Some of America’s greatest treasures are the U.S. National Parks which are as varied as the people who live in this nation. There are hardcore hiking trails and wilderness parks of unparalleled beauty, where you can hike, bike, run, raft, kayak or climb. Many more adventures abound, but some national parks are meant to enjoy in reverential awe as you soak in the heart-stirring exquisiteness, sounds of nature, breathe clean air, play in the water, enjoy the wildlife and geological wonders. This is part one of a series looking at outdoor recreations to be discovered in the wild at United States National Parks. Here are 12 rugged and untamed, not overly crowded but not unknown either, unique National Parks for travelers to explore and to enjoy new adventures in nature.
Petrified Forest National Park
(image credits:Ze Eduardo,HoomaHooba)
Petrified Forest National Park can be found in the Four Corners of the Southwest. Here, you can find one the world’s most colorful and largest collections of petrified wood. The Arizona sunlight can dazzle your senses as it paints the land. The northern part of the park is called the Painted Desert and includes areas of the multi-hued badlands, while the southern part of the park contains heavy concentrations of fossilized wood and American Indian petroglyph sites. Some visitors have stated that the area is like a moonscape. Please only look and take pictures as an estimated 12 tons of petrified wood is stolen from the Petrified Forest every year. If you take some, be warned that what you walk away with might turn into a curse traveling with you courtesy of the Navajo Nation.
Haleakala National Park
(image credit:Conor Dupre-Neary)
Found in practically a paradise, Haleakala National Park boasts a beautiful geographical landscape, from a sea level subtropical rainforest to a sub-alpine desert at the peak of the crater. There is an 8 mile hiking path where you can climb to the summit of the volcano, the Haleakala Crater, hike down the southeast coastline of Maui, splash around in one of the many freshwater swimming holes, or pass through the cloudy “hole to heaven” in Pukalani. All in all this park covers 30,183 acres, 24,719 are wilderness acres. The park is divided into two distinct sections: the coastal Kipahulu area and the summit area. It is a hotspot for nature admirers and lovers.
Big Bend National Park
(image credit:Robbie’s Photo Art)
Big Bend in Texas is filled with uncultivated and wild landscapes, with over 800,000 acres spanning remote desert areas, river terrain and mountains. The Chisos Basin can be a dry and dusty area at times, where hot gritty winds stir the air as Toll Mountain looms ahead at 7,415 feet high. Make sure to take plenty of water along for your hike, as this environment is not a forgiving one. Every year, rangers must rescue hikers who underestimate the temperatures and terrain. Park Staff advise visitors to first read up on how not to die in the desert.
Isle Royale National Park
Isle Royale’s a wilderness archipelago located within the sapphire-blue Lake Superior. Its very primitive nature as well as its physical isolation is one of the main attractions to travelers. It takes a boat or seaplane to reach Isle Royale, although trails can be hiked along the rugged coast and shipwrecks can be dived off the coastline. During operating season, there can be fog, rough seas and thunderstorms causing rapid changes in wind and wave conditions. However in the spring and summer months, the water temperature hovers close to 52° and the island temperature tends not to rise above 80°. The Greenstone Ridge, the backbone of Isle Royale, is believed by geologists to be a portion of the largest lava flow on the globe.
Denali National Park
Denali National Park and Preserve has a 91-mile road through a vast subarctic wilderness with an abundance of wildlife. Denali means “The Great One” and North America’s tallest peak, Mt. McKinley, can be found at mile 9 of Park Road. The summit reaches 20,320 feet above sea level. If you like rugged adventures, then Denali in Alaska should appeal to you. To hike in this park, bring plenty of supplies, a map, a compass and be prepared to cut your own trail. Climbers and mountaineers are to this day only 50% successful in their expeditions to reach the summit. The routes up the mountain have extreme avalanche danger potential. Climbers who successfully navigate their way up, typically take two to four weeks to ascend the mountain.
Double Arch at Arches National Park
You would have to be dead for your adventurous spirit not to be moved if you visit the greatest density of natural arches in the world. Nature, erosion, has been sculpting the “high desert” for millions of years, so that now Arches National Park in Eastern Utah has over 2,000 natural sandstone arches. Superb geological formations of contrasting colors and textures are spread out over a forty mile trail. Hikers should be sure to see the Delicate Arch, Double Arch, Dark Angel, Devils Garden, and Fiery Furnace to name but a few.
White Sands National Monument
If playing in the sand sounds like fun, head out for New Mexico. In a mountain-ringed area of the Tularosa Basin, hot westerly winds at an elevation of 4,235 feet will put you in a place that seems like a clean alien world. The White Sands National Monument offers 275 miles of white sand dunes which are made from gypsum crystals. The Big Dune Trail is not meant for slackers and is a hike reserved only for the adventurous.
Glacier National Park
(image credit:Stuck in Customs)
Count on Montana to offer breathtaking and pristine diversity with cedar forests, glacial lakes, and alpine tundra. Glacier National Park offers hikers more than 700 miles of trails. There are two mountain ranges, more than 130 lakes and over a 1,000 different species of vascular plants. Like wildlife? Well there are hundreds of animal species too. The ecosystem covers more than 1,584 miles. If you hike here, have fun crossing the Continental Divide. It will seem like you stepped back in time where the waterfalls, lakes, woods and tundra appear pure and basically untouched by mankind.
Acadia National Park
(image credits:Greg from Maine)
Off the Atlantic coast of Maine, Acadia National Park is made of up 30,300 acres of mountains, shoreline, woodlands and lakes. The tallest mountain on the Eastern Seaboard can be attempted the boring way, rubbernecking while driving, or hiked for some real fun. There are also adventures to be had by way of bike or kayak. Over 331 animal species and lovely pink-tinted granite await your visit. Don’t forget to stop at Thunder Hole.
Crater Lake National Park
(image credit:Jersey JJ)
In picturesque Oregon, you can find the deepest lake in the United States. Crater Lake is 1,943 feet deep and the water is such a brilliant blue that it has mesmerized travelers for hundreds of years. The cliffs surrounding the lake are nearly 2,000 feet high. The immeasurable peace and beauty of Crater National Park makes it difficult to equate to its violent volcanic past. But brrr! The average snowfall per year is 533 inches. Snows starts to fall in October and does not melt in many places until June.
Olympic National Park
As if you stepped back in time, Olympic National Park in Washington is an International Biosphere Reserve. The park is divided into three regions, lush rainforests, the Olympic Mountains, and the Pacific coastline. It is not necessarily the easiest place to hike, be certain to double your normal hike times, but your efforts will be rewarded by the blast of adventurous adrenaline. You can do so much more than take a stroll; you can take a dip in the hot springs, whitewater raft, or slip-slide down a glacier.
Jewel Cave National Monument
Jewel Cave National Monument near the Black Hills of South Dakota holds the second longest cave in the world. Over 145 miles of mapped passageways through Jewel Cave offer underground visitors a mind-boggling maze of stalactites and stalagmites. The calcite crystals that fill the caverns appear like jewels and are how the cavern got its name. There are places inside the cave where the walls look like some kind of melted cheese and even formations that grow to look like long strips of bacon!