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Staggering glaciers, rushing water begging for rafts, towering ice-capped mountains and a sanctuary for rare wildlife: This isn’t Alaska we’re talking about, it’s Canada. Located in the extreme southwestern corner of Yukon, Kluane National Park and Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site not found on as many travel wishlists as Denali or Glacier National Park, but just as worthy. Renowned for its icefield landscapes (mountains and glaciers constitute 82 percent of the park), it’s home to Mount Logan, the highest mountain in Canada, and close to 105 species of birds including the golden and bald eagles.

If we haven’t incited some wanderlust in you yet, check out this gorgeous 23-minute short film from Parks Canada featuring Cory Trepanier, a Canadian artist and filmmaker best known for his landscape paintings of Canadian wilderness.

“TrueWild, A Legacy for Canada’s National Parks” is a multi-year wilderness legacy project lead by Trepanier with the intent to engage the public in the beauty of Canada’s natural landscapes through fine art. The expedition in Kluane is the first of many projects Trepanier hopes to take part in, filming and painting his country’s surroundings as he goes.

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

shenandoah national park virginia autumn fallAs we enter day two of the limited U.S. government shutdown, so far travelers are mostly unaffected by the congressional deadlock. It’s business as usual at airports and border crossings, and passport applications are still being processed. However, travelers hoping to go leaf-peeping in a national park or visit the Smithsonian museums are out of luck.

All national parks, monuments, historic sites and other properties run by the National Park Service are closed (and you can’t even access their websites) during the shutdown. And this doesn’t just affect sites in the U.S. — the Normandy American Cemetery in France will also be closed for the duration of the shutdown, along with other overseas properties run by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

State parks are a good alternative to consider for those seeking hiking trails, outdoor recreation and scenic landscapes while the national parks are closed. Thrillist has put together a list of state parks near popular national properties such as Yellowstone, Zion and Acadia.

If the shutdown continues, travelers may start to see a slowdown at airports and ports as more employees may be furloughed or those who are covering for furloughed employees begin to burn out. Already, one third of the Federal Aviation Administration’s workforce has been furloughed, the (Newark) Star-Ledger reports. FAA officials said the furloughs have so far not affected daily flight operations or safety.

A spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, told the Star-Ledger that staffing at airport security checkpoints will not be reduced. At cruise ports and border patrol checkpoints, U.S. Customs and Border Control will most likely be unaffected, as “they have been deemed law enforcement necessary or necessary for the safety of life and protection of property,” the CPB states on its website.

For travelers in the process of getting a passport, the longer the shutdown continues the greater the chance the passport won’t come. At the moment, passport services are functioning as normal with a processing time of up to four weeks for routine applications and two weeks for expedited service. For some people, though, actually picking up their passport could already be a problem as any passport agency located in a government building affected by the shutdown “may become unsupported,” the Department of State wrote on its website.

10 Things Not to Wear When Traveling Abroad

The Department of State will continue to provide emergency services as necessary to U.S. citizens overseas.

Has your trip been affected by the shutdown?

— written by Dori Saltzman and Sarah Schlichter

Long shadows flickered before me as I walked through the dank, subterranean passages of Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave. During my recent two-hour Historic Tour, I crouched and twisted my way through the cramped alleys of Fat Man’s Misery, checked out a massive block of rock aptly dubbed Giant’s Coffin, and faced the gaping maw known as the Bottomless Pit.

mammoth cave

With more than 365 miles of discovered passageways, Mammoth Cave is the world’s largest cave system, and geologists believe there could be hundreds of miles yet to discover. Compared with caves I’d visited previously, Mammoth felt a little different — and not just because of its size. “It feels like walking through a big salt mine,” said my travel companion after we’d hiked more than an hour without seeing a single stalactite or hearing the trickle of water seeping down the limestone walls.

But this is a good thing, our National Park Service guide told us, at least for the future longevity of the cave. Mammoth does have some water-carved formations such as stalagmites and stalactites, but much of the cave system is actually sheltered from water by a “roof” of sandstone, which keeps it dry and protected.

historic entrance mammoth cave

Mammoth may not have the exquisitely colored formations that draw visitors to other caves, but it does have a fascinating history. Back in the 1800’s, African-American slaves were among Mammoth’s first tour guides and explorers. (Visit the cave’s Web site, NPS.gov/maca, to learn more.) I was particularly drawn to the story of Stephen Bishop, who began guiding visitors at age 17 and later was the first person to cross the Bottomless Pit and chart the previously undiscovered passageways beyond. After nearly two decades in the caves, Bishop was given his freedom — but he died the following year.

mammoth cave national park fall foliage trees

After you emerge, squinting, from the cool darkness underground, don’t forget to enjoy the other half of Mammoth’s ecosystem. Visitors can soak up some sun and fresh air on a network of wooded hiking trails.

The 10 Best National Parks

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every Monday, we’ll post the answer to the previous week’s Photo Friday quiz. Play along with future photo guessing games by subscribing to our blog (top right).

The correct answer to last week’s Photo Friday guessing game is Yosemite Falls! At 2,425 feet, it’s the highest of the many waterfalls in California’s Yosemite National Park. It flows from approximately November through July, with its peak in May. Learn more about Yosemite (and see our other favorite parks) in our slideshow of the 10 Best National Parks.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Update, April 8, 3 p.m.: The State Department just announced on its @TravelGov Twitter account that National Passport Day has officially been canceled in light of the potential shutdown.

Update, April 8, 10 a.m.: The Washington Post reports that the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade will still take place if a government shutdown happens. The parade route will be changed as necessary so that National Park Service permits, which would not be valid in the event of a government shutdown, will not be needed.

passport The looming U.S. government shutdown, which is looking more likely by the minute, could spoil your spring travel plans.

United States lawmakers have been postponing passage of the 2011 fiscal year budget, and if Congress doesn’t pass something soon — that is, by midnight Friday — a government shutdown is expected. All “non-essential” government employees would stop working during the shutdown. But some of these employees are absolutely vital to the travel industry.

Among the affected workers would be those employed at U.S. passport agencies. National Passport Day, which was scheduled to take place on Saturday, April 9, will be canceled, and anyone waiting to receive a passport or visa may have to wait longer than expected if a shutdown comes to pass.

For travelers, it gets worse. U.S. national parks, monuments and historic sites won’t be open during a government shutdown. Visitors to Washington D.C. will face particular challenges. As government-run facilities, the Smithsonian Institution museums and the National Zoo will be shuttered. Plus, according to the National Cherry Blossom Festival Web site, a handful of festival events will be canceled or postponed in the face of a shutdown, including the annual Cherry Blossom Parade, which marches down the National Mall (managed by — you guessed it — the National Park Service).

National Park Week kicks off next weekend, from April 16 through 24, during which admission is free at more than 100 national parks. Will it be canceled? Only time will tell. No one can predict the exact length of a possible shutdown, and there’s no way to know the extent to which one’s passport application may be delayed or for how long one may need to postpone that weekend getaway to Yosemite.

Travelers planning spring getaways should prepare for the worst and keep a close eye on trusted news sources. If you’re waiting for your passport to be processed, you can contact the State Department at 1-877-487-2778 or go online to check the status of your application.

Will a potential government shutdown affect your next trip?

— written by Caroline Costello

yosemite half dome reflectionEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: More than 100 of America’s national parks typically charge an entrance fee — but on select dates in 2011, visitors will get in for free. Your best chance to explore is during National Parks Week, which runs April 16 – 24 (that includes two full weekends). The other free dates are the first day of summer (June 21), Public Lands Day (September 24) and Veterans Day weekend (November 11 – 13).

Included in this deal are not only some big-name national parks — such as Acadia, Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon — but also famous battlefields like Vicksburg and Little Big Horn, and historic sites like the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The Catch: Although most of the free days take place outside of the parks’ summer high season, you can expect this deal to draw big crowds, especially if you go on a weekend with nice weather. Arrive as early as possibly to beat the hordes.

The Competition: If you’d like to visit a few national parks in one escorted trip, this summer package from Amtrak Vacations might be right up your alley. Book early and you can save up to $400 off Amtrak’s 11-night Peaks to Pacific package, which includes accommodations, most meals, sightseeing in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, and scenic train travel along the way. With the discount, the package starts at $4,489 per person.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Vacation Package Deals.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every Monday, we’ll post the answer to the previous week’s Photo Friday quiz. Play along with future photo guessing games by subscribing to our blog (top right).

The correct answer to last Friday’s photo guessing game is Acadia National Park, Maine! Pictured is Jordan Pond, one of the most popular areas of the park. Hikers can walk the easy 3.2-mile loop around the pond before rewarding themselves with the famous buttery popovers at Jordan Pond House, the park’s only restaurant. Learn more about Acadia in The 10 Best National Parks.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

During spring, when frozen fields evolve into painterly kaleidoscopes of color, certain destinations shine. While Holland is arguably the most famous spot for flower aficionados, with Provence, France being a close second, there are plenty of domestic destinations that can compete with the big bloomers. Here are a few of our favorite places to see roses and rhododendrons in the U.S., with bonus travel deals to match.

1. Philadelphia International Flower Show

The Philadelphia International Flower Show, the world’s largest indoor display of flowers, is a world-renowned affair (the show is even highlighted in that famous book, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die”). The event takes place each spring at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which transforms into a wild array of eye-popping floral exhibits, featuring everything from fantastical arrangements to full-on gardens brimming with colorful blooms. This year, the theme is “Springtime in Paris,” and the show will take place from March 6 through March 13.

The Deal: The Windsor Suites Philadelphia is currently offering a special flower show package, which includes accommodations, two tickets to the show and breakfast for two, starting at $169 per night.

Philadelphia flower show

2. Yellowstone National Park

Carpets of wild irises, shooting stars, yellow violets, ladies’ tresses and countless other wildflower species take over Yellowstone National Park from May through August (head to the park in June and July to catch the peak). Expect rolling meadows full of flowers and shocks of electric-pink blooms growing from forest floors during late-spring and summer months. Take a ranger-guided hike to learn about Yellowstone’s variety of flowers from a park expert.

The Deal: Parade Rest Guest Ranch, which is located near the Yellowstone park entrance, is currently offering special spring rates for stays from May 20 through June 12.

 Flowers in Yellowstone National Park

3. Portland Rose Festival
Portland, the “City of Roses,” an urban center where pretty gardens seem to sprout on every corner, welcomes spring with its annual Rose Festival. This year’s celebrations take place from the end of May through mid-June. The high point of the whole shebang is the Grand Floral Parade, a must-see frenzy of floats, flowers and music. Other fun events include a rose lighting ceremony with fireworks and a heart-pounding dragon boat race on the Willamette River.

The Deal: The Red Lion Hotel Portland, which is located right on the Grand Floral Parade route, is offering special Rose Festival rates starting at $99 per night.

Portland Rose Festival

4. Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

Vibrant orange, yellow and red blankets of poppies appear in the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, located about a two-hour drive north of Los Angeles, in early spring. Look for blooms to arrive as soon as March. The peak period for viewing eternal fields of flowers generally happens in mid-April. The reserve has eight miles of quiet trails that are perfect for hiking, photography, wildlife spotting and picnicking.

The Deal: When you stay at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Lancaster, California (the city of Lancaster is next to the Poppy Reserve), save 20 percent on your weekend stay.

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

5. National Cherry Blossom Festival
Our nation’s capital transforms into a breathtaking blush-pink panorama of blooming cherry trees each spring. Thousands of trees popping with color near icons like the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial make for stunning photographs. On top of that, the Cherry Blossom Festival features more than 100 performances and events — many of which are free — including guided tours, fireworks and even a 5K run. The festival runs from March 27 through April 11.

The Deal: Book a Cherry Blossom Festival package at the Melrose Hotel and get accommodations, dinner for two and a late check-out with rates starting at $156 per night.

National Cherry Blossom Festival

— written by Caroline Costello