20 More Reasons to Get Your National Park On (Part 1)
September 4, 2013

20 More Reasons to Get Your National Park On (Part 1)

This summer, I wrote a series on the national parks I visited. Part of those blogs dealt with hiking at each of those parks. Recently, the National Geographic website had an article on the 20 best hikes in the national parks. Well, I could not resist writing about it for redOrbit. Hiking and national parks are two of my favorite things.

I thought I would highlight these hikes in two blogs. Let’s get started with the first ten.

Teton Crest Trail

The first one is in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. I visited Grand Teton and wrote about it here. However, I did not experience the Teton Crest Trail, which Nat Geo listed as one of the 20 best national park hikes. This hike is a 37-mile, moderate backpacking trip that should take about six days. It is also the signature hike of Grand Teton National Park. Apparently, at one of the passes, hikers can see Jackson Hole in Wyoming and Teton Valley in Idaho. I am sure that would be impressive.

Outer Mountain Loop

Next comes Big Bend National Park’s Outer Mountain Loop hike. Deep down in south Texas, Big Bend lives on a high altitude desert. The park is vast and stunning in its emptiness. Unlike many of the other national parks, Big Bend has a sense of loneliness, but that is completely compelling to people like me. The Outer Mountain Loop contributes to its draw. At 30 miles, this 3-day moderate backpacking trip has “Hundred-mile views sweep across the hills, arroyos, and mesas of the Chihuahuan Desert with nary a sign of civilization” all from the high country of the Chisos Mountains.

Queens Garden/Navajo Loop Combination Trail

This moderate day hike (at only three miles) in Bryce Canyon National Park is definitely worth experiencing. I hiked it a few years ago and found myself feeling like I was on another planet. The rock formations and iron oxide are simply stunning yet look foreign in ways that boggle the mind. The sights will make these three miles worth every step. Nat Geo tipped that this is a great hike to do at night if the moon is full or close to it. I believe it.

Longs Peak

I wrote about Rocky Mountain National Park this summer (check it out here). Literally, you are on the top of the US when in this national park. In fact, Longs Peak is the tallest within Rocky Mountain National Park at 14,259 feet and is one of the famous 14ers. This summer I did a six-mile backpacking trip (although it easily could have been a day trip) not that far from Longs Peak. The Longs Peak trail, though, is a 16-mile hike considered a challenging peak ascent, and I would believe it. At more than two miles above sea level, though, the sights would be a-m-a-z-i-n-g.

Sargent Mountain Loop

Acadia National Park is one I have yet to visit, but I look forward to the opportunity. One reason is because of the Sargent Mountain Loop, a 5.5-mile, moderate day hike. The hike gives way to “a three-coastline view of Mount Desert Island and an inland vista that extends to distant Baxter Peak and Katahdin.” Hikers will experience thick spruce-fir forests, rugged mountains, and steep cliffs. Sounds like my kind of hike.

Half Dome Hike

Anyone interested in hiking has aspirations to at least experience some of what Yosemite National Park has to offer. Half Dome Hike is one that I read about often in my hiking research. For 17.2 miles, you will “climb 4,800 feet out of Yosemite Valley and past Vernal and Nevada Falls, but the last 900 feet are right up the granite face of fabled Half Dome. Luckily, you get a hand from well-placed steel cables on your way top of the dome. It’s a heart-thumping, insanely wonderful feeling to be hanging in space until you top out—and then the view takes over.” Many people stay the night in Little Yosemite campground to break this challenging day hike into an overnight hike.

Grinnell Glacier Trail

Perhaps my favorite national park is Glacier National Park. It is stunning and interesting and full of great activities. One such activity is the Grinnell Glacier Trail. For a moderate day hike, take this 11-mile trail to “View many of Glacier’s most iconic features—big, clear, glacial valley lakes, alpine meadows filled with wildflowers; the omnipresent possibility of seeing a grizzly—en route to a glorious view from the maw of Grinnell, one of the park’s signature glaciers.” These glaciers can change your life. They are that beautiful and sublime.

Angels Landing

The national parks in Utah deserve their own time. I have been to and experienced them all, still I want more. I would think a month at each would suffice. But Zion National Park needs even more time. It is breathtaking and challenging and full of great hikes, like Angels Landing. With 5.5 miles, this challenging day hike showcases some of the most beautiful of Zion’s red-rock walls and sandstone canyons, but it will not be easy. With 21 switchbacks, the heart will pump and sweat flow. But it will be worth it…I promise.

Hike and Climb Mount Olympus

One of the best reasons to check out Olympic National Park is Mount Olympus. “The two-day approach [to Mount Olympus] is gentle hiking beneath towering cedars and Sitka spruce. Summit day, though, entails 3,700 feet of climbing and a traverse of Blue Glacier (ice ax, crampons, rope, and crevasse rescue gear required)—true alpine mountaineering, but without extreme elevation. The summit stands 7,980 feet high and delivers a view that extends from Mount Rainier to Vancouver Island.”

Wonderland Trail

After Olympic National Park, check out Mount Rainer National Park and Wonderland Trail. For 93 miles, you can backpack some of the country’s most beautiful terrains, at least in this writer’s opinion. National Geographic says that this trail is a challenging backpacking trip to complete, but moderate when done in sections. If going for the completion, plan at least 10 days (with several leeway days). In the words of National Geographic, it is one of the true epic hikes in the National Park System.

This is a pretty good start, but stay tuned for more soon!

Image Credit: Thinkstock.com

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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