When we left our home state of Florida back in March, we set out for Big Bend National Park in Texas. It was to be the first of many national parks we planned to visit this year. Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit causing closures to most of the 62 national parks. To their credit however, the national park service worked hard to establish a plan for a phased reopening. So after hunkering down for seven weeks in central Texas, we moved forward with our plan.
It was not going to be the same plan we envisioned. We had to skip some parks we originally planned to visit. It was a slow and measured reopening. Park staff was at a bare minimum. Indoor facilities and other high traffic areas remained closed. I could list dozens of things we missed out on because of the closures, but instead, I prefer to focus on what we did experience. National Parks exist to protect and preserve beautiful natural areas within our country. Thankfully, for the most part, we were able to experience the awesomeness of the parks we visited.
We never did get to Big Bend National Park, but we did visit sixteen other national parks this summer. Adding to the five parks we’ve visited in prior years (Everglades, Great Smoky Mountains, Rocky Mountains, Shenandoah, and Zion), that’s twenty-one national parks we’ve been to — so far. That is a third of all U.S. National Parks. Below is a list of the national parks we visited this year.
Grammi and I came up with “Our Top Five National Parks — So Far” based on our own experience of the national parks we’ve visited, and more specifically, it’s based on the sixteen we went to this summer. They are listed below in alphabetical order with a link to the blog we wrote after visiting each park.
Arches National Park makes our Top Five list for its incredible beauty. The jaw dropping red sandstone arches and unique desert landscape makes this a must see. There are lots of hikes, from easy to difficult, providing ample opportunity to get up close and personal with the arches. The location near Moab with its many shopping and dinning choices is a plus. It is possible to hike to some arches in the morning, then walk the shops and have lunch in Moab before returning to Arches National Park later in the day for more hiking, or to stake out a spot to watch the sunset. You can read about our visit at Arches National Park here.
Crater Lake National Park located in an ancient caldera of a dormant volcano, is the deepest lake in the United States. Its intense blue color is the bluest blue we’ve ever seen. It was mesmerizing. We felt we could sit and stare at it for hours. The scenic Rim Drive is a must do. It’s a 33-mile loop around Crater Lake featuring overlooks to a seemingly infinite number of incredible views. The lake of course is the main attraction, but we found so much more while we were there. There are a lot of hikes and places to explore. We hiked to waterfalls and volcanic spires. We walked to Watchman’s Observation Station for the panoramic views. You can read about our visit to Crater Lake National Park here.
Located in a remote area of Northern California, Lassen Volcanic National Park, with its boiling mud pots and steaming fumaroles, is sometimes called Little Yellowstone. It’s weird though because you can go from harsh volcanic activity spitting from the ground to serene meadows and pristine lakes in a blink of an eye. Surrounded by mountains, this national park offers miles of hiking trails, beautiful picnic areas, camping, fishing and much more. Volcanic rock is scattered everywhere, giving evidence of the latest volcanic eruption a little more than a hundred years ago. You can read about our visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park here.
Redwood National Park, in a beneficial partnership with California State Parks, serves to protect the world’s tallest trees. It’s a sprawling park system of redwood groves stretching for miles along the California coastline. There are numerous hikes where we were able to walk among the massive trees. We were awestruck by the sheer size. Encountering herds of Roosevelt Elk along the highway was exciting, as well as seeing dozens of seals lounging on floating docks at Crescent City Harbor. You can read about our visit to Redwood National and State Parks here.
Yosemite National Park is one of the worlds greatest natural wonders. When we first entered Yosemite Valley I’m sure I heard a chorus of angels singing hallelujah. I got goosebumps. Surrounded by steep granite walls and gorgeous waterfalls, it was absolutely stunning. We spent several days here, more than at any other park, exploring all the corners of the park. One could spend a lifetime exploring all there is to see. The variety of landscapes is perhaps the most luring aspect. There are two post about our time in Yosemite National Park. The first one can be seen here and Part 2 can be read here.
As I stated above, this list is based on our experience of the national parks we’ve personally visited. As our goal is to see all the national parks, we anticipate visiting many more parks in the near future. With highly touted Yellowstone, Glacier, Acadia, and many more still on our bucket list, I’m sure our top five will have to be updated, or at the very least increase to maybe our top ten list.
So until next time…happy days and safe travels.