We recently completed an interview, summarizing our favorite parks, challenges we faced, what worked well and our final thoughts from our Trekking the Planet National Parks Roadtrip Adventure. If you …
We just returned from our National Park Tour. During our travels we visited 27 National Parks (plus other National Monuments) over 136 days. We covered about 17,000 miles in our 2003 Toyota 4Runner 4WD, visiting 34 states. And we hiked over 400 miles while in the parks, including several overnight backpacking trips. Take a look.
America’s newest national park is Pinnacles, established in 2013, and located about 80 miles southeast of San Jose, California. After arriving there on an extremely hot afternoon, with temperatures approaching 100 degrees F, our first impressions were of nothing special – just many large oak trees and chaparral covered hills. But when we started hiking the next morning we were blown away by the beauty of the volcanic rocky crags within the dry hills. During our two days in the park we hiked 17.2 miles, scrambled in two talus caves, and scanned the skies for the endangered California condors that glide over the peaks in the early morning and late afternoon.
The Cascade Mountains run from south British Columbia to Northern California. Located on the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Fire, all the contiguous United States volcanic eruptions over the past 200 years have taken place in this range. The highest peak in the Cascades is Mount Rainier. At 14,410 feet, it is the fifth tallest mountain in the lower 48 states and the 17th highest in the entire U.S. We spent time driving through the park and hiking in two popular locations: Sunrise and Paradise.
Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota is the only one of America’s 59 national parks to be named after a person. Created as a national memorial park in 1947, it honored Roosevelt’s legacy in preservation and his love for the badlands area where he lived. While in the park, we spent time in all three units, united by the Little Missouri River flowing through them. We hiked, drove scenic roads, paused at vistas, and learned more about the life and conservation legacy of the man who was president from 1901 to 1909.
Wind Cave, in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota, was created as America’s eighth national park in 1903 and was the first to protect a cave. During the three days that we visited, we took two tours in the cave, unique in its abundant boxwork formations, which are found virtually nowhere else in the world. In addition to our underground adventures, we completed a ridge hike and an overnight backpacking trip above ground. We also spent time on a safari of sorts, tracking animals, including herd of bison, along Wind Cave’s backcountry roads.
Seventy five million years ago a shallow sea covered today’s Great Plains area. It spanned north to south from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and east to west from western Iowa to western Wyoming. Sea creatures that died sank to the bottom of the sea and became fossils, as well as a gray-black layer of sedimentary rock. This layer is just one of the bands of rock comprising today’s Badlands National Park area, formed as the sea retreated and the climate dried. The Lakota called it mako sica, and French trappers called it les mauvaises terres a traverser, both meaning “bad lands.” We spent three days in the park exploring the badlands rock formations and viewing fossils, while hiking on several trails under the ancient sea, including an overnight trip to a tree-filled ridge in the backcountry.
In the 18th century, French Canadian adventurers, known as voyageurs, traveled by canoe on today’s boundary waters between the United States and Canada. They were primarily fur traders transporting beaver pelts, known as “soft gold,” between the northwestern portion of Canada and Montreal. From there, the pelts were shipped to Europe, where beaver hats were the rage. Today’s Voyageurs National Park, established in 1975, encompasses 56 miles of the former trade route. In order to best experience a park whose primary access is by water, we arranged to be dropped off on the Kabetogama Peninsula and make our way into the backcountry for 50 hours by foot and paddle.
Lake Superior is the northernmost of the five Great Lakes. The largest freshwater lake in the world by area, it seems more like an ocean or an inland sea, measuring 350 miles wide and 160 miles long. In its northwest corner lies Isle Royale, the largest island in Lake Superior. It is part of Michigan, 55 miles away, but even closer to Minnesota and just off the coast of Ontario, Canada. Its remote location and winter park closure makes it the least visited national park in the lower 48 states.
Ohio’s 85 mile long Cuyahoga River flows between Akron and Cleveland and into Lake Erie. Meaning “crooked river” in the Mohawk language, the river area was home to Native Americans, and later, European explorers and trappers. Homesteaders followed to further settle the land. By the 20th century, the Cuyahoga River became one of the most polluted rivers in the United States. The sad state of the river culminated with it gaining national attention when it caught on fire in 1969. This incident contributed to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Water Act.
In 1604 French explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed along the coast of today’s central Maine and noted an island that he called “Isle des Monts Deserts” because of the barren appearance of its mountains. Craved by glaciers, the granite mountains looked devoid of any vegetation from a distance. Today, Mount Desert Island (pronounced “Dessert” as in cake) is the centerpiece of Acadia National Park. Different from the wide open spaces we were used to seeing in the national parks of the west, we found Acadia not to be a barren place, but a delightful patchwork of forest, mountain, lake, and seashore.
On the mountain top the views can be awe-inspiring and humbling, making you feel on top of the world in one moment and insignificant compared to your surroundings in the next. Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park sits on the top of the Appalachian Mountains’ Blue Ridge Range. Skyline Drive runs for 105 miles through the park along the crest of the Blue Ridge, and the views from its 75 overlooks are more like those seen from a plane than a car. The popularity of passenger cars was a factor in the national park’s creation, allowing automobile travelers to see views from the mountain top before air travel was common. We spent four days in the park being awe-inspired and humbled by the views while hiking several trails, with a focus on Shenandoah’s waterfalls.