A Summer Road Trip to America’s National Parks

Filed in American Culture by on July 18, 2014 1 Comment

Documentary film maker, Ken Burns, describes national parks as “America’s best idea.” National parks are indeed popular destinations in the United States. Many Americans plan summer road trips to one or more of the over 400 units of the National Park Service, which was created in 1916, and now spans the nation from coast to coast with units in every state. If you want to get out and explore some of the diverse history and scenic natural beauty of the United States, then there is no better way than a road trip to a national park. Once there, you can hike, drive, picnic, and camp, in some of the most spectacular and fascinating scenery on Earth.

Here are five suggestions of several popular parks.

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in North Carolina and Tennessee, is one of the most visited national parks due to its geographic proximity to many populated places in the eastern U.S. The park is famous for its ancient mountain scenery—some of the higher mountains in the eastern U.S.—as well as its world-renowned diversity of plant and animal life and preservation of southern Appalachian mountain culture. While in the region, also consider a drive along portions of the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, which connects Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park (in Virginia), through the southern Appalachian highlands.
  • Grand Canyon National Park, on the Colorado Plateau in northern Arizona, preserves the landscape of the Colorado River-carved canyon. The Grand Canyon is truly immense—277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. Aside from its stunning scenery, Grand Canyon is one of the most studied geologic landscapes in the world, offering a visual record of three of four eras of geologic time, and supporting five of seven life zones. While in the vicinity of Grand Canyon, you should also consider visiting other nearby parks, including Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments, Petrified Forest National Park (in the Painted Desert), and many of the spectacular parklands of the Colorado Plateau in southern Utah, including Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks.
  • Yosemite National Park, in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, was first protected in 1874. The park preserves some of the tallest waterfalls in North America, deep valleys surrounded by granite cliffs, pristine meadows, and ancient giant sequoia trees. A drive through Yosemite Valley and up to Glacier Point, and to the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoia trees, offers visitors an overview of some of the park’s highlights. If you head south of Yosemite on your road trip, you can visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. If you head east of Yosemite, you’ll pass through Death Valley National Park, with the hottest and lowest point in the U.S. at over 200 feet below sea level. Alternatively, if you choose to head north of Yosemite, you can visit the northern California parklands of Lassen Volcanic National Park, with its geothermal features, and Redwood National Park, which preserves the Coast Redwood forests—the tallest trees on Earth. Further north of those two parks is Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon.
  • Yellowstone National Park, in northwest Wyoming, is the nation’s first national park, established in 1872. The park is a wonderland of active geologic scenery, include geysers, hot springs, and other geothermal features. The park also contains abundant wildlife viewing opportunities, including herds of bison and elk, grizzly bears, and wolves. A short drive south of Yellowstone, you’ll find Grand Teton National Park. There, you can drive and hike along pristine mountain lakes, alpine terrain, and view the mountain summits of the Teton Range, which rise more than 7,000 feet above the valley of Jackson Hole, dominating the park’s skyline.
  • Olympic National Park, west of Seattle, Washington, in the Pacific Northwest, is a place where you can drive and hike to breathtaking snowcapped mountain vistas, alpine meadows with wildflowers, dramatic rocky coastline on the Pacific Ocean, and lush temperate rain forests—all in the same day. If you head back east from the park, southeast of Seattle, you can visit Mount Rainier National Park, the focus of which includes the 14,410 foot volcanic peak, the sentinel of the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest. A drive north of Seattle will take you to North Cascades National Park, with an alpine landscape of jagged peaks, glaciers, cascading waterfalls, and pristine valleys and lakes.

Watch this video below to learn more about the history of America’s National Parks and other parks near you.


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