Five Fantastic National Parks

When the Yel­low­stone Act of 1872 was signed, it was the first legal doc­trine pro­tect­ing an area of land as a “pub­lic park or plea­sur­ing ground for the ben­e­fit and enjoy­ment of the peo­ple.” After Yel­low­stone was passed, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment con­tin­ued pre­serv­ing land for the pro­tec­tion of its beau­ty, and in 1916 Woodrow Wil­son signed the act that cre­at­ed the offi­cial Nation­al Park Sys­tem that we know of today.

His inten­tions were to ensure the enjoy­ment for future gen­er­a­tions of the blos­som­ing park sys­tem that was com­ing to be, and today there are 394 Nation­al Parks and grow­ing, with numer­ous mon­u­ments and mil­i­tary sites pro­tect­ed by the Nation­al Park Sys­tem as well. With so many to choose from, it’s hard to say which one is best, and per­haps they all share the num­ber one spot in cer­tain cat­e­gories. The best way to fig­ure it out is to explore them your­self, and to get you start­ed here are 5 Fan­tas­tic Nation­al Parks to con­sid­er head­ing to first:

Arch­es Nation­al Park  |  Moab, Utah
Head out to east­ern Utah to see some of the most amaz­ing spec­ta­cles of geol­o­gy on this plan­et. Almost lit­er­al­ly a whole oth­er world, Arch­es Nation­al Park is a red rock cathe­dral gar­den where some of the most unique for­ma­tions grow from the Mar­t­ian land­scapes. Not only does Arch­es have arch­es, over 2,000 of them in fact, but sprawled out through this vis­i­tor-friend­ly park are pin­na­cles, spires, pedestals, fins, and bal­anced rocks. Because it is a desert cli­mate, with tem­per­a­tures above 100° in the sum­mer and below 32° in win­ter, the best time to vis­it Arch­es is in the spring or fall. A pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for sure, but because many of the major attrac­tions (Rib­bon Arch, Del­i­cate Arch, Dou­ble Arch, etc.) can be found right off the road, it’s easy to ditch the crowd if you put on your hik­ing shoes.

Olympic Nation­al Park  |  Olympic Penin­su­la, Washington
Open 365 days of the year, it might just take that much time to explore the near mil­lion acres of Olympic Nation­al Park. From windswept shores to alpine glac­i­ers, Olympic Nation­al Park con­tains three sep­a­rate ecosys­tems and per­haps the old­est sec­tion of for­est still stand­ing in the Unit­ed States. Effec­tive­ly con­tained by moun­tains and water from all sides, this gigan­tic penin­su­la of a park also has the wettest cli­mate in the U.S. and con­tains one of the few tem­per­ate rain forests in the world. This Pacif­ic North­west area of land is so seclud­ed that it even hosts its own indige­nous ani­mals such as the Olympic Mar­mot. Avail­able to vis­it all year, expect some clo­sures and small crowds in the win­ter and traf­fic in the sum­mer. But with 910 dif­fer­ent camp­sites, you might be able to sneak in despite the Seat­tle rush.

Red­wood Nation­al Park  |  North­west­ern California
Wel­come to the groves of the old-growth. The trees in Red­wood Nation­al Park have sur­passed all of Amer­i­can His­to­ry by a long shot and con­tin­ue to stand tall today. With bark 8–12 inch­es thick, these mas­sive mono­liths can with­stand cer­tain lev­els of fire, which has con­tributed to their 1,000+ year ages. And not only are these trees old, but they are tall as well. With Red­wood Nation­al Park con­tain­ing the three tallest trees in the world, includ­ing the front run­ner Hype­r­i­on at 379 feet (rough­ly a 37 sto­ry sky­scraper), pre­pare to be amazed as you strain your neck up to see the tops of these giants. Red­wood Nation­al Park sees a lot of crowds between June and Sep­tem­ber when most schools are out, so try and plan a trip in the fall while the roads are still clear and leafs the size of catch­ers mitts are falling.

Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park  |  NW Wyoming, SW Mon­tana, and East­ern Idaho
With Yel­low­stone being the first Nation­al Park, it should be grant­ed that it is a spe­cial place for nat­ur­al beau­ty and mag­ni­tude. And that same beau­ty and mag­ni­tude attracts over 3 mil­lion vis­i­tors a year, mak­ing for an occa­sion­al traf­fic jam or over­crowd­ing. But with over 2 mil­lion acres stretch­ing out between three states, the chances of find­ing some soli­tude are com­mon. Stick to the 142 mile Grand Loop Road to check out some of the scenes from the road­side, includ­ing Old Faith­ful geyser and the Grand Canyon of Yel­low­stone. Tru­ly a remark­able piece of land, even from the road it isn’t unheard of to see the free-roam­ing griz­zly bears, bison, and the occa­sion­al wolf as they go about their ani­mal busi­ness. Yel­low­stone is open all year, but with lim­it­ed access, dur­ing the win­ter unless you own a snowmobile.

Shenan­doah Nation­al Park  |  North­ern Virginia
Only 75 miles away from our nation’s cap­i­tal, Shenan­doah Nation­al Park offers the east coast a retreat from the nor­mal hus­tle and bus­tle and step back into our nat­ur­al plan­et. With over 1,100 native plants, the foliage and for­est of Shenan­doah Nation­al Park mas­sage the sens­es and lift the spir­it. With Sky­line Dri­ve, one of the nation’s most scenic byways, bisect­ing the entire park, access issues are no prob­lem. Dri­ving along Sky­line is an extreme­ly aes­thet­ic affair itself with the 35 miles per hour speed lim­it and mul­ti­ple pic­turesque turnouts, but get out of the car in Shenan­doah and explore the 100’s of miles of trail, numer­ous water­falls, and daz­zling scenery. Shenan­doah is best expe­ri­enced in the wild­flow­ers of the spring or the turn­ing foliage in the fall, but plan for pos­si­bly crowd­ed conditions.

It’s not the case if you’ve been to one Nation­al Park you’ve been to them all. Each mag­nif­i­cent area of land hosts its own his­to­ry, habi­tats, and cul­tur­al mean­ings. From the first Nation­al Park to rain­for­est con­di­tions, and sym­bol­ic mon­u­ments of Moth­er Nature, every Nation­al Park offers its own unique life-chang­ing view. So now the ques­tion is, which one are you going to vis­it next?