Select Traveler

NOV-DEC 2016

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2 0 1 7 T A P T R A V E L G U I D E 62 CATALOOCHEE RANCH MAGGIE VALLEY, NORTH CAROLINA The Cataloochee Ranch covers 800 acres and sits at 5,000 feet elevation, so its expansive views stretch across and down several North Carolina mountains — not to mention the ranch's rolling pastures dotted with horses and chestnut trees. "We have huge vistas," said Mary Coker, Cataloochee's general manager. "You can't find many places where you can get a motorcoach that has these huge vistas." Coker's grandparents, Tom and Judy Alexander, aka Mr. Tom and Miss Judy, founded the ranch in Cataloochee Valley in 1933 before buy- ing a large portion of the current ranch property on Fie Top Mountain in 1938. A stone and lumber cattle barn that was already at least 100 years old stood on the property, and the Alexanders converted it into the existing lodge, complete with a rambling porch and big wood- burning fireplace. The ranch borders Great Smoky Mountain National Park for about a mile, and horseback riders and hikers can go from the ranch into the park on the integrated trail systems. The ranch has 26 horses and can arrange to bring in more for larger groups, and wranglers lead all trail rides. Hemphill Bald delivers the best views from the highest point on the ranch; the Swag is longer by length but with less climbing. Devil's Britches is a woodsy trail sprinkled with wildf lowers, and the Bowl Loop is fairly short "but long enough to stretch your legs," Coker said, and rewards riders with a beautiful bowl vista. Guests who don't want to get in the saddle can instead get on the wagon. Cataloochee offers tractor-pulled wagon rides, usually with some light narration and Q&A sprinkled in. The wagons go through pastureland, so horses may even come up to the trailer looking for nuzzles and nibbles. Meals are served in the ranch house or at the Way Back When, a rustic outdoor dining tent that's accessible by wagon ride or an easy 15-minute walk. Guests can also play a game of cornhole, toss horse- shoes, go fishing or do some good old-fashioned porch sitting. VISTA FLEET DULUTH, MINNESOTA The Duluth Aerial Bridge was originally built in 1905 as a trans- porter bridge before being converted to a lift bridge in 1930. But, no matter which Vista Fleet tour passengers board, the ship will take them past the historic Duluth Harbor landmark, which is "an iconic sight," said Colleen Smith, sales and events coordinator for Vista Fleet. Vista Fleet has two ships: The 50-passenger Vista Queen has two decks, one open and one enclosed. The Vista Star can accommodate 220 passengers on three decks; the first and second decks are enclosed, and the third is open. Most groups hop on one of Vista Fleet's three regularly scheduled public tours offered throughout the summer. The fully narrated Duluth Waterfront tour lasts about an hour and 15 minutes and cruises around the harbor, showing off landmarks such as lighthouses and the lift bridge. But weather permitting, the captain always tries to get pas- sengers out onto Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes. At an hour and 45 minutes, the Grand Sightseeing Tour is the lon- gest standard option that takes passengers onto the lake; the shortest summertime tour, the Lake Superior Express, is a 45-minute cruise that's "usually offered on our smaller vessel, which is kind of nice because it's a more intimate setting," Smith said. Vista Fleet also offers dinner cruises, which are popular for groups. During the summer, the two-hour sunset dinner cruise includes dinner and limited narration by the captain as the ship travels "around the horn," which means leaving the harbor from the Wisconsin point, going onto the lake and looping back around into Duluth Harbor beneath the bridge. In the fall, groups can book a harvest dinner cruise. ALASKA RAILROAD ANCHOR AGE, ALASK A As far as states go, Alaska is one of the most picturesque. That means there's no bad scenery along Alaska Railroad's main line, which stretches 470 miles from Fairbanks south to Seward on the Gulf of Alaska coast. Although travelers can't go wrong when it comes to riding the rails in Alaska, there are some sections that are growing in popularity, said A HORSEBACK ADVENTURE AT CATALOOCHEE R ANCH IN NOR TH CAROLINA By Bill Harbin, courtesy Cataloochee Ranch Courtesy Tall Ship Whale Adventures A WHALE SIGHTING IN NE W BRUNSWICK

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