National Parks of the American West For Dummies
By Kurt Repanshek
John Wiley & Sons
Discovering the Best of the
National Parks of the West
In This Chapter
* The best ways to experience the outdoors
* Top places to stay and dine
* Favorite winter escapes and family activities
The old adage If you've seen one, you've seen them all, doesn't
apply to Americas national parks. Each park has its own, distinct
personality. Even those that border one another such as Yellowstone
and Grand Teton, or Sequoia and Kings Canyon-have some very
different elements. If you're a wildlife fan, its easy to choose a visit to
Yellowstone over a trip to Death Valley. If you want to walk sea-swept
beaches, Olympic, not Mount Rainier, is the place to head. When it comes
to descending into the landscape, Zion tops the list. Want to see a rock
landscape out of the old Flintstones cartoon scenery? No place comes
as close as Arches with its rock arches, windows, and fins.
If you haven't already visited these places, it may be hard to know which
fits with the vacation you envision. But that's okay, because I've already
done all the hard work and come up with some lists that help define the
very best of the national parks of the West.
BEST OF THE BEST
Throughout the book, you will find the Best of the Best icon highlighting
the best the parks have to offer in all categories-hotels, restaurants,
hikes, wildlife viewing, and more.
The Best Scenic Overlooks
Sometimes you cant see the forest for the trees. Sometimes you can see
almost forever. Here are some of the best places for great views:
Dantes View: There are two benefits to trekking to this viewpoint in
Death Valley National Park. One, you escape the blistering heat of
the valley floor. Two, you gain an incredible vantage point over
Death Valley. Views spread downward to the parched salt pan of
Badwater and upward toward the summit of Telescope Peak across
the valley. See Chapter 10.
Lipan Point: There are numerous overlooks that provide breathtaking
views into the Grand Canyon, but this one gets a gold star. Not
only is it far enough from Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim to
discourage crowds, but come sundown, it offers what is arguably
the best view into the canyon. See Chapter 11.
Hurricane Ridge: Look to the north, and you see the Strait of Juan
de Fuca and Canada. Look to the south, and you spot glacier-coated
peaks and thick coniferous forests that practically beg you to hike
down into them. This ridgeline outpost in Olympic National Park
clearly demonstrates why this park is a favorite for those looking to
mix up their activities-mountaineering and beachcombing-during
a national park vacation. See Chapter 14.
Glacier Point: Yosemites Half Dome gets more press, but its
summit is much tougher to reach and it doesn't offer the same perspective
of the Yosemite Valley. Plus, when you're standing atop Half
Dome, you cant admire its ponderous profile the way you can from
Glacier Point. Although you can hike to the top of Glacier Point via
the Four Mile Trail, you can drive much more quickly to the summit
and enjoy the view without the exertion. See Chapter 17.
Angels Landing: It takes a hike that at times is strenuous and that
will test your fear of heights, but climbing to the top of this outcrop
in Zion National Park is a real thrill. Not only can you congratulate
yourself for making it to the top, but once there you can enjoy
some beautiful views down into Zion Canyon. See Chapter 18.
The Best Day Hikes
A national park vacation should be an active vacation, one that challenges
your body as much as your mind. Here's a collection of day hikes
that will get you started in the right direction:
Primitive Trail from Double O to Landscape Arch: Definitely off
the beaten path, this hike in Arches National Park has little rock
cairns marking a route that will at times test your trail-finding skills.
But it also rewards by taking you between, and atop, rock fins, past
showy displays of wildflowers (in springtime), and treating you to
some solitude in this otherworldly landscape. See Chapter 9.
Hidden Falls/Inspiration Point: Committing to this hike in Grand
Teton National Park allows you to enjoy a gentle boat ride across
Jenny Lake before (and after) venturing into the mountains. True,
this hike is popular and can be crowded, but it pays off with several
views of crashing water falls and one overlooking Jenny Lake.
You can also watch classes of hopeful climbers working on their
techniques before heading up to the top of the Grand Teton. See
Cape Alva/Sand Point Loop: Temperate rain forest, grassy meadows,
and sandy beaches. This hike in Olympic National Park has it
all, and tosses in some petroglyphs reflecting Native Americans
impressions of whales for good measure. See Chapter 14.
Lone Star Geyser: Most folks who head to the Upper Geyser Basin
at Yellowstone National Park are satisfied to view Old Faithful and
stroll along the boardwalk up to Geyser Hill. What makes the hike
to the Lone Star Geyser a winner is the beautiful forest the trail
roams through, the nearby Firehole River, and the payoff: a towering
mound of geyserite that erupts about every three hours with a
gusher of steaming water. See Chapter 16.
Half Dome: True, this is one long day hike. But the 17 miles you'll
cover from start to finish lead you uphill alongside frothing
cataracts, along the edge of the Little Yosemite Valley, and up one
of Yosemite National Parks signature rockfaces to an incredible
viewpoint overlooking the Yosemite Valley. If you take this hike on a
hot day, allow some time on your return to cool off in the Merced
River before it leaps down into the Yosemite Valley via Nevada and
Vernal falls. See Chapter 17.
Riverside Walk: If you don't have the time to hike the entire length
of Zion National Parks Narrows trail, this is a good substitute.
Located at the Temple of Sinawava, this walk leads you into a massive
slot canyon whose walls rise thousands of feet above the
Virgin River. A summertime hike into this canyon is cooling and
reveals dazzling displays of hanging gardens. See Chapter 18.
The Best Places to Sleep under the Stars
Heading into the backcountry can be one of the best aspects of a national
park vacation. You can walk off into the woods in just about any direction,
but here are some of my favorites:
Lizard Creek Campground: Near Grand Tetons northern border,
this out-of-the-way campground is often overlooked, so you can be
sure its not overrun with noisy campers. The forest setting on the
shores of Jackson Lake is picturesque, and there's no light pollution
to obscure your views of the night sky. See Chapter 12.
Shoshone, Lewis, or Yellowstone lakes: You have to work, either
by hiking or paddling, to reach the backcountry campsites that dot
the shores of Yellowstone National Parks three major lakes. But I
guarantee you wont be disappointed. I've seen shooting stars
crease the sky on clear nights, and wildlife abounds in this natural
setting. See Chapter 16.
High Sierra Camps: Strung like jewels through the backcountry of
Yosemite National Parks, these camps make venturing into the
backcountry less daunting than it may seem to first-timers. There's
no need to carry a tent, because the camps offer tent-cabins for
shelter, and no need to carry food, because the on-site chef feeds
hikers as if they were kings. See Chapter 17.
Kolob Canyon: Located in the northwestern corner of Zion National
Park, this canyon leads to Kolob Arch, which, with a 310-foot span,
just may be the worlds longest freestanding arch. Along the way,
the trail passes a number of backcountry campsites and La Verkin
Creek. See Chapter 18.
The Best Lodges to Check Into
There are lodges, and then there are lodges! Not all national park lodges
were created equally. Here are my top picks:
Furnace Creek Inn: Nestled on a hillside amid a sprawling grove of
palm trees, this Mission-style inn has an almost palatial feel to it.
While the rest of Death Valley National Park sizzles in the summer
heat, this inn bakes in atmosphere. I've been tempted to spend my
Death Valley visit pool-side surrounded by the inns gardens. See
El Tovar Hotel: This historic hotel on the South Rim of the Grand
Canyon coddles its guests with elegant rooms, a private sitting room
that provides privacy from unregistered guests, innovative cuisine,
and a staff that's always ready to pamper you. See Chapter 11.
Jenny Lake Lodge: Surrounded by an evergreen forest in the afternoon
shadow of the Grand Teton, this lakeside lodge with its
accompanying cabins is a perfect romantic retreat. Although rustic
in appearance, the lodge, its cabins, and their furnishings provide a
wonderfully relaxing and comfortable retreat after a day in the
park. See Chapter 12.
Old Faithful Inn: The patriarch of what I like to call the stately
national park inn, this oversized log cabin in the heart of
Yellowstone is infused with atmosphere, stories, and charm. Sure,
some of the rooms require that you use communal bathrooms
down the hall, but all give you the impression that you're staying
someplace special. And with the Upper Geyser Basin out your
window, you are. See Chapter 16.
The Ahwahnee Hotel: Queens, presidents, and Hollywood elite
have stayed in this striking lodge in Yosemite, and for good reason.
You wont find a finer accommodation in the national park system.
This hotel is pricy, but if you can afford it, you wont regret staying
here. See Chapter 17.
The Best Park Dining Rooms
Just because you're in the wilderness, you don't need to go hungry. In
fact, meals at some park restaurants will require you to take a hike to
keep off the pounds. Some of my favorites:
The Arizona Room: A short stroll from the edge of the Grand
Canyons South Rim, this dining room doesn't take reservations.
Instead, your name goes on a list and when a table opens they call
your name. Trust me, the wait is worth it, particularly when you
time things perfectly and the sun is setting on the canyon. See
Paradise Inn: Perhaps its the location on the flanks of Mount
Rainier, or maybe the fact that a day spent hiking really hones the
appetite, but I've never had a bad meal in the inns historic dining
room. The food, which tends to the hearty side, comes in large,
tasty portions. See Chapter 13.
Lake Crescent Lodge: My youngest son discovered the palettepleasing
joy of crab cakes during our stay in Olympic National Park,
and the ahi tuna main course wasn't bad, either. The beautiful lakefront
setting, the elegant dining room, attentive staff, and sumptuous
menu that features some of the freshest seafood in the park system
all combine to make this one of my favorite park restaurants. See
Lake Hotel: On the shore of Yellowstone Lake, this colonial-style
hotel boasts a restaurant that's not only Yellowstones best, but
also one of the best in the whole national park system. The view of
the shimmering lake through the dining rooms windows doesn't
hurt, of course, but the creative menu and the meals preparation
are the main attractions. See Chapter 16.
The Ahwahnee Hotel: You don't have to be a hotel guest to eat in
the elegant dining room here, and I strongly recommend you dine
here at least once, to enjoy both the food and the ambience. The
dining room pulls out all the stops at years end during the annual
Bracebridge Dinners that recreate an Olde English Christmas
feast that is part pagentry and part culinary extravaganza. See
The Best Winter Escapes in the Parks
Parks are open year-round, although many are most crowded in the
summer months. If your schedule allows, be daring and schedule a
winter visit. Here are some great winter activities to pursue:
Storm watching: When storms roll in from the Pacific Ocean, they
send humongous waves crashing into the seastacks that tower off
the shore of Rialto Beach in Olympic National Park. Some people
schedule their winter weekends around this incredible display of
natures forces. See Chapter 14.
Cross-country skiing: Many national parks offer cross-country
skiing come winter, but Sequoia has gigantic trees to go along with
it. Kicking and gliding beneath these cinnamon-hued behemoths is
the experience of a lifetime. See Chapter 15.
Wildlife watching: When winter arrives in Yellowstone, it forces the
animals out of the high country and down to the river valleys, making
them much more accessible than during the summer months. The
Lamar Valley is home to several wolf packs, thousands of elk, and
hundreds of bison during the winter months. Snowshoeing in the
park takes on added excitement when you spy a set of wolf tracks on
the trail. See Chapter 16.
Snowshoeing: The West's national parks offer endless snowshoeing
opportunites. Trails are marked and rentals are available in: Grand
Teton, Mount Rainier, Sequoia, Yellowstone, and Yosemite. The solitude
you'll enjoy while snowshoeing down a trail, and the discoveries
you'll make, are unforgetable. See Chapters 12, 13, and 15
The Best Family Activities in the Parks
National parks are perfect for family vacations, because they offer activities
for all ages. Here are some of the possibilities:
Climb a mountain: Climbing can be a great family bonding adventure
if you and your teens love the outdoors. Climbing schools at
Grand Teton, Mount Rainer, and Yosemite national parks can help
you conquer summits. See Chapters 12, 13, and 17.
Go for a float: Rivers run wild through a lot of the parks, and you
can find many rafting companies ready to turn you into white-water
cowboys. Although the Grand Canyon is particularly renowned for
its white-water raft trips, other possibilities exist in and around
Arches, Grand Teton, Olympic, and Sequoia/Kings Canyon national
parks. See Chapters 9, 11, 12, 14, and 15.
Lodging and learning: The concessionaire at Yellowstone National
Park offers a nice variety of lodging and learning programs that
combine accommodations and meals with interpretive programs
ranging from cross-country skiing and wolf watching in winter to
family-specific summer programs that include painting, photography,
animal tracking, and hiking. See Chapter 16.
Saddle up: Horseback rides can be found in Grand Canyon, Grand
Teton, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion national parks. Grand
Canyon, of course, also offers its famous mule rides into the
canyon. See Chapters 11, 12, and 16 through 18.
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