Yellowstone National Park was set aside in 1872 for its abundant wildlife, beautiful landscapes and fascinating geothermal features. Join Modern Day Explorer Kasey Austin as she scouts experiences, activities and inclusions for Yellowstone National Park itineraries from Austin Adventures with the support of Xanterra Parks & Resorts.

Modern Day Explorers: Adventure in Yellowstone National Park 

Yellowstone National Park was set aside in 1872 to protect its abundant wildlife, beautiful landscapes and fascinating geothermal features. Explore the first National Park with Modern Day Explorer Kasey Austin of USTOA member Austin Adventures as she puts together the ultimate adventure vacation with the support of Xanterra Parks & Resorts.

Modern Day Explorers: Nature in Yellowstone National Park

Sunrise is always the best time of day to be out in Yellowstone National Park. Modern Day Explorer Kasey Austin of USTOA tour operator Austin Adventures with the support of Xanterra Parks & Resorts shows you why with a variety of wildlife sightings, from bears to bison.

Modern Day Explorers: Relax in Yellowstone National Park

Want to visit an increasingly popular national park without the crowds, hassle or planning? Modern Day Explorer Kasey Austin of Austin Adventures takes you behind the scenes in Yellowstone National Park with the support of Xanterra Parks & Resorts to showcase the insider access provided by USTOA tour operator members.


Discover even more at and

Ready to visit? Visit  for details on traveling to Yellowstone National Park with Austin Adventures.

Kasey works with ground operators around the world as well as domestic guides on the home front when it comes to the details of planning a vacation. She grew up in the business learning about adventure travel from a kid’s perspective and now puts what she’s learned since she was six years old to use both in the office and out in the field. Kasey has guided trips across the western United States and gets out to travel abroad whenever she gets the chance.



By Kasey Austin, Vice President of Operations, Austin Adventures


Behind every great tour experience is a phenomenal product manager – these “Modern Day Explorers” scout undiscovered experiences in new, emerging destinations, rediscover what’s new in beloved places, and get to know the community with the single goal to design enriching itineraries for you to book.

How do these explorers find the most memorable, culturally rich experiences you ask? Well, in 2016, USTOA is taking you behind-the-scenes with a handful of these Modern Day Explorers to find out. Today Kasey Austin of Austin Adventures reveals her experience in Yellowstone National Park. So, in her words… 


One hundred years… On August 25, 2016 the National Park Service is celebrating its Centennial, its kick-off to a second century of stewardship, its 100th birthday…whatever you call it, it’s a BIG DEAL! At Austin Adventures, we’re fortunate to host adventure vacations in the United States’ most precious gems, the national parks. This year is the most special year in the national parks’ history to date as we celebrate the big 1-0-0-TH birthday of the National Park Service. As our beautiful, precious parks grow their reputations as memorable vacation destinations, my job as an itinerary developer is to figure out ways to provide our guests with extraordinary experiences in these parks that rapidly grow in popularity each year. My week spent as a United States Tour Operators Association Modern Day Explorer gave me the chance to explore new places, meet old and new faces and show off a side of Yellowstone National Park that most visitors never see. Here are a few national park vacation planning tips I thought of along the way!

Blog - Kasey jumping_YL Sign

Access to National Park Lodging

First things first, like any great itinerary creationist, I’m going to first review local lodging and make sure I can secure it before I move on to any other steps of the itinerary building process. When traveling to Yellowstone, you’ll notice that Xanterra Parks & Resorts is the official in-park provider of all lodging, whether you’re looking to stay at the historic Lake Hotel or the famous Old Faithful Inn. In the peak summer season, it can be more challenging to find last minute accommodations, especially as the popularity of our national parks continues to grow. But, as a tour operator, we’ve been planning for two years prior to your vacation date, so even if you’re not able to secure room space for your get-away, all it takes is a simple call to see what lodging and itineraries we have available in the national park you want to visit. We’ve already done the planning for you (what a piece of cake!)

Blog - Old Faithful Inn

Finding New, Unique Ways to “Discover” Old Favorites

So you’re planning a trip to Yellowstone and you want to visit the iconic spots – Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic, Mammoth Hot Springs, Lake Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River… the list continues. Go on your own during the busy summer months and risk visiting these beautiful places with hundreds of your closest friends if you choose to walk in from the parking lot and stick to the boardwalks. With a tried and true adventure itinerary and knowledgeable guide, you’ll discover these old favorites by hiking into the Grand Canyon “the back way” through flowery meadows, lodgepole pine forests and secret backcountry geyser basins. You’ll “happen” upon Old Faithful after having taken a fascinating walk past bubbling hot springs and goopy mud pots where you won’t see another tourist just a mile from the main boardwalk. Our jobs as adventure professionals require us to find those hidden attractions, just outside the public eye, and combine these experiences with the “gotta see ‘em” icons to create a one-of-a-kind adventure vacation.

Blog - Grand Canyon

There’s More to Yellowstone than Yellowstone Itself

Alright, so that heading is a bit confusing…! What I’m trying to say is that even though Yellowstone is the number one attraction on your Wyoming/Montana vacation, sometimes you’ve got to head just outside the park’s borders to truly add rich experiences and appreciate the region’s majesty. We combine our Yellowstone Vacations with zip lining outside the park’s west entrance in the Gallatin Canyon; horseback riding outside the park’s north entrance in Paradise Valley; and rafting outside the park’s south entrance in Jackson Hole. No trip to Yellowstone is complete without some exhilarating adventure activities – as a tour operator, we’ve scoped out all the options and picked the best of the best for your vacation out west! Plus, you won’t be dealing with the same magnitude of crowds if you wish Yellowstone au revoir for a few days (don’t worry, it’ll still be there when you return!)

Blog - Horseback riding

We are a tour operator who is proud to operate in our national parks. Heading into century number two of a dedicated National Park Service, places like Yellowstone will be dealing with the challenges and growing pains of an ever-increasing tourist population. However, with a USTOA member, your vacation to a national park can be one you’ll remember, without the crowds, hassle or planning that goes into creating the ultimate adventure vacation. We do all the work for you and love what we do!


Interested in learning more about Kasey’s journey to Yellowstone National Park? Go behind-the-scenes with Kasey with our video series, A Modern Day Explorer’s Quest to Yellowstone, launching later this week.

 Ready to visit? Visit for details on traveling to Yellowstone with Austin Adventures.

Kasey works with ground operators around the world as well as domestic guides on the home front when it comes to the details of planning a vacation. She grew up in the business learning about adventure travel from a kid’s perspective and now puts what she’s learned since she was six years old to use both in the office and out in the field. Kasey has guided trips across the western United States and gets out to travel abroad whenever she gets the chance.

By Ann Shields, AFAR Ambassador


Every guidebook description of Skagway, Alaska—no matter how brief—mentions its Fourth of July celebration. Every single one. How can one day be that print-worthy? Well, I’m here to count the ways:

  • Skagway’s Fourth of July celebration starts on the Third of July. It’s that good. The campgrounds and RV parks are filling up with attendees and parade participants have arrived and are milling around town, looking for action. A bagpipe band (Ensemble? Corps?) holds a practice session at the intersection of Broadway and 2nd Street. They’re casual, wearing sweatshirts and jeans, but the pipes sound strong and echo off the mountains that hug the town. Dogs and toddlers run around, confused and excited by the noise and people.
  • Because of the long hours of summer sunlight up here, the fireworks don’t start up until almost midnight. Shot off from a boat, they scream into the sky between the walls of the fjord, spectacular, reflected in the water. Again, the booming bounces between the rock faces of this box canyon, making it echo as long as the colored light falls from the sky. It goes on for a ridiculously long half-hour, relentless, no Grucci Brothers orchestration of highs and lows, just fun, over-the-top, pretty explosions. Afterwards, everyone wanders back into town from the water’s edge, pulling sleepy kids in wagons.
  • When morning comes, the bagpipes have begun warming up and people drift outside. The cross streets are blocked off. Three cruise ships arrived early and the brilliant white Holland America Line ship seem to be watching over the proceedings from its dock at the end of Broadway, massive and jarringly modern in this townscape of historic buildings.
  • The parade starts with floats from local businesses—decorated work trucks and tractors piled with employees and their families throwing candy to the spectators. Sled dogs, harnessed to a crepe-paper-festooned ATV, yap and strain and pull it up the street, clearly bummed out when they have to slow down for the stupid slow float ahead of them. A couple, dressed in vintage wedding finery, ride a three-wheeled bike back and forth along the street with a Just Married sign on the back.
  • A regiment of Mounties, in full Dudley Do-Right red woolen jackets and black jodhpurs, have come across the pass from Canada to march on our holiday, our smiling neighbors.


A regiment of Mounties in Skagway


  • A huge papier-mâché head of Teddy Roosevelt looms down the street, leading several National Parks Service floats, homemade extravaganzas honoring the 100th anniversary of the national parks. Behind Teddy, female park rangers, each costumed and wearing beauty-pageant sashes bearing the names of national park, laugh and throw candy and wave. Ms. Statue of Liberty tries to read aloud the act of Congress that created the parks but she can’t stop laughing.


National Park Rangers in Skagway


  • The parade goes around twice.
  • A post-parade schedule is circulated. It includes band performances, foot races, tug-of-wars (tugs of war?), arm-wrestling, eating contests, more. A basketball hoop is set up on Broadway and one-on-one contests and free throw competitions go on the rest of the day.
  • An epic egg toss begins: Close to a hundred participants line up across Broadway from their partners, the parallel lines of players extend seven blocks. The eggs are lobbed across the street and caught, or not. The losers step back, some with actual egg on their face; more and more missiles are thrown and the winners continue to close up positions until their ranks only span one block. The crowd is noisy, taunting, cheering, laughing. The length of Broadway is splattered with broken eggs. Finally a young couple, with impressive lobs and heroic lunging catches, win.


Epic Egg Toss in Skagway


  • Up on the commentator’s platform, arm-wrestling begins. The kids’ divisions go first with contestants standing on folding chairs to reach the high table. The two final young competitors in the Girls Under-12 division are so well matched that their grimaces and moans continue for long minutes, a standoff.  The commentator laughs, then cheers, then is at a loss for words. The girls strain on. No one in the rapt crowd is thinking about the strong men who’ll compete next because these two girls are determined and impressive superheroes.
  • In the foot races, the boys and girls run with a grace and lightness, even when they’re trying their hardest, that makes even the fastest adult look thick and plodding.  Poor adults.
  • Cheating is apparently condoned in Skagway tug-of-war. Grown-ups and teenagers regularly step in to pull and even up the teams during the little kids’ contests.  It is noisy and fun and good-natured and inclusive.


Tug-of-war in Skagway


In addition to organized events, there are:

  • Dogs in tiny red, white and blue top hats.
  • Toddlers twirling and dancing to the drums and bagpipes.
  • Old people who set up their own chairs along the parade route holding court for the rest of the day.
  • The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, still in their magnificent uniforms, holding hands with their own kids and laughing.
  • Off-duty pipers in kilts, drinking beer at the bar of the Red Onion Saloon.

Broadway is crowded well into the evening, when the cruise passengers wander back to their ships, sidestepping broken eggshells. Everyone, townspeople and visitors, seems tired and really, really happy.

In summary, the guidebooks are right. If you can make it up to this tiny port town at the top of Alaska’s Inside Passage for the Fourth of July, you should definitely come to Skagway. I kind of cheated: My trip was part of a sponsored exploration of the Yukon-Alaska land programs offered by the Holland America Line, but I’d do it again on my own dime.  This day is the feel-good stuff of small-town mythology.


Interested in learning more about Ann’s journey with Holland America Line? Visit

In these quiet days leading up to her Powerball win, Ann Shields works as a freelance travel editor and writer. A fan of literature, museums, history, high-minded cinema, and bad television, Ann lives in New York with her husband and two teenaged children. She likes road trips, local bars, getting lost, and laughing, so Ireland ranks high on her list of favorite places.

By Ann Shields, AFAR Ambassador


At the risk of sounding like a flake, it seemed that as I approached Denali, I could feel its power grow.

Denali Roadway

I first noticed things were changing when we crossed a clear geographic divide between where we had been and where we were headed. Specifically, past the summit of Broad Pass on the journey between Anchorage and Denali, rivers begin to flow north, not to the Pacific, but to the Bering Sea, the Arctic Sea. (The Arctic! In my mind, my New York apartment swept exponentially further away.) During the last Ice Age, the region around this pass was buried under three miles of ice. The single thing tall enough to be seen above the thick rigid blanket was Denali. We can’t see Denali from here, but now we know it’s there.

The observatory train I was riding the McKinley Explorer, picks up the course of the Nenana River at the base of Panorama Mountain. The schist monolith looms tall above the rest of the incredibly high mountains and the train tracks pass by too closely to see it by itself, to truly measure its height or to photograph it to prove to others how tall it truly is. This mountain, unlike it green-mantled neighbors, rises in shades of grey, like a graphite-pencil drawing of a mountain against a backdrop of lively green, like the deepest chord on a pipe organ made manifest. Even its flanks are divided by alluvial piles of grey avalanched rock—the other mountains have waving ferns and buoyant moss and high grass tucked in their pleated skirts. The young train guide says: This mountain is tall, yes? We all nod, eyes on its immensity looming above the windowed dome of the train. He says: If you stack three of this mountain, one on top the other, that’s how tall Denali is.

In the dinner-theater production at the McKinley Chalet Resort, the lovely Holland America Line property directly across the Nenana River from the national park, the actors perform the story of the first ascent of Denali by two local characters. The backdrop hung behind the delightful cornball antics of the performers is painted with a deliberately amateurish abstraction of the mountain, a strangely mesmerizing canvas of ice blue, shimmery white, angles and ridges with orange-pink sunset tones.  The cast members ham it up and laugh, sing and tell jokes, cajole and engage the audience, but that unblinking backdrop tells the story that they can’t. Outside those faux-rustic walls, there is a mountain.

Only 30% of visitors to the park actually get to see Denali—the mountain is more often than not obscured by the clouds that snag on its peaks and gather around it. Rain was forecast for my first day in the park so I brace myself for the possibility of not seeing the mountain.

Denali Bus

The admirably democratic tradition of the National Park Service invites everyone to enjoy Denali National Park and Preserve but here everyone is limited to just one way in: the Park Road, a 92-mile-long road that runs west from the entrance on the east side of the park, roughly paralleling the Alaska Range. At the park gate, visitors on my tour, the Tundra Wilderness Tour, rich and poor, old and young climb onto tan-colored converted school buses to be driven as far as Mile 62, the Stony Hill Overlook. The narrow corridor of the vast six-million-acre park visible from the road is thrilling, glorious, and diverse, but the thought of all those many mountainsides and valleys and glaciers and wild animals beyond its reach is distracting. During the course of a seven-hour round-trip, my busload encountered antelope, Arctic ground squirrels, moose, Dall sheep, and the big-ticket item: a blond grizzly bear asleep on a hillside who woke, walked a bit and then stretched out to sleep some more.

Denali Antlers

Along the way we also saw braided rivers, glacial valleys, several mountain ranges, and the geologic big-ticket item, Denali. Just nine miles into the park, the bus climbed a rise and the driver said: There it is. Unlike the purple and green mountains around it, Denali is snow white. Its implausible white expanse is easy to mistake for a bunch of cumulous clouds clustered above the smaller mountains, until your eye notices the sharp lines and angles in that white mass, angles that make it unlike any cloud you’ve ever seen. Then you realize that those many clouds are in fact just one 20,000-foot mountain, so much taller and more magnificent than expected and you catch your breath. Or I did, anyway.  And maybe you weep a little. And proceed to take pictures and stare intently at the mountain, to capture its greatness and to remember the thrill of standing before it. And to feel grateful to be among the 30% of visitors who get to see it.

Denali Mountain

When the bus proceeded down the road, the mountain was obscured again by closer hills and by roadside spruce forests. At the next rise where we could possibly see it again, its peaks had been swathed by lavender-grey. The clouds remained for the rest of the day, but edge of the north peak, a classic pyramid-shaped mountaintop, would occasionally cut through the cloud to assert its presence. I found myself distracted by those clouds, watching and waiting for the knife-edge of the peak to appear.  And when, at the end of the day, the bus passed beyond any possible sightline of Denali, around the far side of the mountains that border the park, I was sad. I do believe I was leaving a sacred place.

When people talk about having some primal response or epiphany by visiting Bali or Rome or a safari camp, I listen and nod and wonder if maybe they’re still a bit giddy from jet lag.  More than a week has passed since I returned to the city (my trip had been a sponsored exploration of the Alaska-Yukon land programs offered by the Holland America Line, so I had a lot of experiences to process). It’s been nearly two weeks since I was near Denali, but I do still feel altered, like I came near a great force, a powerful presence.  I’ll admit it would sound flakey to the pre-Alaska me. But now I’m a different me. I’m already plotting my return to the mountain.


Interested in learning more about Ann’s journey with Holland America Line? Visit

In these quiet days leading up to her Powerball win, Ann Shields works as a freelance travel editor and writer. A fan of literature, museums, history, high-minded cinema, and bad television, Ann lives in New York with her husband and two teenaged children. She likes road trips, local bars, getting lost, and laughing, so Ireland ranks high on her list of favorite places.

By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA

With the 31st Summer Olympics kicking off this summer in Rio de Janeiro, South America has piqued the interest of travelers and soon viewers around the world. USTOA tour operator members have recognized rich packaged travel opportunities across our neighboring continent, and are excited to offer guests a chance to experience the vibrant culture of South America with travel options like these.


Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Credit: Colin Roohan)

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (credit: Colin Roohan)

Offering a multi-country trip through the colorful continent, Collette’s “The Wonders of South America” tour is a 12-day exploration of Chile, Argentina and Brazil’s most vibrant cities. Travelers will learn about the strong Andean roots of Chile’s capital city Santiago, learn how to create the famous caipriniha cocktail in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and spend a day at a gaucho horse show in the Argentinian countryside. Available throughout 2016, 2017 and 2018, prices from $2,819 per person based on double occupancy.

Guests on Mayflower Tours’ “Cruising Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands” have the opportunity to see indigenous wildlife or snorkel with species native to the South American islands, with the backdrop of the stunning Alcedo Volcano. With travel dates available in the fall of 2017, this eight-day adventure celebrates the untouched beauty of the land, as well as the history and preservation of the islands starting at $3,799 per person twin.

Cox & Kings takes luxury travelers to Paraguay, a lesser known destination in South America. This seven-day private journey lets guests venture off the beaten path as they visit a local village to meet the resident gauchos, or explore the country’s rich history with a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Jesuit ruins of Trinidad and Jesus. On a private journey through this extraordinary landlocked country, itineraries are handcrafted and a private guide and vehicle are included. Guests can travel now until March 31, 2017 with prices starting at $3,850 per person based on double occupancy.


Huayna Picchu, Peru (Credit: Colin Roohan)

Huayna Picchu, Peru (credit: Colin Roohan)

Travelers can experience the beauty of western South America during Overseas Adventure Travel’s “2016 Southern Peru & Bolivia Inca Landscape & Lake Titicaca” trip. The 15-day excursion across Peru and neighboring Bolivia takes guests through spectacular and unknown territory such as The Andean plateau, the world’s highest navigable lake and the pre-Incan ruins at Tiwanaku. The rich history and beauty of the area can be discovered through 2016 from $ 3,595 per person based on double occupancy.


Cartagena, Colombia (credit: Justin Weiler)

Cartagena, Colombia (credit: Justin Weiler)

During Goway’s “Best of Colombia” trip guests discover the fascinating cities of Bogota, Cartagena and Armenia. This sometimes misunderstood country exposes travelers to Colombian history, colorful Caribbean charm and the lively pulse running through the veins of each city. The eight-day trip includes activities such as historical tours, a visit to El Infiernito, an astronomical center used by the local Musisca Indians, and of course a stop at Colombia’s famous coffee triangle. Trips are available through 2016 from $1,207 per person based on double occupancy.

Editor’s Note: Information was correct at time of writing. All tours/packages subject to availability. Prices may vary from time of writing, based on currency fluctuations.

This post originally ran in the August 2016 issue of Vacation Agent Magazine.

By Nina Dietzel, Special Correspondent, AFAR


After a thorough immersion into Nashville and Memphis’ music scenes, our Trafalgar travels brought us to Natchez, Mississippi, and Louisiana. I had forged quite a vivid idea about the area after reading ‘The Bone Tree’ and ‘Natchez Burning’, the first two books of an epic trilogy of race, family and justice by Natchez author Greg Iles []. I couldn’t wait to see how the real South matched up.

Joe Stone’s home and B&B in Natchez, Mississippi

Joe Stone’s home and B&B in Natchez, Mississippi

Be My Guest

Nothing drops you faster into the culture of a place than an invitation to a local’s home. We only spent a night in Natchez, but we were treated to a double dose of the fabled southern hospitality at two of the grand antebellum (pre–Civil War) homes in town.

The Elms in Natchez, Mississippi

The Elms in Natchez, Mississippi

Our magical evening began with a short piano concert at Joe Stone’s home, which was built around 1850. Joe, a musician and antiquarian, played for us on his Steinway Grand, and between pieces told us about the music, Natchez, and his own intertwined history with ‘Stone House’, which has been in his family for over 130 years.

After the concert, we walked across the street to ‘The Elms’. This mansion, even older than Joe’s by 50 years, belongs to chef Ester Carpenter, who treated us to an incredibly picturesque dinner on her magnificent porch, surrounded by ancient oak trees.

My only regret about Natchez? I wish we’d had more time in this storied town. I would have loved to wander through the streets to take a closer look and try to run into some of the characters of Greg Iles’ novels that I had read so much about.

Frogmore Plantation Now & Then

The next morning, we finally crossed the vast Mississippi into Louisiana, the third and last state on our tour through the South. The goal was to visit Frogmore, an 1800 acre cotton plantation dating from the early 1800s that still works today as one of the most technologically advanced cotton estates in the area. In addition to farming their very land, owners Lynette and Buddy (George) Tanner are passionate about sharing an authentic slice of plantation history. Over the years, they have painstakingly restored a number of buildings that date as far back as the early 1800s. The timeworn kitchen, plantation store and slave quarters now provide a powerful background to Lynette’s historical tours of Frogmore.

Lynette Tanner, owner and expert guide at Frogmore Plantation, Louisiana

Lynette Tanner, owner and expert guide at Frogmore Plantation, Louisiana

There was no sugar coating on the hard parts of Southern history. Lynette gave us an honest overview of what life on the plantation must have been first for the slaves, and later on for the sharecroppers. She read us passages from ‘12 years a slave’ by Salomon Northup, a slave’s memoir from 1853 that, as you may remember, was turned into an Oscar winning film directed by Steve McQueen in 2013. Lynette’s compassion, vigilant research and deep knowledge on the subject made for a deeply memorable and thoroughly educational experience.

Carefully restored slave quarters at Frogmore Plantation, Louisiana

Carefully restored slave quarters at Frogmore Plantation, Louisiana

Y’all Take Care, Until our Paths Cross Again

As our breathtaking trip neared its end, I began to think about the vast number of unforgettable experiences we were able to pack into such a short timeframe. It’s such a gift, to experience a new destination, and to be left with the feeling that you have barely scratched the surface. Trafalgar has given me this gift. I’m longing to come back for more now, on my own. And this time, without a schedule.

Interested in learning more about Nina’s journey with Trafalgar? Visit

Nina Dietzel is constantly exploring as a photographer and AFAR Ambassador. She has photographed Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, collaborated with British sculptor and environmentalist Andy Goldsworthy, and documented the making of @Large-Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz. Her focus is travel and art, and her personal work has been exhibited in the U.S. and Germany.