Visiting the National Parks

Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch – Arches National Park

The National Parks are an amazing wonder. I visited a few National Parks with a friend as part of a road trip and it left a lasting impression on me.

I received an annual National Park pass as a gift and decided to put it to use. I made a series of trips and tried to see as many parks as I could in geographical clusters to make it more affordable.

The preservation of these amazing lands is special and something to be cherished.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

This is one of the most underrated National Parks in my opinion. I had not heard a lot about it before visiting so I did not have high expectations going in. Once we arrived I was blown away by the sharp edges and how far the drop offs were. There were many lookout areas where you could stare straight down. Unlike the grand Canyon you can easily see clear across as the Canyon is quiet narrow by comparison. Yet this only increases the dramatic effect of how sever the crevasse is.

Yosemite

I can’t add anything beyond what hasn’t already been said. Yosemite is an incredible place. Half Dome and El Capitan have had many movies made about them. There are beautiful waterfalls and forestry throughout the park.

Redwood

Redwood

The Redwood National Park is massive. It is spread throughout Northern California. There are many wonderful spots to visit. We drove to and did a couple of short hikes in various locations. You really can’t go wrong whatever your choose. These trees are impressive and the smell is fresh.

Lassen Volcanic

Lassen Volcanic

So many different things to see here. The bubbling Hot Springs really stood out the most to me. There are lakes and of course the Volcanic Mountains. Another neat part is seeing the remains of the molten rock that shot out when it erupted. It was incredible to see just how far away these artifacts lay from the peak. It is an incredible visual to how powerful the volcano is.

Pinnacles

What stood out to me about Pinnacles is its location. It is in a surrounding area that is very flat. So this part really stands out with its mountains. You can hike to the top and see a long range. The camp sites were nice and they had shower facilities and a small general store inside the visitors center.

Crater Lake

Crater Lake

This park did not have as much to do as many of the others, but I left there stunned by its beauty. The color of the water is just amazing and it i incredible how pristine this lake is. You can hike down to a spot where you can swim and even jump off some nearby rocks. Just know it is extremely cold! Most of the people couldn’t last more than a minute at a time; me included.

Sequoia / Kings Canyon

General Grant King Canyon

These parks border each other. Kings Canyon is best known for General Grant the widest tree. Sequoia is best known for General Sherman the tallest tree. A park ranger told me if you have to pick just one tree to see General Grant would be the one. Another bonus is there are less crowds around General Grant too so you can really get close to it.

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree Oasis

This park beat my expectations. There are neat rock formations that people climb inside the park. They are mostly small so a lot of people are bouldering without equipment. The included photo is of an oasis. You actually access this hiking trail from outside the park, but it was my favorite part of the visit. It really is amazing to see the lush growth in the middle of the desert.

Channel Islands

This is one of the more expensive National Parks to visit primarily because it requires a boat ride to access. The ride getting to it and back is pat of the experience. It helps you judge just how far away the islands are from the main land.

It is amazing how primitive the islands are. There is a simple dock for the boats and a couple of restrooms. Otherwise it is pure nature. It is a strange feeling being on the island away from all resources and amenities fully relying on the boat to take you back.

Denali

Denali

This park is massive, but only accessible by bus. It has a minimum length of 4 hours. We were unable to take the bus tour, but driving along the highway just getting there gives a good glimpse of its vastness. There are some great lookout spots from the highway as well. You can only drive a small portion inside the park, but we were able to see some wildlife.

If you are not interested in doing the bus tour I would recommend just viewing the mountain range from the highway vista points. This will save a lot of time and driving.

Grand Canyon

grand canyon
Grand Canyon Overlook

What was so striking to me about the Grand Canyon was just this feeling of intimidation. The canyon is so enormous that as you approach the edge I had a feeling of uneasiness that I could just fall or be sucked right in. Needless to say I stood a ways back from the edge. It is one amazing site to see and the emotions it evoked were different than any I had felt before.

Zion

Zion

Zion is an incredibly beautiful and incredible park. I was unable to do a lot of what I had hoped. I very much wanted to hike the subway trail, but I went in winter and did not know the trail well enough to go by myself. It is too bad I wasn’t better prepared, because I know there is a lottery system and it can be hard to have an opportunity.

They have a great bus system to cut down on cars on the road. I rode the bus to the end of the line and you can see amazing stuff from it. Those that are less mobile can enjoy a lot of the park this way with minimal walking. I hoped to do some hiking in the narrows, but my hiking boots failed on me. With the sole of my heel peeling off I had to get back on the bus and ride back out.

Great Basin

Great Basin

Beautiful Lake @ 10,000 foot elevation

This is one of the least visited parks. It was very impressive and I believe the lack of visitors is directly related to just how far from neighboring towns it is located. Air travel would still require a long rental car drive to get here. There is something special about visiting a park when there are less people around.

Death Valley

Death Valley
Dante’s View

Another massive National Park. I was most amazed by how long I was driving on road without services before I even got to the park. It really is off by itself. Once you get into the park there are some nearby towns with food and gas. The Park itself has a gas station as well. I made the mistake not gasing up when I left relying on GPS that a gas station would come up in time. Sure enough that station was closed and that made things pretty tight before I got to the next city with services. I highly recommend filling up a full tank of gas no matter the price or wait before leaving the park.

I visited in the winter so I was able to avoid the heat. Some might say I missed out on the experience, but I have no regrets about this decision especially traveling alone. It would have been hard to see everything and cover as much ground hiking if it was over 110.

I had heard great things about the Furnace Creek camp grounds. Unfortunately they were full, but I was able to sleep in some auxiliary camp grounds. They have basic amenities, but it is basically a parking lot and the cars and tents are packed in.

The Park itself has some neat things to see and you could spend more time then you ever had hiking and exploring it. You can get a taste with small hikes and drives throughout the park though.

Badwater Basin was a unique experience. It is actually below sea level. That evoked eerie emotions that grew the further I went away from the main road.

Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef

This is one of the lesser talked about National Parks in Utah. Bryce, Zion, and Arches are so well know but all of the Utah parks are incredible. Capitol Reef is unique in the grand size of the rock formations and how they are a formidable wall linked together. It almost feels as if you are in a movie set driving throughout the park with these monstrous rock formations blocking you from every side.

Some other attractions include an old school house you can visit and a fruit orchard where you can pick fruit, but be sure to self pay as well for whatever you take.

Grand Teton

It is hard to imagine that I saw this park as an accidental byproduct from a visit to yellowstone. We just happened to drive past it on the highway when leaving the park for our next destination. It was not until we got home that we realized the magnificent National Park we had just driven by. I regret we did not know this at the time as we would have spent some time there. Yet it is a fun memory of how we drove past this miraculous mountain range above a majestic lake. As one would imagine with such a monstrous mountain range, just driving by took a long time and allowed us to marvel at it. The road is right next to the lake with wonderful views nearly the entire way.

Indiana Dunes

Indiana Dunes

I visited the Dunes before it was reclassified as a National Park. I was blown away with its beauty. It also gives full appreciation for the size of the Great Lakes. It really does feel like you are looking out on the ocean.

Yellowstone

Hot Spring

Even bigger than Yosemite. A weekend is only enough to scrape the surface, but you can get a good idea. So many different things to see. We did the grand loop and saw the colorful hot springs, waterfalls, and of course Old Faithful.

They even have a clock in the visitors center near old faithful with the expected eruption time. I was at first surprised how few people gathered to see it, but as the clock got closer to blast off it was amazing how fast the crowds assembled. Since this is nature and not Disneyland once the time had passed the expected start I wondered, what if it is never going to go off again. Could I have just missed the last time it went off. Then a few minutes after these thoughts it blasted water over 100 feet up in the air and all was well.

Canyonlands

Canyonlands

What I remember most about Canyonlands was just how big this park was. It seemed as if you could look forever in any direction and see these canyons. There are some lookout spots where you can get to the edge of huge drops offs. Similar to my feelings at the Grand Canyon it was intimidating and I kept many steps back from the edge at this park as well. There are many hiking trails to explore these formations and elevation changes.

Rocky Mountain

Rocky Mountain

This park has a lot to offer. I can see that it would take many days to get a good feel for all the sights to see here. Camping spots were sold out far in advance so I had to limit my time to give myself the best shot to get to a first come first serve camp. So I made my way to the top as quick as I could to see the Rocky Mountains. They really are incredible with the stone color, sharp edges, and the soft looking snow. I wish I could have seen more of the park, but it was critical I had a place to sleep for the night.

Rocky Mountain Campground

I had to include a second picture of the campsite I stayed at. Since it was first come I arrived here pretty early. I was amazed at how pretty the site was. It had plenty of restrooms, a small outdoor camp auditorium for gatherings, and was right next to a river. Even though I missed out on time looking at the rest of the park, the time at this camp site was really a nice treat.

Great Sand Dunes

Great Sand Dunes

Similar to many of the National Parks this one is very far away from any medium size cities. I drove for hours past very small towns to get here. It also is striking how uneventful a lot of the scenery is from the highways en route. Yet once you arrive you just see this massive pile of sand. My only experience with sand always associated it being next to a lake or a beach. So it really is a strange feeling seeing so much sand away from water in the middle of such an unpopulated area.

As I walked out to the sand I saw a lot of people with sleds who would hike to the top and then ride down. I did not get to try this, but it looked like people were having a great time. Especially the kids.

Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde

Another Park that is not widely talked about but very impressive. It is really neat to see the primitive living quarters that the people lived in. They built their homes hanging over the mountains to provide safety and protection. It also is amazing to see how small many of the living spaces were for an entire family compared to what many of us live in modern America.

There are some really beautiful lookout points in this park as well. It also has some really nice camping options. They have access to laundry and if I remember correctly wifi as well. So this is one of the more robust places to camp.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

The views into the bowl of Bryce Canyon are incredible. Just walking up to the edge and taking it in is worth the trip. But there is some incredible hiking. You can hike down into the canyons and get up close to the formations. There are hikes or all difficulty levels available.

Petrified Forrest

Petrified Forrest

This park has two entrances. You can enter on one side and leave on the other. This makes sense since the old highway used to go through the park. So part of the time you are in the park you will notice the new interstate running parallel off in the distance.

You can see the old historic hotel from route 66. There are many different things to see such as painted rocks with Petroglyphs. Then the rock formations and petrified wood were really colorful and unique.

This park also had less visitors when I went. I got there before the gates opened so i was one of the first going through. It was nice to cruise from site to site along the road without any traffic.

Saguaro

Saguaro

I first must admit that I visited this park when it was over 110 degrees in the summer. Therefore, I only spent a few minutes outside the air conditioned vehicle at at time. The Saguaro trees are really cool, but you can see many of them just driving along the major interstates coming in and out of Tucson. Meanwhile, the park has many unique variations of them with colorful flowers that you will not see anywhere else. It is amazing to see how much growth and life can be in the desert.

White Sands

White Sands

I was lucky to get into to this park. As I drove in I was warned that the park was closing early and everyone had to be out by a specific time. I asked what the reason was and the ranger alerted me that the US Military would be doing a Missile Launch. That was enough for me to leave with a full hour to spare.

In the short time I was there it was really incredible after driving for hours in the barren interstate to then be surrounded by what almost appeared to be a winter setting. It was very hot in the summer, but watching people sled down the sand mounds still had that winter feel.

Guadalupe Mountains

Guadalupe Mountains

This is one of the lesser visited National Parks. The visitors center was closed when I stayed there. The campgrounds are small, but that was one my favorite things about it. Since there were so few visitors it made it feel like more of a community. When one is used to living near large cities it is natural to always want more space. Yet once you are out in the open with so few people in such a large area there is something about being around people that makes you feel at ease. The mountains are very tall and even serious hikers could get a great workout here. Aside from the hiking there is not a lot to see for the average visitor. The uniqueness of such a large area so far from even small cities with so few visitors is an experience in itself.

Carlsbad Caverns

For some reason I thought that photos were not allowed so I did not take any. It turns out that the flash does not have any negative impact on the cave formations and life. I also went through the cave pretty quick. As with the uneasiness I felt as some of other National Parks due to the heights and steep drops, this one had the reverse. Being underground such a far distance inside an enormous cave was unlike any experience I have had before. Let’s just say I was happy to get back on the elevator to ride back up top and call it a successful visit.

Arches

Arches

Arches will always be a special park to me. I used the Delicate Arch photo as the overarching photo for this entire post. This was the park that my friend and I visited on our roadtrip. I didn’t fully appreciate what I saw at the time until months later when I looked back on our photos. It sparked the interest in going to see more parks and along the way I went to see Arches a second time.

The rock formations are so interesting and the park is so open and vast. It just feels relaxing to have so much room around, but to see so many incredible formations along the road. The other thing that struck me about Arches is how close it is to the town of Moab. The park is just on the other side of the highway, but you can’t quiet see what is there until you enter the park. The town of Moab has a lot of charm and its amazing how in one moment you are just in a small town, but the next this incredible National Park.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *