The Florida Keys are a string of coral islands that stretch southwest from the end of the state. They were historically oriented toward the Caribbean, and a center for boat trade and commerce. Key West was the largest town in Florida and the richest per capita in the US. In the early 1900’s, Henry Flagler connected them to the rest of Florida by railroad. Today, 42 bridges connect the archipelago, and many of Flagler’s original bridges have been designated as part of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail for biking, fishing and walking. The Seven Mile Bridge, south of Marathon, was an engineering marvel and the longest in the world when built.
Sitting on the vibrant red rocking chair on the porch of my hotel room at Kennicott Glacier Lodge, I listened. The early morning calls of birds waking the world and the creaks and groans of the shrinking Root Glacier just a stone’s throw from me dominated the otherwise quiet scene. It seemed to me as if this morning show of song and silence was for me and me alone. Any other sound that was occurring in the surrounding expanse of the park’s 13.2 million acres was muffled by the ripening raspberry bushes, trembling aspen groves and deep blue glacial ice.
Hearing the gasps escape the mouth of a Backroads guest as they lay eyes on the iconic summit of Half Dome or the impossibly beautiful Yosemite Falls for the first time never gets old. Although I’ve been visiting and leading trips in Yosemite for many years now, I recently had a “first time” experience that allowed me to see this majestic place with fresh eyes. Just by chance, I had the opportunity to bike the Tioga Pass road to the high country with no traffic. Surrounded by conifers and glowing granite mountains and without a single worry, I realized how fortunate I am to be a part of the Yosemite experience with so many Backroads guests.
There’s something about San Francisco. Something that sets it apart from other major world cities. Is it the natural setting surrounded by indigo Pacific waters? Or the way the hills display the shining city like diamond on their hand? The parade of Victorian pastel houses paired with a riot of street art? The homegrown food scene with its year-round access to fresh local produce and pioneering chefs.
Yellowstone in the winter takes on an entirely different façade. You wander through the main attractions and it’s quiet. You watch the breath of bison erupt from their snouts as they exhale in the freezing weather. The steam rises from the potholes as you listen to the gurgling of the geysers. Red foxes scamper along the roadside, their color popping against the white background. Sights reveal themselves that seem otherworldly. Each time I found myself touring the snowy roads of Yellowstone, I became lost in the beauty of the park.
As a Backroads leader. I rely on books to help connect me more deeply to the social and natural histories I encounter along my hikes and bike rides, which makes each step or pedal stroke feel that much more meaningful. For anyone heading into the open skies west of the Mississippi this summer, here are five terrific reads that will enhance your travel experience.
Everybody loves a great hotel. And we all love that moment of discovery: walking into an elegant lobby or stepping into our luxurious room with a view out the window that reminds us we’re somewhere special–whether it’s a sweeping seascape or a snowcapped mountain peak. I’ve been fortunate to stay at some truly amazing hotels while leading trips for Backroads, and here are seven that stand out.
Hawaii. The paradise of the Pacific. It’s a place that stems jealousy every time you tell someone you’re going. And I get to live and work here. With its tranquil beaches, tropical breezes, exotic fruits and island pace, the Big Island—the youngest of all the islands—embodies all that is Hawaii.
Set in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the world’s most remote island chain, Hawaii is a melting pot of different cultures from around the world. With its rich cultural heritage and diversity, you may hear myriad languages being spoken here. Learning some key phrases in Hawaiian (or Hawaiian pidgin) is a fun way to prepare for your trip to this island paradise!
When I first started working for Backroads, I remember flipping through catalogs, stunned by the photographs of the places we visit. And I remember my eyes lingering a little longer on the page for the Santa Fe & Taos Biking Tour, drawn in by the warm colors of the adobe. So when a friend encouraged me to visit her in New Mexico, I jumped at the chance to explore the Southwest.
Backroads Family Adventures are fun, stimulating trips designed to captivate the whole gang. Whether you’re biking to castles or spotting wildlife from a kayak, you’ll connect with your kids and do things they enjoy in an environment that positively transforms family interaction. Each itinerary balances quality time together and apart, with opportunities for everyone to take a break and recharge–something that’s virtually impossible to achieve when you vacation on your own.
After more than 30 years of running trips in Hawaii, backed by a team of highly experienced Trip Leaders and an amazing network of local experts, we’re just going to say it: you won’t find a more thoroughly researched, carefully designed and seamlessly executed trip on the Big Island – or any of the islands.
My love affair with the national parks began when I was 9 years old. I learned at that young age that the best family memories are the ones where we shared an adventure, where we set off and explored something new and exciting together. Those are the memories of my childhood and of my parents that I still carry with me today.
At Backroads we’re lucky to admire the world from a wide range of elevations. I’ve surveyed the Backroads Trip Leader community and reflected on my own hiking memories to pick seven of the most breathtaking hikes in the United States. Each of these trails offers that “pinch me” scenery and an unforgettable challenge. Plan one a year or one a month! But don’t go without seeing these iconic vistas.