30 AUG 2019: With US parks “bulging” at the seams (not unlike many other global sites favoured by tourists) a federal government site, by its very nature, can help, says an organization rep. The site – recreation.gov – was designed as a one-stop shop to help travellers (and travel agents) research, plan, share and safeguard their experiences at America’s public lands, waterways and monuments, in part by providing useful information and tips and “removing obstacles” – such as redirecting visitors to lesser-known and less-crowded sites.

“Instead of going to Zion (National Park in Utah), go to Grand Staircase, it’s not overvisited,” says spokesperson Christina Williamson.

“There are 10 alternatives to camping in Yosemite,” she continues, pointing out just some of the types of useful information the site provides. “The site is not just about major attractions, it’s also about hidden gems.”

Boasting 20 million users, the site has been “re-imagined” this year, Janelle Smith of the US Forest service told Travel Industry Today at the recent IPW travel trade conference in Anaheim, adding that while the resource brings together the resources of 12 US government agencies ranging from the National Park Service to the Fish and Wildlife Service, it’s like a “insiders look” at how to plan a trip. “The information is coming directly from the (facility) managers… It’s like them giving advice to their friends and family,” she says.

In addition to a wide range of useful and inspirational information on over 100,000 sites and activities, from photographs and stories to FAQs and safety tips provided by “dedicated staff,” there is a “Build a Trip” route planning tool and extensive library of travel guides.

“Discover which parks, forests, lakes, museums, and areas managed by federal agencies offer recreation opportunities near you or your destination,” says the site.

Recreation.gov enables users to conduct their own research, ranging from finding the best time to travel to safe campfire practices. Visitors can “pair” wildlife refuges with national parks, discover lesser-known campgrounds, top fishing spots, great lakes, rivers for canoeing, kayaking and whitewater rafting, and hiking and mountain biking trails – as well as suggesting alternatives to overcrowded spots.

Users can also enter requisite permit lotteries for various experiences, such as the Denali Park Road Lottery in Alaska, which permits draw winners to purchase a single day-long permit that allows them “to drive as much of the Park Road as weather allows” on specific days in September.

Smith points out that Recreation.gov is an ideal tool for travel counsellors and wholesalers in designing programs for their clients, particularly such features as map interfaces and the multi-day trip planning tools. Agents can also make advanced reservations at more than 60,000 attractions and facilities, including campsites, cabins and yurts (but not hotels) – all in service of enabling visitors to “experience authentic wild and cultural places that will always leave you wanting more.”

And Canadians shouldn’t be shy about logging on, Smith says. “Canada is the largest user outside the US,” she says. “It really is a trip planner for them too.”

To check out the site, go to Recreation.gov.

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Michael Baginski

Editor, Mike Baginski is well known and well respected within the industry across Canada, the US, in the Caribbean, Mexico and numerous other destinations outside North America.

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