Tag Archives: National Park

Top 10 National Parks for Social Distancing

With international travel limited in 2020, many Americans are looking to vacation this summer in the country’s amazing National Parks.  The best-known parks often concentrate people at a single attraction with crowded overlooks, so we chose 10 less busy National Parks where it is easy practice social distancing and explore at your own pace, but are also not too hot in the summer (sorry, Death Valley).  For ideas of how to avoid large groups even at the busiest parks, check out our travel guidebook to all 62 National Parks (available on Amazon).

Next week we will choose our Top 10 sites for social distancing from the other 357 National Park Service units (click here to see all our Top 10 lists).

10. White Sands National Park (New Mexico)

Bring your snow sleds and find a dune to play on at America’s newest National Park

9. Great Basin National Park (Nevada)

Cave tours may not be an option, but there are many trails in this seldom-visited mountain range

8. Badlands National Park (South Dakota)

You do not even need a trail to explore Conata Basin and other portions of this park filled with wildlife

7. Sequoia National Park (California)

Avoid the crowds at the General Sherman tree and instead wander trails through the Giant Forest

6. Voyageurs National Park (Minnesota)

You will need a boat to explore these beautiful lakes on the Canadian border

5. Congaree National Park (South Carolina)

This park has 20 miles of forested trails and a creek for canoeing (but prepare for bugs)

4. Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)

You may see more bison than people on two scenic drives and several long trails

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

There are no official trails up this sand mountain (plus, pick up a free permit to camp on the dunes)

2. Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

Skip the trail to the peak and instead hike Dog Canyon and the Permian Reef Geology Trail

…and finally our #1 National Park for social distancing:

1. Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

The numerous trails and canyons have encouraged us to return often to this isolated park

Honorable Mentions

Isle Royale National Park (Michigan)

Other than on the ferry or floatplane flight, there is plenty of room to explore this island

Everglades National Park (Florida)

Avoid the few trails and get into your canoe to experience the park (but prepare for bugs)

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

It should be easy to find space in this rarely visited park where the sun never sets in summer

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Yosemite National Park

Overview

Given its 4-million annual visitors, it can be hard to practice social distancing at Yosemite National Park.  In the summer, it can even be difficult to find parking in bustling Yosemite Valley.  The legendary valley is home to El Capitan and Half Dome, rock formations known around the world, as well as countless waterfalls.  For more ideas on what to do during your visit and how to avoid the crowds, check out our National Park guidebook, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point, Tuolumne Meadows, Mariposa Grove

Must-Do Activity

When entering Yosemite Valley on Highway 41 from the south, your first sight of the valley is stunning upon emerging from a long tunnel.  You simply have to stop at the iconic Tunnel View parking area.  Although the forest here is denser than in the past, the scene has not changed much since President Lincoln signed the bill to preserve this area in 1864.  While the Yosemite Valley can get incredibly busy during peak tourist season, hike a mile up a trail and you might find a solitary place to enjoy one of the numerous waterfalls.

Best Trail

Formerly a paved tram route, the trail through the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoia trees is a major highlight outside Yosemite Valley.  We especially enjoyed snowshoeing there in the winter.

Instagram-worthy Photo

From May to November, you can drive up to Glacier Point for great views into Yosemite Valley from the cliffs above.  We chose this overlook for our original logo of Yosemite National Park (see below).

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$35 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, even the one that goes over 9,945-foot high Tioga Pass, which crosses the Sierra Nevada and is closed in the winter (as is Glacier Point Road, though it remains open to cross-country skiers).

Camping

There are multiple campgrounds within the park and some take reservations, but there are no RV hookups except outside the park.

Related Sites

Sequoia National Park (California)

Devils Postpile National Monument (California)

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area (California)

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

Explore More – John Muir wrote extensively about the Yosemite Valley and Sierra Nevada, but many of his readers do not know he was an immigrant to America; in what country was he born?

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 National Parks for Wildlife Watching

There are 62 National Parks of the 419 units in the National Park Service (NPS) system and they are among the best places to watch wildlife.  As with all of our Top 10 lists, this is a ranking of our favorite parks and not necessarily a true reflection of biodiversity or the likelihood of spotting the animals listed.  Note: brown bears and grizzly bears are the same species, so we stuck with the Alaskan name.  We have published a travel guidebook to the 62 parks with much more information about where to go to see wildlife (available on Amazon).

10. Theodore Roosevelt (North Dakota)

Bison, elk, pronghorn, white-tailed deer, mule deer, prairie dogs, wild horses, prairie rattlesnakes

9. Virgin Islands (U.S. Virgin Islands)

Sea turtles, stingrays, barracudas, parrotfish, iguanas (introduced), frigatebirds, bananaquits, pelicans

8. Rocky Mountain (Colorado)

Elk, moose, bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer, mule deer, black bears, yellow-bellied marmots, pikas

7. Glacier (Montana)

Mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, elk, mule deer, brown bears, black bears, lynx, yellow-bellied marmots, pikas

6. Great Smoky Mountains (Tennessee-North Carolina)

Elk, white-tailed deer, black bears, raccoons, turkeys, salamanders, synchronous fireflies

5. Denali (Alaska)

Caribou, moose, Dall sheep, brown bears, black bears, gray wolves, beavers, hoary marmots

4. Badlands (South Dakota)

Bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, white-tailed deer, mule deer, prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets

3 (tie). Kenai Fjords/Glacier Bay (Alaska)

Sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals, whales, porpoises, moose, mountain goats, brown bears, black bears, bald eagles

2. Everglades (Florida)

Alligators, crocodiles, dolphins, barred owls, anhingas, roseate spoonbills, wood storks, ospreys, pelicans

…and finally our #1 National Park for watching wildlife:

1. Yellowstone (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Bison, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, brown bears, black bears, mountain lions, gray wolves

Honorable Mentions

Voyageurs (Minnesota)

River otters, beavers, moose, white-tailed deer, black bears, gray wolves, lynx, bald eagles, loons

Channel Islands (California)

Sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals, whales, dolphins, anemones, sea urchins, starfish, sea gulls, pelicans

Dry Tortugas (Florida)

Sea turtles, parrotfish, groupers, tarpons, sharks, crocodiles, frigatebirds, noddies, boobies, terns, pelicans

Find more great photos and ideas about where to watch wildlife in our guidebook to National Parks (available on Amazon).

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.

Haleakala National Park

Overview

On the tropical island of Maui, Haleakalā National Park is accessible by two memorable roads.  One road climbs from sea level up to 10,023 feet overlooking Haleakalā Crater, which has almost no vegetation.  To the east, a lush tropical rainforest thrives in the Kīpahulu District located at the end of the winding road to Hana.  Both districts offer great hiking opportunities and free campgrounds. There is much more information about this park in our National Park guidebook, available on Amazon.

Highlights

Haleakalā Crater, Sliding Sands Trail, Hosmer Grove, ‘Ohe‘o Gulch pools, Waimoku Falls

Must-Do Activity

The thing to do at Haleakalā National Park is drive up the curvy entrance road in the pitch dark to catch a sunrise from 10,000 feet.  Haleakalā translates to “the house of the sun” so it is kind of a big deal here.  It is like a party atmosphere in the chilly air waiting for the guest of honor.  Of course, we were up there one morning, though we thought the sunsets were prettier and much less crowded.  Several tours drive visitors to the summit for sunrise then provide bicycles to coast back down the switchbacks outside the park boundaries.

Best Trail

In the Kīpahulu District, we hiked the two-mile Pipiwai Trail to the 400 foot cascades of Waimoku Falls in a steady downpour.   The trail offers some protection from rain under sprawling banyan trees and incredibly dense bamboo thickets.  Like many of the plant and animal species found throughout Hawai‘i, the banyan and bamboo are not native to the islands, but have thrived on this isolated landmass 2,400 miles from the nearest continent. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Silversword (‘ahinahina) plants grow all along the Sliding Sands Trail that accesses the bottom of the 2,000 foot deep crater.

Peak Season

Year round, though summer might be slightly warmer at 10,000 feet in elevation.

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, but the road to the summit is full of switchbacks and bicyclists.  The curvy road to Hana is well known for its one-lane bridges, of which we counted 53 before we reached the Kīpahulu District.

Camping

The two National Park Service campgrounds here are free, a big savings in a place that can be expensive to visit.  There is a lottery for three hike-in cabins and permits available for wilderness backpacking campsites.

Related Sites

Kalaupapa National Historical Park (Hawai‘i)

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (Hawai‘i)

Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park (Hawai‘i)

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

Explore More – How much annual precipitation does the Kīpahulu District receive (making it one of the wettest places on Earth)?

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 Second 100

To celebrate reaching the milestone of our 200th blog posts, we are linking to our top 10 posts from 101-200 based on number of likes. Click here to see our Top 10 from the first 100 (or here if you want to see all of our Top 10 Lists). 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 planning a roadtrip to the southern U.S. in September to visit some new NPS sites.

Our first hardcopy guidebook to the National Parks was released in November 2019!

10. Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park (Hawai’i)

9. Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (Arizona)

8. Big Thicket National Preserve (Texas)

7. Point Reyes National Seashore (California)

6. Badlands National Park (South Dakota)

5. Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

4. Acadia National Park (Maine)

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee-North Carolina)

2. Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area (California)

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

1. Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)

Honorable Mention

White Sands National Park (New Mexico, renamed December 20, 2019)