a mudslide or fallen tree blocking the road out.

Dead Horse Point State Park vs. Arches National Park: Utah

Photo: Courtesy of Moab Adventure Center

While Arches and nearby Canyonlands National Park are both undeniably incredible, there is an equally breathtaking alternative located 32 miles from Moab known as Dead Horse Point State Park. Legend has it that in the late 1800s the area was used to corral wild mustangs wandering the mesa. Today one can stare down at the Colorado River from 2,000 feet above. There are miles of pet-friendly trails and the park is a favorite among mountain bikers. Complementing the river views are those of the sublime night sky.

Baxter State Park vs. Acadia National Park: Maine

Many visitors travel to Acadia each year to take in Maine’s rugged wilderness. However, in central Maine lies an equally compelling substitute thanks to its numerous mountains—the highest being Baxter Peak at the northern end of the Appalachian Trail. The 200,000-acre park is also home to a diverse range of wildlife including moose, white tailed deer and black bear. Activities include hiking and fly-fishing and 25% of the park is even open to hunting. Camping happens May 15 to October 15 and December 1 to March 31, however only Appalachian Trail hikers can stay in the park without a permit. In the spirit of keeping the “Forever Wild” philosophy expressed by former Governor Baxter, for whom the park is named, there is no electricity, running water, or paved roads and audio or visual devices that disturb wildlife are prohibited.

Ecola State Park vs. Crater Lake National Park: Oregon

Photo: Courtesy of Oregon State Parks

Crater Lake has long been Oregon’s crown jewel. But when planning your trip through Oregon, how about picturing cliffside views of secluded coves, densely forested promontories and shorelines as well as an abandoned lighthouse. These are the sights that can be seen at Ecola State Park. With 9 miles of coastline, this popular hiking destination also offers activities from surfing to wildlife observation. Indian beach is popular among surfers while beach loungers love its tide pools and ocean views complemented by grassy bluffs and spruce forest. Among the trails is an 8-mile segment of the Oregon Coast Trail, and a 2 ½-mile historical interpretive route known as Clatsop Loop Trail. While hiking, be on the lookout for deer, elk, eagles and more.

Roan Mountain State Park vs. Smoky Mountain National Park: Tennessee

Photo courtesy of Tennessee State Parks

Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited park in the United States. In 2019, it attracted 12.5 million visitors. What if there was a place nearby where you could experience all of Smoky’s amazing qualities minus the crowds? Located in the Blue Ridge of the Appalachian Mountains, Roan Mountain State Park boasts proximity to the famed Appalachian Trail and Roan Mountain. One can partake in a variety of outdoor activities including cross country skiing, mountain biking, camping, fishing and, naturally, hiking. Additional attractions include the historic Miller Homestead and the Roan Mountain Rhododendron Festival held during the alpine catawba rhododendron bloom in June.

Red Rock State Park vs. The Grand Canyon: Arizona

It can be agonizing to choose from Arizona’s variety of breathtaking landscapes. The most well-known of these is the Grand Canyon, but this does not mean alternate options are not equally amazing. In Sedona sits Red Rock State Park, a 286-acre nature preserve boasting a magnificent red sandstone canyon and the 1.4-mile Oak Creek. Among the massive rock formations is Cathedral Rock, one of Arizona’s most famous landmarks. Hiking trail Eagles Nest Loop leads to the highest peak in the park. Additionally, the park hosts year-round activities like guided jeep tours.

Bonus: Inyo National Forest

With a diverse range of biomes from deserts to mountains, coastal redwoods to alpine forest and numerous National Parks, California is spoiled for beauty and it can be easy to overlook certain destinations. Millions flock to Yosemite each year giving it almost city-like traffic. However, two hours south of Yosemite lies Inyo, home of the world’s oldest tress, the Ancient Bristle Cone Pine which can live to be more than 4,000 years old! This is complemented by stunning backdrops where one can take in panoramic views of the Sierra and White Mountains. There is no shortage of hiking, including part of the famed Pacific Crest Trail. There is also top-notch boulders for climbing enthusiasts. Additionally, both free and affordable camping is found in the national forest as well in the nearby town of Bishop.

Tagged: California, Destinations, Off-season, Types of Travel

Note: CheapTickets compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

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Note: All travel is subject to frequently changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state and local advisories before scheduling trips.

In case you didn’t know, there’s been a boom in camping this summer. In wake of COVID quarantines, people are gravitating toward trips and activities that come with built-in social distancing. Camping, of course, is a great option. But packing for either a short- or long-term camping trip involves a lot more than just a tent and smores. Looking to spend a night or more in the great outdoors? Consider these 17 items before you go.

RELATED: 10 amazing National Parks photos to inspire your next trip

Permits and reservations

Some National Parks are now requiring day visitors to have permits to better control crowds and promote social distancing. Check NPS.gov for park-specific information. And unless you know of a secret spot that’s always available, you’ll likely need a campsite reservation, now more than ever in light of increases in bookings, as well as new social distancing guidelines. Search online to see what’s available, then reserve one ahead of time or be prepared to encounter the dreaded “campsite full” sign. As a backup, you can usually find affordable last-minute accommodations in nearby gateway towns on travel sites like CheapTickets.com.

Tent

More than anything else, you need shelter when sleeping outdoors. If summer weather permits, you might get by with a hammock, but chances are you’ll need at least a tent to enjoy your stay.

Bedding

This usually includes sleeping bags but some claustrophobic people sometimes pack a lot of warm blankets instead, especially in summer weather. For a better night’s sleep, you’d be wise to bring along a sleeping pad of some sort, like a Therm-a-Rest, so you don’t wake up with a sore back. Also consider a small pillow, or inflatable pillow, or even just a pillow case to stuff your jacket or sweater into.

Firewood, if permitted

Before chopping loading up firewood, just sure to check local laws first, since campfires aren’t allowed in some areas due to risk of wildfire. If fires are permitted, this will be one of the most important things you’ll bring. While some campsites have ample firewood available, you never know, so it’s always smart to bring at least a starter bundle. You’ll obviously need a lighter, as well, and some newspaper and kindling to help start fire.

Food and water

We recommend taking more than you need for both, especially the latter as dehydration happens a lot faster outdoors. For food, consider tin foil dinners (meat and veggies encased in tin foil), hot dog skewers, dutch ovens or easy camp stove recipes.

Cooler

Keep your food and drink cool and fresh in a lightweight cooler. You’ll also need ice: Blocks are better than cubes because they last longer, although they do take up more space.

Cutlery

Unless you want to eat like a savage, don’t forget knives, forks, spoons, cups, plates and bowls—at least whatever your meal plan calls for.

Camping stove

If not cooking on the open fire, bring a stove and don’t forget the propane. Just keep in mind that if you’re flying in from somewhere, you’ll need the time and care to empty it of all fuel and clean it thoroughly to rid it of all fuel vapors and residue.

Appropriate clothing

Depending on where you’re camping (i.e. mountains), you might need to bring a full-on winter puffer, rain gear or several layers to stay comfortable. To stay extra warm while protecting your skin, always bring a hat of some sort, and a few extra pairs of socks since there’s a good change they could get wet on the trail.

Light source

Most people take a lantern or individual headlamp. You might need to find your way to the bathroom and back in the middle of the night. Tip: If your headlamp has a red setting use it—not only does it preserve your night vision but it will help you see even more stars and meteors (not to mention, you won’t blind other campers on the way to the bathroom).

Personal hygiene

Most people take at least toilet paper, toothbrush, sunscreen and wet wipes to stay fresh. If restrooms aren’t available, you might also need to bring a poop shovel like The Deuce, though any small garden shovel will do. You’ll use this to dig a hole 6″ or deeper to bury your business. Be sure not to leave your toilet paper anywhere other campers might come across it, for obvious sanitary reasons.

Camping chairs

These are wonderful for passing time around the fire. Bring one to save your back and your legs for maximum enjoyment.

First aid kit

Accidents happen. This can help you overcome them until you can get proper medical care (if needed).

Bear spray

If you’re headed to an area that bears call home, be sure to pack bear spray. You can also avoid unwanted ursine encounters by packing your food, toiletries and anything scented like toothpaste in a bear box or bear bag. Bring extra garbage bags to double bag trash that you are packing out for the ride home, and bring a separate bag for recycling.

PPE

The parks are going to be especially crowded this season so be sure to bring face masks, extra soap and hand sanitizer. You will be sharing trails, campsites and bathrooms with plenty of other travelers.

Downtime gear

Will you fish? Talk around the fire? Play frisbee? Go hiking? Either way, have a plan and pack for it—especially when camping with kids.

Optional gear

Other items you might consider, depending on the type of trip you have planned and how light you’d like to pack, include an axe for cutting firewood, a shovel for smothering a fire, sleeping aides (melatonin or other over the counter pills), and duct tape just in case any faulty gear requires a temporary fix.

A note on campsite etiquette

Always pack out what you bring in (including your trash), so the site is left clean for the next set of campers, and to preserve the pristine natural environment. Also, be considerate of any nearby campers by keeping the volume down on your music and keeping your voices low, especially if you’re staying up later than other campers, since noise really carries in nature.

Tagged: Cheap Tips, Family, Types of Travel

Note: CheapTickets compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

Blake Snow

Blake Snow

Blake contributes to fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies as a writer-for-hire and frequent travel columnist. He lives in Provo, Utah with his supportive family and loyal dog.
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Note: All travel is subject to frequently changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state and local advisories before scheduling trips.

Seems everybody is headed off to the National Parks this season, and we don’t blame them. America’s parks seem like the perfect vacation destinations for a road trip, to get out into nature and escape the crowds of the city. If you’re making your first foray into the parks, or your first in a long time, keep some of these National Parks travel tips in mind before you head out.

RELATED: 10 amazing National Parks photos to inspire your next trip

Book your accommodations early

Most National Parks book up way in advance. Especially if you’re looking for non-camping lodging options (think lodges, park run hotels, etc.). Depending on the time of year, the campsites can book up pretty fast, too, so it’s. smart to book as soon as you know your trip dates.

Pack for park bathrooms

If you are staying multiple days, say hello to a park restroom, aka the “comfort station.” These are communal bathrooms shared with other park-goers that often have no toiletries or other supplies, so they command their own packing list, like flip flops (for the showers), a towel and a shower caddy (basically, you’re going back to your college dorm days—bring anything you would for communal showers).

Consider an annual pass

Do the math ahead of time on how many days you plan to stay: If it’s more than 2 or 3, you’re likely better off getting a National Parks pass. For $80, the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass allows the pass owner plus three adults to enter the park in a single vehicle (kids under 16 are always admitted free). Plus, the pass gives you access to 2,000 federal recreation sites, so if later on your trip or later in the year you decide to visit another park, you can use it there, too.

Take advantage of park shuttles 

Parking is usually pretty limited in National Parks. But the parks plan for this and offer shuttle options to get you in and out. Just be sure to research the option ahead of time. 

Time your hikes to avoid crowds

It’s summer, so if you think you’re the only one with the idea of getting up early to hit the trails, you’d be wrong. The busiest times for the park trails tend to be in the early morning and evening in peak summer, so be sure to plan ahead.

Prepare for visitors of the wild kind

If you are overnight camping, be aware of wildlife and keep a clean campsite. Make sure you don’t leave food out, secure your cooler (ie. you might want to keep it in a car or fasten it with bungee cords), don’t litter, etc. And if you are in an area with bears, get bear spray just to be safe!

Consider accommodations outside the parks

The reality is that most National Park lodging books up about a year in advance. So if you’re trying to throw together a 2020 summer parks trip, remember that most spots were already booked in 2019. That said, you’ll still likely be able to find accommodations in nearby gateway towns. Just go to an online travel agency like CheapTickets.com, click the Hotels tab and enter the name of the park you plan on visiting in the “Going to” field.   

Don’t forget about state parks

America’s National Parks are amazing, bucket list-worthy attractions, but don’t forget about nearby state parks, WMAs (wildlife management areas), Army Corps of Engineers parks, city/county parks for other camping options within driving distance of the bigger National Parks. Chances are they are cheaper and less busy. But be aware that often you’ll need a state park sticker—and may have to pay extra if you are coming with out of state plates—when staying at state parks. Just remember, supporting your state and national parks is a good thing. Consider the entry fee your donation to preserving mother nature!

Tagged: California, Cheap Tips, Destinations, Seasonal, Tips & advice, Types of Travel

Note: CheapTickets compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

CheapTickets Blog Editors

CheapTickets Blog Editors

CheapTickets editors are a diverse group of writers and bloggers who live and work all over the world and who have a passion for student-friendly budget travel coursing through their veins. Whether it's finding the most Instagrammable yurt in the Coachella Valley or uncovering dirt cheap eats in expensive cities like Tokyo and Paris, our writers take the road less traveled to uncover the world's best deals and destinations.
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Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2017 with a full calendar of events and travel deals, including free entry to its national parks all year.  Alphabetically by province (which is the only fair way), here are seven rewarding and unusual experiences in Parks Canada, including wildlife watching, hunting for prehistoric fossils—even ski jumping.

RELATED: Awesome trips to take this summer if you’re not keen on flying

Photo courtesy of Brewster Travel Canada

Into the heights: Jasper National Park (Alberta)
Glacier Skywalk is a glass-walled, glass-floored architectural marvel suspended nearly 1,000 feet over the Sunwapta Valley floor, offering epic views of glaciers, waterfalls and wildlife, including eagles soaring at eye-level. Let your adrenaline supply recover at the attached museum that explains a million-plus years of eco-history, or on a ground-level tour of the nearby Columbia Glacier.

Mount Revelstoke

Fly like an eagle: Mount Revelstoke National Park Experience (British Columbia)
The rich ski jumping history of Mount Revelstoke is revealed at this interactive exhibit, which opened recently. Step into a pair of metal pants and skis, like those worn by multiple world record-holder Nels Nelsen, and experience the same exhilaration as you lean out at the top of a ski jump. While you’re up there, take a moment to savor the beautiful landscape of the Columbia River Valley and City of Revelstoke. Now, jump. Virtually, of course.

Totem poles in Vancouver

Totem poles and more: Pacific Rim National Park Reserve (British Columbia)
Learn about the rich history of the Nuu-chah-nulth people on a guided tour, including the unique hand-carved totem poles found here and elsewhere on Vancouver Island. Celebrate National Aboriginal Day on June 21 with song and dance festivals, and salmon BBQs in the First Nations village of Maeres. There’s also world-class surfing in the chilly Pacific in a 22-mile stretch of surf between Tofino and Ucluelet.

ALSO: Save more money on your Canada vacation when you automatically earn CheapCash. How a-boot that?

Photo courtesy of Parks Canada

Swim with salmon for science: Fundy National Park (New Brunswick)
Join Parks Canada biologists to track the populations of endangered inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic Salmon by conducting snorkel surveys. This day-long expedition begins with a training session before getting face-to-face with salmon in backcountry river pools. Outings happen in September, during the natural return of Atlantic salmon to the rivers in the park. Another wet and wild experience is the boat ride through the bay’s famous Reversing Falls. No salmon, but a lot of laughter.

Kejimkujik National Park

Commune with the stars and planets: Kejimkujik National Park (Nova Scotia)
Delve into distant celestial bodies at Nova Scotia’s only Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Dark Sky Preserve. Kejimkujik interpreters offer a blend of science and storytelling as unique as a shooting star.

Photo courtesy of CNW Group/Parks Canada

Sleep in a lighthouse station: Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve (Quebec)
This is a four-star accommodation in one of the houses of the île aux Perroquets station, where you’ll learn about maritime history and the life of the lighthouse keeper. Climb the tower to admire the 360 degree view from the top of the lighthouse, and let your alarm clock be Atlantic Puffins.

Kathleen Lake at the Kluane National Park and Reserve

Climb every mountain
Kluane National Park and Reserve (Yukon Territory)

Home to 17 of Canada’s 20 highest peaks, Kluane is famous for its wilderness recreation, especially mountaineering. Explore high mountain passes on challenging multi-day treks, or tamer hikes from trailheads around Kathleen Lake. Flightseeing allows you to survey the terrain without getting your boots muddy.

Tagged: International, Top 10 list

Note: CheapTickets compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn Kanter

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Before you trade in that student ID for a corporate badge, here are seven affordable destinations where the dress code is nothing but casual. From hiking volcanoes to snorkeling with technicolor underwater life to kicking back with a cold beer, these destinations are safe and easy on the wallet.

RELATED: 9 gorgeous European hostels starting at $4

Reykjavik, Iceland
The post-graduation month of June is a great time to visit the Land of Fire and Ice, where the temperatures are pleasant (mid-50s) and the days are long (think midnight sunsets and 3am sunrises!). Reykjavik is a hotspot for thrill-seeking Millennials with a long list of never-ending adventures like snowmobiling, glacier hiking, descending into a volcano and, of course, Reykjavik nightlife. Budget-conscious travelers will appreciate that it’s a small, walkable city with hop on/off buses as another great way to get around. Reykjavik Excursions offers “bus passports” with routes all around and outside of the city, including a loop of the island.

Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s abundant natural landscape offers tons of free outdoor activities like hiking through the cloud forests and coffee plantations of Monteverde, where you’ll likely spot a few monkeys. If you want to experience the death-defying forest zipline, it will cost you a pretty penny.  Save your money and take a bus to Playa Tamarindo, where you can surf all day and party all night. The Tiquicia Lodge in bustling San Jose offers great budget accommodations with breakfast included. Plan to eat at sodas, local family-run restaurants that serve a hearty plate of Costa Rican cuisine for just a few bucks.

Phuket, Thailand
With more than 36 sandy beaches, where all you need is a towel and snorkel gear, Phuket is a beachlover’s dream. After you save up for big-ticket airfare, the rest of your trip will be an incredible bargain, including Tint at Phuket Town, a great budget hotel. Here, you’ll find free Internet for uploading all those great photos and checking in on social media. Tasty street food vendors let you fill your belly on a dime. If you’re looking for an inexpensive day trip, take the ferry to Phi Phi Island or visit the marine national park at Phang Nga.

Grindelwald, Switzerland
Spend a week in the most picturesque spot in Europe, the Jungfrau Region, where the only gear you need are hiking shoes. While Switzerland is generally pretty expensive, the Mountain Hostel won’t break your budget, and is the perfect jumping off spot for the region’s multitude of challenging hiking trails. Make sure to visit Gletscherschlucht, a glacial gorge with walking paths and waterfalls. You’ll need to purchase a Swiss Pass to explore the area via trains and cable cars. If you’re able to indulge a bit, add the world-famous Top of Europe Tour to your pass, a cogwheel train that takes you to the highest station in Europe that will leave you with views that last a lifetime.

ALSO: Earn CheapCash and see the whole world for less.

Cairns, Australia
Put all those science credits to use and visit the Great Barrier Reef, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. You might be surprised to hear that snorkeling the reef is not only cheaper, but offers the same breathtaking experience as a more expensive scuba dive. Half Day Tours offers budget excursions that will transport you to the best areas. If you blow your budget on this once-in-a-lifetime experience, spend the rest of your trip taking advantage of the free offerings in this part of Queensland. On the Esplanade, for example, right in the city center, there’s a picturesque lagoon that’s a great place to cool off and wile away the day listening to live music. A short drive from Cairns, you’ll find Stoney Creek Falls, a free secret hideaway nestled within the rainforest featuring fresh water swimming holes, rock jumps and waterfalls.

Rocky Mountain National Parks Tour
If airfare isn’t in your post-graduation budget, gas up your car, grab a backpack and head west. If you’re looking to rough it and experience the great outdoors, the Northern Rockies are the place to go. Plan to spend a couple of days in each park, starting at the local park ranger station where you can take advantage of free daily guided walks to get a lay of the land. Grand Teton National Park has more hiking trails than you can conquer and is dotted with lakes, canyons and peaks. Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, offers a different kind of wild life than you saw in college—you’ll see everything from bears to buffalo. Stay at the historic, yet budget-friendly Old Faithful Inn (book early), the largest log structure in the world, where you can actually watch Old Faithful erupt from the cafeteria. End this epic adventure at Glacier National Park and spend the night in an authentic tepee at the Lodgepole Gallery and Tipi Village on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

The Florida Keys
Margaritaville awaits you along the 113-mile stretch of the Overseas Highway, where you’ll see some of the state’s most picturesque beaches, kitschy roadside attractions and old-school seafood shacks. Trade in your travel itinerary for flip-flops because the Keys give casual a whole new meaning. Plan to stop on a whim anywhere along the route and chances are you’ll find a roadside stand where you can snorkel, kayak or enjoy a cold beer. Walk across famous Seven Mile Bridge connecting the Middle and Lower Keys because the turquoise blue waters make the perfect selfie backdrop. Drop your gear at the Seashell Motel & Hostel or NYAH in Key West and head for the beach to swim with sea turtles, nurse sharks, parrot fish and spiny lobsters along the shallow reefs. If you’re not burned out on history, visit the Ernest Hemingway House and hang with six-toed cats, actual descendants of Hemingway’s beloved felines.

Tagged: Beach, City, Florida, International

Note: CheapTickets compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

Beth Graham

Beth Graham

Beth Graham

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The state of Virginia is indeed for lovers—specifically, lovers of beach towns. Just about as far east as you can travel within the state, the islands of Chincoteague and Assateague showcase their own traditional yet unique take on beach-town culture. Here are five reasons why Chincoteague Island and neighboring Assateague should be on your bucket list, in no particular order.

The Wildlife

The wild horses
On Chincoteague Island, you’ll find a charming beach town, filled with mom n’ pop motels and ocean-themed restaurants. Assateague Island, on the other hand, is an impeccably kept nature preserve and its most famous wild residents can be seen galloping through its natural marshes. It’s one of the few places left in America where you can still see herds of wild horses roaming in their natural habitat.

Year round, the herds can be seen grazing from the road that leads to Assateague’s beach, or while on boat or kayaking tours that take off from Chincoteague—and these boat tours offer the chance to see even more native wildlife, like dolphins and bald eagles. The island also features hiking trails and a beach. If you plan on driving to the island, parking passes are $8 per day.

Protip: If you decide to take a boat tour, ask a local about their favorite and go for a smaller boat. Smaller boats can get closer to the ponies in the marsh.

By Bonnie U. Gruenberg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Bonnie U. Gruenberg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Pony Penning Carnival
Now, if you are looking for an even closer look at the ponies, and for a way to be a part of local tradition, try attending the yearly Pony Penning carnival. This annual “holiday” takes place in July, as this is when the wild ponies are wrangled and swum from Assateague to Chincoteague. Then, they are then paraded down Main Street and into corrals where vets check each pony’s health. The youngest of the ponies are auctioned off to raise money for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, a fundraiser that began in 1925 and has been going strong ever since.

Protip: The historic carnival is free and open to the public, which means a crowd is inevitable. To avoid getting stuck at the back, where you can’t even see the ponies make their swim, arrive early in the morning and come prepared to wait.

Picture side of 1941-postmarked postcard depicting the Chincoteague ponies. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Picture side of 1941-postmarked postcard depicting the Chincoteague ponies. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Hiking and Camping

The camping
Chincoteague Island is covered in campgrounds, and Assateague Island is full of hiking trails that are perfect for those looking to explore the natural landscape more intimately. Campgrounds on Chincoteague each offer their own benefits and features. Be sure to check out Inlet View campground and Tom’s Cove campground for the best views of the water, as they both offer waterfront campsites.

Campsite rates at Inlet view range from $27 to $35 per day. Campsite rates at Tom’s Cove $35 to $51 per day.

A view of the marshes. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

A view of the marshes. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

The hiking
There is plenty of hiking to be done at Assateague Island, and, as mentioned before, if you plan on driving there you’ll need to pay for parking. Once on the island, you can find hiking trails of all lengths and difficulty levels.

One of the shortest trails leads you to the historic and iconic Assateague lighthouse. The hike is totally worthwhile, since not only can you see the candy-cane-painted lighthouse from the outside, but also from the inside. Once you do finally reach the top, you’ll catch a breathtaking view of both Assateague and Chincoteague. Admission to the lighthouse is free. However, donations are accepted.

Protip: Although the hike itself is not difficult, climbing the many steps up to the top can be. Pace yourself to avoid getting lightheaded at the lighthouse.

At the base of the Assateague lighthouse. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

At the base of the Assateague lighthouse. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

The Beach

Assateague’s beach can be considered a ‘typical’ beach, meaning it’s clean and fun for the whole family. And yet, it’s unique in its location. Once again, you’ll have to cross the bridge from Chincoteague to access the waterfront.

Protip: Since there is only one road leading to the beach, the traffic can get pretty gnarly during “beach rush hour.” Locals will tell you to start making your way back to Chincoteague before four o’clock.

Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

Locals and tourists intermingle on the beach. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

Local Food

Chincoteague has been thriving in the oyster harvesting market for many years, and the delicacies can be found at countless eateries on the island… Are oysters not your thing? Well, you can also find ice cream, BBQ and homemade doughnuts without looking very far.

The Island Creamery is a local favorite and has been perfecting its small-batch ice cream, made with milk from local dairies, since 1975. They have a lot of different ice cream flavors but the most popular are of course named after the islands’ most well-remembered aspects, “Marsh Mud” and “Pony Tracks.”

Protip: The line is never too long… Even if the lineto be served at the creamery is out the door, locals swear that it’ll never take longer than 20 minutes to be served.

The Island Creamery, taking inspiration from the Assateague lighthouse. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

The Island Creamery, taking inspiration from the Assateague lighthouse. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

Right before hitting the bridge to Assateague you’ll notice an oasis of quirky, quick-service restaurants. This oasis comes complete with hammocks and yard games. It is there that you will find Woody’s Beach BBQ serving a large variety of smoked meats. The sandwich creations at Woody’s are sure to keep your hunger at bay throughout a full day of pony watching, beach going and lighthouse climbing. Prices for sandwiches are between $8 and $9.

Looking for breakfast? Or maybe a lil’ bit of a sweet treat? Then look for the Sandy Pony Donuts truck on Maddox Boulevard. These cleverly-named delights are small yet mighty, with monikers such as “Strawberry Stallion,” “Surfer Dude” and “Jingle Shells.” Made hot and fresh to order, they’re only $1.65 each, $8.80 for a half dozen and $14.80 for a full.

The Culture and History

Both Assateague and Chincoteague are steeped in history, tradition and a unique culture. People who live on Chincoteague, and who’s ancestors lived on Assateague, have a deep connection to both islands, taking pride in knowing the history of their beloved home. Vacationers, too, often feel themselves drawn back—it is not hard to find someone who has been coming since they were young, and who now bring their own family to the same spot, keeping that tradition alive.

Even if you’re visiting the islands for the first time, the community has a way of making you feel at home. It’s as if a connection is formed as soon as you set foot on the island. Just by interacting with locals, you are sure to learn much about Chincoteague and Assateague’s history. But if you’d like to learn even more about why this is such a closely-knit community, you can visit the Museum of Chincoteague Island, which is located mere steps from the bridge to Assateague. It’s a small museum, but it includes exhibits highlighting the oyster market, the hurricanes and the fires of Chincoteague, as well as the well-known equine celebrity, Misty of Chincoteague.

Her story goes something like this: In 1947, author Marguerite Henry met a pony on the island by the named Misty, and her owners the Beebes. Misty went on to inspire her popular children’s novel, and later a movie, which was filmed on the island. The story, although fictional, introduced Chincoteague and its pony culture to the world. This story is a great source of pride for the community of Chincoteague. In fact, Misty herself can be found at the museum… stuffing and all.

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The famous Misty of Chincoteague (left) with one of her foals. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

According to those who know the island, the final thing that you must do before leaving is visit the grave of Captain Chandler, as this will ensure your return to the island. There is no address for the site, but ask any local and they will know how to get there. And if you want to know any more about this local legend, you’ll just have to visit Chincoteague Island.

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Tagged: Beach, Family, Seasonal

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It’s the all-American vacation: a trip to one of our national parks. And with the National Park Service marking its 100th anniversary this year, there’s no better time to explore the great outdoors. But after you’ve Instagrammed nature from every possible angle, what can you actually do? The big, open sky is the limit.

Take an art workshop at Yosemite National Park in California

When it comes to finding your muse, it doesn’t get much more inspiring than Yosemite’s giant sequoias, majestic waterfalls and tranquil streams. Channel your creativity with the help of art and photography classes offered each spring and fall at Yosemite Art Center. The cost is just $10 per student per day.

Yosemite National Park. Credit: FaunggsPhotos/Flickr.

Yosemite National Park. Credit: FaunggsPhotos/Flickr.

Try sled-dog mushing at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska

Whether you book a guided trip with a team of dogs or BYOD, this snowy sport is one of the coolest ways (pun intended) to tour this park, which is home to the tallest peak in North America. On a clear day, the Huskies can cover up to 30 miles.

Denali National Park. Credit: Joseph/Flickr.

Denali National Park. Credit: Joseph/Flickr.

Ride a llama at Yellowstone National Park in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming

Dyed-in-the-wool nature lovers will want to explore the backcountry the old-fashioned way: by horse, or even llama. Guided excursions are available through several licensed tour companies. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, from bald eagles to bison.

Yellowstone National Park. Credit: Always Shooting/Flickr.

Yellowstone National Park. Credit: Always Shooting/Flickr.

Go sand sledding at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado

Snow sledding is a hassle. By the time you’re bundled up, someone inevitably needs to use the bathroom. Get to the fun part faster when you try mild-weather sand sledding or sandboarding on the tallest dunes in North America. The equipment is designed especially for sand, makingfor a smooth ride.

Great Sand Dunes National Park. Credit: Flickr CC

Great Sand Dunes National Park. Credit: Flickr CC

Go snorkeling at Virgin Islands National Park in the Caribbean

More than half of the island of St. John is technically a national park? Works for us. Much of the parkis actually underwater, so you’ll want to explore the reefs, mangroves and seabeds with the help of a mask and flippers.

Virgin Islands National Park. Credit: Wikipedia.

Virgin Islands National Park. Credit: Wikipedia.

Take a jazz Pilates class at New Orleans Jazz National Park in Louisiana

Redwood forests and gulf stream waters are great. But if you’re not about that life, head to the old U.S. Mint building for a more cosmopolitan escape. The building is now a shrine to the musical genre, making it the perfect spot to catch a live performance, bring the kiddos for educational workshops or take a jazz Pilates class with Pilates instructor-slash-vocalist Stephanie Jordan, combining fitness, dance and of course, all that jazz.

New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. Credit: NPS.gov.

New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. Credit: NPS.gov.

Play 18 holes at Death Valley National Park in California

It’s no surprise that one of America’s toughest courses, as crowned by Golf Digest, is located at 214 feet below sea level. Furnace Creek Golf Course, located at a ranch in the desert park, is the world’s lowest elevation golf course. So even if you shoot well above the 70 par, you can brag that you played your lowest game ever.

Furnace Creek Golf Course at Death Valley National Park. Credit: Daveynin/Flickr.

Furnace Creek Golf Course at Death Valley National Park. Credit: Daveynin/Flickr.

Try spelunking at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky

Our national parks are celebrated for their wide open spaces. This is not one of them. If you’re up for an adventure, try the Wild Cave Tour, a six-hour trek that’ll have you crawling, squeezing and hiking your way through 5 miles of caves.

Mammoth Cave National Park. Credit: Daniel Schwen/Flickr.

Mammoth Cave National Park. Credit: Daniel Schwen/Flickr.

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Tagged: Beach, California, Family, Tips & advice

Note: CheapTickets compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.