Here's some travel news about crowds on the Appalachian Trail, national parks in winter and cruise trends.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is asking hikers planning to walk the entire 2,185 miles of the trail to consider alternatives to traditional itineraries as a way of reducing overcrowding on southern stretches of the trail.
Last year, some 2,500 hikers started their treks between March 1 and April 15. With as many as 100 people sometimes setting off the same day from the southern start of the trail in Georgia, heading to the northern terminus of the trail in Maine, crowding at times led to unsustainable conditions. Those conditions included trampled vegetation, sanitation issues and overcrowded campsites, according to the conservancy.
Even more people are expected on the trail this year, the conservancy says. The increased popularity of the trip is partly due to publicity from the book and movie "Wild," which told the story of a through-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, and partly due to "A Walk in the Woods," a movie due out later this year starring Robert Redford about two middle-aged buddies hiking the Appalachian Trail.
The conservancy is asking through-hikers to set out midweek rather than on weekends, and to consider starting between April 15 and the first week of May rather than in March and early April.
Another way to help ease congestion on the southern stretches in March is to consider starting through-hikes elsewhere. Hikers can start in the middle of the trail, around Harper's Ferry, Virginia, head north, and then return to Harper's Ferry to do the southern stretch.
While it's possible to start at the northern end of the trail and head south, the conservancy warns of challenges. Hikers must wait until June to start in Maine due to the weather, and even in June, conditions include swarms of black flies and muddy trails. Starting from Maine in June and heading south also makes it likely that hikers will encounter snow by the time they reach the Blue Ridge Mountains months in mid- to late fall.
The conservancy offers details on these alternative itineraries at https://www.appalachiantrail.org/hiking/thru-section-hiking/when-where-to-start . The organization has also launched a new voluntary registration system to help hikers avoid the most crowded days, available at http://www.appalachiantrail.org/thruhikeregistration .
NATIONAL PARKS IN WINTER
Here's a travel pitch that's hard to resist: "Imagine having a national park virtually all to yourself."
That invitation is the first line of a new guide from the National Park Foundation about visiting parks in winter, when visitation dips. The "Winter Wonderlands" guide looks at top activities in 15 parks. The free brochure also includes advice about what's open and closed this time of year. But even when major roads are closed, many parks offer ranger-led programs and opportunities to hike, snowshoe or cross-country ski.
The guide looks at winter in Acadia in Maine, Bryce in Utah, Cuyahoga in Ohio, Glacier in Montana, Grand Canyon in Arizona, Grand Teton in Wyoming, Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, Great Smokies in Tennessee and North Carolina, Lassen Volcanic in California, Olympic in Washington, Rocky Mountain in Colorado, Sequoia and Kings Canyon in California, Voyageurs in Minnesota, Yellowstone in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, and Yosemite in California.
Trout fishing takes place year-round in the Smokies, and ice-fishing is available in Acadia and Voyageurs. Yellowstone offers guided tours by snowmobile, and Old Faithful erupts there regardless of the weather. Elk and moose sightings are not uncommon in the Rockies, and you can even go sledding there in Hidden Valley. There's sledding at Great Dunes too, but on sand, not snow. At the Grand Canyon, the North Rim is closed until May 15, but the South Rim is open year-round. In Cuyahoga, there's a year-round scenic railroad.
To download the brochure, visit http://www.nationalparks.org/winterwonderlands .
When it comes to cruising, most people still rely on travel agents to book their trips, according to a new report from the Cruise Lines International Association.
CLIA's annual report on the state of the cruise industry says 70 percent of cruises are booked through agents.
Repeat cruisers are a mainstay of the industry. The report found that 62 percent of those who take cruises have done so before.
In terms of destinations, CLIA says the Caribbean is the most popular region for cruising, with more than a third of global deployment taking place there this year. At the same time the Mediterranean, Asia and Australia are growing as destinations.