Sequoia National Park

Overview

In 1890, Sequoia became the second National Park in the United States in order to protect its famous groves of giant sequoia trees, not to be mistaken for California’s coast redwoods.  The park’s hub in the Giant Forest contains the General Sherman tree, the largest by volume in the world.  Most of the park is in the High Sierra and includes Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous U.S. at 14,505 feet. 

Highlights

General Sherman Tree, Moro Rock, Crystal Cave, Mt. Whitney

Must-Do Activity

The remarkable giant sequoia tree can live over 2,000 years, reach three hundred feet in height, and grow the largest wood volume of any single-stemmed tree on the planet.  They are only found in 75 protected groves scattered throughout California’s Sierra Nevadas.  Bring your whole family to see how many people it takes arms linked to reach around the base of one of these massive trees.  With circumferences reaching over 100 feet, you are going to need a big family! 

Best Trail

Crescent Trail starts near the General Sherman tree, winds up the hill, and then connects with the Trail of the Sequoias, which passes the dense clusters of the Senate and House Groups.  It is especially nice when there is snow on the ground.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Any time of year is great to visit, but the winter is perhaps the prettiest as the snow contrasts nicely with the orange bark of the giant sequoia trees.

Peak Season

Summer due to the high elevation

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$35 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved, but steep, winding, and narrow.  The rough Mineral King Road is closed in winter.

Camping

There are several large campgrounds near the Giant Forest, as well as two on the rough road to the remote Mineral King section of the park.  All backcountry camping requires a permit and is on a quota system during the summer.


This design we created to celebrate Mesa Verde National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Why do park rangers recommend you wrap your car with chicken wire when you visit Mineral King?

Sitka National Historical Park

Overview

Sitka National Historical Park offers a good introduction to the Russian and native influences on this region, as well as a forested trail past beautifully carved totem poles.  Created in 1910, it was the first National Park Service (NPS) site in Alaska, nearly 50 years before statehood.

Highlights

1843 Russian Bishop’s House, Russian Orthodox cathedral, totem poles

Must-Do Activity

Two miles of trails wind through the spruce forest passing more than a dozen totem poles and the site of Kiks.ádi Fort where the 1804 battle took place between Russian fur traders and the native Tlingit community.  To further experience the Tlingit culture, attend a traditional dance at Shee’tka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Community House. 

Best Trail

The adventurous can summit 3,354 foot Mount Verstovia for unsurpassed views of the harbor and the mountainous heart of Baranof Island.  This steep route takes all day, starting with numerous switchbacks before the trail disappears and scrambling over rocks to the top.  Also scenic, Indian River Trail is a flatter alternative.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Jagged peaks and tiny forested islands make Sitka the most beautiful spot in Southeast Alaska.  Bald eagles abound in trees around the town’s quiet boat docks, while the volcanic cone of Mount Edgecumbe sits zen-like off to the west. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/sitk/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

There are no roads to Sitka, so you have to take an airplane, cruise ship, or ferry.  The main road on Baranof Island is paved and it is less than a mile walk to access the NPS visitor center from downtown.

Camping

Campsites are available at Blue Lake down a dirt road east of town in Tongass National Forest or at Old Sitka State Historic Park near the ferry terminal.

Explore More – When did the official transfer of Alaska from Russia to the U.S.A. take place on Castle Hill in Sitka (then known as New Archangel)?

Top 10 National Parks for Dispersed Backcountry Camping

These National Park Service units do not require you to camp in a designated site, so much the better for privacy and quiet.  These are our 10 favorite spots to go backpacking and commune with nature in the backcountry.  Remember to practice Leave No Trace principles.

10. Appalachian National Scenic Trail (Georgia to Maine)

With the exception of some National and State Parks, camping is dispersed along the A.T.

9. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Most parks in Alaska offer dispersed camping and this is the largest of all National Parks.

8. Buffalo National River (Arkansas)

While floating downstream, you can pull your boat to the shore and set up wherever you like.

7. Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota)

Bison will be your only companions on the prairies and forests above the caverns.

6. Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

This park has designated sites along its trails, but you can also get an off-trail permit by zone.

5. Sequoia National Park (California)

Much of this park has designated campsites, but the Mineral King section does not.

4. Badlands National Park (South Dakota)

Incredible views can be found in Conata Basin and other free backcountry areas.

3. Death Valley National Park (California)

It is a hike to the Panamint Dunes, but you will likely have the place to yourself.

2. Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)

Take a ferry to these barrier islands and set up on the beautiful sandy beaches.

…and finally our #1 National Park for dispersed backcountry camping!

1. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (Colorado)

A free permit allows you to set up camp anywhere in the dune field not visible from the road.

Honorable Mention

Ozark National Scenic Riverways (Missouri)

Find the perfect spot along the shores of the Jack’s Fork or Current Rivers

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site

Overview

The Mandan and Hidatsa lived and farmed side-by-side near the banks of the Missouri River for centuries before Euro-Americans arrived in search of furs, bringing smallpox and other diseases.  The Corps of Discovery led by Lewis and Clark over-wintered here in 1804-05.  Eventually the Mandan and Hidatsa were forced to abandon their villages, later joining the Arikara to form the Three Affiliated Tribes. 

Highlights

Reconstructed earthlodge, museum, riverside village sites

Must-Do Activity

Many artifacts recovered on site are displayed inside the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center, some suggesting inhabitation by Paleo-Indians as far back as 11,000 years ago.  You can even try out a hoe made from a bison scapula.

Best Trail

From the visitor center a trail leads to the Milk River, a tributary to the much larger (and more flood prone) Missouri River.  Each lump on the grass that you pass was once an earthlodge, which is easier to see in the overhead photograph on the interpretive sign.  You can drive to two other trailheads that provide access to the Missouri River and the site of Big Hidatsa Village.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There is not much evidence left of the hundreds of earthlodges that once stood in these three villages, but there is one reconstruction that visitors can enter to exemplify the spacious dwellings.  An earthlodge actually required a large amount of wood to provide structure.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/knri/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Sakakawea State Park is 15 miles north of this site.

Explore More – What famous traveling companions did Lewis and Clark first meet here in 1804?

Tuzigoot National Monument

Overview

The Verde River Valley was first permanently settled by the agrarian Hohokam culture around AD700.  The ruins seen here today were built between AD1000 and 1400 by the Sinagua, who left many behind many structures in this region.

Highlights

Ruins, museum, scenic views

Must-Do Activity

The Sinagua pueblo at Tuzigoot had about 110 rooms and is estimated to have housed 200 to 300 people.  You can walk inside portions of the ruin, including a section with a reconstructed roof.

Best Trail

A trail leads to an overlook of Tavasci Marsh, a wetland important to wildlife.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Tuzigoot pueblo was strategically placed atop a 120-foot high limestone outcrop with commanding views in all directions, but was not a cliff dwelling like those built later at nearby Montezuma Castle and Walnut Canyon National Monuments.

Peak Season

Summer, though it can get hot in the afternoons

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/tuzi/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$15 per person or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Outside the town of Cottonwood, Dead Horse State Park offers campsites with RV hookups and showers.

Explore More – What is the English translation of the Apache word Tuzigoot?