Self-quarantine have you craving wide open spaces? A national parks trip might be just what you need when the world opens up again. Whatever your interests, there’s a national park for you!
By Jennifer Broome
Drawn to the Sea
Maine’s Acadia National Park is called the “crown jewel of the North Atlantic Coast.” You have to catch a sunrise or sunset (or both) atop Cadillac Mountain. Drive to the top allowing extra time to park as both times are very popular. For solitude, head to Pretty Marsh. Explore the carriage roads and bridges financed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., between 1913 and 1940. Hike an easy trail along Jordan Pond. Driving the 27-mile park loop is a must. Make stops at Thunder Hole, Otter Cliff and Sand Beach, which is a geological rarity as one of the few cold-water, shell-based sand beaches in the world.
Big Bend National Park in a remote area of West Texas is the only national park to have an entire mountain range within its boundaries. Hike Lost Mine Trail to experience the mountains. Head to Santa Elena to see its massive canyon walls along the Rio Grande River. Big Bend National Park shares the border with Mexico for 118 miles. After a nice hike, sooth your tired muscles in the hot springs just north of the Rio Grande. Take your passport to go through the Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry to ride in a rowboat across the river and then ride a burro into the tiny Mexican village for lunch.
Explore an underground world in Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. Hike in on the 1.25-mile Natural Entrance Trail, explore the caverns and take the elevator back up. Big Room is the largest known natural limestone chamber in the Western Hemisphere. It’s over 600,000 square feet which is comparable to 14 football fields.
Don’t miss the Hall of Giants or Bottomless Cave, either. Drive about four hours over to White Sands National Park to see the unusual gypsum sand dunes. White Sands was upgraded late last year to be the nation’s 62nd national park. Hike the Dune Life Nature Trail to experience an ecotone, where two biological communities meet. On this trail, the desert scrub transitions into the gypsum sand dunes in one of the most diverse ecosystems in the park.
Ancient History Enthusiast
Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado was the first national park dedicated to preserving the works of man. With about 150 rooms, Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America. There are close to 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, from the Ancestral Puebloans. It does take 40-45 minutes to do the scenic drive to the top of the mesa. Make a reservation ahead of time for a guided tour of the Balcony House, Cliff Palace or Long House. Hike the 2.4-mile narrow and rugged Petroglyph Point Trail to see wonderful canyon views and a well-preserved petroglyph panel.
Late spring and early summer are great times to view wildlife, including baby animals, in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Always give wildlife space, especially the larger animals like buffalo and bears. Odds are good to see elk or deer near Mammoth Hot Springs. On the drive over to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone you might spot buffalo, bear or wolf. Don’t miss Old Faithful, about an hour north of the south entrance. Allow plenty of time to see the geyser erupt. For a thermal area with less crowds, explore the West Thumb Geyser Basin. You’re also really close to Grand Teton National Park where wildlife and stunning scenery are also abundant.
Fire meets the sea at Hawai’I Volcanos National Park on the Big Island. It’s home to Kilauea and Mauna Loa, two of the most active volcanoes in the world. Explore a volcanic landscape on Kilauea’s Crater Rim Drive. Don’t miss Punalu’u Beach, Hawaii’s most famous black sand beach, close to the park.
On Maui, Haleakalā National Park is named after a dormant volcano. You have to make a sunrise viewing reservation in advance. There are two districts in the park. Kīpahulu is the lusher side filled with waterfalls and Hawaiian cultural experiences. The remote summit district tops out at 10,023 feet. Drive the narrow, steep and winding road to experience a stark mountain top in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Many national parks closed temporarily due to Cover-19. Visit NPS.gov/FindAPark for the latest updates on park re-openings.
(Go Magazine May/June 2020)