5 Lesser Known National Parks to Visit for the 100th Anniversary

Happy birthday, National Parks! The US National Park Service (NPS) is celebrating its centennial today! To celebrate along with them, we’ve been working on a whole series on our National Parks. We started with the Top Ten National Parks to visit based on number of visitors, and now we’re pleased to share our favorite of the lesser known National Parks. We hope this inspires you to get outdoors and plan a trip to see a new park!

5 Lesser Known National Parks- www.afriendafar.com #nationalparks #us

 

 

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Stephanie grew up road-tripping across the U.S., but her first flight was to Australia, and she’s been hooked ever since. She lived abroad in Thailand, where she met Meagan, and in Ghana with Peace Corps and has been to over 30 countries on 6 continents. She travels for the adventure, the stories, and nature.

Top 10 National Parks to Visit for the 100th Anniversary

This year the National Park Service (NPS) is celebrating its centennial! On August 25, 2016 the NPS turns 100. To celebrate we’re doing a national park post series and starting with the top ten national parks to visit based on number of visitors. Stephanie’s on a quest to go to all the national parks and has been to eight of the ones on this list. Enjoy these ideas of which top 10 national parks to visit for the 100th anniversary!

Top 10 National Parks to Visit- www.afriendafar.com #nationalparks #nps #centennial

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Stephanie grew up road-tripping across the U.S., but her first flight was to Australia, and she’s been hooked ever since. She lived abroad in Thailand, where she met Meagan, and in Ghana with Peace Corps and has been to over 30 countries on 6 continents. She travels for the adventure, the stories, and nature.

The Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island

Where History, Nature, and Luxury Meet

The magnificent Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island is more than a romantic coastal getaway. It’s a classic Southern destination. It’s an opportunity to enjoy Georgia’s coast at a slower pace. And it’s a chance to take a step back into another era.

Cumberland Island overflows with natural history as well as stories of America’s past, and those continue at The Greyfield Inn.  As soon as you step off the boat and are guided toward the old Carnegie home, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped into a Southern Living magazine. You’ll find yourself wondering how long you can possibly stay before you really have to return home, and you’ll be in good company – everyone else is wondering the same thing. There are few inns that offer such an exceptional experience. This, friends, is how you vacation.

The Greyfield Inn - Cumberland Island Vacation Guide - www.AFriendAfar.com

For more on visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore, you can see our full guide here.

Cumberland Island Vacation Guide - www.AFriendAfar.com

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Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.

Cumberland Island Vacation Guide

Cumberland Island National Seashore is one of our absolute favorite places in Georgia! Pristine beaches, wild horses, and a mansion in ruin are a few highlights of why we love this place! If you’re a nature lover like we are, look no further for your next unique beach destination.

Cumberland Island Vacation Guide - A Friend Afar

Nature on Cumberland Island

There’s a whole lot of the natural world to see on Cumberland Island. It’s Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier Island; in fact, it’s almost twice the size of the island of Manhattan! Cumberland Island hosts a variety of wildlife, and you’ll see numerous species even on a short day trip. The island is famous for its wild horse population. They tend to congregate in areas where there’s grass, so it’s not unusual to see them near the ruins and houses. The population of horses is usually between 150 and 200, so it’s very likely you’ll also see them along paths or in the sand dunes. You might also run into armadillos, rattlesnakes, white-tailed deer, wild boars and turkeys, and even the occasional alligator, not to mention all of the birds! We’ve even seen dolphins on the ferry ride over there, so don’t forget your camera! [Note: Keep a healthy distance from the wild horses. The photos below are an exception as this young horse near Greyfield Inn came up to us! We let her nibble on our sleeves a bit, but then we gave her some space.]

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Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.

The Historic Spencer House Inn and St. Marys, Georgia

For our February trip of our Take 12 Trips Challenge, we began our weekend away at the Historic Spencer House Inn in St. Marys, Georgia. St. Marys is the perfect coastal town to use as a base for not only exploring Cumberland Island National Seashore (since the park ferry departs from the port) but also other surrounding areas including Savannah, the Golden Isles, Fernandina Beach, Jacksonville and even St. Augustine.  At  a little over a 5-hour drive from Atlanta, an hour and 45 minutes from Savannah, and 45 minutes from Jacksonville, it’s a great long weekend destination.

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The Historic Spencer House Inn

The Spencer House Inn was built in 1872 and was known as one of the finest hotels in all of southeast Georgia. It operated as a hotel until 1942 when it changed ownership and was run as a rooming house. In the 1980s it was renovated and used as a professional building until 1990 when it was restored again and preserved as the Historic Spencer House Inn. The current owners, Mary and Mike Neff,  took over in 1995!

The Historic Spencer House Inn
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Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.

National Parks in Florida

After hitting Miami, one of the highlights of our most recent trip was visiting two national parks in Florida! We went to Dry Tortguas National Park as a day trip from Key West, and it was easily our favorite excursion of the entire vacation. Then we also explored part of the Everglades, another amazing national park in Florida. Everglades is a vast park so we were already talking about our next visit via another entrance.National Parks in Florida- Dry Tortguas- www.afriendafar.com #drytortugas #florida

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Stephanie grew up road-tripping across the U.S., but her first flight was to Australia, and she’s been hooked ever since. She lived abroad in Thailand, where she met Meagan, and in Ghana with Peace Corps and has been to over 30 countries on 6 continents. She travels for the adventure, the stories, and nature.

A Quick Guide to National Historical Parks

One of my favorite places to visit in the US is anywhere in the National Park System! There are 58 National Parks, 10 Seashores, 4 Parkways, 78 Monuments, 78 Historic Sites, 25 Battlefields, and 49 Historical Parks. In case you’re curious like I was, a national historical park differs from the rest because it is an area of historic and natural features with more than a single property or building. I’ve been to two such parks and highly recommend both of them!

Chaco Culture

A Quick Guide to National Historic Parks- Chaco Culture- www.afriendafar.com #newmexico #chacocultture

After attending the amazing Balloon Fiesta, we took a day trip out to Chaco Culture National Historical Park. It’s about a 3 hour drive from Albuquerque and is quite remote. Once you turn off the main highway, there is a 13 mile stretch of unpaved road that you drive on before arriving at the entrance to the park. We first learned about Chaco Culture from a family member who visited during a business trip to New Mexico, and we were amazed by his pictures. While researching more about the history of Chaco Culture, I kept finding it on lists of important ruins with the likes of Tikal, Petra, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, and more! Done! We’re going there!

A Quick Guide to National Historic Parks- Chaco Culture- www.afriendafar.com #newmexico #chacocultture

About the history…Chaco Canyon was home to Pueblo people from 850 to 1250 and was the center of Chacoan culture in the San Juan Basin. They constructed great stone houses using masonry with hundreds of rooms. It is an amazing site to see because of its architecture, planned construction, and community organization. It is thought that the canyon held a relatively small permanent population with most of its infrastructure in existence for people who came for special events (ceremonial, commerce, trading). Today many Southwest Native American people consider Chaco to be a sacred place.

A Quick Guide to National Historic Parks- Chaco Culture- www.afriendafar.com #newmexico #chacocultture

During the drive to the site, we passed cattle grazing, old windmills, and abandoned structures. In certain times of the year there can be flooding, so it’s important to check weather conditions. We stopped by the Visitor’s Center to pay our entrance fee and get a park map. The nine-mile Canyon Loop drive takes you by the six major sites. The first one we stopped at was the unexcavated Hungo Pavi, followed by Pueblo Bonito, and last, Casa Rinconada. Each stop has self-guided trail brochures which contain a ton of great information so you understand the history of the sites. Some of the common architectural features include the circular kivas which were rooms used for religious ceremonies. Pueblo Bonito is absolutely not to be missed because it was the center of the complex, the largest great house, has been excavated, and is the most researched. The masonry of the site is so impressive! The Great Kiva at Casa Rinconada is much larger and deeper than the regular kivas and is pretty amazing to see.

A Quick Guide to National Historic Parks- Chaco Culture- www.afriendafar.com #newmexico #chacocultture

The park is one of only 4 sites in the NPS with the Dark Sky distinction and I would love to go back to camp and stargaze!

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau

A Quick Guide to National Historic Parks- Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau- www.afriendafar.com #hawaii #nationalhistoricpark

If you’re planning a trip to the Big Island, on the way to or from Kona and Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, consider a stop at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park. Another name for this historical park is City of Refuge because until 1819 defeated warriors during war times or Hawaiians who broke a taboo could flee death by coming to this place of refuge. Once inside the great walls of the refuge, no harm would come their way, and a priest would absolve the person in a purification ceremony. It was also the royal grounds of the chief of Kona. The complex contains archeological sites including temples and well preserved carved wooden images. The main site of Hale o Keawe, contains the bones of the chiefs that help make the site sacred and is surrounded by the largest concentration of wooden carvings in the site. You can also play a traditional game that’s like checkers/chess and watch various cultural demonstrations! One of the many reasons I love Hawaii is for its history and culture which come alive while visiting sites like this one. The area is also known for excellent diving and snorkeling if you’re looking for places to enjoy those activities. Fun fact: this site makes up the background in the Where in the World is Carmen San Diego game when in Hawaii.

A Quick Guide to National Historic Parks- Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau- www.afriendafar.com #hawaii #nationalhistoricpark

Have you been to any national historical parks? Tell us about it in the comments below! Let us know about any other parks you’ve been to as well.

We’ve linked up with Weekend Wanderlust,
The Weekly Postcard, and Weekend Travel Inspiration!

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Stephanie grew up road-tripping across the U.S., but her first flight was to Australia, and she’s been hooked ever since. She lived abroad in Thailand, where she met Meagan, and in Ghana with Peace Corps and has been to over 30 countries on 6 continents. She travels for the adventure, the stories, and nature.
joshua tree feature

Two National Parks of the West: Joshua Tree & Hawaii Volcanoes

As our dedicated readers have realized by now, I am quite enamored with the National Parks of the US. In fact I have a goal to visit them all! If you missed it, there was an earlier post on National Parks and Seashores of the East as well as Camping Out West. To celebrate the 99th birthday of the National Park Service (can’t wait for the 100th), I’m bringing you more inspiration about a couple of National Parks of the West. Our country is so beautiful so hopefully this post inspires you to add at least one more park to your list.

National Parks of the West- www.afriendafar.com #joshuatree #hawaiivolcanoes #nationalparks

Joshua Tree National Park

National Parks of the West- www.afriendafar.com #joshuatree #USnationalparks

Joshua Tree National Park wasn’t really on my radar until last year when my husband and I were deciding where to travel on a long weekend trip. It’s only a two hour drive from LA and 45 minutes from Palm Springs, but you feel like you’re a world away from civilization once you get out in the desert. Joshua Trees are so named because they reminded early Mormon settlers of the prophet, with their branches raised heavenward. You’ll also see yuccas and ocotillos in this meeting place of the Mojave and Sonora deserts. We entered the park via the Southern entrance at Cottonwood Visitor Center and were instantly amazed by the vast desert scenes along the stretch we first drove.  Our first stop at Cholla Cactus Garden introduced us to cholla, which look like you’d want to hug them, but don’t try!

Joshua Tree- National Parks of the West- www.afriendafar.com #joshuatree #USnationalparks

Most of the scenic stops are concentrated on Park Boulevard and include Jumbo Rocks, Keys View, and the one-mile Hidden Valley loop trail. There’s plenty to do including hiking, biking, and rock climbing. Don’t miss the short Skull Rock Trail near Jumbo Rocks, where you’ll see the famous rock that looks like a skull, or the sunset, which is pretty spectacular in the desert. Make sure you plan your visit during the cooler period (October-May) and bring lots of water since it’s the desert, and cell phone signal is hard to come by.

Hawai’i VolcanoES National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes- www.afriendafar.com #hawaii #volcanoes

My husband and I honeymooned in Hawaii in October 2013, and one of the main reasons I chose the Big Island over Kauai was a desire to go see a volcano! Because of the government shutdown, it was touch and go for a while as to whether the park would be open during our stay, so you can imagine my immense relief when it reopened! It absolutely did not disappoint. I loved seeing the fumes from the lava during the day, but the highlight was to see the lava glow from the vent within Halema’uma’u Crater at night from the Jaggar Museum. Driving Crater Rim and Chain of Craters roads through the park allows you to see all the different scenery available in the park- from the caldera to the desert and more.

Hawaii Volcanoes- National Parks of the West- www.afriendafar.com #hawaii #volcanoes

My favorite activity was hiking the 4 mile Kīlauea Iki loop trail which takes you through a rain forest and then onto the crater floor where you find a lava lake, steam vents, cinder and spatter cones. Many people do the national park as a day trip from Kona, Hilo or elsewhere on the island but we really enjoyed our stay in the town of Volcano, and because of the weather (lots of rain), it afforded us the opportunity to enter the park multiple times.

Which of the two parks in today’s post sound most interesting to you? Any recommendations on which national park of the West I should visit next?

Stephanie grew up road-tripping across the U.S., but her first flight was to Australia, and she’s been hooked ever since. She lived abroad in Thailand, where she met Meagan, and in Ghana with Peace Corps and has been to over 30 countries on 6 continents. She travels for the adventure, the stories, and nature.

National Parks and Seashores of the East in the US

There’s something about summer that makes me want to plan a domestic trip where I spend most of the time in the great outdoors. Last time I wrote about National Parks I focused on camping trips to parks out West. But the Eastern part of the US also has amazing national parks and seashores that are completely worth exploring.

National Parks and Seashores of the East- Cades Cove - www.afriendafar.com #greatsmokymountains

National Parks

National Parks and Seashores of the East- Cataloochee - www.afriendafar.com #greatsmokymountains #cataloochee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the first national parks I ever had the pleasure of visiting. Cades Cove and Cataloochee are two of my favorite areas in the park because of the wildlife viewing opportunities, including deer, elk and bears, and their campgrounds. The park also has excellent hiking, biking, horseback riding, waterfalls, and historic buildings to see. If you love the mountains, start planning your trip to this park. As an added bonus, this is one of few parks that is absolutely free to visitors! [Great Smoky photos by Laura Brown]

National Parks and Parkways of the East- Acadia Sunrise- www.afriendafar.com #maine #acadianp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acadia National Park in Maine is such a unique and stunning park. Being from the Southern US, I love the rocky beaches of the park but of course found the water too cold for my taste. Acadia is perfect for camping in the summer since it stays cool, but Bar Harbor and other nearby communities also have other lodging options. You can wake up literally at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain, which is the first place in the US to the see the sun each day (though technically it changes depending on the season). Other activities include hiking, biking and boating. I’m sure the leaves are gorgeous in the fall, but I’ve only been during the summer. [Acadia photo from Mainethingstodo.com]

National Parks and Seashores of the East- Skyline Drive from Bearfence Mountain- www.afriendafar.com #shenandoahnationalpark #virginiaisforlovers

Shenandoah National Park is easily reached from Washington DC if you want to make a side trip while visiting our nation’s capital. Although, there’s enough to see to warrant it’s own trip as well! There’s plenty of adventure awaiting you along Skyline Drive, the 109 mile scenic roadway that runs the length of the park. Across from the Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center on Milepost 51, Big Meadows is perfect for rambling around and viewing wildlife. There are a lot of hikes in varying levels of difficulties, including Bearfence Rock Scramble and Viewpoint at Milepost 56.4, which affords you 360 degree views of the Blue Ridge mountains.

National Parks and Seashores of the East- Cape Hatteras National Seashore- www.afriendafar.com #capehatterasnp #outerbanks

National Seashores

National Parks and Seashores of the East- Hatteras Lighthouse- www.afriendafar.com #capehatterasnp #outerbanks

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks and consists of three barrier islands: Bodie Island, Hatteras Island, and Ocracoke Island. The pristine beaches, fun lighthouse climbs, and hiking trails with wildlife viewing are all big draws. I have many fond childhood memories camping there with my family. There are four campgrounds to choose from and other lodging options outside the park.

The northern entrance of the national seashore is in Nags Head, NC, while the southern entrance is in Okracoke and can only be reached by ferry. The ferry between Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands are free while the ferries between Okracoke to the mainland require reservations. Riding the ferry is one of my favorite parts of the Outer Banks experience!

National Parks and Seashores of the East- Cumberland Island Campground- www.afriendafar.com #capehatterasnp #outerbanks

Cumberland Island National Seashore is my favorite beach in my home state. No cars are allowed on the barrier island, so you must take a pedestrian ferry that leaves from St. Mary’s, Georgia. Most people go to Cumberland Island as a day trip, but if you like camping, the gorgeous Sea Camp Campground is pretty amazing with its stunning shade from the live oaks that lean away from the beach. Try to make reservations well in advance since it’s a popular place, and keep in mind that you do have to pack all supplies in and out. There’s also wilderness camping available if you like backpacking.

Once on the island, you can either walk or rent bicycles from the ferry company. The beach is beautiful and unspoiled with white sand and decent waves for bodysurfing. The best part of the island is seeing the wild horses and the Dungeness ruins. The first Dungeness was built by Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene’s widow, while the second Dungeness was built by the Carnegies on the original foundation but burned down in 1959. Plum Orchard Mansion is gorgeously preserved in Georgian Revival style and is open Thursday to Monday. Cumberland Island made the news in 1996 when John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette were married in the First African Baptist Church in the Settlement, which is one site I’ve yet to see. Guess that means I’d better plan a trip back to the island soon! [Cumberland Island photos by Laura Brown]

Planning Tip

If you’re visiting multiple parks during the year, think about buying the $80 annual pass! Also check out my posts 2 National Parks of the West to Visit, Camping Out West in the US,  and A Quick Guide to National Historical Sites for more inspiration on which parks to visit.

Stephanie grew up road-tripping across the U.S., but her first flight was to Australia, and she’s been hooked ever since. She lived abroad in Thailand, where she met Meagan, and in Ghana with Peace Corps and has been to over 30 countries on 6 continents. She travels for the adventure, the stories, and nature.

What to Do on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula

Spring is here. Summer’s on the way, and Stephanie has been doing an amazing job of introducing us to Cuba. While we’re on the subject of exciting summer vacation destinations, here’s a very different one to put on your bucket list:

Alaska

It’s a place that holds a very special place in my heart and my heritage. My great-grandparents moved there long ago while they were working for the U.S. State Department, back when it was still just a territory. My grandparents still live there for part of the year, and it’s the setting for most of the family stories I’ve heard my whole life.

If you’re planning your summer vacation, and you’re looking for something a little different, I can’t recommend Alaska enough. I’ve convinced numerous friends to visit. Some have cruised, some have explored on land, and one time my family and I camped all over the state. There is so much to see, but I want to tell you about my favorite region: the Kenai Peninsula.

Lake Kenai

Fireweed blooms along Kenai Lake in the Chugach National Forest.

First of all, you should know this important detail about me: while I live for the water and the wind in my hair, I am an advocate of spending as much time on land in Alaska as possible. Alaskan cruises are immensely popular, and cruise lines have dozens of opportunities for on-shore excursions, and you should take full advantage of those! My best experiences and my most intimate explorations have taken place on land. I love kayaking, whale-watching tours, and rafting, but having to stop the car for a grizzly bear to cross the street, climbing rocky cliffs for a closer view of dall sheep, watching moose wander through the yard, and watching puffins, sea otters, and bald eagles mosey around the docks have been my most intimate wildlife encounters. If you’re planning on taking a cruise, you’re going to have a wonderful time; just make sure to spend as much time as you can on smaller boats and on-shore excursions. There’s nothing like walking along the coast during low tide and finding all of the brightly-colored starfish that you’d expect to see in the tropics. Don’t skip the whale-watching tour, though. Never skip the whale-watching tour.

Pod of Orcas in Resurrection Bay

Pod of Orcas in Resurrection Bay

Now that we’re better acquainted, let me tell you about my favorite place: Seward. My grandparents have a home just north of Seward in the appropriately named town of Moose Pass. Seward is not to be missed. In fact, if you’re flying into Anchorage, you can take the iconic Alaskan Railroad to get there. It’s a beautiful ride along Turnagain Arm and through the Chugach mountain range.

There is something truly magical about places where the tallest mountains jut straight out from the sea. It’s a different world than most of us are used to, and it reminds us of what a tiny space we take up in this world. Better than that, it reminds us of how much we have yet to explore!

Seward Marina

It may be the Land of the Midnight Sun in the summer, but that doesn’t make dawn on the water any less enchanting.

Whale-Watching Tours

The marina in Seward is my family’s favorite place to begin a day on the water. Resurrection Bay, with its snow-capped peaks, glaciers, and comparatively calm waters is the perfect place to watch bald eagles nest and a raft of sea otters float past. I am particularly a fan of the Kenai Fjords tour company. Spend a half or full day on their boats and venture out of Resurrection Bay into the deeper, rougher waters of the Gulf of Alaska to spot orcas and humpback whales. Venturing deeper into the fjords allows for up close views of calving glaciers, seals on tiny icebergs, and large colonies of steller sea lions and bright arctic puffins on rocky crags.

Alaska SeaLife Center

Alaska SeaLife Center

Is she seriously telling us to go inside to an aquarium when we could be outside? Why, yes. I am. The Alaska SeaLife Center is not only an aquarium, but also a major ocean wildlife research, rescue and rehabilitation center. Their exhibits are very, very well designed and extremely educational. Their wildlife are all creatures that you’ll see in the area, including many that you won’t realize are on the bottom of the sea. They have small tidal pools filled with coral, sea urchins, and other bottom-dwellers that you can touch.

If you like a little extra education on your vacation, and especially if you’re concerned about Alaska’s environment and wildlife, take a behind the scenes tour. You’ll get to see the animals that are currently in rehabilitation as well as the labs where scientists are watching shorebirds and sea lions via cameras on rugged islands. They’ll explain their work to you, and you’ll leave with a greater understanding of your surroundings and maybe even a new calling!

Exit Glacier

Exit Glacier

Exit Glacier

It wouldn’t be a trip to Alaska without glaciers and a nice hike. Whether you’re an experienced hiker ready for bears or relatively new to the outdoors scene, this is a great, short hike. Stop by the visitor’s center for a little information on the area, and then head through the woods, over the streams, and past the dark grey glacial plain to the edge of the brilliantly blue Exit Glacier. Exit Glacier is part of the Harding Icefield in the Kenai Fjords National Park, and more experienced hikers will really enjoy the 8.2 mile trail that travels further into the Icefield.

Warm up with some local flavor!

There’s one last little spot that I want to highlight in Seward, and that’s my favorite place to warm up: Resurrect Art Coffee House and Art Gallery. It’s located in a beautiful church that was built in 1916 and converted to a coffee shop in 1993. It’s a cozy and cheerful place to relax with a great drink and snack. They also showcase some great local art, if you’re looking for a souvenir.

There is so much to see and do in Alaska! Thank you for dropping by to check out a few of my favorite places on the Kenai Peninsula. I’ll leave you with these adorable sea otters. If the pictures above didn’t put Alaska on your bucket list, I bet these whiskered faces will!

Sea Otters

Sea Otters!

 


This post is in memory of my father, Mark, who passed his love for Alaska and adventure on to his family.

Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.