Tag Archives: National Park

Update to Our Guidebook: A Park to Yourself

Since White Sands National Monument was upgraded to the 62nd National Park on December 20, 2019, we decided to update our guidebook to the parks.  If you already bought your copy on Amazon, please find the new page 308 posted below.  White Sands is one of our favorite of the many National Park Service units in New Mexico.  You can read more about the park on this blog

White Sands

New Mexico

148,558 acres

Established 2019

603,008 visitors in 2018

Dunes composed of gypsum make a great destination for snow sledding year round, especially when the sand is wet.  Gypsum readily dissolves in water, but here it forms dunes because no river drains the Tularosa Basin.  Follow markers on the five-mile roundtrip Alkali Flat Trail that goes up and down dunes and provides views of the San Andres Mountains.  Most of the wildlife here is nocturnal, but during the day you may spot bleached earless lizards that evolved to camouflage in the gypsum.  The white dunes take on the colors of the sunset if you attend the ranger-guided Sunset Stroll or backpack camp.  There is no campground and only ten backcountry campsites, and their availability is dependent upon whether the military is conducting missile tests overnight, so call ahead or check the schedule online.  Oliver Lee Memorial State Park offers a full service campground in a beautiful setting south of Alamogordo, New Mexico.

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Bryce Canyon National Park

Overview

Bryce Canyon is not really a canyon at all, but instead a cliffside amphitheater eroded away into extravagant creamsicle-colored hoodoos.   Your first view from Sunrise or Sunset Point will surely take your breath away and not just because you are standing above 7,000 feet in elevation.  A portion of the main park road is only open during the busy summer season, but seeing the amphitheater under a fresh carpet of white snow makes the effort worthwhile to get here in the winter.  Learn more about the logistics of a winter visit in our first travel guidebook to the National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Navajo Loop Trail, Queens Garden Trail, Natural Bridge, Rainbow Point

Must-Do Activity

The amphitheater is beautiful from the overlooks, but to really experience this park you have to hike down from the rim.  Peakaboo Loop is a strenuous four-mile hike with approximately 1,700 feet cumulative elevation gain that offers up close views of the hoodoos.  It is accessed from Sunset Point or Bryce Point.  You could easily spend your whole trip in this northern section of the park and not be disappointed, but be sure to take a slow drive south with stops at Natural Bridge and Rainbow Point to complete the experience.

Best Trail

It is four miles out and back on the Under-the-Rim Trail from Bryce Point to the Hat Shop, in the quiet backcountry area where hoodoos are topped with boulders (like they are wearing hats).  Ask a park ranger about the “I Hiked the Hoodoos” program to earn a prize.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Douglas-fir trees snake their way to the light in the narrow Wall Street section of the Navajo Loop Trail.  A photograph of Tiff walking into a snowy Wall Street made the cover (see below) of our first travel guidebook to the National Parks (available on Amazon). 

Peak Season

Summer due to long, snowy winters at this elevation.

Hours

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

Fees

$35 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main park road is paved, but there are dirt roads that access the lower elevations of the park, though we have been warned that they are in rough shape.

Camping

The National Park Service has a campground that is open year round, but we prefer camping along the dirt roads in adjacent Dixie National Forest.  A free permit is required to camp in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Related Sites

Cedar Breaks National Monument (Utah)

Zion National Park (Utah)

Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

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

Explore More – Who described Bryce Canyon as “a hell of a place to lose a cow?”

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 Museums in National Parks

We recently published our 307-page guidebook to the 61 National Parks (available on Amazon), so we thought it would be a good time to rank our favorite museums in the parks.  The National Parks typically stick with the “go outside and play” philosophy, but these selected parks do a great job of interpreting human and natural history inside a museum.  Our photograph options are limited and mainly include Wondon the Traveling Bunny (who has his own blog).  We will rank our Top 10 museums in other National Park Service (NPS) units in a future list (check out all our Top 10 Lists here). 

10. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennesee-North Carolina)

Sugarlands Visitor Center has a nice natural history museum, plus the historic structures at Cataloochee, Elkmont, and Cades Cove serve as outdoor museums.

9. Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)

If this is your first visit, after you buy your tour tickets at the park entrance head directly to the Chapin Mesa Museum that overlooks the ruins of Spruce Tree House.

8. Great Basin National Park (Nevada)

Great Basin Visitor Center is in Baker, outside the park boundaries, but it is worth a stop to see a cross-section of Prometheus, a nearly 5,000-year-old bristlecone pine tree.

7. Everglades National Park (Florida)

Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center is home to an excellent museum interpreting the natural history of the “river of grass.”

6. Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio)

Boston Store and Canal Visitor Centers both have excellent hands-on exhibits and, taking a page from Parks Canada, you can play dress-up, too.

5. Gateway Arch National Park (Missouri)

Part of the reason this became a National Park in 2018 was due to the opening of its new museum beneath the arch, but do not miss a visit inside the colorful Old Courthouse.

4. Denali National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

There are great exhibits on wildlife at Denali Visitor Center near the park entrance and Eielson Visitor Center at Mile 66 on the main park road (only accessible by bus).

3. Hot Springs National Park (Arkansas)

Fordyce Bathhouse on Central Avenue is now entirely a museum with multiple stories of exhibits and plenty of stories to tell.

2. Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

There is an excellent interpretive museum inside the visitor center for the world’s longest cave.

… and finally our #1 museum in a National Park:

1. Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Learn all about the Yellowstone Supervolcano at Old Faithful and Canyon Village Visitor Centers, but also check out the Museum of the National Park Ranger near Norris Junction.

Honorable Mentions

Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota)

It can be easy to miss the museum that is downstairs from the park bookstore and tour ticket booth, so do not make that rookie mistake.

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

The Main Park Visitor Center is located on the Richardson Highway, but the main attraction requires you to brave the drive to McCarthy and cross the pedestrian bridge to the Kennecott ghost town.

Acadia National Park

Overview

Acadia National Park in Maine is famous for its 45 miles of Carriage Roads and watching a sunrise from atop 1,530-foot tall Cadillac Mountain.  We recommend you plan your visit around attending a Star Party to view the night sky through dozens of telescopes.  We visited on a September weekend, and even though it was not yet leaf-peeping season, the main park road across Mount Desert Island was jam packed and parking spaces were difficult to come by.  [This is also one of 50 National Parks covered in our new guidebook]

Highlights

Cadillac Mountain, Precipice Trail, Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

Must-Do Activity

If you don’t like crowds, then visit on a weekday and avoid Cadillac Mountain, Bar Harbor, Precipice Trailhead, Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond House, and Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.  We preferred our time spent on the Schoodic Peninsula with its nice campground and unoccupied overlooks across the bay towards busy Mount Desert Island.

Best Trail

Iron rungs and ladders assist those who wish to climb the aptly named Precipice Trail.  The trail provides awesome Atlantic Ocean views from the cliffs on the way up to Champlain Mountain.  A 2.5-mile loop can be formed when combined with Champlain North Ridge and Orange & Black Trails.  Other “ladder trails” in the park include the Beehive and Perpendicular Trails.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Photographers hang out for hours waiting for sunset on the rocks below Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.

Peak Season

Summer and fall

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Most roads paved with the notable exception of the one that summits Schoodic Head.

Camping

There are several campgrounds in the park and we enjoyed our stay in the forested Schoodic Peninsula Campground, which opened in 2016.

Related Sites

Appalachian National Scenic Trail (Maine to Georgia)

Saint Croix Island International Historic Site (Maine)

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park (Vermont)

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

Explore More – What was the original name of this park when it was created on February 26, 1919 (the same day as Grand Canyon National Park)?

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 Guidebooks to National Parks

Every major travel publisher (Fodors, Moon, Lonely Planet) has a guidebook to America’s National Parks, which all say the same things about where to go.  We recently published our first book to offer alternatives for those readers seeking to have unique National Park adventures.  You might guess where that one ended up on our Top 10 list, but we also recommend the following guidebooks. 

10. Wildlife Watching in America’s National Parks: A Seasonal Guide by Gary W. Vequist & Daniel S. Licht (2013)

Tips abound in 12 chapters that cover the best spot to see wildlife each month of the year with excellent color photos.

9. 10 Best of Everything: National Parks: 800 Top Picks From Parks Coast to Coast by National Geographic (2011)

Brief descriptions of parks in a variety of categories introduce readers to units in the National Park Service (NPS) system beyond the 61 National Parks.

8. 50 Great American Places: Essential Historic Sites Across the U.S. by Brent D. Glass (2016)

A historian chooses his top 50 iconic American spots to visit, many of which are in the NPS system.

7. Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges into National Parks by Toney Allman, Jahnna Beecham, et al. (2007)

Beyond the funny stories, this book is actually full of interesting tidbits of information on National Parks that you might not learn anywhere else.

6. Ancient America: Fifty Archaeological Sites to See for Yourself by Kenneth L.  Feder (2016)

Many NPS units focus on archaeology and this succinct guide provides a solid background on many of the best sites spread across the country.

5. The West Less Traveled: The Best and Lesser Known Parks, Monuments, and Natural Areas by Jan Bannan (1996)

Out-of-print guide focused not solely on units in the NPS system that contains good detail on geology and ecology.

4. Guide to the National Park Areas: Eastern States by David L. Scott & Kay W. Scott (2004)

Out-of-print two-volume set includes all NPS units at the time, with great information for RV campers.

3. Your Guide to the National Parks: The Complete Guide to all 59 National Parks by Michael Joseph Oswald (2017)

An ambitious and in-depth exploration of the National Parks, including great detail on hiking trails and full-color maps.

2. Complete National Parks of the United States by National Geographic (2016)

Provides a brief description of all 400+ units in the NPS system, plus some of the affiliated sites.

1. A Park To Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks by Scott Sink & Tiff Sink (2019)

As far as we know, our guidebook is the first one to include Indiana Dunes National Park, established February 15, 2019.

Honorable Mentions

National Parks: A Kids Guide to America’s Parks, Monuments, and Landmarks by Erin McHugh (2012)

This full-color, graphic-oriented children’s book is perfect for anyone collecting the 56 quarters in the U.S. Mint’s America the Beautiful collection.

Guide to the National Parks of the USA by National Geographic (2016)

Of the major publishers, National Geographic does the best job of summarizing each park, plus they include color photographs.

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.