World’s must stunning man-made beaches


What nature has created, mankind has enjoyed – from majestic mountains to crystal-clear turquoise waves gently lapping at immaculate white sand beaches.

But, man has picked up where nature left off to create man-made beach paradises with results that are just as stunning as if it were the real thing. Most of the time, you won’t even be able to tell the difference, and if you can, you probably won’t care.

Check out some of the most beautiful artificial beaches in the world.

  • 1. Artificial Beach, Malé, Maldives

    Brian McMorrow

    You have to admire the straightforwardness of naming an artificial beach “Artificial Beach.” The Maldives are known as the preeminent island destination for A-list celebs and the fabulously wealthy, but capital city Malé was not blessed with the same white sand beaches. So they built one of their own. Artificial Beach has calm waters and soft sand, and the people gather there for water sports, live music, shows and carnivals.

  • 2. Diamante Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

    Diamante Cabo San Lucas

    Take in the cerulean-blue waters of the 10-acre artificial Crystal Lagoon at the members-only Diamante Cabo San Lucas golf club and resort. It was design by a Chilean biochemist to create a safe, family-friendly environment, and includes white sand beach areas, private cabanas and a saltwater lagoon where you can sail, swim, stand-up paddleboard or kayak. The Diamante Cabo San Lucas is also home to the world-renowned Dunes Course, and the Tiger Woods-designed El Cardonal golf course opening later this year.

  • 3. Larvotto Beach, Monte Carlo, Monaco

    Creative Commons

    Man can improve upon nature, especially when nature failed to provide a public-access beach amid mega-luxury resorts. Larvotto Beach is Monaco’s only public beach and is laid in front of the city’s pre-existing sea-front where the madding crowds flock to the pebbly sand just for the privilege of breathing the Monte Carlo air. In the back of the beach are restaurants and bars—many of which are open all year round.

  • 4. Paris Plages, Paris, France

    Creative Commons

    What could possibly make the Seine more lovely? Sand! Every summer for four weeks, the banks of the Seine become a pedestrian-only waterfront retreat complete with sandy beaches, deckchairs, ice cream vendors, and outdoor concerts.

  • 5. Sentosa Island, Singapore

    Palawan Beach

    The man-made, 1,235-acre Sentosa Island is basically a giant resort. There are three sheltered beaches that stretch over a mile long on the island’s southern coast made from sand imported from Indonesia and Malaysia. Sentosa Island is also home to Resorts World Sentosa, Universal Studios Singapore, and a multitude of other attractions.

  • 6. Streets Beach, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


    Streets Beach is the man-made beach found in the South Bank Parklands, the former site of Brisbane’s 1988 World Expo. The beach area includes a massive lagoon filled with fresh water, sandy beaches, and tropical plants. As Australia’s only inner-city man-made beach, the water is regularly recycled and the sand meticulously tended to keep it pristine.

  • 7. Sun City, South Africa

    Sun City

    Sun City, luxury casino and resort, is what the Mayans would have built to worship the sun god if the Mayans built luxury mega casino-resorts for international tourists. This “Kingdom of Pleasure” also features the 70,000-square-foot “Roaring Lagoon” in the Valley of Waves waterpark, bordered by a beach with sea sand and palm trees.

  • 8. Sunny Beach, Shanghai, China


    During the warmer months, the urban beach along Shanghai’s South Bund-side stretch of the Huangpu River (and the only beach in downtown Shanghai) offers little else than sand and a few dozen lounge chairs with a glorious view of Shanghai’s Pudong district – which makes it completely worthwhile.

  • 9. The Tropical Islands Resort, Krausnick, Germany

    The Tropical Islands Resort

    There is never a cloud in the sky or a rainstorm on the horizon at the Tropical Islands Resort.  That’s because the resort, located inside a former aircraft hanger and is entirely indoors. Featuring the world’s largest indoor pool, a 660-foot beach, a lagoon with waterslides and waterfalls, a rainforest of 50,000 plants, and replicas of traditional buildings found in the South Pacific and Polynesian islands, this theme park is Bali on a budget.

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The world’s best theme parks, as ranked by TripAdvisor

With summer in full swing, travel rating site TripAdvisor announced winners of its Travelers’ Choice awards for the world’s top amusement parks and water parks.

Florida’s Discovery Cove in Orlando topped the number one global park to visit and took a total of nine of the top 25 spots on both world and U.S. amusement park lists, including favorites like Disney World parks, Busch Gardens and SeaWorld.

TripAdvisor ranked top picks using an algorithm that included quantity and quality of hundreds of reviews over a 12-month period. TripAdvisor also conducted a survey among 1,500 U.S. respondents on favorite park activities and top trends.

Over 60 percent of U.S. respondents have visited or plan to visit an amusement park in 2014, up from 49 percent who said they visited an amusement park last year. And it’s no surprise that the summer is the most popular time of the year to visit a theme park or water park, with 36 percent of those polled saying that they spend overall over $1,000 per trip to their park of choice.

When it comes to attractions, roller coasters are the favorite, followed by bumper cars and carousels (tied for second place), and the Ferris wheel. At water parks, Americans enjoy tubing down a lazy river, whizzing down the water slide and enjoying a log ride or just relaxing in a wave pool.

America and Brazil dominated on top water park lists. Six of the top water parks in the world are in U.S., while Brazil had five out of the top 25 picks.

A few surprising places make the top national water parks list, with three mid-Western parks in the top 10.

Top Water Parks in the United States

1. Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park, Orlando, Florida
2. Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, Orlando, Florida
3. Aquatica, Orlando, Florida
4. Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, Santa Claus, Indiana
5. Water Country USA, Williamsburg, Virginia
6. Morey’s Piers and Beachfront Waterparks, Wildwood, New Jersey
7. Noah’s Ark Water Park, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
8. Dollywood’s Splash Country Water Adventure Park, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
9. Wet ‘n Wild, Orlando, Florida
10. Cedar Point – Soak City, Sandusky, Ohio

Check out the top 10 amusement parks in U.S. below.

  • 1. Discovery Cove, Orlando, Florida


  • 2. Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Orlando, Florida


  • 3. Magic Kingdom, Orlando, Florida


  • 4. Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Orlando, Florida


  • 5. Disneyland Park, Anaheim, California


  • 6. Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Orlando, Florida


  • 7. SeaWorld Orlando, Orlando, Florida


  • 8. Cedar Point Amusement Park, Sandusky, Ohio


  • 9. Universal Studios Hollywood, Los Angeles, California


  • 10. Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida


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World’s most stunningly beautiful countries to visit

Extraordinary, pristine landscapes. Scenery that takes your breath away. An exotic mix of plants and animals. Not the sort of places you get to visit every day — or can get to in a day.

Those qualities define our kind of destination.

We could rattle off plenty of spots that fill the bill: the timeless, silent fjords knifing into the southwestern coast of New Zealand’s South Island; or the lakes of northern Kazakhstan on the Central Asian steppe, whose remote wetlands are home to the rare Siberian white crane and Dalmatian pelican; or Patagonia’s rugged, forbidding, almost mystical Los Glaciares National Park, the world’s largest mantle of ice outside Antarctica and one of the few places on earth where glaciers (it has 47) are advancing not retreating.

Magnificent as each of these marvels of nature are in isolation, we wondered where we could get our fill. Which countries should go straight onto our bucket list? We set out to answer that question by reckoning the ten most stunningly beautiful countries to visit.

To create our list we sought to go beyond just counting the number of areas of outstanding natural beauty each has — though we think the more the better. To get a measure of quality as well as quantity, we factored in how unspoiled the natural environment remained in each country, the diversity of its flora and fauna, and how well the country protected its beautiful places, both those on terra firma and those under its coastal waters. Our data sources included the United Nations Environment Program, the Yale-CIESN Environmental Performance Index, The International Union for Conservation of Nature, UNESCO, and the World Economic Forum.

It came down to a close call between Australia and Brazil for the top spot. Both scored well on most of our measures. Australia can field world-class destinations like the Great Barrier Reef, the Gondwana Rainforests and the Blue Mountains. Brazil can counter with the Amazon, the Iguaçu waterfalls and its seabird-rich South Atlantic coastal islands. In the end the diversity of plant and animal life shaded it for Brazil (for which it can thank the Amazon basin), but by the narrowest of margins.

Third was the U.S., thanks to its National Parks System. Nearly a quarter of America’s national parks also make UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites for natural places, including Yellowstone and Grand Canyon, the two at the top of our latest ranking of America’s Best National Parks. The U.S. also does a better job than most other countries in protecting the environment around its shores.

Tanzania and China complete our top five. Tanzania packs a lot of game reserve into a land area that is only two-fifths larger than Texas, including the incomparable plains of the Serengeti — 6,000 square miles of savannah teeming with hordes of wildebeest, gazelles and zebras and their predators. Their annual search for new pasture and waters is the largest remaining unaltered animal migration in the world. Tanzania can also boast Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, whose forest slopes and savannah are a last refuge for many endangered species.

China, particularly in its less populated western reaches, has vast tracts of awe-inspiring remote landscape. In Xinjiang, the spectacular glacier-topped Tianshan mountains with their remote, deep and verdant river valleys sit cheek by jowl with the desolate Taklimakan Desert, one of the world’s largest and highest arid wildernesses. China, with its Giant Panda sanctuaries in Sichuan and unworldly karst landscapes in Guangxi and Yunnan, would have ranked higher in our list, but its high levels of environmental degradation and pollution in the east pulled down its overall score.

  • 1. Brazil – Iguazú Falls

    The Active Times

    More than 260 feet high and nearly 2 miles wide, one of the world’s most impressive waterfalls divides Brazil from Argentina. It is home to many rare and endangered species of flora and fauna, among them the giant otter and the giant anteater.

  • 2. Australia – Great Barrier Reef

    The Active Times

    The world’s most extensive coral reef ecosystem covers 135,000 square miles. Collectively, 2,500 individual reefs and 900 islands, ranging from small sandy cays to large rugged islands, provide some of the most spectacular maritime scenery in the world.

  • 3. United States – Yellowstone National Park

    The Active Times

    The scenic treasures of Yellowstone include two-thirds of the world’s geysers, the Grand Canyon, and great herds of bison and American elk as well as wolves and grizzly bears. Its unparalleled range of surficial geothermal activity makes it one of the foremost sites for the study of the Earth’s evolutionary history.

  • 4. Tanzania – Kilimanjaro National Park

    The Active Times

    The snowy peak of Africa’s highest mountain looms over a vast savannah as well as mountain forest on its higher slopes and an Alpine desert above them. The park is home to 140 species of mammals, many of them rare or endangered such as the African elephant, and a wide range of flora.

  • 5. China – Xinjiang Tianshan

    The Active Times

    This remote area of western China comprises more than 2,000 square miles of spectacular glacier-capped peaks in  Central Asia’s largest mountain chain. Pristine forests and meadows, clear rivers and lakes, and red-bed canyons sit alongside the arid expanse of the Taklimakan Desert, one of the world’s largest and highest deserts.

    Check out more of the world’s most beautiful countries.

    More from The Active Times

    10 Cultural Gems You Need to Visit Before They Get Famous

    10 Surreal Sunsets That Will Take Your Breath Away

    20 Stunning Mountaintop Views You Need to See Now

    10 Serene Swimming Holes You Should Visit This Summer

Categories: Travel Destinations | Leave a comment

16 wacky gadgets and gear for summer vacation

  • Hammacher Schlemmer

Ah, the great outdoors. Now that the weather is heating up, it’s time to get a little fresh air. But what’s a pool party without the right tunes? Or an camp out in the woods without a way to properly cook food?

Whether you’re headed to the beach, pool or mountains, we’ve got some of the coolest tools you might not be able to live without this summer.

  • 1. The Aquatic Bar

    Hammacher Schlemmer

    No land, no problem? Take the party off shore on this floating circular bar with seating for four. The seats surround an insulated cooler for hours of party fun. The deep cooler stores ice plus up to a dozen 12 oz. cans. Every guest has their cup holder while on the raft.

    Price: $279.95

  • 2. Video Swim Goggles

    Sharper Image

    Never miss your next underwater marine life encounter. Record your pool and beach fun on HD video. These rechargeable goggles have a built-in lens that shoots high-definition video and photos, up to 15 feet underwater. Built-in battery lasts up to 1.5 hours of recording time.

    Price: $119.99

  • 3. Foldable Beach Wagon


    Tired of endless trips back to the car hauling towels, toys and chairs? This handywagon lets you pack on the gear for just one easy way to carry everything when you’re at shore.

    Price: $199

  • 4. Pet Kai Float


    Not all canines like doing the doggy paddle. For Fido who doesn’t swim, this cute pet float allows all dogs to get in on the summertime action. The float comes in different colors and sizes to keep both human and hound happy.

    Price: $99.50 – $129.50

  • 5. Tribord Easybreath Mask


    Traditional goggles are so yesterday. Instead of just breathing through your mouth, the Easybreath full-face design allows you breathe through your nostrils, too. The head piece allows for a full 180-degree-range so you won’t miss that sea turtle swimming by. The mask also features an airflow system that prevents fogging. Easybreath is available in the U.K. in five cool colors.

    Price: $55

  • 6. iSplash Floating Speaker


    Never be without your tunes even when you’re deep at sea or in the pool. This floating, waterproof speaker connects with any Bluetooth-compatible device that has a range of over 30 feet.

    Price: $79.50

  • 7. SKITS Tech Zip Pouches Set of 4


    Nothing ruins a vacation quite like a water-logged smart phone. Protect your favorite electronics at the beach with these water resistant bags. The set contains a variety of sizes for different devices.

    Price: $24.95 for a set of 4

  • 8. Boobypack

    This one’s for the girls. The Boobypack is a fanny pack for your rack. Enjoy purse free fun all summer long with revolutionary sports bra meets purse. The reinforced, water-resistant, zipper- pockets on either side that can fit all your accessories like money, keys and any other valuables you want to keep safe. Micro mesh lining that wicks away sweat. If you’re looking for a little boost, Removable padding creates added shape.

    Price: $55 – $60

  • 9. Pongo Bongo Beer Pong Table


    Cool off with a hot game of beverage bong in the water. Pongo Bongo is a floating, inflatable game table equipped with 12 cup holders on each side. Set comes with two ping pong balls. And when you’re done playing, turn the table over and use it as a pool or lake float.

    Price: $64.99

  • 10. Electric Inflator Air Pump


    Don’t waste your precious breath filling up pool toys and floating accessories. Let this electric inflator do the work. Simply plug this air pump plugs into a any outlet, hook it up to your inflatable toy of choice and let it go. Also works as a rapid deflator when the party is over.

    Price: $29.99

  • 11. Inflatable Serving Bar


    Getting ready for a big party on the beach is a cinch with this ultra-lightweight inflatable cooler. With a generously sized interior, this pop up bar cooler is ideal for keeping salad bowls and condiment bottles, and of course drinks, chilled. Made of heavy-duty PVC, the Inflatable Serving Bar is lightweight and portable, making it easy to carry to the beach or an outdoor picnic.

    Price: $14.99

  • 12. Campfire Roasting Rod

    Hammacher Schlemmer

    No, you’re not going fishing for hot dogs. These handy roasting rods are designed to make campfire cooking a cinch. The stainless steel line allows kids to remain at a safe distance from the flame while cooking up brats, s’mores,  and other fireside favorites.

    Price: $119.95 for 4

  • 13. Wilson Cast Away Outdoor Volleyball

    Sports Authority

    Now you can own one of cinema’s most beloved toys. This Wilson inspired volleyball from the Tom Hanks’ movie ‘Cast Away’ is perfect way to get your beach party up and running. Start a friendly game, practice your spikes, take him with you on a trip to sea. Just don’t let go.

    Price: $19.99

  • 14. Carnival Hot Dog Cart with Umbrella

    Nostalgia Electrics

    Bring the party anywhere with this old fashioned hot dog cart. The vintage-inspired stand comes with hot dog rollers for cooking and two steam trays to keep your hot dogs and buns warm and fresh. There are also three condiment inserts for chili, sauerkraut and more.

    Price: $399.99

  • 15. S’mores Basket with Handle

    Crate and Barrel

    Who has time to collect roasting sticks? Make perfect s’mores everytime with this custom cookie griller basket. Build the s’more inside the basket and wrap in foil for cooking over open flame or on the hot coals. Keep kids safe with a long handle that keeps roasters at a safer distance from the campfire.

    Price: $6.95

  • 16. Chill Puck

    Chill Puck

    What’s a Chill Puck? This little round device might really be your summer beverage savoir. The rounded ice pack is molded to match the bottom of all standard cans. The Chill Puck maximizes surface area connected to your drink, actually chilling your beverage sip by sip.

    Price: 3 for $6.99 and up depending on size and design

Categories: Fun in the Sun | Leave a comment

America’s best National Parks: ranked

  • The Active Times

Which government system protects some of our most prized land, offers affordable recreation and is great for the economy? You guessed it—it’s the National Park System.

Some have called it, “the best idea we ever had.” Others, like Franklin D. Roosevelt, have said there is nothing more American—and who are we to say otherwise? The parks system has preserved little bits of pre-industrial North America, protected animals and plant species from extinction, and educated the population on everything from glacial geology to water pollution.

We can’t stress enough how beneficial National Parks are for the country. But if you need one more reason to love them as much as we do, look no further than their positive effect on the economy.

At a time when it seems that we squander our most important natural resources, we should appreciate our national parks more than ever. The system is one of the few assurances we have that there will always be wilderness land available to the public.

These wilderness havens are among America’s best assets, they represent the nation’s heritage and appreciation for the outdoors. Each of the 59 parks has qualities worthy of official government preservation (and a visit), but we thought it would be interesting to determine which is the best of the best.

We enlisted the help of three new National Park experts this year to lend their expertise and experience to our rankings.

Mike Oswald is the author of Your Guide to the National Parks: The Complete Guide to All 58 National Parks. He spent two years exploring and photographing each of the parks, almost exclusively from the luxury of his tent and has hiked, paddled and pedaled thousands of miles across America’s parks.

QT Luong is a photographer who has captured all of the National Parks with a large format camera. He was also featured in the PBS film The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

John D. Giorgis is the President Emeritus of the National Park Travelers Club, an organization that works to provide networking opportunities for visitors of the National Parks and to expand knowledge and appreciation of the parks.

To compute our rankings, we added their views to the rankings of our existing panelists. We also factored in a couple of crunchy metrics: the biodiversity and range of activities available at each park.

If you think your favorite park should have landed higher on our list—or if you think the ranking is spot on—let us know. Either comment below or tweet at us.

  • 1. Yellowstone National Park

    The Active Times

    Location: Wyoming

    “Yellowstone, the first national park in the world, was designated to protect the majority of the earth’s geysers, as well as other thermal wonders that make up an otherworldly landscape. Its vast size includes mountain ranges, lakes, waterfalls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It is also the only place in the continental United States where every species of native large mammal, including the last free-ranging bison herd, survives today,” says nature photographer QT Luong.

  • 2. Grand Canyon National Park

    The Active Times

    Location: Arizona

    “The Grand Canyon is humbling for so many reasons. Its immense size, 18 miles from rim-to-rim at its widest point and one mile deep, leaves many visitors weak in the knees. Another way to weaken your knees is to hike to the canyon’s floor. When I day-hiked in-and-out from the North Rim, I was having a conversation with a man I met along the way and I forced him to leave me behind for a bit as I was completely exhausted and needed to rest. Fortunately, I started at dawn and had plenty of time to recuperate. The Colorado River, a ribbon of water only visible from a handful of rim-side viewpoints that carved this masterpiece, is just as breathtaking. (Note: More than 250 people are rescued from the canyon each year, most due to heat exhaustion. Be prepared and understand your limitations.)”
    —Mike Oswald

  • 3. Sequoia National Park

    The Active Times

    Location: California

    “There’s a lot here, including exceptional hiking, a pristine backcountry, even a small cave, but I would like to tell you about a tree. If there’s one tree you should make a special trip to see, it’s General Sherman. (Prometheus, a 4,862 year old bristlecone pine, cut down by a grad student seeking the world’s oldest tree, is a close second. Prometheus was found at Great Basin National Park in Nevada and now a cross-section is on display at the park’s visitor center.) General Sherman, the 2,200 year old giant sequoia with an estimated volume of more than 52,000 cubic feet (roughly the same volume of 16 blue whales, the world’s largest mammal), is the largest tree (by volume) in the world. Each year, General Sherman grows enough new wood to make a 60-foot tall tree of typical proportions.”
    –Mike Oswald

  • 4. Zion National Park

    The Active Times

    Location: Utah

    “Among Utah’s national parks, Zion holds the most diversified and easily accessible hiking trails. There’s one problem, some of its best hikes—Angel’s Landing, Zion Narrows and The Subway—aren’t for everyone. Still, Zion Canyon is easily explored thanks to Zion Canyon Drive only being open to park shuttles during peak tourism season,” says Oswald. Giorgis adds, “The main valley boasts some of the most iconic hikes in the National Park System in Angel’s Landing and The Narrows. If you are looking to escape the crowds though, the hike to Kolob Arch is the perfect day hike.”

  • 5. Death Valley National Park

    The Active Times

    Location: California & Nevada

    “In 1917, Death Valley experienced 52 days—43 consecutive—with temperatures over 120°F. In 1929, not a single drop of measureable rain was recorded. During a 40-month period from 1931 through 1934, only 0.64 inches of rain fell. It’s the hottest and driest national park in the United States, and for that many visitors despise it. I, on the other hand, love it for its quirkiness. Visit The Racetrack (4×4 or mountain bike required), where rocks, called sailing stones, glide across the playa. There are canyons, sand dunes and craters. On a clear day, from Dante’s View you can see Badwater, the lowest point in North America, and Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the Lower 48. It’s hot, but also very cool, and an excellent place for road biking (if you’re interested).”
    —Mike Oswald

  • 6. Olympic National Park

    The Active Times

    Location: Washington

    “Olympic combines three distinct environments: the mountains (heavily glaciated despite modest elevation), a coast laced with sea stacks, and temperate rainforest where every available inch is covered with growth. Hiking in the rainforest I felt immersed in a fantasy-like world straight out of Tolkien.”
    –QT Luong

  • 7. Acadia National Park

    The Active Times

    Location: Maine

    “Despite modest size and scale, compared to the western parks, I am always delighted by the harmony and diversity of coast, mountains,  ponds, and forest, with some of the most beautiful fall foliage on the East Coast, at the intersection of temperate and northern vegetation zones,” Luong told us. Giorgis points out, “The old carriage trails are perfect for bicycle riding. Be sure to enjoy a sunset from the top of Cadillac Mountain.”

  • 8. Glacier National Park

    The Active Times

    Location: Montana

    “I find it difficult to choose between the three rocky mountain parks: Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton, Glacier. Maybe Glacier is the most wild of the three.

    The glaciers that carved limestone peaks into steep faces are still present in large numbers, although in diminutive sizes, feeding cascading waterfalls, glistening lakes, and wildflower alpine meadows that together form what is maybe the most beautiful alpine scenery in the country, and certainly the most intact ecosystem. Just a few hundred yards away from a popular trail, mountain goats approached me so closely that I had switch to a wide-angle lens to photograph them.”
    —QT Long

  • 9. Yosemite National Park

    The Active Times

    Location: California

    “Again, the view of Yosemite Valley from any of the sensational viewpoints is not one you’ll soon forget, but it’s extremely busy during peak season. For something different, try visiting in winter, when the trail to Vernal Falls won’t feel like a Lambeau Field stairwell at the conclusion of a Green Bay Packers game,” advises Mike Oswald. Giorgis adds, “Come to scratch the iconic sites of Yosemite Valley off your bucket list. Stay to explore the back-country along the Tioga Pass Road away from all the crowds.”

  • 10. Denali National Park & Preserve

    The Active Times

    Location: Alaska

    “Yes, this Park protects North America’s highest peak – but many people don’t realize that it was also set aside as a game reserve,” says Giorgis. “Today, that means outstanding opportunities for observing wildlife, like herds of caribou on the plains and dall sheep high on the cliffs. Autumn comes early this far up north, visit around Labor Day weekend to see the tundra in reds and golds.”

    Discover more of the country’s best National Parks.

    More from The Active Times

    36 Stunning U.S. State Parks

    15 Crowd-Free National Parks to Visit this Summer

    16 Spectacular National Park Campgrounds

    Secrets of the National Parks: An Insider’s Guide

Categories: Travel Destinations | Leave a comment

Taking the kids — to Yosemite for its 150th anniversary

  • retertre546.jpg

    An overlook view of Yosemite Valley at sunset.National Park Service





Could they do it?

It was a tough hike for six and eight year olds — up 600 slick granite steps to the top of a waterfall, getting thoroughly splashed in the process. (I guess that’s why they call it the Mist Trail.) We were in Yosemite National Park and this iconic, though strenuous, hike — there’s a 1,000-foot gain in altitude up to the top of the park’s famous Vernal Falls – is one of the most popular, drawing people from around the world to see its waterfalls. Did you know there’s nowhere in the world with so many waterfalls concentrated in such a small area as in Yosemite Valley?

But more important for my family, this was the first “big” hike my son Matt and daughter Reggie had attempted. I shouldn’t have worried. They climbed the trail like mountain goats and that night, I treated them to a grown-up celebration dinner at the park’s Ahwahnee Hotel Dining Room with its huge granite pillars and floor-to-ceiling windows that have been welcoming diners since 1927. Guests come for the views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls, as much as the food. What I remember most is the fuss the waitresses made over my kids’ accomplishment that night and how proud they were — me too!

This month marks the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant Act, which set aside Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove as the first protected wild land in the country — the first time scenic, wilderness lands were set aside specifically for preservation and public use by the federal government. This set a precedent for the 1872 establishment of Yellowstone as our nation’s first national park;Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove were combined with Yosemite National Park in 1906. All year long, there will be special events at and around Yosemite to celebrate.

Today, Yosemite is the third most visited park in the country, welcoming more than 3.6 million visitors a year, more than Yellowstone. (In case you are wondering, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited in the country and Grand Canyonis second; Yellowstone is fourth.)

I think we should all thank that long-ago Congress and President Lincoln for the Yosemite Grant Act that has enabled generations of families to enjoy what Yosemite and the other national parks offer — not least of all, time together in the outdoors. Of course, we should thank environmentalist John Muir, who was first inspired by visits to Yosemite and whose activism not only helped get the national park bill passed but also worked to preserve the Yosemite Valley and co-found the Sierra Club.

Yosemite, is enormous, 1,200 square miles, about the size of Rhode Island, and it’s a terrific place to teach kids lessons on conservation and preservation, whether you camp, stay in Curry Village’s tent cabins, a lodge like Yosemite Lodge at the Falls or just outside the park at Tenaya Lodge, complete with kids’ activities and even a kids’ spa.

There are some 800 miles of hiking trails and 12 miles of paved bike paths, kayaking, fishing, horseback riding, even rafting in summer on the Merced River. Let’s not forget the Junior Ranger program, which helps kids get engaged in exploring the park, as will kid-friendly ranger-led programs (twilight stroll, anyone?) and the hands-on Pioneer Yosemite History Center at Wawona.

This is also a place where you can try something new together — take a rock climbing lesson with the Yosemite Mountaineering School. The nonprofit Yosemite Conservancy offers special experiences, including naturalist walks, special interest hikes (got a junior shutterbug or artist in the gang?) and guided family camping trips this summer in Tuolumne Meadows. Who wouldn’t love a camping trip with the kids where someone else sweats all the details?

A few years ago, my daughter Reggie and her fiance, Dan Foldes, who now live in Northern California, led us back up the Mist Trail. This time, she was the one encouraging me and making sure I didn’t trip on the slippery rocks.

Those early hikes and national park visits, she says, spurred her passion for the wilderness. She’s not only an avid backpacker but has also led teen wilderness trips in Yosemite.

Whether members of your family are avid outdoors lovers, or not,Yosemite is a place where your kids can be persuaded to leave the electronics behind. There is so much to see and do, so much to discover — starting with the Giant Sequoias in the Mariposa Grove. The tallest tree is about 290 feet tall — taller than the Statue of Liberty. The kids will love posing for selfies at the famous California Tunnel Tree where a tunnel was cut through the trunk to allow stagecoaches to pass through it and at Glacier Point, with its stellar views of Yosemite Valley’s rock formations.

“Good job hiking,” Reggie said when we got back down the Mist Trail. It felt a little strange being on the receiving end of the encouragement, rather than being the one doling it out. But there was one thing she’d forgotten, I told her — the M&Ms I always had in my backpack to keep her and her brother and little sister going along the trail.

Next time, she promised.


Eileen Ogintz is a nationally syndicated columnist and creator of Her new  Kids Guide to LA is available online and from major booksellers, along with the Kids Guides to NYC, Washington, DC, Orlando and coming in December, Chicago.

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Tips for seeing wildlife when camping

Looking for ways to get your kids outside and away from the TV this summer? Try camping.

Whether you pitch a tent in the backwoods or just in the backyard, it’s a great way to get close to nature.

David Mizejewski, naturalist & wildlife expert for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), says camping and observing animals in nature is fun for the whole family – but he cautions against taking selfies with squirrels.

“We don’t want to ever try to approach or feed or definitely never touch a wild animal because they’re wild. They can bite or scratch. Even something like a squirrel can give you a pretty bad bite,” Mizejewski said. “So the message is appreciate them, get your camera out, take pictures, but let them be wild. Give them their space and everything will be great.”

Want to see some nocturnal animals feeding?  Pick areas where night-flying insects are abundant, such as over water, or near flood lights and street lights. Light and water attract the insects that certain animals, like owls fox and moths feed on at night. Or smear fruit on a tree in the late afternoon or early in the night and check it later for animal activity.

Another tip: make sure you bring enough water.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re camping out in the woods somewhere or if you’re camping out in your backyard” Mizejewski said. “Make sure you bring plenty of fluids. You want to stay hydrated especially if it’s hot out, which it usually is at this time of year.”

NWF is encouraging families to participate in the Great American Backyard Campout on June 28. The event, now in its tenth year, aims to help families reconnect with nature. Participants can pledge to camp out and proceeds for the event go toward supporting NWF’s programs.

Don’t worry if you’re new to camping. NWF has packing lists, recipes, nocturnal wildlife guides, exploration activities, nature games, and more on its website.



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The Daily Meal

  • Flickr/Nomadic Lass

Ever watched those shows where ordinary people are unexpectedly stranded in the wild and have to survive by their bare wits and by living off nature?

Notice how some poor guy always runs into trouble when he eats a plant he thinks is safe but is actually highly poisonous? Clearly his survival instinct weren’t up to scratch. Think you could do a better job?

No matter where you are in the world knowing what plants are edible and which ones could kill you is a critical survival skill. You never know when you may be stranded in the woods, washed up on a deserted island, or even have to fend for yourself when the zombie apocalypse strikes (hey, it could happen). There are some important facts about plants to know which end up keeping you alive by swallowing a few bitter stalks: like knowing the difference between plants that look good but are actually poisonous, which plants that look and smell awful but are really delicious and nutritious, and what plants smell bad, and taste worse, but may really have enough nutrients to keep you going.

Unless you’ve spent time picking up nifty survival tricks in the army, or were a Boy Scout (or Girl Scout), chances are you probably don’t know some of the tricks to finding edible plants. The first things to know are the warning signs that a plant is poisonous: plants with leaves that grow in a pattern of threes, seed or bulbs that are found inside pods, a bitter or soapy taste, sap that is milky or strangely discolored, grain head that have spikes, hooks, or spurs, and a kind of bitter “almond” smell to the leaves or bark. These are all signs that you shouldn’t be eating it.

You can also apply the Universal Edibility Test to the sprout you’re considering consuming. You can also keep your eyes peeled for these useful plants which are definitely edible and should be sure to help you survive in the wild.

  • 1. Amaranth

    Flickr/Nomadic Lass

    Amaranth is a weed that looks a lot like pigweed, and is a tall, upright, broad-leafed plant that grows all-year round. It comes in all sizes, shapes, and colors. The leaves can be round or lance-shaped, measure from five to fifteen centimeters long, and have a light green, dark green, reddish, or variegated color. The seeds are usually white, yellow, pink or black and the flowers can be huge tassels or tiny globes, with a red, pink, yellow or cream color.

    Amaranth is kind of leafy vegetable and grain that’s actually been eaten for centuries all over the world. Amaranth seeds have been used since ancient times in Central and Latin America and in the countries of the Himalayas, and the leaves are used across Asia. Most green-leaved varieties are popular in India and other places. The Chinese prefer their amaranth red-leaved and amaranth grain once was a staple in the diets of pre-Columbian Aztecs.

    Amaranth seeds, in particular, have a much higher content of the minerals calcium, magnesium, iron and of the amino acid Lysine. It’s actually much higher in nutrients than beets, Swiss chard and spinach. Also, amaranth leaves contain three times more calcium and three times more niacin (vitamin B3) than spinach leaves.

  • 2. Burdock

    Flickr/Martin Labar

    Burdock is mostly considered a stout, common weed with annoying burrs that stick to animal fur and clothing. This plant grows relatively tall therefore having deep roots which are brownish green, or nearly black on the outside. It has a basal rosette of leaves that stays close to the ground the first year and the beginning of the second — these can grow up to a meter wide.

    Burdock is an interesting biennial plant because it consists primarily of carbohydrates, volatile oils, plant sterols, tannins, and fatty oils. Researchers aren’t sure which active ingredients in burdock root are responsible for its healing properties, but this plant may have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects. In fact, recent studies show that burdock contains phenolic acids, quercetin and luteolin, which are all are powerful antioxidants.

  • 3. Cattail


    Better known as bullrush, this plant is easily recognizable by its brown cigar-shaped head that stands atop a very long, stout stalk. Young shoots first emerge in spring and once fertilized, the female flowers transform into the familiar brown “cigars” also called candlewicks that consist of thousands of tiny developing seeds. Bullrush is one of the most important and most common wild foods that also boast a variety of uses at different times of the year — it can be used to make mats, baskets, and the cigar-shaped head can even be used as packing material. Dipping the head in oil or fat, they can be used as torches.

    Aboriginals used the roots to make flour (high in protein and carbohydrates) and the fluffy wool of the head was used as diapers because of its softness and absorbency. These “cigar-heads” are also excellent fire started. The tight heads are often dry inside even after a heavy rain, making this essential survival tinder. Inside the stalks of fresh shoots is tasty food that can be eaten as is, sautéed or tossed into a stir fry.

  • 4. Clovers

    Flickr/Randi Hausken

    If you’re stranded in the wild and hungry then running into a field of clover would definitely be a stroke of luck… mostly because this wild plant is 100 percent edible. Clover leaves are delicious in salads or as juices, and are also a valuable survival food as they’re high in protein, are widespread and plentiful in most parts of the world. They are not easy to digest raw, but this can be easily fixed by juicing them. The clover dried flower heads and seed pods can also be ground up into nutritious flour and mixed with other foods. The dried flower heads can also be steeped in hot water for a healthy, tasty tea.

  • 5. Chickweed

    Flickr/J Michael Raby

    Chickweed is one of those weeds we’re used to seeing spring up everywhere — your backyard lawn, between cracks in the pavement, in you flowerbeds, and especially in the wild. It’s wild and edible and grows all year round and is hardy despite its delicate appearance. Chickweed is an easy-to-grow plant that’s healthy to eat and it produces flowers throughout the growing season even in hot, dry conditions; it’s multi-functional because its presence decreases insect damage to other plants. This plant has a lot of health benefits and is full of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients.

    See more wild plants you can actually eat.

    More from The Daily Meal

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New snorkeling mask makes breathing underwater a snap

  • The Easybreath mask allows for easier underwater breathing, according to manufacturer.TRIBORD

Everyone loves snorkeling at the beach, but no one like the fogged up goggles or the weird feeling of only being able to breathe through your mouth.

Just in time for summer, Tribord, a French aquatic sports company, has released the Easybreath mask—a new type of snorkeling gear that the company claims allows for easier breathing and better visibility under the sea. The website even boasts that you can breathe as “easily and naturally” underwater as you would on land.

The revolutionary idea breaks away from the traditional goggles and tube with a futuristic all-in-one design.

Instead of just breathing through your mouth, the Easybreath full-face design allows you breathe through your nostrils too. The head piece allows for a full 180-degree-range so you won’t miss that sea turtle swimming by.

It also has a double airflow system that prevents mask fogging, and a built-in component that automatically plugs the top end of the snorkel when it’s immersed.

Don’t believe the hype? The new mask is so impressive that it took home first prize at the 2014 Oxylane Innovation Awards—an international competition that vets new products related to recreational sporting goods.

For the stylish snorkeler, the Easybreath comes in five different colors to match any wet suit or bikini.

But you may have to go to Europe to pick one up. Tribord announced via Twitterthat it does not yet have the capacity to ship the product worldwide.

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You won’t believe what’s in these underwater museums

Condé Nast Traveler

  • Barcroft Media/Getty Images

The word museum brings to mind big buildings filled with hundreds of artifacts. But if you’re looking to feel like a true explorer, why not dive deep to discover something new. These unique underwater exhibits can only be accessed by scuba or snorkel.

  • 1. Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park

    Barcroft Media/Getty Images

    Globetrotting artist and photographer Jason deCaires Taylor (pictured) crafted 65 concrete-and-rebar figures—a combination of human forms and still lifes—anchored beneath Moliniere Bay. A snorkeling tour through the marine area allows travelers to get a fish’s-eye view of the works.

  • 2. Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA)

    Luis Javier Sandoval / VWPics / Alamy

    Taylor’s masterpieces also lie at the heart of an installation located between Cancún and Isla Mujeres in Mexico. In an effort to repair some of the region’s damaged coral reef, the artist partnered with the country’s Environment and Natural Resources Secretariat to open an artificial habitat where sea life could settle and thrive.

  • 3. Shipwreck Trail

    RGB Ventures LLC dba SuperStock / Alamy

    Nearly a dozen sunken ships spanning three centuries rest in the shallow waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The underwater archaeological preserves give divers clues into maritime eras with submerged guides that encompass each vessel’s history, plus which aquatic inhabitants might be making their homes there today.

  • 4. Herod’s Harbor

    F1online digitale Bildagentur GmbH / Alamy

    A city that once served as a trade port for the Roman Empire now lies 20 feet below sea level off the coast of Caesarea, Israel. Snorkelers and divers can examine such artifacts as marble columns, anchors, and shipwrecks from Phoenician and Byzantine eras as they make their way through 36 exhibits.

    See more amazing underwater exhibits.

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