Yellowstone National Park became the nation's first national park on March 1, 1872 when President Ulysses S. Grant signed an Act establishing its creation. President Woodrow Wilson signed an Act on August 25, 1916 that created the National Park Service. Today the NPS is comprised of 407 areas covering over 84 million acres in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. These areas include parks, monuments, battlefields, military and historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House.
Several years ago during summer breaks we would pack up our then teenage children for a month long road trip across the country. We'd visit National Park areas along the way. It was a great way to see the natural beauty and historic sites of this great country of ours. My children are older with families of their own, but we still get together for road trips and visits to NPS areas.
We have so many areas covered by the NPS that I'm sure where ever your interests lie there's a park that will interest you. Whether it's camping in the great outdoors or a weekend at a luxury hotel you'll find it in one of the parks. From horseback riding to rock climbing to scuba diving there's a park out there for you. So get out this weekend or this summer and find your favorite park, you may have a hard time deciding which one is your favorite because each park unique. Here is a list of just a few of my favorites, there are so many it's hard to decide on just one.
*Admission costs vary but we usually purchase an annual pass which is good for admission to most of the parks, monuments, etc. for you and your family. The current cost for an annual pass is $80. There are free and discounted passes for military, seniors, residents with disabilities, and volunteers. Some passes can be purchased online or over the phone; others must be purchased in person click here for information about purchasing your annual pass.
If pressed I'd have to say that Yellowstone National Park is at the top of my list of favorites. Yellowstone is definitely one of the crown jewels of our country's national parks.
Home to Old Faithful and a majority of the world's geysers Yellowstone is a wonderland filled with the famous geysers, hots springs, waterfalls, and more. It's also home to elks, dear, bison, wolves, and of course bears. There's so much to see and do in Yellowstone that a weekend is not enough time.
The park is a city in itself with gas stations, post office, medical facilities, shops, and more. There are 9 lodges, 12 front country campgrounds, and many restaurants within the park. We've stayed in a cabin at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins and dined in the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room, all memorable! The park has accommodations for every taste and budget. Click here for lodging and dining information and reservations.
Yellowstone is such a huge park with many different areas; each one is unique. The park is in 3 states: Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. There are 5 park entrances each one leading to a different area, 2 loops connect them all. Driving the loops gives you a great overview of the park's wonders, many of the main attractions can be viewed on or close to the loop roads. But to truly get an appreciation of the park get off the beaten path for a short hike or ride in the back country. Before you wander off into the wilderness take time to prepare and read the safety tips.
Another crown jewel and my next favorite is Yosemite National Park in California. This park is known for its waterfalls, cliffs, meadows, and unusual rock formations; all testaments to the power of ancient glaciers. It's also home to several groves of Giant Sequoias, or Giant Redwoods, and over 400 species of wildlife including black bears, bobcats, deer, goats, to name a few.
We've been to Yosemite many times. We've rafted and fished in the river, picnicked in the valley, gone swimming, hiked and toured by car. We usually stay at one of the hotels located just outside the park, but the park does offer accommodations to fit every taste and budget. From tent cabins to a luxury hotel and everything in between, you can find it within the park.
One of my favorite activities in this park is picnicking with my family. There are many picnic grounds throughout the park, just be respectful of the wildlife, specially the bears who would like nothing more than to forage in your picnic basket! There are grocery stores withing the park to buy picnic fare and if you'd rather there are also numerous restaurants and snack bars around.
There are several drives in and thru the park, all of them are beautiful, there are viewpoints along the way where you can stop to see some of the major attractions. But to see and appreciate all the wonders the park has to offer get out of the car and take a short hike or two along one of the many hiking trails. A short but amazing hike is the .8 mile trail at the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia, the hike begins in the parking lot and goes to the Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree. Or rent a raft at the Curry Village Rec Center and paddle 3 miles down the river, it gives you a different perspective of the surrounding area.
The Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona in only one of many NPS Sites in this state. There's no doubt this awe inspiring park is another NPS jewel. It's also one of our favorites. We've been there countless times, and each time is just as awesome as the last. Carved by the Colorado River which meanders thru the canyon floor the Grand Canyon is 10 miles wide and 1 mile deep.
The North Rim is located on the “Utah” side and its roads and facilities are closed thru the winter. It can however be accessed by hikers and cross-country skiers provided they have obtained backcountry permits. This side has neither an airport or rail station. It is much more remote than the South Rim and has limited facilities.
There are many things to see and do in the Grand Canyon. There are mule trips departing from both sides of the canyon. They offer short and overnight trips, prices range from $40 for a 1 hour ride along the North Rim trail to $584 for an overnight ride which includes lodging at the Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon. Mule trips sell out fast so if you want to do one planning is a must. Trips can be reserved months in advance.
For those who aren't quite as adventurous and prefer a more sedate way of enjoying the canyon, like me, there are bike tours, guided tours, ranger programs, and hiking and walking trails. When we first started going to the canyon private vehicles were allowed to drive the scenic rim road, but these days the road is closed to private cars. However the park offers free shuttle buses with 3 different routes to get around the South Rim. You can hop on and off a bus at any of the scenic stops or trail heads. One way to get a bit of easy hiking or walking done is to hop off one stop and walk to the next along the canyon trail. Believe me it's worth it, every stop has a different view.
The Desert View Drive is a paved scenic road open to private vehicles. It's a 25 mile route along the South Rim that runs east from the Grand Canyon visitor center to the Desert View Watch Tower. There are several scenic viewpoints and picnic areas along the drive.
Whenever we visit the park we usually stay either in Williams, AZ which is about an hour's drive from the canyon or in Tusayan, the gateway community located just outside the park entrance.
There are lodgings inside the park ranging from campgrounds to elegant luxury suites.
Death Valley National Park is the lowest and driest point in North America, it is also the hottest place on earth. It is a land of extremes and may seem to be a desolate place to visit, but far from it; this wild country offers vistas of rolling sand dunes, salt flats, majestic mountains, winding canyons, and spring fed oases. Despite its forbidding name it is home to almost 400 species of native wildlife that have adapted to its forbidding climate and over 1000 species of plants.
We've visited this park several times and have even stayed at one of the resorts in the park. From campgrounds to luxury rooms the park has lodgings to meet every taste and budget. With 3.4 million acres of desert and mountains Death Valley is the largest national park in the contiguous United States. This means there are many area to explore and many ways to do so. Many of the sites are easily accessible by car, some require hiking or driving on unpaved roads requiring
Acadia National Park on Maine's rugged is the first national park in the eastern United State. It is home to many plants and animals and the tallest mountain on the US Atlantic Coast.There are campsites but no other lodgings located within the park. We visited this park once when we stayed in the nearby town of Bar Harbor.
The Scenic Loop Drive is a must do, it begins at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center and has viewpoints at the park's main attractions. The park also has 2 beaches that are staffed by lifeguards in the summer. You can swim, play, and just relax at one of them. For curious kids the tide pools would be fun to explore, you can explore on your own or participate in one of the ranger programs. If you decide to go it on your own check the tide charts and safety rules before you do.
There are no lodging or restaurants within the monument, although there are campgrounds and picnic areas within. Click here for campground information. Click here for picnic area information.Dinosaur National Monument is located in Colorado and Utah. The Colorado side provides access to the deep canyons of the Green and Yampa rivers and dramatic views along the Harpers Corner Road, but the main attraction is located on the Utah side where you will find dinosaur quarry where you can see over 1500 fossils embedded in the cliff face.
There are several outdoor activities to enjoy in the monument, hiking, rafting and boating, and picnicking to name a few. The main event is located in the Quarry Exhibit Hall where you can see and even touch dinosaur fossils that are 149 million years old. We took our kids here when they were teenagers and the dinosaurs really got their attention! Depending on the time of year you visit you can access the Hall by either private vehicle or free shuttle bus
Mt. Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota is just one of the many NPS sites in North and South Dakota. It's famous for the sculpture by Gutzon Borglum but there is so much more to see. Of course you must view the sculpture of 4 US Presidents and learn about the history, but take the time to enjoy the plants and wildlife in the area. Walk up the Presidential Trail (.6 miles long and 422 steps) for an up close and personal view of the sculpture. Visit the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center to see the exhibits and watch the 14 minute film describing how and why the sculpture was built.
We spent a month one summer exploring them all. It's hard to say which is my favorite. From the 2000+ natural arches of Arches National Park to the sandstone cliffs of Zion National Park each area has its unique features and breathtaking beauty. I think it's safe to say they are all my favorites!
As you can see NPS offers a vast assortment of parks, monuments, memorials, and more; with areas in all 50 states and beyond. Where ever you live I'm sure there's an NPS area near you. Plan some time this summer to visit, explore, and enjoy one of them, I promise you won't regret it!
Several summers ago when I decided that year's family vacation would be spent in Utah friends and family asked me “WHY?”. I replied “Why not?”When we returned home after a month spent meandering the scenic roads of Utah and exploring its many wonders I had a better response to the question “Why Utah?”.
The answer is simple, Utah is “God's Country”!When folks think of Utah many think of the grand LDS Temple and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City, but there is so much more to Utah than that.
Utah is a wonderland of natural beauty. It boasts 5 National Parks and other NPS, state, and tribal areas including monuments, recreation areas, historic sites, scenic drives and trails, rivers, lakes, and more. Whatever your interest there's an activity for you. From skiing and snowboarding to hiking, biking, rafting, rock climbing, or golfing, boating, and relaxing you can do it all in Utah. There are so many reasons WHY Utah is a great place for a family vacation, it's hard to name just one.
These days when anyone asks me “Why Utah” I respond with my top 5 reasons. Here are my reasons perhaps they will inspire you to find your park in Utah!
Arches National Park - located 5 miles north of Moab, Utah is a site to behold. The park is home to over 2000 natural stone arches (the densest concentration of natural stone arches in the world) and fantastic rock formations. The majestic pinnacles, gigantic balanced rocks, and massive fins will amaze you.
There are many ways to enjoy the wonders of this park. The easiest and least strenuous is to take the scenic tour on 18 miles of paved roads in your car. The roads pass by many of the park's features and has viewpoints and trail heads along the way. The tour can take as little as 1.5 hours to drive one of the roads or 4.5 hours to drive all the paved roads and allowing time at each viewpoint. Biking is another option, it's permitted on all paved and unpaved roads, but not on the trails.
To see more of the park you can hike one of the trails, many of which have trail heads off the paved roads. You can combine a short easy hike with the auto tour if you prefer. Trails range from .3 miles to 7.2 miles and more in length and from easy to strenuous. A hike can take as little as 20 minutes to 4 hours and even days if you combine it with backpacking. If you prefer you can join one of the ranger led walking and hiking programs. Be sure you take enough water to stay hydrated during your hike.
We visited this park on a day trip from Moab. There are no lodgings and restaurants within the park although the bookstore in the visitor's center sells a few snacks and reusable water bottles which can be filled at the visitor's center and a couple of other places in the park.
Junior Ranger booklets and explorer packs are available at the visitor center for kids. They are designed to teach kids and their families to learn about the park as they explore it. Participants who compete activities in one or both will earn a Junior Ranger badge and certificate. There are 50 campsites with in the park which must be reserved in advance during the busy season.
Canyonlands National Park is located near Moab, Utah. The park is filled with countless canyons and fantastic buttes carved by the Colorado river and its tributaries. The River divides the park into 4 districts: Island in the Sky, Needles, Maze, and the Rivers. The districts all share the same desert atmosphere but each has its own distinct views and offers different opportunities to explore.
There are no roads that directly link the districts making exploring the entire park in one day almost impossible. Traveling between them can take 2-6 hours by car. The best way to see the park is to spend at least a day or more in each district.
The Island in the Sky district is the most accessible and easiest district to explore. There's a paved road with many scenic viewpoints along the way. The overlooks are perched 1000 feet above the terrain and offer magnificent views of the canyons below as well as views of the other districts. You can do this scenic drive in about an hour. The 100 mile White Rim Road Loops are located in this district. These roads are accessible only by mountain bikes and vehicles with 4-wheel drive. This trips will take about 2-4 days, but offers expansive views of the surrounding areas.
The Needles district known for the colorful sandstone spires that dominate the area is more backcountry. It's a great place for hiking. There are no paved roads here. The 50 miles of unpaved roads require 4-wheel drive vehicles with high clearance. The roads trails lead to many natural and cultural features such as Tower Ruin, Confluence Overlook, Elephant Hill, and Chesler Park. It is well worth the trip in spite of the challenging roads.
The Maze district is the least accessible district. Due to it's remoteness and the difficulty of its roads and trails visitors to this district must be prepared and self-sufficient. You must carry enough supplies, food, water, gas, etc. and be prepared for any emergencies. A trip to this district requires more time and a higher level of experience, definitely not for the average day-tripper.
The Colorado and Green Rivers, which form the River district, run thru the heart of the park, access to the rivers is not easy to find. You can kayak or canoe in the calm water before the Confluence or raft in the world class stretch of white water below the Confluence where both rivers combine to spill over to Cataract Canyon at incredible power and speed.
The Horseshoe Canyon Unit in not a district it was added to the park in 1971. It contains some of the most significant rock art in North America with huge well preserved panels depicting life-sized figures and intricate designs. You can also see fossils from the Jurassic Era here. The Island in the Sky and Maze districts have short kid friendly trails for families to explore. The visitor centers have FREE Junior Ranger Program booklets and Explorer Packs (deposit required) which will teach kids and parents about the park. Participants who complete activities will receive a Junior Ranger badge and certificate. Stop by one of the visitor centers before you embark on your adventure.
There are no lodgings or restaurants in the park. There are 2 campsites within the park, in Needles and Island in the Sky. We visited this park when we stayed in Moab. We rented a 4-wheel drive jeep in Moab and had a great time exploring the Island in the Sky, Needles, and Horseshoe Canyon. We drove back to Moab on one of the dirt roads from the Island in the Sky, it was definitely memorable!
Capitol Reef National Park in south-central Utah is filled with canyons, domes, cliffs, and bridges in a Waterpocket Fold (a geologic wrinkle in the earth) that is almost 100 miles long.
You will discover many hidden treasures as you explore this park, my favorite is the historic orchard, the largest orchard located within a National Park with over 3000 fruit and nut trees. The orchard is open for public harvest, you pay a small fee and pick all the fruit and nuts you can eat. Bring your own bags or baskets, they don't provide any. We picked our fill of apricots and plums! You can hike, backpack, bike, and go horseback riding and mountain climbing in the park. For more leisurely sightseeing take one of the 3 road tours.
The Waterpocket district has a loop tour as well a trail road to Lake Powell. The roads are unpaved but can be navigated in most high clearance vehicles. These drives offer spectacular views of rock formations and natural bridges. There are no restaurants or lodgings within the park. The Gifford House Store and Museum sells baked and canned goods, ice cream, and chips during the spring and summer seasons. The visitor center sells snacks and has a drink machine.
Bryce Canyon National Park in south-central Utah is a unique park filled with a huge concentration of Hoodoos (odd shaped rock pillars left standing by the forces of erosion) and 3 distinct types of pine forests. Reaching 2000 feet elevation the park has 3 different climate zones providing 3 distinct habitats that account for the high biodiversity. The park is home to over 100 bird species, dozens of mammals, and over 1000 species of plants.
The 18 mile scenic drive has scenic pull-outs along the way that provide views inside the canyon. You can drive the paved road in your private vehicle or park your car outside the park entrance and take the free shuttle bus from the nearby staging area. You can hop on and off the shuttle bus at any of the 13 stops. The shuttles run at 10-20 minute intervals.
The park allows bikes on all the paved roads and many of the trails. Or if you prefer you can see the canyon on horse or mule back. Canyon Trail Rides offer 2 hour and 1/2 day trail rides inside Bryce Canyon. We did the the afternoon 1/2 day trail ride on the Peek-A-Boo Loop Trail, it was awesome! The trail begins at the canyon rim and descends into the canyon before it loops back. You will ride along some narrow parts with the canyon wall on one side and a steep drop on the other. The guide will take you thru the valley of rock pillars and pine forests while telling you about the canyon's history and some amusing stories. Riding in the canyon gives you a different perspective of the park, but be prepared to be covered in the park's hallmark red dust from head to foot. It rained during a portion of our ride, though we had thin raincoats we still got wet, this resulted in the dust turning into to red mud that trickled down our faces, arms, and legs. Messy but truly memorable.
The park has 2 campgrounds with restrooms and drinking water. Click here for more campground information. When we visited it was a day trip from Springdale, Utah which is the gateway town to Zion National Park and is 86 miles southwest of Bryce Canyon.
Majestic, awe inspiring, breathe taking, are words that almost describe the grandeur of Zion National Park. Located in the town of Springdale, Zion is Utah's first national park. I've been to this park numerous times and never fails to enchant me. For me it's a spiritual experience each time I gaze up the canyon walls from the canyon floor. The elevation change of 5000 feet from its lowest point at 3,666 feet to its highest point of 8,726 feet is a sight to behold.
Hiking trails vary in length from short easy half hour half mile strolls to strenuous 8 hour hikes of 10 to 14 miles. There are also a variety of ranger led walks and programs for all ages. The Narrows is the narrowest section of the canyon. You can take a 1 mile hike upstream along the paved Riverside Walk from the Temple of Sinawava (no permit required) if you want to see more you will have to wade in the river. Or you can take a 16 mile hike downstream that begins outside the park at the Chamberlain's Ranch and ends at the Temple of Sinawava. This hike requires a permit and would take a day or two.
You can explore the Subway on a one day hike. There are 2 routes each about 9 miles and each one strenuous. These hikes require rappelling, route finding, and swimming through some cold debris filled poos. They both require permits and it's recommended that visitors take these hikes with an experienced Subway hiker. Be prepared before you embark on any of these adventures. Obtain the proper permits and know the park's rules and regulations before you go.
Trail rides are offered between March and October by Canyon Trail Rides. They offer 1 hour and 1/2 day rides inside the canyon. Click here for information and reservations. Kolob Canyons is a separate section of the park located 40 miles north of Zion. The 5 mile scenic drive has views of the red rock canyons and gives access to trail heads and viewpoints. Cabins, hotel rooms, and suites are available at the Zion Lodge located along the scenic drive within the park. The Lodge also has a dining room and cafe that serves meals and snacks.
When we visit we usually stay in a river edge suite at the Desert Pearl Inn in Springdale. It's a great place with amazing view. I love sitting on the balcony after a long day at the park or relaxing in the hot tub. The views are amazing.
These are just 5 reasons WHY everyone should put Utah on their travel bucket list, but there are so many others. Utah is home to many more natural wonders, cultural and historic sites, scenic roadways and byways, museums, and activities; and the folks in Utah are so friendly and welcoming! Once you've gotten a taste of I'm sure you'll be back for more! Utah really is “God's Country”!