America's Top 10 National Parks - United Hub
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America’s top 10 national parks

By Bob Cooper , August 24, 2016

The more national parks you visit, the harder it becomes to choose a favorite. So in celebration of National Park month in July, we've chosen the very best in each category. Visit any of these 10 gold-medal parks (or our 10 silver-medal picks) and it's likely you will add these to your own list of favorites.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina

Best mountain park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park,Tennessee/North Carolina. The Great Smoky Mountains are molehills compared to the 10,000-plus-foot peaks in Denali, Rocky Mountain, Mount Rainier, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier and Haleakala National Parks. But America's largest national park boasts 800 miles of easier-to-hike low-altitude trails and unpaved roads, including 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Along with its proximity to the East Coast, this helps make it the most visited of all national parks. The tallest peak is Clingmans Dome, topped by an observation tower on the 6,643-foot summit with panoramic views of the coniferous rainforest.

Silver Medal: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Zion National Park in Utah

Best canyon park

Zion National Park, Utah. The multihued canyons of the Southwest are so stunning that nine national parks showcasing their beauty stretch from northern Arizona to southern Utah and Colorado. Grand Canyon is the most famous, but once you've peered into the abyss, there isn't much else to do. There is at Zion, with 18 trails of all difficulty levels, and canyons that are just as “grand." Zion Narrows, for example, which can be explored on foot, is as slim as 20 feet and as tall as 2,000 feet. Viewed at dawn and dusk, Zion's sheer cliffs become rainbows of oranges, reds, purples and tans.

Silver Medal: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho

Best volcanic park

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Montana/Idaho. Geothermal activity is also evident at Hawai'i Volcanoes, Lassen Volcanic and Hot Springs National Parks, but it's hard to beat Yellowstone, America's first national park. It starts with Old Faithful, the world's most famous geyser, which spouts hot-spring water and steam about 140 feet in the air every one to two hours. The park contains half of the world's geysers, plus many “mudpots," steam vents and hot-spring terraces. Add four mountain ranges, wolves, bison, elk and grizzly bears and it's a park erupting with surprises.

Silver Medal: Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii.

Yosemite National Park in California

Best big-rock park

Yosemite National Park, California. Take away the massive granite walls that soar thousands of vertical feet above Yosemite Valley and it would be just another forest —not America's top spot for admiring waterfalls and world-class rock climbers. El Capitan and Half Dome are Yosemite's signature rock faces, while others are bisected by famous waterfalls, like 2,425-foot-high Yosemite Falls and rainbow-swaddled Bridalveil Fall. The park is not all imposing cliffs and thundering falls, though. More than 750 miles of trails snake through Yosemite Valley, up to the falls and in the high country.

Silver Medal: Arches National Park, Utah.

Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky

Best caves park

Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky. Fifty-five trails are found in this park and dozens of species of fish swim its rivers, but a half-million visitors come each year mostly for what's underneath: the world's largest known network of caves, tunneling more than 400 miles. Designated as a World Heritage Site, these caves can be seen on any of five guided tours, ranging from the fully lit, 75-minute Frozen Niagara Tour to the six-hour Wild Cave Tour that involves serious climbing, squeezing and crawling through muddy and dusty passageways wearing headlamps.

Silver Medal: Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico.

Isle Royale National Park in Michigan

Best island park

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan. Who would have guessed you could experience the remote island splendor of Lost, minus the scary drama, in Michigan? Isle Royale, a 45-mile-long roadless wilderness, is 56 miles from Michigan's Upper Peninsula in the middle of Lake Superior. Experience all the solitude you can handle on its 165 miles of hiking trails where moose sightings are common, canoe on inland lakes or kayak in the bays (both can be rented on the island). Scheduled ferry service from Houghton, Michigan, operates through September.

Silver Medal: Virgin Islands National Park, U.S. Virgin Islands.

Saguaro National Park in Arizona

Best desert park

Saguaro National Park, Arizona. The mighty saguaro cactus, the symbol of Arizona, is an amazing plant — it can grow up to 60 feet high, live for up to 200 years, store up to 200 gallons of water and serve as a shelter for birds and provide food for animals. At this two-part national park that flanks the western and eastern edges of Tucson, you can learn more about these majestic cacti at the visitor centers and hike in the midst of thousands of them in rolling hills that reach into the mountains.

Silver Medal: Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska

Best glaciers park

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska. There are glaciers in other national parks in Alaska, Montana and Washington, but few are as accessible as Exit Glacier near Anchorage. Trails from the parking lot lead you right onto the glacier; President Obama hiked one in 2015 as a way to highlight global warming, which has shortened the glacier by more than a mile. Exit is one of dozens of Harding Icefield glaciers in the park, where you may also spot fjords, whales, moose and bears from your rental car, on a boat tour or on the hiking trail.

Silver Medal: Glacier National Park, Montana.

Acadia National Park, Maine

Best coastal park

Acadia National Park, Maine. Mountain hiking trails, bike-friendly carriage roads and trout-filled ponds occupy the interior of this lone national park in the Northeast, but Acadia is best known for its dramatic rocky coastline. The park is spread out on the Schoodic Peninsula and Mount Desert Island, which is accessible by bridge — plus Isle au Haut and some smaller islands which are accessible by ferry. The coast, most of it easily reached on the park's loop roads or from trails that branch off of them, features cliffs, tide pools, seashell-strewn beaches and a birder's paradise of wetlands.

Silver Medal: Olympic National Park, Washington.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco

Best urban recreation park

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California. Besides 59 national parks, the National Park Service manages 18 national recreation areas (plus hundreds of national monuments, historical parks and other national treasures). The GGNRA is a sprawling, shore-hugging park in San Francisco and two neighboring counties that includes the Presidio (a former Army base dating to 1776); numerous beaches on the ocean and San Francisco Bay; rugged Coast Range headlands; and recreational opportunities that include some of the best surfing, windsurfing, mountain biking and day hiking in the West — much of it within sight of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Silver Medal: Gateway National Recreation Area, New York/New Jersey.

If you go

United Airlines flies to these airports nearest our top 10 parks: Knoxville (Great Smoky Mountains), St. George (Zion), Cody/YRA (Yellowstone), Fresno (Yosemite), Louisville (Mammoth Cave), Houghton (Isle Royale), Tucson (Saguaro), Anchorage (Kenai Fjords), Bangor (Acadia) and San Francisco (Golden Gate).

Visit united.com or use the United app to plan your national park getaway.

Marvelous sites to local hideaways: the expert’s guide to Toronto

By Nick Harper

Canada's largest city spreads out along the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, and it's a dynamic, multicultural and inclusive experience like almost no other place on earth. Not only is Toronto a thriving living city,it's also become one of the world's truly must-visit destinations. Regularly ranked as one of the greatest places to live, Toronto is the cultural center of the country and home to the biggest events, the most pro sports and the greatest concentration of theaters and restaurants.

Recent decades have seen regular multi-million-dollar upgrades to the city's public spaces, with a slew of great museums, iconic architecture and the redevelopment of the now glittering lakefront adding to the city's appeal.

Add in an ever-growing number of world-class hotels, upbeat nightlife that runs from dusk until dawn and a vibrant and diverse culinary scene influenced by the eclectic makeup of the city's people. Bright and bustling, cosmopolitan and cultured, unpredictable and energetic, Toronto has become one of the greatest cities on earth.

What you see and where you go will depend on the length of your stay. A week is good, longer is better. But even a long weekend will give you a taste of 'The Six' — one of the city's many nicknames, reworked recently as 'The 6ix' by one of its most famous sons, Drake.

However long you stay, you can't hope to see it all. So, consider what follows a starting point for your first visit…

City Hall, Toronto City Hall, Toronto

The checklist sites

No visit to The Six can be considered complete without ticking off several of Toronto's true heavyweight sights. All of the following are in or within easy reach of the city's compact, walk-able and very vibrant center.

The CN Tower is unmissable in every sense, a vast freestanding spire that looks down upon the city and takes its place as one of the 'Seven Wonders of the Modern World'. Head up for the city's best 360-degree views, or get your heart racing on the EdgeWalk — a journey around the circumference of the tower's main pod, 116 stories high and tethered by a harness.

Back on solid ground, Ripley's Aquarium is almost right next door to the CN Tower and is home to 16,000 aquatic animals and the Dangerous Lagoon. A moving sidewalk that whisks you through a long tunnel surrounded by sharks and stingrays is guaranteed to make your heart race all over again.

Ripleys Aquarium Ripleys Aquarium

Also close to the CN Tower is the Rogers Center, home to Canada's only baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Visit on game day for the full experience, or take the stadium tour to go behind the scenes and through closed doors.

In a city of so many museums and galleries, the Royal Ontario Museum stands out. Not just because it's home to a world-class collection of 13 million artworks, cultural objects and natural history specimens, but as much because it hosts exciting Friday night events that include dance, drink and top DJs.

Two other must ticks include the Art Gallery of Ontario, which houses 95,000 works of art and is free for visitors under 25, and the Hockey Hall of Fame, which taps into Canada's national obsession in stunning depth.

Art Gallery of Ontario Art Gallery of Ontario

Casa Loma is a must-visit Gothic castle in the heart of the city. North America's only castle is filled with artworks and treasures from Canada and beyond, but its big pull is the network of hidden tunnels to explore as they stretch out beneath the city.

Casa Loma Casa Loma

Toronto's multi-cultural makeup is visible all across the city but reflected best in its remarkable culinary scene (see Where to eat and drink). The city's 'fresh and local' mantra is perfectly showcased at St. Lawrence Market, one of the world's greatest food experiences. Pay it a visit and grab a peameal bacon sandwich — a Canadian staple invented in Toronto and now considered the city's signature dish.

St. Lawrence Market St. Lawrence Market

Afterwards, walk off the calories by wandering the historic cobblestone and car-free Distillery District. Once a vast whiskey distillery and an important spot during prohibition, historians mention that even Al Capone would visit the Distillery to load alcohol destined for the States[9] . This iconic landmark now distils creativity within the 19th century buildings now home to hip restaurants, bars, independent boutique stores, galleries and theaters. Visit in December for the Toronto Christmas Market.

Finally, don't even think about returning home without having had a picture taken with your head poking through an 'O' of the multicolored, 3D Toronto sign at City Hall — the most Insta-worthy location in a city of so many. You'll need to head there early in the morning to avoid the crowds.

If you stay long enough, take a ferry and hop across to Toronto Islands, a chain of 15 small islands in Lake Ontario just south of the mainland. They're home to beaches, a theme park and a breathtaking view of the city's skyline and will very happily fill a full day of your stay.

The bucket list

You absolutely cannot leave Toronto without having witnessed the power of the Niagara Falls and its hypnotic mist up close. Trying to visit the Falls from the States is a trip on its own, but it's almost non-optional when you're less than two hours away in Toronto. Take the trip, buy the T-shirt and tick off one of the world's must-see sights.

Explore like a local

Away from the sleek, gleaming towers of downtown lie many of Toronto's less obvious but no less essential attractions. West Queen West is Toronto's hippest neighborhood and artistic heart, a one-mile strip of very chic galleries, stores, restaurants and boutique hotels. Kensington Market is a fantastically chaotic neighborhood and perhaps the best example of the city's famous multiculturalism. It's not a market as the name implies, but a collection of independent shops, vintage boutiques, art spaces, cafés, bars and restaurants from every corner of the globe.

The Bata Shoe Museum is one of the city's quirkiest collections, an unexpectedly fascinating exhibit that retraces the 4,500-year history of footwear. And as you wander the city, you can't fail to notice that Toronto's walls are alive with graffiti. Take a free 90-minute walking tour through the back alleys of Queen Street West and down Graffiti Alley to gain a better understanding of the city's street art scene. If you visit during the sunnier months, escape the hustle by heading just east of the center to High Park, the green heart of the city where forests, walking trails, picnic spots and even a zoo await you. Ideal to unwind after a long day of urban adventures.

The essentials

When to go With the sun shining, May through October is a great time to visit, but the city is alive through all four seasons. The Spring and Autumn months are ideal as the humidity and visitor numbers are lighter, while Toronto comes alive through the colder months through a wide array of winter celebrations. One of the most spectacular is the Aurora Winter Festival, a six-week celebration that sees the Ontario Place, West Island transformed into four mystical worlds. Whichever season you choose, plan to stay for at least five nights to get a true flavor of the city.

Toronto skyline view Toronto skyline view

Where to stay To be at the heart of most of the attractions you'll want to see, aim for downtown. One of the best options is the Marriott City Center, not only because it's located right next to the CN Tower but also because it's attached to the iconic Rogers Center where the Toronto Blue Jays play and countless concerts and popular events are held.

Toronto Blue Jay stadium Toronto Blue Jay stadium

Opt for a Stadium room and you'll look out onto the field. If you want to experience Toronto's non-stop nightlife, the Entertainment District is the place to be. If you're looking for a luxury experience, discover Canada's first St. Regis hotel in the heart of downtown.

Where to eat and drink Nowhere is Toronto's incredible diversity more evident than in its food scene — taste Toronto and you're tasting the world. The city is brimming with restaurants and cafés serving everything from high-end fine dining to comfort food from an informal neighborhood joint — plus every option imaginable in between.

For fine dining, consider Alo, Canis and Edulis. Book a table at Canoe, Lavelle, The One Eighty or 360 at the CN Tower and you're guaranteeing a view as spectacular as the food. Or experience the city's remarkable fusion food at DaiLo (French-Cantonese), El Catrin (Mexican-French) and the unexpected mashup of Rasta Pasta (Jamaican-Italian).

The above suggestions don't even scratch the surface of a food scene to rival any city on earth, with options to suit every taste and any budget.

How to get around Toronto is perfect to explore on foot or via a growing network of cycle routes. For a quicker journey, buy a Presto card to use the TTC, Toronto's subway, streetcar and bus system.

How to get there Fly into Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) with United and you're around 15 miles west of the city center. The most comfortable route in is via the Union Pearson Express, which runs every 15 minutes and gets you downtown in 25 minutes ($13).The TTC is a cheaper option at under $5, but it can take an hour and a half and involves a number of transfers, while a taxi will take around 30 minutes and cost $45.

United flies to Toronto from numerous U.S. cities including our Hub city locations. Book your trip via united.com or by downloading the United app.


Taking action to make a global impact

By The Hub team , January 17, 2020

Following the devastating wildfires in Australia and powerful earthquakes that shook Puerto Rico last week, we're taking action to make a global impact through our international partnerships as well as nonprofit organizations Afya Foundation and ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency).

Helping Puerto Rico recover from earthquakes

Last week, Puerto Rico was hit with a 5.2 magnitude earthquake, following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake it experienced just days before. The island has been experiencing hundreds of smaller quakes during the past few weeks.

These earthquakes destroyed crucial infrastructure and left 4,000 people sleeping outside or in shelters after losing their homes. We've donated $50,000 to our partner charity organization Airlink and through them, we've helped transport disaster relief experts and medical supplies for residents, as well as tents and blankets for those who have lost their homes. Funding will go towards organizations within Airlink's partner network, which includes Habitat for Humanity, Mercy Corps and Americares, to help with relief efforts and long-term recovery.

Australian wildfire relief efforts

Our efforts to help Australia have inspired others to make their own positive impact. In addition to teaming up with Ellen DeGeneres to donate $250,000 and launching a fundraising campaign with GlobalGiving to benefit those impacted by the devastating wildfires in the country known for its open spaces and wildlife, our cargo team is helping to send more than 600 pounds of medical supplies to treat injured animals in the region.

Helping us send these supplies is the Afya Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to improve global health by collecting surplus medical supplies and delivering them to parts of the world where they are most needed. Through Airlink, the Afya Foundation will send more than $18,000 worth of materials that will be used to treat animals injured in the Australian fires.

These medical supplies will fly to Melbourne (MEL) and delivered to The Rescue Collective. This Australian organization is currently focused on treating the massive population of wildlife, such as koalas, kangaroos, and birds, that have had their habitats destroyed by the recent wildfires. The supplies being sent include wound dressings, gloves, catheters, syringes and other items that are unused but would otherwise be disposed of.

By working together, we can continue to make a global impact and help those affected by natural disasters to rebuild and restore their lives

Help us (and Ellen DeGeneres) support wildfire relief efforts in Australia

By The Hub team , January 08, 2020

Australia needs our help as wildfires continue to devastate the continent that's beloved by locals and travelers alike. In times like these, the world gets a little smaller and we all have a responsibility to do what we can.

On Monday, The Ellen DeGeneres Show announced a campaign to raise $5 million to aid in relief efforts. When we heard about Ellen's effort, we immediately reached out to see how we could help.

Today, we're committing $250,000 toward Ellen's campaign so we can offer support now and help with rebuilding. For more on The Ellen DeGeneres Show efforts and to donate yourself, you can visit www.gofundme.com/f/ellenaustraliafund

We're also matching donations made to the Australian Wildfire Relief Fund, created by GlobalGiving's Disaster Recovery Network. This fund will support immediate relief efforts for people impacted by the fires in the form of emergency supplies like food, water and medicine. Funds will also go toward long-term recovery assistance, helping residents recover and rebuild. United will match up to $50,000 USD in donations, and MileagePlus® members who donate $50 or more will receive up to 1,000 award miles from United. Donate to GlobalGiving.

Please note: Donations made toward GlobalGiving's fund are only eligible for the MileagePlus miles match.

In addition to helping with fundraising, we're staying in touch with our employees and customers in Australia. Together, we'll help keep Australia a beautiful place to live and visit in the years to come.

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