National Parks

Special thanks to Kyle Smith and Jessica Bishop for the recommendations.

From the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Californian sweeping valleys, the mangrove systems in Florida, and every canyon, cave, volcano or giant tree in-between, the National Parks are revered as America's greatest outdoor treasure. These 58 parks cover more than 84 million acres of land and all well worth exploring. If you haven't been to a park yet go outside and go often.

Delicate Arch, Arches

ARCHES

With over 2,000 gorgeous red arches, this desert landscape rich with balanced rocks, dunes, and soaring pinnacles is sure to impress any seasoned or inexperienced outdoor-seeker.

Best Hikes

Delicate Arch: Probably Arches' most famous, this 2.9 mile out-and-back trail features the parks' most recognizable natural arch.

 

Balanced Rock: Breezy, .3 mike trail with awesome balancing rock formations.

 

The Windows: 1.2 mile loop trail with, you guessed it, mini-arches and rock formations.

Things to Do

Rock Climbing: More for advanced climbers, but Arches has many structures to dig your fingers into.

 

Stargazing: Minimal light pollution means the sky lights up after dark.

Mountain biking or ATVs - rent or bring your own! Not available in Arches or Canyonlands, but in Moab and the surrounding areas. 

Places to Stay

If you want to score a campsite, make sure to secure it months in advance. Staying in Moab is close, but expensive. We recommend checking out Green River or Crescent Junction hotels.

Places to Eat

Check out these venues in the nearby town of Moab.

Quesadilla Mobilla: This food truck has thick, cheesy, stuffed quesadillas that are sure to replenish.

Sunset Grill: On the pricier side, but the upper broad side of the mountain-restaurant boasts superb views. Go at sunset!

Tips and Tricks

Try to avoid the middle of summer -- these red rocks get HOT! And always bring plenty of water.

CANYONLANDS

Canyonlands National Park was carved out by the flow of the Colorado River. Huge, panoramic overviews stretch for miles contrasts its towering walls as you look up from the bottom.

Best Hikes

Grand View Point Trail: 1.8 mile trail that gives you an opportunity to experience the vastness of Canyonlands.

 

Chesler Park Loop Trail: 10.1 mile trail with tons of scenic views from both up-close and far-away.

Things to Do

Walk the Edge and Drive Down: It's what it sounds like -- walk around the edge on foot, drive down in your vehicle, and then walk to more ledges. You’ll feel minuscule no matter the location.

Places to Stay

Same as Arches -- Moab is the closest town, or book early for a campsite.

Places to Eat

Head into the town of Moab (see Arches suggestions).

GRAND CANYON

Larger than the state of Rhode Island, the Grand Canyon is one of the most well-known and visited National Parks in the United States. With hidden caves, its own weather forecast, and an extensive fossil record, this natural phenomenon will take your breath away.

Best Hikes

Ooh Ahh point, South Kaibab trail: Roughly 3 mile trail. Not a difficult hike, but extremely scenic.

 

Bright Angel Trail: This hike can range from 3 miles round-trip, to around 9 or even 12 miles at max. It’s extremely exhausting, but the bottom gives you amazing views straight into, and across, the canyon.

Places to Stay

Grand Canyon village: Closest place to the park with several hotels. Make sure you book months in advance.

 

Check out nearby towns, there’s plenty of Airbnbs to rent for travelers.

 

Sedona: A one and a half hours drive, but you can make a day-trip to the Grand Canyon and continue to stay a few more days exploring the unique town of Sedona!

Places to Eat

Grand Canyon Villages: Located around the park, there's various dining halls and places to buy food to cook if you're camping. Also plenty of ice cream shops if you  need a sweet, cold treat.

Tips and Tricks

The Grand Canyon gets HOT, and it’s an arid, dry heat. Make sure you bring plenty of water, drink when you’re not thirsty, and bring a hat and sunglasses for shade.


Watch out for the rock squirrels! They're feisty, and known to bite -- don't try to feed them.

GRAND TETON

Grand Teton National Park is home to a 40 mile mountain range and has beautiful lakes that allow for abundant activities. Maybe while there you'll catch the fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere! The Pronghorn can run up to 70 miles per hour, so keep your head on a swivel.

Best Hikes

Surprise and Amphitheater Lakes Trail: A 8.9 mile strenuous hike with pristine views of the lake.

Cascade Canyon Trail: Just over a 9 mile, difficult hike, with a lake and awesome mountain features.

Jenny Lake Trail: On the lighter side, a 7.3 mile easy loop that takes you around amazing Jenny Lake.

Things to Do

Get out on the water! Head to Colter Bay for dinner cruises, kayaking, canoeing, and motorboat rentals.

 

Go horseback riding.

Places to Stay

Colter Bay offers everything from campsites for just tents, to half-tent half-canvas cabins, and normal cabins. As always, make sure you book early.

 

Jenny Lake: There’s tons of campground options in this area and everyday you’ll wake up to an astounding view.

Places to Eat

Colter Bay offers a village with a grocery store, fine dining, and a quaint cafe.

JOSHUA TREE

Joshua Tree National Park in southern California is truly magical. It's rugged rock formations, coupled with desert landscapes, makes it feel like another planet. Its namesake Joshua Trees can be found scattered across the entire park and hosts some of the best views en route to Coachella Valley.

Best Hikes

Barker Dam: A 1.1 mile, 1 hour loop. Not strenuous and weaves through the boulders of Hidden Valley.

Mastodon Peak: 3 miles and a 2-ish hours loop, definitely a moderate hike. Of note, you'll need to rock scramble to the top for the best views.

 

Lost Horse Mine Loop: A whopper, 6.5 mile and 3-4 hours loop. Depending on skill, can be moderate to difficult. Regardless, you'll enjoy walking through the Joshua tree forest.

Things to Do

Bird Watching: With over 200 species of birds in the park, you can find some pretty incredible animals. Check NPS for the best places to watch.

Go camping!

 

Horseback Riding: Ryan and Black Rock Campgrounds have designated areas for horses. The Joshua Tree Ranch is well known for renting horses for riding/tours.

 

Stargazing: The campgrounds or backcountry are the best places for celestial views. Grab a chair or blanket, a warm drink, and enjoy the wonderous Milky Way.

Places to Stay

If you're looking to reserve a spot, we highly recommend Black Rock (99 sites, $20 a night, 4,000 elevation).

 

Ryan and Hidden Valley are both first-come first-serve.

 

Ryan is great location in park (31 sites, $15 a night, 4,300 elevation)

 

Hidden Valley is also a nice spot (42 sites, $15 a night, 4,200 elevation)

 

Airbnb: In the town of Joshua Tree and the surrounding park you can find a large number of desert-style small homes that are perfect for a visit with little more comfort.

Places to Eat

Crossroads Cafe: American cafe that is family friendly with something for everyone.

 

Joshua Tree Saloon:  This is an American Southwestern bar. Pub food that is vegetarian-friendly with a homey vibe.

Natural Sisters Cafe: American cafe with vegetarian and vegan options.

Tips and Tricks

The town of Joshua Tree is small and charming. You will find a limited number of interesting and diverse restaurants.

 

Avoid going in the heat of the summer as temperatures can rise above 100 degrees.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN

In Colorado's pristine wilderness, Rocky Mountain National Park has tons of hiking trails, rivers, and miles upon miles to explore.

Best Hikes

Emerald Lake: 3.1 mile moderate hike, with beautiful lakes along the way to a towering mountain view.

 

Sky Pond: An 8.1 mile and difficult hike, with jutting mountains and a serene pond at the end.

 

Bridal Veil Falls: 6 mile moderate hike with water features.

Things to Do

Drive through the park! If hiking isn’t your thing, or even if it is, you can cruise around Trail Ridge Road to see elk, deer, and more.

 

Wander around Estes Park. There’s so many quirky stores and delicious ice cream shops.

Places to Stay

The town of Estes Park is a short drive from RMNP and has tons of hotels and Airbnb options. If you prefer to camp, Moraine Park Campground and Aspenglen are great options, just reserve way in advance.

Places to Eat

The Egg & I: Delicious breakfast to fuel your morning.

 

Ed’s Cantina Grill: Awesome Mexican with a view.

 

Claire’s on Park: Classic American food with outside seating.

 Arches

Delicate Arch, Arches

Canyonlands

Canyonlands

Canyonlands

Grand Canyon

Colter Bay, Grand Teton

Grand Teton

Grand Teton

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

Rocky Mountain National Park

Sky Pond, Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

 
 
 
 
 
 

SAND DUNES

Great Sand Dunes National Park is remission of the surface of Mars! These ever-shifting mountains allow for tons of exploring and great sunrises or sunsets.

Best Hikes

Hike the spine to the top of the dunes. Because of wind they're ever-changing, and it’s going to be a workout. Once you’re at the top you’ll be able to see the dunes stretch for miles into the adjacent mountains.

 

Mosca Pass: 6.9 mile moderate hike, with tons of wildflowers in the spring.

Things to Do

Sandboarding! Make sure you rent before you get in the park (they don’t offer rentals inside), but hike your way up and slide down. We don’t recommend using your actual snowboard -- we've done it before, but you run the risk of damaging your board.

 

Check out the visitor center! Surprisingly, they have a plethora of knowledge and history on how the dunes came to be. Very informative!

Places to Stay

Unless you’re camping, stay in Crestone. Search for the 'Dome Home AirBnb' on google - they have a few options to choose from and these homes are awesome. 

Places to Eat

Crestone Brewing Co: If you’re staying, get a flight of beer and a burger.

Tips and Tricks

The Sand Dunes are like a natural exfoliator for your feet - it might be tempting to go barefoot, but bring along shoes just in case...especially in the summer, when the sand is scorching hot.

Sand Dunes

Dome Home in Crestone

Sand Dunes

YELLOWSTONE

The OG of National Parks, Yellowstone was the first in the world! It stretches over 3 states, is dominated by geothermal activity, an abundance of wildlife, and has tons of rivers or trails.

Best Hikes

Uncle Tom's Trail: Short but difficult hike, take 328 steps down the side of a canyon to a huge waterfall.

 

Fairy Falls Trail: 5 mile, easy hike that starts near Old Faithful and takes you past the beautiful and colorful Grand Prismatic Spring.

 

Mystic Falls: A relatively-easy loop stretching 2.5 miles that brings you to a great scenic overlook and waterfall.

 

Bunsen Peak: 4 mile, hard, hike with switchbacks and rewarding views at the top.

Things to Do

You'll catch so many things in Yellowstone just by driving around. Don't miss Old Faithful erupting, the Grand Prismatic Spring, Morning Glory Hole, and the Yellowstone River.

 

If you're into fishing, you can buy fishing permits specific to Yellowstone! You will also need a Wyoming fishing license.

 

In the winter, go snowmobiling! The park is a lot quieter and covered in snow, and you'll have great opportunities to see wildlife up close.  You have to reserve with a tour, and we recommend Old Faithful Tours.

Places to Stay

Old Faithful Inn: Smack in the center of the park next to Old Faithful and many restaurants.

 

For cheaper hotel options, West Yellowstone has a handful of hotels and is only a two hour drive from Bozeman.

 

If you want to camp, make sure you get a permit. There's plenty of options: https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/permitsandreservations.htm.

Places to Eat

Serenity Bistro: Located in West Yellowstone, one of the fancier restaurants in the area. The Quail and Buffalo Tortellini are amazing!

 

There's a variety of dining options also located in the park.

YOSEMITE

In California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite National Park has some of the most iconic views and scenic overlooks in the United States.

Best Hikes

Vernal Fall & Nevada Fall trail: This one's a doozy. Hike 2.4 miles to top of Vernal fall then 5.4 miles to top of Nevada Fall, for a total of 5-6 hours. You’ll hike directly along the Vernal Fall and get *misted* for about 30 minutes. You’ll get stunning views of the waterfall during the entire hike, and the top of Nevada Fall is right at the base of the Half Dome. If this seems too much, an alternate route is open year-round.

 

Yosemite Falls Trail: Round-trip of 7.2 miles, will average anywhere from 6-8 hours depending on your pace. If you don’t have time for whole thing, there's a stellar cut-out about a mile up. Trail leads to the top of North America’s tallest waterfall. Open all year, it's a steep hike but can't beat the scenery.

 

Glacier Point: This will give you great glimpse of Yosemite Falls, and it'll take you past Inspiration Point.

 

Mirror Lake: Easy, 1 mile hike. Get up-close and personal views of High Dome. It is seasonal, and may dry up.

Things to Do

Rock Climbing: You can get all day private guided tours for a group around $140 per person. The tours are good for people of all experience levels, and will take you through different routes at the bottom of El Cap. We recommend Yosemite Mountaineering School & Guide Service.

 

Tunnel View: Best sunset view in the park. Bring snacks and booze, and plan to be there a couple of hours before sunset if you want a good spot. If you hike up the hill behind the parking lot, you can avoid the tour buses as well.

Places to Stay

Half Dome Village: ‘Glamping’ in 2-5 person canvas tents that can be heated or unheated. Public bathrooms with showers are next door, plus you’ll get a safe and bear box. Free Wifi, and right next to the restaurant, bar, shuttle stop and coffee shop.

 

Cabins in the area are available for rent in the park, but they’re pretty pricey.

 

Check out the Airbnb’s in the area. They have great deals and Mariposa at the entrance of the park for chain and family owned hotels.

Places to Eat

Sweetwater Grocery: All of your grocery supplies, as well as delicious breakfast, sandwiches, and ice cream.

 

Pizza Factory: Open late to fulfill your carb-loading dreams after a long day’s hike.

 

Charles Street Diner: Some of the best deserts in town.

Tips and Tricks

BYOB! There’s no open container laws in the park and everyone’s enjoying a drink after getting back from the day.

 

If you’re driving from California, stop at a fruit stand!

 

If you want to hike Half Dome, apply for your permit early. There are backpacker and day permits. They’re decided by a preseason lottery in March -- but if you don’t get it then, around 50 permits become available during hiking season due to cancellation that are available online two dates before your hike date.

ZION

One of Utah's 8 parks, but also one of the most jaw-dropping and magnificent.

Best Hikes

Angels Landing: 5 mile round-trip that'll run you about 4-5 hours. One of the most famous, dangerous and badass hikes out there. Chains and bars drilled into the rocks in some areas with sheer drop-offs on either side. Open year round, would NOT suggest going if raining.

 

Observation Point: Gotta commit to this 6-7 hours, 8 mile roundtrip trail plus a 2,000 ft ascent. It will be uphill, so brace yourself. But, boasts an AMAZING scene at the top that looks down on Angels Landing.

 

The Narrows: Variable length, you'll wade through the river to the center of a canyon.  Wet suits/boots rentals are available at the entrance to the park. Closed occasionally for flash-flood risk, would not recommend in the winter.

Places to Stay

Springdale: Small town directly next to the park. Park shuttle stops here, lots of cute shops and restaurants.

 

Hurricane: It’s about a 40 minute drive from the park, but cheap and the drive in at sunrise is unbeatable.

Places to Eat

Zion Canyon Brew Pub: Right next to the park entrance, big patio right at the base of the mountains.

 

There’s lots of coffee shops and restaurants in Springdale!

Tips and Tricks

Get the Annual Pass: If you're planning on hitting more than a few parks in a year, it can add up. They normally range from $15 - $30 a day. However you can be the America the Beautiful - Annual Park Pass for $80 dollars, and it gets you into every park (as well as many state parks, landmarks, and reserves) for free!

If you're even thinking about going to a park, it's best to reserve early. Last minute planning doesn't work well here. Most campsites offer only a $10 fee or so to get your money back, so it's worth booking it sooner rather than later. 

If you want to camp, but not splurge on the gear, check out rentals at places like REI

Remember, these are special lands! Stay on the paths to prevent erosion so even years from now we can enjoy these parks, and always practice Leave No Trace.

Some national parks have some of the most extreme climates in the world, and no cell phone service. Always make sure to bring layers, snacks, plenty of water, and maps. If you're hiking alone, always tell someone where you are and your timeline, and always bring water purification tablets or a life straw. Don't drink directly from streams or lakes!

Yosemite Falls

Yellowstone

Union Falls, Yellowstone

Yellowstone

Yellowstone

The High Sierras

Three Sisters, Yosemite

Lookout Point, Yosemite

Zion

Angel's Landing, Zion

ALL PARKS 

 
 
 
 
 
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