National Parks house some of the most beautiful settings in the United States, and thankfully, they were created to preserve that beauty for generations to come. Here are 5 U.S. National Parks to put on your wanderer list.
Yosemite National Park
With its awe-inspiring natural landscape of unique cliff faces, rock formations, waterfalls, and giant ancient sequoia trees, Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular US National Parks to visit. Yosemite spans 1,200-square miles in Northern California but most of the tourist activities are within the 8-square mile area of Yosemite Valley. Here you will find the park’s most famous landmarks – El Capitan and Half Dome – as well as many hiking trails. There are hikes for all experience levels, from taking a guided walking tour to scaling the cliffs as an experienced climber. Hikes offer some of the best ways to experience Yosemite. A few favorites are Mist Trail, John Muir Trail and Tuolumne Meadows. Scenic drives along Tioga Road or through Yosemite Valley also provide unforgettable experiences. Be sure to stop at popular viewpoints like Glacier Point, Tunnel View, and Half Dome. Because summer months are the busiest times in the park, get up early if you want to get ahead of the crowds on the trails and roads. Plan on spending a few days in Yosemite so you can hike in Yosemite Valley, drive the scenic Tioga Road, and explore Mariposa Grove.
There are electric car charging stations within the park, but gas stations are limited, so plan ahead or take the free Yosemite Valley Shuttle System.
The Mariposa Grove is open after it was closed for a 3-year restoration project in which parking lots and roads were removed to create better water flow to the trees. Parking was located two miles outside the grove but is now connected by shuttle buses. Once you arrive by shuttle, there is a sense of peace and serenity as you admire these huge sequoia trees sans all the traffic hustle and bustle. Enjoy a stroll through the grove as there are many easy walking trails and sequoias to admire there as well.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is the first national park in the world and was established in 1872 to preserve the natural resources and beauty of the area for generations to come. It spans over 3,000 square miles throughout northwest Wyoming, into Idaho and Montana. We recommend spending at least 3 days in the park to have ample time to explore the canyons, mountains, geysers, mud pots, waterfalls and colorful hot springs. Wildlife is plentiful and you may see bison, elk and grizzly bears along your drive through the park. Choose to be adventurous and hike the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and admire the river and waterfalls cutting through the red canyon walls, or travel by car to visit the North and South Rims of the canyon. Follow the shorter trails to explore the natural wonders such as Old Faithful geyser, Norris Geyser Basin, and Mammoth Springs to walk amongst the oldest and most dynamic geothermal areas.
The best time to visit is during the summer and early fall, but if you prefer to avoid big crowds, plan to go at the end of September.
Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon National Park, located in Northern Arizona, encompasses 277 miles of the Colorado River. The river has been a powerful force over the past 5 million years, carving and creating this beautiful and ever-changing mile-deep landscape. The Grand Canyon is rich in history and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Plan to spend a few days in the park so there is enough time to enjoy the hiking trails along and into the canyon, travel the South and North Rim roads that offer spectacular views, and raft the Colorado River and learn about the geologic history of the canyon.
For the explorer, travel further into the canyon by foot or by mule on a day trip along the Bright Angel Trail, and add a stay overnight in the canyon at Bright Angel Campground. Hiking into the canyon is not for the faint of heart; it is steep so those who are willing to make the journey will need to prepare to carry food, water, first-aid kit, flashlight, and plan to take breaks and enjoy the beauty around you.
The South Rim is the most popular of the two sections, with the visitor center, lodging, hiking
trails and many viewpoints for photos of the canyon throughout the day - including sunset. If you want a break from the crowds, head to the North Rim where photographers and writers have found inspiration in its natural beauty.
At the North Rim, enjoy hiking, cross country skiing, horseback riding and camping. Note: All backcountry overnight camping requires a permit.
You can visit the Grand Canyon year-round, but spring and fall are the best seasons to visit as the summers can be quite crowded. Be sure to utilize the free shuttle bus service along the South Rim to avoid frustration with parking as lots are typically full by 10:00 am.
Looking to give back? Then consider the Grand Canyon Conservancy which raises money to support projects and programs within the Grand Canyon National Park for all visitors to enjoy.
Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park, located along the east coast in Maine, encompasses approximately 50,000 acres that include many islands along the Atlantic coast. Acadia National Park was the first national park created from land gifted to the public by private owners who wanted to preserve the land for future generations. This gift was the start of the land conservation movement, allowing us continued enjoyment over a century later. The park is primarily located on Mount Desert Island, and you can drive the scenic Park Loop Road in one day, stopping along the road at the many accessible viewpoints to take in the view. Spend a weekend outdoors in the park exploring the coastline along the Park Loop Road, watching the sunrise atop Cadillac Mountain, taking a hike along one of the 150 trails in the park, and riding bikes along the carriage roads. Take a walk along Sand Beach, continue along the granite coastline and walk upon the rocks to watch and hear Thunder Hole erupt, a place where the power of the ocean rushes into a narrow channel, spouting water into the air and making a loud rolling sound. Continue along the road or trail to the magnificent 110 foot high Otter Cliffs and enjoy a picnic lunch at Otter Cove.
Wake up early and drive the Summit Road to the top of Cadillac Mountain, which stands 1530 feet above sea level, the highest point along the North Atlantic coast, so you can be one of the first to see the sunrise in the United States.
Explore some of the 45 miles of auto-free carriage roads by foot, bicycle or horseback as they wind up and around the mountains and through valleys with great views of the preserved landscape.
Summer months are the most popular but get away for a weekend in the fall to see
spectacular foliage within the park and along the coastline. Need a break from your outdoor adventures? Head into the quaint New England town of Bar Harbor and grab a lobster roll.
Mesa Verde National Park
If you are looking for a place to step back in time, visit Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. Get immersed in the history and culture by visiting archaeological sites of the Ancestral Puebloans who made their home in the mesa tops and canyon walls for over 700 years (550 A.D. to 1300 A.D.). Mesa Verde was established as a national park in 1906 and was the first one to “preserve the works of man.” It is designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Cultural Site, and it is a great place to explore the cliff dwellings and elaborate stone communities built in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. Currently, Mesa Verde has over 4,700 archaeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings and the mesa top sites of pit houses, pueblos, masonry towers and farming structures with more being discovered.
The largest cliff dwelling in North America is Cliff Palace, which was built between 1190 and 1280 A.D. and was home to over 100 people during that time. Cliff Palace is viewed as the must-see of a lifetime as it is an incredible engineering feat, due to the design and construction of the massive village dwelling that’s still standing today. Balcony House is for the most adventurous tourists as there is a 32-foot ladder to enter the cliff dwelling, tight spaces to navigate, natural stone steps and smaller ladders to exit the dwelling. It is a ranger guided tour, and you will find that there were probably only a few
families that lived here as it is much smaller than the Cliff Palace, which was more like a village.
There are also many self-guided cliff dwelling tours and hikes throughout Navajo Canyon as well as cultural dance demonstrations from Pueblo members and tribes with connection to Mesa Verde.
The best time to visit is from June through September to ensure that all aspects of the park are available to explore and enjoy. Be sure to plan and reserve your cliff dwelling tour tickets through the recreation.gov website. Drive the 6-mile Mesa Top Loop Road and listen to the audio tour from a park ranger highlighting the excavated mesa-top villages and viewpoints of the cliff dwellings.
Get involved with the National Park Service
Make it your New Year’s Resolution to explore our U.S. National Parks to enjoy the natural beauty all around us, grow in knowledge about the parks, and work on preserving them for generations to come. There are many programs offered by our National Park Service (NPS) both on site at the parks and for educators to use in the classroom. The program, Teaching with Historical Places (TwHP), provides lesson plans about America’s historic places in National Parks to enable teachers and students to learn about these places without leaving their classroom. These lesson plans help teachers engage the students through history, geography, and social studies activities as they examine the documents, maps, and photos to connect and explore our shared history. NPS offers virtual field trips where you can borrow material from the parks and head out of the class for field study. There are so many ways to explore what the parks have to offer virtually through education sessions and videos but make it a goal to get out there and see them in person. If you want to get more involved in the hands-on exploration at the National Parks, check out the Citizens Science program and volunteer to work side by side with the park rangers to help NPS study the land and water and keep working on ways to protect the National Parks. Park environments are constantly changing along with the way species respond to those changes and the NPS needs to understand and track the changes in order to care for the parks properly.
The NPS offers Junior Ranger programs for eager young learners that fulfill activities, attend ranger talks and find out answers to questions in their booklet. Most parks offer a junior ranger badge once all requirements are complete.
Did you know that 4th graders get a pass to enter ALL the National Parks for FREE with friends and family? Yes, it’s true that the family of the 4th grader gets FREE access to hundreds of National Parks across the country for an entire year! There is also free admission for active and retired military members and reduced admission for senior citizens. Exploring the US National Parks can be affordable and you can research more about how to save money and time within the parks. Utilize the National Park Service mobile app to help research and plan your trip as well as use as a guide during your visit.
When visiting these national treasures, please practice the seven principles of “Leave No Trace”: · Plan ahead & prepare
· Travel & camp on durable surfaces
· Pack out what you bring in/Dispose of waste properly
· Leave areas as you found them
· Minimize campfire impact
· Respect Wildlife
· Be considerate of other visitors/hikers
Together, we can preserve the parks and continue to leave a beautiful legacy for future generations.
We hope that this article has inspired you to wander to one of the U.S. National Parks. If you have visited one of these destinations feel free to tell us all about it at WinniWanderer@winni.com, hearing from you will make our day!
By Staff Contributor
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