Complete Guide to Olympic National Park

How Complete is This Guide?

The answer? Not very complete. Olympic National Park constitutes a huge expanse of land and while we have done our best to explain the very best to get the most out of your time at the park, there are always new adventures to be found. From off the beaten path backpacking trips, to hidden waterfalls that no one knows about, part of the wonder of exploring our national parks is finding places and treasures that are uniquely your own.​ If you feel something is missing or needs to be updated, you are welcome to contact us and contribute.

Introduction

Located in the top right hand corner of the United States is one of the most beautiful, enchanting, and awe-inspiring places in the entire world. Olympic National Park borrows its name from Olympus, the mythical mountain top in Greek Mythology which as the abode of the gods. After spending a few days exploring the over 140,000 square miles that make up this truly unique region, you´ll understand why it got its name.

From whale sightings to glaciers, rugged coastlines to alpine tundra, this park is one of the most varied and diverse places in the world; not to mention that you will also be able to enjoy old growth temperate rainforest. What other place in the world can you be at the beach one minute, in the middle of a rainforest the next minute, and climbing up a glacier packed alpine mountain the next?

In this complete review of Olympic National Park, we will let you know why this unique national park is so special. We will begin by looking as the natural history of the park before exploring the unique ecology of Olympic National Park. For nature buffs, we´ll also explain how this park is also involved in a world renowned ecological restoration project. Finally, we offer advice on the top activities at Olympic National Park so that you can get the most out of your time at the park.

Rainforests and Glaciers: the Unique Ecology of Olympic

For thousands of years, indigenous population have made the area that today comprises Olympic National Park their home. While early research believed that most indigenous people mostly lived along the coastline, today archaeological evidence supports the theory that indigenous populations also had significant presence in the higher regions, especially in the sub-alpine meadows which were most likely used for hunting and fishing.

Today, two indigenous groups continue to live in the region. The Hoh People live along the Hoh River while the Quileute people live along the coast at the mouth of the river of the same name.

The small peninsula in northwestern Washington where Olympic National Park is located is unique in that three very distinct ecosystems exist in a much reduced area of land. The coastal strip of the park runs about 60 miles from north to west, but is only a few miles wide at most. Instead of white sand beaches that many people picture when they think of the ocean, the coasts at the park are filled with huge boulders, thick vegetation, and mystical sea stacks which are large, pillar like rocks that rise out of the ocean.

The constant fogs and mists associated with the rainforest ecosystem nearby create habitat for all sorts of unique marine animals including seals and sea lions. Tidal pools are a great place to find starfish and all other sorts of ocean creatures.

In the middle of the park you can find the mighty Olympic Mountains which rise sharply from the coast to close to 8,000 feet. While there are certainly higher mountains throughout the United States, the fact that these mountains literally rise out of the sea gives them a commandeering presence.

On top of the mountains are several ancient glaciers, the largest of which is the Hoh Glacier which runs for more than 3 miles in length. Mount Olympus is the tallest peak in the range rising to over 7,900 feet. This almost perpetually snow-capped peak offers a beautiful contrast to the surrounding greenness of the old growth forest.

Finally, on the western edge of the park sits the Hoh Rainforest. A magical, temperate climate rainforest that receives over 150 inches of rain each year making this easily the wettest area in the entire continental United States. The Hoh Rainforest is dominated by several unique coniferous trees such as firs, cedars, and spruce. A variety of mosses and air plants hang from the branches of virtually every tree.

The fact that the park is located on an isolated peninsula with a massive mountain range separating a coastal ecosystem and a rainforest makes for an exclusive ecology. Within the park you can find exceptional wildlife, such as the Roosevelt Elk, that are hard to find anywhere else in the country. Black bears, deer, and even cougars have large numbers within the park as well.

The Elwha Ecosystem Restoration Project

For many indigenous peoples around the Pacific Northwest, the Salmon were an important source of food and a vital part of their spirituality. With the arrival of western peoples and industrial development, however, hundreds of rivers were dammed up for hydroelectricity and other uses, essentially blocking the path of large populations of salmon who used to “run” from the ocean, upstream to their spawning grounds.

The Elwha Ecosystem Restoration Project at Olympic National Park is an ambitious restoration project being undertaken by the park service. Essentially, they are removing over 300 feet of dams and draining the artificial reservoirs in order to allow the Pacific Salmon to once again gain access to the upper portions of the rivers that they haven´t had access to in almost 100 years. For people who are interested in ecological restoration, this project is one you will want to visit and study.

Some Unique Facts and Figures about Olympic National Park

· The United Nations has proclaimed Olympic National Park to be both a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve

· Close to 3 million people visit the park each year making it the 7th most visited park in the country

· Olympic National Park has 60 ancient glaciers covering the peaks of the Olympic Mountain Range

· Over 600 miles of trails criss cross the entire park

· The Hoh Rainforest receives over 150 inches of rain each year while many areas on the eastern edge of the park only receive 16 inches of rain

· President Franklin Roosevelt created Olympic National Park in 1938

· Over 95% of the park is designated wilderness area

· 30 million years ago, Olympic National Park was actually under the sea

· Crescent Trout is a species of trout that can only be found within the park boundaries

Day Hikes at Olympic National Park

Without a doubt, the best way to enjoy and explore Olympic National Park is through getting out of your car and into the wilderness. From coastal hikes to trekking up alpine glaciers, to meandering through deep rainforests, the 600 miles of trails that weave through the park will allow you to explore three distinct and magical ecosystems. Below are our recommendations for the absolute best day hikes at Olympic National Park

Ozette Loop Trail

This nine mile trail is by far the best way to explore the rugged coastline of Olympic National Park. From the beginning point at Ozette Lake, the trail first takes you through thick swamplands populated by old growth cedar forests. Once you emerge from the forest, you will walk along the coastline for over three miles enjoying stunning views of sea stacks and rocky beaches. If you want to do this hike, however, you will have to register at the visitor´s center as access to this area is sometimes controlled by park authorities.

Sunrise Ridge

If you are looking for a place to find hordes of wildflowers, a short five mile hike to Sunrise Ridge will take you into subalpine meadows where you can find dozens of types of flowers. Make sure to visit between July and August to best enjoy the bloom season.

Grand Valley

This close to ten mile loop will take you deep into the Olympic wilderness, showcasing wildflowers, mountain lakes, and some truly otherworldly views. If you are in decent shape you can still do this as a day hike, though it can also be extended into an overnighter if you get the right permits.

Sol Duc Falls

This short trail (ranging from 1.5 to 5.2 miles depending on the actual route you take) is a classic Olympic experience. You´ll meander through old growth forest before emerging at a beautiful waterfall. Nearby you can also find the Sol Duc hot springs which is a great way to relax after a long day on the trail.

Mount Elinor

This is one of the easier peaks to climb in the Olympic Range, but it also offers some fantastic views of both the ocean at Puget Sound and the park´s craggy, snow-capped interior. At only 6.2 miles round trip, it makes for a great day hike.

Overnight Backpacking Trips at Olympic National Park

For hikers who aren´t content with a simple day excursion into the Olympic wilderness, you can get a backcountry permit from park authorities to explore more in depth the beauty of Olympic National Park. To apply for your backcountry permit you will need to do so with plenty of time in advance as much many permits run on a quota basis that is first come, first serve.

South Coast Wilderness Trail

For people who want to see the best of the Olympic National Park coastline, this trail is the one for you. The 17 mile stretch from Third Beach to Oil City Traverse might not sound like a lot of miles, but the going will definitely be tough as you will be scrambling over boulders, fording creeks, climbing up muddy headland trails to wait for tides to go down. However, if you are up for the challenge, you´ll be in for a treat as the trail offers virtually unlimited amounts of quality campsites where you´ll be able to enjoy epic sunsets and unique views of all sorts of wildlife.

North Fork Quinault River Trail

This 21-mile loop following the Quinault River for much of the way and is perhaps the best way to spot unique wildlife on the trail. Both mountain goats, black bear, and the hard to spot Roosevelt Elk can be seen.

Enchanted Valley

The name alone should be enough enticement to get you out into the backwoods. The 26 roundtrip miles of this backpacking adventure will give you the full Olympic experience as you will be trekking through old growth rainforests, passing by (and through) numerous pristine mountain rivers and streams, and enjoying otherworldly panoramic views of glacier-capped peaks and powerful waterfalls.

Winter Sports Activities at Olympic

What could be better than heading from the beach to snow in the span of a few hours? While the coastal regions of the park almost never receive any sort of snow, the mountainous regions have thick snow cover for much of the winter months.

Hurricane Ridge is by far the best place to head if you are into skiing or snowboarding. The Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area is a non-profit ski resort operated by the park. Relatively cheap lift tickets will allow you to head up and down the mountain on one of the two tow ropes and the one poma lift. Plan accordingly since the road to Hurricane Ridge is usually only operable from Friday to Sunday during winter months.

The Best Campgrounds at Olympic National Park

Nothing is quite as enchanting as camping out under the stars while visiting Olympic National Park. If backpacking isn’t your thing, there are still several unique campgrounds located around the park that combine proximity to the natural world with some basic conveniences for families. Below are our top three recommendations for the top campgrounds at the park.

Deer Park Campground

This is high-alpine camping at its absolute best. After a grueling 18 mile drive up winding mountain roads (RV´s aren´t allowed because of this) you will find a gorgeous, small camp ground that offers stunning 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains to one side and the ocean to the other side. After enjoying the sunset, you´ll want to keep your eyes to the sky as the stars come out in breathtaking fashion. There are only 14 sites available at a first come, first serve basis so make sure to head up the mountain early in the day if you want a spot.

Graves Creek Campground

Who wouldn´t want to camp in a rainforest? Graves Creek Campground is located next to the Quinault River within the section of the Quinault Rainforest. This campground is strategically placed so that campers have relatively easy access to popular hiking trails throughout the park including the Enchanted Valley and Pony Bridge.

Heart o´the Hills Campground

If you are looking for a family friendly campground, the Heart o´the Hills Campground offers fantastic ranger programs for kids and is also very accessible. Furthermore, you will only be a short 14 mile drive from Hurricane Ridge which offers fantastic views and a place to view some epic sunsets.

Other Activities to Fill Your Days at Olympic National Park

If hiking isn´t your thing, or if your kids are complaining that they don´t want to walk through the woods anymore, there are several other recreational options at Olympic National Park which we will explore below.

Both the Elwha and Hoh Rivers offer spectacular rafting trips. While the rapids might not be as quick as other spots throughout the United States, the scenery alone makes up for it as you will most likely spot wildlife and enjoy the rainforest that comes right up to the edge of the river. Several outfitting companies offer different length rafting tours.

For folks looking for more of an adrenaline rushing, alpine climbing is also available throughout the park. While the loose shale rock that makes up much of the Olympics is not quite as sturdy as solid granite, several mountaineers make their way to the park to climb up Mount Olympus, Mount Deception, Mount Constance, and other sheer cliffs located throughout the park.

After several hard days of hiking, nothing is quite as relaxing as finding a perfect spot next to an alpine lake or pristine mountain stream to fish for the day. Olympic National Park has over 600 lakes, 4,000 miles of rivers and streams, and 60 miles of coastline. With water virtually everywhere, you can easily find that perfect spot to fish for the day. You can check out the requirements to get your fishing license at the National Park Website here.

Finally, Olympic National Park also offers a number of hot springs which is a great way to enjoy the park. Olympic Hot Springs can be found along the Boulder Creek Trail and the Mineral Hot Springs, which are a little bit more accessible, can be enjoyed at the Sol Duc Hot Spring Resort. Either one of these options makes for a great way to end your memorable trip to Olympic National Park.

When to Visit Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park is open year round, though the vast majority of people head to the park during the dry summer months between June and September. If you are worried about the rain ruining your vacation (and there is a lot of it) this might be the best time to visit. If, however, you want to avoid the crowds, you plan your trip early in the spring where the heavy snow runoff brings alive the thousands of miles of creeks and streams running through the park.

If you like winter adventure sports such as skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing, you can also plan to visit the park during the winter months. While some of the roads will be closed, snowshoeing trails are open year round and will offer you a truly unique view into this special place.

Conclusion

If you have never visited the Pacific Northwest, Olympic National Park should definitely be in your itinerary. Even if you live in Seattle or Portland, the massive size of the Olympic wilderness means that there will always be new places to explore. From rugged coastlines, to glacier topped mountains, to thick, enchanting old growth rainforests, Olympic National Park is a place that is beckoning you to come and explore.

For people who want to see the best of the Olympic National Park coastline, this trail is the one for you. The 17 mile stretch from Third Beach to Oil City Traverse might not sound like a lot of miles, but the going will definitely be tough as you will be scrambling over boulders, fording creeks, climbing up muddy headland trails to wait for tides to go down. However, if you are up for the challenge, you´ll be in for a treat as the trail offers virtually unlimited amounts of quality campsites where you´ll be able to enjoy epic sunsets and unique views of all sorts of wildlife.

Complete Guide to Biscayne National Park

How Complete Is This Guide?

The answer? Not very complete. While Biscayne National Park is one of the smaller national parks in the country, there are always nooks and crannies that are yet to be explored that we may have left out. That is one of the greatest parts of exploring the national parks of our country: finding a hidden wonder that no one seems to know about.​ If you feel something is missing or needs to be updated, you are welcome to contact us and contribute.

Introduction

South Florida isn´t exactly known as a place of wilderness where one can go to get away from civilization and relax in the wonders of the natural world. Rather, South Florida is usually considered as a hopping place with great beaches, even better night life, and a cosmopolitan, Caribbean, urban feel.

However, as with most places in our world, it usually doesn´t take much to escape from the noise and clatter of civilization and find places that offer respite to the soul and mind. Just south of Miami, Biscayne National Park can be found. While 95% of this park is under water, you would be hard pressed to find a place more different than the bustling and hurried environment of downtown Miami.

Whether you live in downtown Miami and are looking for a place to get away from the rat race of urban life or are wanting to plan a tropical vacation to a truly unique ecosystem, Biscayne National Park is a place unlike any other. In this complete guide to Biscayne National Park, we will look at the history and ecology of Biscayne National Park, offer a few obscure and hard-to-believe facts and figures, and then go on to give you the lowdown on all the activities that Biscayne National Park has to offer so that you can plan out a truly unforgettable trip to one of the most unknown national parks in the United States.

The Storied History of Biscayne National Park

The coral reefs, turquoise waters, and pristine beaches of Biscayne National Park might be the principal attractions of this unique place. However, the history of the reef and the island itself is a great attraction for history buffs and people who want a look into the how life and civilization has evolved together.

The Glades indigenous culture inhabited the island of what is today the park around 10,000 years ago, but due to rising sea water (sound familiar?) they were forced to abandon the islands in search of higher elevations. The Tequesta people were the next indigenous habitants that returned to the islands once waters receded and lived in the region until the Spanish conquistadors forcefully took over the islands in the 16ht century.

The large coral reef ecosystem is certainly an attraction to divers and snorkelers (as we´ll see below) but for Spanish ship captains, these reefs caused several shipwrecks leaving all sorts of unique underwater treasures to explore.

In the early 1900´s, wealthy millionaires from Florida and other places around the United States made the Biscayne islands into their private getaways. Stiltsville was an actual community that sprung up on the islands in the 1930´s. While the rest of the country was dealing with the Great Depression, this remote island of luxury and excess was a haven for high rolling gamblers and millionaire parties. During Prohibition, the remote location of Stiltsville on the Biscayne Islands also allowed for moonshining.

When Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba during the Cold War Era, the Biscayne Islands were used by the CIA and the US government to train Cuban dissidents who would later lead a failed invasion of Cuba in the infamous Bay of Pigs fiasco.

In the 1960´s, the area that is now the park was pretty much uninhabited until a massive development project led to the construction of two fossil-fuel power plants and even two nuclear power plants. Despite the ecological importance of this unique ecosystem, the national urge to reduce dependence on foreign oil led to these precarious energy developments.

Fortunately, many organized citizens who appreciated the park for its natural beauty fought against these energy developments. In 1968, the Biscayne National Monument was created while it wasn´t until 1980 that the area became a national park with full protection from industrial and residential development.

The Ecology of Biscayne National Park

The more than 170,000 acres that make up Biscayne National Park are mostly water. However, several small keys Key Biscayne in the north to Key Largo in the south offer pieces of tropical paradise throughout the park. The unique location of Biscayne National Park has allowed for four distinct tropical ecosystems to converge in one place.

Mangrove swamps are one ecosystem that act as a buffer between the keys and the coral reefs. Many small lagoons that are scattered throughout the keys provide another key ecosystem and habitat for a variety of flora and fauna. The island key ecosystem constitutes most of the 9,000 acres of land in the national park, and offshore reef habitats provide some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving found anywhere in the world.

Avid bird watchers often make their way to Biscayne National Park for an opportunity to spot some of the unique tropical birds and migratory birds that can´t be found anywhere else in the continent. Furthermore, Biscayne National Park is home to hundreds of species of marine animals, both mammals, fish, and crustaceans. The giant blue land crab is a rare site that can be spotted throughout the keys.

The Caribbean reef octopus is another unique species that can be found in the water while flamingos, bald eagles, and other varied birds can be found in the air and nesting in the mangrove trees above.

Some Unique Facts and Figures about Biscayne National Park

· 95% of the park is underwater

· Two pirates, both named Black Caesar lived in on the islands of the park in the 18th century

· During Prohibition people came to the keys to drink since alcohol was permitted one mile offshore

· Hurricane Betsy in 1965 ruined Stiltsville, a makeshift community of wealthy Miamians who had built stilt houses on the keys

· In the coral reef, Elkhorn coral dominate up to a depth of 10 meters while staghorn coral make up the majority of the deeper reef ecosystem

· Five species of endangered whales can be occasionally spotted in the offshore waters, including the iconic sperm whale and humpback whale

· The lionfish, endemic to the Indian Ocean, can also curiously be found in the waters of Biscayne National Park

· Burmese pythons, probably illegally released from human captivity, have also been found in the park

· The National Park Services estimates that all of the land of the keys at Biscayne National park will be lost to rising sea levels within the next two centuries

Boating Activities

While there is one terrestrial entrance to the park at Convoy Point, the vast majority of people arrive to Biscayne National Park via boat. Because of the fragile coral reef ecosystem, however, you will need to be careful to follow the buoys. Several fatal boating accidents have occurred due to irresponsible boat driving, and if you do cross into the protected reef ecosystem, you risk a hefty fine from park authorities.

If you don´t have a boat of your own, you can easily sign up for a unique boat tour of the national park at the visitor´s center which will take you through much of the park, introducing you to the four unique ecosystems, the unique flora and fauna, and also the historical structures located throughout the park. The glass bottomed boat tour is something you won´t want to miss. You can also charter a private boat or rent one from the mainland. It is free to enter into the park via boat, though you will need to pay a $20 dollar fee to dock overnight at the harbor at Boca Chita.

Fishing Activities

Most boaters who make their way to the national park come to fish. If you aren´t an experienced fisher, you might want to sign up for a free fishing awareness class offered by the national park service that will teach you what species you can catch and which you need to let be.

Snapper and rock bass are some of the most common species to be caught making for an excellent fish fry at your campsite after a day out on the water. Lobsters, crabs and shrimp can also be found in abundance throughout the park. If you have any luck, you might be in for quite a feast.

Tropical fish and sharks cannot be caught under risk of heavy fine and penalty. While you can fish for the spiny lobster and stone crab (both delicious!), there is a designated lobster sanctuary in the park that you will have to avoid.

If you want to try your hand at a more primitive form of fishing, spear fishing is also allowed in the park and some tour operators might offer unique classes so that you can try your hand at this unique activity. Make sure to sign up for your Florida seawater fishing license before heading out to catch your evening meal.

Kayaking Activities

Another extremely popular activity at Biscayne National Park is kayaking. Especially during holidays and weekends, the amount of motorboats around the park can take away from the enchantment of this tropical paradise. Fortunately, there are several areas around the park that don´t allow motorboats to enter. These restricted areas will allow kayakers and canoes to find their own hidden corners of the park where the only sound you hear will be the gently rolling of waves and the calls of tropical birds in the mangrove swamps.

Simply paddling along the shoreline of the keys will allow you to spot everything from lobsters to crabs to strange looking sponges. If you really want to escape the motorized boats, consider paddling the roughly 7 miles across the bay towards Elliot and Adams Keys. South of Caesar Creek there are several unique lagoons that are closed to motorized boats. Jones Lagoon is perhaps the best place for kayakers where you can find jellyfish and the occasional shark spinning through the waters.

If you didn´t your own kayaks, there are several places to rent. A quick stop by the visitor’s center will allow you to check out all of the different paddling routes that the park offers to people wanting to explore the area without a motor.

Snorkeling and Diving Activities

Perhaps the most appreciated activity offered by Biscayne National Park is snorkeling and scuba diving. To scuba dive in the area, you will have to bring proof of your active scuba license. Snorkeling, however, can be done by anyone.

While you can try and snorkel along the shorelines of the keys, the mangrove forest and the grass and seaweeds can drastically limit what you are able to see and explore. A much better alternative for people wanting to get the true underwater, coral reef experience, is to paddle about 10 miles out to the actual reef where you will find the best snorkeling anywhere in the country. If you don´t feel like you have the stamina to paddle the 10 miles there (and back!), guided tours offered by both the park and private companies out to the reef are also available and you should have a couple of hours built into the trip to spend time exploring the reef with your snorkeling gear.

The Five Best Snorkeling Spots at Biscayne National Park

If you are ready to hit the water and discover the underwater world waiting for you there, you need to know the best places to go snorkeling. Much of the beaches near the keys are populated by thick sea grass which will impede your underwater vision and make for a rather unpleasant snorkeling experience. However, Biscayne National Park offers several fantastic snorkeling spots that allow you to explore everything from shipwrecks to sharks. Below we offer our advice on the top five snorkeling spots around the park.

Maritime Heritage Snorkel Adventure

While some people might think that snorkeling around a shipwreck isn´t as natural or exciting as a “real” coral reef, many ecologists have found that ship wreckage that settles at the bottom of the ocean eventually becomes a part of the natural ecosystem where fish, sharks, corals and other sea creatures make their home.

The Maritime Heritage Snorkel Adventure is a ranger guided snorkeling tour that will allow you to explore the wreckage of the Mandalay shipwreck that went down on 1928. Besides checking out the ship itself, you will also be able to see all sorts of colorful fish, purple sea fans, and other unique aquatic life.

Biscayne Reef

One of the best parts of snorkeling the Biscayne Reef is that the national park service limits the amount of people that are allowed to visit each day. This has allowed for a greater protection of the fragile coral reef ecosystem. Only one private company is allowed to take a maximum of 45 people each day out to the reef, so you will need to make reservations in advance.

Once you get to the reef, however, you will find a virtually untouched reef ecosystem where clownfish, parrot fish, barracudas and even the occasional shark will be your swimming companions.

John Pennekamp Reef

If you forgot to make your reservation for the Biscayne Reef and the tour is booked up for the next couple of days, the nearby John Pennekamp Reef is another great option. Since this reef is just outside the national park, there is less control meaning that there are no limits to the number of people who can visit. You can either private charter a boat to take you to this reef or take your own boat. While the reef itself is less “pristine” than the Biscayne Reef, you will still find a spectacular underwater ecosystem teeming with colorful coral and all sorts of fish.

Elliot Key

While Elliot Key is one of the least visited places in the park, there is also some quality snorkeling spots that can be appreciated. What´s more, you can enjoy hiking throughout Elliot Key and end your day with a snorkeling adventure to cool off. You can find quality reef spots anywhere between and 8 and 20 feet deep just off the coat of Elliot Key

Stiltsville

While the main coral reef is located a good distance away from the keys and the park´s mainland, there are patch reefs located around Stiltsville. If you contract a private boat to take you to visit the old stilt houses from the 1930´s, you might also ask your guide to let you stop and explore the patch reefs that are located nearby.

The Top 9 Fish to Spot While Snorkeling at Biscayne National Park

Unless you´re a marine biologist or a specialist in coral reef ecosystems, chances are that all of the vibrant colored corals, sponges, fish, and other marine life will look like something straight out of a fairy tale. To help you know what to look for and to identify the fish that magically appears from behind a piece of coral, below we offer a brief descriptions of 10 of the most common species of fish that can be spotted at Biscayne National Park.

French Grunt

These peculiar fish are recognized by their bright yellow color with bluish and turquoise lines running across their bodies. What is unique about the French grunt, however, is that if you listen carefully, you might be able to hear them “grunting”; a unique (though somewhat disconcerting) sound that you can hear while snorkeling.

Great Barracuda

This monster fish will most likely scare you if you encounter it during your first snorkeling trip. However, these fish are pretty docile and will most likely leave you alone. Between 2 and 5 feet length, these fish are a spectacular blue gray color and shimmer in the water while they swim.

Glasseye Snapper

This foot long fish is unique because of its pink or reddish coloring. Furthermore, the glasseye snapper is a carnivorous, nocturnal species. You might find it in darker spaces amongst the reef, since during the day it will most likely be resting.

French Angelfish

The French Angelfish is the quintessential coral reef fish. The almost triangular shape of this fish along with its pointed nose, large fins, and elaborate bluish coloring make this an easy one to spot and identify.

Bowfin

These fish are definitely less attractive than some of their other reef companions, but they are a relatively common sight. Large and oblong shaped, these fish can easily reach several feet in length making them substantially larger than other fish you might encounter underwater.

Spotted Dragonet

This is one of the prized fish that snorkelers love to find. The vibrant, beautiful color patterns of the dragonet species make them easily identifiable and a favorite of scuba divers and snorkelers. While these fish are usually found at depths of 45 feet and deeper, they do occasionally rise to surface.

Spotted Sea Trout

Many people think that trout are only fresh water species. However, it is completely possible to find sea trout as well. This species is common in the area and has a beautiful colors along its dorsal fin making it easy to pick out from the pack.

Jack Knife Fish

This unique fish is a frequent visitor to these coral reef and is easily identifiable by its sharp, pointed fin that juts up from its back. The jack knife fish is usually black and white colored though there are other specimens with more vibrant color schemes.

Peacock Flounder

The name alone should make this fish one that you try to spot. The unique turquoise coloring on the peacock flounder makes it a unique, beautiful fish that enlivens the reef ecosystem.

Hiking

Most people don´t come to Biscayne National Park to hike due to the wide array of water activities from boating, fishing, kayaking and snorkeling. However, if you have an extra day or two, there are a few unique trails through some of the keys that will offer you a completely different glimpse into the reality of the region.

A six mile trail running the length of Elliot Key (one of the park´s most unexplored and least visited lands, is a fantastic opportunity to spot some of the unique birds and wildlife that populate the park. There is also a great swimming area that will allow you to cool off after a long day in the sun. For people who are a bit more adventurous, you can also set up camp either in the depth of the forests or along the beach where you will enjoy the clatter of bird song at both dawn and dusk. The stars over the bay aren´t too shabby either.

Visiting Historical Structures

Another good activity you can do either by water or by land is visiting some of the unique historical structures that give testament to the park´s storied history. A private boat tour will take you to the area of what is left of Stiltsville where you´ll be able to imagine a once lively community of wealth millionaires enjoying their own private tropical paradise. While most of Stiltsville´s building were lost to hurricanes, there are a few that are still left standing and in good shape.

Just outside the park, on Key Biscayne, the Cape Florida Lighthouse can also be visited. This lighthouse has been standing continuously since 1825. For a small fee you can climb to the top and enjoy some beautiful views of the surrounding waters. Making it to the top for a sunset view is truly extraordinary.

Lastly, though they aren´t “structures” in the typical sense, Biscayne National Park offers a shipwreck trail where you can visit several of the ships that these rough, coral reef laden waters have claimed over the years. The SS Arratoon Apcar is one shipwreck that is only 10 meters deep. If scuba diving isn´t your thing, you can easily spot the remains of this shop from your boat.

When to Visit Biscayne National Park

Because of the tropical climate at Biscayne National Park, there really isn´t a huge difference in temperature between summer and winter. While the winter months will be slightly cooler, you might want to plan your trip around the rains. The dry season runs from November to April and the temperatures are usually significantly cooler, with an average temperature between 66 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dry season, then, is usually the best time of year to visit as it will offer you an excuse to escape the colder winters from your hometown. You will also be conveniently missing the hurricane season.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a tropical adventure, great climate, unique wildlife and birds, and one of the most accessible tropical coral reefs in the world, Biscayne National Park is the place for you. Whether you are just escaping from the noise of downtown Miami for a day or two, or coming to spend several weeks exploring the four unique ecosystems, there is plenty to do, see, and explore at Biscayne National Park.

Best Hikes In Yosemite Valley

One of the best parts about visiting Yosemite National Park is going on different kinds of hikes in Yosemite Valley. You can get some incredible views by going on these hikes through this valley. Millions of tourists come to Yellowstone every year because they enjoy the variety of hikes that are possible along with the numerous amounts of outdoor activities that you can partake in too. Most people who come to Yellowstone do not enjoy hiking so you may be able to have some peace of mind by getting away from the large crowds in the spring or summer by being able to go hiking on the trails.

Half Dome

Difficulty: Very Strenuous
Distance: 17 miles for a round-trip
Hiking Time: 12 to 14 hours depending upon expertise level
Elevation Change: 4,800 feet

Trailhead: The route to the top starts with the Happy Isles, which is shuttle stop #16. You are going to need to follow the Mist Trail to the top of Nevada Fall. Lastly, you’ll follow the signs leading you to the top of Half Dome.

Half Dome has the distinguished reputation of being the most popular hiking destination in the valley. While it is the most famous of all the hiking trails, it is also the most challenging to do. You have to ascend over 8.5 miles to reach the summit and then it’s another 8.5 miles back to complete the trail. The actual hike can take up to two days or less. You have to be in top physical and mental shape in order to accomplish this hike. You may need to use metal cables and a harness in order to help yourself to the summit. You need to be strong to make it to the top but once you do, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best views in the whole Yosemite National Park.

Mist Trail

Difficulty: Strenuous
Distance: 3 miles for a round-trip
Hiking Time: 3 to 4 hours total
Elevation Change: 1,000 feet

Trailhead: The Mist Trail also starts within the Happy Isles like the Half Dome trail. You can go to the shuttle stop #16, which is at the eastern end of the Yosemite Valley. After you get to that shuttle stop, you need to cross the stone bridge and follow the path to the left.

While Half Dome is the most famous and the most strenuous trail, Mist Trail is the most popular with Yellowstone hikers. It’s pretty popular because you can see some of the most amazing scenery when you’re hiking along the trail. You can go by the banks of the Merced River and then head up the stone steps to see the Vernal Fall, which is 317 feet high and is an amazing and awe-inspiring waterfall. You should be aware that this particular trail could get quite crowded especially during the summer season at Yellowstone. However, if you’re not looking for too much of a challenge but want to see the beauty of the national park, Mist Trail is a good option.

Nevada Fall

Difficulty: Strenuous
Distance: 7 miles for a round-trip
Hiking Time: 4 to 5 hours
Elevation Change: 1,900 feet

Trailhead: At the end of the Mist Trail, start at the top of Vernal Fall on the way to Nevada Fall.

From the Mist Trail, it’s pretty easy to go on the Nevada Fall hike afterwards. It only takes a little over a mile from there to get to the top of the Nevada Fall at about 600 feet. You’ll have much less hikers to deal with since it’s less popular than the Mist Trail and you can get a lot of beautiful, and scenic views there too. In order to return to the beginning of the trail, you can loop around back using the John Muir Trail.

Yosemite Falls

Difficulty: Strenuous
Distance: 7.6 miles for a round-trip
Hiking Time: 4 to 5 hours
Elevation Change: 2,600 feet

Trailhead: Begin at Camp 4 to start the trail. Then, you’ll take a shuttle to Yosemite Lodge, which is Stop #7 to cross the street to Camp 4. The hike starts between the camping ground and the parking lot.

To get to some beautiful waterfalls that are over 2,000 feet in total height, you’ll have to undergo the strenuous hike of Yosemite Falls. It will not be easy physically, you’ll sweat a lot, and it will be a long way up to the top, but the views of Yosemite Falls are truly incredible. You can even see the Upper Yosemite Fall after going up the 135 switchbacks in total. You’ll be able to go above the waterfall itself to see the entire area. If you’re not willing to put in all of that effort, you can go to the Columbia Point instead, which is only about 1.2 miles away from the trailhead. It’s not as strenuous of a hike, and you will still get some great views of the valley.

Four Mile Trail

Difficulty: Strenuous
Distance: 9.2 miles for a round-trip
Hiking Time: 5 to 7 hours
Elevation Change: 3,200 feet

Trailhead: To begin the Four Mile Trail, you’re going to need to go between Sentinel Beach and the Swinging Bridge on Southside Drive.

While millions of tourists come to Glacier Drive for the spectacular views, you can earn them and get some exercise by going through the Four Mile Trail. It’s a great hiking trail because you can get clear views of all of Yosemite Falls. If you don’t want to hike the 3,200 feet up to the top of Glacier Point, you can choose to take a shuttle bus up there instead and just hike down the 3,200 feet down into Yosemite Valley. If you want more than just the Four Mile Trail, which is actually over nine miles round trip, you should consider doing the 11.5 mile hike, which includes the scenic Panorama Trail and ends at the Mist Trail. If you’ve got the energy, it’s one of the best hiking trails in Yosemite on par with Half Dome in terms of its’ difficulty and also its’ reward.

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What are the Best Places to Camp in Yosemite?

If you really want to get the full and immersive experience at Yosemite National Park, camping there overnight or for a couple of nights with some friends or your family is a great way to experience both the wilderness and the wildlife. When it comes to the number of total campsites at Yosemite, it is estimated that there are about 1,445 with thirteen different campgrounds to choose from. You can reserve up to 1,000 campsites in advance, which is recommended to do especially during the peak season at Yosemite, which is June, July, and August. Luckily, these campsites are freely available to the public and are filled up on a first-come, first-serve basis. You should try to reserve your campsite a couple of months in advance because one these campsites become available, they usually are booked within an hour or so of becoming available online. If you plan on staying at a campsite or campground during the weekend, you need to keep in mind that there is going to be a high level of competition for those spots. In case the campgrounds at Yosemite become full, there are a number of campgrounds near the national park that you can choose to camp at instead.

What are the Best Places to Camp in Yosemite?

This question can be up for debate because there are over a dozen or more unique campgrounds to choose from. However, there tends to be a consensus that the most popular and well-known campgrounds are the Lower Pines Campground, the Upper Pines Campground, Camp 4, and the Tuolumne Campground. It’s important to be aware of the positives and the negatives of each campground because they’re not perfect but some campgrounds are better than others in terms of comfort and other factors.

Camping in Yosemite Valley

If you want to get the best experience with camping, you may want to consider choosing a campground in the Yosemite Valley where there are four options. Because of the beautiful granite cliffs and stunning waterfalls, it’s the most popular part of Yosemite National Park so the campgrounds are likely to fill up quickly if you don’t reserve ahead of time. The campgrounds at Yosemite Valley aren’t too high up with the elevation being only 4,000 feet. You’re likely to have a comfortable time there due to the fact that there are bathrooms with running water and toilets that flush. Hot showers are also available to purchase for a small fee if you want to warm up a bit. Yosemite Valley also has a free shuttle that you can take between the four different campgrounds that are available to camp in.

Lower Pines Campground

Open: From April until October
Cost: $26 per night

Lower Pines Campground has about sixty different campsites available near the southern banks of the Merced River. It is quite popular due to its location where you can see nice views of the Half Dome and be located right next to the river. Some people consider this campground the best that the Yosemite National Park has to offer. Because it’s so popular, you should try to reserve your campsite months in advance especially if you’re planning to visit during the summer season. If you’re bringing an RV to the campsite, make sure that its’ length doesn’t exceed forty feet.

North Pines Campground

Open: From March until October
Cost: $26 per night

On the other side of the Merced River, located near the riverbanks is the North Pines Campgrounds, which is also considered to be one of the best campgrounds in Yosemite. Because of the popularity of this campground, you should book and reserve your campsite months in advance in order to secure a spot. Luckily, there are over eighty campsites at North Pines to choose from. It’s also not too far from Lower Pines if you decide to go there to visit people or check out the views from there.

Upper Pines Campground

Open: The entire year
Cost: $26 per night

Known as being the 2nd largest campground in all of Yosemite National Park, Upper Pines is located on the eastern end of the Yosemite Valley and is close to the two other pines campgrounds. Upper Pines has over two hundred and forty campsites to choose from and is open year round for visitors and tourists alike. However, you will need to make a reservation from mid-March to November due to the increased amount of campsite requests. However, from December to the beginning of March, campsites are available on the usual first-come, first-serve basis.

Camp 4

Open: The entire year
Cost: $6 per night

Camp 4 has the distinction of being the only campground that you can book on a first-come, first serve basis from the high season months of April to November. There are only thirty-five campsites available so demand is quite high. It’s important to book your campsite at Camp 4 about six months in advance depending on when you plan to visit the campground. This campground is not that big so you will not be able to park your car, RV, or trailer. There are parking areas nearby so you’ll have to put your vehicle there first before walking in to the campground. There are also no pets like dogs allowed so you’re going to have to leave Fido at home. If you enjoy rock climbing, Camp 4 is the most popular campground for that activity in Yosemite Valley. Because of its’ proximity to El Capitan or other hiking trails, Camp 4 remains one of the best campgrounds in Yosemite National Park.

Camping in Glacier Point Road

There are campgrounds available for the sixteen miles that go from Wawona Road to Glacier Point. Glacier Point is located thousands of feet above Yosemite Valley and has really nice views of Half Dome, Nevada Falls, etc. There are a number of hiking trails nearby so it’s pretty easy to go on day hikes through this part of the national park.

Bridalveil Creek Campground

Open: From June/July until September
Cost: $18 per night

The most popular campground located along Glacier Point Road, you can get to the Bridalveil Creek campground in about an hour driving up from the Yosemite Valley. During the high season of April to November, it’s first-come and first-serve. There are over one hundred and ten campsites to choose from so it’s a bigger campground overall. RVs and Trailers are allowed to park within the campground too without any problems.

Camping in Big Oak Flat Road

Big Oak Flat Road is a long road that is about seventeen miles in length that winds up to Yosemite Valley. While it’s not very scenic, you can easily access the Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias without needing to drive your car or RV. You can also be close to Yosemite Valley, where the two campgrounds along the Big Oak Flat Road are located.

Crane Flat Campground

Open: From July to October
Cost: $26 per night

The location of Crane Flat is perfect if you want to be close to the famed Yosemite Valley. It’s only about fifteen miles away from Yosemite Valley and you can drive there in about thirty minutes. You can easily make a reservation in advance up to a couple of months and there are over one hundred and sixty campsites available at any given time during the year. You can also drive your RV or car to park within the campground.

Hodgdon Meadow Campground

Open: The entire year
Cost: $26 per night

Hodgdon Meadow also has a very good location in that it’s located close by to the Big Oak Flat Entrance Station and is about twenty-five miles away from Yosemite Valley, which is about a forty-five minute drive. While there are only about one hundred and five campsites, you’re still have the ability to make a reservation in advance from the high season of April to October. Otherwise, during the months of November to March, it’s on a first-come, first-serve basis that comes with no reservation. You can bring your RV or a car in to the campground as well.

Camping in Tioga Road

If you want to be in the heart of Yosemite National Park, you’ll want to go camping along Tioga Road. You can experience being close to the High Sierra Mountains where there is great scenery of the alpine and maple trees. You can also check out Tuolumne Meadows, which is accessible by car from Tioga Road. All campgrounds along Tioga Road are available on a first-come, first-serve basis making it more accessible than other campgrounds in Yosemite. However, because of uncertain weather conditions it is possible that some of these campgrounds will not be open during the winter months.

Tamarack Flat Campground

Open: From July to October
Cost: $12 per night

Tamarack Flat Campground is located in the southern part of Tioga Road and is a couple of miles east from Big Oak Flat Road. There are only over fifty campsites available and you’ll need to set up a tent if you plan to stay there overnight. It is not a very big campsite so you’re going to need to leave your RV or your car in another parking area because those vehicles can’t enter this campground.

White Wolf Campground

Open: From July to September
Cost: $18 per night

White Wolf campground is in a good location. This campground is located halfway between Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows and you can drive to both locations within an hour or so. There are over seventy campsites, which are all first-come, first-serve so you won’t need to make a reservation in advance. The elevation of this campsite is high up at 8,000 feet so bring a jacket because temperatures can be quite cold at night. You can bring your RV or another type of vehicle into the campground.

Yosemite Creek Campground

Open: from July to September
Cost: $12 per night

Just a stone’s throw from White Wolf is the Yosemite Creek campground. There are seventy-five campsites available for use on a first-come, first-serve basis. There are a variety of ways that you can do to get the most out of this campsite. You can set up a tent to spend a few nights there. However, there are no RVs or Trailers allowed in this campsite. Because of the elevation is high at almost 8,000 feet, temperatures can be cold at night. This campground is along the creek itself so it’s in a beautiful location. You can also hike to the top of Yosemite Falls if you want to check out the views from there.

Porcupine Flat Campground

Open: From July to October

Cost: $12 per night

If you want to be right next to Tuolumne Meadows, the Porcupine Flat campground is an ideal choice. It is entirely a first-come, first-serve campground and is very busy during the summer season, especially since it’s cheaper than other campgrounds. There are over fifty campsites and you can use your RV or car when you’re at the site. Bring a jacket though because it gets cold at night due to being at 8,000 feet in elevation.

Camping in Tuolumne Meadows

If you want to be at the base of the High Sierra Mountains, being at a campground in the Tuolumne Meadows is the way to go. The scenery is spectacular and you can cool off in the meadows if you decide to camp there.

Tuolumne Meadows Campground

Open: From July to September
Cost: $26 per night

Tuolumne Meadows Campground has the double distinction of being the biggest campsite in Yosemite National Park at over three hundred available spots as well as being the highest in terms of elevation at over 8,600 feet. For half of the campsites, you need to reserve in advance, and for the rest of them are first-come and first-serve.

Wawona Campground

Open: The entire year
Cost: $26 per night

Over ninety campsites that are at the southern fork of the Merced River, the Wawona Campground is a pleasant site located not too far from the Yosemite Valley, and where you can reserve a spot especially when it comes to high season from April to October. You can park your RV, trailer, or car there as well during your stay at Wawona.

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Complete Guide to Yellowstone National Park

How complete is this guide?

The answer? Not very complete. Like most national parks, this place is pretty big. In fact, you can likely write a book or two about it. ​ If you feel something is missing or needs to be updated, you are welcome to contact us and contribute.

Introduction

When you think of national parks, chances are that Yellowstone National Park is one of the first things that comes to mind. The iconic landscape of this massive piece of land is synonymous with raw beauty, untouched wilderness areas, and ridiculously amazing landscapes. Throw in the fact that Yellowstone is one of the most seismically active places in the world, and you´ve got the recipe for a truly one of a kind natural experience.

Yellowstone National Park, is a pretty huge place; almost 3,500 square miles to be exact. Trying to plan a weekend getaway or even a weeklong vacation can seem like a pretty tall task with so many different options and attractions. In this complete guide to Yellowstone National Park, we´ll do our best to guide you through all of the different attractions that are available to you and your family so that your next trip to Yellowstone will be unforgettable and unique.

Yellowstone National Park History

While many of us might think that Yellowstone began once it was formally declared a national park, indigenous people have been living in the park for well over 11,000 years; following the herds of buffalo over the mountains and plains. There are over 1,000 archaeological sites scattered throughout the park giving testament to the rich, anthropological history of the area.

In the early 1800´s, during the Lewis and Clark expedition, John Colter, accidentally got separated from the expedition while off trapping animals. He eventually found his way to what is now a portion of Yellowstone National Park. He suffered through an entire winter in the park occasionally fighting with indigenous tribes that inhabited the area and miraculously survived.

When he eventually made it back to the expedition, he told tales of a place that reeked of fire and brimstone (in apparent allusion to the geysers and seismic activity). The rest of the group thought his tales to be the result of too many months out in nature by himself and playfully referred to the place as “Colter´s Hell.”

During the Civil War, in 1862, the area which now compromises Yellowstone was given over to the Department of the Interior. Ten years later, the U.S. Congress and President Teddy Roosevelt the union general who fought during the Civil War, declared Yellowstone a national park, the first ever national park on a worldwide scale.

Yellowstone National Park gets its name from the nearby Yellowstone River which has its headwaters within the park boundaries. The Yellowstone River was named by a pair of French Trappers who translated the river from the native Hidatsa name for the river, which roughly translates as Rock Yellow River.

Since being founded as a national park, Yellowstone has continued to attract the wonder and fascination of millions of people from around the world.

Some Interesting Facts about Yellowstone National Park

  • Yellowstone became a national park on March 1, 1872.

  • It is the United States first national park and is also considered to be the world´s first national park.

  • Yellowstone National Park is so large that it actually takes up three different states (Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming) and is close to 3,500 square miles in size. This makes Yellowstone larger than both Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

  • Because of how it is located above seismically active tectonic plates, Yellowstone receives anywhere between 1000 and 3000 earthquakes each year!

  • As a national park, Yellowstone has more active geysers (300) than waterfalls (290).

  • Yellowstone is home to 67 species of mammals, 285 species of birds, 16 species of fish, 6 species of reptiles, 5 species of amphibians, and more than 7 aquatic nuisance species.

  • The Canadian lynx and the grizzly bear, both of which are endangered species, find extensive habitat within the park´s boundaries.

  • Yellowstone has over 450 miles of roads throughout the park allowing you to explore from your car if hiking isn´t your thing.

  • If you do enjoy hiking, however, you´ll find over 1,000 miles of trails throughout the park.

  • In 2015, over 4 million people visited Yellowstone, the vast majority during the peak summer months.

  • Old Faithful, the park´s most famous geyser, gets its name because of the regularity with which it erupts. Every 92 minutes, almost on the dot, Old Faithful will erupt sending up a spout of hot, sulfur-smelling water into the air.

What’s Going On Underneath Your Feet: The Geology of Yellowstone National Park?

One of the biggest attractions of Yellowstone National Park is the hundreds of geysers that dot the landscape throughout the park. While some of them, like Old Faithful, “erupt” every certain amount of time, others are simply unpredictable, making this land of “fire and brimstone” as it was called by one early explorer, a landscape unlike any other. But what causes Yellowstone to be such a hotbed of seismic activity?

Yellowstone National Park sits on top of the northeastern part of the North American Tectonic Plate. Directly underneath this tectonic plate is a stationary mantle hotspot of lava, magma, and other signs of seismic activity. Since Yellowstone is on the boundary of this plate, there are hundreds of places throughout the park where the hotspot just below the earth´s crust emerges to the surface in the form of geysers, hot springs, and sulfur spouts.

Furthermore, the Yellowstone Caldera is the largest volcanic system in North America, commonly called a “super volcano” because of the strength and frequency of the eruptions. When you´re hiking across Yellowstone, a thin crust of earth and rock is all that separates you from one of the largest magma chambers in the world that is thought to be 37 miles long, 18 miles wide and up to 7 miles deep!

Over half a million years ago, a massive volcanic eruption, over 1,000 times more powerful than the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in nearby Washington, created the current landscape and seismic activity. This eruption was so powerful that many scientists consider that it shaped the weather patterns that characterize our current civilization.

This extremely powerful history has left the landscape of Yellowstone with over 10,000 geothermal features including hotspots, geysers, hot springs and much more. Over 2/3 of the world´s geysers are located within the boundaries of the National Park.

Though you shouldn´t be too concerned, hundreds of scientists in collaboration with the U.S. government have set up a permanent station at Yellowstone to study the possibility of future mega-volcanic explosions. Taking a trip to Yellowstone, then, should be considered an adrenaline pumping experience, knowing that you´re visiting a place that could potentially explode at any minute!

Hiking in Yellowstone National Park

With over a thousand miles of trail and 3,500 square miles of mostly wilderness area, Yellowstone certainly has more than enough areas to explore. While it is hard to narrow down the list of “must-do” hikes to just a few, we´ve attempted to give you list of the top five day hikes at Yellowstone that will introduce you to the incredibly rich and diverse landscape of the park. For more options, be sure to visit the Visitor´s Center once you get to the park, and always check with park rangers since some trails are periodically closed off due to abnormally high geothermal activity.

Uncle Tom's Trail

From the South Rim of the Yellowstone Canyon Area, Uncle Tom´s Trail offers a short but strenuous hike that will give you some fantastic views of some of the best waterfalls in the park. The trail is actually a metal staircase that will take you down 328 steps to the rim of Yellowstone Canyon. The views of the canyon and the Lower falls are spectacular, though the hike back up will certainly tire you out. It´s not every day, however, that you´re able to descend into a steep canyon without the use of ropes and climbing gear.

Lava Creek Trail

This 8 mile round trip hike leaves near the Mammoth Campground. If you´re looking for a quality hike that will take you by rivers and creeks, through steep canyons, and also offer quality overlooks, this is the hike for you. If you´re lucky, you might also catch a glimpse of a herd of buffalo passing through the river which is a sight definitely worth seeking out.

Mount Washburn Trail

Just north of Canyon Village, you will be able to find the Mount Washburn Trailhead. This 6.4 mile round tripper is a fairly easy hike with only a few moderate uphill climbs making it a great option for a family hike. There are several sweeping lookout points that will give you access to incredible scenery. These lookout stations are also some of the best places in the park to look for wildlife including grizzly bears, buffalo, and everything in between.

Fairy Falls Trail

If you make a reservation to see one of Old Faithful´s early eruptions, don´t head back to camp right away. Just north of the Old Faithful Geyser you will find the Fairy Falls trailhead. This easy 5 mile round trip hike will take you very near the Midway Geyser Basin and the Grand Prismatic Spring. The Grand Prismatic Spring is easily the most colorful geyser in the whole park and will remind you of a deserted Caribbean beach, minus the not so lovely smell of sulfur. There is also a new growth forest that can help young children understand the importance of reforestation efforts.

Backpacking in Yellowstone National Park

Not every traveler or visitor to Yellowstone is content with the short and fairly easy day hikes. While the day hikes definitely show you some of the most unique features of Yellowstone, they are also usually pretty crowded with tourists, especially during the summer months. If you´re wanting to explore a bit of the less explored areas of Yellowstone, below you´ll find several quality backpacking trips that will take you into the places inhabited by only buffalo and grizzly bears.

Sky Rim Trail

The Sky Rim Trail is a one of a kind backcountry trail that traverses the Gallatin Mountain Range in the northwestern part of the park. Bordering the park is the Gallatin National Forest, and this trail takes you right along the edge of the park. The 21 mile round trip is strenuous at times, especially during the summit of the 9,899 foot Big Horn Peak. Once you make it up to the top, however, you´ll be rewarded with some of the best panoramic views the park has to offer, including an uninterrupted view all the way to the Grand Teton National Park which you can see on a clear day.

Another attraction of this trail is the herds of sheep, found appropriately on Sheep Mountain, another moderately difficult summit that you´ll have to cross. Start your trip at the Dailey Creek Trail, and if you plan to spend a night or two camping on the trail, apply for a backcountry permit and seek out the best view for a perfect night. There are frequent afternoon storms, so be careful when picking the best spot for camping.

Thunderer Cutoff/Cache Creek Hike

This is only an 18.5 mile hike, but the scenery is so astounding that you will want to stretch it into a day or two hike. Also located in northeastern Yellowstone which is one of the least developed parts of the park, this trail starts at the Thunderer Cutoff trail before taking you through the Cache Creek drainage all the way to the Lamar River where you´ll meet up with the relatively easy Lamar Creek Trail.

This trail is only meant for serious backpackers as you´ll spend a little bit of time off the trail through creek beds, but is well worth it if you have some basic navigational skills. Just before you make it to the Lamar River, you´ll be able to see Death Gulch, which is a geothermal basin for Wahb Springs. If you want to (carefully) explore some of the geothermal activity of the park on your own, this is a great opportunity.

Near the Cache Creek and Lamar River you have a pretty good chance of running into herds of bison as well, so make sure to be on the lookout for all sorts of wildlife.

Mary Mountain Trail

This 20 mile backpacking trip will take you into a different part of Yellowstone which may make you feel like you´re in a completely different ecosystem. The thick grasslands of the Central Plateau of Yellowstone are the favorite abode of the herds of bison, and you might find that you run into a traffic jam of buffalo during your trip.

For adventure seekers who have always wanted to look for a grizzly bear in the wild, this is most likely the best place to do it. Fatal bear attacks have occurred in this area, so take precaution and make lots of noise to alert the bears of your presence.

This unique trail starts in the grasslands, rises through thick pine forest before taking you to Mary Lake, a charming small mountain lake which is synonymous with true wilderness.

Family Activities at Yellowstone National Park

You don´t have to venture into the wilderness to brave the bears and bison in order to enjoy Yellowstone. There are dozens of family oriented and family centered activities that make Yellowstone a great place for a memorable family vacation. Below we´ll explore four different activities that can be enjoyed in family and leave your kids with lifelong memories of the beauty of this one of a kind national park.

Visit the Geysers

Without a doubt, one of the best attractions of Yellowstone for young kids is seeing the super-hot and sulfur-smelling water erupt hundreds of feet into the air in the form of geysers. A child´s imagination can run wild when contemplating these truly unique spectacles along with boiling mud pots, steam vents, and hot springs that look like a tropical beach.

The Upper Geyser Basin has the highest amount and concentration of geothermal features anywhere in the park (and in the world, for that matter). A nice boardwalk makes for an easy path allowing kids to see the unique geothermal features while also keeping them at a safe distance. Midway Geyser Basin is home to the world´s largest hot spring and is also a family friendly place to stop.

A Family Bike Ride

Though you might not want to take young kids for a cycling tour on the paved roads that you´ll have to share with cars, Yellowstone National Park also has hundreds of miles of dirt roads that are open to mountain biking.

Blacktail Plateau Drive is a sweet seven mile trip through meadows, mountains and forests and will definitely get you some great opportunities for wildlife sighting. Another good family ride to consider is the 5 mile cruise along the Old Gardiner road which is graveled. This old road is the best place in the park to spot elk and pronghorn which might be a bit safer for young kids that going into the heart of grizzly country.

There are several places around the park where you can rent bikes, including near the Old Faithful Geyser which allows you to explore some of the geothermal activity in the area from the safety of your bike.

Horseback Riding

If you´re not a huge fan of pedaling, signing up for a horseback riding trip is the quintessential family activity, and you´d be hard pressed to find better scenery for a trip that at Yellowstone National Park. The wide open meadows and plains of Yellowstone make it a perfect place for a horseback ride and can get younger children a higher vantage point to spot distant wildlife and appreciate the views.

There are a number of horseback riding outfits in and around the park, and you could even sign up for a covered wagon ride so that you and your family can get the true Wild West historical experience. Most horse operations require children to be at least eight years old to sign up, so make sure to plan accordingly.

White Water Rafting

Trying to hold on to your tube while going through a class five rapid might not sound like a great family activity, but the rivers that run through Yellowstone National Park have a number of easy to moderate rapids that are family friendly. The Yellowstone River, Madison River, and Snake Rivers all offer cool rafting expeditions, with the Snake River being the most intense of the three.

Some rafting companies even offer complete packets that combine zip lines with white water rafting adventures; a perfect combination for family fun.

Other Things Not to Miss at Yellowstone National Park

There simply isn´t enough space here to list ALL the great things to do and places to explore around Yellowstone. One of the most unique aspects of this park is that its natural biodiversity allows it to offer all different types of activities for different people. While the vast majority of visitors to the park stick to the most well-known attractions, getting “off the beaten path” and doing things that most visitors would never think of is a way to make your Yellowstone trip stand apart from the rest. Below you´ll find a couple of quality options to spice up your trip to Yellowstone.

Avoid the Grandstands to see Old Faithful

Old Faithful is arguably the park´s most well-known and famous feature. Especially during the summer months, thousands of people line up to see it´s timed explosions. The park has even built bleachers too help accommodate the crowds but if you don´t get there on time, chances are that you´ll be trying to see the eruption over the head of someone in front of you.

For a more “private” showing of and Old Faithful eruption, simply walk around to the back of the geyser along the boardwalk. From there, you can leisurely hang your feet over the boardwalk and watch Old Faithful erupt without all the fanfare of hundreds of other tourists crowded around you.

Get a Private View of Yellowstone´s Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is another favorite for tourists, along with the beautiful Upper and Lower Falls at the canyon. Instead of trying to meditate on the beauty of nature while surrounded by hundreds of talkative tourists, try this alternative, little-known path to get a view with solitude of the Canyon and the falls.

From the Upper Falls parking lot, walk left of the overlook (most of the crowds just go to the overlook). A short trail over two wooden bridges will get you a beautiful view of the upper fall complete with rainbows and mist. Best of all is that you will most likely have the place all to yourself.

Try Out a Naturally Jacuzzi in a Thermal Pool

While most of the thermal pools around Yellowstone are so hot that they´d end up giving your third degree burns, there is one gem of a pool that allows you to swim in it comfortably. Not many tourists know of this tiny, thermal pool, but it´s only a ten minute drive from Mammoth.

Head north until you reach a sign that says “welcome to Montana.” There, park on the right side of the road where you see a trailhead. Only 1/3 of a mile up the path you will find the Boiling River which is (as its name implies) a thermal river that is boiling hot. Though you can´t bathe there, a couple more minutes up the path and you´ll find that the Boiling River flows into the Gardiner River (which is a regular cold water river.

Where these two rivers meet you´ll find a perfect mix of hot and cold waters and steam rising up around you. This unique thermal pool is truly a one of a kind Yellowstone experience.

Watch the Bison Take a Steam Bath

If you are wanting to get a National Geographic-esque wildlife picture while at Yellowstone, Mud Volcano offers you a great chance for a great shot. Herds of buffalo usually enjoy the Yellowstone River near Mud Volcano, and a couple of geysers rising out of the river banks are also a place the bison go to warm up. Getting a shot of these majestic animals while geothermal steam rises up around them with the Yellowstone River in the background is definitely Instagram worthy.

Best Time of Year to Visit Yellowstone National Park

The vast majority of tourists show up to Yellowstone during the summer months and for good reason. The summer weather at Yellowstone averages a comfortable 75 degrees and offers long days of sunlight. At the same time, all the park attractions are open (unless unexpected geothermal activity is occurring). The downside of visiting Yellowstone during the summer, however, is the crowds which can be suffocating, especially at some of the most famous attractions such as Old Faithful.

In the spring months of April and May, you´ll be able to miss the biggest crowds, though the weather is unpredictable. Temperatures can rise into the 60´s, but a snowfall isn´t out of the question either. Some of the main roads will probably be closed until mid April meaning that some things will be off limits. However, the beauty of watching the park emerge from its winter hibernation is well worth the extra cold.

Early fall time is our recommendation for the best time to visit Yellowstone. The weather is still decent while the main summer crowds will have started to diminish. It´s also a great time to see certain types of wild flowers while the bison and other wildlife will just out foraging before the winter months hit.

Winter at Yellowstone is a treat for adrenaline seekers. Be forewarned that the park experiences heavy snowfall and bitter cold. However, if you come prepared, you´ll get the deepest type of solitude and some truly magnificent winter scenery.

Conclusion

There aren´t many places in our world where you can go and say that you were walking around the mouth of a super volcano ready to erupt at any moment. Yellowstone National Park offers visitors a unique perspective of the geothermal activity going on just below the earth´s crust. At the same time, Yellowstone is a place alive with herds of bison, elk and pronghorn and one of the best places in the lower 48 states to see a grizzly bear.

In this complete guide to Yellowstone National Park, we´ve done our best to choose some of the best hikes, backpacking trips, family activities, and other unique activities to make your Yellowstone experience truly unforgettable.

Complete Guide to Joshua Tree National Park

Welcome to our guide about Joshua Tree National park.  Just a quick note before we get started:

How complete is this guide?...

Like most national parks, this place is pretty big. In fact, you can likely write a book or two about it. ​  If you feel something is missing or needs to be updated, you are welcome to contact us and contribute

Introduction

When we think of national parks, the first image that comes to mind is that of pristine mountain lakes, towering mountain ranges, and roaring rivers where all sorts of wildlife find an abundant habitat. Very rarely do we consider an arid desert to be the representation of an unspoiled natural area.

Nonetheless, deserts are unique ecosystems that offer home and habitat to thousands of different types of flora and fauna. And despite their apparent harshness, many deserts around the world are actually fragile ecosystems that warrant protection and preservation.

The Joshua Tree National Park is one of the nation´s largest desert areas that is officially protected by the U.S. government. Spanning an area that is larger than the state of Rhode Island, this desert paradise offers a whole range of outdoors activities, from desert hiking to star gazing.

In this complete guide to the Joshua Tree National Park, we give you all the information you need to plan a one of a kind trip to one of our nation´s most unique ecosystems.

Joshua Tree National Park History

Joshua Tree National Park officially became a national park only a little over two decades ago. However, it has been a National Monument since the 1930´s. The park is named for the Joshua tree, Yucca Brevifolia in Latin, an inimitable desert tree that is appears to be a hybrid between a palm tree and a cactus. The abundance of these increasingly rare trees in the National Park may make you feel like you´re in the middle of a scenery painted by the famous children´s author Dr. Seuss.

Minerva Hoyt was one of the United States first female environmental activists and spent her life struggling to protect the desert areas of her native southern California. Despite her concerted efforts to protect the area now known as Joshua Tree National Park, over 250,000 acres of the park were given over to mining interests in the 1950´s.

However, when the park became a park in 1994 due to the signing of the Desert Protection Act by the U.S. Congress, most of those acres were reincorporated into the protected area of the park.

Some Interesting Facts on the Joshua Tree National Park

  • The park has over 790,000 acres, making it larger than the state of Rhode Island

  • Over half of the Joshua Tree National Park is a designated wilderness area waiting to be explored by desert lovers

  • The famous band “U2” has an album named after the national park´s namesake: The Joshua Tree

  • The name “Joshua Tree” was given by early Mormon settlers who thought that the tree looked like the biblical character of Joshua who raised his hands to the heavens

  • In Spanish, the tree is called “izote del desierto”, roughly translated as desert dagger

  • Joshua trees are an indicator species that designate an area as a desert

  • The Joshua Tree National Park is unique in that it encompasses two distinct desert ecosystems: the Colorado Desert which is a lowland desert and the higher Mojave Desert which is over 3,000 feet in elevation

  • Over 2.5 million people visited the park in 2016

  • Despite officially being a desert ecosystem, the Little Bernandino Mountains run through a part of the park and can occasionally receive snow fall during the winter months

  • Geologists estimate that the rock formations in the park are well over 100 million years old

  • There are also several oases located throughout the parks where lush green vegetation contrasts sharply with the dryness of the surrounding landscape

Joshua Tree National Park Geography, Geology, Ecology and Botany

One of the most interesting and fascinating aspects of Joshua Tree National Park and desert ecosystems in general is their unique geology, ecology and botany. While most people are under the impression that deserts are harsh, cruel environments where few forms of life exist, deserts are actually teeming with different forms of life that have adapted over the course of millions of years to the specific climatic conditions.

Geography

From a Geographical standpoint, the national park is unique in that while all of the park is considered to be a desert, it is actually made up of two very distinct desert ecosystems. The Mojave Desert is higher and significantly cooler than the Colorado desert which is much lower. It is in this higher desert where the Joshua Tree best grows.

The eastern part of the park is where you will find the lower and hotter Colorado Desert. This desert ecosystem has much less Joshua trees and more typical desert type flora including desert scrub and cacti.

Geology

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Joshua Tree National Park are the unique rock formations that can be found around the park. Visitors often describe the rock strewn landscape as otherworldly with comparisons to Martian and Lunar landscapes common.

Geologists estimate that the unique rock formations scattered around the park were formed over 100 million years ago as molten lava boiled up to the earth´s surface and cooled just before the earth´s surface. This eventually formed a type of granite rock called monzogranite where a bizarre collection of rectangular joints, slow erosion, and ground water percolation eventually created these massive rock formations that continue to fuel our imagination.

Though it may be hard to imagine, the geology of the national park was also formed by flash floods and times of wetter climate when rain and rivers also contributed to the slow erosion of the rock faces.

Botany

While most travelers come to the park to see the oddly formed, Dr. Seuss-reminiscent Joshua Tree, there are dozens of other unique plant species that make up the botany of the park. Among the rock outcroppings, especially in the cooler Mojave Desert, you can find desert tree species such piñon pine, Juniper and a number of desert oak trees that are hard to find in almost any other part of the world.

The lower desert in the south and east parts of the park has large sand dunes, cacti and other scrub bush. Native California palm trees, called Fan Palms, occur throughout the park where oases form.

Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park

Without a doubt, one of the main attractions for nature lovers who come to Joshua Tree National park is the fairly large network of hiking trails. If you are worried about hiking into a desert for a multi-day trip, there are also a number of nature trails and short day hikes that will give you a unique insight into the desert reality.

Below we look at the top five trails in the park, three of which are longer hikes and two shorter hikes that pretty much anyone can handle.

Forty-Nine Palms Oasis

This three mile round trip hike is a good middle ground for people who want a little more desert exposure than what you can get on the nature trails, but aren´t quite ready to haul with them several gallons of water into the desert night.

This trail also will allow you to explore the oasis ecosystem where the contrast with the dry desert surroundings will make you feel as if you have found a Garden of Eden. The unique Californian Fan Palms surround the oasis where, especially during certain times of the year, you will even be able to find standing water. Imagine taking a swim in the middle of the desert!

The hike to the oasis is moderately strenuous, but you should be able to find abundant wildlife, especially a number of unique bird species that populate the oases in the park.

Lost Palms Oasis

Not all oases are the same, and the 7.2 mile hike to the Lost Palms Oasis is significantly different than the previous hike we reviewed. This hike starts at the Cottonwood Spring, which is an oasis in itself that is worth seeing. This spring has been used for hundreds of years, starting with the Cahuilla indigenous group that lived in the region prior to western settlement.

From the Cottonwood spring, a fairly easy hike through the desert will take you to a spectacular overlook of the Lost Palms Oasis. From there, you can choose to wander into the oasis which is actually situated within a canyon.

For more adventurous hikers, some boulder scrambling can be found nearby at Victory Palms and Munsen Canyon. This hike can take anywhere between 4-6 hours (and more if you decide to explore other nearby areas) so be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen with you. If you have some simple purification equipment, you can refill your water supply at the oasis.

Be on the lookout for bobcats and mountain lions as several visitors have claimed that the Lost Palms Oasis is a prime spot for spotting these hard to find cats.

Boy Scout Trail

If you are wanting a true desert adventure that can be turned into an overnight experience, the Boy Scout Trail is the hike for you. At just over 16 miles round trip, this hike isn´t for novices, and you will have to carry with you a fair amount of water.

This unique trail passes through the Wonderland of Rocks, which offers seemingly endless vistas of the unique, otherworldly rock formations that dot the park. This trail is also shared by horseback riders, so if a member of your family isn´t keen on hiking through the desert on their own two legs, you should be able to rent a horse for the day as well.

Spending the night under the desert sky is an experience that should not be missed, and the Boy Scout Trail is perhaps the best place in the park for an overnight trip. Any number of rock outcroppings along the trail offers a quality desert shelter. Make sure to check out the Backcountry Board once you get to the park to find information on overnight use for this trail.

Hidden Valley Nature Walk

For less avid hikers who still want to get the desert experience, the Hidden Valley Nature Walk is a great alternative. Much shorter than the previous three trails, this one mile loop trail will take you among massive boulders and offers vistas of a number of desert panoramas.

Because this valley is situated in between the two desert ecosystems, visitors to this trail will be able to observe pretty much every type of tree that grows in the park. From the infamous Joshua trees, to piñon pine, Juniper, desert oak trees, cacti and scrub brush, this trail will give you the full park experience in only one mile of hike.

The large rock formations are also a popular destination for mountain climbers and you´re bound to find a number of climbers hanging perilously from the sides of rock faces. This makes for an interesting side attraction. A nearby campground is also available year round.

Ryan Mountain

If you are looking for the best place to enjoy spectacular desert panoramic views and sunsets, look no further than Ryan Mountain. At 5,456 feet, Ryan Mountain towers over the rest of the landscape. The relative lack of vegetation on top of the mountain allows for spectacular vistas of the surrounding desert.

While the hike to the top is only a mile and a half long you will be ascending over 1,000 feet, making it a moderately strenuous hike. The views of the Pinto Basin and the Lost Horse Valley are well worth the climb, and the sunsets from the summit turn the surrounding desert landscape into a blaze of intense colors.

Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park

While the hiking trails throughout the park are undoubtedly one of the main attractions in the park, there are also a number of high adrenaline climbing activities. Since none of the rock formations are very tall (most of them are actually under 200 feet in height), the climbs aren´t very long.

There are, however, varying degrees of difficulty, and you can design your own climbing circuit throughout the park. There are over 400 different objects to be scaled in the park, and thousands of potential routes.

If climbing isn´t your thing, you can also find places around the park for bouldering. Below we look at three of the best places to get the adrenaline flowing on the rocks. All three of these climbs are easily accessible from Quail Springs.

Trashcan Rock

While the name doesn´t sound classy, this popular crag has a number of different routes for all levels of expertise. The more commonly climbed west face is great for beginners, and can be mastered with even the minimum of training and experience. The eastern face of the rock, however, presents significant challenges.

One thing to keep in mind is that there are not permanent anchors at Trashcan Rock so you will need to bring along your gear anchors. Also, if you´re looking for a bit of solitude on your climb, don´t come during the weekend when the rock is almost always filled with amateur climbers.

Hound Rocks

This rock face is actually composed of two separate rocks with a narrow canyon in between. History tells us that it used to be the site of a long since abandoned mining camp. To get to Hound Rocks, you´ll need to drive to the Quail Springs parking lot, and then follow a simple path over some sand dunes.

The two best routes on this climb are named the “right Baskerville Crack” and “Tossed Green.” Both of these receive a good amount of sun early in the morning. If you´re looking to stay cool during your climb consider adding this climb to your route during the afternoon hours.

White Cliffs of Dover

If you are looking for a place to prepare for a bigger climb, say at Yosemite National Park, then the White Cliffs of Dover offer a quality training grounds. The White Cliffs of Dover have a number of features that are pretty similar to the legendary granite rock faces at Yosemite.

The cracks and corners on the climb will prepare you for what you´ll find if you are preparing for Half Dome or El Capitan in Yosemite. Furthermore, this is one of the only areas in the park where you´ll find smooth, fine grained granite. Most of the other rocks don´t have the smoothness because of the desert climate.

Other Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park

While mountain biking or hiking, there are also a number of other great activities that you can incorporate into your planned trip to Joshua Tree National Park. The unique desert ecosystem offers a number of unique opportunities for activities such as birding, mountain biking, and four wheel driving. For people who live in cities or other urban places with massive amounts of light pollutions, the desert nights and the dark sky also make amateur astronomy a great enjoyment for the whole family.

Birding

For bird watchers, the idea of finding a plethora of species in the desert might sound counterintuitive. From experience, most birders know that the majority of bird species flock to places where there is an abundance of water and tree habitat, no exactly what you would expect to find in the desert. Nonetheless, Joshua Tree National Park is home to over 250 species of birds, many of them rare species who only live in harsh desert climates.

The several oases around the park provide needed refuge and habitat for several species of birds who find themselves “trapped” by desert on every side. In many ways, the relatively small spaces of oases make birdwatching almost too easy, as you´ll likely see dozens of different species during any visit.

If you are looking for some of the rarer desert species such as greater road runner, the cactus wren, or several different types of mockingbirds, they are also quite prevalent throughout the different areas of the park. Some of the rarest species that birders come to look for include the ladder backed woodpecker and the oak titmouse.

Since most of the bird species can be found most easily around an oasis, you can combine a hike to one of the oases, with a planned overnight backcountry trip where you will be able to search for birds during the evenings and early mornings.

Astronomy

For many folks who come from the city, one of the most awe inspiring sights in Joshua Tree National Park doesn’t have to do with anything that is actually in the park, but what is above it during the night. While most of southern California is infamously renowned for its massive amounts of light pollution and smog that essentially block out the lights from the stars. Joshua Tree National Park is far enough away from the urban area to escape these phenomena.

Furthermore, the desert night usually produces clear skies with very few clouds and very little humidity or other forms of interference. For these reasons, the park is also a favorite for astronomers and star gazers.

According to the Bortle Dark Sky scale, the park has a dark sky rating of 3-4, which is significantly darker than most other places around the country. Be sure to bring a pair of binoculars and some simple sky maps to help you navigate the constellations. If you can plan your trip around a known meteor shower, you´ll find it difficult to sleep while watching hundreds of falling starts rip across the massive sky above you.

Mountain Biking and Four Wheel Driving

Joshua Tree National Park is also a great spot for people looking for a mountain biking or four wheel driving adventure. While there are several paved roads throughout the park, there are much more relatively solitary backcountry roads that the park allows 4 wheel drive vehicles to enter. Make sure you stay on the road, whether you´re on a bike or in a truck since tracks in the desert can last for years and disrupt the vulnerable desert ecosystems.

Below we look at three backcountry roads that are great for either a mountain biking trip or a four wheel drive experience.

Pinkham Canyon Road

This twenty mile road is a challenge for mountain bikers. It takes you deep into a canyon and then through flood plains. The soft sand might be a challenge to pull your bike or car through, so come prepared for some tough terrain.

Geology Tour Road

This backcountry trip is an adventure and a geology lesson all wrapped into one. The roughly 18 mile round trip has 16 stops along the way to help novices understand the subtle differences in the fascinating rock formations that you´ll be seeing. Make sure to bring along an informative brochure that explains each of the 16 stops so you´ll know what you´re witnessing in geological terms.

Black Eagle Mine Road

For a different route consider the Black Eagle Mine Road. This route will take you through the Eagle mountains, through several different dry washes, and along the Pinto basin. After nine miles or so you will leave the park, but the road continues where you´ll find remnants of several old, abandoned mines.

Best Time of Year to Visit Joshua Tree National Park

Just a quick tip from a reader, you should book a campsite months in advance. Even during the week, during peak season.

The best time of year to visit the park really depends on what you are looking for and wanting to do. For hikers, one of the main attractions is finding wildflowers bloom in the desert, a unique experience in itself. In order to see the flowers, however, you will have to plan a trip in the late fall.

If you want to avoid the crowds, the winter months are the best though the desert can get cold and even experience snowfall at the higher elevations. For milder temperatures to avoid heat exhaustion while exploring the desert, your best bet is to visit during the early spring. No matter when you come, however, Joshua Tree National Park always has something to offer.

Precautions to Protect Wildlife

It goes without saying that those who visit national parks do so to satiate a pull towards nature. This may seem obvious, but it’s important to be mindful of the wildlife surrounding you and remind yourself that you are visitors in their home.

Tortoises are frequently were killed by negligent drivers. Park officials have advised drivers to look out for large boulders or rocks that could actually be tortoises, PLEASE BE CAREFUL

Why Tortoises?

The urgency to protect these tortoises comes from their status as a threatened species, but an increase in their deaths could lead to having them put on the endangered list. As spring blooms increase, so does the presence of hungry tortoises. Be sure to do your part in keeping these tortoises safe in their natural habitat.

Dangers of Off Trail Hiking

While taking the path less traveled can seem appealing for many reasons, it also carries with it several dangers. Here are some tips to maneuver the unbeaten trail:

  • Do your research, plan your route, and study your map beforehand.

  • Consider factors such as weather, wildlife, and terrain.

  • Be over-prepared for “what if” situations. If you twist an ankle off trail and your one-day hike suddenly turns into a two-day hike, will you have enough food and water to sustain yourself?

  • Be honest with yourself: are you fit enough to handle the trail? Know your limits and start off small.

How much water will you need?

The amount of water you carry should be dictated by the time of year. Pre-hydration is essential, so drink at least 1 liter before starting your hike. Water filters can cut the amount of water you carry, but this depends on how many sources of water you will come across.

Don’t forget the wildlife!

Familiarize yourself with the wildlife that inhabits the park. This includes being prepared for mosquitos and storing your food safely from rodents.

Be vigilant

Take extra precautions. It’s fairly common for people to mistake soft terrain for solid ground, lose their footing, and fall several feet off path. This could lead to serious injuries coupled with being out of range of other hikers and park rangers, delaying rescue time.

The Rules of Off Trail Hiking

When considering off trail hiking, be sure to stay within park restrictions. In many cases, off trail hikers who were rescued from accidents were found in restricted areas. On top of having to pay for medical bills, they were written citations for breaking park rules. Off trail hiking not only puts you in danger, but it also puts the lives of rescuers in danger as well.


Solo Off Trail Hiking

The risks that come with off trail hiking automatically increase if you are hiking off trail alone. The intimacy with nature that comes with solo hiking is understandable, and while many can advise you against hiking off trail alone, the decision is ultimately yours.

  • Leave an itinerary with someone back home including the date and time you expect to get back.

  • Consider investing in a GPS device, but don’t rely too heavily on it.

  • Always have a map and compass for guidance.

  • Check in with park rangers along the way.

The biggest dangers that come with off trail hiking are getting lost and getting injured, but with enough preparation, it is possible to successfully execute an off trail hike.

Conclusion

Without a doubt, Joshua Tree National Park offers a unique desert geography, otherworldly geological rock formation, spectacular hiking trails, high adrenaline climbing and mountain biking paths, and so much more. For a truly authentic desert experience, look no further than Joshua Tree National Park.

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  • Need To Keep Your stuff Fresh on your next trip? Don't forget To to read our post about the best coolers you can buy. 

Complete Guide to Yosemite

The first effort to protect the area that is now Yosemite National Park was actually done by President Abraham Lincoln (a pretty influential person in American history) who signed a bill to protect parts of Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa grove of Sequoia trees.

John Muir, one of the best known American environmentalists, loved exploring the vast wilderness areas of northern California. The destruction of subalpine meadows around Yosemite Valley lead Muir into a prolonged struggle to protect the area which eventually lead to Yosemite becoming the nation´s second National Park (after Yellowstone) in 1890.

Even though the park was protected by the national government, the city of San Francisco, California had long been planning to dam the Tuolomne River as a source of drinking water and hydroelectric power for the city. Despite another long, political struggle (with Muir again at the forefront), the river was eventually damned. There are still efforts underway today to recover the natural state of the Tuolomne River which runs through the Hetch Hetchy Valley.

How Complete Is This Guide?

When it comes to any large place, it's hard to say the guide is "complete" - many of the places we write about can have a book (or even books) written about them. 

We do our best to visit, write, research, about all the places on this site. But alas, there are only so many hours in one day.

That said, if you want to contribute, or feel something somethign is incorrect, feel free to contact us to help make this guide a better places on the interwebs.

Unique Facts and Figures

  • Yosemite gets around 4 million visitors each year

  • The vast majority of those visitors never go beyond Yosemite Valley, a beautiful valley that only makes up 1% of the parks total area

  • Over 95% of Yosemite National Park is considered to be wilderness area.

  • Yosemite is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

  • Yosemite Falls, the parks biggest waterfall, falls 2,425 feet making it one of the tallest waterfalls in the world

  • The park has an elevation range that ranges from 2,127 to 13,114 feet

  • The original name for Yosemite was “Ahwahnee”, a term used by local indigenous people which meant “Big Mouth”

  • The park gets its name from another indigenous group (the Yohhe'meti) that lived in the region before being driven out by the U.S. army during the “Indian Wars”

  • Yosemite Valley has been inhabited for close to 3,000 years, a remarkable fact when considering the continued ecological health of the region

  • In 2016, over 5 million people visited Yosemite National Park

  • Among other attractions, Yosemite has 1600 miles of streams, 350 miles of roads, and 800 miles of hiking trails

Geology, Biodiversity, and Landscape

Yosemite National Park is a land of extremely diverse topography and landscapes. The Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project (https://pubs.usgs.gov/dds/dds-43/) was fundamental in mapping out the entire Sierra Nevada ecosystem where Yosemite is located and offers us an abundance of information regarding the natural wonders of Yosemite.

One of the best known features of Yosemite are the massive granite cliffs that rise throughout the park. “El Capitan” and Half Dome are two of the most easily recognizable (and most sought out by mountain climbers).

These granite cliffs began forming around ten million years ago when geological forces caused the Sierra Nevada to lift up and tilt to its side. This caused steep eastern slopes where much of Yosemite is located.

During one Ice Age, around one million years ago, glaciers dominated the high alpine meadows in the region. Scientists imagine that the ice around what is today Yosemite National Park might have been upwards of 4,000 feet thick, more than ¾ a mile thick. When that mass of ice began to slide downwards off the mountain, it carved out the U-shaped valley which is today called Yosemite Valley, the most famous part of the park.

Yosemite also has over 300 species of vertebrate animals in the park. Black bears, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and the grey wolf are some of the most sought after animals by tourists, though catching a glimpse of the grey wolf takes a considerable amount of patience and good luck.

Yosemite also has three separated and isolated groves of Sequoia Forest, which are home to some of the largest trees in the world. Outside the sequoia groves, the majority of the vegetation is made up of coniferous forest. Over 225,000 acres of old growth forest still remain standing and intact in Yosemite National Park, one of the few areas in the continental United States where old growth forest remains.

When to Visit Yosemite

If you don’t mind the crowds of picture taking tourists, visiting Yosemite Valley in the peak summer months is the way to go. You won’t get any sort of solitude and seclusion, but it can be fun to share the beauty of the valley with others. If, however, you want a more unique Yosemite experience, you will want to consider alternative times to visit the park.

How to Avoid the Crowds

To avoid the crowds in Yosemite Valley, you will have to avoid the summer peak period of June to August all together. However, if you want to explore the other 99% of the park outside the Valley, you can pretty much go any time during the year.

Spring time is by far one of the best times to visit the park. School hasn’t let out for the summer meaning that you’ll miss most of the family vacations. Furthermore, the relatively chilly nights will keep other tourists away.

The snowmelt is at its peak meaning that the waterfalls will be gushing and if you time your trip right, you will also be greeted by a mosaic of wildflowers throughout the park.

Yosemite with the Family

When most people think of Yosemite National Park, the first thing that comes to mind is the image of adrenaline seeking mountain climbers hanging off of the sheer granite face of Half Dome. While they certainly are fun to watch, that´s not exactly a family friendly activity. Taking on a 4,000 foot incline to make it to the top of Yosemite Falls with two toddlers also makes for quite a strenuous hike that isn´t exactly made for families.

If you have small children or a large family, there´s no reason to put off a vacation to Yosemite until the kids are grown and off to college. There are dozens of family friendly activities all throughout the park. From panning for gold in a pristine mountain river to enjoying easy nature hikes, we´ve got all the information you need to plan a quality family vacation to one of America´s most iconic national parks.

Visit the Giant Sequoias

What could be more unique than taking your tiny children to stare up into the canopy of the massive sequoias. One of the pleasures of being a parent is watching your children explore the natural world and express their awe and wonder and what they see around them.

Children love to explore the relatively easy trails throughout the two different groves of Sequoias in Yosemite National Park, and are encouraged to touch and explore the gigantic trees. At the very least, it will make for a great photo opportunity.

Panning for Gold in the Merced River

The Merced River is a great river for family fun. Unlike other mountain rivers with their quick currents and rapids, the Merced flows peacefully throughout Yosemite Valley. The relatively shallow areas with large sandy beaches make it a great place for a family picnic, some fun mini-tubing practice, and a chance to cool off from the warm summer temperatures.

You can also give your kids a history lesson on the California Gold Rush, as bits of gold can still be found in the Merced River. Read up on how to pan for gold, bring along some basic equipment, and see if your children can find some gold specks in the river sand.

Junior Ranger Program

An essential part of visiting the beautiful areas of our nation´s national parks is also teaching our children about the importance of protecting these pristine areas. Yosemite has a fantastic Junior Ranger program that is both educational and participative. Your kids will have to fill out a workbook on the park, learn about some of the park´s wildlife, and do a “service project” to help keep the park clean in order to earn their badge.

Drive up to Glacier Point

Just because your kids aren´t able or willing to endure a grueling 10 mile hike up to the top of Half Dome doesn´t mean that you can´t enjoy the stunning panoramic views that Yosemite offers. A short drive up to Glacier Point can be done with your kids which will offer you unbelievable views of the surrounding valley and most recognizable mountains.

For a real stunning experience, consider driving up around sunset during the full moon phase to watch the sun set and the moon rise. You can also enjoy a unique opportunity for star gazing at Glacier Point to get your kids interested in the heavens above.

Yosemite: So Much Family Fun

These are just a few of the activities that you and your family can enjoy while at Yosemite, but there are virtually unlimited amounts of activities that you can plan for the entire family. Ask the ranger station for other ideas for family centered activities at the park and you´ll soon find that your kids won´t ever want to leave.

What Each Season Offers

If you can’t make it to Yosemite in the spring, don’t fret. Each of the four seasons in Yosemite offers truly magical sights. The sunny, summer days are rightfully a crowd favorite, and if you don’t like cool temperatures, the warm, dry air is perfect for hiking and getting the best views.

Fall time in Yosemite also offers a way to avoid the crowds since most people stop visiting after Labor Day. The crisp night air often times drives out the summer haze leading to beautiful panoramic views. There is no better time of year to go stargazing at Yosemite than in September or October.

Though many of the parks roads close in winter time, the park service does regularly plow Glacier Point Road up to Badger Pass. Driving up to the pass after a night of snow fall will offer a magical glimpse of Yosemite´s winter wonders.

Furthermore, if you can make it to Yosemite in February, you will get to watch the Firefall, one of the most amazing natural phenomena in the world. The setting sun at that time of year is at such an angle that the sun illuminates Horsetail Falls in such a way that the falls glow orange and red while the sun sets.

Get Outdoors

Best Hikes

With 1,200 square miles, Yosemite is a backpacker and hikers dream. Since the majority of the crowds never leave Yosemite Valley which only makes up 1% of the park, you should be able to find plenty of solitude and untouched, natural beauty, whether that be on the cliffs of a high granite peak or in an unexplored valley.

Below we offer our five best hikes for true nature lovers. Four of these hikes are day hikes while one can be done as an overnighter.

Half Dome

This 17 mile round trip hike isn’t for folks who are out of shape. If you think that you have the energy and the stamina to make it up one of the largest granite rocks in the world, however, you will be rewarded with a once in a lifetime experience.

To begin your hike you will go by past two gorgeous waterfalls, Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, before hiking through thick pine forest. As you approach the top of the granite dome, you will have to pull yourself up with the aid of granite steps (think stairway of hell) and wire cables.

Once you make it to the top, however, the views are otherworldly with sweeping panoramas of Yosemite Valley and the surrounding landscape. You do need a permit to do this day hike so plan in advance.

Upper Yosemite Falls

If you make it Yosemite, you have to at least to try to climb up to the top of North Americas highest waterfall. The upper Yosemite Falls hike is a 7.2 mile round trip hike, though be warned that the majority of the trail is made up of steep, gruesome switchbacks.

Once you make it to the top of the falls, however, you will have gorgeous views of Half Dome and parts of the Yosemite Valley. You will also be able to say that you were at the headwaters of the largest waterfall on the continent.

Taft Point

If you are looking for a less strenuous hike, Taft Point is a relatively easy 2.2 mile round trip hike that takes you to the edge of Yosemite Valley and offers breathtaking views of the park’s main attractions.

You will also get to travel by deep cracks or crevices in the rock that extend several hundred feet downwards, displaying the geological and seismological activity of the park.

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

If you have never walked through a towering sequoia forest, it truly is a one of a kind experience that makes you see your life in perspective and consider your relative insignificance in the grand scheme of things.

There are a number of different trails leading through the forest, but you should definitely try and see the Grizzly Giant and the California Tunnel Tree, two of the most iconic giants.

Ostrander Lake

Nothing is quite so pleasant as spending the night camping in the wilderness on the shores of a pristine mountain lake. The Ostrander Lake trail isn’t as popular as some of Yosemite’s other trails, but that is what makes it so desirable.

If you are looking for great wilderness solitude, this 12.7 mile round trip hike will take you through meadows and prairies before climbing steeply to the Lake. You will also be gifted with breathtaking views of the Clark Mountain Range. Make sure to get a back country permit at the park offices before heading out to camp for the night.

Sentinel Meadows

Another fantastic overnighter to get away from the crowds is a hike through Sentinel Meadows. Besides offering fantastic views of pristine meadows and wildflowers, you also have your best bet of viewing grizzly bears along this trail.

The Sentinel Meadows Trail is managed by the Firehole Bear Management Area and is closed until Memorial Day Weekend every year. Once it opens, however, you have a pretty good chance of sighting a grizzly bear or two. Make sure to use precaution, but enjoy the adventure.

Best Mountain Climbing Adventures

For folks who are looking for more of an adrenaline rush than what hiking offers, there are a number of opportunities to mountain climb throughout the park. Yosemite is often considered to be a mountain climbers dream with numerous sheer granite cliffs and vertical faces over 3,000 feet high.

Below we offer some advice on two of the best climbs for adrenaline junkies. Make sure to check for any closures before planning your trip as the park often times unexpectedly closes a route for restoration. Also, if you are looking for guided mountain climbing trips, consider Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides (http://www.symg.com/trips/rockclimbing/)

Serenity Crack

This monster of a climb is one of the best crack climbs you can find. It is also a relatively easy climb for beginners since it is basically a manufactured climb with plenty of pin scars making it easy to find your way to the top.

Northwest Face of Half Dome

Climbing half dome is on every mountain climber´s bucket list. The granite face of Half Dome looks almost unclimbable from the base, but once you get started, you will find it impossible to turn around. During your ascent, there are a number of places where curious hikers will admire your insanity as you take the “short cut” to the top.

You will need a partner and lots of problem solving ability to be able to master this climb though most of the climbing in itself is actually moderate if you pick the right route.

Places To Stay

Originally we had a small section here of places to stay. To put nicely... We didn't do an amazing job of maintaining it.  

If you are interested in checking out the original listing or would like to add your hotel or place to stay, check out the article here.


The Wonder of Yosemite

The incredibly varied landscape of Yosemite offers so many different, unique views and adventure activities that pretty much anyone find something they love. From meandering through groves of giant Sequoias to climbing up a sheer granite face, Yosemite National Park is one place that everyone should visit.

Near By Cities

  • Although it's a bit of a drive, San Francisco is around a 3 hour drive away. 
  • Fresno is also pretty close and totally worth checking out!
  • Sacramento is also pretty close and worth checking out! 

Related Articles 

Has this article got you thinking about Camping? Remember to keep your food fresh & drinks cool with our recommended camping coolers. Check our guide it before you plan your next trip. We think you'll enjoy it.

Top Five Overnight Hikes in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States, and rightfully so. The beautiful mountains, pristine rivers, herds of wild buffalo, blazing hot springs and Geysers and so much more make this place a truly one of a kind environment.

It can be frustrating, however, to head to Yellowstone in hopes of getting a taste of the natural wilderness only to find that everywhere you go, you are surrounded by thousands of talkative tourists whose radios, picture taking and the like kind of takes the magic out of the moment.

While Yellowstone is known for drawing a crowd, there are also some fantastic places you can go to get away from the crowds and experience the essence of the wildness of one of America´s most iconic national parks. Below you´ll find information on five fantastic overnight hikes in Yellowstone National Park.

Ice Lake and Chain of Lakes

If you are looking for a hike that will take you away from the crowds as quickly as possible, this is the option for you. While it is only a 1.4 mile hike to this backcountry campground, that is more than enough distance to separate you from the majority of tourists who frown upon carrying their bed in a backpack.

They call this trail the chain of lakes because the trail follows a number of mountain lakes that form in descending fashion throughout the mountain. Ice Lake is the closest one, and you can choose how far you plan to go. Wolf Lake is about a 4 mile hike making it a bit more secluded than Ice Lake.

Howard Eaton Trail

For experienced backcountry backpackers who like the thrill of trying to blaze their own trail, the Howard Eaton Trail offers a unique challenge. This trail hasn’t been maintained in a number of years. While there are still parts of it where a trail is recognizable, other parts have been lost to vegetation.

Trying to find your way along a lost trail offers a healthy dose of adrenaline to anyone. Throw in the fact that this is prime grizzly bear country and you´ll find yourself instantly on your toes during the entirety of the hike. The old Howard Eaton Trail is the best place in the park for people wanting to explore on their own.

Bighorn Pass

If you want a little longer hike, the Bighorn Pass backpacking trip will take you close to 9 miles into the wilderness. This hike takes you along the Gallatin River and is one of the best places to find black bears, grizzly bears, and herds of elk.

There are a number of backpacker only campsites along the way and you might even be able to find a campsite near a marmot colony. Their friendly chirping will keep you entertained throughout the night.

Lamar River

The best place in the whole park to see the Lamar Valley and offers perhaps the best scenic, panoramic views. Furthermore, along the Lamar River you will most likely find bison footprints, and if you know how to recognize, the iconic gray wolf.

This area is known as the American Serengeti because of the huge amount of wildlife including bear, elk, antelope, wolves, and much more.

How to Get In to the Backcountry at Yellowstone

To get away from the crowds at Yellowstone, you can´t simply take a tent and sleeping bag and head into the wilderness. All backcountry travelers and campers need a permit to camp outside of the regular campgrounds.

You will need to apply at least 48 hours ahead of your planned trip. If you are planning to hike during peak summer season, you might also find that many of the backcountry campsites that you wanted to reserve have already been reserved, so plan accordingly.

The Hidden Wonders of Yellowstone

If you have seen Old Faithful and done some of the more common day hikes at Yellowstone but want to get away from the crowds, the backcountry of Yellowstone offers a glimpse into a whole different side of this classic National Park. Do your planning ahead of time and pick any of these five fantastic backpacking trips to get a taste of the unspoiled wilderness of Yellowstone.

Top 7 Day Hikes in Washington State

Rainforests and Open Meadows

Washington State isn’t often considered to be one of the most ecologically diverse states of our country. Nestled into the top northwestern corner of the United States, it often gets passed up on for other supposedly more exotic locations for hiking.

The difference between eastern and western Washington are so striking, however, that it might feel like you´ve travelled across the world after a short 5 hour car drive. From the lush Cascade Mountains and the Hoh Rainforests in the western part of the state to the dry, wheat fields and prairies of the eastern part of the state, Washington offers a number of uniquely different ecosystems and environments.

A fantastic vacation idea would be to start in the Spokane area of eastern Washington and drive all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Along the way be sure to check out some of these awe-inspiring day hikes.

Oregon Butte

The Blue Mountains in the south-eastern part of Washington aren’t as famous as their western counterparts, but they still have plenty to offer. The ridgeline trail that goes through the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness will take you to a beautiful overlook. On a clear day you will be able to see down into the valley of wheat fields and open spaces.

Tolmie Peak Lookout - Eunice Lake

There is something undeniably magical about mountain lakes, and the Tolmie Peak Lookout stairs down into the pristine Eunice Lake which shines like a sapphire amidst an emerald green softwood forest.

Located near Mount Rainier National Park, this simple day hike will offer you beautiful views of one of the most iconic peaks in the state of Washington while also taking you up to almost 6,000 feet elevation.

South Coldwater Trail

Mount Saint Helen´s might not be as active as it was a couple of decades ago, but this trail in the South Cascades region offers you a pretty unique experience. You will be able to take in pretty cool views of the old volcano itself while also appreciating the roaming herds of elk.

The South Coldwater Trail rambles through treeless valleys which still give testament to the power of destruction that Mount Saint Helens caused. At the same time, the renewed landscape filled with wild flowers speaks to the power and resiliency of the natural world.

Sunrise Ridge

In the northern part of the Olympic Mountains you can find a unique trail in Sunrise Ridge. This trail which is within Olympic National Park is a wildflower-lover´s delight. If you time it right you will find field upon field of every type of wildflower including lupine, larkspur and everything in between. This is also a great trail to come upon all sorts of wildlife.

Hoh Rainforest Trail

Really? A rainforest in the United States. While many of us might think that rainforests only exist in Brazil or Indonesia, the United States does have its own swath of untouched, virgin rainforest in the Hoh National Park.

Walking through the lush greenness of the Hoh Rainforest Trail is an experience unlike any other. Monstrous trees hung with thick moss and the unending song of hidden birds will make you feel like you´re in another country. The relatively open understory allows you to truly take in the beauty of America´s only rainforest.

Rialto Beach and Hole-in-the-Wall

While many people might think of the beach as a place to relax on the sand, the Pacific Coast of Washington is a perfect place to explore sea side cliffs and forests. The Rialto Beach and Hole-in-the-Wall offers a short 4 mile loop trail that is coastal hiking at its best. If you´re lucky, you might even find some tide pools filled with starfish and other unique sea creatures

Larch Lake

In the Central Cascades, Larch Lake trail offers one of the most secluded places you can get to in a day. This hike isn´t easy as you´ll gain over 2,500 feet of elevation in 12 round trip miles, but if you make it to the lake you´ll be greeted by one of the Cascades best kept secrets.

Hiking this trail in early fall is by far the best time as the azure glow of Larch Lake will contrast beautifully with the golden leaves of fall time.

A Must See: Spider Meadow

If you are in the Cascades Region, you will also want to check out Spider Meadow. A 13 mile round trip hike will take you through meadows and alpine highlands while giving you glimpse into the unique ecosystem of Glacier Peak Wilderness area.

Washington: So Much to See

Chances are that during your cross-state excursion throughout the state of Washington you´ll also come across dozens of other beautiful areas beckoning for you to stop and explore. You might not even be able to drive more than a couple miles without feeling the itch to see what´s over the hill. Exploring Washington State through these day hikes will offer you a glimpse into the natural beauty this state has to offer.

Seven Amazing Things to See in the Smoky Mountains

Let´s face it: not everyone is built for enduring the elements during a five day, strenuous backpacking trip up some 14,000 foot mountain. That´s what makes the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee so great. Even a few steps off the road and you´ll feel like you´re enveloped in a beautiful, pristine wilderness.

Watch the Sunset from Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the park at 6,643 feet. You can take the leisurely drive through the forest to the top of the dome where you will be greeted by outstanding panoramic views of the hazy, surrounding mountains. There is simply no better place to catch a sunset here in the park.

Laurel Falls Trail

If you are not in the best shape or don´t enjoy hiking up steep mountains, the Laurel Falls Trail offers a nice stroll through the woods. The 2.6 mile loop trail is mostly flat with a few small hills. But don´t let the ease of the hike fool you into thinking you won´t get to see much.

The culmination of the hike is a view of a gorgeous 80 foot high waterfall splashing into a small pool at its base. If you plan it at the right time of the year, you can also enjoy the flowering rhododendrons. This is a great hike to do with young children as it will open up to them the wonders of the natural world without not being too strenuous for their young legs.

Ramsey Cascades Trail

While the Laurel Falls are pretty accessible to anyone, the Ramsey Cascades Trail is a pretty strenuous trail. This 8-mile hike increases close to 2,000 feet in elevation which means that you probably won´t run in too many other people.

The trail takes you through beautiful forest and follows the gushing waters of a stream. If you make it to the end of the trail, you´ll be greeted to the park´s tallest waterfall with over 100 feet of fall. In the small pool at the bottom of the fall you should be able to find uniquely colored salamanders.

Watch the Foliage from Campbell Overlook

One of the most unique places in the park to see the autumn foliage is Campbell Overlook. It is the best place in the park to see towering Mount LeConte and other forests. You can get there by car, or, if you prefer, through numerous hiking trails.

Hike Up Mount LeConte

The Alum Cave Bluff Trail will take you up to the top of Mount LeConte, the most iconic peak in the Smoky Mountains National Park. While there are several different trails to help you get up Mount LeConte, this trail is the steepest, less-frequented, and offers several unique sights along its way.

From a spot called Inspiration Point you can hike through an arch and get a view of the “Eye of the Needle” a hole in a rock in a nearby ridge.

Hike a Part of the Appalachian Trail

The Applachian Trail goes from Georgia all the way to Maine. If you´re not up for spending 6 months crossing the entire country by foot, you should at least hike a part of the trail that crosses through the Smoky Mountains. Standing Indian Mountain is our pick for the best place to get on the AT and can easily be done as a simple overnight backpacking trip.

Roarking Fork Motor Nature Trail

If hiking isn’t your thing, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail takes you into the heart of the Smokies. You will pass by old homesteads and also have the option to walk to the Rainbow and Grotto Waterfalls, both of which should not be passed on.

A Must See

There are hundreds of things to see in the Smoky Mountains, but one thing that you absolutely can´t miss is Cades Cove. This beautiful rolling meadow offers a loop tour that you can hike, drive or bike and offers a glimpse into centuries past.

Cades Cove used to be an agrarian settlement and you can still see beautiful constructions of old log cabins hidden in the thick woods. It´s also a great spot to catch a glimpse of a black bear, if you´re lucky. Like most places in the park, the best time of year to visit is in the fall time to enjoy the beautiful colors on the trees.

The Smoky Mountains: A Comfortable Wilderness

Any of these travel ideas throughout the Smoky Mountains will offer you a truly unique experience. From backwoods hiking to comfortable and accessible wilderness, the Smokies offer a little bit of everything for families, independent adventure seekers, and everyone in between.

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