Taking a Vacation at the Lake – On the Cheap

This week I reached Lake Baikal while playing ExerBeat. This is a lake that's in Siberia and is so enormous that it holds twenty percent of the world's fresh water! That's pretty hard to imagine. A friend of mine from Hungary says it helps to visualize the Grand Canyon. Pretend someone filled it with water and dropped it off in Siberia. That's a lot of water and it makes me want to escape the DC summer by heading off to my local lake for a vacation. But summer rentals are expensive, so taking advantage of our National Park system is an excellent choice.

It's super hot where I live, reaching a heat index of 109 last week, but in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon the summers max out at eighty degrees and are happier in the sixties range. If this sounds like your cup of tea you may want to stay for a bit. You can camp or take advantage of one of the two lodges. Hiking can take you to a secret waterfall, which sounds like loads of fun, or, if you're really missing Harry Potter you can go on the Wizard Island hike and try to catch your own personal wizard. Be sure to download the latest edition of the Crater Lake Park Newspaper before your visit so you can plan accordingly. http://www.nps.gov/crla/parknews/newspaper.htm

If you're looking for about a million things to do, including keeping a sharp eye out for cougars, which haven't been seen in several years, you'll want to go to the Lower Michigan Peninsula and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. Not only is the park on the shores of Lake Michigan but it is also home to 21 inland lakes. http://www.nps.gov/slbe/planyourvisit/inlandlakes.htm There are beaches and dune climbs, including a handicapped accessible trail that is a little under a mile, and there are two rivers; the Platte and the Crystal. You can rent canoes, kayaks and tubes and enjoy a lazy day on the river or you can use them on the inland lakes or even go kayaking on Lake Michigan. http://www.nps.gov/slbe/planyourvisit/kayak.htm There are several camping options which range from a hookup for your RV on the shores of the lake to backpacking to a camping area after taking a ferry to an island. That sounds awesome. http://www.nps.gov/slbe/planyourvisit/campgrounds.htm

If you feel like some kayaking or canoeing and you're in Washington or Oregon you might want to visit Netul Landing, Fort Clatsop, Lewis and Clark National Historical Park where Thursday through Monday you can take advantage of free tours until September 5, 2011. You must make reservations in advance. http://www.nps.gov/findapark/event-listing.htm?eventID=421529 If some of your party doesn't like water they can take advantage of one of the many hikes available. http://www.nps.gov/lewi/planyourvisit/outdooractivities.htm Note: some of the plants in the Saddle Mountain State Natural Area predate the most recent Ice Age.

Acadia National Park in Maine features two beaches, one called Sand Beach which offers ocean swimming and the other called Echo Lake Beach, which is on the West side of Mount Desert Island. You can also go tidepooling, which was one of my favorite pursuits when I was a little kid.

The park offers tons of other things to do including fishing, boating and horseback riding. There is an extensive web of trails that are accessible via either carriage rides or you can bring your own horse (and pack animal, including alpacas!) and explore the trails on your own. Wildwood stables has a horse camp for those who bring their horses and they run the carriage rides.

There are two regular campgrounds as well as the campground at Wildwood for those traveling with their stock animals. Complete information can be found here: http://www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm.

Acadia National Park has a fantastic service called Island Explorer. This is a free bus system that stops at various campgrounds and hotels and parts of the park. It also goes to the airport, so if you fly in you don't need a car at all. Your pass to the park covers this service, which helps keep traffic and pollution down. http://www.nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/bus.htm

Finally the Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Missouri is pretty amazing and, according to the website, America's first national park area to protect a wild river system. There are almost too many things to do. There are two beautiful rivers, which offer fantastic canoeing opportunities. As we speak the caves that are accessible via the river are not open so you must stay out of them, no matter how tempting. Some of them do not appear to be closed and may not have gates but they closed to protect the bats from an extremely lethal disease. Hopefully this drastic measure will help the bat population.

The park does have two open caves, Devil's Well and Round Spring Cavern. http://www.nps.gov/ozar/naturescience/cave.htm You can take lantern tours of Round Spring Cavern but it looks as though you are on your own with the Devil's Well. Mu ha ha ha ha ha.

There's plenty of camping (be prepared for the possibility of bears) as well as hiking, fishing, biking, horseback riding and stargazing. There are trout and bass and more information about hunting and fishing can be found here: http://www.nps.gov/ozar/planyourvisit/hunting-fishing.htm.

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is from Kate Beaton. Her latest Hark, a Vagrant features her teen characters, with a new addition, Vanessa the cranky reporter. http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=313 Vanessa isn't about to take crap from a couple of wall leaning slackers. She's hilarious and I'd love to be her sidekick.