Why Visit National Parks This Summer
RV rental numbers are ticking up across the country this year, as we all look for new ways to enjoy our summer vacation without the ease and speed of air travel. We might not be able to go as far or get there quite as fast, but we see this as an excellent opportunity to enjoy the people closest to us, to really slow ourselves down, and to check out the stunning scenery of our very own National Parks that have been right under our noses this whole time!
This is your comprehensive, one-stop guide to some of our favorite National Parks! Why not join in the fun and hit the road with us, friends?
Mount Rainier National Park is about 60 miles southeast of Seattle, Washington. Mount Rainier itself is an active volcano that stands over 14 thousand feet high. It is home to 25 glaciers (the most of any national park) and 6 rivers begin on its beautiful slopes. It has amazing mountain views, wildflower meadows and lots of trails for hikers of all abilities - it is also home to Crystal Mountain Ski Resort for awesome snow sports in season. There are two inns in the park or you can set up camp in your tent or RV!
Like many glacial mountains there are absolutely stunning waterfalls, the most popular of which are Narada Falls, Christine Falls, Comet Falls, and Silver Falls. If you’re making the trip, be sure to stop by the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center that has everything you need in the way of maps, expert information for your stay, excellent exhibits, educational films and guided ranger programs. It also has a gift shop, snack bar, and public restrooms to make your stay more comfortable. It is probable that Mount Rainier will erupt somewhat soon and it is thus considered by the scientific community to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world - this seems like a pretty good reason to go and experience it now!
The Grand Canyon is ready to reopen in its entirety shortly and will be ready for summer fun! 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and in places over a mile deep, the Grand Canyon is truly a one-of-a-kind experience and is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. There are so many varied activities to enjoy including hiking, rafting, and horseback riding. Perfect for your budding geologist, the rocks reveal literally millions of years of geological history on their eroded faces.
There are entrances to the park at the South and North Rim. You’ll find a Visitor Center, the Grand Canyon Lodge and the popular Bright Angel Point Trail and Transept Trail on the North Rim. The South Rim is more often chosen by first-time visitors because it is home to Grand Canyon Village, its own Visitor Center and store, plenty of accommodation, and popular viewing points including Mather Point, Lipan Point, the Yavapai Observation Station, and Mary Colter’s Lookout Studio and Desert View Watchtower. The Skywalk and Eagle Point is found on Grand Canyon West, where you can walk 70ft out over the edge of the rim and see through the glass platform to the canyon floor 4,000 ft below you - yikes!
Word to the wise, it gets extremely hot down in the canyon itself in the summer months, reaching well above 100 degrees, so bear that in mind when planning hikes and camping locations for your trip.
Summer in Maine is utterly beautiful and surely the best time to visit for those not accustomed to cold! Acadia is home to Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the East Coast. Dense woodland, rocky beaches, and amazing wildlife (from moose to bear to whales) means a visit to Acadia is always sure to be an adventure! The towns surrounded by the parkland on Mount Desert Island, including wildly popular Bar Harbor, are the very definition of quaint with delicious restaurants with local seafood and charming shops.
Popular places to visit in the park include:
- Cadillac Mountain, known as the first place to see the sunrise in the United States (though this is only true for part of the year),
- The Bass Harbor Head Light which is a lighthouse that marks the entrance to Bass Harbor and Blue Hill Bay.
- Thunder Hole, a naturally formed rock inlet that, when the tide is right and the perfect size wave rolls in, makes (you guessed it) a massive thunderous sound for visitors to hear.
The Everglades are a 1.5 million-acre wetland preserve on Florida’s southern tip, close to Miami. They are home to abundant and dynamic wildlife, including famous Florida alligators, panthers and endangered Leatherback turtles. There are airboat tours, kayak routes, camping and fishing areas, wildlife viewing spots and just about a million ways for you to enjoy the incredible marshes and mangroves.
The Everglades are a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, and a Wetland of International Importance - they are a real world treasure!
Encompassing the entire Chisos mountain range and a great deal of the Chihuahuan desert, Big Bend is a mostly arid but stunningly beautiful landscape. Within the park are over 1,200 species of plants, 450+ species of birds, 56 species of reptile, 75 mammal species, dinosaur bones, sea fossils, mines, cliffs and canyons! You can experience the natural beauty on picturesque drives and hikes, and stay in the parks lodge or three campgrounds.
The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is a 30 mile drive along which you will find awesome attractions including the Sam Nail Ranch (a desert wildlife hotspot) and the Santa Elena Canyon, a monumental 1,500ft vertical canyon carved by the Rio Grande with the left wall in Mexico and the right wall in Texas. You can also visit the Langford Hot Springs, 105 degree hot springs heated by geothermal processes that many believe have healing powers!
Volcanoes National Park is located on the Big Island of Hawaii and is home to two active volcanoes: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. Mauna Loa is the largest active volcano on the planet and has likely been erupting for at least 700,000 years! It is a truly unique park where you can get up close and personal with live lava flows on an island that is literally growing due to the hardening of that lava as it reaches the coast.
Crater Rim Drive is the main road inside the park that wraps around the Kilauea Caldera. On the drive you’ll find the visitor center, hiking trails, overlooks with awesome views, the Volcano Center Art Gallery, the Jagger Museum and Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and the incredible Thurston Lava Tube. The entrance to the tube is marked by the landscape changing from barren to lush rainforest, then you find yourself inside the tunnel which was once filled with flowing, scalding lava!
Due to it being the site of a very active volcano, the park is constantly evolving. This makes it especially important to check out the national park website before you go to make sure that the things you want to do and see are open.
6 million acres of incredible Alaskan wilderness all centered around North America's highest peak, Denali (20,310ft). Diverse terrain (from taiga forest to alpine tundra and mountain peaks) is home to grizzly bears, wolves, moose, caribou and so much more incredible wildlife. Like most mountain parks there are plenty of places to hike (ranger-led or otherwise), bike, and make your camp.
Denali also offers some pretty unique experiences, including sled dog meetings and rides and opportunities to go flightseeing, where you can see all the varied and beautiful landscapes within the park from the air in one trip! It’s important to be aware that it is a commitment just to get to the park itself, so be sure to plan your trip carefully.
Named for the dormant volcano, Haleakalā (House of the Sun), that is visible from almost any spot on the island of Maui. According to Hawaiian legend, the demi-god Maui captured and confined the sun at Haleakalā in order to lengthen the day. The landscape in the park is extremely diverse and varies from lush green sub-tropical rainforest to an almost moon-like volcanic expanse - you'd absolutely be forgiven for thinking you'd wandered into space.
The park is split into two sections, the summit and the coast. The summit is over 10,000ft above sea level and is very remote. It is home to the Haleakalā Observatory, one of the world’s best viewing areas for hobbyist and professional astronomers. The observatory houses the world’s largest solar telescope. The coastal rainforest area of the park is known as the Kipahulu section; a winding coastal road takes you around the edge of the windward coast where you’ll find more than two dozen natural pools and many hikes.
Be warned, there are no gas stations or food stores within the park so be sure to stock the car with snacks and fuel before you enter!
3.3 million acres of fjords, glaciers, mountains and rainforest on Alaska's Inside Passage. Though it is close to Juneau, the park can only be accessed by boat or plane making it a pretty unique and special experience. Part of a World Heritage Site and of one of the largest Biosphere Reserves, Glacier Bay is a marine and land sanctuary where people can experience wilderness existing in its natural state.
It is not only important for its biodiversity and chance for visitor discovery, but is also extremely historically significant. The Huna Tinglit clans lived and thrived in Glacier Bay for centuries. The tribal government and National Park Service have come together in the modern era to try and heal the wounds of tribal land being co-opted by the federal government. The “Xúnaa Shuká Hít,” or “Huna Ancestor’s House,” was dedicated in 2016 and marks the first permanent clan house in Glacier Bay for over 250 years, allowing the Huna Tinglit to reconnect to their ancestors and their deeply personal traditions. The NPS and Tinglit clan work in tandem to teach visitors all about this important history!
Many of the park's official facilities are closed this current season due to Covid (2020), but visitors are still able to camp and boat using their own vessels.
These are but a few of our nation’s diverse and beautiful national parks that are often overlooked as incredible vacation destination locations. They are each affordable and accessible, and they give visitors an opportunity to explore, to learn, to get back to nature, and to spend time with one another in a meaningful way. We hope that you are inspired to put a few of these places on your bucket list and don’t wait too long before hitting the road. And don't forget to check out each of these locations featured on the Nautical Wood Maps to remind you of your trip!