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The Best of Camping and Hiking in Portland, Oregon

You may come to Portland, Oregon for the unique culture, but you’ll want to stay for the breathtaking scenery. Not to mention top-notch camping sites and many hiking hot spots that plunge through some of the most awe-inspiring wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. Portland is one of the very best cities in the U.S. for mixing outdoorsy adventures with urban delights. It is an ideal getaway that captivates travelers from all over the world. With so many great options to choose from in the Greater Portland area, read on for some camping and hiking musts that you will want to consider on your trip to Rose City.

The Many Escapes of Forest Park

One of the reasons Portland’s iconography tends to be on the green side is because of Forest Park. Forest Park is a sprawling, 5,100-acre urban oasis only a quick 20-minute drive upriver from the trendy Pearl District. Within the park, the hiking opportunities are as diverse as they are exhilarating. For those looking to recharge, try Ridge Trail. Hikers here treck down a narrow path cut into the pristine wilderness and emerge overlooking St. John’s Bridge and the majestic Willamette River. For more visual extravagance, the Lower Macleay Trail is a relatively light hike filled with moss-coated hemlocks, towering firs and ferns, and Portland icons like the old Stone House and Victorian-era masterpiece Pittock Mansion.
While there are more than a few options for the less seasoned hiker, those looking for a more strenuous workout won’t be disappointed either. The Tolinda Trail offers a steep climb to the locally famous Leif Erickson Drive, with beautiful scenery along the way. Although it can be a little bit on the muddy side, the trail–generally about three miles roundtrip–is a terrific option for the adventurous hiker or anyone looking for a great workout.
The most famous of them all, however, is the Wildwood Trail, which is a series of different trails rolled into one. It is known for being loaded with wildflowers during the summer bloom. Along the Firelane 15 section in the northwestern portion of the trail, you’ll escape the crowds and find a blissful refuge in a region of the park. Known for its mossy scenery, grassy knoll (near Kielhorn Meadow), and potential for an elk or mountain beaver encounter, this trail is tough to beat. Though many of the best parts of Wildwood Trail require a short trip in the car, you can take the light rail from the city’s center to the beginning of the trail in Washington Park. All in all, the Wildwood Trail has 40 miles of hiking, with 27 miles of it resting within the limits of Forest Park.
Additional tips:
Hiking in Forest Park is optional year-round, but some additional preparation might be needed if you go during the winter or following a rainstorm. Many locals are not bothered by hiking during a rainstorm. A rain slicker and some good hiking boots can be the key to a true Oregonian adventure at Forest Park. Because Forest Park has about 70 miles of trails overall, checking out the park map and exploring on your own can be the best way to go.

Camping in Greater Portland

One of the go-to campgrounds for Portlanders is at Beacon Rock State Park, a preserve located along the gorge just north of the Columbia River. Although technically in the state of Washington, Beacon Rock is only a 45-minute drive east from central Portland and offers a range of tent-camping options surrounded by nature. Hikes overlooking the river and the spectacular greenery of both Washington and Oregon are on full display.  Come see local icons like Rodney Falls, Hamilton Mountain, and Hardy Creek’s Pool of the Winds. Although the park doesn’t take camping reservations, it does have a 200-site group campground in addition to a 26-site main campground.
Heading west to the edge of the wondrous Tillamook State Forest, the Gales Creek Campground offers another terrific experience along with direct access to some of the best natural features in the Pacific Northwest. Loaded with sky-reaching alders, maples, and Douglas firs, Gales Creek Campground is known for its serene and peaceful setting. Visiting Tillamook State Forest has even more options for exploring the Oregonian scenery, including a temperate rainforest that is one of the wettest spots in the U.S.
If you’re in the area, you may find your way to Mt. Hood National Forest, located about an hour southeast of Portland. At the Riverside Campground, you can enjoy amazing views of the Clackamas River as well as hiking and biking in the national forest. Although the river tends to be extremely cold in most parts, those with an adventurous spirit can journey to the south end of the campground for a dip in the crisp waters of the Clackamas during the summer. With its natural seclusion, undeniable beauty, and advantageous location, Riverside remains a favorite for locals and visitors alike.
Also consider:
For a less adventurous wilderness escape, the family-friendly Jenkins Camp-Estate Rivendale is known for its balance of modern lodging and its vast estate containing many outdoor activities. Looking out over the Tualatin Valley, the Jenkins grounds are not lacking in beauty, especially during the late spring and early summer.

Underrated Hiking Gems

Just across the Columbia River from Beacon Rock State Park–on the Oregon side–lies the Eagle Creek Trail. Here, you can make your way along the river toward the thunderous Tunnel Falls. Especially breathtaking in the winter months, the 12-mile roundtrip Tunnel Falls portion of the Eagle Creek Trail can be a transformative experience, showcasing both the unbeatable scenery of the area as well as the region’s raw natural power.
For those looking to stay closer to the city, meanwhile, the Marquam Trail is tough to beat. Less than 10 minutes from Downtown Portland, Marquam Trail picks through lush green spaces to Council Crest, the highest point in Portland. From Council Crest, you can expect to see magnificent views of the city along with glimpses of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier, and more. The Marquam Trail to Council Crest is particularly great for having a scenic picnic during the warmer months of the year.
Although you could have a great time skipping about Portland’s many outstanding microbreweries and famous eateries, the pure magic of the area is in the region’s natural offerings. With abundant options for hiking and camping in Portland, there are few places in the U.S.–or elsewhere–better suited for exploring the best features that nature has to offer.

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4 Must-See Destinations in The Great Outdoors of Vancouver

Vancouver, Canada’s gem on the west coast, is filled with lush, natural beauty to explore. From experiences like gliding down green mountains in a gondola to wandering through an exceptional collection of parks, Vancouver is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts that regularly draws patrons from all over the world. If you’re heading to Vancouver, here are four outdoor destinations you won’t want to miss.

Queen Elizabeth Park

A lavish sightseeing paradise, Queen Elizabeth Park offers magnificent views of green forests and colorful flowers along with an epic panoramic glimpse of Vancouver. A light hike takes visitors to a wide overlook featuring the Vancouver cityscape resting beneath the towering North Shore mountains – a pristine view that is a favorite for weddings and postcards. Meanwhile, the rolling green space around the rest of the 52-hectare park (128 acres) provides a blank slate and endless possibilities for visitors.
Among the most popular activities from spring to fall is picnicking, particularly on the north side of the park nearby a grove of Japanese cherry trees that blooms in April. Although there is a designated area with picnic tables and barbecue pits during warmer months, there really isn’t a bad place to have a picnic thanks to the park’s famously immaculate scenery. And if you’re looking for a break from the outdoors, the beloved Bloedel Conservatory is a tropical paradise with more than 100 exotic birds and 500 species of plants, making it one of the focal points of the park anytime of the year.
Although Queen Elizabeth Park is a terrific spot for visitors to the area, it’s also a great place to live like the locals. Guests can try their hand at lawn bowling, disc golf, or play a few sets of tennis at more than a dozen public courts. Fine dining options are also available near the peak of the park overlooking the city, making for an especially memorable night out for romance-seekers. Whether you come to simply wander through the sights, view the city, or work up a sweat with the park’s many different sporting features, Queen Elizabeth Park is a marvel that’s perfect for outdoor lovers of any age or background.

Grouse Mountain

A ski resort by winter and a haven for adventure in the summer, Grouse Mountain exemplifies Vancouver’s most spectacular geographical features no matter the time of the year. While the skiing is sensational, Grouse Mountain really pops when the snow melts and the green valley below springs to life, opening up a wealth of other possibilities for visitors. At the top of the list, the Skylift (gondola) takes riders up 4,100 feet above sea level for a majestic view of forested mountainsides and the pristine Capilano Lake.
For those looking for further adventure, Grouse Mountain is also a quintessential jumping off point. The area offers outstanding mountain biking and hiking along with a spectrum of other activities, from tandem paragliding and zip lining to climbing through the enormous trees on specially-designed pedestrian bridges. There’s even a 100-seat theater at the top of the mountain that screens specialty nature films, perfectly suited for a break after a morning of traversing the region’s hiking and biking trails.

VanDusen Botanical Garden

Whether you’re a flower lover or not, you’ll likely be amazed by the wondrous offerings of VanDusen Botanical Garden, a staple of Vancouver since a defunct golf course was converted in the mid-1970s. Different species of trees and flowers bloom nearly all year long, although VanDusen is exceptionally beautiful during the fall months thanks to the spectacular bursts of blooming hydrangeas, heathers, asters, and more. In the summertime, the garden is coated with strong, sweet-smelling flowers while the spring brings visitors to see the collection of magnolias, cherry blossoms, and plenty of others.
More than just flower viewing, however, VanDusen Botanical Garden has all kinds of events and activities throughout the calendar year. One of the main features is the Elizabethan Maze, transporting visitors back to 16th century England and offering an opportunity to wander through the thick green hedges in search of the exit. Between the fresh air, stunning plant life, and magnificent walkways showcasing the very best of nature, the VanDusen Botanical Garden is an ideal spot to spend a day during a Vancouver holiday.

Stanley Park

Just north of Vancouver’s exquisite West End, Stanley Park is a hallmark of the city and a stunning collaboration between the urban and natural worlds. With multiple beaches, a lengthy waterfront trail, endless scenic points, and plenty of integrated activities, Stanley Park is an outdoor enthusiast’s daydream that has earned its spot as one of the most popular sites in Vancouver.
One of the best ways to enjoy the park is to simply pick up the city’s famous seawall, a pedestrian/bike path that runs along the water all the way from downtown Vancouver, around Stanley Park, and all the way down to Kitsilano Beach. But the portion within Stanley Park is breathtaking, with unforgettable spots like Ferguson Point offering ideal refuges for catching a sunrise or a sunset over the English Bay. The seawall is particularly great for bikers, who can cruise the entire 22 kilometers (14 miles) or take an abbreviated route that loops back through the park past scenic areas like the Lost Lagoon and Beaver Lake.
Stanley Park is also an excellent destination for families and travelers who need to keep busy. Third Beach is a large sand beach great for relaxing on a summer day while Second Beach is perfect for young swimmers thanks to its large man-made pool built into the edge of the sand. Meanwhile, the Vancouver Aquarium is well worth the price of admission. The park has gardens, monuments, local wildlife, and much more. Simply put, if you love outdoor activities and you don’t make it to Stanley Park on your trip to Vancouver, you should probably plan a return trip as soon as possible.

Traveling Tips For Vancouver

From May through early September, Vancouver has envious summer weather that is perfect for those looking to stay active. Even at the peak of the season, Vancouver has cool mornings and evenings. The impeccable summer weather means that you’ll have plenty of company at some of the popular locations throughout Vancouver. Although there is an influx of visitors during the peak season, Vancouver’s main outdoor highlights are regularly enjoyed by the locals as well.  It can be better to go during the weekday– when possible – if you’re headed to a place like Grouse Mountain or Queen Elizabeth Park.
Despite some cooler temperatures in the spring and fall, both seasons are still terrific options for experiencing Vancouver. Even in the winter, average-lows are not  usually below freezing in the metro area. Plus, there are new possibilities that appear thanks to the geography of the neighboring regions, where winter sports are sensational.
But the biggest upside of Vancouver is the sheer quantity of great outdoor spots worth checking out. With several places to enjoy Vancouver’s natural beauty, your biggest problem will be choosing what to do next.
 
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Best Road Trips to View Fall Leaves

“Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from an autumn tree.”— Emily Bronte
Brilliant fall foliage, winding country roads, cider and donuts, antique stores, and little mom and pop shops. What’s not to love about a scenic autumn road trip? We’ve gathered information about some of the routes to use so you can have the best fall road trip yet, full of trees bursting with color.

Maine, The Bold Coast Scenic Byway, 125 miles

This scenic drive follows the rocky coast and offers stunning views of the restless sea. On the other side, trees display their riotous autumn colors. The experience begins (or ends) at Lubec, the easternmost village in the United States. Visit Lubec’s lighthouse. Attractions along the way include little museums that showcase maritime, agricultural, and Native American History. Famous local tastes are blueberries and seafood. This is one of America’s less traveled roads for fall foliage, and the landscape is pristine. Stay in a quaint inn like West Quoddy Station on the water and be one of the first Americans to greet the rising sun.

Vermont, Scenic Route 100 Byway, 217 miles

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Vermont

This drive that runs along the center of the state is recognized by Yankee magazine as the most scenic route in New England. It attracts many international visitors eager to see blazes of autumn beauty. Brilliant yellow, red, and orange boughs frame little country churches, old-fashioned stores, turn-of-the-century farms, and plenty of places to indulge in New England cuisine and everything maple syrup. Don’t miss the charming, old-fashioned cider mill and gift shop in quaint Waterbury Center and the nearby Ben and Jerry Ice Cream factory.
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Vermont

The legendary Vermont Country Store, 657 Main Street, Weston, invites a leisurely stroll through a yesterday shopping experience. This store is stocked to the rafters with a variety of goods including penny candy, local cheeses, jams and jellies, maple syrup, and even old-time products re-created. Next door, the Bryant House restaurant has an antique soda fountain and 1885 barroom. The food is homemade and of special note are the chicken pot pie and Mildred Orton’s original gingerbread. The family-friendly Swiss Farm Inn offers cozy accommodations and an acclaimed breakfast.

Oregon, Columbia River Highway, 75 miles

America’s oldest scenic highway (the early 1900s) climbs the Oregon cliffs glowing with ash, cottonwood, and maple trees. In one, eight-mile stretch, the road skirts the bases of five dramatic waterfalls including the 620 foot Multnomah, one of the nation’s tallest waterfalls. Viewing areas allow a closer look and fine showers of mist mixing with the falling leaves.
Before or after hitting the road from Troutdale, plan to visit Lewis and Clark State Park and enjoy a picnic in the flat, grassy, tree-dotted park. Stay at Cousins’ Country Inn in The Dallas in a cozy room with a gas fireplace plates of homemade cookies. The Cousins’ Restaurant offers home cooking with locally raised sirloin and local produce served with micro-brews crafted nearby. Their in-house bakery, renowned for giant cinnamon rolls, bakes pies and biscuits daily.

Virginia and North Carolina, Blue Ridge Parkway, 469 miles

Spanning the southern and central Appalachians, this legendary road climbs to great heights and crosses historic valleys. The leaf-peeping season is all of October as the trees at various elevations change at different times. Leaves of the dogwood and black gum trees turn deep red. Poplars and hickories burst into yellow, maples turn red, and sassafras turn orange. At the end of the season, oaks turn brown and deep red.

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Virginia

Roadside stands offer just-picked apples, cider, pumpkins, and pastries. It is easy to find corn mazes, hay rides, and festivals. A good starting point for your road trip is the Virginia Fall Foliage Festival that is held the first two weeks of October in Waynesboro. Its historic district gives a pioneering vibe to the lively festival filled with music, food, and crafts. Floyd, Virginia, population 500, has some quaint inns in the surrounding area and inviting down-home eateries.
Don’t miss Natural Bridge (milepost 61.6) a twenty-story, naturally-occurring, solid-rock bridge; Marbry Mill (Milepost 176.1) and its famous buckwheat pancakes, mill, and blacksmith shop; and Southern Highland Folk Art Center (milepost 382) that showcases traditional and contemporary Appalachian crafts.

Wisconsin, Great River Road, 250 miles

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Wisconsin

Wisconsin claims to be the best in the Midwest for fall foliage, and the Great River Road was voted the Prettiest Drive in America by the Huffington Post in 2012. It winds through 33 Wisconsin historic towns along the Mississippi River. Visit the Fort Crawford Museum in Prairie du Chien for a peek at life in the early 1800s, a slice of history, and a dose of old-time medical care at the Fort Crawford Military Hospital. Go “off road” in Rush Creek Park on two miles of old service roads to the top of a 400-foot high bluff.
Eleven wineries along the way offer tasting opportunities beneath the vivid leaves of America’s newest wine region. Pair your wine with famous Wisconsin cheeses. Great River B&B in Stockholm is a fine place to relax from the road and enjoy nature at its best. The inn is an 1869 renovated pioneer Swedish stone cottage. One of the largest groupings of American eagles builds nests above the 45-acre wooded grounds.
The road rolls on to the Gulf of Mexico, but leaf peepers head in another direction when the leaves turn green.

New Mexico, The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, 85 miles

Begin and end in Taos for a journey through mountains, mesas, and valleys. Aspen trees turn shades of brilliant yellow, cottonwoods are red and gold, and purple cinquefoil adds a new color to the autumn palette. Bear and elk roam freely. Stay at The Historic Taos Inn, which has 44 individually decorated bedrooms with fireplaces, rough-hewn ceilings, and antique furnishings. It is rooted in the 1890s and is on the U.S. and the State of New Mexico’s Registrars of Historic Places. Eat at Doc Martins for southwest food sourced from local gardens. In Taos and along its byways, Native American, Spanish, and Anglo cultures are preserved through art and architecture, music and dance, and food and festivals year-round. Taos is a major center for the arts.
Make reservations well in advance if you want to stay overnight close to these scenic roads during the fall foliage season and be sure to pack your patience. The traffic usually goes slow, so just relax and enjoy the autumn’s beauty.
Where’s your favorite place to see fall leaves? 

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4 Unforgettable Natural Wonders of South Africa

South Africa has an incredible number of national parks, nature reserves, beaches and other amazing destinations that are hard to match. If you want to take a once in a lifetime excursion to a land where you can find lots of unspoiled nature and wildlife, you can’t do better than South Africa. Here are four of the top destinations to explore if you’re fortunate enough to visit this majestic land.

Kruger National Park

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Sunset In Kruger Park

Kruger National Park, about four hours from Johannesburg, is one of South Africa’s largest and best-known game reserves. Many people who plan African safaris are set on seeing the “Big Five,” which are lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards, and rhinos. While you can certainly see these in Kruger National Park, there’s so much more as well such as birds, primates, wildebeest and countless other species. Here are some guidelines to help you plan the best possible journey.
Choose the right tour
If you prefer a guided tour, make sure you select carefully. Consider factors such as the length of the tour, quality of accommodations, how many people are on the tour, and the cost. Always check out the reputation of the tour company. There are definite benefits to being led by a knowledgeable guide. You don’t have to worry about getting lost and the guide will know when and where to find the animals.
Giraffes on a safari in Kruger Park

Consider a self-guided tour 
If you like to be independent and want a more intimate journey with your companion (s), you can take a self-drive tour of Kruger National Park. This, of course, requires more planning than a guided tour. Make sure you have a reliable off-road vehicle as the terrain is often rough.
Decide when to come
One of the best times to visit Kruger National Park (or any game reserve in Africa) is winter when visibility is best. If you visit in summer you can expect quite a bit of rain. It’s also more challenging to see animals because of thicker vegetation. Another factor to note is that in summer you may need medication to prevent malaria. In winter this isn’t usually an issue as mosquitoes aren’t active. However, you always have to check with your doctor and health advisories for the region before visiting Africa.
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Zebras in Kruger Park

North or South?
Kruger National Park is very large and is divided between north and south. The southern part has a higher density of wildlife while the north is less crowded (in terms of human visitors as well as animals). If you have time, both are worth exploring. If you’re set on seeing predators such as lions, the south is your best bet. However, the north has plenty of animals as well, including elephants.

Drakensberg

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Eland in South Africa

Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park often called simply the Drakensberg, is one of South Africa’s most dramatic landscapes. Drakensberg means Dragon Mountain and the Zulu name Ukhahlamba means barrier of spears. Both of these names were inspired by the unique appearance of this mountain range. This is a vast area encompassing three provinces. Here are some sights and activities that are available in this breathtaking region.
Giant’s Castle Game Reserve
This game reserve is best known for its large eland herds. Another protected species, bearded vultures, are also prevalent here. You can also see some fantastic cave painting dating back thousands of years. You can even spend a night in a cave. Accommodations range from camping to luxury lodges.
Bird watching
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Knysna Loerie bird in South Africa

The Drakensberg is a must-see for nature lovers, as it’s one of Africa’s most biodiverse regions. It’s especially appealing for bird-watchers, as it has 299 recorded species of birds.
Hang gliding and paragliding
If you’re into adventure sports, the Drakensberg offers some incredible launch sites. There are several companies in the area that offer adventures and instruction in paragliding and hang gliding. Another way to get a birds-eye view of the region is hot air ballooning.

Wild Coast

As the name suggests, the Wild Coast is an untamed and pristine area on the Indian Ocean in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. This is the place to come if you enjoy open spaces and scenery that hasn’t changed much in millennia.
Visit the birthplace of Nelson Mandela
The famous leader and activist was born in the small village of Mvezo. You can visit the Nelson Mandela National Museum, which is refreshing for its remoteness compared to your typical tourist museum.
Mkambati Nature Reserve
One of the country’s more secluded nature reserves, this one is only accessible by hiking or boating. Here you can find pristine hiking trails, waterfalls that empty directly into the ocean, and wildlife such as eland, wildebeest, and an incredible variety of birds. Because of its remoteness, you won’t find luxury hotels here. There are, however, quite a few modest lodge and cottages where you can stay.
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Uncrowded beaches
Haga Haga is one of the relaxing beaches on the Wild Coast where you won’t have to contend with the usual crowds. Another is Coffee Bay Beach. Aside from the opportunities for swimming and sunbathing, you can hike around the surrounding areas.
Explore the Xhosa community
The Xhosa are the traditional people who have lived in this region for many centuries. Visit IKhamanga Cultural Village, where you can stay as a guest among these friendly people and learn about their ways.

Table Mountain

Just outside of Cape Town, Table Mountain is one of South Africa’s most recognizable landmarks. Named for its flat top shape, the mountain offers spectacular views of Cape Town as well as a surprising variety of flora. In fact, many of the plants you’ll see here are unique to this mountain.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

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Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Among the world’s most beautiful botanical gardens, Kirstenbosch gives you a chance to see the area’s many beautiful plants and flowers. There are free guided tours as well as the Centenary Tree Top Canopy Walkway, which leads you through an incredible forest.
Ride the cable car
The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway provides the best views of Table Mountain, Cape Town, and surrounding areas. This is a popular activity so it’s best to pre-book your tickets.
Hiking
The mountain provides many hiking trails of varying degrees of difficulty. Be careful and make sure you know where you’re going as some of these trails are more difficult and treacherous than they appear. Those in good shape can hike all the way to the top. If you’re less active, you can take the aforementioned cable car.
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Table Mountain, Cape Town

South Africa is a nature lover’s paradise. You can, of course, also enjoy the cultural attractions and beaches of Cape Town and Johannesburg. However, the above destinations will give you a chance to see some of the landscapes and wildlife that are hard to find anywhere else.