A visit to one of the 58 protected national parks in the United States is part of the cultural fibre of the great American childhood. The wood-panelled station wagon, long summer camps, evenings toasting s’mores by the fire… Every year, over 280 million day trippers, campers, hikers and cyclists pay homage to the breathtaking landscape and overwhelming beauty of these wonders of nature. Here we’ve shared activities to get you out cycling, hiking and stargazing in five of these majestic parks.
What better way to experience the soaring sequoias and looming mountains of California’s Yosemite National Park than weaving your way along 19kms of paved bicycle trails? While cycling is also permitted on the main roads throughout Yosemite, these dedicated trails carve a path for cyclists to take in the magnificent landscape of Yosemite Valley. Fairly flat with only occasional inclines, cruising around the valley floor is relatively easy and the flowing Merced River provides a picturesque picnic spot for lunch.
Hiking the Grand Canyon
The rugged landscape and isolated wilderness of the Grand Canyon, Arizona is both challenging and thrilling to explore on foot. Immense and overwhelming, a hiking trip into the canyon requires detailed planning and careful consideration of ability, weather conditions and travel time. Sarah Shier, Preventative Search and Rescue Ranger at the Grand Canyon always ensures her rucksack is packed with the following essentials for any length hike – water and electrolytes, food and salty snacks, torch, first aid kit, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, raincoat, spray bottle and a good attitude. The park’s South Rim entry provides year-round access while the quieter North Rim is best visited between mid May to mid October.
Paddling in Everglades National Park
A sub-tropical wilderness, Everglades National Park in Florida receives over one million visitors each year and there’s no better way to take in its magnificent wildlife than paddling through freshwater marshes and mangrove forests. Canoe and kayak trails through the park vary between several hours to several days and you can apply for permits to set up overnight camp. Expect the occasional alligator sighting, wading birds, tropical hardwood hammocks and mosquitoes – don’t forget the repellent.
Winter sports at Cuyahoga Valley
The only national park in the state of Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is just thirty minutes drive from Cleveland and Akron. Don’t let its close proximity to these big cities deter you, this park provides a refuge from the urban landscape, rich in animal life, waterfalls, rolling hills and steep ravines. Come winter, thick snow blankets the park and visitors flock to sled, tube, ice fish, ski and snowshoe in Cuyahoga. Start off your day’s activities at the Winter Sports Center at Kendall Lake Shelter, easy distance to ski trails, tubing areas and sledding spots. The centre runs when snow is four inches or deeper and is open daily in January and February and has snow shoe and cross country ski hire available.
Stargazing in Bryce Canyon
High elevation, dry climate and minimal light pollution make the dark skies of Southern Utah’s Bryce Canyon one of the best spots on earth for stargazing. The Dark Rangers of Bryce Canyon - volunteer astronomers and park rangers - educate visitors on stargazing, offer green laser constellation tours and hold planisphere workshops at the annual Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival. An astronomy program is held 104 nights of the year, and the best time to visit is when the canyon is darkest – during a new moon or the week prior to a new moon. Before the sun sets, the mysterious hoodoos, tall spires of rocks, provide an eerie, otherworldly landscape to explore.
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