Tag Archives: National Park

Shenandoah National Park

Overview

At one time Shenandoah National Park was entirely private owned, then in the 1930s the government of Virginia went about “procuring” the land for a grand National Park in the east.  These mountains are renowned for their colorful fall foliage, which peaks in October, when 18% of annual visitors arrive.  If you are looking to avoid traffic in a park only 70 miles from Washington, D.C., we recommend coming in February when almost every park amenity is closed.

Highlights

Skyline Drive, Stony Man, Limberlost Trail, Dark Hollow Falls, Rapidan Camp, Old Rag Mountain

Must-Do Activity

Skyline Drive runs 105 miles to form the backbone of this narrow National Park.  Driving at the posted 35 mile-per-hour speed limit, it takes 3 hours to drive in its entirety if you do not stop once.  But with 75 overlooks and 513 miles of trails to choose from, who would want to do that?  Skyline Drive is paralleled by 101 miles of the famous 2,185-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Best Trail

The trailhead for Old Rag Mountain is located east of the park off Highway 231 (not Skyline Drive), but it is the most popular hike.  The challenging route over slick rock faces and narrow corridors provides wonderful views of the ridgeline that comprises Shenandoah National Park.  Due to the number of hikers, it is recommended you complete a 7.1-mile loop by connecting Ridge Trail with Saddle Trail. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Throughout the park there are numerous trails to waterfalls, though some may run dry in the summer.  The shortest hike, at 1.4 miles roundtrip, leads to 70-foot tall Dark Hollow Falls. 

Peak Season

Summer, plus mid-October for fall foliage

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The park’s paved backbone Skyline Drive is occasionally closed after major snowstorms.  Located at Mile 32 (measured from Port Royal, Virginia in the north), the 670-foot long Mary’s Rock Tunnel allows a maximum vehicle height of 12 feet, 8 inches.

Camping

There are four seasonal campgrounds located along Skyline Drive and backpacking is allowed with a free permit.  West of the Shenandoah River Valley, George Washington National Forest also provides camping opportunities.

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

Explore More – What percentage of the 199,218 acres in Shenandoah National Park is designated Wilderness?

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Denali National Park and Preserve

Overview

At 20,320 feet above-sea-level, Denali is the highest point in North America.  It is also the tallest mountain on Earth measured from base to summit.  Mt. Everest starts from a 13,000-foot plateau, while Denali’s base is only 700 feet.  The park is also home to an incredibly diverse array of wildlife, including our favorite, the hoary marmot.

Highlights

Denali peak, Sled Dog Demonstration, Mt. Healy Overlook Trail, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

The summit of Denali is only visible 10% of the summer, so flightseeing is the most successful option to the see the peak.  While in the park, it is better to focus on the wildlife, so bring a good camera with a zoom lens for moose, caribou, Dall sheep, gray wolves, and brown bears.  Your best chance to see wildlife is to buy a shuttle bus ticket online or at the Wilderness Access Center.  We recommend you only take the eight hour roundtrip to Eielson Visitor Center (Mile 66) and spend some time hiking the tundra, instead of going all the way to Wonder Lake (Mile 85).

Best Trail

Most of the park is managed as wilderness so there are no trails, but around the park entrance there are a few.  We recommend climbing as high on the steep trail up Mt. Healy as you can for unsurpassed views of the mountainous area.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Even if the summit of Denali is hidden, the tundra scenery here is incredibly colorful, especially around the bus stop for Polychrome Overlook (Mile 47).

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

There is no admission fee; however, visitors can only get past Mile 15 of the Park Road on a tour bus or with campground or backcountry reservations.

Road Conditions

The Park Road is paved to the Mile 15 Savage River Check Station, past which personal vehicles are not allowed.  The dirt road is groomed, but it can get bumpy in the back of the bus.

Camping

Riley Creek Campground is open year round, a rarity in Alaska.  A reservation at Teklanika River Campground allows you to drive your own vehicle to Mile 29 partway into the park.  


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

Explore More – How many earthquakes are recorded annually in Denali National Park and Preserve?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Badlands National Park

Overview

Badlands National Park is known for its fossils, but not all of the mammals here are extinct.  Bison and bighorn sheep were reintroduced to the park, in addition to common prairie residents that include pronghorn, mule deer, prairie dogs, and coyotes.

Highlights

Door Trail, Notch Trail, Conata Basin, Sage Creek Road

Must-Do Activity

Driving the dirt road back to the free Sage Creek Primitive Campground, you will likely encounter a roaming bison herd and several prairie dog towns.  Bighorn sheep and pronghorn can also be found near the road.

Best Trail

The Notch Trail is only 1.5 miles in and out, but is an adventure with a large ladder, badlands, cliffs, and an excellent overlook at the end.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Bighorn sheep, many with large curling horns, seem to pose atop the badlands formations, especially around the Pinnacles Overlook.

A big horn sheep in Badlands National Park

Peak Season

Summer, but we prefer the fall when it is less crowded, especially in Sage Creek Primitive Campground.

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Badlands Loop Road is paved, and Sage Creek Road and Conata Road are both graded and passable to all vehicles.  Sheep Mountain Table Road in the Stronghold Unit may be more difficult when wet, but otherwise does not require four-wheel drive as designated on the park map.

Camping

Cedar Pass Campground has RV sites and the free Sage Creek Primitive Campground is located down a good dirt road on the west side of the park. Backpacking is free and only requires registration at the trailhead.


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

Explore More – How many endangered black-footed ferrets were reintroduced to the park in 1994?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Top 10 Blog Posts from Our First 100

To celebrate reaching the milestone of our first 100 blog posts, we are linking to our top 10 posts based on number of page views and personal favorites.  Thank you to our readers for continuing to inspire us to visit new National Park Service (NPS) units and share the wonders with you all.  We are heading to the U.S. Virgin Islands in less than two weeks and we will visit all 5 NPS sites there.

Our first hardcopy guidebook to the National Parks will be released in June 2019!

10. Guadalupe Mountains National Park

9. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

8. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

7. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve

6. Grand Portage National Monument

5. Lake Chelan National Recreation Area

4. City of Rocks National Reserve

3. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

2. Appalachian National Scenic Trail

…and finally the #1 most popular blog post from our first 100:

1. Capitol Reef National Park

Honorable Mention

Indiana Dunes National Park (renamed February 15, 2019)

Mount Rainier National Park

Overview

Only 3 hours from Seattle, 14,410-foot tall Mount Rainier dominates the skyline in all directions.  It spends many days cloaked in clouds, so your best view might be out a tiny airplane window before landing at Sea-Tac Airport.  It is an active volcano, uncomfortably close to a population of millions, but it provides recreational opportunities year round.  The park truly contains the wonderland for which its 93-mile circumnavigating trail is named.

Highlights

Paradise, Sunrise, Grove of the Patriarchs Trail, Wonderland Trail

Must-Do Activity

Despite receiving an average of 680 inches of snow annually, the road to Paradise is open all year.  Even in July, you should pack your snowshoes to follow the 5.5 mile Skyline Loop or the 1.2 mile long Nisqually Vista Trail.  This is the jumping off point for most mountaineers attempting to summit the volcano.

Best Trail

A really fun (or scary) swinging footbridge grants access to the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail (1.2 miles roundtrip), where giant Douglas-fir trees tower to more than 300 feet in height.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Reflection Lake is right off the main park road east of the Paradise turnoff.  When there is no wind, it offers a stunning mirror view of Mount Rainier.

Peak Season

Summer, but expect heavy snowpack through July and at least 9 months a year.

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main roads to Paradise and Sunrise are paved, though the latter is closed October to July, as is the dirt road that accesses Mowich Lake.  The Carbon River Road in the northwest corner was washed out in 2006, but is still walkable for 5 miles one-way to access Ipsut Creek Campground.

Camping

There are several large campgrounds that accept reservations, but White River Campground near Sunrise has 112 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. 


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

Explore More – How many different glaciers cling to the sides of the Mount Rainier volcano?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.