US National Parks with NO entrance fee

If you are against increased fees for American National Parks, plan your next hiking trip to one of the free ones.

The national park with the system’s greatest annual visitation, of around 9 million folks, Great Smoky Mountains, is, and will remain, free to enter. …

Other national parks with no entrance fees include Glacier Bay, Channel Islands, Isle Royale, Voyageurs, North Cascades, Congaree, Great Basin, Redwood, and Mammoth Cave. Combined, these parks had 2005 visitation of roughly 3.5 million folks.

National Parks Traveler: Entrance Fee Trivia

Great Smoky Mountains has 850mi (1368km) of hiking trails, including 70mi of the Appalachian Trail.

Sunset from Clingman’s Dome – Wikipedia

#8 best hike in the world is …

The Annapurna Circuit

The best trekking region in Nepal.

The first reaction of most hikers: “What about Maoist rebels extorting money from trekkers?”

YetiZone is the #1 website on the Circuit. Editor Ian Johnson says:

“No trekkers have been harmed during the conflict – both sides recognise the need for the revenues that tourism brings. Both sides are taxing tourists. You may therefore find that the Maoists may expect you to pay their trekking tax – keep the receipt! There is, in our opinion, no reason for tourists to be concerned about the Maoists.”

When we were there in 1998 the Maoists were sometimes collecting a “tax”. We did not meet any of them. In 2006 the fee seems to have become a little more structured.

If you decide to go, budget for the “extra donation to the Communist Party”.

Many call Annapurna the best hike in the world, by far. It is fantastic!

The entire Circuit is about 300km (186mi), 3 weeks circumambulating the Annapurna massif of peaks. This region is unique in the Himalaya in that it is relatively easy to get up close and personal with two of the world’s highest peaks.

Surprisingly, hiking here is recommended for all levels of ability and experience. Many non-hikers do the entire Circuit.

You can hike independently with a light pack, staying in wonderful mountain “lodges” and eating at wonderful restaurants. Or sign on with any of hundreds of trekking tours or independent porter guides.

There is not a more relaxed long hike anywhere. But if 3 weeks it too long, shorter sections recommended are the Jomsom Trek and Annapurna Base Camp.

Why we love it:

  • walk from lush sub-tropic to the highest mountains in the world
  • the surreal light in the arid Trans-Himalayan region
  • wonderful cultural experiences with the Tibetan and mountain peoples
  • Buddhist temples, architecture and tradition
  • wonderful photographic opportunities
  • Thorung La 5416m (17,769ft) is the highest altitude ever reached by most hikers
  • very little gear is needed
  • you can easily get pack weight down to 10kg (22lbs)
  • walk with no tent, stove or food. Even books are available on the trail.
  • stay in lodges, eat in lovely restaurants.
  • it’s safe and easy to hike solo
  • no need to speak Nepali, only English
  • food is good and quite safe
  • Kagbeni, the gateway to Lo (Mustang) is wonderful
  • a number of hotsprings en route
  • walking the Kali Gandaki, the world’s "deepest" river valley, 5500 to 6800m lower than the two peaks either side
  • Considerations:

  • crossing Thorung La can be a struggle even if you are acclimatized as the air is thin. Bad weather sometimes causes a build-up of hikers on the east side of the pass.
  • garbage is a problem in some sections
  • footwear is critical on long hikes where you have no chance for replacement
  • sunglasses / eye protection needed
  • this is not a wilderness hike. The Annapurna Circuit is mostly a road! On the other hand, by departing early in the morning, or hiking late during the afternoon, you can get the trail to yourself.
  • both men and women are advised to wear modest clothing respecting local culture
  • we treated water with a filter but boiling is even better
  • "squater" pit toilets are the norm
  • many hikers run out of money, tempted by pizza, beer, German bakeries and everything else. Almost everyone spends more money than they expect.
  • evacuation by helicopter costs about $3000, guaranteed in advance
  • Details on our Annapurna Circuit information page.

    Looking for more inspiration? Start with this, the best of a number of coffee table photography books:

    The Essence of the Annapurna Circuit (Mountain Photography)

    A Nepalese Journey: The Essence of the Annapurna Circuit

    $80 “America the Beautiful” Pass a mistake

    UPDATE: I was surprised to see GetOutdoors approve of the new pass, pleased with the simplification of pricing.

    I disagree.

    Even the name reminds me of “Enduring Freedom” — an over-the-top Bush-linked euphemism destined to be the sad punch line of a joke one day.

    If you are following the storm of controversy over the US National Park pass price increase from $50 to $80 / year, this is the best, most focused piece I’ve seen yet.

    It’s written by Scott Silver, commenting on an article in the current edition of High Country News.

    Numbers of visitors to Parks is in decline. Why increase the price now?

    I’m with you Scott.

    Wild Wilderness – Time for truth about park visitation – Scott Silver


    (via GOAT)

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