5 Easy Tips to Improve Your Travel Photos

Because so many people can see your travel photos on photo-sharing platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, and Tumblr, it’s definitely a good idea to learn how to take the best pictures possible. Whether you’re shooting on a regular iPhone or a high-tech, digital, single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera, here are a few quick tips from Outdoor Traveler that will help you improve the quality of your photos:

  1. Get to Know Your Camera.

cameraIn the upcoming days before travel, you may be inclined to purchase new camera gear in order to take optimal travel photos. It may sound a bit obvious, but familiarizing yourself with your camera and the accessories that come with it is extremely important when it comes to taking great photos.

Spend a few hours experimenting with your camera before your trip. Play around with a few manual settings or look up some tutorials on the Internet. Even if you’re working with a pretty basic point-and-shoot camera or even a smartphone, there are probably some manual settings you can adjust.

  1. Get a Little Closer.

By getting a closer to the subject you want to photograph, you can highlight all the details that make a photo special. Each place you visit is unique, and a great way to improve your travel photographs is to seek out those small differences. Pay close attention to your environment. The tiny details that you might ordinarily miss will be the things that will shine the most in photographs. Study the location’s unique patterns, lights, and colors. While this may sound overly simple, it will make all the difference in the quality of your photography.

Technically, there are two ways to get closer with your camera: If you’re working with a DSLR or even a point-and-shoot device, your camera should have a zoom feature to help you capture the details of your subject. The other method is to just get a bit closer! Although it may take a little nerve to get closer to a subject, you will appreciate your boldness later, when you see the end result.

  1. Think about It Differently.

With the rise of social media and photography websites, you may feel pressure to get a certain shot (for example: the standard Eiffel Tower picture). However, the best thing you nature photocan do is forget popular concepts and focus solely on your own experience. When you shoot a photograph from your distinct perspective, you’ll be able to see things much differently and so will the people who view your unique photographs.

Simple things, like taking a photo from a low vantage point (crouching down), using an interesting angle, or catching fleeting moments, can make a huge difference. When you look back at your photos, they should be full of scenes that made you feel something and subjects that you loved, not photos that you felt you had to take because of other people’s photos on social media.

When photographing a popular subject (like the Grand Canyon) you should try to make the photo about something else. For example, if you are taking a photo of the “Old Man of the Mountain” (the crumbling form embedded in New Hampshire’s Cannon Mountain), let the subject be your companion striking a funny pose or an interesting piece of wildlife. This allows you to simultaneously capture a popular subject and make it unique.

  1. Tell a Story.

Sometimes, just taking snapshots on a whim can yield surprising and often memorable results. However, really looking at a scene and thinking about what you want to capture can allow you to piece together a story. This is the secret of the most well-known photographers. By just spending a few moments surveying your surroundings, you’re much more apt to develop a story behind an image and figure out how exactly to capture it.

  1. Have Fun.

The best way to create quality travel pictures is to have fun. Experiment with different techniques until you find features that work for you and your environment. A sense of friendliness and fun can go a long way—especially if you’re interested in taking photos of others. Putting too much pressure on yourself to take the perfect photo can be tiresome, and this lack of joy will come across in your pictures. By putting down your camera for a while and just being in the moment, you can fully experience your surroundings. Doing so will help you notice striking details that compel you to capture them.

5 Super-Easy Ways You Can Stay in Shape While Traveling

Whether you travel for business or for pleasure, traveling is likely to disrupt your normal routine. The majority of those who stick to a pretty stable fitness regime—waking up around the same time, eating meals at the same time, working out at the same time, and falling asleep at the same time—may experience quite a bit of disorder when embarking on a trip. Days on the road, arduous plane journeys, hotels, and dining frequently at restaurants can set back a fitness plan tremendously.

However, being fit and living in the moment don’t have to be mutually exclusive. This means you don’t necessarily have to worry too much about eating local food, drinking a little too much, and enjoying spontaneous adventures. While doing all of this and enjoying yourself to the fullest, you can still manage to stay fit and stick to your fitness regime while traveling.

Here are five simple tricks to help you stay in shape while you travel:

  1. Take Advantage of Resort Resources

Many resorts, including most Outdoor Traveler retreats (Laurel Crest Resort in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, for example), have a multitude of resources that will allow you to stay on track with your fitness routine.

Some resorts have an outdoor pool or sauna. Any type of water activity can be a great way to start your morning, especially if you don’t have access to a pool or sauna at home. A little steam or refreshingly cold water can leave you invigorated and ready to start your day. Pools are great, too, because swimming laps is one of the best full body workouts.

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In addition, Outdoor Traveler resorts are usually equipped with a full-sized kitchen. These kitchens typically include a fridge, stove, coffee maker, and often a dishwasher for maximum convenience. While it may be tempting to eat out three times a day while on vacation, having your own private kitchen simply means that it’s just a little bit easier to stick to your diet. Cooking one healthy meal a day can certainly help combat unhealthy food binges. Cooking is sometimes a chore, especially while you’re on vacation; it’s understandable to want a break, but just one simple, healthy meal a day (fresh fruit and granola for breakfast, for example) can really make all the difference. Plus, it can even be a fun experience going to a local market and picking up some fresh food away from traditional tourist spots.

One of the best resources that most resorts offer is fitness centers. What better way to stay on track with your fitness routine than to take advantage of the resort gym? Even if the equipment is slightly different, a quick workout (maybe even followed by a dip in the pool) is one of the best ways to integrate your normal routine and travel routine.

  1. Replace Your Normal Workout with Something More Exciting

If working out in the resort fitness center doesn’t sound very glamorous (or if the resort doesn’t have one at all), there may be more enticing alternatives. Especially if you’re traveling with the whole family, squeezing your workout into an activity that everyone can enjoy and participate in can be easier. Exercise doesn’t need to consume your entire trip, but you can still fit in experiences that are both active and fun. Whether you’re in Myrtle Beach—check out the beach and spend a few hours playing volleyball or doing some laps in the ocean—or New Hampshire’s White Mountains, hike up Cannon Mountain or ice skate on a local rink—there are always amazing outdoor activities that will fulfill your daily quota. And the best part is that it won’t even feel like a typical workout at all.

Seek out interesting activities that you may have never tried at home for something even more exciting. In the Smoky Mountains, for example, one can engage in a multitude of activities that most likely deviate from what would be considered a traditional workout. White-water rafting in Pigeon Forge, horseback riding through the trails of Smoky Mountain National Park, and even zorbing (an activity in which you’re placed in a plastic orb) are just a few examples.

  1. Drink Smart

Regardless of whether you’re traveling for pleasure or for business, most people find themselves drinking more than they would at home. Who can resist a pina colada (or two) by the beach? You don’t have to abstain from alcohol entirely to keep your waistline in check, you just have to drink intelligently.

cocktailKeeping hydrated (even if you’re not drinking at all!) is the most essential component of maintaining a healthy routine. Not only will it combat the effects of alcohol to a certain extent, it will also help you keep your shape.

Sugary mixed drinks, like the aforementioned pina coladas, not only lead to alcohol-related ailments the next morning, but they are also very unhealthy. While a few sips here and there won’t do much harm, binging all day may set you back. Moderation is the key word here.

One fun trick is to come up with a rule for yourself each night when you’re indulging in a few drinks. For each drink consumed, vow to do 10 push-ups (or squats, jumping jacks, etc.) the next morning. This type of accountability will help you drink less and work out more.

  1. Explore

Especially if you’re in a new place, taking a hike or exploring a town will be a fun way to exercise. Ask the resort staff for local sights that are within walking distance and then check them out! For a real workout, you can even wake up a bit early and take a sightseeing run to explore the ins and outs of where you’re staying. This way, when you’re ready to the hit the town later in the day, you’ll know exactly where you’re going.

  1. Relax

Tip number five is to relax! No one is perfect, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to stick to your routine. However, if you can get in 10 minutes of exercise a day (and maybe one healthy meal), you’ll go back home relaxed and fit.

3 of the Most Wonderful Winter Sports Destinations

While some may look forward to the warm days of summer, others look forward to the first crisp and clean snow fall. Winter sports not only get your adrenaline pumping, they make those cold winter months enjoyable. If you find yourself looking longingly at your skis, snowboards, or other winter sports gear slowly gathering dust in the garage, these destinations will surely peak your interest.

Whether you’re a winter enthusiast looking for an adventurous, off-piste destination like the Appalachian Trail in the Smoky Mountains or a popular winter playground like Wisconsin Dells, there are several Outdoor Traveler destinations for snow bunnies and winter sports lovers alike. Here are the top three destinations to keep you occupied during those frosty, cold months:

  1. Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Wisconsin Dells, situated in the heart of Wisconsin, is known as “The Waterpark Capital of the World.” However, the water parks, though they may be a blast, are not the only reason to visit this charming Midwestern destination.

Taking its name from the Dells of the Wisconsin River, a glacially constructed, breathtaking gorge with incredible sandstone formations, Wisconsin Dells has plenty of natural beauty to offer.  Because of its landscape and diverse climate—averaging about 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter months and about 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer months, the small city is ideal for both summer and winter sports of various kinds.

From November until March or April, there are several hills open for skiing, snowboarding, hiking, and tubing. Cascade Mountain Ski, Snowboard and Snow Tube, just 15 minutes from the Dells (the downtown hub of the city), is open from November until March. Featuring over 36 trails, Cascade Mountain offers both challenging trails for skiing experts, and fun, mile-long trails for beginners. With four terrain parks, 10 lifts (which includes the swift and speedy Mountain Top Express), and the Snow Tube Park with five different 800-foot-long chutes, Cascade Mountain is the perfect place to spend the day indulging in exhilarating winter sports.

Christmas Mountain Village is a resort dedicated to snow sports, primarily downhill skiing (from December until late March) and snow tubing (from December until early April). With 16 downhill runs and an array of exciting trails, skiers will love what Christmas Mountain Village has to offer. From black diamond slopes to beginner slopes, there are terrains for the whole family. Between slopes, everyone can enjoy a cup of hot coffee or a snack from the resort’s restaurant, Jolly’s Burgers, Brats, and Fun.

  1. Smoky Mountain, Tennessee

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Image courtesy Charles | Flickr

The great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee are not only gorgeous, they are also a perfect place to experience a bit of winter fun. You can enjoy sunny high winter temperatures of around 65 degrees Fahrenheit or snowy high temperatures of about 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Though the winter season is somewhat fickle temperature-wise, at higher elevations and on the mountain peaks, the temperature is cold enough that snow remains long after falling. Snow on the lower elevations of the Smokies typically melts within a few hours of falling, but with ample opportunity to enjoy the snow on the higher peaks, this is not too much of an inconvenience. This, perhaps, is actually the perfect balance as you can enjoy moderate temperature while in town, and cold, snowy weather on the peaks.

Adventurous outdoor lovers will enjoy the offbeat atmosphere that the Appalachian Trail provides. This renowned trail runs more than 71 miles through the Great Smoky Mountains and features notable landmarks such as the Rocky Top, Charlies Bunion, and the historically-significant stone fire tower that sits on top of Mount Cammerer.

During periods of snowfall (however infrequent), there are a few ski slopes and recreational areas that offer skiing, snowboarding, and even cross-country skiing, including Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area and Amusement Park.

  1. Boyne Falls, Michigan

Situated in Northern Michigan, Boyne Falls is known for its chilly northern climate and beautiful, picturesque landscape. Featuring an abundance of natural lakes and towering mountains, this cozy town makes an ideal winter getaway.

With 60 ski slopes of varying intensities, winter sport enthusiasts will find Boyne Mountain slopes to be more than sufficient. There are also many lakes and rivers in the area, where you can easily indulge in other winter activities, such as ice skating. Some places offer tube rentals so you can whoosh down the slopes at Boyne Mountain. For something a little different, you can go snowshoeing, ride a horse, or enjoy a trip in a snow cat. Those who are looking for an intimate, romantic adventure can also explore the tree-lined, snowy trails by horse-drawn sleigh.

One of the most exhilarating attractions Boyne Falls has to offer is the Zipline Adventure, where you can fly past the mountain range at speeds of 25 mph. Zooming past the treetops in the chilly air might arguably be the most adrenaline-inducing winter activity there is.

Amazing Mature Attractions You Should Check Out in Orlando

Orlando, Florida, is best known as the ultimate family-friendly destination, but there are plenty of attractions perfectly suitable for adults.  Shopping, dining, nightlife, and outdoor activities are abundant in Orlando. This vibrant, bustling city has something for everyone.

Universal Orlando’s CityWalk

Universal CityWalk is undoubtedly Orlando’s “entertainment hotspot.” Though also suitable for families, adults will enjoy the CityWalk’s fabulous restaurants, crowded clubs, and local and high-end shopping boutiques.

Citywalk
Image courtesy Kenya Allmond | Flickr

Numerous themed restaurants line the walk, each specializing in a different culinary delight. From Southern comfort food to exotic cuisine, there are countless options. Interesting burger and sushi combos are available at The Cowfish, and Florida/Caribbean (Floribbean) dishes are waiting at the infamous Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Emeril Lagasse, celebrity chef, even has a restaurant—Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando. CityWalk is also home to the world’s biggest Hard Rock Cafe.

Universal CityWalk also has countless entertainment venues, including the renowned Blue Man Group, which offers an unforgettable experience at its theater next to the Hard Rock Cafe. Visitors can also enjoy a night out at the Red Coconut Club, Orlando’s most exciting nightclub and “ultra-lounge.” With three different bars, two levels, a starlit balcony, and retro-decor, the Red Coconut Club is beyond impressive.

Additionally, the CityWalk features many great shopping options. Visitors can purchase souvenirs at the Universal Studios Store, beach attire at the Quiet Flight Surf Shop, and the hottest accessories at Fossil.

Nightlife Hotspots

Though Universal Orlando’s CityWalk contains the majority of nightclubs, there are several other trendy bars and clubs outside of the park. The Bosendorfer Lounge at the Grand Bohemian Hotel comes recommended by tourists and locals alike. This trendy lounge offers live entertainment—including pleasant piano melodies from the rare Imperial Grand Bosendorfer Piano, handcrafted signature cocktails, and gourmet cuisine. Ember Bar and Restaurant is another local favorite that is reminiscent of a laidback, European-style tavern. Boasting a relaxing, hip environment and an eclectic menu, Ember Bar is great for late-night patio drinks after a long day of exploring Orlando’s prime attractions.

Dinner Theatre Shows

If you’re looking for a bit of entertainment to go with your gourmet meal, look no further than Orlando’s dinner theatre shows. Outside of the theme parks, there are several great dinner theatre locations worth checking out, including the Orlando Improv Comedy Club and Dinner Theatre, which features famed headliners and up-and-coming comedians to make you laugh while you enjoy your meal. Treasure Tavern is a little saucier and suitable for a mature audience. WonderWorks, home of the Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show, is perfect for all ages.

For history buffs, Titanic – The Experience hosts a Gala Dinner during which guests can tour the attraction and watch the reenactment of that frigid April night when the unsinkable ship met its match.

Shopping

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Image courtesy Kenya Allmond | Flickr

Orlando has numerous shopping destinations, including malls, gift shops, local boutiques, and outlet stores. The Florida Mall and the Mall at Millenia are two of the biggest all-inclusive malls. The Florida Mall offers over 200 different stores and is just a few minutes away from the airport, making it Orlando’s shopping epicenter. Stores include American Eagle Outfitters, PacSun, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Sephora, Express, Lucky Brand Jeans, and hundreds more.

The Mall at Millenia features higher-end boutiques, including Dior, Gucci, Burberry, Cartier, and Chanel, as well as the moderately priced Macy’s, Abercrombie, Gap, and J. Crew.

Museums

Though Orlando has a multitude of museums dedicated to educating a younger demographic, there are several museums, including the new Dali Museum, that may be more suited to an older audience. This eccentric museum is home to the world’s largest collection of Salvador Dali’s art. The swooping blue glass panes of the building itself is reason enough to visit this modern art marvel.

Tibet-Butler Nature Reserve

This 440-acre nature reserve gives visitors a chance to see the breathtaking natural scenery of Florida. Away from the crowded streets of downtown Orlando, this quiet reserve offers tranquil views of the Tibet-Butler Lake, gorgeous flatwoods, and swampy wetlands.

With six relatively short trails (about a mile or two long), those looking for a breath of fresh air will be adequately soothed by this nature excursion. Bobcats, bald eagles, and gopher tortoises are known to inhabit the reserve and will make an appearance from time to time.

Boat Tours

Because of Orlando’s natural beauty, boat tours are one of the best ways to explore the landscape. Winter Park, about 20 minutes away from downtown Orlando, offers an hour-long Scenic Boat Tour. A guide will narrate the leisurely ride as it passes through the Winter Park Chain of Lakes. Enormous mansions on the waterfront, diverse wildlife, and serene greenery will provide an interesting and enjoyable afternoon.

For those who like to explore at their own pace, Lake Eola Park—in the heart of Orlando—offers paddleboat rentals, so you can take in the beauty of the Orlando Skyline for as long as you’d like.

3 of the Best Outdoor Traveler Lake Vacations in the United States

Imagine waking up to a cloudless morning with a perfect view of a crystal-clear lake. Lakes have distinct advantages over ocean retreats. Not only is fresh water more, well, refreshing, it comes without pesky seaweed, sea-sickness, or threats of underwater predators.

lake powellThe United States has many lakes to enjoy; chances are, you’re probably living in fairly close proximity to a lake oasis, even in you live in the Southwest desert. There are an estimated 3 to 4 million lakes in the U.S., Jonathon this phrase here is confusing to me, from the Great Lakes to local duck ponds. Minnesota, otherwise known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” has almost 12,000 lakes, with Michigan coming in at a close second and Florida in third place.

Henry David Thoreau himself was a lover of American lakes, one of which inspired him to write Walden (or, Life in the Woods). Lakes can inspire quiet contemplation and reflection, but they also compel an undeniable excitement for activity, whether that activity is swimming, water skiing, boating, or fishing.

Outdoor Traveler offers multiple breathtaking lake destinations in the United States. Here are the top three lake destinations Outdoor Traveler offers:

Ozark Mountains, Missouri

The Ozark Mountains in Ridgedale, Missouri, are surrounded by crystalline lakes and marked by commanding waterfalls.

Covering 1000 miles of shoreline in Missouri (and Arkansas), Table Rock Lake is adjacent to numerous small towns, fields, and forests. The expansive lake is home to over 20 species of fish and has even been ranked 46 out of 100 bass fishing destinations in the world. Fishing tournaments in warmer months are frequent, and many of them are held within the Ozark Mountains region. With average water temperatures ranging from 56 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit in the spring and 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, the lake is also ideal for other fun water activities such as parasailing, jet skiing, and even scuba diving.

A direct inflow from Table Rock Lake, the White River is perfect for tubing and canoeing, providing the ultimate river floating experience. As you get closer into Branson, the White River turns into Lake Taneycomo, a man-made lake that provides trout fishing and numerous water-based activities. The White River isn’t the only river nearby, however. America’s first National River, the Buffalo National River, is about an hour away and offers canoe rentals and a scenic view.

Boyne Country, Michigan

Boyne Country is situated in Boyne Falls, Michigan, not too far from Boyne City. Boyne Falls has many rivers running through it, including South Branch Boyne River, North Branch Boyne River, and Boyne River. Boyne Falls and Boyne City have collectively been called a lake paradise, a place where “life meets the lake.”

Lake Charlevoix
Image courtesy Michigan Municipal League | Flickr

Adjacent to Boyne Falls is Deer Lake, a moderately-sized, clear lake that is suitable for both fishing and boating. Located right on the cusp of Boyne City is Lake Charlevoix, named one of USA Today’s Best Lakes in America. Lake Charlevoix is home to numerous sailboats and is ideal for a sunny afternoon spent swimming, taking a boat ride, or leisurely watching the boats pass by.

Whether you’re spending an afternoon floating along the Boyne River or watching the exciting, high-performance boating competition called the Boyne Thunder event, there is never a dull moment on the water in Boyne Falls.

Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

In Gordonsville, Virginia, is the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, an area known for its local cuisine and world-renowned wineries. In addition to providing spectacular views of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley is home to a variety of nearby lakes and rivers.

The Shenandoah River is one of the many rivers in the area and extends over 55 miles with two forks about 100 miles long. A popular river for whitewater recreation, like rafting and kayaking, the Shenandoah River is also ideal for other water sports like canoeing and river tubing.

There are two major adventure parks in the area that are predicated on river fun: Massanutten Adventures and Shenandoah River Adventures. Located on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, Massanutten Adventures offer canoes, kayaks, and tubes for the ultimate river adventure. With different sections of the river dedicated to different skill levels, visitors can experience the challenge of navigating through Class I and II rapids or take a leisurely cruise down other sections with picturesque views of farmland. Shenandoah River Adventures is situated near Shenandoah National Park, Luray Caverns, and the George Washington National Forest, and offers river trips for both beginners and seasoned water experts.

Dream Lake, which is located snugly inside of Luray Caverns, is a hidden spring of water with a remarkably reflective appearance. Because of the rock formations high above the water, the lake appears to be exceptionally deep, creating the illusion of a gorgeous, bottomless lake.

There are several other lakes and reservoirs in the Shenandoah Valley region, each offering water activities and the chance to spend a relaxing day, or even week, lounging by fresh, crystalline water.

How to Get Cozy at South Mountain Private Retreat

New Hampshire, self-proclaimed as the state that “makes you want to wake up early and stay up late,” is rich with natural splendor. Lush forests, remote islands, deep river valleys and pristine lakes dot the landscape. Just north of the White Mountains is the infamous New Hampshire lake where late-night legend Jimmy Fallon proposed to his wife; the Fallons admired the spot so much they even named their daughter, Winnie, after it. However, Lake Winnipesaukee isn’t just the site of the television host’s romantic escapes; it’s also one of many beautiful, natural wonders New Hampshire has to offer.

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Image courtesy Selbe Lynn | Flickr

The White Mountains themselves are part of the northern Appalachian Mountains and are among the most rugged in the Northeast. The chain also includes the Sandwich Range, the Carter-Moriah Range, and the Kinsman Range. Its most famous mountain, Mount Washington, is 6,288 feet tall. The White Mountains encompass a majestic national forest and numerous other state parks, ski resorts, and private mountain retreats.

Deep in the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountains is South Mountain, a secluded Bluegreen retreat surrounded by the majestic beauty of the mountainous landscape. At once both exciting and relaxing, South Mountain is the perfect retreat for cozying up against a backdrop of beautiful, snow-tipped mountain ranges.

Soak Up the Scenic Beauty

The White Mountains are renowned for their abundance of natural beauty. From the White Mountains Trail, a National Scenic Byway of over 100 miles that winds through the 800,000-acre White Mountain National Forest, to the numerous state parks in the White Mountains such as the Franconia Notch State Park and the Mount Washington State Park, there are plenty of natural wonders to experience near South Mountain private resort.

On the White Mountains Trail, there are two driving loops available to cruise through. The White Mountains Southern Driving Loop and the White Mountains Northern Loop Drive explore different areas of the mountains and also weave through other interesting landmarks, such as Weirs Beach, the rural area of Franconia-Sugar Hill-Easton, and Frost Place, the mountain farm that once belonged to New Hampshire poet Robert Frost. The Kancamagus Scenic Byway is another option for those who wish to experience the landscape; this byway is a sweeping road that allows for a perfect view of the national forests.

Cannon Mountain, where the infamous “Old Man of the Mountain” cliff feature looked out upon the Granite State, is just up the road from the resort. Only a smudged profile remains of the Old Man’s steely gaze after the formation’s fall in 2003. However, the site still represents New Hampshire’s resilience and strength, as well as the state’s unfailing respect for its natural surroundings.

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Image courtesy Chris Ford | Flickr

During the winter months, there are multiple areas around Loon Mountain and Cannon Mountain that are ideal for skiing, snow tubing, snowshoeing, ice skating, snowmobiling, and sledding. Moose-spotting tours, given by local guides in the area, are also available.

For days when inclement weather doesn’t pose a problem, there are numerous trails for those who love hiking. Sabbaday Falls, Lincoln Woods Trail, and Riverwalk Trails offer hiking trails of different difficulty levels. Many of them also offer fantastic views of the mountainous landscape. The Lost River Gorge also offers the opportunity to explore deep caverns and search for gemstones.

Spend a Day in Town

Adjacent to South Mountain private resort are the Village Shops, where visitors can find souvenirs and other trinkets. The state boasts tax-free shopping, an advantage for those who want to pick up plenty of souvenirs to bring back home or for those who need to pick up outdoor gear for mountain adventures. Other shopping options including antiquing at local emporiums like Calico Cottage and purchasing hidden treasures from upscale boutiques like Bella Funk. Guests can also stop by the Fadden’s Sugar House to try some local maple syrup, an operation that has been going on at the Fadden’s Sugar House for five generations.

Though the White Mountains are known for their majestic scenery, the area also offers a variety of theatre and performances. For example, the Papermill Theatre holds not-for-profit summer stage shows. Other theatre programs include The Barnstormers Theatre in Tamworth, which has been operating for over 75 years and is actually the longest-running summer stock theatre in the country.  At the Weathervane Theatre, located at the northernmost top of the White Mountains, you can view classic productions from Broadway and breathtaking natural beauty all at once.

Cozy Up with Resort Amenities

After long days experiencing the outdoor beauty the White Mountains have to offer, South Mountain private resort has numerous amenities to relieve all the tension after a long day exploring the surrounding area. Attached to the resort is a fitness center equipped with all the essentials, an indoor pool that is open year-round, and an outdoor pool that is available during the warmer months. South Mountain also has a hot tub with a marvelous view of the mountains, so you can relax and enjoy the sights.

Each resort villa is equipped with a full-size kitchen, so guests can cook meals in the privacy of their own rooms. A television, DVD player, and WiFi are also included, so you can curl up at night and relax after a spirited day of activity and fun.

How to Get the Most Out of Smoky Mountain National Park

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is a small mountain resort city just five miles from the great Smoky Mountain National Park. Southern culture and country music comes alive in the numerous amusement parks, music theatres, and restaurants, while the landscape beckons lovers of the outdoors with its majestic natural beauty.

Read on to find out how to make the most out of your time at the beautiful Smoky Mountain National Park.

Laurel Crest Resort Getaway

Bluegreen’s Laurel Crest, situated in the foothills of the scenic Smoky Mountains, is a country sanctuary. Only a mile or so away from Pigeon Forge, the resort is conveniently close to the small city, yet far enough away that one can enjoy the peace the natural landscape yields.

laurel crest resortIn winter, the snow-capped mountains provide a perfect view, visible while lounging in the outdoor hot tubs located on the resort property. In the summer, complimentary binoculars are available for bird watching on the clubhouse deck with a 360 degree view of the forest. For extroverts, seasonal parties are often added to the calendar: pool parties in the tepid heat of summer and holiday parties in the late fall and winter. There are kid-friendly activities scheduled year-round, while a game room and large outdoor playground are available outside of special events.

Laurel Crest also has a reading lounge, indoor swimming pool, fitness center, and sauna for ample relaxation after long mountain hikes. For those who have questions, resort staff hosts a vacation-planning hour every Monday to help you plan your ideal trip.

If the resort amenities weren’t enough, one- or two-bedroom villas also include a television, small kitchen, whirlpool tub, fireplace, and balcony terrace.

Outdoor Activities

Smoky Mountain National Park is the ideal setting for a variety of outdoor activities. From hiking to horseback riding, to whitewater rafting and zorbing, there is an outdoor activity for everyone.

Hiking through Smoky Mountain National Park is always breathtaking, with over 800 square miles to explore. The trails range from moderate to strenuous. Moderate trails include Charlies Bunion and Andrews Bald and are perfect for an adventurous family outing. The trails allow ample time to take in the scenery and enjoy the crisp mountain air. Cades Cove is ideal for hikers looking for a panoramic view of the mountains, waterfalls, and streams, while more strenuous trails like Alum Cave, Rainbow Falls, and Mt. Cammerer are perfect for the serious hiker.

There are four riding stables located throughout the park — Cades Cove, Smokemont, Smoky Mountain, and Sugarlands Riding Stables — open from March through November. Big Rock Dude Ranch at Ponderosa also offers horseback riding all year round in Pigeon Forge.

Whitewater rafting in Pigeon Forge is organized into four different difficulty levels in order to suit rafters of all degrees of experience.

Zorbing, the recreational activity of rolling down a hill inside of a transparent plastic orb, takes on a new level at Pigeon Forge. The Outdoor Gravity Park features OGO, an 11-foot sphere with a transparent barrier; H20GO, a 3-person ride along 10 gallons of water; and the new DRYGO, a dry zorbing activity that uses 3 plastic sphere balls to keep you dry while water between two of the balls keeps you suspended from the ground. Riders of the OGO can also be harnessed before proceeding to roll downhill for those skeptical of the process.

Amusement Parks

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Image courtesy Madison Berndt | Flickr

Pigeon Forge is home to WonderWorks Indoor Amusement Park, which is open all year long and is called “An Amusement Park for the Mind.” With numerous interactive activities and demonstrations, WonderWorks is an amusing and educational experience. The park offers 150 hands-on exhibits, including an anti-gravity chamber, inversion tunnel, hurricane hole with 65-mph winds, and the recreation of the San Francisco earthquake of 1989—where you can personally experience the impact of a 5.3 magnitude earthquake.

Other activities include the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel and the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster at The Island, two Titanic museums, and a variety of theatre premiers and shows.

Smoky Mountain Cuisine

Pigeon Forge is the place to go for dinner shows and has numerous venues for a great Southern dinner served alongside memorable entertainment.

Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede thrills you with 32 horses galloping with their riders in an exhilarating but friendly competition. As the competition commences, a four-course home-cooked country meal is presented to you. The meal features Creamy Vegetable Soup—a Dixie Stampede original—plus cheddar biscuits, barbecue pork loin smoked in hickory, corn on the cob with butter, a baked potato basted in herbs, and a specialty dessert. The meal also includes unlimited soft drinks, tea, or coffee. Before the event, live entertainment takes place from the country/bluegrass band, Mountain Ruckus.

Other dinner shows include the Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Show — featuring Southern cuisine and singing, dancing, stunts, and comedy, and The Lumberjack Feud — a dinner show that is truly unforgettable.

Top 5 Popular Outdoor Traveler Destinations for Golfers

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach golf course
Image courtesy Mike Timberlake | Flickr

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is known for its beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean, white sand beaches, and water activities such as windsurfing, fishing, parasailing, and kayaking. It is also host to the numerous water parks, aquariums, and racing tracks that are scattered throughout the sun-soaked region.

However, Myrtle Beach offers more than just long stretches of alluring beaches and nightly entertainment; it also contains an array of world-class golf courses. Nicknamed the “Seaside Golf Capital of the World,” Myrtle Beach boasts 110 world-renowned golf courses designed by golf masterminds such as Jack Nicklaus, Francis Duane, and Arnold Palmer. There are even miniature courses for young golf enthusiasts in training!

Just a quick drive up the coast from Myrtle Beach is Thistle Golf Club, a luxurious and tradition-rich golf course inspired by  early 19th century Scotland. Complete with deep bunkers and naturally occurring water hazards, this course offers 27 holes, rolling fairways and bentgrass greens. Even the new clubhouse appears to be inspired by the majestic beauty of Scottish castles. With an almost perfect rating on Golf Digest, this Myrtle Beach golf course is ideal for golfers of any skill level.

St. Augustine, Florida

Situated in sunny Florida, St. Augustine is host to 43 miles of Atlantic Ocean beaches, dozens of recreation areas, and numerous state parks. In addition to the multitude of outdoor activities available — including camping, bird watching, swimming, water sports, hiking, and exploring the famous sand dunes of Anastasia State Park—St. Augustine is also a picturesque golf destination.

There are many courses to choose from, including St. John’s County Golf Course which features a 27-hole championship course. One can also visit The World Golf Village — just north of the main street and host to both PGA Tour Operations and the World Golf Hall of Fame. The World Golf Village also offers two championship golf courses: The King and Bear and The Slammer and Squire.

The King and Bear course is the result of a collaboration between golf legends Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, and remains their only joint-effort project to date. Just over 7,000 yards from the stone tees and just over 5,000 yards from the green tees, this challenging course is ideal for the seasoned golfer. Arnold Palmer was so enchanted by his course design that he even included hole 15 as one of his “Dream 18” in the Ryder Cup 2006 edition of Sports Illustrated.

The Slammer & Squire, however, is an 18-hole championship golf course designed for golfers of all skill sets. Bobby Weed consulted with Gene “The Squire” Sarazen and Sam “The Slammer” Snead to create a course with two distinct nines, rolling greens, and plenty of water hazards and fairways. With a great view of the World Golf Hall of Fame, The Slammer & Squire is an ideal course for any St. Augustine visitor.

Ozark Mountains, Ridgedale, Missouri

Buffalo Ridge golf course
Image Courtesy Branson Convention and Visitor’s Bureau | Flickr

Framed by the majestic beauty of the Ozark Mountains, Ridgedale is an enchanting outdoor paradise complete with waterfalls, sparkling lakes and lush forests. The Mark Twain National Forest, a whopping 1.5 million acres, is perfect for exploring, hiking, and even ATV riding while The White River, Table Rock Lake, and Dogwood Canyon Nature Park are perfect spots for water skiing, tubing, scuba diving, and fishing. If you find yourself feeling adventurous, Fantastic Caverns offers tours of the underground riverbed, a beautiful scene that features crystallized formations and a rich history of Civil War Soldiers, moonshiners, and Indian tribes all seeking refuge in the vistas.

One of the most exciting draws of Ozark Mountains is the multitude of golf courses. After exploring the scenery and attractions the Ozarks have to offer, you can tee off at one of two world-renowned golf courses — the Tom Fazio-designed Buffalo Ridge Course and the Top of the Rock Golf Course designed by Jack Nicklaus. Whether you want to play eighteen holes or play on the pristine greens of a championship course, the beautiful mountain scenery will always provide a breathtaking backdrop to your game.

Boyne Falls, Michigan

Boyne Falls in northern Michigan features a naturally beautiful landscape and non-stop activities. From the mountains to the great lakes, this region offers a multitude of seasonal activities including skiing, ice skating, snowboarding, and sledding during the winter months, and fishing, swimming, kayaking, and hiking in the summer.

For golfers, Boyne Falls is a scenic paradise, offering two championship golf courses in close proximity to the falls. The Monument is a course that begins high on Boyne Mountain and ends on the signature island green of the 18th hole. Designed by Donald Ross, Robert Trent Jones, Pete Dye, George Fazio, and Dr. Alister Mackenzie, this scenic course is a legendary, playable hall of fame. Meanwhile, the 18-hole Alpine course offers panoramic views of Deer Lake.

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Featuring unique shopping boutiques, charming snowy slopes, and exciting casinos, Wisconsin Dells is a spot for adventures of all kinds. With a scenic landscape and tons of fun activities for the family, Wisconsin Dells is a great family destination, especially for golfers.

The Wisconsin Dells feature various golf courses, including The Oaks at Christmas Village and the lush greenery of Wild Rock Club, ranked by Golf Magazine as the “Best New Course of 2008.” A rugged, expansive course that runs through a former quarry, Wild Rock Club is chiseled to perfection and remains one of the only quarry courses in the United States. The course is well-maintained and features five sets of tees, a driving range, chipping bunker, and putting green. Guaranteed to impress both scratch golfers and guests of the resort, Wild Rock Club is a golf course that any Wisconsin Dells visitor shouldn’t miss.

3 Reasons Patrick Henry Square Is the Best Family Resort

Situated in the heart of the beautiful and historic colonial district of Williamsburg, Virginia, Bluegreen Resort’s Patrick Henry Square is surrounded by charming architecture, historic museums, and lively, themed entertainment. This destination offers an array of activities that are simultaneously entertaining and educational for adults and children alike. With over 500 historic buildings and museums, an abundance of street performances, renowned restaurants, and neighboring theme parks, Williamsburg offers fun and engaging activities for the whole family.

Named after the famous orator and former governor of Virginia, Bluegreen Patrick Henry Square stays true to the colonial spirit with elegant furnishings and 18th-century-inspired decor. With its proximity to the lively historic district, this resort will set the tone for your journey back in time.

Charming Sights

An 18th-century town, Williamsburg is bursting with rich history and interesting sights. It was founded in 1632 as a plantation between the James and York rivers, and the city was the epicenter of political activity in Virginia, which ultimately culminated in the American Revolution. With a multitude of museums, interactive plays, and family destinations, historic Williamsburg makes an ideal family getaway.

williamsburg
Image courtesy Joe Ross | Flickr

Many of the buildings that George Washington, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson frequented have been restored to their original appearance. These beautifully designed colonial-era buildings are not only rich with history, but they are also surrounded by beautiful greenery that transforms a stroll down Colonial Street into a pleasantly surreal glimpse into 18th-century life.

Actors frequent these charming streets, performing live reenactments of colonial events. In character at all times, these figures recreate how people lived in early America—dressing, talking, and working as one would in colonial times.

Educational Activities

Williamsburg features an array of museums and cultural institutions, including the world’s most expansive living history museum, the Revolutionary City.  Located just steps away from Bluegreen Patrick Henry Square, the Revolutionary City is an open area full of colonists engaging in 18th-century life. Performances are staged each day, enacting historic events that led Virginians to declare themselves as an independent people. Visitors are encouraged to interact with the environment by joining the soldiers as they march to Yorktown, witnessing the first reading of the Declaration of Independence, and seeing what exactly daily life was like for an American colonist living against the backdrop of the American Revolution.

reenactors
Image courtesy praline3001 | Flickr

Williamsburg also features the original permanent English settlement located in Jamestown. The settlement includes a recreation of a Native American village, an English army post, and several historic ships that led the way to the “New World.” In addition to the Jamestown settlement, Williamsburg visitors can explore the Yorktown Battlefield, where General Cornwallis famously surrendered to George Washington. The park offers daily tours for families and groups.

After a full day of visiting museums and taking in the sights, the whole family can enjoy a range of restaurants. From the Fat Canary—named aptly after the title of a John Lyly poem, “Oh, For a Bowl of Fat Canary”—to A Chef’s Kitchen—a restaurant where you can assemble your own gourmet dish, there are plenty of dining options.

For the adults, Green Leafe Cafe, named one of the 10 best bars in the United States, charmingly offers “good beer, good food, and bad parking,” according to its website. If you’re looking for a more festive after-hours establishment, there are many themed pubs scattered throughout Colonial Williamsburg, including Josiah Chowning’s Tavern, a reconstructed 1766 establishment where songs and games of the 18th century come alive.

For a day of modern fun, Busch Gardens and Water Country USA are just around the corner from Colonial Williamsburg. Busch Gardens has plenty of rides for thrill seekers, including the Curse of DarKastle, a rollercoaster not designed for the faint of heart. Water Country USA has water rides for the whole family, including the 1,500-foot river ride, Hubba Hubba Highway.

Accommodations

Bluegreen Patrick Henry Square features spacious, unique villas with charming decor. Expertly combined with the colonial aesthetic, each villa has modern, comfortable accommodations that include a full kitchen—with a coffee maker and dishwasher for optimal convenience, a television complete with cable and a DVD player, and wireless Internet. The villas are furnished in the style of the 18th century and feature comfortable, historically influenced colonial decor. Aiming to both relax and inspire, these villas are ideal for settling down after hours of sightseeing and exploring the rich history of Williamsburg.

The resort also contains its own attractions, such as a hot tub and an outdoor heated pool, in which one can relax after walking the historic boulevards. For children, Bluegreen Patrick Henry Square offers a game room, many scheduled children’s activities, and an expansive resort playground.

3 Ideal Outdoor Traveler Destinations for Lovers of Food and Wine

Orlando, Florida,  Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, and Charleston, South Carolina are not generally known for their cuisine. Charleston, for example, is known to attract history buffs. Yet, these three regions are all brimming with an array of decadent dining options. Those who enjoy food and wine will truly enjoy these three Outdoor Traveler destinations:

1.     Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, South Carolina is a charming and historic city featuring important landmarks, lovingly-preserved 18th and 19th century architecture, and cobblestone streets. In the Historic District, one can gaze at the multitude of well-preserved churches, history museums, and charming homes from the cozy backseat of a horse-drawn carriage, or meander through the cobblestone paths on foot.

Charleston, South CarolinaWhile Charleston embodies quintessential Southern grace and old-world charm, it also provides an in-depth culinary experience for food and wine aficionados. In addition to its beachfront and marshes, Charleston is known for its abundance of fresh, delicious seafood.

Hyman’s Seafood Company is a great choice for salmon and other fresh seafood favorites, and Station 22, Sullivan Island’s oldest restaurant, features a variety of classic Southern fare. Hyman’s Seafood Company, operating in the same location for 112 years, originally began as a dry goods shop and now features an array of fresh crab legs, shrimp, Hyman’s famous salmon croquettes, and traditional shrimp, salmon, and grits. Station 22 started in the 1980s as a trolley service running through the Isle of Palms to Sullivan’s Island and back to Mount Pleasant.

For those interested in baked goods, the Old City Market is a great place to find local treasures, with over 100 merchants selling goods every day. It’s also a good place to see local artwork and purchase a souvenir or two to bring back home.

Local nightclubs and jazz lounges also offer unique, Southern-style bar food, as well as the sounds of smooth and melodic jazz hits.

If fresh produce sounds appealing, you can spend a day at the historic Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens, picking a variety of fresh tomatoes, pumpkins, strawberries, and peaches.

2.     Orlando, Florida

Orlando, Florida, might bring to mind world-famous theme parks, African safaris, and swimming with dolphins, but Orlando has much more to offer than just the magical adventures of SeaWorld® Orlando, Disney’s Animal Kingdom®, and Universal Orlando® The city is also a diner’s delight, with cuisine from all over the world and many local culinary hotspots.

International Drive, a 14.5 mile section of road, features a wide variety of restaurants, including the world’s biggest McDonald’s Playplace, 24-hour diners, B. B. King’s Blues Club, and Italian eateries. Whether you’re in the mood for Indian cuisine, Caribbean dishes, seafood, or just a juicy, well-made burger, International Drive has plenty of options.

orlando skylineNot only is Bluegreen’s The Fountains resort nestled in the heart of International Drive, but it also has fantastic dining opportunities. Located on 54 acres of land and surrounded by the serene water of Lake Eve, The Fountains boasts the Wakoola Grill, a poolside eatery that offers both comfort food and innovative interpretations of classic grilled dishes. Not far from Wakoola Grill is H2O, a playful water-themed restaurant that features The Fountains’ award-winning “bubble” bar and tons of great signature cocktails. If you’re a fan of caffeinated beverages in the morning, Mug o’ Joe’s has a lineup of gourmet lattes, cappuccinos, and macchiatos, including the chocolate hazelccino and the caramel latte foam, which are customer favorites.

Another fine-dining experience can be found in Orlando’s Walt Disney World. A two-time winner of the AOL City’s Best award, the Victoria & Albert’s restaurant features exquisite cuisine with exotic, international ingredients. Creating its dishes with fresh Ohio herbs, Japanese beef, North Carolina poulet rouge, North Florida oysters, Italian truffles, and only the finest caviar, Victoria & Albert’s has established a reputation as a creative and innovative restaurant that places emphasis on dining as an “elegant ritual.” Wine pairings are recommended with each course, creating a holistic and memorable dining experience.

What really makes Orlando a hub for food and wine lovers, though, is the annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival at Disney’s Epcot Center each autumn. With numerous seminars and demonstrations featuring world-renowned chefs, food and beverage pairing events, dining packages, and more than 30 different global marketplaces, this in-depth food and wine experience is unlike any other.

3.     Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Located between the Allegheny Mountains on the west side and the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east side, Shenandoah Valley is a destination brimming with rich natural beauty and historic landscapes.

Shenandoah ValleyWith extremely fertile soil, Shenandoah Valley produces some remarkable wines. Most vineyards lie along the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail, a stretch of more than 20 vineyards, including Hunt’s Vineyard, The Winery at Kindred Pointe, and Valerie Hill Vineyard & Winery. The trail is also dotted with interesting sights: historic lodges, Dinosaur Land, battlefields, national parks, and beautiful lakes.

Bluegreen’s Shenandoah Crossing is located in the heart of the countryside, close to many of the local wineries, the Farmer’s Market, and Shenandoah Valley Flea Market, where you can purchase fresh regional produce and interesting antiques. Each summer, the Wine Trail hosts two festivals: the Wine and Trotter Festival and the Wine and Jazz Festival. Each event features local wine tastings and delicious food.

An emerging regional leader in wine production, the Shenandoah Valley is undeniably one of the most exciting areas to visit for wine lovers, especially those who also have a penchant for gorgeous natural landscapes.