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Choosing Which National Park to Visit: a Guest Post by Emily Burton
Visiting all the parks in the National Park System is a worthy lifetime goal, but with 419 parks managed by the National Park Service, it’s best to have a plan of action. One way to approach this goal is from east to west or state-by-state. A more interesting way, however, alternates among parks with different assets. With continual variety, you won’t get lulled into a sense of complacency at yet another gorgeous mountain range.
Yellowstone National Park
It makes sense to start your park adventure off with a bang at the granddaddy of national parks – Yellowstone. This 3400 square mile parcel of land across three states was set aside by President Grant in 1872. It boasts the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem which supports hundreds of mammals including bison, wolves and grizzly bears. There are nine different lodges or cabins available as well as camping sites. Because Yellowstone is so large, you can drive close to most viewing areas. With so many lodging and dining services, Yellowstone makes a comfortable first park experience for the entire family.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
On a different note, Guadalupe Mountains National Park in West Texas offers 86 miles of hiking trails, incredible views and little in the way of amenities. One of the best ways to get ready for an intense national park experience like this one is to get in shape before you go by embarking on a fitness plan with the best Thrive side effects that helps you feel energetic and raring to go. Not only are there no hotels in this park, but you can’t even make reservations for the campsites. In other words, you must be committed to the incredible sunsets, stargazing and colors of fall foliage (if you go in autumn – which you should). There are moderate day hikes through high-walled canyons and up to mountain peaks. There are numerous gorgeous hike-in backpacking sites such as McKittrick Ridge where you must pack in and pack out everything.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
Once you’ve explored the desert floor and mountain top views in Texas, you might be yearning for the tall trees of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park in California. These adjacent parks have been managed together for decades and share five distinct areas worthy of your time. You can hike to the first and second largest trees in the world. Do not miss the two-mile loop trail through the Giant Forest sequoia grove. You can stay outside the park or at Bearpaw High Sierra Camp in the park which features a tent city complete with food, showers and beds.
Voyageurs National Park
Variety is the spice of life, so after your tree-ific visit to California, head to northern Minnesota and Voyageurs National Park, made up mostly of lakes. The best way to access all this beautiful park has to offer is via canoe, rowboat or even houseboat. If you don’t happen to own your own houseboat, there is camping and one lodge in the park, Kettle Falls Hotel, that’s only accessible by boat. If you decide to brave Minnesota in the winter, instead of fishing and kayaking, you can go cross-country skiing or snowmobiling over the frozen lakes.
Acadia National Park
Just to make sure you’re being geographically well-rounded, for your next stop, consider the lovely Acadia National Park in Maine. This singleton park in the Northeastern United States really has it all: mountains, ocean coastline, forests, lakes, and wetlands. The self-proclaimed “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast” offers plenty to do and see and is just down the road from the cutest little town of Bar Harbor from which to set up your home base. One unique feature of this park is the Artist-in-Residence program which offers free housing to an artist in exchange for artistic public outreach programs and donated artwork highlighting Acadia.
If you visit six national parks a year, it will take you 70 years to get through the entire parks system. A better plan might be to choose a variety of parks across the United States and its territories so that you get a sense of the vastness and variety of the landscapes across this great country.