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Go Wild at a National Park

As a kid our parents & grandparents dragged my brother and I all over the place, of course - the "stop touching me" from the backseat I'm sure got old, but the National Parks were awesome and we had some amazing adventures. With GPS versus the old maps from AAA, it's probably much easier to find them now - I swear half the time we had just not gone far enough. I'm so glad we were able to do that as kids. I think it gave us a much better appreciation for nature, our history and our country. There are some amazing and humbling things to see all over our great country. If you haven't taken a road trip in a while - Maybe check out a National Park! First image I found in the AARP magazine and just thought it was cool and worth sharing. The rest of the blog is an article I found from National Geographic. Thought it very informative and the parks are all over the country. Couple I wasn't familiar with - might be our next road trip. This is just a share, but.... Make sure you have the right shoes for whatever you are doing.

( We do have a page on the website to give some suggestions that you can check out: https://www.desertbirkenstock.com/best-shoes-for-traveling

There - Now it relates to shoes! )



There’s an American national park to suit every taste, whether you want to see wildlife, dark skies or bubbling geothermal pools. From Yellowstone to Yosemite, these are the best places to go wild.


The world's first national park was born in the USA, and today there are 63 across the country, ranging from the frosted peaks of Denali in Alaska to the swamps and 'gators of Florida's Everglades, via the rock arches of Zion in Utah and the waterfalls of Tennessee's Great Smokies. Lovers of the outdoors are spoilt for choice here — and the hardest decision for many visitors to the US usually involves choosing where to go first. With options for hiking, natural wonders, wildlife and more, these are the best parks for every type of traveler.   


1. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana & Idaho

Best for: geothermal wonders

Few wild places capture the imagination like Yellowstone — famed for its kaleidoscopic hot pools and simmering mud pots. Its geothermal wonders even inspired the creation of a global network of national parks after it became the world’s first in 1872, and today, the attraction — split between the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho — attracts millions of visitors each year.

 

At its heart lies Grand Prismatic Spring, a deep aquamarine pool that reaches out beneath the boardwalks framing its perimeter with flame-orange tendrils. To the north lies Mammoth Hot Springs, its thick travertine slabs arranged like bone-white rice terraces, while due south is the park’s most explosive attraction: Old Faithful, a cone geyser that regularly spits water over 100ft into the air during eruptions so reliable you can almost set your watch by them.  

Alongside its many geothermal pin-ups, Yellowstone is home to lesser-known, less-crowded draws for those willing to step a little off the beaten track. In the far south west, the Bechler region is practically silent, except for the gushing of its many waterfalls, which have earned this area the nickname Cascade Corner. The West Thumb Geyser Basin, on the shores of Yellowstone Lake, flies largely under the radar, too. Here, contrary to its name, Black Pool glows in shades of cyan through the steam.

Landscapes aside, Yellowstone is also known for its wildlife. On its northern edge, the Lamar Valley is dubbed ‘America’s Serengeti’ thanks to its bison, bears and wolves — the latter reintroduced in 1995 in what’s come to be regarded as one of the US’s greatest conservation success stories. Overhead, it’s possible to see ospreys and bald eagles wheeling through the air.


While the park is crowded during the summer months, visitors are few and far between in winter. It is, however, one of the best times to go, particularly for those keen to spot wildlife amid the contrasting spectacle of ice and billowing fumaroles. Navigating landscapes swathed in a thick layer of snow, travelers can explore by snowmobile and scoot down hushed trails that are also used by bison and elk, while cross-country skiers can make tracks in fresh powder. 


Or try Lassen Volcanic National Park, California: The Golden State has more national parks than any other and this one flies largely under the radar. Explore it to see steaming pots and the hulking dome of the Lassen Peak volcano.



2. Everglades National Park, Florida

Best for: aquatic adventures

Water, water everywhere — this liquid tapestry of swamps, lakes and freshwater marshes seeps across southern Florida. Mangroves line the narrow waterways, their gnarled branches jutting out like claws, and alligators and crocodiles cruise amid swathes of sawgrass (this is the only place on the planet where both species coexist).



Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife along the popular Anhinga Trail, a self-guided boardwalk route that offers the potential to spot basking turtles, as well as herons and egrets scanning the shallows for prey. You can, of course, take to the water yourself. Paddling trails for watercraft are laced through the park, with chickees (raised wooden platforms) offering a place to camp overnight. You can also rent houseboats in the park’s southern Flamingo area. 


Alternatively, strike out into the wooded areas. In slightly higher elevations, shady trails slink through thick tangles of mahogany, red maple and live oak, and towering swathes of skinny pine. Popular walking routes include the Snake Bight Trail, in Flamingo, and the boardwalk-threaded Mahogany Hammock Trail. 

Or try New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, West Virginia: America’s newest national park is one of the world’s finest river-rafting destinations. The site protects a slice of the New River, one of the oldest in the world, as well as the 876ft-tall New River Gorge Bridge.



3. Zion National Park, Utah

Best for: hiking


Mother Nature is a spectacular sculptor, and she did some of her finest work in the rocky wonderland of southern Utah, where you can find twisted ravines, teetering hoodoos, rust-red cliffs and deep slot canyons that swallow beams of sunshine. This is a playground for adventure seekers, with hiking trails that undulate across sky-scraping peaks, and enough burnt-orange rock faces and gullies to satisfy even the most ardent climber. 

Of all the park’s blockbuster sights, the most fabled is Angels Landing, a jagged bluff that acquired its name after Methodist minister Frederick Vining Fisher visited the park in 1916, proclaiming that only an angel could land on such a mighty sandstone cliff. Fast forward over a century, and plenty of mere mortals make the trek up the mountain — so many, in fact, that a reservation system was introduced for the hike in 2022. Secure a permit, and you’ll follow a 5.4-mile trail that rises 454 meters as it arrows towards the rocky summit. The hike culminates at a narrow mountain ridge fitted with safety chains that offers epic views over Zion Canyon rippling out in front of you. 


The Narrows is Zion’s other star attraction. The

narrowest stretch of Zion Canyon, it’s a series of lean, rocky passageways with walls that soar to almost 1,000 feet tall. The hike involves wading through the Virgin River — striking out from a sandstone amphitheater named the Temple of Sinawava before beating a path upstream. 



Another, lesser-known option is the Kolob Canyons area, which has the same pink and russet peaks and wiggly gorges as Zion Canyon. Here, the mile-long Timber Creek Overlook Trail edges along a mountain ridge offering sweeping views — on a clear day, you might even see as far as the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, some 150 miles to the south.


The longer Taylor Creek Trail snakes for over five miles, guiding hikers down into the canyon and zigzagging over its namesake waterway. Alternatively, if your legs need a rest after tackling other trails, there’s a five-mile, lookout-studded scenic drive that affords equally spectacular canyon vistas. 


Or try Canyonlands National Park, Utah: Canyonlands is less visited than the majority of Utah’s other national parks, but it still packs a mighty punch with its stooping ravines, natural arches and towering, needle-like pinnacles. 




4. Acadia National Park, Maine


Best for: coastal views

The West Coast has the lion’s share of US national parks, but this eastern beauty should be top of the list for fans of blustery seaside wanders. It swoops across a rugged stretch of the New England shoreline, taking in craggy capes, historic lighthouses and mountains.


Situated on a forested headland, the area around Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is the park’s poster child. But it’s also one of the busiest sites, so if you want to escape the crowds, head to the west side of Mount Desert Island. Here, Seal Cove Pond — a huge, reed-fringed pool — is just as beautiful and much quieter. The Wonderland Trail is another highlight: the 1.4-mile loop is heavy on coastal views and popular for rockpooling and birdwatching. 


Or try Channel Islands National Park, California:


This Golden State park is home to a string of five wild islands that are popular for snorkelling, kayaking and diving. Abundant hiking trails reveal views across the shimmering North Pacific. 


5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee & North Carolina

Best for: waterfalls


Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park sprawls out for more than 781sq miles, protecting a subrange of the misty Appalachian Mountains. It’s home to endless waterfalls, from delicate cascades gently lapping mossy rocks to thundering giants crashing down over 100 feet. 



Laurel Falls is the most popular in the park, but those who venture east to Mouse Creek Falls are richly rewarded with a stirring, 45ft-tall cascade that drops into hushed forest. The four-mile trail you’ll take to reach it passes along a disused railroad — keep watch for Smokies wildlife such as black bears and elk.  



Or try Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio: 

Wonders such as Brandywine Falls — which tumbles 60 feet over terraced rock — makes this underrated Ohio park worth a detour. Carved by Brandywine Creek, the 60-foot falls demonstrates classic geological features of waterfalls. A layer of hard rock caps the waterfall, protecting softer layers of rock below. In this case, the top layer is Berea Sandstone. The softer layers include Bedford and Cleveland shales, soft rocks formed from mud found on the sea floor that covered this area 350-400 million years ago. Shale is thinly chunked, giving water a bridal veil appearance as it cascades down the falls


6. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Best for: a winter escape

If you’d visited Crater Lake around 8,000 years ago, you’d have stood in the foothills of a mammoth volcano. Mount Mazama rose to an eye-watering 3,658 metres, a snow-crowned juggernaut held sacred by the region’s Indigenous peoples. But a calamitous eruption eventually caused it to collapse, and the gaping caldera left behind is now filled by Crater Lake. At no time of year does the sapphire-hued lake — the deepest in the US — look better than when its banks are plastered in snow. Winter activities abound in the park from November right up until May: you can sled, snowshoe, ski and snowboard through the tree-studded backcountry. Snowshoeing the challenging Raven Trail is a strenuous yet spectacular way to reach the rim of the crater (travelling with a guide is recommended).


Or try Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota: 

This national park is one of the few places in the US where the Northern Lights can occasionally be glimpsed. If you’re not lucky enough to catch this natural spectacle, there are still miles of hiking trails and paddling routes to keep you occupied.


 

7. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona 

Best for: Indigenous heritage


Eleven Indigenous tribes have links to Grand Canyon National Park — a Mars-like realm of rust-red rocks eroded into elegant chasms by the Colorado River. Learn more at the Desert View Amphitheater, where tribe members share tales of their heritage and culture. Later, buy handcrafted jewelry at the nearby Desert View Trading Post.


It’s worth timing a summer visit with North Rim’s Heritage Days (which take place in one of the less-visited parts of the park) to see Indigenous peoples offering everything from talks on Native American mythologies to dance performances. Just outside the park boundaries, the Havasupai Indian Reservation is also worth visiting for its turquoise pools and thundering waterfalls — the most spectacular of which is Havasu Falls (permit required).



Or try Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado: 

Safeguarding over 700 years of human history, this park protects surviving vestiges of Ancestral Pueblo culture. These industrious prehistoric Native American people built wonders such as the Cliff Palace, a sprawling dwelling that can be visited on guided tours. 



8. Denali National Park, Alaska

Best for: wildlife


More than six times the size of Rhode Island, with its 9,375sq miles spreading out in a swathe of untouched wilderness dotted with spruce trees and titanic peaks, Denali is the best choice for those keen to leave all traces of modern life behind. And with just one 92-mile road, which visitors can only drive a small part of, the park is also a haven for wildlife.


Grizzlies galumph across the tundra here, while moose graze the birch and Arctic willow trees, and horned Dall sheep trot across the mountains. Look carefully and you might spot a spiny possum skittering through the undergrowth or, if you’re really lucky, a wolf pack on the prowl, their mottled grey coats contrasted against a green or snow-white backdrop.


The mountains are Denali’s other calling card, particularly Mount Denali, a colossal peak that towers head and shoulders above the rest at 6,190 metres. It’s notoriously elusive to see, though, as it’s often playing peekaboo behind a thick curtain of cloud, which is formed by the mountain’s temperamental weather system. Keep an eye out for the mountain as you drive the Denali Park Road.

Or try Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska: 

One of the least-visited parks in the system (mainly due to its remote location), Katmai is home to epic wildlife, including brown bears and grey wolves on land and humpback whales off the coast. 

Grizzly bears are lone animals that are mostly seen near food sources such as berry patches and salmon spawn areas. 


9. Yosemite National Park, California

Best for: climbing

The only way is up in this Californian park, a granite hinterland that rises dramatically to meet the sky. Scaling Half Dome, which looms 2,694 metres over Yosemite Valley, is the stuff of legend. And it’s not a hike that should be taken lightly: the finale sees trekkers grappling with metal cables to haul themselves up the sheer rock face to the summit. 

For serious rock climbers, this is only the beginning. Pros should organise a wilderness climbing permit to scale mighty hunks of rock like Swan Slab, a boulder-encircled climbing area that rises up from the Yosemite Valley.




Or try Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado: 

Another high-drama rocky playground, this national park parcels up soaring cliffs that are best left to the pros. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park offers vast opportunities to expert rock climbers. The canyon is extremely deep and narrow. At its deepest, the canyon is 2,722 ft (830 m) deep at Warner Point. The Painted Wall is the tallest vertical wall in Colorado, with a height of 2,250 ft (686 m) The majority of the climbing activity takes place around North and South Chasm Walls, where the canyon is 1,820 ft (555 m) deep.



10. Big Bend National Park, Texas

Best for: stargazing

Big Bend could be at the very end of the Earth — its peaks rise like cathedrals amid sweeping grasslands where coyotes stalk and snakes slither. Perfect for stargazing, it’s a stretch of unbridled wilderness whose sheer size means pockets of solitude aren’t hard to find. Far from man-made light sources, the site is so remote that it offers some of America’s most awe-inspiring night skies, when the galaxies are plastered like a Pollock painting across a canvas of inky black. Rangers offer a packed program of talks, guided walks, demonstrations and special events.


Or try Great Basin National Park, Nevada: 

Occupying a remote swathe of eastern Nevada, Great Basin is another stargazing hotspot — its dramatic night skies providing ample fodder for the park’s annual astronomy festival. 




ByJacqui Agate

March 2, 2024

This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK).


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