Dear 100 Hour Board,
Which National Parks have you personally visited? Out of those, which do you most highly recommend for a nice vacation (however you would define a nice vacation)?
-Got a pass, now planning
Dear America The Beautiful,
I've visited Glacier, Yellowstone, Redwood, Capitol Reef, Arches, Zion, and Bryce. I've been to many of the Utah state parks as well, but I don't think the national parks pass gets you into those, unfortunately (else I'd totally recommend Goblin Valley and many of the surrounding hikes in the slot canyons.)
Like Anathema, I HIGHLY recommend Glacier National Park. It may be one of the most picturesque places I've ever been in my life. It was legitimately breathtaking.
My personal favorite Utah spot is Zion because it's very large so there are so many different amazing places to explore. That's where my dad used to take us camping all the time, so I'm a little sentimentally attached to it too. Of course, all the Utah Nat'l parks are relatively close together so you can hit them all together if you wanted.
I have been to Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Bryce, the Grand Canyon, Zion, Arches, Capitol Reef, many various national forests,... and I think that's it? Those are all the parks that I've been to that I can list off the top of my head.
My top suggestion for a vacation would be Glacier. It has absolutely stunning vistas, and is full of gorgeous mountain hikes. For parks in Utah, I would suggest Bryce. And definitely go to Yellowstone while you're on this national park kick.
Finally, just for you (and cause Alta's picture below inspired me), here are some of my favorite photos I've taken at some of these national parks.
Dear food of life,
Yo, I'm sorry. This was kept over because I wanted to include pictures of the parks I've visited, but they were spread across too many flash drives and I decided actually responding to your question was more important than providing you with crappy pictures. I'll find them if you ask, though. Anyways, parks I done seent:
- Glacier NP: Really pretty, absolutely worth visiting.
- Yellowstone NP: Yellowstone is quite fascinating, with a mixture of geothermal features and provides the most reliable sightings of wildlife and Chinese tourists in the Lower 48.
- Grand Teton NP: Some fantastically pretty views are the extent of my visit to this land.
- Arches NP: I visited over Thanksgiving Break and was surprised how small the park seemed to be. But it's neat, I guess.
- Bryce Canyon NP: I liked this place enough I decided to work here for a season upon graduating. Also, I needed a job. You can ditch most of the crowds by venturing off the Navajo and Queen's Garden loops and venturing along the Under the Rim trail for a bit. It's a beautiful area, if you don't mind a bit of a walk.
My favorite thing to do at Bryce Canyon is hiking the Navajo Loop by moonlight. Are you visiting when the moon is full, or close to it? Visit an alternate Bryce Canyon where the hoodoos and trails take on an otherworldly pallor in the pale light, a place where you're likely to be all alone. It's incredibly rewarding.
Be smart about it, though. Familiarize yourself with the trail by day, take a source of light and map in case it gets cloudy, take warm clothes, be wise.
- Zion NP: It's magnificent, but the crowds dull much of the splendor me. Do your best to visit some time besides a holiday weekend.
- Capitol Reef NP: I clearly don't know how to visit this park right, because it has been boring every time.
- Canyonlands NP: I particularly enjoy the Needles district for day hikes and Cyclone Canyon for an overnight hike.
- Yosemite NP: It looks cool, if a bit crowded. If I rock climbed, I'd probably love it. What I do love is the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias, because big trees. Also, have you heard of the crazy climbing documentary Free Solo? In this film, the talented climber Alex Honnold free solo climbs (no ropes, no harness, or anything) El Capitan, a 3,000 foot cliff rising over the valley. It's in IMAX theaters this week.
- Great Basin NP: It's close to Salt Lake—just four hours driving, the same amount it takes to get to Bryce Canyon—and it has a feeling of isolation I crave. The West Desert is unlike anywhere else I've been, and is an entirely different feel than harried Southern Utah.
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP: It was winter, so I've barely looked down into its dark depths.
- Grand Canyon NP: The North Rim is really all I've seen of this place. I need to actually hike around in it, or ideally raft through it... some time.
- Olympic National Park: It was sort of crowded, but maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I'd been able to get off the main trails where toddlers couldn't go.
- Mammoth Caves NP: Some fun wild caving tours are available here if you arrange beforehand, which I did not. They're the longest cave system in the world, but the lack of formations make them a tad disappointing after Carlsbad Caverns, I'm afraid.
- Carlsbad Caverns NP: I love caves, and this cave inspired awe and wonder. While you can visit the cave beforehand without a tour, there's a bunch of additional more-adventurous tours available if you plan ahead of time that take you to some crazy portions of the massive subterranean lair. If you go during the summer months, call ahead and ask to volunteer with the once-weekly bird survey which has been going on for years. You descend to the mouth of the cave and count returning avians at dusk... and then sit there for and hour as four hundred thousand leathery mammals stream past at arm's-length. I haven't done this yet—I was there in the spring, when the bats were largely absent— but when I return you can bet I'm gonna get me to that bat party.
- Guadalupe Mountains NP: Sure, it's the highest peak in Texas, but does it really deserve National Park status? I daresay it does not, but it's forty minutes from Carlsbad, so if you're in the neighborhood, you may as well.
- Big Bend NP: Big Bend shows a wild Texas that, due to its altitude, isn't quite as hot as you'd expect. It's home to the furthest-south population of aspens in the USA. You can poke Mexico here. Take that, Mexico. Take. That.
- Hot Springs NP: Urban, with a rather different feel than the other parks in the area. You can drink the water, which is... fun? I wouldn't go out of my way to get here.
- Great Smoky Mountains NP: Located in the Appalachian mountains, the most visited National Park in the US is quite nice, even if it is just some random mountains.
- Haleakalā National Park, which I really, really wanted to visit as sort of a Board pilgrimage more than for any other reason, since it is the namesake of alumnus writer Haleakalā. The silversword plants and volcanic landscape really make it a striking park. And if you're already visiting Maui, there's no good reason to not stop by.
Of the national parks I have visited, I probably enjoyed Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, Glacier, and Haleakalā the most. Remember National Forests, Monuments, and state parks often afford better chances for solitude than the Parks.
--Ardilla Feroz, erstwhile National Park employee
I have been to Yellowstone, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef.
I would highly recommend all five of them. Yellowstone was my favorite overall, but Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef are all super close and would make for an amazing 1-2 week trip.
Similar to the other writers, I've been to Glacier, Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Arches, and the Grand Canyon. Writing them all out makes me feel pretty lame that I haven't been to more, but it's fine I guess.
My top recommendation is also for Glacier (you've got to go see it before it all melts!), but also only go if you're not going to pollute it up and litter and deface the rocks and whatnot (the same goes for all the National Parks). I love the National Parks, and I love that we have the opportunity to go see them, but I also worry about the strain that the sheer number of visitors who have no clue how to respect the environment puts on them. So by all means enjoy them, but also be smart and don't do dumb things.
I would also recommend waiting until the government shutdown (which is still ongoing as of writing this answer) is over to enjoy your National Parks pass. The vast majority of National Parks employees are furloughed right now, and the parks don't have "visitor services, restrooms, trash collection, facilities or road maintenance." So you could go, but it wouldn't be a very pleasant experience with overflowing trash cans and absolutely filthy restrooms.
But to end on a lighter note, here's a picture of baby mountain goats frolicking not more than 20 yards away from me at Glacier. What a magical place.
First off I second Alta's statement when she said not to visit any National Parks right now. Hopefully the government shutdown doesn't last too long and the parks get the proper care they need soon!
My list is so similar to everyone else's I can just copy and paste most of it: Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Arches, the Grand Canyon, the Grand Tetons, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Honestly, you can't go wrong with any of the national parks in Utah, especially Zion. But besides that, I really love the Grand Tetons. I also love love love Yellowstone, but not for the reason you'd probably guess. I love it for this painting:
In 1871 Thomas Moran, a painter, joined a group to take the first U.S. survey of the land west. His paintings of Yellowstone, particularly the vibrant colors of the area, shocked the members of Congress who saw it. They assumed it couldn't be real, but thankfully a photographer had also captured the landscape (though in black and white). Together, this painting and the photographs convinced government officials to make Yellowstone protected as a national park.
I went to D.C. a year and a half ago and I got to see this painting in real life (I'm not sure if I'm disappointed or proud to say I was more excited to see a painting of Yellowstone than I was to see Yellowstone itself). But the painting isn't taking any liberties - Yellowstone really is that gorgeous, and you should definitely put it on your list of national parks to visit.
-guppy of doom