National Park Guide
Ever since about 2016 I’ve been collecting postcards of the National Parks marking each visit with a bit of the story and I figure at some point I should just talk about the things involving each park. What I liked, things about my experiences camping there, and etc.
Last Updated: Grand Canyon in October of 2018. Denali & Kenai Fjords in May of 2018
When: I visited in the early summer of 2016
Camping: I never camped inside the park. There are some undeveloped campgrounds outside the park.
Best Part: Bryce Canyon is a beautiful place and the most remarkable formation is the Hoodoos in the area and it’s in the middle of nowhere so you can expect to see some stars.
Other Cool Things: The Queen’s Garden Trail is a nice trip through the canyon if you want to see. Look out for Thor’s Hammer and some other fun stuff. The drive to Bryce you pass through towns with the first letter of their name in a giant sign on the mountain.
When: I was there over the New Years in 2015.
Camping: Death Valley has a few major developed campgrounds and lots of first come first serve campgrounds throughout the valley.
Best Part: Death Valley is gigantic. My favorite part is a debate between Eureka Sand Dunes and the canyons that are on the side of the valley.
Other Cool Things: Death Valley has so many cool things. It’s divided into multiple parts that are not close to each other but the south central part of the park is the most access to everything. There’s a lot of cool canyons and stuff in the south side of the park and the entrances are a bit hard to find but you can find research about them going up.
The Eureka Sand Dunes are on the north side of the park and getting from the South Side to the North Side of the park is a long rough dirt road. You should check for road closures and prepare for a long slow drive. You can also exit the park and get around to it.
Wish I knew:
Camping in the winter was fucking cold though. Prepare for super cold temperatures. There are also tons of cool canyons but finding their entrances is super complicated, prepare to be searching for a while.
When: October of 2018
Camping: We ended up staying in lodges and Phantom Ranch instead of camping. Phantom Ranch is a small ranch town at the bottom of the canyon near the Colorado River. It’s a nice little stop and it’s worthwhile if you can get two nights in a cabin there. They serve food and have ample water supplies so you can easily just bring a day pack down instead of full backpacking gear.
Best Part: Going down the North Rim is fantastic. You get a lush environment as you go down and see all the fantastic layers of rocks as you go down. I think doing Rim to Rim is more complicated but significantly more worth it as the views and experience are very different. North Rim is 14 miles and down 6000 feet and the South Rim is a lot more reasonable 9 miles and 5000 feet up. Approximately.
Wish I knew:
I shouldn’t have brought a laptop bag on my day trip. The 14 mile and 9 miles journeys are not short and I spent at least 6-8 hours on each one with a laptop bag full of clothes and other stuff. Totally need to bring a hiking bag next time if I go.
October is perfect weather, it’s a lot cooler though there was rain and snow when we went which was anomalous but certainly possible. I think earlier in October is possible.
When: June 2016
Camping: I’ve never camped there.
Best Part: Only was able to drive through it and it was a pretty scenic drive.
Great Smokey Mountains
Where: Tennessee / North Carolina
When: May 2018
Camping: We stayed in Elkmont Campground which is the center of the park. The benefit of this campground was that we could drive and go to Cades Cove which is the western part of the park and the hikes down the road that go through the center of the park.
Best Part: Clingman’s Dome is a long drive up but it’s a gorgeous 360 view of the park. You can do the tiny hike to the top and get some nice views.
Wish I knew:
Chimney Tops Trailhead is awesome but unfortunately the fires in recent years have closed it off.
Alum Cave is a meh trail, it was a good geological formation but nothing if you’ve been to California.
Cades Cove is a nice drive around and we ended up seeing a black bear.
When: June of 2014
Camping: We just visited the national park. It’s on the Southeast Part of the Big Island.
Best Part: We walked on what was a lava flow that had solidified over a road. It was neat to see the ash and walk on what was only a few months ago just some regular land. We also got to see lava flow from a distance
When: Most of my Life
Camping: My parents house
Best Part: Joshua Trees are one of the weirdest plans you’ll ever see. I honestly don’t remember too much of the park though but just growing up in the region is a bit anomalous. One of the neatest things about Joshua Tree National Park is the surrounding area is full of interesting art pieces in the town.
When: June/July of 2015
Camping: We camped in Southwest part of the campground.
Best Part: I honestly don’t remember that much of the park. I do recall doing some basic research and realizing that there aren’t too many publicly known cool lava tubes but there are some hikes there I imagine are cool in early summer with their full waterfalls and wildflower blooms.
Wish I knew: Don’t wander off trail in Lassen since sulfur pits can appear in random areas. I apparently was pretty close to sulfur pits even being slightly off trail to see an interesting rock.
When: July 2017
Camping: I ended up staying Ohanapecosh Campground which was a developed background. It was a nice little place a bit on the southeast side of the park which was close to things I wanted to do.
Best Part: Indian Bar is one of the most majestic little spots with a little cabin. It’s a bit of a trek in almost 10 miles with decent elevation gain as most people do it as a backpacking trip. But I was able to take in water and do it in a single day with a longer summer day. The benefit of doing this hike is that it’s quiet since it’s only a few dozen permit holders. You can refill water at Indian bar as it’s close glacial melt.
Wish I knew: The Middle of the park has a limited parking capacity so you can get stuck outside waiting to just park your car so you can go hiking. I thankfully went on a week day but heard a lot of waiting in the car for people who came in on a summer weekend.
When: July 2017
Camping: Third Beach (backpacking camp site)
Best Part: We ended up doing an overnight hike to Third Beach which didn’t take most of the day. You’ll have plenty of time and prepare to climb up over a lot of parts using ropes.
The best part was that Third Beach is pretty chill place and we ended up camping around Taylor Point. There’s some occasionally some cute animals who come out but it’s just a chill place to hang out. Hopefully the low tide is low enough or if you have the ability to swim you can make it that awesome rock.
Other Cool Things: We didn’t get to go but there was a temperate rainforest in the middle that looked awesome. Prepare for some hard permits to get.
Wish I knew: Tide charts are sometimes difficult to navigate and it might be useful to talk to someone who has done it before to get the full knowledge of how it works.
When: July of 2010 or 2011
Camping: Pinnacles Campground
Best Part: Pinnacles has a fun cave hike that you can go through but the best part of the cave hike is that you make it on top and see the Pinnacles themselves. It’s a majestic view and the day hike is wonderful.
Wish I knew: The only tip I would say is that I thought Pinnacles would be nice and warmer in the winter but it’s freezing cold there. We woke up to what was basically frozen water bottles and had to do regular running just to warm up.
When: July 2014
Camping: Never camped there but I do recall the campgrounds in the area are super expensive compared to other places.
Best Part: The Redwood grove here is excellent. You might not be able to drive through one like in other places but it’s a pretty majestic place and an excellent drive through.
When: June 2016
Camping: Bay Bridge Campground
Best Part: Yellowstone is known for it’s animals and unique environments. We saw bears, bison, deer, and countless other animals. It was pretty fun to see them while you’re driving around though it creates constant traffic jams when everybody wants to check out the brown bear.
Other Cool Things: In terms of natural wonders though the geysers are pretty neat but the prismatic spring is gorgeous. The entire park requires a lot of driving but I think if you could go backpacking there you would be able to see far more animals and have a better view of the park. The campgrounds are full of people and tourists since Yellowstone is insanely popular and easily accessible by car.
When: July 2013
Camping: Backpacking adventures and staying in Tuolumne meadows and then backpacking at the base of Half Dome. I’ve also camped in other campgrounds near the park before too including Bass Lake.
Best Part: The backpacking trip over Cloud’s Rest to Yosemite Valley is a pretty awesome backpacking trip. You can hang around alpine lakes, get some great views, and if you’re lucky you can get the half dome permit too. Getting both permits is harder but if you can show up earlier you can get next day permits.
Other Cool Things: There are a lot of awesome things in Yosemite including all the major tourist spots but I think the fun find is there’s a hostel outside of Yosemite called the Bug. It has delicious food and hot tubs and dorm suites. I highly recommend if you don’t want to go camping you can go do some day trips through that.
When: June 2016
Camping: We didn’t camp in the national park. But if you have a 4 wheel drive an hour south east of the park there’s some backcountry sites in the sand dunes. We ended up staying near this giant dragon’s nest rock.
Best Part: It’s a hard debate between the crawl up to Angel’s Landing or the Narrows.
I would say if you’re physically able you can do Angel’s Landing. It’s an awesome hike up but it’s highly exposed to the sun so it can get real hot. But you get this amazing view of all the way down Zion Canyon and the entire national park. The last section of it is also kind of thin especially with larger crowds going past you. I recommend AGAINST holding onto the chains because I felt they weren’t taught so you thought you had the chain but it would slip a bit.
The Narrows is the canyon that the Colorado Rivers goes through. It’s a hike up against the flowing water. You can see inside this beautiful canyon, but it is crowded since it’s super family friendly. If you reach a fork, you can go up further up the narrows straight ahead or you can do some light canyoneering up the right. I met up some canyoneering crews going down that way but I was able to climb up at least 20 minute by climbing up a few waterfalls and other small climbs.
Other Cool Things: There’s a lot of hikes in Zion and it’s a super fun park. The best thing is actually a permitted trip called “The Subway”. I’ve heard only awesome things about the experience so you should totally go for the permit.
If you are staying in the eastern part of Zion, I recommend doing the hour drive early in the morning and heading to Kanab Visitor Center to apply for “The Wave” permit. Or just taking a day off and going to Coyote Butts anyway. The entire area is super pretty and majestic and would be super fun. The Wave Permit is a next day lottery that’s super hard to get but you have a 1/100 change in the person lottery as opposed to the 1/10000 chance of the online lottery.
Wish I knew: Prepare though for long waits at the bus. There’s only one road into Zion and you can only enter in and out with a community bus. The wait for the bus can take forever.
American Samoa (Samoa)
Badlands (South Dakota)
Big Bend (Texas)
Black Canyon (Colorado)
Capitol Reef (Utah)
Carlsbad Caverns (New Mexico)
Channel Islands (California)
Congaree (South Carolina)
Crater Lake (Oregon)
Cuyahoga Valley (Ohio)
Dry Tortugas (Florida)
Gates of the Arctic (Alaska)
Gateway Arch (Missouri)
Glacier Bay (Alaska)
Great Basin (Nevada)
Great Sand Dunes (Colorado)
Gaudalupe Mountains (Texas)
Hot Springs (Arkansas)
Isle Royale (Michigan)
Kings Canyon (California)
Kobuk Valley (Alaska)
Lake Clark (Alaska)
Mammoth Cave (Kentucky)
Mesa Verde (Colorado)
North Cascades (Washington)
Petrified Forest (Arizona)
Rocky Mountain (Colorado)
Theodore Roosevelt (North Dakota)
Virgin Islands (Virgin Island)
Wind Cave (South Dakota)
Wrangell–St. Elias (Alaska)
Total: 42 left
I think my lesson for the Great Smokey National Parks is a National Park is not always the best place in a region. I thought the intersection of Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee was a lot more interesting place to be with caving and day hikes available more than the National Park in Tennessee. But I’m spoiled, California just has such majestic elements to it that I think other national parks might not have as much for me.
Denali also demonstrated that many national parks are more on the wilderness side than the backpacking side so it’s important to consider what things we can do in these parks. Backpacking in Denali makes more sense than camping and day hikes. Day hikes in California and the southwest are probably easier than backpacking.
If you’re interested in planning or coordinating camping trip here are some ideas that I’ve been wanting to do. I’m currently looking to do some things in 2019.
Utah Adventure Trip (Canyonlands, Arches, Capital Reef). Some camping and day trips.
Backpacking trips in Colorado (Rocky Mountain). Colorado I imagine must be awesome for backpacking.
Southwest Camping Trip (Petrified National Forest, Sedona, Seguro). Lots of driving and camping trips and day trips.
Backpacking in Alaska (Wrangel St-Elias). Researching this place was awesome. It’s a fun backpacking trip through wilderness but it has some amazing nature, animals, and even some historical artifacts.