Tag Archives: nature

three sisters formation Goblin Valley State Park Utah

The American West You Don’t Know About, But Should

Year after year, families flock to the American West to show their kids the region’s knockout scenery and rugged-cowboy lifestyle. And so every summer, the Grand Canyon’s viewpoints are choked with visitors, Yellowstone’s roads are jammed by wildlife-induced rubbernecking, and the guest ranches are sold out months in advance.

We’re here with a solution: Six key strategies that will help you avoid the crowds out west. I recently employed these tactics on a 900-mile drive around Utah, discovering breathtaking parts of the state that I hadn’t seen on numerous past trips through it, and having them largely to myself.

Wake up early.

Morning in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Morning in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

The general wisdom is that the national parks are least crowded at sunrise and sunset. But when I stopped at Sunset Point in Bryce Canyon National Park at 6:00 p.m. on a Thursday in September, there were hundreds of people swarming the overlooks. By comparison, at 8:30 the following morning I had Inspiration Point almost to myself. The earlier you get up and out the door, the fewer people you’ll see on the roads and the trails. If you follow the typical flow of traffic in a park (most people drive through Bryce from north to south, for example) but start earlier, you’ll stay ahead of the crowds the entire day.

Sunset in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Sunset in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

Seek out state parks.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah

Goblin Valley State Park, Utah. Photo: Brook WIlkinson

I uncovered plenty of spots that would easily earn national park status for their natural beauty—if only they didn’t face such stiff competition (Utah already has five national parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Capitol Reef, and Canyonlands). Goblin Valley State Park is just such a spot: It has a landscape like nowhere else on earth, with spooky hoodoos shaped like toadstools and witches and alien invaders. These hoodoos (thin spires of rock with curvaceous profiles) are quite different from the ones that have made Bryce Canyon famous: The former have rounded edges, as if they’ve melted into shape, while the latter are more rigidly striated. But even my well-traveled, adventurous Utahn relatives have never been to Goblin Valley. When I visited a few weeks ago to go canyoneering, I ran into fewer than a dozen other people in the park. This part of southern Utah is so remote that the Henry Mountains I could see in the distance were the last mountain range to be mapped in the lower 48 states, back in 1872.

Take the road less traveled.

The Castle, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. Photo: National Park Service

The Castle, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. Photo: NPS Photo

Google Maps will tell you that the fastest route from Arches National Park to Bryce Canyon or Zion is via I-70 and Highway 89. What it won’t tell you is that an alternate route, Scenic Byway 12, is one of just 31 designated “All-American Roads” in the United States. The detour adds less than an hour to your route—though we’d campaign for spending a lot more time enjoying the sights along the way. The most spectacular section runs from Tropic to Torrey, with several miles of pavement that cling to the knife-edge of a mountain ridge with gorgeous canyons spilling down on either side dotted with scrubby pines, earning it the moniker “the Hogsback.”

This route will also take you through Capitol Reef National Park (one of the country’s few national parks that you can visit for free, since the highway runs right through it).  There are a number of hikes you can do inside the park, and orchards of peach, apple, cherry, and apricot trees where you can eat your fill for free (or take a to-go bag for a nominal fee left in an honor box). Capitol Reef has a bit more foliage than other parts of this dry desert, and I found the contrast of deep green growth and rose-colored rock to be particularly striking.

Stay a while in smaller towns.

Burr Trail Outpost Boulder Utah

Burr Trail Outpost, Boulder, Utah. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

It’s tempting to make a trip out west all about the driving—the distances are vast, the small towns dotted between the geologic wonders seemingly unremarkable. At least, that’s what you’ll think if you arrive in the evening, check into a motel for a night’s sleep, and hit the road again the next morning. But if you make these communities a destination in their own right, spending enough time to scratch beneath the surface, you’ll find they’re as rich in character as the parks are in natural beauty.

Take the tiny town of Boulder, Utah, for example. Blink and you’ll miss it—literally—with just a smattering of commerce along Highway 12 indicating that you’ve reached, and then quickly passed, Boulder. The local population is so small that the elementary school has an enrollment of seven kids (and four teachers, making this parent of a kindergartener envious of all that undivided attention). But if you stop in to the Burr Trail Outpost, you’ll start to understand what makes this town tick: The work of dozens of local artists—pottery, textiles, metalwork, photography, and much more—fills the shelves, indicating the many creative types who have found the area’s beauty a reliable muse, and who now live side-by-side with the Mormon ranchers who settled Boulder. (As for that drip coffee and stale muffin you were expecting out here in nowheresville? Try a butternut squash mango smoothie, a fresh cinnamon roll, or a macchiato instead.) A few doors down is Hell’s Backbone Grill, a nationally acclaimed restaurant run by two female chefs and based on Buddhist values. Most importantly, the food is fresh (from the restaurant’s own farm a few miles away) and darn good, and that is a rarity in these parts. Also in Boulder is the Anasazi State Park Museum, on the grounds of an 11th-century Ancestral Puebloan village, reminding visitors that human history is as vital a marker on the surroundings as the effects of wind and water are on the landscape.

Create your own ranch experience.

Cougar Ridge Lodge, Utah

Cougar Ridge Lodge, Utah. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

If you’re yearning to get your kids comfortable in a saddle but the guest ranches are booked solid during school vacations—or you want a bit more privacy than the typical guest ranches offer, with their group activities and meals—consider the Cougar Ridge Lodge. Though it’s more cowboy estate than working ranch, the property has horse stables and a riding arena for lessons, and the owner can arrange guided horseback trips through the red rock country, as well as ATV tours, winemaking lessons, photography classes, and boating on Lake Powell. Rather than conforming to a dude ranch’s timetable, here the schedule is all your own. Cougar Ridge is enough of a secret that if you book one of the lodge’s four master suites, you’re likely to have the accompanying kitchen, great room, exercise area, and spa area all to yourself; it’s both grand and homey, as if a wealthy aunt who fancied herself a cowgirl had thrown you the keys to her country spread.

Go in fall or spring.

Chances are that you’ll want to hit a few of the west’s iconic spots as well, so we recommend traveling during the shoulder seasons to avoid the height-of-summer masses of tourists. In Utah, that’s October, November, February, and March, when temperatures are mild enough that you can spend the whole day outside (though nights are quite chilly in the high desert, so bring layers), but the crowds have thinned to a trickle in those most famous of places. In places farther north, the season starts later and ends earlier.

Ready to make your way out west? Ask Wendy who the right travel specialist is to plan your trip.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah

Goblin Valley State Park, Utah. Photo: Brook WIlkinson

*Disclosure: Utah’s Department of Tourism provided me with a five-day trip through Utah, free of charge. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, coverage was not guaranteed and remains at our editorial discretion. You can read the signed agreement between WendyPerrin.com and the Department of Tourism here.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Beautiful Sunset at Tangalle, Sri Lanka

Now Is the Time to Travel to Sri Lanka. This Is Why.

For decades Sri Lanka was in the news more for a civil war than anything else. The island nation seemed like the last place anyone would want to go for a beach holiday. Even in 2009, when that war was finally over, fewer than 500,000 people visited. But last year more than 1.5 million people flocked to Sri Lanka—an astonishing rise in such a short period of time—and this year it seems to be on every must-visit list.

That sudden turnaround might leave you wondering what other travelers know that you don’t. We tapped Miguel Cunat, our Trusted Travel Expert for Sri Lanka, for intel—and he gave us three reasons why now is the moment to go:

It’s the new Bali. Sri Lanka has gorgeous beaches, magnificent archaeological ruins (many of which are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites), and a rich culture that celebrates both Buddhist and Hindu traditions with numerous festivals. Tea plantations dot the interior’s hill country, and the island’s national parks are full of leopards, elephants, and incredible bird life.

The infrastructure has improved, so travel is easier. Those acquaintances of yours who went to Sri Lanka five years ago had to put up with a lot of headaches in return for being travel pioneers. Says Miguel, “With peace and the prospect of growth, important investments have taken place; we have better roads, fewer power outages, more hotel rooms, more options for dining in the main cities, and more flights within the country.”

More development is coming, so now is the time to see the island in its natural beauty. Miguel tells us that Sri Lanka’s government is very welcoming of foreign investment. He’s already starting to see “cookie-cutter hotel development,” and he expects that five years from now, a bit of Sri Lanka’s authenticity will be lost to the inevitable forces of globalization, replaced by Singapore-style shopping malls, Chinese and Italian restaurants on Colombo’s streets, and karaoke bars amid the tea shops.

With so many travelers adding Sri Lanka to their wish lists, you’d be wise to start planning your own trip before the hordes descend and transform the island. Even with the increase in tourism, it can be difficult to find high-caliber private guides and on-the-ground services. When tourism explodes fast, it takes a while for supply to catch up, so there is a shortage of savvy travel fixers and hotel staffers who really comprehend and can deliver what sophisticated travelers want. One way to ensure your trip is filled with first-rate services and experiences is to book through a Sri Lanka specialist, We recommend Miguel. He’s so plugged in he knows how to avoid the crowds at top sites like Yala National Park and the Sigiriya rock fortress—and, of course, he knows the most well-connected private guides. Check out his Sri Lanka Insider’s Guide for more details on the local experts he can introduce you to, the best (and worst) times of year to visit, and much more.
Read Miguel’s Insider’s Guide to Sri Lanka, and reach out to him to get the best possible trip.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.