This year, The National Park Service of the United States is celebrating their 100th anniversary and they want to celebrate by having everyone be a part of it through embracing the opportunities to explore, learn, be inspired or have fun in one of their 407 national parks. As some one who loves visiting national parks I thought I would do my share in writing this post about the national parks I have visited over the years.
It’s the very first national park that I visited in the United States and the only one I visited twice. If you have been there you will understand why its number one,If not it should be on everyone’s bucket list. No words can describe the majesty and beauty of this great park.
Located an hours drive from Flagstaff, Arizona, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the most visited side of the park. The South Rim is open year round, while the North Rim is open from May – October. We started our journey in the Grand Canyon from the Visitor Center in the South Rim and took the free shuttle bus, to see the various look out points. You can get on and off the bus whenever you want. The Hermits Road route is the one with the most scenic look out points. You can take a hike to the bottom of the canyon or opt for a mule ride. If you decide to go down make sure you take plenty of water bottles with you. If you hike all the way down you can take a rafting trip in the Colorado river and see the canyon from the bottom-up. You can also camp at the campground or book lodging inside the park. If you decide to do this, make sure you do it well in advance. We stayed the entire day at the Grand Canyon and watched the sunset and then drove to a motel in Flagstaff for the night.
The oldest national park in the United States, Yellowstone, is another great park I was lucky enough to visit. Located in Wyoming, it spans three states – Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. In this park you can see hot springs, mudpots, geysers, water falls, rivers, lakes canyons, forests and plenty of wild life all in one day. The Old Faithful geyser is the one of the most famous landmark in the park. It sprouts every ninety minutes and goes up to 100 meters. I remember sitting at the benches and waiting for it to erupt. The best way to see this park is to drive in your vehicle and stop at points and hike to see the hot springs and water falls. Or you can choose to take a guided tour. There is food and lodging inside the park but it can be very pricey and needs to be booked in advance. We decided to stay the night at the motels that are located just outside the park.
The Great Smokey Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. It straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina and is part of the Appalachian mountain range. Its a great park to take the kids. You can see plenty of wild life, old pioneer buildings and there are plenty of scenic drives. The best way to see this park is to drive in your vehicle through the various loop roads and stop at the look out points or take a small hike to see the waterfalls or the river.
Here are some special sites to see when you’re at the park:
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Tennessee. You can take the seven mile road from the Visitor Center to the parking area of the Clingmans Dome and from there take a short half mile hike to the observation deck, where you can experience the 360 degree panoramic view of the Smokey Mountains and the surrounding area. Even if you aren’t up for the hike, you can still see beautiful views of the mountains from the various lookout points along this road.
Cades Cove Road: This 11 mile loop road is a must see during your visit to the park. It’s a slow paced drive (as its a one way road) and can take about 2-3 hours. There are old churches, school houses, log cabins and a working water mills along the way. You can stop and explore the interiors of these buildings. Along this route you will also see deer, turkeys, black bears, coyotes and meadows filled with wild flowers. During our trip, we saw a black bear crossing the street and a baby bear sitting on the branches of a tree. Our kids thoroughly enjoyed this drive.
Little River Road: This 18 mile road winds along the Little River. Along the way you will see waterfalls, scenic overlooks, picnic areas and trailheads You can take short hikes to see the many waterfalls along this route.
The Roaring Forks Motor Nature Trail: This six mile long loop road drives is a picturesque scenic drive through the mountains. Like the other routes, along this route you can take short hikes to see beautiful waterfalls .
There are also riding stables and campgrounds inside the park.. There are also many hotels and motels in the surrounding towns in Tennessee and North Carolina. And once you get tired of all the nature activities, you can go the nearby town of Pigeon Ford which is similar to our Cliffton Hill and enjoy the fun there. I highly recommend you take your kids to this national park, as it will instill a love of nature in them – they will see wild life, beautiful natural surroundings, scenic views and get a glimpse of how the first settlers lived on this land. You will enjoy all this for free, as there is no entrance fee to the park!
Situated an hour and half’s drive north of Denver, the Rocky Mountain National Park is another national park with a scenic drive. To get to the park, we took the scenic route from Boulder, Colorado (via routes 119,72 and7). It featured a breathtaking view of snow covered mountain tops, and green valleys below. This route takes you to Estes Park – the eastern getaway to the park. Once in the park, the best way to see this park is to drive through the Trail Ridge Road – a 48 mile road that ends at the other end of the park at Grand Lake. This is the highest paved road in the country, which reaches 12,000 feet above crossing the continental divide — nearly one third of the park sits above the tree line. Here only alpine tundra grows. Keep in mind as you go higher the temperatures drop at least 20 degrees and it can cause headache, shortness of breath and rapid heart beat. Prepare by making sure you have a jacket as it gets very cold and windy at the top.
Apart from the majestic views you can see plenty of wild life including elk, deer, moose, big horn sheep and a variety of birds. If you are into hiking, there are so many hiking trails from simple lake side ones to more difficult mountain climbs. The hike from the Bear lake to Emerald Lake, is the most beautiful trail in my opinion, where you will pass through three lakes and many waterfalls. It provides many photo ops. These lakes can only be seen by hiking however. Remember to take plenty of water and maybe supplies for a picnic, to have at the Emerald Lake. There are also many stables which offer horse back riding tours.
In this digital age, this is a great park to take the kids to appreciate and experience nature at its best!
Glacier National Park is another beautiful park to visit which is shared by both the USA and Canada. The American side is in Montana and the park is in Alberta on the Canadian side. Apart from the many glaciers you can see there is beautiful scenery all round you. Pristine lakes, vast meadows of wild flowers, snow capped mountains, cascading waterfalls and wild life. Whether you are there for a long stay or just driving by, it’s a great park to view nature at its best. There are many hikes that will lead you to breath taking views and beautiful alpine lakes. My kids enjoyed playing in the snow in the summertime at the base of the mountains. You can also take horse back riding tours .
The main attractions of the park is the 50 mile, Going to the Sun road – one of the most beautiful drives in the country. This scenic road passes through many look out points include the Garden Wall, Logan Pass, Jackson Glacier Overlook and St Marys Lake. It also passes through tunnels, camp grounds and hiking trails. Passing though this road, we saw a big horned sheep and a grizzly bear. You can either take a free shuttle from the visitor center or drive in your own car.
There are many lodges and camp grounds and restaurants within the park. When visiting this park, remember the water can be very forceful and cold. Rocks can be slippery. And of course, always stay on the trails and keep an eye on the little ones so that they don’t wonder around.
Situated in the western side of South Dakota, Badlands National Park is probably the only national park where you are most likely to find ancient dinosaur bones. This park is one of the most treasured archaeological sites in the country and probably holds one of the largest fossil beds in the world. It’s a beautiful scenic park with rugged rock formations and vast meadows, kind of like a mini grand canyon but where you can actually climb and walk on the rocks.
A stop a the visitor center is a must – here there is a museum with interactive exhibits. You can see a movie about the history of the park and learn more about the fossils that are found. There’s also a fossil lab where children can do hands on activities and see scientists at work.
The next thing to do is take the 30 mile long, Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway (Highway 240) which goes through the Bad Lands. This is a very breathtaking scenic drive where you will see various unique rock formations. At times it feels like you’re driving through a huge sand castle. There are nearly 30 scenic overlooks and many hiking trails. You can stop at many places along the route and climb the rocks. We enjoyed walking and climbing up and down the rock formation.The temperature in the area can get very hot, so wear comfortable clothes, hats, climbing shoes and bring plenty of water. There are many animals in the park that can be seen like prairie dogs,mule deer, antelopes,mountain goats, buffalo and various birds.
When we went, we just drove through the park once but if you are staying in that area its a good idea to visit the park at various times of the day; sunset, sunrise and mid day to see the colour changes.The park pass is valid for seven days so you can do this easily.
This is a great park to visit as its only an hour and a half drive from Washington D.C. The Skyline Drive, which is the main attraction of this park goes through the park from one end to the other. The Skyline Drive (which includes the Blue Ridge Parkway) is a 105 mile scenic drive along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains with over 75 look out points, which offer breathtaking views of the mountains and the valley below. It’s a winding two way road with lots of twists and turns and the speed limit is 35, so you can enjoy the ride at a slow pace and pull over at the many look out points. Driving through this road, I felt as if I was driving in the sky! As you drive along this road, you may also be able to see some animals crossing. There are also many trails to hike and you can also rent horses to go on wilderness trails or go fishing in the many streams. There are five camp grounds if you want to camp as well. We did this drive during the summer but it’s also a good idea to go in the fall to see the fall colours.
These are some of the parks that I have visited of the many in the United States. I hope I have encouraged you to go out and explore the national parks and reconnect with nature.