Most people that travel the US spend their time at the big city hitters…LA, New York, Vegas, San Fran, Chicago and Boston. There is no doubt these cities are all encapsulating and exciting, however it is the National Parks of America that are the real jewel in this country’s crown – and you must make it a goal to see as many of them as you can.
Sure, some of them are in hard to get to places, but come on, this is America, and no where is really THAT hard to get to! I have just spent the last 3 weeks on the road in the US and covered 7 National Parks – Easy. Well not really, but with a bit of planning (especially during the summer/school holiday period of July/August) and a sense of adventure, you too can find yourself standing in amazement at the beauty that has been blessed upon this country.
A word on accommodation first. Book now! Seriously, these places are where Americans vacation and being a National Park there are not hundreds of options. National parks = Camping! If you’re not into camping (or just want a break from it) the beautiful Lodges are just as old and famous as the Parks themselves. There are more options usually just outside the Parks but it’s just not the same as staying in…
Yellowstone & Grand Teton NP’s, Wyoming
Why go? The pinnacles of US National Parks. And that is saying alot. Are they worthy? Absolutely! Because if the out-of-this-world scenery isn’t enough to blow your mind, then the sighting of a magical animal at every corner will. Grizzlies, Black Bears, Moose, Bison, Elk, Bald Eagles, you will see them all and with a bit of inside knowledge and good eyesight you can do it from the comfort of your own car. Even if you don’t think you are that adventurous you will find yourself wanting to take on backcountry hikes, float trips and all of nature’s elements and see yourself examining nature with a weird David Attenborough style approach. Yellowstone is a bit touristy, which is why I loved Grand Teton accessibility and relaxed style.
Getting there: Fly into Billings, Jackson or Bozeman. All amazing towns to check out in their own right.
Best time: Any really but more roads, trails and accommodation are open from June-Oct. If you can travel in June or September you will have some chance to avoid summer crowds and get the accommodation you want. But check first before planning your trip.
How long: 3 days Yellowstone/2 Grand Teton minimum. If you really love animal watching – double that!
Stay: Yellowstone – At Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone Lake Hotel or Lodge or Mammoth Springs Inn & Cabins. Camping at Norris, Indian Creek or Slough Creek.
Grand Teton – At Signal Lodge & Cabins or camping at Jenny Lake. Other Lodges are very expensive. Jackson is a good option just outside.
Do: Yellowstone – Wildlife watching at Lamar & Hayden Valleys and dawn & dusk, Fishing one of the many rivers for trout, a day spent checking out the Geysers and Thermal pools around Old Faithful, Hiking round the Canyon or Mt. Washburn.
Grand Teton – Float trip on Snake River to spot animals, Lake hikes and hikes to Inspiration Point or Cascade Canyon, Mormon Row houses for photos.
Glacier NP, Montana
Why go? Magnificent peaks of the Continental Divide cut by ice blue lakes and one of America’s epic highways. Second for wildlife watching after Teton & Yellowstone.
Getting there: Fly into Kalispell, Missoula or Spokane or drive down from Canada (Banff or Calgary)
Best time: When the famous ‘Road-to-the-Sun’ pass opens (usually mid-June to early Oct)
How long: 3 days min
Stay: Many Glacier on east side of park at the lodge, cabins or camp. On west side stay at Thompson Lake lodge or camp at Avalanche or Sprague.
Do: Drive the Road-to-the-Sun (only open fully mid-late June to early Oct) taking in the slowly melting glaciers, hike one of the many spectacular trails on top of the Continental divide such as Iceberg Lake and Highline trail, keep and eye out for Mountain goats, Bighorn sheep and Grizzlies.
Mt. Rainier & Olympic NP, Washington
Why go? The northeast is totally spoilt with beauty. Rainforests, lakes, beaches,gigantic volcanic mountain ranges, hot springs and one hell of a hill in Mt. Rainier. The awe inspiring sight of this mountain (hopefully on one of the few clear days…) really does take your breathe away.
Best time: Summer for sure when wildflowers in bloom but you can get away with some nice days from June to October.
Getting there: Seattle or Portland – love both of these cities too!
How long: For both – 4 days minimum (3 hrs drive from each other)
Stay: Camping is available at both but with inclement weather a given – Paradise Inn at Mt. Rainer and Lake Crescent or Quinault Lodges in Olympic are lovely and cozy.
Do: At Mt. Rainier hike Sunrise Point, Sunline trail or Camp Muir (10,000ft) or all the way to the top! (14,440ft and recommended with guide company)
Zion & Bryce Canyon NP’s, Utah
Why go? Utah’s canyon landscapes are other-wordly and are an outdoor adventurer and photographer’s dream. It is hard to pick which parks to go to but Zion & Bryce are the closest together so easy to combine – but they are also the busiest.
Best time: Spring or Autumn
Getting there: From Las Vegas or Flagstaff/Phoenix
How long: 4 days for both minimum
Stay: At Zion there is one Lodge and it and the campsites are very popular, however the town of Springdale is right next door to the park with a variety of accommodation and good food. Bryce is less busy and has a great Lodge and large campgrounds, in and just outside the park.
Do: Zion is a Hiking mecca. The Narrows, Angels Landing & Observation Point will test your legs and acro/claustro-phobias out. Canyoning is also very popular. The views of Bryce Amphitheater and its hoodoos at sunrise and sunset are the main attraction.
Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah (Navajo Tribal Park)
Why go? The star of countless movies, Monument Valley is one of those special places that you can’t stop looking at and taking a million photos. It is the epitome of America’s wild, wild west.
Best time: Spring or Autumn
Getting there: From Las Vegas or Flagstaff/Phoenix
How long: 2 Days
Stay: The View Hotel has to have the best room views in the world!
Do: A Navajo guided tour will give you insight into the spiritual stories of the valley and even though you can drive the valley road yourself – you’d better not care about the suspension on your car. Horseback riding is a great way to soak up the wild frontier atmosphere too.
And of course there are many others to be considered:
Grand Canyon, Arizona – Helicopter in from Vegas or spend more time exploring the North and South rims via donkey, hiking or rafting down the Colorado River.
Yosemite, California – Always crowded but up there with Yellowstone for its spectacular scenery & waterfalls.
Big Bend, Texas – A much underrated NP. Unbelievable scenery, hikes, rafting, history.
Acardia, Maine – Part of beautiful Bar Harbour and New England’s amazing scenery.
Everglades, Florida – Alligator chasing! A great day trip from Miami.
Death Valley & Joshua Tree, California – Arid, isolated, Hollywood style grand deserts.
Smokey Mountains, North Carolina – The most visited park of them all, known for its magical foggy mountains and historic rustic villages.
Arches, Canyonlands & Capital Reef, Utah – Less visited then the popular Zion & Bryce these parks all offer amazing scenery and outdoor activities on the wilder side.
These national parks showcase the beauty of America at its best. There is no doubt of American’s loyalty and pride of their beautiful land and how to successfully protect it whilst generously showing it to the rest of the world.
What’s your favorite experience at one of America’s beauties?
For more information and start planning your trip visit: http://www.nps.gov/index.htm