The geothermal features here inspired the creation of the world’s first official “National Park” in 1872. Most of Yellowstone is actually a supervolcano where the magma heats up underground water producing 10,000 hot springs, fumaroles, and mudpots on the surface, as well as 300 geysers. Incredibly, over 50% of the geysers in the world occur within this one park, which is equally famous for its wildlife diversity, including grizzly bears, bison, gray wolves, and elk.
Old Faithful geyser, Norris Geyser Basin, Mammoth Hot Springs, waterfalls, wildlife
The most famous geyser here is Old Faithful, which can shoot water up to 185 feet in the air. Since the occurrence of several earthquakes it is no longer as consistent as its name suggests, but its eruptions can be accurately predicted every 60 to 110 minutes throughout the day. Arrive early to get a seat or take the trail up the nearby hill to watch it from above. Afterwards, hike the boardwalks through colorful Upper Geyser Basin.
A hike into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone on Glacial Boulder Trail is one way to find the solitude lacking at the drive-up overlooks (you should still hike to the Brink of Lower Falls with the crowds). Instead of staying in the packed campgrounds, consider getting a permit to backpack camp in the canyon.
The trail is steep, but paved down to the Brink of Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River for unforgettable view of the canyon, especially on sunny days when a rainbow appears in the spray.
Summer, but Old Faithful Village can seem busy in the winter with all the snowmobiles during the day.
Very few roads are not paved, but the majority close for seven months in the winter.
There are many campgrounds in the park, but they fill up quickly the summer (especially at primitive Slough Creek). The surrounding National Forests offer campgrounds and dispersed sites as well. We have enjoyed backpacking at designated campsites in the park with a permit, especially in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Explore More – How many of the park’s 4-million annual visitors arrive in June, July, and August?
Twenty-one of the 22 islands within this archipelago jutting from northern Wisconsin into Lake Superior are part of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. This region is famous for its lighthouses and concessionaires offer tours to see them if you do not have your own boat. Kayakers come for the sea caves carved into Sand Island, Devils Island, and the mainland (accessible on foot after the lake freezes in winter).
Islands, lighthouses, boating, camping, sea caves
Even though this is a freshwater lake, Sand Island has sea caves carved into the billion-year-old sandstone cliffs by constant wave action. Located only 4 miles from shore, the Sand Island sea caves are carved nearly 50 feet into the rock and can be carefully navigated by kayak.
Sand Island was closed at the time of our visit due to black bear activity, but it is one of the few islands that has a hiking trail (Stockton, Basswood, and Outer being others). Lakeshore Trail on the west side of the Bayfield Peninsula offers a trail on the mainland.
You will need a kayak and a steady hand to take photographs while paddling through the sea caves on the east side of Sand Island.
None to visit, but there are fees to camp on the islands and for concessionaire boat tours.
Most roads on the Bayfield Peninsula are paved and the sandy roads through Chequamegon National Forest were passable by all vehicles.
Many visitors come with their own boat to camp on one of the 18 islands with sites (permit required and reservations recommended). Car camping is available at Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island (ferry service) and throughout Chequamegon National Forest on Bayfield Peninsula.
Explore More – When was Long Island added as the twenty-first island in the park?
Ironically, the New River is one of the oldest rivers in the world at 65-million years. In the 50 miles from Bluestone Dam to Gauley Bridge it falls 750 feet in elevation, meaning it is full of Class I to V rapids that attract whitewater rafters from around the world.
Bridge, scenic views, hiking, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, free campgrounds
Canyon Rim Visitor Center offers information and great views of the New River Gorge Bridge. From there you can drive down the twisty road to the river. Most visitors come here for whitewater rafting, so you should consider hiring a guide to take you out.
The Endless Wall Trail makes a 3-mile loop trail that provides great views of the New River Gorge and the bridge, as well as access to some of the park’s 1,600 rock climbing routes.
Completed in 1977, the New River Gorge Bridge is the second longest single-steel span in the world. Highway 82 passes underneath where it rises 876 feet above the river.
Lake Chelan is fifty-five miles long and 1,486 feet in depth, the third deepest lake in the U.S. At the north end of the lake (inaccessible by road), Stehekin, Washington has only about 100 year-round residents. Daily ferries service the community, which is the jumping off point for the mountain trails of Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and North Cascades National Park.
Ferry, Stehekin, Rainbow Falls, backpacking trails
Stehekin is too fun for a brief day trip, so we recommend you book a room or pick up overnight backpacking permits at the Golden West Visitor Center in town. Then hop on the red jammer-style bus that provides transportation to the trailheads, including the short hike to Rainbow Falls. Nearby, the old one-room schoolhouse is open to visitors since it was replaced by a more modern building. Don’t miss the chance to sample the delicious variety of baked goods at Stehekin Pastry Company. After backpacking the many steep switchbacks, you will need the extra calories.
There are several great loop options, but we enjoyed hooking into the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail then back south over McAlester Pass to Rainbow Creek Trail on a two night backpacking trip.
The beautiful Lake Chelan is known for its clarity and its fjord-like proportions, which you can best enjoy on the ferry ride to Stehekin.
No entrance fee, but there are charges for the ferry, bus, and backcountry campsites.
No roads, so you will be walking or paying to take the red jammer-style bus out of Stehekin.
Purple Point and Harlequin Campgrounds are off the main road north of Stehekin, but since you have to pack in all of your gear on the ferry you may as well camp at one of the backcountry sites (permit required) along the many trails in the area.
Explore More – How far below sea level is the bottom of Lake Chelan?