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!
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.
Paradise, Sunrise, Grove of the Patriarchs Trail, Wonderland
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.
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.
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.
Summer, but expect heavy snowpack through July and at least
9 months a year.
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.
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.
Explore More – How
many different glaciers cling to the sides of the Mount Rainier volcano?
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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.
General Sherman Tree, Moro Rock, Crystal Cave, Mt. Whitney
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!
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.
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.
Roads are paved, but steep, winding, and narrow. The rough Mineral King Road is closed in
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.
Explore More – Why do park rangers recommend you wrap your car with chicken wire when you visit Mineral King?
The impressive and numerous (around 600) cliff dwellings here were built by Ancestral Puebloans 600 to 800 years ago before their abandonment. After a day or two at Mesa Verde, you will understand why since 1906 it has remained the only “National Park” dedicated to preserving an archaeological site.
Chapin Museum, Spruce Tree House, Petroglyph Point Trail, Cliff
Palace, Step House, annual open house with luminaria
Purchase tickets for guided tours of the ruins at the shiny
new visitor center off Highway 160 before driving 20 miles to Long House, Cliff
Palace, or Balcony House (the best tour for families). Leave time to explore Chapin Mesa Museum
first, where a high-quality film introduces the history of the region. When it finally reopens years after a rock
fall, you can then take a quick but steep hike to Spruce Tree House, accessible
without a paid tour, where you have the opportunity to climb down a ladder into
the dim interior of a reconstructed kiva.
After driving to the less-trafficked Weatherill Mesa, bike
or walk the paved road to Nordenskold No. 16 Trailhead, numerous pit-houses,
and Step House Loop Trail.
We think Square Tower House is the most photogenic ruins in
the park and can be viewed from an overlook off Mesa Top Loop Road. In summer 2018, we made reservations for a
special guided tour of only 10 people to enter these ruins.
Summer, but it can get hot with little shade atop the mesas.
Grand Canyon National Park is generally considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Billions of years of geologic history have been laid bare by the cutting power of the Colorado River. It is cliché but true, you simply have to see this icon with your own eyes. It can be overwhelming. So can the crowds on the South Rim, but those tend to thin out if you hike a mile or two down a trail. If you have the time during the summer months, be sure to drive five hours over the forested Kaibab Plateau to reach the North Rim (which is only 10 miles away as the raven flies).
Desert View Watchtower, Hopi House, El Tovar Hotel, Phantom
Ranch, Toroweap Overlook, whitewater rafting the Colorado River
Growing up in Arizona, Scott used to visit this park frequently, but he feels he never got to know it until he hiked to the bottom in 2016. Even if you only go a couple thousand feet down in elevation on the Grandview Trail or busy Bright Angel Trail, it will give you a new perspective on the canyon.
We day hiked the 18 miles from South Kaibab Trailhead (7200 feet elevation) down to Phantom Ranch (2500 feet) where we filled up with water on the way back up to Bright Angel Trailhead (6800 feet, with multiple water stations on the trail). Backcountry permits can turn this into a multiple day trek, but then you have to carry all your gear out.
It is an arduous 90-mile one-way drive down a (mostly) dirt
road to access Toroweap Overlook, but there is a reason photos from this
fantastic overlook show up everywhere since the canyon walls are nearly
Summer when it is very hot inside the canyon, though it can also be busy around the spring, fall, and December holidays.