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Our country is literally filled with thousands of areas of unmatched natural beauty. Deserts filled with cacti and strange trees, oceans brimming with coral reefs and spectacularly colored fish, mountain lakes so pristine that you can see rainbow trout swimming from a mile away, granite peaks that rise like knives cutting into the air above them, forests of thousand year old trees that rise like pillars towards the heavens: these are only a few of the many natural wonders that our country holds.

The march of progress, the expansion of the agricultural frontier, and massive urban sprawl, however, combine to threaten the sustained protection of these beautiful natural areas. Fortunately, the parks service of our country has taken a leading role in preserving for future generations these pristine areas of natural beauty.

In this section of our blog, we offer several complete guides to some of the most impressive national parks across our country. From the impressive geothermal activity and herds of wild bison at Yellowstone, to the mountain goats, grizzly bears, and abundant mountain lakes of Glacier Park, to the unfathomable depths of the Grand Canyon, to the granite peaks and Sequoia forests of Yosemite, we have all the information you need to plan your vacation to one of these fantastic national parks.

From a national forest to huge national parks, our country has millions of acres or protected lands beckoning you to come and explore. Read on to find the best suggestions for a future trip to any number of magnificent national parks.

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.

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.

Other Great Reads From The Blog

  • 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.

A Quick Guide To South Africa’s National Parks

How Complete Is this guide? 

South Africa has a lot of amazing national parks and places to visit. Although we try our best, its difficult to cover every single detail about these parks. In fact, you can likely write books about many of these places.  It is far from complete and the guide is still growing. 

If you feel we left something out, feel free to reach out and suggest changes or contribute. 

Addo Elephant National Park

Overview

Located 72 kilometers from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape Province, The Addo Elephant National Park is the third largest park in South Africa. The Addo region surrounds the Sundays River, which has its entrance at the mouth of the Indian Ocean.

The park was established in 1931 to protect 11 Elephants on the brink of extinction. Today, the thick bushveld is the sanctuary of hundreds of elephants, as well as Cape buffalos, endangered black rhinos, Transvaal lions, spotted hyenas, a variety of antelope species, hundreds of bird species and the endangered flightless dung beetle.

Mile after mile of the Sundays River Valley is vegetated with evergreen citrus trees that bear fruit all winter and fragrance the air with their blossoms in spring. Interesting fauna and flora can also be found in the Zuurberg Mountains, which falls within the park, such as three rare cycad and two yellowwood species.

Addo-Elephant-National-Park-2

Unique Facts and Figures

  • The park covers 120,000 hectares of land.

  • The average annual rainfall is 450 millimeter and is spread throughout the year, although peaks do often occur in February/March and October/November.

  • The Sundays River has its entrance at the mouth of the Indian Ocean and is tidal from the mouth for 17 kilometers.

  • The park is home to more than 350 elephants and 280 Cape Buffalo.

  • The Addo Elephant National Park encompasses a unique and complex bit of earth history covering about the last 500 million years.

  • Bird Island, which is included in the park, is home to the world's largest breeding colony of gannets – about 120,000 birds – and also hosts the second largest breeding colony of African penguins.

  • The largest remaining population of the flightless dung beetle (Circellium bacchus) is located within the park.

  • The park receives about 120,000 visitors annually. International visitors make up 54% of this number, with German, Dutch and British nationals in the majority.

Must See/To Do

Game Drives

Visitors can choose between guided game drives, hop-on guides and self-drive game viewing. Two-hour guided game drives take place in the morning, afternoon and night, as well as at sunrise and sunset. Visitors are also allowed to view wildlife from their own vehicles and local hop-on guides are available to accompany them.

Horse Trails

Visitors have the choice of two horse trails: the Addo Horse Trails (where large game can be viewed from horseback) and the Zuurberg Horse Trails (which does not provide encounters with wildlife but instead offers beautiful scenic views from the mountains.

4x4 Trails

The Bedrogfontein 4x4 trail provides breathtaking views and is rich in history. This route was the scene of fierce battles between the Afrikaner and British and Afrikaner troops during the Anglo-Boer war. Rock art paintings can be viewed throughout the area. From the route a variety of the South African vegetation types can be observed, including riverine thicket, afromontane forest, fynbos and arid nama-karoo.

Hiking Trails

The park offers numerous hiking trails. The Alexandria Hiking Trail is a 32 kilometer, two-day circular trail – with the first day covering a distance of 18.5 kilometers and the second day a distance of 13.5 kilometers. Shorter hiking trails are also available. One-hour and three-hour trails can be hiked in the Zuurberg Mountains, while the PPC Discovery Trail is a short walk in the main camp.

Marine Eco Tours

Visitors interested in seeing a great white shark and/or southern right whale might want to partake in a Marine Eco-tour.

Picnic

Day visitors can enjoy something to eat in the picnic area.

Sources:

The Addo Area, Woodall, Wikipedia, South African National Parks

Agulhas National Park

Overview

Situated at the southernmost tip of Africa in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, the Agulhas National Park stretches for 45 kilometers along the coastline, from east to west, and extends up to 25 kilometers inland. The cold Benguela current, of the South Atlantic Ocean, and warm Agulhas current, of the southwest Indian Ocean, meet at the edge of the Agulhas Bank.

Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias was the first to discover the southernmost tip of Africa on 16 May 1488. In 1999 the Agulhas National Park was declared as a formal protected area not only because of its geographical location, but also to protect the lowland Fynbos, the unique wetland systems, the rich cultural heritage aspects and the diverse marine life of the area.

Cape Agulhas Coast is known as the Graveyard of Ships because numerous shipwrecks of early explorers – attempting to conquer the wild seas off the southern tip of Africa – dot the coastline. The navigators of the 1400’s to the 1700’s, who discovered the sea route around the southernmost tip, observed the sun at noon when it passed the meridian and found that the magnetic compass pointed to true north. Today it points some 25 degrees west of true north.

Unique Facts and Figures

  • The park expanded to 21,971.0161 hectares in 2014.

  • As of 3 July 2015, Agulhas National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  • The highest point in the park is 309 meters above sea level.

  • The region has a Mediterranean climate – hot, dry summers and cold, wet winters.

  • The mean annual air temperature is 15˚C, with the average temperature in summer at 21˚C and the average temperature in winter at 14˚C.

  • Sea temperature averages 21˚C in summer and 14˚C in winter.

  • Annual rainfall varies between 400 and 600 millimeters, with 60 to 75 percent of the precipitation occurring between May and October.

  • Prevailing winds are westerly in winter and south-easterly in summer. Cape Agulhas is the windiest area along the South African coast year-round, with the least number of calm days.

  • It is believed that the waves at the southernmost point are, after those at Cape Horn, the highest in the world.

  • The sea is shallow, with the 30 meter isobath situated between 3- and 8 kilometers offshore.

  • Agulhas National Park has approximately 2000 species of indigenous plants, including 100 which are endemic to the area, and over 110 which are Red Data Book species.

  • People have occupied the Agulhas area for well over a million years and the Agulhas Plain is an exceptionally rich archaeological region. Tools from the Middle Stone Age (200,000 to 20,000 years ago) and the Early Stone Age (2 million to 200,000 years ago) have been found. Stone hearths, pottery, shell middens and tidal fish traps from the Later Stone Age (20,000 years before pre-colonial history in southern Africa) have also been discovered.

  • In the 1700s the Europeans settled as stock farmers in the area and pioneered the merino wool farming industry in South Africa.

Must See/To Do

The Cape Agulhas Lighthouse & Museum

The Cape Agulhas Lighthouse was the third lighthouse to be built in South Africa, and the second-oldest still operating. It has been in operation since 1849. The design of the lighthouse was inspired by the Pharos of ancient Egypt. Attached to the lighthouse is the former keeper’s house, which currently houses a restaurant and museum.

The Southernmost Tip of Africa

A cairn marks the exact location of the tip where the Atlantic and Indian oceans officially meet.

Shipwrecks

The remains of the Meisho Maru 38 wreck can be seen on the shores of Cape Agulhas. Showpieces from other shipwrecks found along the Agulhas coastline are also on display at the Bredasdorp Shipwreck museum.

View Fynbos

The Agulhas National Park is one of the world’s six floral kingdoms. The Agulhas Plain has great diversity of indigenous flora and unique vegetation such as limestone fynbos. Most species bloom between May and September, but there are flowers to be enjoyed year-round.

Bird Watching

The Park has exceptional birdlife, including endangered avifauna, such as the African Black Oyster-catcher. A famous birding spot is the Springfield salt pan, which was exploited by the Springfield Salt and Farming Company (Pty) Ltd, from 1914 and 1950, and the remains are now part of the cultural heritage in the park.

Fishing

The Southern Tip is a preferred spot for rock- and deep sea fishing.

Whale Watching

Agulhas National Park provides wonderful vantage points from which to spot whales. Whale watching season is from June to September.

Hiking Trails

Agulhas National Park offers two hiking trails. The circular Two Oceans Hiking Trail covers a total distance of 10.5 kilometers, which takes four to five hours to complete. However, two alternative routes with shorter distances are offered on the trail. The circular Rasperpunt Hiking Trail covers a distance of 5.45 kilometers and takes three hours to complete.

Sources

Information supplied by the Agulhas National Park, Wikipedia, South African National Parks

Kruger National Park

Overview

In the heart of the Lowveld, nestled between South Africa’s northeastern provinces Limpopo and Mpumalanga and bordering Zimbabwe and Mozambique, the iconic Kruger National Park is the largest national park in South Africa and one of the largest national parks in the world. The park is approximately 352 kilometers long and has an average width of 60 kilometers.

The park was first proclaimed in 1898 as the Sabie Game Reserve by the then president of the Transvaal Republic, Paul Kruger, and later expanded into the Kruger National Park in 1926. The park was initially created to regulate hunting and protect the diminished number of animals in the park.

In 1927 the first three tourist cars entered the park. Today, hundreds of thousands of local and international tourists enter through the park’s nine gates each year – hoping to catch a glimpse of Africa’s Big Five (the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard and rhinoceros).

Unique Facts and Figures

  • Approximately 950,000 people visit Kruger National Park annually, with South Africans accounting for 80 per cent of all visitors. According to the SANParks Annual Report, 1,659,793 people visited the park in the year ending on 31 March 2015.

  • The park covers a massive 1.9485 million hectares.

  • There are almost 254 known cultural heritage sites in the Kruger National Park, including nearly 130 recorded rock art sites.

  • More than 300 archaeological sites of Stone Age man have been found in the park, as well as cultural artifacts for the period 100,000 to 30,000 years ago.

  • The park provides a sanctuary for 147 mammal species, 500 species of birds, 116 reptiles, 34 amphibians, 49 fishes, 457 types of trees and shrubs, 1 500 smaller plants and countless insects.

  • A 2,600-kilometre network of all-weather roads allows visitors to explore the diverse habitats in the park in their own vehicle.

  • Income from tourism and trading activities generates more than R200-million per year, and the Kruger Park plays a major role in the Lowveld's economy.

Must See/To Do

The Big Five

Buffalo, Elephant, Leopard, Lion and Rhino

The Little Five

Buffalo Weaver, Elephant Shrew, Leopard Tortoise, Ant Lion and Rhino Beetle

Birding Big Six

Ground Hornbill, Kori Bustard, Lappet- faced Vulture, Martial Eagle, Pel’s Fishing Owl and Saddle-bill Stork

Five Trees

Baobab, Fever Tree, Knob Thorn, Marula and Mopane

Natural/Cultural Features

Letaba Elephant Museum, Jock of the Bushveld Route, Albasini Ruins, Masorini Ruins, Stevenson Hamilton Memorial Library and Thulamela

Park & Ride

Visitors eager to spot the Big Five can make use of the "Park and Ride Scheme."

Hiking Trails

The Kruger National Park offers several trails through its wilderness areas and has numerous rest camps. The duration of all the wilderness trails is two days and three nights. Longer backpacking trails, lasting four days and three nights, are also available.

Guided Walks

The park’s guests can take advantage of early morning and afternoon guided walks, where two armed field guides accompany a small group of guests to share their knowledge of the fauna and flora to explain natural wonders.

Game Drives

Morning-, sunset and night drives are available.

4x4 Trails

The park offers several self-drive 4x4 routes ranging in distance from 48 kilometers to 500 kilometers. A guided one-night, motorized adventure trail is also available.

Mountain Bike Trails

Mountain bikes are supplied to visitors, who can then cycle the unspoiled bush along with two armed field guides.

Golf

Surrounded by the rich wildlife sanctuary, the Skukuza Golf Course sits unfenced within the park – allowing for uninvited spectators to make their appearance during a round of Golf.

Bird Watching

The park has an abundance of avifauna viewing opportunities. Some of the bird species in the park cannot be found anywhere else in South Africa.

Bush Braais

A game drive takes visitors to an open area filled with burning lanterns and fires where, whilst listening to the sounds of the bushveld and the distant animals calling, the food is grilled on open fires.

Sources:

Wikipedia, South African National Parks, SANParks Annual Report 2014/2015, Kruger National Park

Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Overview

Located at the foothills of the Maluti Mountains in the Free State Province of South Africa, near the Lesotho border, Golden Gate Highlands National Park was officially proclaimed on the 13 September 1963. The park is more renowned for the beauty of its landscape, which offers panoramic views, than for its wildlife.

The grassland biome of the park is pierced by multi-hued, eroded sandstone cliffs and outcrops. Golden Gate derives its name from the color of the setting sun on the west facing sandstone cliffs, especially the picturesque Brandwag Buttress cliff. The park also features the spectacular Cathedral Cave – a 250 meter long and 50 meter deep cavern carved into the sandstone over millions of years by water, wind and fluctuations in temperature.

During the 1800s the plains around Golden Gate was swarming with game – most of which were migratory in nature. Today, the highland habitat is the refuge of a variety of mammals (mostly antelope species), birds, snakes and fishes. The rare bearded vulture (lammergeier) and the equally rare bald ibis can be found in the park.

Unique Facts and Figures

  • The park covers 11,630 hectares.

  • The park is situated in one of the most important Water Catchment Areas in South Africa and more than 50% of the water supply of South Africa comes from this area.

  • Golden Gate Highlands National Park is currently the only proclaimed National Park that protects the grassland biome, which is the most neglected biome from the point of view of conservation.

  • There are more than 50 grass species in the park. Three of the most common species are the Tambookie grass (Miscanthidium erectum), Red grass (Themeda triandra) and Thatch grass (Hyparrhenia hirta).

  • The ouhout (Leucosidea sericea) is the most common tree in the park.

  • Golden Gate Highlands National Park has 10 antelope species, which are the eland, red hartebeest, black wildebeest, blesbok, springbok, mountain reedbuck, grey rhebuck, grey duiker, steenbok and the endangered oribi.

  • Over 210 bird species have been observed in the park.

  • There are seven snake species in the park, including the puff adder, mountain adder and rinkhals.

  • At a height of 2829 meters above sea level, Ribbokkop is the highest loose standing peak in the park as well as in the Free State Province.

  • The first ever fossilized Triassic dinosaur eggs were found in the park at Rooi Draai in 1973. An array of examples of fossilized dinosaur bones, roots, ferns and footprints were also discovered in the Park.

  • Upon completion of the Golden Gates Tourist facilities, there would be a total of 526 beds available in the park.

Must See/To Do

Abseiling

Visitors can abseil the cliffs of the park under the guidance of certified guides.

Canoeing

Canoeing is offered on the Gladstone Dam, under the guidance of experienced guides, for groups of 4 to 20 guests.

Horseback Riding

Guided horseback riding is available.

Swimming

Visitors can swim in a natural rock pool is situated in the hills behind Glen Reenen.

Game Drives

The park offers two self-drive loops that are tarred and well maintained. The Oribi Loop covers a distance of 4.2 kilometers and includes the Vulture Feeding Project and magnificent views of the Drakensberg. The Blesbok Loop covers a distance of 6.7 kilometers and offers breathtaking scenery, including the Generaal's Kop viewing point.

Hiking Trails

The park offers six unguided, one-hour hiking trails; one guided, four-hour hiking trail; and one 28 kilometer, overnight, unguided hiking trail.

Basotho Cultural Village Activities

  • Visitors can take the Cultural Route, which traces the footsteps of the first occupants by visiting the historical sites of Qwa Qwa.

  • On the Herbal Trail visitors can learn about all the medicinal herbs on the trail from a village traditional healer, as well as view San rock art in the caves.

  • The Museum Tour displays a depiction of the architecture and life style of the Basotho people from as early as the 16th century to the present day.

Golden-Gate-Highlands-National-Park-2

Games

The Golden Gate Highlands Hotel offers a tennis court, volleyball and mini soccer ball.

Sources:

South African National Parks, Wikipedia

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Overview

Situated west of the southern African subcontinent in the Kalahari Desert, the second largest desert in Africa, lies the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. The park straddles the border between South Africa and Botswana, and borders Namibia to the west. Approximately three-quarters of the park lie in Botswana, called the Gemsbok National Park, and one-quarter lies in South Africa, called the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park.

The Park was proclaimed in 1931 to protect migrating animals from poaching. Kgalagadi means "land of the thirst." The park is characterized by red dunes, camel thorn trees and dry riverbeds. Two predominantly dry rivers run through the park – the Nossob and Auob Rivers, which are said to flow only once per century.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is especially renowned for watching predatory animals. Mammals, like Namibian cheetahs, leopards, brown- and spotted hyenas and the black-maned Kalahari lions, as well as birds of prey, like raptors, vultures, buzzards and secretary birds, are popular attractions. Seasonal migrating animals, such as blue wildebeest, springbok, eland and red hartebeest, can also be found in the park.

Unique Facts and Figures

  • The park covers 3.8 million hectares.

  • The semi-arid region has an average annual rainfall of 150 millimeters in the southwest to 350 millimeters in the northeast, mainly between January and April.

  • Temperatures vary greatly from -11°C on cold winter nights to 42°C in the shade on summer days.

  • Botswana quietly sold the rights to frack for shale gas in more than half of its portion of the park in September 2014.

  • The park has a list of approximately 280 bird species; of which 92 are resident species, 17 are nomadic species, 50 are migratory species and 121 are vagrant species.

  • There are an estimated 450 lions, 150 leopards, 200 cheetahs, 600 brown hyenas and 375 spotted hyenas in the park.

  • There are three traditional tourist lodges and six wilderness camps within the park.

  • Kgalagadi

Must See/To Do

Game Drives

The park conducts morning and sunset drives.

4x4 Trails

The park has six 4x4 trails ranging in length from 85 kilometers to 257 kilometers.

Picnic

There are five picnic sites throughout the park with barbeque facilities.

Sources:

South African National Parks, Wikipedia

Namaqua National Park

Overview

Namaqua National Park is situated in the western part of the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, just south of the Namibian border. The park is part of the Namaqualand region, which falls within the semi-desert Succulent Karoo biome – a biodiversity hotspot with the largest concentration of succulent plants in the world.

The Namaqua National Park was proclaimed on 29 June 2002 for the purpose of conserving the rich diversity of succulent plants. However, people have long since been visiting the area to admire its renowned “carpets” of colorful wildflowers. The landscape, with its breathtaking beauty and contrasting colors, is also a photographer’s paradise.

After the winter rains, tourism peaks during springtime (August and September) when a burst of spring wildflowers appear. Most of the wildflower species are protected under law and visitors who decide to pick themselves a bouquet will face fines.

Unique Facts and Figures

  • The park covers 70,000 hectares.

  • An estimated 100,000 tourists visit Namaqualand every year; of which 65% are South African.

  • The area has a low but reliable winter rainfall pattern, with most precipitation occurring between May and August. The eastern part of the park receives more rainfall than the west.

  • Winter wind is usually from the east, which can turn to a cold north-westerly with the approach of a frontal system, and is predominantly from the south or east in summer.

  • The bedrock within the Namaqua NP largely comprises Quartzo-feldspathic Gneiss of the Kookfontein subgroup within the Namaqualand Metamorphic Complex.

  • The park covers an altitudinal range from sea level (western boundary) to 948 meters (at Wolfhoek se Berg) on the eastern boundary.

  • Fifteen bioregions are represented within the boundaries of the park.

  • Namaqualand has about 3,000 plant species (1,500 are endemic) made up of 648 genera and 107 families.

  • Seventeen percent of Namaqualand’s plant species are listed as Red Data species.

  • It is estimated that the Succulent Karoo bioregion has about 16% of the worlds approximately 10,000 succulent plant species.

Must See/To Do

Flower Season

The wildflowers during spring time (August and September) are an absolute must see. The Namaqua National Park has not yet been fully developed and the Skilpad area of the park can only be visited by tourists during the flower season. A circular drive with viewpoints is available during this time.

4x4 Trail

The Caracal Eco Route stretches from the mountains to the coastline to allow visitors to experience a wide range of Namaqua habitats. The distance of the route range from 176 kilometers to 200 kilometers, depending on which tracks are selected.

Mountain Biking

Even though there are no formal mountain biking trails in the park, there are a wide range of roads and terrains which visitors can cycle.

Hiking Trails

The park has two hiking trails (5 kilometers and 3 kilometers) from which visitors can view flowers, as well as a longer hiking trail (6 kilometers) along the coastline.

Bird Watching

Species to search for include Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Cape Long-billed Lark, Karoo Lark, Black-headed Canary and Cape Bulbul.

Picnic

Picnic sites are available throughout the park.

Sources:

South African National Parks, Wikipedia

Table Mountain National Park

Overview

Situated in the city of Cape Town in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, Table Mountain National Park is a uniquely urban nature reserve – fragmented by urban development and privately owned land. Beaches, bays, valleys, forests the Cape of Good Hope and the famous Table Mountain are all incorporated into the park.

Table Mountain National Park was proclaimed on 29 May 1998 to protect the natural environment of the Table Mountain Chain. In 2011, Table Mountain was declared as one of the world's new seven wonders of nature. The mountain and acclaimed landmark offers spectacular views of Cape Town as well as unique flora. Table Mountain National Park is part of the Cape Floristic Region World Heritage Site.

The other two sections of the park are the Silvermine-Tokai section and the Cape Point section. The Silvermine-Tokai section was formed from the Tokai State Forest and the Silvermine Nature Reserve. The Cape Point section covers the most southern area of the Cape Peninsula and includes Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope.

Unique Facts and Figures

  • The park includes 25,000 hectares of the Cape Peninsula Protected Natural Environment, as well as 1,000 km² of the seas and coastline around the peninsula.

  • Because the park has open access, it is the most visited of all National Parks – with 4.2 million visitors annually.

  • The park has 8,200 plant species – of which around 80% are fynbos. Many of the plants found in the park are endemic.

  • The Cape Floral Kingdom is the only kingdom confined to one continent.

  • Table Mountain National Park is included as part of the UNESCO Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site.

  • The main feature of Table Mountain is the level plateau, which is approximately 3 kilometers from side to side.

  • The highest point on Table Mountain is towards the eastern end of the plateau and is 1,086 meters above sea level.

  • Table Mountain National Park and Cape Town have a Mediterranean climate – characterized by typically hot, dry summers and short, wet, yet mild winters.

Must See/To Do

The Cape of Good Hope

The top tourist destination is rich in cultural and natural heritage. Wildlife, including eland, red hartebeest, bontebok and zebra, are found in the area. Visitors can visit the two lighthouses situated at the most southwestern point in Africa. Cape of Good Hope also offers hiking, surfing, angling, picnicking, beaching and cycling opportunities. Free guided walks are also available at Cape Point. The Cape of Good Hope Hiking Trail is an overnight hiking trail.

Boulders Penguin Colony

A colony of endangered, land-based African penguins can be viewed at the Boulders section of the park, which is situated in Simons Town. There are also three beaches and three boardwalks in the area.

Table Mountain

The mountain offers a variety of hiking trails – ranging from light strolls to rigorous hikes. The summit of the mountain provides spectacular views of the city, while the ascent takes visitors through the ancient, indigenous Afromontane forest. A shortcut to the top of Table Mountain is also available via the Table Mountain Arial Cableway.

Lion’s Head

Lion's Head is the peak to the right of Table Mountain when facing it head on and offers a short but popular hike with 360 degree views of the Atlantic seaboard, the city and Table Mountain. It has become popular to hike Lion’s Head in groups during full moon.

Signal Hill

Signal Hill, the Northern-most tip of the terrestrial area of the park, is a popular viewpoint which offers excellent views of the city and harbor. It is from here that the noon day gun marks 12:00 in Cape Town.

Silvermine

Silvermine offers some of the best hiking trails in the park, which passes by fynbos landscapes, a dam, a river and a waterfall. Bird spotting, picnics, dog walking and mountain biking are also favorite activities in the area.

Beaches

Table Mountain National Park has a variety of diverse beaches on offer.

Fishing/Extractive Diving

The Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area is a popular fishing area for shore and boat-based fisher people as well as extractive divers.

Scuba Diving

The Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area is a scuba diving haven. What makes the area popular among divers is the numerous wrecks that scatter the coastline as well as the six restricted areas ("no take" zones) that have been established as breeding and nursery areas for marine species. Popular dive sites include the Maori wreck off the Sentinel in Hout Bay, Oudekraal on the Atlantic Seaboard and Miller's Point and Smitswinkel in False Bay.

Surfing/Windsurfing/Kite Boarding

A plethora of rocky points, reefs, beaches and open ocean Atlantic swell provide numerous breaks that work in different conditions.

Rock Climbing

Table Mountain, with its rocky ledges and huge boulders, attract climbers from all over the world.

Picnic/Braai

The park has numerous picnic and braai (to grill on open flames) areas.

Hang/Paragliding

There are numerous designated launch areas in the park, including Lion's Head and Silvermine.

Horse Riding

Popular horse riding areas include Tokai, Noordhoek Beach and Black Hill.

Forest Walks

Apart from Table Mountain’s Afromontane Forest, the park also includes Newlands Forest, Orange Kloof in Hout Bay and Echo Valley and Spes Bona on the Muizenberg mountains.

Sources:

South African National Parks, Wikipedia, Siyabona Africa

A Look at Yosemite’s Beautiful Birds

With an extreme elevation of 2,000 to more than 13,000 feet, Yosemite provides diverse habitat for over hundreds of species of birds. Below are some of the birds that can be found in Yosemite National Park.

Stellar’s Jay

Also known as mountain blue birds, Stellar’s Jays are one of the common birds at Yosemite. What’s interesting, though, is that these so-called “blue birds” are not blue at all. Their feathers do not have blue pigment in them. Their feathers are made of keratin which when hit by sunlight causes blue wavelengths to reflect back, giving these birds its radiant color.

Dark-eyed Junco

Juncos are little sparrows that have small rounded heads. You’ll most likely catch a glimpse of these birds as they hop around bases of trees looking for fallen seeds.

Great Gray Owls

These magnificent birds are known to be the largest owls in North America. Although Yosemite is home to 65% of owls’ population in America, these birds are not easily spotted. They prefer to hunt in mid-to-upper elevated woods where most visitors don’t like to spend much time in.

Peregrine Falcon

Historically known as the duck hawks, peregrine falcons are known for its incredible speed of up to 320km/h, making it one of the fastest members of the animal kingdom. These birds were once endangered species, but due to the diligence of the park to protect them, peregrines’ recovery has been made possible.

Sooty Grouse

Among the birds of Yosemite is Sooty Grouse, a bird the size of a chicken. You may spot these birds or hear the males’ calls – a loud booming sound that can be heard for miles – as they attract the females.

Purple Finch

These reddish, or Tyrian purple birds are migratory birds that can be seen in Yosemite. A trip to the park in summer gives visitors more chance to spot these beautiful birds, as these birds spend a lot of time on the ground of Yosemite Valley during this season.

Hermit Thrush

You’ll recognize a hermit thrush through its feathers, with rich brown upper body and smudged spots on its breast. As you walk around the park, take time to listen to its call, a soft chuck or sup. Visitors have been fortunate to spot a hermit thrush most often at dusk or sometimes mid-day, as it hops around and scrape in leaf litter while foraging.

Acorn Woodpecker

These birds are called acorn woodpeckers for they depend heavily on acorns for food. Expect to see them among oak trees as they perform their own peculiar method of storing acorns. They store their food in holes they drilled themselves, or sometimes even in natural holes and cracks in barks.

Northern Goshawk

A northern goshawk is a medium-sized raptor that is usually found between 5,000 to 9,000 feet in elevation. A lot of hikers in Yosemite have had the experience of spotting a goshawk as it soars high in the air.

Cassin’s Vireo

These little songbirds are a common bird of Northern America. They are known to be slow but persistent singers, often times their songs can be heard in Yosemite Valley.

Black-backed Woodpecker

Also known as the Arctic three-toed woodpecker, these birds are known for the color of their feathers. Their feathers are white from the throat to the belly, and black on its head and back. Most of their food are acquired through pecking, and sometimes by gleaning off branches as well.

Grosbeak

Grosbeaks are seed-eating birds with large beaks. There are a lot of grosbeak species, and the one that can be found in Yosemite is the black-headed grosbeak. This particular bird is a frequent summer visitor of the park, and is common in Yosemite Valley.

American Dipper

Usually seen during the winter season, American dippers are birds that like to frequent near cascades and dashing waters of upper Yosemite. During winter, more dippers come to Yosemite when the rivers and valley falls are stilled. You may recognize them by their distinct behavior of squatting their bodies up and down, hence the name dipper.

Mountain Chickadee

A mountain chickadee is one of the common birds you may spot in Yosemite National park. Their feathers are gray, and there is a distinctive white line above each of their eyes. Chickadee’s diet consists mainly of different kinds of insects and spiders. They also come to birdfeeders for food, and are busy storing nuts and seeds for later use.

Few Reminders:

Birdwatching in Yosemite is surely a unique experience. While spending time in the park, look around and listen carefully to the harmonious calls and songs of countless birds. However, every birdwatcher should keep in mind basic birding etiquette. While enjoying and exploring these birds, remember that following the park’s rules is the most important. Make sure you always go by the rules, as these rules are implemented to protect and nurture these beautiful creatures.

Best Times to Visit Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is a national treasure located within California’s beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains. Whether it’s the ancient, tall Sequoia trees or the granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome, Yosemite offers a little bit of everything for the adventurous traveler who wants to explore a special part of the American West. The most important thing to keep in mind is when during the calendar year is the best time to visit Yosemite National Park? The answer to that question really depends on your own personal preference but there are both advantages and disadvantages to going during different months to Yosemite.

Spring in Yosemite National Park

Most travelers to Yosemite National Park would consider the spring season to be the best time in which to visit due to the moderate climate and the fact that it’s not the high season for tourism yet.

March

When it comes to the month of March, it’s important to be aware that certain parts of the national park are going to be closed or unavailable. Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road are usually not accessible to the public during these months due to some winter snow that could be continuing. This means that Tuolumne Meadows and Glacier Point, two of the highlights of Yosemite, won’t be available to be visited starting at the beginning of March.

April

In April, while daytime temperatures are perfect during this month, it can still get chilly at night so make sure to bring a light jacket or sweater with you.

May

In May, everything in the national park is usually open, and the waterfalls during this month have their most volume and flow. Wildflowers and other forms of nature are blooming and it’s not as crowded as other times of the year.

Summer in Yosemite National Park

It’s hot, hot, hot during this season for those visitors to Yosemite who are willing to bear the humidity, the long lines, increasingly crowded parts of the park. However, during the summer, the beauty and the scenery at Yosemite is at its’ peak and all parts of the park are open to visitors with no weather restrictions. However, if you plan to go on the weekend, be prepared for traffic jams and vacationing tourists crowding your space. You won’t have to worry about rain or snow, as Yosemite is mostly sunny during June, July, and August.

June

If you’re looking to go to the waterfalls in June, you may be disappointed as the volume and flow of water decreases rapidly starting in this month.

July

In July, daytime temperatures can reach peaks into high 90s – low 100s (Fahrenheit) so make sure you bring enough water to keep you and your family hydrated during the day.

August

While Yosemite Valley may be overly crowded especially during the month of August, to beat the crowds, you should check out Tuolumne Meadows during these months due to the lack of crowds, higher elevation, and beautiful views. In the High Sierra Mountains, there are many cool hiking trails to check out and explore.

Fall in Yosemite National Park

A great time to see the changing colors of the leaves in your town or city is also a perfect season to drop everything and visit Yosemite National Park. Similarly to the spring, you won’t have to worry about large crowds spoiling your plans to visit every nook and crevice in Yosemite during the fall season. Temperatures during the day are also not as hot or humid so you won’t need to carry so much water to hydrate.

September

Because of the agreeable climate, September is considered to be the best month to go hiking or rock climbing in the park with the stable weather conditions. If you decide to hike higher than Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows is beautiful to visit as well during this time with cooler temperatures than the valley so remember to bring a jacket with you especially for the nighttime.

October

Unfortunately, in October, services on Tioga Road shut down for the rest of the Fall and all of Winter so that may be a drawback if you plan on visiting during this season.

The first snow to appear at Yosemite usually appears during October or November so be prepared for that possibility. The waterfalls also stop flowing so heavily and begin to trickle less and less during both October and November.

November

In the month of November, the fall foliage goes into full effect causing the leaves on the oak trees, maples, and dogwoods to show a variety of beautiful and awe-inspiring colors.

Winter in Yosemite National Park

If you’re looking to go to Yosemite in the wintertime, then you are truly a brave traveler. While the winter season isn’t for everybody, there are still a number of advantages to visiting Yosemite during those months. The crowds are almost next to nothing during this time of year and it is very inexpensive to find accommodations there if you’re staying for a couple of days.

December

There are a number of winter activities to take part in starting in December such as figure skating, and snowshoeing. You can also head over to the Badger Pass ski area where you can take part in snowboarding, cross-country skiing and downhill skiing.

January

Unfortunately, starting in January, road access is completely restricted to popular parts of Yellowstone such as Tioga, Glacier Point, and Mariposa Grove due to the snowy and icy conditions.

February

You can’t really explore the whole park during the month of February but you can still have a good time in places like Yosemite Valley, Wawona, Hetch Hetchy, etc. Temperatures can reach below freezing during February so it’s important to make sure that you and your family bundle up to stay warm.

One of the best things about Yosemite National Park is that it stays open to the public year-round from the beginning of winter to the end of the fall. The park offers a little bit of everything to the average visitor is a wonder to behold. For more information about the best times of the year to visit Yellowstone, you should check out https://www.smartertravel.com/2008/06/26/yosemites-best-and-worst-in-every-season/ and https://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g61000-c167892/Yosemite-National-Park:California:Best.Time.Of.Year.To.Visit.Yosemite.html.

RELATED CONTENT

Want to know the Seven Amazing Things to See in Yosemite? Make sure to check out our guide!

Places to Stay Yosemite

We orginally posted this on our Yosemite guide, however we felt it was fairly incomplete. To be honest and frank, we didn’t take the time to list the many places to stay and felt the “places to stay” would be better suited to this page.   If you would like your hotel or “place to stay” to be added to the list below, we simply ask you help make our guide about Yosemite better in some, way shape or form. Simply contact us if that interests you.

 

Here are the folks that requested to be added to the original article:

McCaffrey House Bed & Breakfast Inn
23251 Highway 108 (P.O. Box 67)
Twain Harte, CA 95383
209-586-0757

Bear Creek Inn
575 W. North Bear Creek Drive
Merced, CA 95348
208-723-3991

Yosemite’s Sierra Mountain Lodge
45046 Fort Nip Trail
Ahwahnee CA 93601
(559) 683-7673

For Joshua Tree:

• Rock Reach House
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/3489531
RockReachHouse.com
Instagram: @rockreachhouse

• Homestead Modern No. 1
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4550346
HomesteadModernRentals.com
Instagram: @homesteadmodern

• Shelter: Joshua Tree
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/16780142
ShelterJoshuaTree.com
Instagram: @shelterjoshuatree

• Cactus Moon Retreat
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/14369998
CactusMoonRetreat.com
Instagram: @cactusmoonretreat

• Los Vientos Hideaway
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/5490414
LosVientosHideaway.com
Instagram: @losvientoshideaway

• Black Lava Lodge
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/5307562
Instagram: @blacklavalodge

Where can you find a lot of places to stay?

I would suggest checking out vacasa.com – They list quite a few vacation rentals and is an excellent place to find good deals. If you are having trouble finding a hotel, I’d suggest giving them a try.