The National Parks offer some of the greatest opportunities in the United States to experience the extremes in raw terrain, flora, and fauna, that the country has to offer. There are 60 national parks spanning 28 states, from the volcanoes of Hawaii to the seaside mountains of Maine and the glaciers of Alaska. Take the time to visit a national park this summer. When you do, you’re supporting the National Park Service in their efforts to conserve the fragile nature and history of the parks, so people can enjoy them for generations to come.
Everglades National Park, Florida
Despite the heat, an early summer visit to Everglades National Park remains one of my favorite memories of the time I have spent in Florida. Paddle a kayak through the mangrove trees and observe the alligators in their morning repose. The Everglades offer a glimpse into what the world might have looked like when dinosaurs and gators shared a habitat. Brave the mosquitoes camping out or stay just outside of the park, in Homestead.
Olympic National Park, Washington
If you just can’t handle the heat, then head to the temperate rainforest of Olympic National Park in Washington state. There you can hike through the Valley of the Giants in Quinault Valley, which is home to six of the largest living trees of their species. If you listen hard enough, they just might tell you their secrets. There are plenty of places to take a dip in cool waters, both fresh and salt, and if you bring your rod there’s some great fishing to be had. Just check the latest copy of the Fish and Shellfish Regulations, updated each May, so be sure you’re not harming the ecosystem.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
It was a foggy day in late January when I last traveled Skyline Drive, through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The trees rose up out of a fog, which gave them the appearance of levitating, as the car climbed and climbed. Everything was quiet, everything was still. There was a somber mood in the park that day, one that conveyed the awesome majesty of nature, in the face of encroaching development. Shenandoah National Park reminded me of the importance that stewardship of the Earth ought to play in all of our lives. On a clear day, one can see incredible views of the surrounding mountains and pastures. There are some wonderful hikes, with a number of waterfalls just waiting for someone to come along and cool themselves in the mountain water.
Saguaro National Park, Arizona
Hike into the blistering tranquility of the Sonora Desert in Saguaro National Park in Arizona, and you’ll see some of the most unusual animals in the Southwest. Witness the grace of the javelinas, also known as peccaries, perhaps even before you leave the Visitor Center. As you go deeper into the desert, you might catch sight of a big-eared jackrabbit or an elderly desert tortoise.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
In the western reaches of North Dakota lies Theodore Roosevelt National Park. If you’re interested in seeing the foundation of the house where Teddy once lived, then you’ll want to check out the Elkhorn Ranch Unit. If geology is your thing, the head to the North and South Units of the park. From there, you can hike to some remarkable geological sights, such as Painted Canyon, butte after butte after butte, and the hoodoos.
The national parks are the only places on Earth to see some of the wonders that reside within their gates. From plants and animals that predate human existence to the geology that serves as evidence of the events that carved the beauty onto the surface of the Earth as we know it, there is plenty to see. Everyone should visit the national parks for a newfound appreciation of the multitudes of natural wonder contained within our little corner of the universe.