The National Park List
July 30, 2009
Filed under Feature Stories
In our opinion, Yellowstone should be at the top of the list, but here are 10 more units of the National Park Service we think should follow it. You couldn’t go wrong if these made up your next decade of vacations.
The rugged coast of Maine is the setting for this marine-environment jewel. Acadia National Park has a historic side with its 19th Century carriage roads (leftovers from prior private ownership) now filled with bicycles; but also includes the tallest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic coast, scenic rocky shorelines, and spectacular ocean views from hiking trails and roads that ring the park. Acadia NP: 207/288-3338; nps.gov/acad.
Within its borders, you’ll fine the highest density of natural arches in the world. This fantastic sandstone landscape is the result of millions of years of exposure to the forces of nature, resulting in a collection of colors and forms in Arches National Park, Utah. While you’re there, make sure to spend some time in Canyonlands National Park right next door. Spring and fall are best. Arches NP: 435/719-2299; nps.gov/arch. Canyonlands NP: 435/719-2313; nps.gov/cany.
Denali National Park not only features the Big One, the tallest mountain in North America (Mount McKinley) at 20,320 feet, but also offers the Big Five (grizzly bear, wolf, Dall sheep, moose and caribou) of mammals. Birds and wildflowers are also abundant during Alaska’s summer months. Summer and fall are best seasons to visit, but it has been known to snow in July, so be prepared with cold-weather clothing at all times. Denali NP: 907/683-2294; nps.gov/dena.
The largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S., Florida’s Everglades harbor many rare and endangered species. You’ll find everything from alligator to anhinga; and 156 miles of canoe/kayak or walking trails that allow visitors to explore deep into the park. The Ten Thousand Islands area of the park is part of the largest stand of protected mangrove forest in the Western Hemisphere. Everglades NP: 305/242-7700; nps.gov/ever.
Often referred to as the Crown of the Continent, Montana’s Glacier National Park delivers thick forests, sublime meadows, jagged mountains and crystalline lakes. And then there are the beautiful glistening glaciers—26 of them. You have to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road. Completed in 1932 after 11 years of labor, it’s considered one of the most scenic drives in America and is a registered National Historic Landmark. Glacier NP: 406/888-7800; nps.gov/glac.
Standing next to the edge of the Grand Canyon overwhelms many first-time visitors. It’s a mile deep. But it’s not just the depth. It stretches across northern Arizona for 277 river miles, and at one point, is 18 miles wide. The North and South Rim are almost different worlds. The south side is semi-arid and populated by stunted juniper, while much of the north side is alpine-like and forested with tall pines. Grand Canyon NP: 928/638-7888; nps.gov/grca.
Straddling the backbone of the Appalachians between Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a hiker’s paradise with more than 800 miles of maintained trails. America’s most visited park, it offers a diverse set of flora and fauna, ancient mountain ridges, and the well-preserved vestiges of a bygone Southern Appalachian lifestyle. Some 1500 black bears live in the park, too. Great Smoky Mountains NP: 865/436-1200; nps.gov/grsm.
Wet and Green
Olympic National Park in Washington features windy Pacific Ocean beaches, glacier-rimmed peaks, and cool coniferous forests. It holds the largest remaining sections of old growth forest and temperate rain forest in the lower 48 states. The north-south oriented mountain range that splits the park creates a “rain shadow” and two climates, wet rain forests in west-facing valleys and much drier landscapes on the eastern side. Olympic NP: 360/565-3130; nps.gov/olym.
Within its borders, Rocky Mountain National Park ranges from lush valleys filled with elk to weather-beaten peaks more than 14,000 feet high where bighorn sheep scramble about. Mule deer, moose, black bear, coyote, cougar, hawk and eagle also inhabit this Colorado park. June and July bring wildflowers; autumn renders the park’s aspen in golden hues. The Continental Divide splits the park. Rocky Mountain NP: 970/586-1206; nps.gov/room.
So close, it would be a shame to not see both during the same trip to California. Yosemite National Park showcases a collection of granite monoliths surrounding a valley that no words can accurately describe. Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park holds the largest tree on Earth, “General Sherman” at 276 feet tall and 36.5 feet wide at the base, and the highest mountain in the continental U.S., Mount Whitney at 14,494 feet. Yosemite NP: 209/372-0200; nps.gov/yose. Sequoia/Kings Canyon NP: 559/565-3341; nps.gov/seki.