Top 6 National Parks to Visit
Summer is the perfect time for road trips and the perfect time to start to plan your visits to some of the biggest and best of what Ken Burns calls “America’s Best Idea.” (Since you have to leave home to visit and it’s not on the internet, no, it’s not what you think. But, that is probably “America’s Second Best Idea.”) Each National Park, Monument, Battlefield and Historical Site has something that obviously makes it unique and worth preserving for every tourist to see. Here are a few of my favorites that I’m glad I got to do at least once or wish I could do at least once.
Denali National Park – Hiking without trails. This was the first park that I encountered which actually encourages you to not use trails. (As opposed to the desert southwest, where treading on the cryptobiotic soil can take fifty years to heal, if at all, so staying on the trail is a good thing.) They don’t want the same paths to be used and they want Denali National Park to continue looking wild. To that end, you can apply for a camping spot in one of the regions of the park that you can reach with a bus ride on the only road in the park. When you reach your area, just tell the bus rider to stop and he lets you out. As the bus drives away in the distance and the last view of human existence recedes out of sight, you are truly alone. It is tough to find a better wilderness experience within a national park than that.
Yellowstone National Park – Fly-fishing Slough Creek. On the other hand, fly-fishing about anywhere in Yellowstone Park will lead to seeing many, many people as it is a Mecca for fly-fishing enthusiasts. One of the many treasures of the park is Slough Creek. The water is so clear that you can see every fish and they can see you right back. You are in the middle of an open valley surrounded by forest and a mountain ridge. It’s just you and the native cutthroat trout. As it is so quiet and clear here, this isn’t the place for beginners, however, once you’ve got some time under your belt, there is nothing more rewarding than watching from the point a trout looks up from its sentry post at the bottom of the creek and notices your hopper drift along as it leisurely swims up to investigate to the moment it gently sucks in your fly. (Oh fly-fishing, how you again bring thoughts of America’s Second Best Idea.)
Appalachian National Scenic Trail – Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. I haven’t yet done this, but reading Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” makes me crave this experience. Truthfully, anything I say here will pale in comparison to that tome, and my best suggestion is to read it and see if you can resist the lure of this 2,175 mile trail. Then again, just reading Bryson’s prose may be enough for many of you to say, “I get the picture,” and avoid those 2,175 miles.
Arches National Park – Night hike from Delicate Arch. Hiking by moonlight is one of those things that you think would be tougher than it is. But, a full moon and slickrock make the lack of light not seem so bad. Especially after sitting in a natural rock amphitheater and just watching the sun set and the moon rise while Delicate Arch looms in the foreground. After this hike, you’ll understand why Utah made their license plate look the way it does.
Voyageurs National Park – Canoe through the park. One thing I’ve learned about camping excursions through the years, it’s a lot easier to put your gear in the bottom of a boat than on your back. Then it’s just paddling in the middle of this wilderness filled with bald eagles and bears. One of my favorite camping moments came just after I cleaned a northern pike to cook that night for dinner and had just thrown the carcass out into the water surrounding my island campsite when a bald eagle swooped down and grabbed the fish remains from a bunch of squawking sea gulls. It’s tougher to find a better mental image of the American wilderness in my mind than that one. Except if Toby Keith held a concert on the next island over.
Grand Canyon National Park – Hike down to Phantom Ranch. If you truly want a challenge, hiking down to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is it. The summer is probably not the best time to do hike as all the warnings about hydration and heat are enough to discourage even an experienced hiker. Because I kind of fibbed – the challenge of hiking down is not nearly as tough as hiking back up and out of the canyon.
Any visit to a state or national park creates more of these moments, so even if you can’t hit these parks and trails, just find a good place to get outside and enjoy the world around you. If you’re lucky, Toby Keith will be playing in the next nearest campsite and you can get a clear wi-fi signal.
About Jason McClain Jason is an aspiring novelist, which means there is a lot of time to put off writing and watch baseball or go fly-fishing, hiking and traveling. By "a lot of time", Jason means "procrastination."