9 National Parks To Visit in 2021 (Pictures and Tips)

Here are some of the best national parks in the USA that I visited during the pandemic. I have included some tips on how best to avoid crowds, be safe and have a memorable experience.

One good thing that came out of 2020 was a desire to get outdoors, and having all the time in the world to do so. Once all my travels got cancelled, I started doing road trips and discovering some of the most beautiful national parks in the USA that I never had the time to go to before. National Parks are often packed with families and international visitors through the summer, so the idea of waiting in long lines at parking lots and restrooms dissuaded me from going to some of these places. But in 2020, crowds were thinner as most facilities remained closed. Some of the parks limited the number of vehicles coming in. They suspended tour groups and shuttle buses. Others reduced capacity at campgrounds and hotels. So all of this made visiting national parks even more enjoyable past year.

Having a strategy for visiting the park definitely came in handy. With the pandemic still looming, I had to account for carrying food, water, PPE equipment, maintaining social distancing, and planning restroom breaks.

Here are the National Parks I visited and some of the insider tips I can offer from my firsthand experience. Following these will make your trip safer and more pleasurable.

Most of the parks are open year-round, but you must check for wildfires, snowy weather and road closures daily, as mountain weather changes very often.

elks
Elk sighting at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Fly in to Denver, Colorado and drive to Rocky Mountain National Park (about 90 minutes). It is best to start your journey at Grand Lake in the west of the park, and end at Estes Park on the east. Grand Lake is a lot less crowded and has a few Swiss style chalets located along the magnificent blue waters.

When you enter Rocky Mountain National Park through Grand Lake, you will see wooded forests, lush meadows, wildlife and rivers. The trails here will be less crowded too, so I highly recommend doing your hiking and picnicking in this area. Continue along the 49 miles long Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest continues paved road in the United States, reaching an elevation of 12,183 feet. Cross the Continental Divide at Milner Pass, see glaciers, mountain peaks and snowfields, grasslands covered with elk and much more.

Note that driving Trail Ridge Road is not for the faint hearted. The roads are narrow, with high elevations, and no barriers. Get a stable car or SUV and keep your eyes on the road. Also, the road closes at the higher elevations from mid October until Memorial weekend.

Loop around Bear Lake for an easy hike with this view.

Toward the east entrance of the park, you will see glacier lakes that are very popular. If you plan to walk the trails around Bear Lake, do so in the late afternoon. If you are lucky, you may even spot double rainbows like I did!

Exit the park at Estes Park, which is a bustling mountain town with motels, cabins, restaurants and souvenir shops. There is a wide variety of cuisines in this small town but it’s best to make reservations in advance. Stay at Tiny Town Cabins at Trout Haven Resorts for a typical Colorado cabin experience. The small but functional 19 individual cabins are located alongside the Big Thompson River, just minutes away from Rocky Mountain National Park.

Yellowstone National Park
Sulphur springs in blue, gold, white and black colors can be seen all over Yellowstone.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Yellowstone was the first national park in the U.S. and perhaps the first national park in the world. The park spans an area of 3,468.4 sq miles comprising lakes, canyons, rivers, and mountain ranges. Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-elevation lakes in North America. It is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest super volcano on the continent. There are numerous recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, boating, fishing, and sightseeing. Lava flows and geothermal pools are spread across the mountains and forests at Yellowstone. So you have to be very careful when hiking and should always stay on marked trails.

Yellowstone is quite large spanning into Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. You can access it from either of these states, but the nearest big airport is Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Here you can take a break for couple of days to visit Grand Tetons National Park, Teton Village’s ski lifts, and then continue on to Yellowstone (1.5 hours). Downtown Jackson Hole is also really hip, filled with gourmet restaurants, art galleries and jewelry stores.

I highly recommend staying at least a couple of nights inside Yellowstone, so you don’t spend a lot of time driving in and out everyday. The lodges inside are more expensive though, without many frills, and are sold out months in advance. However, you are paying for the great location and will have the park all to yourself in the late evening and early morning, when most of the visitors have left.

Grand Prismatic Spring
The natural colors at Grand Prismatic Spring look surreal.

If you take the Loop Road starting in the South, you won’t get lost and most of the attractions will fall along this road. Account for a full day to see West Thumb golden hot spring, the Continental Divide over Craig Pass, famous Old Faithful geyser, colorful Grand Prismatic Spring, and Artist Paint Pods. You will need to do some walking/ light hiking to get to some of these up close, but they also have handicap accesses.

Mammoth Hot Spring Terrace
Visit Mammoth at sunrise for a mystical experience.

The next day, go to Hayden Valley for wildlife spotting, Sulphur Caldron and Yellowstone Lake. If the weather cooperates, take a boat ride or enjoy some of the water sports on the lake. On the third day, head north to see valleys along Gibbon River and raggedy rocks at Sheepeater Cliff. The Mammoth Hotel is a good place to stay near Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces. Access the Terraces early in the morning when the sun reflects on the foggy white, gold and black rocks.

Note there is no cell reception inside the park (even at the hotels), and road closures are quite frequent (due to accidents, fires, wildlife, repairs, etc) with no alternate route options. Check the notice board at your hotel reception and at all the visitors centers, gas stations and gift shops thought the day to get latest updates.

Grand Tetons National Park
Hike to the Hidden Falls inside Grand Tetons National Park for a great view.

Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park is only 10 miles (16 km) south of Yellowstone National Park, connected by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway. Along with surrounding national forests, the protected areas constitute the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of the world’s largest intact mid-latitude temperate ecosystems.

Grand Teton National Park is named for Grand Teton, the tallest mountain in the Teton Range. The park includes the major peaks of the 40-mile-long (64 km) Teton Range, numerous lakes, including 15-mile-long (24 km) Jackson Lake, as well as the upper main stem of the Snake River.

Grand Tetons
The Grand Tetons tower over Jackson Hole & surrounding areas.

Stay at Jackson Hole, a year-round destination for outdoor adventures, from hiking, biking and rafting in the summer, to skiing in the winter. The Fireside Cabins provide easy access to Grand Teton, where you can spot glaciers, rivers, wildflowers and bisons! The best way to explore Grand Teton National Park is via their well networked paved biking trails. But if that’s not your thing, drive the Moose-Wilson road (partially gravel) that links Moose, Wyoming (the southern entrance) to Teton Village. This road is great for viewing wildlife, stopping at outlooks and going for long or short hikes. One of the must ones is at Jenny Lake. Here, you need to take the water ferry to cross the lake and do a loop back.

Glacier National Park
Hairpin turns, narrow roads & tunnels in Glacier.

Glacier National Park, Montana

With over 700 miles of trails, Glacier National Park is a hiker’s paradise for adventurous visitors seeking wilderness and solitude. Getting to Glacier requires flying into the small airport of Kalispell, MT and driving a short distance to the park. Stay in the town of Whitefish, where you can explore the downtown with lots of coffee shops, bars, and a lake.

Timing is everything when going to Glacier. The famous Going-to-the-Sun Road is only open from June – September. This is when you will find hikers from Canada (northern part of Glacier), U.S., and all over the world flocking to the park. However, I went to Glacier in the first week of October, after the season was over. Luckily, the temperature was around 70F, Fall colors in full bloom, and the crowds had left.

St Mary's Lake Glacier
Take a break at St Mary’s Lake near Rising Sun.

Enter the park at West Glacier early in the morning and see the mist rising above Lake McDonald. The 50-mile Going To The Sun Road loop takes you through narrow passes, mountain overlooks, rising glaciers and alpine villages. Again, this is no easy drive with hair bending turns, so rent an all wheel drive.

Exit the park at Rising Sun, on the western side of the park. However, this was closed due to COVID-19, so I had to turn around and do the loop again. Thats not necessarily a bad thing, as you get to see the Going To The Sun Road from another perspective. The afternoon is a good time to get some hikes in too. Make sure to explore the less visited western side of the park, where the gorgeous Bowman Lake is located. On your way back, grab fresh and warm huckleberry bear claws at Polebridge Mercantile and Bakery, located inside the park.

Drive in Zion
If you’re lucky, drive your own car in Zion National Park.

Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park is located in southern Utah near the city of Springdale. I drove from Moab to the east entrance of Zion, and exited at the south entrance in Springdale. From here I drove to the town of St George (1 hour), where I stayed at Red Mountain Resort. The resort is located away from the touristy areas, and offers guided tours to Zion as well as other parks in southwest Utah. From there, I flew out of Las Vegas (2 hrs). You can also fly to Salt Lake City and drive to Zion.

Zion National Park
Perfect fall sunset at Zion National Park

Now, Zion National Park is one of the most visited parks in the whole country. So you can imagine how hard it is to navigate and enjoy driving through its narrow roads. During peak times, you will be required to leave your car (if you can find a spot) in the parking lot, and ride the free shuttle to your hiking trails. But if you go between November – March, like I did, you can breeze through the park in your own vehicle. Remember Zion is beautiful year-round, but some of the trails are closed depending on weather conditions.

You definitely don’t want to miss the sunset over the towering red mountains and the Virgin River.

Congaree National Park
The 2 mile boardwalk is an easy walk in nature.

Congaree National Park, SC

Congaree National Park near Columbia, SC is not as well known, but worth a visit. It preserves the largest old-growth floodplain forest forming one of the highest temperate deciduous forest canopies remaining in the world. You can walk on paved paths and boardwalks surrounded by swamps, oaks, national and state champion trees. Some of it looks like scenes from Lord of the Rings!

Large animals possibly seen in the park include bobcats, deer, feral pigs, feral dogs, coyotes, armadillos, turkeys, and otters. Its waters contain interesting creatures like amphibians, turtles, snakes, and many types of fish, including bowfin, alligator gar, and catfish.

There is over 20 miles of backcountry hiking trails, canoe tours, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, birding, nature study and talks. You can visit Congaree in a day, or spend a few if you want to do all the activities.

view of Arches National Park
Red, white and blue at Arches National Park.

Arches National Park, Utah

Moab is the adventure capital of southern Utah, with access to hiking, rafting, canyoning and more. Moab is a city in eastern Utah. It’s a gateway to massive red rock formations in Arches National Park, mesas and buttes at Canyonlands National Park, Native American rock art, and dinosaur tracks at sites like Bull Canyon Overlook and Copper Ridge. The town itself has tons of cafes, restaurants, shops and a motels. Stay at Moab Springs Ranch, a locally-owned, eco friendly resort with individual cabins and townhouses that are well equipped with kitchen and parking spaces. There is a walking trail, biking trail, hammocks and relaxing garden on site so you can relax with a backdrop of red rocks and cottonwood trees.

Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch is the most famous arch in the park, but requires a vigorous hike to get to.

Bordered by the Colorado River in the southeast, Arches has over 2,000 natural sandstone arches. Start your day early at sunrise at Arches National Park, so you have the entire day to explore and watch the rock colors change with the sun. Sunrise and sunrise give the best photo opps. The park itself is not too big if you drive through the loop road, though you will do injustice if you didn’t get out of your car. Many of the arches can be seen from the road, but offer a better view with a short hike.

There are no restaurants or stores inside the park, but it is only minutes away from downtown Moab, so you can pack food for the day or return to the city for dinner.

canyonlands
The vast expanse of Canyonlands with no other being in sight.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Also a few minutes drive from Moab, Canyonlands National Park is the largest national park in Utah and requires 2-3 days to explore, especially if you plan to do any backcountry or overnight hiking. However, if you only have one day, plan to drive the paved Island in the Sky road atop a massive 1500 foot mesa. Here you can stop at different pullouts to see panoramic overlooks, dramatic desert landscape carved by the Colorado River, towering rock pinnacles known as the Needles, the remote canyons of the Maze and the Native American rock paintings in Horseshoe Canyon. There are many hiking trails too, so combine some physical exercise with driving time.

The bookstore and gift shop inside Canyonlands offers some sodas and packaged foods only, so plan to bring your picnic basket and lots of water from Moab. Also, it is much colder and windier at higher altitudes inside the park, so make sure to bring additional warm layers.

Virgin Islands National Park
Relax at secluded beaches in the US Virgin Islands.

Virgin Islands National Park, USVI

Virgin Islands National Park is more than just beautiful beaches. Here you can hike to plantation ruins to learn about a time when sugar dominated the island, visit the ancient petroglyphs carved by the Taino Indians, and snorkel the coral reefs to discover hidden marine life.  The park covers 60% of St John, 9 sq mi of adjacent ocean, and nearly all of Hassel Island, just off the Charlotte Amalie, Saint Thomas harbor.

You can fly in to St Thomas or St John islands and spend a few days exploring the beaches, towns and beautiful waters. St Thomas is much bigger and well connected to major airports, while St John is more pristine. You can combine your trip and move between the islands by passenger and vehicle ferry, so you can take your rental car with you too.

The best way to explore St John many pristine white sand beaches and hiking trails that make up US Virgin Islands National Park is by car. There are taxis, open air jeeps and shuttle tours, however, having your own vehicle allows you to stop wherever you want and safely distance. Note, most facilities are still closed at St John, not because of COVID, but they never fully recovered from hurricanes Irma and and Maria in 2017.

beach at St Johns USVI national park
Discover some of the best natural sites at St Johns.

Virgin Islands Eco Tour is a local company that offers kayaking, snorkeling, hiking and boat tours around the National Park. Start at Cruz Bay and spend a half or full day with a knowledgeable guide to learn about marine life, geology and flora of the islands.

Typically, entrance to each national park ranges between $20-50/ day. Save money by purchasing America The Beautiful annual pass. For only $80, you can visit over 80 national parks and over 2,000 Federal recreation sites across the USA.

The Best Summer Scenery From Armenia (Photo Blog)

Though Armenia is a small country (141st largest in the world), it has a lot of diverse landscapes. From snow capped mountains and alpine lakes, to dry deserts and lush green valleys, there are lots of micro climates within Armenia. Our Go Eat Give photographer, Amanda Villa-Lobos took over ten thousand pictures while traveling around the country last month. Here are our top 10 scenic views for you to enjoy…

caucus mountains
Volcanic regions in the Lesser Caucasus mountains and Armenian highlands.

Mount Ararat
Mount Ararat is the highest peak in Armenia. Parts of it are located in Turkey and Georgia.

Tatev monastery Armenia
Tatev monastery stands against a beautiful backdrop in the southern part of the country bordering with Iran.

canyon in Armenia
Canyoning, rock climbing and hiking can be enjoyed all over the country.

Lake Sevan
Lake Sevan is a nice place to relax, swim and eat fresh catch such as crayfish and whitefish.

Lake Sevan Armenia
Get an aerial view of the area while paragliding over lake Sevan.

novak-monastery
The canyon where Novak monastery is situation looks something like Utah.

wings of Tatev
Aerial view of the valley from Wings of Tatev, the longest non-stop double track cable car in the world.

tombstones
Khachkar at historic cemeteries, or Armenian cross-stones, give lots of good information about daily life.

marmashen-monastery
Marmashen Monastery 10th-century Armenian monastic complex consisting of 5 churches.

Has this inspired you to travel to Armenia? Read more blog posts from our visit.

~ Photos by Go Eat Give photographer, Amanda Villa-Lobos.

5 Must See Places in Cape Town, South Africa

What does your mind envision at the mention of Cape Town, South Africa? Perhaps you see flashes of Cape Town’s tumultuous history. Remnants of the apartheid, a system of racial segregation from 1948 to 1994, loom heavily over this beautiful city. There remain visible reminders of the painful class system, displaced persons and civil unrest. However, it is time to take another look. Cape Town is a coastal town, comprised of a majestic port, vineyards as far as the eye can see, pristine beaches and so much more. In Cape Town a traveler will find a bit of everything.

What’s more, is that with the continuing evolution of social media, these discoveries can be shared for all the world to see with just a click of a button. Everyone loves to be able to have the chance to see photographs and descriptions of different countries as it acts as a decision-making tool, and many come to the conclusion about whether they would like to go there when they see other people’s experiences through social media. So it doesn’t come as a surprise to hear that Instagram growth services like Upleap and gramista are popular with people who want to make sure that their profile is followed by as many users as possible to ensure that their messages get spread far and wide. And Cape Town may be on many people’s bucket lists when it comes to travel destinations, so the more information the better!

Cape Town was originally founded as a resupply stop for the Dutch East Indies Company. Today, Cape Town is the legislative capital of South Africa. It is the second most populous city in South Africa and the largest city in the Western Cape. Here are some sites you must visit to gain a new perspective on the country.

Majestic Table Mountain

CapeTown Table Mountain

On a clear day in the city, Table Mountain’s prominent summit can be seen for miles around. It is widely recognizable and makes up the backdrop of the area.

An interesting phenomenon known as orographic clouds occurs at the site of Table Mountain. Locals have been known to call these clouds the “table cloth.” These clouds give the mountain both a mysterious and majestic feel yet can appear to completely swallow up this 3,559 ft landmark. At times, there are opportunities to literally walk through the clouds.

The summit of the mountain can be reached by cable car and boasts awe inspiring views. The plateau of the mountain is 2 miles from side to side, revealing picturesque views of the city below and the ocean beyond. Visitors to Table Mountain walk among the fiery sunset colored flora, and take photographs of each other against the backdrop of the intense shades of grey and purple. Save some energy, there is more, now choose to hike, mountain bike, go rock climbing or visit some caves in the national park.

Reclaimed V and A Waterfront

Victoria and Alfred WaterfrontThe Victoria and Alfred Waterfront has undergone many transitions over the centuries. The harbor basins were originally built between 1860 and 1920 at the direction of Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria’s youngest son. Presently the V and A Waterfront is Cape Town’s number one attraction. The harbor is vibrant with more than 80 restaurants, retail stores, hotels, an aquarium, amphitheater and private residences. The waterfront attractions include the Nelson Mandela Museum and the launch for a boat ride to visit Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. Here is a tip; purchase tickets online weeks in advance of your visit to ensure your visit to Robben Island during your stay in Cape Town. With 400,000 square meters of mixed development use at The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, there is sure to be entertainment and cuisine to suit every persons tastes.

Brilliant Bo Kaap

BoKaap DistrictThe Bo Kaap district in the city of Cape Town is an artistic statement that quickly catches the eye. The homes, painted in vividly bold colors, leave a lasting impression. The area was originally known as the Malay Quarters although several groups of people dwelled in the community, including a significant population of Muslims. Today, the traditions can still be experienced with its abundance of Malaysian cuisine, Muslim mosques, carnivals, museums, and bright facades.

Unspoiled Beaches

The beaches are a must see while visiting Cape Town. They are sugary white and impeccably maintained. The city has over 80 beaches and facilities, as recognized by their government with the most popular destinations for visitors being Clifton, Camps Bay and Boulders Beach.

Hout Bay BeachClifton Beach is known for the luxury of the surrounding homes, boutiques, and restaurants. This “Millionaire’s Row” is a place to go see and be seen and has been coined Cape Town’s St. Tropez, a province located on the French Riviera. St. Tropez is known as “the” beach destination for the famous, wealthy, and beautiful. Clifton Beach, while known for its posh ambiance is also a destination for sunbathers.

Camps Bay Beach, just down the road from Clifton Beach, gives a more laid back atmosphere than the Clifton area. It is family friendly during the day and has ample amounts of dining and shopping. During the evening the beach is also known for its bars and intriguing nightlife.

Boulders Beach is a recreational site that is a part of the Table Mountain National Park. It has slightly warmer water and its rocks dissipate the waves making snorkeling ideal. It also happens to be the home to a colony of endangered African penguins.

Exquisite Vineyards

Constantia Winery

Less than an hours drive from Cape Town’s city center are captivating landscapes of wine country. Rolling hills of endless vineyards span the territory of Cape Town incorporating more than 20 wine producing regions. Many have won international awards and continue to produce sought after harvests.

Wineries such as Constantia and Cape Point deliver warm hospitality, world-class wine, and a reprieve from the busier city. To visit, consider companies such as South African owned Luhambo Tours, which accommodates tours to various wine estates.

A local source for information can be essential to experiencing the most Cape Town has to offer. Tour with a lifelong resident and licensed operator like Auriol’s Tours for a unique perspective with uncommon expeditions.

The traditional and contemporary life styles in Cape Town co-mingle; the natural beauty and artistic flair merge making it a destination to behold. A recommendation, when thinking about travel to Cape Town, South Africa, envision the need for at least seven days in order to experience most of what Cape Town has to offer.

To learn more about traveling to Cape Town, visit Cape Town Tourism.

~ By Kaylah Burks, an athlete, who enjoys traveling the world while staying health conscious. Follow her on Instagram @jadenlie

First look at Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is one of those magical places that will make you believe in love at first sight. The largest Alpine lake in North America is only 3 hours drive from San Francisco, near the California/ Nevada border. Lake Tahoe is also the second deepest lake in North America (at 1645 feet or 501 meters). Picture coming down the ski slopes only under water! A beautiful drive through the winding mountains dotted with tall pine trees brings you to a blue water oasis surrounded by snow everywhere. Continue reading “First look at Lake Tahoe”