sequoia national park

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.


Walk amongst giants at Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park is like no place in the world.

The park is located in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains. Created by Congress on Sept. 25, 1890, it is the second oldest national park in the United States (bonus points if you know the first).

Hike or drive?

You can reasonably experience the big trees and never leave the comfort of your car. The Generals Highway weaves its way through the park, passing many impressive trees. There are plenty of places to pull off to enjoy the scenery for a moment, and a few of the best specimens feature paved walkways.

Separating yourself from the throngs of daily visitors to the park is nearly impossible if you choose to drive. Though its famous national park neighbor to the north receives far more traffic, there may be times when you are competing for elbow room to view some of the more popular trees, such as General Sherman. Don’t worry, though. There’s no need to crowd around the base of the tree in order to take it all in.

Driving is a perfectly acceptable way to see the park if you only have a day.

But if you truly want to soak in the magic of this place, I recommend hitting the trail for an overnight stay.

You have dozens of quality routes to chose from, many of which will take you through some of the most beautiful groves in the park. Study a good map to get a feel for the area.

We began our trek at the South Fork Campground, located in the southwest corner of the park. From there, we hiked to the stunning Garfield Grove and beyond, before snow complicated our progress. You can find maximum solitude here.

You will need a permit to camp outside of a designated campground. Call the Wilderness Office at (559) 565-3766 to make arrangements.

And be prepared to take on gigantic sugar pine cones at 5:30 in the morning.