National Parks of Alaska

It’s more than twice the size of Texas, the next largest state, and bigger than all but 18 sovereign countries. It’s the third least populous state in the union. Alaska has a lot of land and not too many people, so it’s no wonder that the state warrants its own national parks region. Alaska boasts a total of eight national parks, second only to the nine of California. These Alaska parks are worth a look.

Denali


The highlight, of course, is the 20,310-foot-tall mountain which is the highest peak in North America and gives the park its name. But over more than 6 million acres, there is much to explore. Along the 92-mile road the traverses the park, visitors can see a diversity of wildlife, including caribou and several bear species. The topography features tundra, taiga forest, lakes, glaciers, and mountains. For adventurous spirits, dog-mushing and heli-skiing are popular activities.

Glacier Bay

Visiting cruise ships spend a full day and are joined by a park ranger so passengers can get the full Glacier Bay experience, which includes icebergs and calving glaciers plus bears, goats, otters, seals, sea lions, bald eagles, and many other bird species. Those exploring by land can visit an Huna tribal house, the first permanent clan house in the area since advancing glaciers swallowed up Tlingit villages along the shore of the bay 250 years ago. The rich waters also are frequented by orcas, whales, and Pacific white-sided dolphins.

Wrangell-St. Elias


At more than 13 million acres, it’s the largest of the national parks. It has a wide range of terrain, going from the waters of the Gulf of Alaska to the peak of Mt. St. Elias at 18,008 feet. The Wrangell Mountains are a string of volcanoes — some still active — that form the spine of the park. With climate zones from tundra to temperate, there is a variety of wildlife, including grizzlies, caribou and Dall sheep on land; salmon, trout, and whitefish in the water; and terns, gulls, and eagles in the air.

Kenai Fjords

Mountains, ice, and ocean meet at this park outside Anchorage. Harding Icefield is the central feature, with near glaciers surrounding ice-cold waters that the Sugpiaq people have fished for a millennium. The Exit Glacier area is accessible by road from Seward, although when the snows hit in mid-November, the road closes and cars give way to snowmobiles and dog sleds. When the weather warms, retreating glaciers yield to pioneer plans such as fireweed before shrubs and small trees such as Sitka alders rise up from the soil.

Gates of the Arctic

The name is no joke, and with no roads and a remote location, this is the least visited national park. But the 10,000 or so souls who visit each year are treated to unspoiled wilderness. Visitors fly or hike into the park, which saw the first nomadic hunter-gatherers arrive about 13,000 years ago. Not much has changed in Gates of the Arctic since, with the rhythm of the seasons dictating activity. Temperatures hover around -20 to -50 in winter before hibernating animals begin to stir in spring and birds arrive from all over the world to enjoy the endless summer days.

National Parks of the Pacific West

The Pacific West national parks region includes the West Coast of the continental U.S. plus Hawaii and territories in the Pacific Ocean. The parks of the region show off the wonders of plate tectonics and house some of the oldest living organisms on Earth.

Redwood

Featuring the tallest trees on Earth, this Northern California park falls under national and state jurisdiction. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and served as a shooting location for several movies, most notably serving as the forest moon of Endor in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Several options for a scenic drive take visitors through ancient forests (including iconic drive-through trees), along the coast and into flowering prairies. The wildlife ranges from banana slugs to gray whales. The star attractions are the Coast redwoods, which live on average 500-700 years, with a few known to be 2,000 years old.

Mount Rainier

Peaking at 14,410 feet above sea level in Washington, Rainier is is a land of fire and ice. Still an active volcano, it is also the most glaciated peak in the continental U.S. The park is open year-round, featuring winter sports and ranger-guided snowshoe walks, brilliant fall colors, abundant waterfalls in the spring as the snow melts and bountiful flowers and berries in summer. Humans have lived in the area of the mountain native tribes called Takhoma for at least 9,000 years, and its modern name comes from Rear Admiral Peter Rainier, a friend of British Royal Navy Captain George Vancouver, who explored extensively around the Pacific Northwest.

Yosemite

In nearly 1,200 square miles, Yosemite packs quite a punch. El Capitan, Half Dome, and Cathedral Peak are among the iconic rock formations, and intrepid climbers scale just about every rock they can to take in astounding views. Birdwatchers can spot more than 250 species living in or passing through the park throughout the year, with peregrine falcons and spotted owls among the most popular. Bring your star chart for some great gazing, especially during the summer, when amateur astronomers gather at Glacier Point on Saturday nights.

Crater Lake

The violent eruption of Mt. Mazama about 7,700 years ago created what is now the deepest lake in the U.S. Crater Lake lies in the caldera of the volcano, reaching almost 2,000 feet at its deepest, with the rim of the caldera ranging between 7,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level. A cinder cone in the western part of the lake forms Wizard Island, which is accessible by boat during the summer. A legend of the Klamath people tells of a battle between the god of the below world and the god of the above world ending with the destruction of the underworld god’s home, which then filled with water.

Hawaii Volcanoes

Encompassing Kilauea and Mauna Loa, two of the five volcanoes that formed the Big Island, the park shows off many stages of the life of a volcano. Kilauea has been erupting continuously since 1983, creating new land, while Mauna Loa is the most massive volcano on Earth’s surface. Lava tubes and steam vents abound, providing homes to unique flora and fauna such as happy face spiders and ohi‘a trees. Visitors can drive the Chain of Craters road or go on foot, hiking to flowing lava and seeing the newest land on Earth form.

National Parks of the Northeast & Southeast

With the government shutdown over, at least temporarily, our national parks are back open. Many of them require a lot of cleanup work to get back into their usual pristine beauty. Not having them officially open for a few weeks reminded us how great our national parks are, so we thought we’d do a series highlighting some of our favorites from each region. The 60 parks are divided into seven regions: Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Intermountain and Pacific West, plus Alaska and the national capital area. We’ll start with the Northeast and Southeast.

Acadia

Featuring Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the East Coast and one of the first places in the U.S. to see the sunrise each morning, Acadia is the oldest designated national park east of the Mississippi River. Covering several islands off the coast of Maine, the park is an excellent destination for birdwatchers and rewards hikers with stunning ocean views. The area was first inhabited by the Wabanaki people and later became the site of the first French missionary colony in America. To reduce summertime traffic congestion, the National Park Service is working on a new transportation plan to keep the park a beautiful and enjoyable destination.

Mammoth Cave

With more than 400 miles explored, this Kentucky park is the longest known cave system in the world. Stephen Bishop, one of the first Mammoth Cave guides, described it as a “grand, gloomy and peculiar place.” Bishop and some of the other early guides who ventured deeper and deeper into the cave system were slaves, all of whom were eventually freed. Bishop opened up a huge swath of the system by being the first to cross the deep vertical shaft known as the Bottomless Pit. While many of the accessible parts of the cave are lit electronically, there are a couple tours that feature lighting only by paraffin lamps carried by visitors.

Everglades

Protecting rare and endangered species such as the manatee, the American crocodile, and the Florida panther, the park covers 1.5 million acres of wetland. There is an abundance of wildlife to see, from herons to dolphins. A 65-foot observation tower in Shark Valley lets visitors take in an expansive view of the wilderness. For those wanting to go a little deeper, there are ranger-led slough slogs (wading) through a cypress dome, and camping is permitted along the 99-mile Wilderness Waterway, which takes a week to traverse by canoe.

Virgin Islands

Recovery efforts were just underway in the wake of Hurricane Irma in September 2017 when Hurricane Maria blew in, bringing further destruction. But the park, which takes up about two-thirds of the island of St. John, plus almost all of Hassel Island, presses on. There are still traces of the Taino people who inhabited the islands before European discovery in 3,000-year-old petroglyphs. There are remnants of sugar plantations. Visitors can go boating, stop at pristine beaches and even help monitor sea turtles.

Shenandoah

Covering about 200,000 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, this park is great in all seasons. Skyline Drive is the most popular section, allowing visitors to drive 105 miles from one end of the park to the other. There are also 500 miles of hiking trails for those who want to take things a little slower. Foxes and bobcats frolic throughout the winter, which also affords an opportunity to spot foraging deer and turkeys. Birds of many feathers can be spotted in warmer weather. Breathtaking views of the Shenandoah River Valley abound year-round.

Top National Parks

They’ve been called “America’s best idea,” and it’s hard to argue given how much natural beauty the national parks preserve. There are 60 officially designated national parks across the United States and territories and the National Park System covers more than 84 million acres. With all that space, it’s hard to pick just a few parks to highlight, but you can’t go wrong with these favorites.

 

Yellowstone

It became a national park in 1872, 44 years before there even was a National Park Service, and it may very well be the first designated national park in the world. Covering more than 2 million acres in three states (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho), Yellowstone features crowd favorites such as Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Spring. There’s also a thriving bison population, along with many other types of wildlife and a huge amount of geothermal activity. Plus, Grand Teton National Park is nearby and combines very well with Yellowstone in terms of trip planning.

 

Grand Canyon

A wondrous sight to behold, the Grand Canyon runs for 277 miles through Arizona, carved out by the Colorado River. While the North Rim closes for the winter, the South Rim is open year-round. The park provides an almost endless array of activities, from rafting to hiking to skydiving and even an ultramarathon. For those less inclined toward physical activity, there are helicopter and plane tours over the canyon. Camping out on either rim is also a popular option. The North Rim reopens May 15.

 

Great Smoky Mountains 

On the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, this park attracted more than 11 million visitors in 2017, nearly twice the amount of people who visited the runner-up, Grand Canyon National Park. With all kinds of fluctuations in elevation, Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts a wide diversity of plant and animal life. There’s some type of flower in bloom basically year-round, and synchronous fireflies put on a natural light show around May and June. The 11-mile Cades Cove loop features historic buildings and a variety of wildlife and is the most popular area of the park.

 

Acadia

Featuring Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the East Coast and one of the first places in the U.S. to see the sunrise each morning, Acadia is the oldest designated national park east of the Mississippi River. Covering several islands off the coast of Maine, the park is an excellent destination for birdwatchers and rewards hikers with stunning ocean views. The area was first inhabited by the Wabanaki people and later became the site of the first French missionary colony in America. To reduce summertime traffic congestion, the National Park Service is working on a new transportation plan to keep the park a beautiful and enjoyable destination.

 

Denali

The highlight, of course, is the 20,310-foot-tall mountain which is the highest peak in North America and gives the park its name. But over more than 6 million acres, there is much to explore. Along the 92-mile road the traverses the park, visitors can see a diversity of wildlife, including caribou and several bear species. The topography features tundra, taiga forest, lakes, glaciers, and mountains. For adventurous spirits, dog-mushing and heli-skiing are popular activities.

 

There are another 55 national parks to explore, so contact us at info@dmctraveltailor.com to find yours and plan an adventure.