There are rainforests to admire, startlingly beautiful trails to hike, mountain peaks to view and incredible wildlife to see in these seven national parks.
1. Admire Half Dome in Yosemite National Park
Yosemite has more domes than any other place on the planet. The dome made famous by Ansel Adams’ photographs, Half Dome (pictured above) can be seen from Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point inside the park. It is 8,800 feet of towering granite and a world-renowned icon of Yosemite National Park. Experienced, able-bodied hikers get a permit to do the 14-16-mile roundtrip hike up the back of the dome which takes about 10-12 hours.
2. View Bryce Canyon from the Rim
Hoodoos, arches, and fins galore. See Bryce Canyon National Park’s best views and rock formations from above. The startling beauty of the Utah desert is captured in these seven magnificent overlooks.
3. Hike Down Bright Angel Trail into the Grand Canyon
Zigzag your way down 3,195 feet on nearly 100 switchbacks to Indian Garden, an oasis smudged into a crease in the canyon wall. Resthouses, water, and a phone are on the way. You have not experienced the Grand Canyon until you’ve hiked this unforgettable trail.
4. Reach the Summit of Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park
It is impossible to stare at the eastern skyline of Rocky Mountain National Park and not be compelled to at least wonder what it would be like to climb Longs Peak. Dominating the skyline, and topping out at 14,259 feet, Longs is the ultimate adventure for enthusiastic hikers.
Don’t be fooled though, it’s not a walk in the park. In fact, the 16-mile round trip hike will push hikers lungs and stamina to the test. The reward? Unobstructed 360 degree views spanning the eastern plains and continental divide.
5. Hike the Appalachian Trail through Great Smoky Mountains National Park
You don’t have to hike all the way from Georgia to Maine to enjoy the Appalachian Trail. America’s most famous trail travels 72 miles through Great Smoky Mountains National Park along the Tennessee-North Carolina border.
On the southwest end, the trail crosses into the park at Fontana Dam, ascends up to its highest point at Clingmans Dome and back down in elevation in the northeast area of the park where it exits at Davenport Gap. Along the way, the trail only crosses one road at Newfound Gap. Hop on it here to reduce the distance by half.
6. Wander Through a Rainforest in Olympic National Park
No need to travel abroad to see a rainforest. Did you know several of the world’s last remaining temperate rainforests are in Olympic National Park? On the park’s west side you can explore Hoh, Quinault, Queets and Bogchiel rainforests.
The most developed with trails and a visitor center, the Hoh Rainforest is well worth the two-hour drive from Port Angeles ⎯ or the less than an hour drive from Forks.
7. See Grizzly Bears, Gray Wolves and Bison in Yellowstone National Park
Located in the northeastern corner of Yellowstone National Park, the Lamar Valley, along the Lamar River, in is often called America’s Serengeti for its large and easy-to-see populations of large animals.
Among its most famous inhabitants are the Junction Butte and Lamar Canyon wolf packs; wolf enthusiasts gather with spotting scopes most days hoping to see these impressive canines in action. In addition to wolves, other animals roaming the Lamar include large herds of bison, pronghorn, badgers, grizzly bears, bald eagles, osprey, deer, and coyotes. Many pullouts line the road, so keep your eyes peeled and park in the nearest one if you see any active wildlife.