5 National Parks you should visit this summer

I just did the math. And correct me if I’m wrong. But let’s say you take 84 million acres and multiply it by 49 (states, excluding Delaware). You’d get 4,116,000,000 acres of National Park.

Over 4 billion acres set aside for your endless leisure, provided by your friend Uncle Sam, perhaps the last productive, creative decision he made all those years ago. Please, enjoy it while it lasts.

Now let’s say you have a respectable amount of time blocked off for your summer. Great. You have some National Park roaming to do.

You might have your favorites, and for good reason. And what I’d like to do here is have you share those reasons.

In the meantime, I’ll tell you about my own personal favorites, five fantastic National Parks you should now add to your “Must See This Summer” list.

1. Joshua Tree National Park

The  geological features at Joshua Tree are what you might expect on a moonscape. Only here you have the blazing hot desert sun mercilessly beating down on you. And lots of bizarre vegetation designed to attack you. Paradise in hell’s inferno.

Some say Joshua trees are straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. I can see that. To me, Joshua Trees (and every other plant species in this part of the Mojave and Colorado deserts) are straight out of a classic Ralph Steadman sketch: frantic, cruel, hilarious, dramatic.

Weirdness abounds at JTree.

Spring wildflowers bloom with reckless abandon if fall and winter rains are sufficient. Timing is everything.

And those geological features? The National Park Service says it best:

“Arroyos, playas, alluvial fans, bajadas, pediments, desert varnish, granites, aplite, and gneiss interact to form a giant mosaic of immense beauty and complexity.”

2. Grand Canyon National Park

My Grand Canyon advice to you: Go below the rim.

That’s right. An absurd amount of people never venture below the rim, preferring to only peer into the astonishingly deep “big hole in the ground.”

This is not the way you “do” the Grand Canyon.  Where you want to be is in the canyon, doing stuff like rim-to-rim hikes or 28-day raft trips.

Once you’re on the floor looking up, you’ll know what I mean.

Layers upon layers upon layers.

3. Yellowstone National Park

When I first visited Yellowstone National Park as a lad, it seemed I was on a different planet. Grizzlies, buffalo, towering waterfalls, spouting geysers. What the hell is this wild place!?

The vast majority of visitors don’t stray too far from their cars (as cute, cuddly grizzlies dance in the back of their minds). I too am guilty of this sin. I need to work on that.

4. Sequoia National Park

Part of why our National Parks are so special is because they make us feel like tiny, little specks of nothings.

The moment you stand next to a giant sequoia is the moment you realize how small and insignificant you are.

Sequoia groves are often shrouded in a thick fog, adding a mysterious element to your experience. You never know what’s hanging out around the next corner.

5. Yosemite National Park

Maybe my picks weren’t the diverse array of states you were hoping for, as the California Republic claimed three out of five spots. But I think you can agree that Yosemite is like the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory of the great outdoors, minus the creepy little orange guys.

Yosemite from above. Note the distinct gathering of Oompa-Loompas in the lower left hand corner.

Waterfalls gush over majestic granite cliffs and domes with what could be pure chocolate for all I know. Gene Wilder himself is even known to paddle the Merced River in a gondola made of candy.

Surely you’ve thought of your five favorite National Parks by now. Do share.

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38 comments

  1. I’ve been to all five, Sequoia being the first when I was 14. I went with my aunt and uncle from Texas to babysit their 2-year-old girl. A bear visited our campground during the night. Here’s five more that are just as awesome as the five you mentioned. Zion National Park, Redwoods National Park, Acadia National Park, Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky is my favorite section) and Grand Tetons National Park. Oh and less I forget, There’s Glacier, Arches, Big Bend, Denali, Olympia, and Mount Ranier, etc. I love national parks. Two I haven’t visited that are on this year’s to do list are Great Smoky Mountain and Shenandoah. I agree with Ken Burns. National Parks are America’s Best Idea.

    1. Being an Aussie who lives in the US, the parks have always been a big drawcard. Totally agree with your additions here (I have made it to 6 of them) – especially the Washington state parks 🙂

      1. Would you say that parks drawcard is true for a lot of foreign tourists in the US?

      2. Yes I think so, as they are normally so different from places in our own homelands and also the variety of animals is so different too (especially the big predators)

    2. Love Zion, love Redwoods, never been to Acadia unfortunately, love Canyonlands, and especially love Grand Tetons! There are so many great parks out there! Great Smoky Mountain is a good one, too! I’ve done some camping and hiking around those parts. Shenandoah is on my list!

  2. Ok..to do list …visit here here here and here..oh and here. You think maybe since I live so close I should start with the Grand Canyon? sadly it;s true I have never been there.

    1. If I were governor of Arizona (and who knows, maybe someday I will be) I would pass a law that states it is a crime to be a resident of Arizona and not experience the Grand Canyon. Punishable by death. Too harsh? OK, OK, maybe punishable by Forced Trip To The Grand Canyon. Better?

  3. The rule about going below the rim is VERY important at Bryce. I had seen photos from my sister’s trip there was not impressed but included it in a western trip with my kids. They dragged me down into the canyon promising to help me back up. Uh huh. It was really really worth it to be surrounded by the spires.
    On the same trip we went to the North Rim and it was raining and we couldn’t see a thing. I was pretty bummed out but we drove through Zion to get to where we were staying and my spirits lifted. The park has two geological sections and each is very special.
    Olympic National Park is pretty spectacular and there is a hot spring there. Denali is amazing. You MUST plan to stay way inside the park at one of the two lodges that are 93 miles in. Then you have a wonderful view of the mountain, especially reflected in the lake.
    Acadia’s crashing waves are spectacular and the history that it was the only park completely donated by private citizens also sets it apart.
    I need to get back to Yellowstone…first visited there was I was 4 and again when I was 12…think it is overdue. Grand Teton on that first trip as well. Glacier on the 2nd one.
    But you have not even talked about National Monuments. One of my favorites is Bandolier where the cliff dwellings are fun to access up wooden ladders.I could go on…and on…. LOL

      1. I haven’t been up to the monument, but my uncle lives in the area, and we’ve cruised around Mt. St. Helens. Crazy to hear stories about the eruption!

  4. How sad! I’ve only been to one, Grand Canyon, and I was only 11. On the other hand, it’s also exciting. So many adventures waiting! Yellowstone and Teton are my favorites and I have been twice. I would really like to go to Glacier and I’ve always wanted to go to Sequoia and Yosemite.

    This is inspiring me to plan our next trip today. Thank you for posting!

  5. Never been to any of these. Would love to do Yosemite and Joshua Tree for climbing, and really really want to hangglide into the Grand Canyon.
    (I should really start checking ot see if that’s an option…)

    1. As you probably know, the climbing in JTree and Yosemite is world class! It’s even fun to watch Yosemite climbers work their way up gigantic granite walls. I’ve never heard of anyone hang gliding into the GC. The NPS probably wouldn’t be too supportive of that idea, but hey, it could be done! You’ve seen clips of climbers BASE jumping in Yosemite, right?

  6. I was thinking about it, and I too am a little biased towards the youthful, rebellious sometimes violent terrain of the western U.S. On my top five (National Forests) list only one is east of the Rockies. I have loved the Ozarks since I was first there as a kid, and will go out of my way to revisit the slowly decaying, fog enshrouded mystical old mountains. The Ozarks remind me of a infirm ancestor keeping a wary and wistful eye on the changing world around him as he dozes off on his front porch. The other four: Shoshone, Yellowstone’s derelict neighbor; Lassen, perched at the far northern end of the Sierras, and just across the broad stretch of the northern central valley; Six Rivers with its perfect marriage of oven-hot scrub oak foothills and wet, cool moss covered redwood forest. The fifth on my list is perhaps my favorite. Maybe because I spent the most time there, or it could be because I had someone to share it with for the first time. Situated between the northern great basin and the Cascades, Ochoco National Forest is not quite high desert, and not quite mountains, but you can see both of these from the vast salt flats and gem filled arroyos, meandering saline streams and sulfur springs that make up much of central Oregon. Kendra and I spent a week there in January exploring the pockmarked canyons and basalt fields, taking dips in cool, warm and really hot springs randomly spilling up at unmarked locations. The only warmth we experienced besides our bodies was from the thermal activity in the earth. Ochoco is like the Badlands, Teton and Yellowstone rolled into one, and conveniently located far from any city or town known to tourists. About a six hour drive from Portland, and about an eight hour drive to Boise, unless the weather is bad, then you might not get there without an experienced and fearless pilot. The camping is free, of course, the roads are little dirt (or mud) ruts, and the amenities are nonexistent. The only store we found was a fluke, and was run by the only other person in probably fifty miles.Strangely enough he wasn’t an eastern Oregon roughneck but a Belgian engineer who had retired and relocated to this place. Why, he couldn’t remember, but I assume it had something to do with the above mentioned qualities. The unblemished views and complete seclusion can be attributed to the fact the Portlanders can’t see past Mt. Hood and because nobody ever goes to Boise.

    1. Dude, you’re imagery makes me want to grab a bag and jump on a plane and go.
      But i’m going surfing tomorrow.
      Between Eric and your write ups, the parks are now on my list.

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