By Jacob Frank, courtesy NPS
Boiling hot water bubbling up from a chalky white landscape with bison grazing in the distance may seem more like a sci-fi movie than a group-tour experience. But this scene is just an ordinary day at Yellowstone National Park, one of the many exciting outdoor adventure destinations that groups can explore on Travel Alliance Partner tours.
From the Atlantic coast to the majestic mountain West, national and state parks provide wonderful surroundings for people to soak in the wonder of nature. Travelers should take their cameras to these untamed locations because they might catch glimpses of hawks filling the skies, alligators peeking out of swampy waters, puffins playing in the surf or some of the most inspiring scenery in the world.
The tours are not the average walk in the woods, but glimpses of nature in full force. If your travelers enjoy the outdoors, check out the tours that highlight some of the following unforgettable locations.
Yellowstone National Park
Most people have heard of Old Faithful’s predictable spray that reaches about 130 feet into the air. But Old Faithful is just a small part of Yellowstone National Park — inside 2 million acres in Wyoming lies close to one-half of the world’s hydrothermal features, including 300 more geysers.
A tour around the park’s 142-mile Grand Loop Road connects guests to the most popular geysers and hot springs, including Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin and Firehole Canyon. Groups can stroll through these unearthly geological spectacles, and Yellowstone is bursting at the seams with watchable wildlife.
“In Yellowstone, probably the biggest attractions are the bison and elk,” said Linda Miller, public affairs director of the park. “Wolves are also a big attraction, but they are not really visible usually. But there’s always a chance one will be running alongside a road or somewhere in view.”
Yellowstone is home to one of the largest concentrations of mammals in the lower 48 states. Groups visiting the park should always be on the lookout for grizzly bears, black bears, bison, elk, moose and bighorn sheep.
On a Yellowstone Wildlife Safari tour, biologist guides take guests out to Hayden Valley for views of the large buffalo herds and to Lamar Valley to see bears, elk, wolves and other mammals. High-quality optics help groups search the valley during the evening, when the animals are the most active.
Although summer is the most popular season in the park, winter can also be a magical time. Snow-coach rides through Yellowstone allow you to see the same intriguing geysers and wildlife, but with a coat of white.
Cape May Point State Park
Township, New Jersey
Thousands of large birds of prey flock over the narrow strip of land along the Cape May peninsula each autumn. Cape May acts like a natural funnel to catch southbound hawks and other birds on their way south, making it one of North America’s favorite spots to watch fall hawk migrations.
Groups can see hundreds of hawks flying overhead at Cape May Point State Park’s Hawk Watch command post. The multilayered wooden platform looks over the edge of the Atlantic Ocean at the southern tip of New Jersey.
Sharp-shinned hawks, red-tailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks and rough-legged hawks fly within sight of the platform from September to the end of November. Guests can also spot some of the thousands of eagles, peregrine falcons and ospreys that fly with the hawks each year.
At the Hawk Watch platform, official hawk counters and other staff from the Cape May Bird Observatory can identify the various bird species. From mid-September through October, groups can attend hawk-banding demonstrations on the weekends to see species of hawks up close before staff release them back into the air to continue their southbound migration.
After bird viewing, visitors can admire the 157-foot-high Cape May Lighthouse built in 1859 on the original bricks of the 1847 lighthouse. Those whose legs are up to it can climb the 199 steps for sweeping panoramas of the Cape May peninsula.
Denali National Park
At mile nine on the road into the Denali National Park, the immense shape of Mount McKinley, the roof of North America, appears before visitors. However, even with this glorious first sight, a driving tour is just the beginning of the experience inside Denali.
Visitors have one ribbon road to travel through the 6 million-acre park along the Alaskan range. The first 15 miles are open to all guests, but to go further into the Denali requires passage on a guided tour bus.
Those that choose to go past mile 15 experience something beyond the experience of an average person: pure wilderness.
“Denali offers a special experience,” said Kris Fister, public affairs officer for Denali National Park. “We probably offer the best opportunity for wildlife viewing in the state because of the great access into the park. We also have spectacular landscape and the attraction of the highest peak in North America.”
As visitors approach for closer views of Mount McKinley, tours make plenty of stops in-between for sightings of moose, caribou, Dall sheep and bears. The varied landscape of forest and tundra makes wildlife sightings more likely.
Fortunately for visiting groups, whether they see wildlife or not, the braided rivers, glacial lakes and snow-capped peaks are impressive sights on their own.