The Ten Best National Park Gateway Towns:

The National Park gateway towns are more than just a place to grab a quick meal or a shower.  Many of them have become full fledged tourist destinations of their own.  Of course, as they become more hip and popular with tourists, they can lose some of the vibe that made them popular in the first place.

Any list like this is subjective of course.  I have visits to several of these gateway towns scheduled in the next 60 days to possibly change my opinion and move up or down the list.  Without further ado:

Honorable Mention) Key West FL:  Key West is the jump off point to Dry Tortugas National Park. This town can get overwhelmed by partying tourists from the cruise ships that stop here.

10) Springdale UT:  Located at the west entrance to Zion National Park, this small town is as beautiful as it is congested.

9) Gatlinburg TN: Gatlinburg is known for having the most pancake houses per capita almost as much as for being the gateway to ultra popular Smoky Mountains National Park.

8) Gardiner MT: Located at the north entrance to Yellowstone NP, near Mammoth Hot Springs.  This small town feels more authentic and less tourist trap. I had some great pizza here once at Yellowstone Pizza Company.

The Roosevelt Arch as you leave Gardiner and enter Yellowstone NP

7) Williams AZ: This iconic Route 66 town is almost an hour to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. That’s a little farther than most on this list, but the Grand Canyon Railway runs daily from here to the Grand Canyon Village.


Williams AZ on a snowy day.

6) Port Angeles WA: This small seaside town is a great base to explore the massive Olympic National Park. Port Angeles also features a ferry to beautiful Victoria BC.

Olympic National Park Visitor Center near Port Angeles

5) Durango CO: This wild west town is the gateway to Mesa Verde National Park. The historic Main Street is a great place to explore.

4) Whitefish MT: Whitefish is the gateway to gorgeous Glacier National Park. Wander Main Street and visit the many coffee shops and enjoy the lively art scene.

3) Moab UT: Moab is not the gateway to one National Park, but two: Arches and Canyonlands. This small desert town on the Colorado River is popular with bikers and off-road jeep enthusiasts.

My son Grant near “Tow-Mater” in Moab

2) Jackson WY: Jackson is ideally located at the southern entrance to Grand Teton National Park. The town square with elk antler arches is a great photo op before dining in one of the many fine dining establishments.

An arch made of elk antlers in Jackson WY

1) Bar Harbor ME: This quintessential New England coastal town is the gateway to Acadia National Park. Combine fresh Maine lobster and the unique low tide trek to neighboring Bar Island for a great time. I love the vibe here.

Beautiful Bar Harbor as seen from Bar Island


Sunday Hikes: Corona Arch


It was 8 o’clock in the afternoon in beautiful Moab, Utah. We had spent the whole day hiking at Arches National Park but we hadn’t seen enough arches for one day! So we decided to go to Corona Arch, recommended to us by my sister’s friend. We had dinner and asked our waitress about the hike and she warned it is a difficult trail to follow but we figured it couldn’t be too hard to find a sixty foot arch in the middle of the desert. We pulled off the road that ran parallel to the Colorado River and into a gravel parking lot. The trail started off by going up a steepish hill and then across some rail road tracks with fences around it (presumably to keep bighorn sheep from getting hit by trains or to keep outlaws from tying people to the tracks for Roy Rogers to rescue). After the tracks the trail continues to walk along a small ridge overlooking the parking lot and the river but then takes a turn to the right and then hits a big step up and thats where the trail turns into looking for wear on the rock and keeping an eye out for cairns rather than just following the trail. At this point my sister and I were a good bit ahead of my dad and our two younger siblings, but instead of waiting around for the slow pokes we kept on trying to follow the trail. Pretty quickly you are at a large open area with no sights of the arch and we were somewhat confused about where to go until we heard people speaking french coming from the left of us so we went that-a ways. we turned a corner and ran into a nice french family that were on the way back. Just after we passed them we spotted approximately 12 billion cairns all together having some sort of party. We were so fascinated by the rocks that we didn’t even realize that we were in eyeshot of Corona Arch! When we spotted the arch we headed that way till we came to some chains and a ladder going up small inclines (a small taste of the ropes we would be holding onto with white knuckles a couple days later on Angel’s Landing). We followed the trail in a horseshoe pattern and then looked up to see Bowtie Arch just before Corona and were surprised that we didn’t know there were two arches on this hike. Corona is the much more impressive of the two however so we moved on. Pretty soon we were under the arch looking out across the way where we could see our small ant-sized family approaching the ropes and ladders. We went around the corner to stand on the edge of the cliff on the other side of the arch and to look out at the beautiful view of Corona arch with a storm going the other way in the distance. Standing on the edge of a cliff is a scary thing but it gets all the more terrifying when the storm you thought was going the other way violently hits you with sand and winds that blow you off your feet. Well thats what happened to my sister and I as we stood put taking in the view and waiting on our family. We began to crawl away from the edge and back towards the arches as the wind tried to blind us with sand and rip my glasses from my face. Eventually we got away from the edge and tried our best to run back to the car without tripping over cactus, rocks, and our own feet. Once we got back to where the trail is a real trail it had begun raining hard on our unprepared heads and we had seen no signs of our family yet. As we turned the corner we saw them hiding under a rock sticking out of the cliff waiting for us (Because I had the car keys). As we met up with our family my dad proceeded to whisper in my ear that the storm had literally scared the crap out of my younger brother. We ran back to the car and out of the rain (which stopped as soon as we got into the car). After that is was a nice drive back to the hotel to clean up and then go to Arches National Park to stare at the Milky Way for hours. Overall I’d say it was a great day and a great hike despite the sand in my eyes and I would do it all again in a heartbeat!



Canyonlands National Park

I was able to spend a day in Canyonlands National Park near Moab UT recently (July 2016).   Canyonlands is a massive National Park split into 3 main sections:  Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze.   It would easily take a couple weeks to explore it all.  With limited time, I decided to take in the Island in the Sky portion of the park.

Island in the Sky is amazingly beautiful and filled with those iconic views you think of when considering the Southwestern United States.  Island in the Sky is a mesa overlooking 1000 foot drops in every direction surrounded by canyons and the Colorado and Green rivers.   You can get a great overhead view of the Needles portion of the park on the other side of the Colorado river.  Needles is full of colorful spires that reach into the sky beckoning you to come hike through.   The Maze portion is far off and remote.  The Maze is one of those places it takes a few days of backpacking to get to (no roads!).

When visiting Island in the Sky, make sure you leave your car and take the short hike to Mesa arch.  It is gorgeous.  I was able to catch it with the sun rising behind it.  The trails over at Upheaval Dome and Whale Rock are a bit longer but also great hikes.   Make sure you take in the overlooks at Grand Point and Green River.   Both have those views where you just don’t want to blink in case you miss anything.

When leaving Island in the Sky, stop off a Dead Horse Point State Park near the entrance to Island in the Sky.  It is an extra fee, but well worth it for the iconic view of the horseshoe curve in the Colorado River.  The picture of me with my daughter linked to this post is actually from there.   It looks more dangerous than it is!   I promise.

A return trip here for hiking in the Needles section is definitely on the bucket list.  I can’t wait to return.


What makes a great trip?

For everyone that can be different I suppose.  But for most travel aficionados like myself, I think these 10 things are key to making a trip into an adventure.   As a matter of fact, let’s call this Ten for Tuesday.

  1. See the iconic sights.   For instance, my recent trip to Seattle wouldn’t have been complete without lunch at the Space Needle.   Yeah it is an overpriced tourist trap and all that, but hey that view on a clear day is hard to beat!
  2. Get local recommendations on where to eat.   I always ask pretty much any local who will talk to me where the best places to eat are.   Last time in Moab we took a recommendation and drove south of town to Susie’s Branding Iron.   Great meal and we got to visit with some wonderful people.
  3. Where to sleep?   It is always a balance between location and price.   I tend to lean towards location because of #4…….
  4. Explore and wander.   Almost always my favorite parts of the trip are the times when I go explore and wander.   My most distinct memory of my trip to Rome was when jet lagged I woke up at 4am local and proceeded to go explore the city.   It was the only time I had the city to myself.
  5. Find something under the radar……..for instance during my penchant for over planning and trip planning, I found out about a wave organ in San Francisco.   Back then it didn’t have a website and was something that even locals didn’t always know about.
  6. Leave some time to be spontaneous.   Last year on a trip from home in Atlanta to the Grand Canyon…..that hour we on a whim spent out of the car looking at the lava fields in El Malpais National Monument was a highlight of the trip…..or maybe we were just loopy from 18 hours in the car the day before!
  7. Enjoy the journey—-whether that is trying to see the sights out the window of the plane or searching for that elusive last license plate on a road trip (where are you Rhode Island!).
  8. Take some pictures.   Not all selfies mind you. Get the scenery and all that is around you.   I often look back at a picture album and see a picture and that will bring back a wave of fond memories.
  9. Do something your travel partner wants to do.   Whether it’s one more hike at Zion or a Broadway show in NY.….make time for everyone on your trip to do something they want to do.   You’ll be surprised and happier for the experience.
  10. Get a momento.   Not something crazy…..I tend to grab a t-shirt or if at a National Park one of those cool coasters.