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13 Best National Parks to See in the Fall

Posted October 29, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com

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U.S. national parks are beautiful to begin with. But when the deciduous trees that blanket so many national parks become aglow with radiant fall foliage, the spectacle is astounding. You might need to pack a sweater, but you can snap gorgeous photos, partake in special activities, and, of course, enjoy the colors of autumn when you plan a trip this season.

Although fall means fewer crowds (and perhaps the chance to more easily spot wildlife) in popular parks, the weather can be unpredictable, and some facilities even close up after the summer season. Be sure to contact your park for details on what's open and what's not before planning your trip.

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Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia might be the first place that comes to mind when you think of fall colors at national parks—the destination attracts thousands of leaf peepers in autumn, so be prepared for some crowds. But it's totally worth it—traverse the park's more than 125 miles of hiking trails to discover amazing views, take a ranger-led bird-watching walk among the changing leaves, or rent a kayak and take in the scenery from the water.

When to Go: Peak fall colors generally pop up around mid-October. Check the region's leaf status on MaineFoliage.com.

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Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, Texas

You might be surprised to learn that the Texas Hill Country is a prime place for leaf peeping down south. Head to Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, where you can get a side of American history with your foliage. The park is home to the LBJ Ranch (also known as the Texas White House), which is surrounded by wild brush country. Here, sumacs, oaks, and haw hollies become awash with intense fall hues during autumn.

When to Go: You'll likely find the best foliage from mid-October through November.

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Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

This park's famed cave system—more than 400 square miles of explored underground caverns that make up the world's longest—is the reason most visitors make the trip. But don't overlook the scenery aboveground. Forests of oaks, hickories, gum trees, and dogwoods on rolling Kentucky hills become a mosaic of fall colors this time of year.

When to Go: Check KentuckyTourism.com for updates.

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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

We love the sweeping views of water and the eyeful of beautiful fall colors that Sleeping Bear's sky-high dunes afford during this time of year. Visitors can get even better views from the air: Board a helicopter or hot-air balloon and view fall foliage on an aerial tour.

When to Go: You'll find peak colors in the region from mid-September through early October. Check Michigan.org's Fall Color Map to see the status of local foliage.

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Valley Forge National Historical Park, Pennsylvania

Just a short drive from Philadelphia, Valley Forge is the site where General Washington and his Continental Army camped during the Revolutionary War. Here, visitors can learn about life in the 18th century as well as explore an expanse of lush parkland, including more than 3,000 acres of grassland, wetland, and deciduous forest, which become awash with rich colors in autumn.

When to Go: Weekly foliage reports are posted on Pennsylvania's official tourism website.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

There are about 100 native tree species in America's most-visited national park, most of which turn kaleidoscopic come fall. Changing leaves are complemented by autumn wildflowers: delicate asters and other varieties furnish pops of color.

When to Go: Get weekly reports on the state of local foliage on the National Park Service website.

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Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Since Shenandoah's more than 300 square miles of parkland are so heavily forested, it's a gorgeous place to be when the seasons change. Look for oak and chestnut trees, which are abundant in the park, as well as splashes of autumn pigment from sassafras, sumac, and poison ivy. (Yes, poison ivy leaves change color in the fall. Just don't get too close.)

When to Go: Take a peek at the park's Mountain View Webcam for a real-time look at the changing leaves. Expect the best colors in mid-October in more elevated parts of the park and late October to early November in more low-lying areas.

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Glacier National Park, Montana

Fall foliage in this enormous, wild expanse of alpine forests and Rocky Mountains in Montana is quite the sight. But fall is a wonderful time to visit if you want to see wildlife, too. The National Park Service website says that there are fewer people in the park and more animals—including grizzlies, wolves, and eagles—out and about during autumn.

When to Go: Peak fall colors generally appear at the end of September and beginning of October.

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Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park's jaw-dropping sky-high cliffs provide the perfect points for seeing miles of mesas and forested land decked out in reds, oranges, and golds. Climb to the top of Zion's massive sandstone cliffs to get sweeping bird's-eye views of the autumn scenery.

When to Go: Zion shows its best colors in late October.

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Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia

Peep the leaves in well-tread Harpers Ferry, where 70 percent of the land is covered with forest. Fun fall activities sweeten the deal: Visitors can explore living-history museums on Shenandoah Street or make traditional 19th-century tin housewares using period tools.

When to Go: Follow Harpers Ferry on Facebook for the latest foliage updates. According to the page, the leaves are already beginning to change.

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Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Close to Cleveland and hugging the winding Cuyahoga River, this national park is a Midwestern sanctuary for fall foliage seekers. There's so much to do: Hike along more than 125 miles of trails, take part in an EarthCaching adventure, or go bird-watching (look out for the bald eagles). One of the most relaxing ways to enjoy the fall colors is to hop onboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which rolls through the park past lush woods, meadows, the Cuyahoga River, and historical small towns.

When to Go: The best colors flourish in mid-October. Check the Fall Color Report for real-time updates.

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Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, Wyoming

These parks are so close that they almost touch, and they offer amazing autumn colors against a backdrop of snowcapped mountains, waterfalls, forests, and lakes that reflect the changing leaves. Hikes, horseback rides, and ranger-led treks are fabulous ways to see the foliage. Or get a bird's-eye view with a hot-air balloon ride or a trip on the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram.

When to Go: Head to Wyoming in September and early October to see the foliage. Read more on the Wyoming Office of Tourism website.

 

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 13 Best National Parks to See in the Fall. 

 Follow Caroline Costello on Google+ or email her at at editor@smartertravel.com.

 

America's Most Haunted Restaurants and Bars

Posted October 19, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com

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Bordello murders, fatal wedding-day accidents, hate-fueled arson attacks, and other tragedies have left behind unsettled spirits in historic restaurants and bars across the country. For the spine-chilling chance to see the resident apparitions and experience their antics, sit down to a filet mignon in Michigan or hit the slot machines at a Nevada saloon. Here are some of America's most haunted restaurants and bars—ones that have given employees, patrons, and even ghost hunters more than what they ordered.

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Mission Table, Traverse City, Michigan

The unhappy ghost of Genevive Stickney, an obese and jealous woman, still frequents her former residence, now Mission Table restaurant. As the story goes, Genevive and her Chicago lumber-baron husband built the home in the late 1800s. Succumbing to the excesses of good food and fruit brandies, the attractive Genevive became quite stout. She had a special gilt-edged mirror installed that made her appear thinner than she was, but eventually she became so large that she needed an elevator to transport her to the second floor. When her philandering husband took up with a mistress and left the mistress all his money, Genevive took her own life.

Haunted Encounters: In Genevive's mirror, restaurant guests have seen the reflection of a woman dressed in 19th-century clothing with hair pulled into a tight bun, the way Genevive wore hers. Lights turn themselves on and off, objects are mysteriously hurled through the air at people, hands on the grandfather clock are moved ahead, and candles are found burning in the morning.

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The Brass Rail, Hoboken, New Jersey

A ghost bride is said to haunt the historical Brass Rail restaurant in downtown Hoboken. Legend has it that on her wedding day in 1904, she tripped at the top of the staircase, fell, broke her neck, and died. Later that night, her distraught husband, who was drinking heavily, wrote a suicide note and hung himself in a room near the stairs.

Haunted Encounters: Restaurant staff and patrons have spotted spirits of the bride and groom wandering up and down the stairs. A photo taken by the New Jersey Ghost Hunters Society revealed a white wisp of smoke hovering above the stairs when no one was smoking in the room. Others say they have heard walking in the upstairs dining room when it was empty and seen the ghost of a woman wearing white in the back alley.

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The UpStairs Lounge, New Orleans, Louisiana

Forty years ago, one of the deadliest crimes against the LGBT community in U.S. history took place at this French Quarter gay bar above The Jimani Lounge & Restaurant when an arsonist set it on fire, killing 32 men. The UpStairs Lounge had only one entrance—the door at the bottom of the stairwell, where the fire originated. While the fire blazed, patrons tried desperately to climb out the windows but couldn't escape, since windows were mostly barred or blocked completely. Several bodies were unclaimed by embarrassed family members, and the arsonist was never caught. The UpStairs Lounge area is now the kitchen of the first-floor Jimani Lounge & Restaurant.

Haunted Encounters: The building's current owner, who witnessed the event as a child when his father was owner, has seen apparitions of charred bodies, dark shadows, white orbs, and flashes of light in the building. When Syfy's Ghost Hunters crew visited last year, detectors picked up screeching noises in the stairwell.

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The Masquerade, Atlanta, Georgia

This concert venue in Atlanta's historic Old Fourth Ward neighborhood was originally a mill that produced wood shavings. Since the mill property's opening at the turn of the 20th century, it has seen its share of fires, structural collapses, and the gruesome accidental death of mill worker Hubert Neal in 1899. But the grisly stories that circulate at The Masquerade only add to the appeal for the goths, metalheads, and punk rockers who converge here for shows.

Haunted Encounters: Staff and concertgoers repeatedly report sightings of an apparition of a tall black man and say they've heard voices, screaming, and heavy phantom footsteps. An investigation by the Georgia Society for the Paranormal Sciences gathered accounts from multiple employees who described the feeling of being watched. The group recorded several unexplained noises and encountered a dark human-shaped mass. In the middle of the night, the group watched as a mysterious dense white fog appeared and dissipated on the club's second level, called "Heaven."

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Pioneer Saloon, Goodsprings, Nevada

The paranormal activity at this 100-year-old Wild West saloon just outside Las Vegas kicked off the 2013 season of Ghost Adventures on The Travel Channel. Reportedly haunted by an elderly miner and a cheating gambler who was killed at a card table in 1915, the Pioneer Saloon hasn't changed much since the days of the town's mining boom. Bullet holes from the gambler's murder can still be seen in the wall.

Haunted Encounters: Nearly every bar employee has seen the ghost of the elderly miner, a short man who wears a cowboy hat, standing behind people at the slot machines or hanging out by the potbellied stove. The spirit of the gambler makes an occasional appearance at a card table at the back of the bar. Visitors and staff have also been known to hear disembodied voices and see mysterious trails of cigarette smoke materialize.

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The Brentwood Restaurant & Wine Bistro, Little River, South Carolina

Drawing paranormal-research conferences, A&E's My Ghost Story crew, and numerous investigation groups, The Brentwood Restaurant & Wine Bistro has been called the most haunted location on the Grand Strand. It's just north of Myrtle Beach's main drag in a 103-year-old Victorian home. The restaurant owners have embraced the supernatural, saying they've never felt threatened. They regularly plan special-event dinners with psychics and talk openly about the restaurant's spook factor.

Haunted Encounters: Guests often get "locked" in the second-floor bathroom. Strange voices, unexplained movement of equipment, and shadowy figures have been reported by even the most skeptical guests and employees. When one of the restaurant owners asked the spirit who was there, the reply—captured in a recording—was "Clarence." Clarence and Essie Bessent-McCorsley were the original owners of the Victorian home.

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Jean Bonnet Tavern, Bedford, Pennsylvania

Built in the 1760s at a major junction of the only road connecting eastern Pennsylvania with the Ohio River, the Jean Bonnet was an important trading post and watering hole for early settlers. If the tavern's original stone walls could talk, they'd tell of rowdy trappers and traders, Whiskey Rebellion farmers' meetings, and encampments of troops summoned here by George Washington. Stories of the spirits at the Jean Bonnet Tavern are captured in The Pennsylvania Ghost Guide, Vol. II by Patty A. Wilson.

Haunted Encounters: Guests and staff describe a strange man in the bar after-hours, doors being opened and closed, and the sensation of being touched when no one is around. When members of the Central Pennsylvania Paranormal Association spent the night, a group of apparitions in frontier-type clothing appeared in a doorway and watched a man playing the piano at the other end of the bar.

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Catfish Plantation, Waxahachie, Texas

In the south Dallas suburb of Waxahachie, Catfish Plantation restaurant occupies an 1895 Victorian home where three former residents are believed to have died. The apparition of Elizabeth, murdered here on her wedding day in the 1920s, appears in her wedding gown. A Depression-era farmer named Will walks around the lobby and front porch in his overalls. Caroline, a strict religious woman who detested alcohol, passed away here in 1970, and now she sends wine glasses flying into the wall. The Travel Channel's Extreme Restaurants show, NBC News, and several paranormal groups have reported on the Catfish Plantation's strange occurrences.

Haunted Encounters: Besides seeing the resident ghosts, the restaurant's guests and staff have felt cold spots that move around. Clocks with missing parts chime. Doors, lights, and faucets all operate at will. And several knives go missing every night.

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The Jury Room, Columbus, Ohio

One of the oldest continually operating restaurants in Columbus, opened in 1831, this downtown mainstay has plenty of stories to fuel its ghostly reputation. It was built on Native American burial ground and lost its third floor to a fire in the late 1800s. The original tin ceiling and historical photos are a throwback to The Jury Room's days as a bordello. At the bar, you can order a "Hung Jury," a "Bordello Bubbly," or a "Lorenzo's Revenge," all nods to the prostitute who shot a man on the bordello's front doorstep in the 1850s and her subsequent trial for murder.

Haunted Encounters: A tall, shadowy man has been seen roaming around the bar and appearing behind bartenders. Objects move at will and women describe being attacked by unseen forces. There have been so many occurrences that the staff now keeps a ghost log and The Travel Channel's The Dead Files has come to investigate.

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High Noon Restaurant & Saloon, Albuquerque, New Mexico

In Albuquerque's Old Town, two different spirits are believed to haunt High Noon Restaurant & Saloon, housed in one of the historic district's oldest structures. Constructed in 1785, the building has served as both a casino and a successful brothel. According to Ken Hudnall's book Spirits of the Border IV: The History and Mystery of New Mexico, some say High Noon is haunted by the ghost of a trapper. The female spirit, investigated by the Southwest Ghost Hunter's Association, wears an old-fashioned white formal dress.

Haunted Encounters: Hudnall says the male ghost may be responsible for the unseen tapping that customers and employees feel on their shoulders, the smell of burning when the fireplace isn't lit, and the calling out of employees' names. Several customers and staff members have reported supernatural sightings, including the female spirit, who haunts the Santos Room lounge. High Noon is one of many restaurants and bars on the lantern-lit Ghost Tour of Old Town.

 

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title America's Most Haunted Restaurants and Bars.

Mackinac Island's Quiet and Inexpensive Pleasures

Posted June 18, 2009 by Jamie Moore

Michigan-MackinacIsland Mackinac Island is famous for its annual June Lilac Festival, a 10-day celebration of the island's ancient, abundant, and fragrant trees. But it's worth a trip any time during the summer to experience a car-free getaway, Mackinac (MACK-in-awe) style. This peaceful island in Lake Huron doesn't allow vehicles, so locals and visitors travel by real horsepower, walking, or cycling. Take a carriage seat and tour Mackinac, stopping for afternoon tea at a grand hotel or lunch in a lakeside bistro.

Play
Mackinac Island Carriage Tours: Clip-clop your way through Mackinac's quaint streets in a traditional horse-drawn carriage. Mackinac Island Carriage Tours has been hitching up horses to entertain visitors for more than 100 years. In fact, it's the oldest and largest livery in the world, and its horses consume 1,250 tons of hay per season. The 1.75-hour tours run throughout the day for $23.50 per person. To really ride in style, find some friends and hire a private carriage for a few dollars extra.

Drink
Grand Hotel: Movie stars and presidents have marveled at the view from this 19th-century hotel's 660-foot porch. Some even attended its elegant dinners in chic evening wear and stayed in the elaborately furnished rooms. You can experience the luxurious atmosphere for a fraction of the price by stopping in between 3:30 and 5 pm for afternoon tea ($25 per person). Step into the parlor and sip tea, sherry, and Champagne; nibble on tiny finger sandwiches and fresh-baked scones; and listen to a soothing chamber music recital.

Eat
Mary's Bistro: Mary's Bistro has lakeside tables for water lovers, street-side tables for people-watching enthusiasts, and a menu of mouth-watering dishes for everyone. The chef uses local ingredients—there's even Michigan hardwood firing the grill—and serves delicious entrees like spit-fired chicken basted in garlic oil and wood-grilled Portobello mushroom with aioli. Dogs are welcome on the terrace and served water and sometimes treats. Breakfast and lunches start at $6.50; dinner entrees at $10.95.

To search for flights and compare prices to Pellston, which is home to Mackinac Island’s nearest major airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Mackinacisland.org)

Northwest Profiting off Misery and Sin?

Posted March 7, 2008 by SmarterTravel.com

Escape_from_ny BookingBuddy is home to some big-time data geeks.  While digging through our proprietary data and correlating it with some external studies, we’ve discovered something very interesting: Northwest Airlines appears to be profiting off misery and sin!  More specifically, they’re profiting off of miserable people fleeing Detroit (not unlike Snake Pliskin fleeing the Big Apple in Escape from New York) for the temptations of Sin City, Las Vegas.

How did we come to this conclusion?

  1. Forbes recently released a nigh-indisputable study featuring a “Misery Index” indicating Detroit was America’s most miserable city;
  2. Detroit to Las Vegas is currently one of the most-searched routes in all of Booking Buddy land (number one in January 2008);
  3. The most recently released set of data from the US Department of Transportation, Office of Aviation Analysis, clearly states that Northwest is the biggest airline for this route with 46 percent market share.

Ergo, Northwest is profiting off misery and sin. 

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