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December 2, 2012

3

Guide to America’s National Parks – Our top picks

by Jason Dutton-Smith
Chattanooga - Smoky Mountains

What better way to rejuvenate the mind, body, and spirit than a visit to one of America’s inspiring national treasures – the beautiful sights that make up the U.S. National Parks System.

The National Park System includes national monuments, battlefield parks and old homesteads and buildings that tell the stories of America’s past. Of course the park system also includes the beautiful natural wonders of the country and in this list we will take a glimpse at several of the places that we have come to love – vast areas of immense beauty that must be seen to comprehend and truly appreciate.

Cruise Ship - Glacier Bay Alaska

Cruise Ship – Glacier Bay Alaska

Glacier Bay – Alaska

As the gateway to the stunning Glacier Bay, chances are your journey will start in Gustavus. With less than 500 permanent residents, this charming town is where most journeys to the park begin. Spanning over 3.3 million acres, Glacier Bay consists of coastline, rugged mountains, rainforest, glaciers and fjords. This is also a favourite destination for cruise ships which glide through the still waters from May to September.
Popular for – Hiking, kayaking, whale watching, eco tourism, fishing, camping, cruise ships.
Best time to go – April – June where when the climate is generally dry and temperatures average 10-15 degrees Celsius. While accessible during other months the winters are long and the days short with an average of 6-7 hours of sun per day and temperatures between -2 and 5 degrees centigrade.

Viator

Yosemite – California

Famous for its waterfalls, deep valleys and giant ancient sequoias (large coniferous trees of California reaching more than 300 feet high) Yosemite displays spectacular towering cliff tops and wide open meadows. Teaming with wildlife and an abundance of outdoor activities, it’s the perfect spot for family holidays or the adventure trip of a lifetime.
Popular for – Hiking, camping, rafting, water sports, biking, photography and even golf.
Best time to go – Summer (June to September) has the warmest weather and driest conditions averaging between 26-31 degrees Celsius. The winter months offer plenty of fun and excitement with the higher parts of the park providing fantastic snow ski conditions.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Rocky Mountain – Colorado

This is a hiker’s paradise! With over 350 miles of trails (approx 560km) of lush bushland, this is a natural wonder waiting to be explored. Hikes range from low-key strolls around lake perimeters to multi day camping trails over the mountains. Summer will see an abundance of wild flowers, wildlife and spectacular scenery.
Popular for – Hiking, camping, kayaking, fishing, biking, field seminars given by national park rangers.
Best time to go – While the park is open year round, the summer months prevail with most options. Fees and permits are required for camping. See the National Park Service website for more information.

Everglades – Florida

The Florida Everglades offer a very different environment from the previous parks on our list but most certainly worth a visit, if not for its…….unusualness? The shallow slow-moving water of the Everglades sprawls across 1.5 million acres of South Florida and is a magnificent natural wetland. This is a beautiful, sparse yet fertile eco-system home to many plant and wildlife species, some of which are endangered. The Everglades are a sanctuary for a variety of crocodiles, manatees and the rare Florida Panther.
Popular for – Camping, hiking, boat tours, kayaking, fishing, field seminars from national park rangers.
Best time to go – Florida has a sub-tropical climate making it a year round destination. The dry season is during the winter months and the most popular time to visit.

U.S. National Park

U.S. National Park

Smokey Mountains – Tennessee

The long-range of sprawling mountains nestled on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina make up the gorgeous Great Smokey Mountain National Park, America’s most visited National Park, and for good reason. An abundance of wildlife exists here where you can spot black bears, elk, deer, raccoons, hummingbirds and a host of other animals. Hiking trails are plentiful as are streaming waterfalls, lakes, rivers and historic places of interest. The past echoes through the tree tops here.
Popular for – Hiking, camping, waterfalls, biking, horse riding, bird watching.
Best time to go – Open year round with some parts of the park and camping grounds closed for winter. Even winter will present a different view of the Smoky Mountains so for this one we say visit twice, once in summer and again in winter.

Wisconsin Lake Boats

Wisconsin Lake Boats

Apostle Islands – Wisconsin

The Apostle Islands, while not a park, is part of the National Park System and designated a U.S. National Lakeshore.

The Apostle Islands can be found on the beautiful shores of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin and offer some of the most incredible scenery for camping, kayaking or canoeing to be found anywhere. This is a lakeshore consisting of a wonderful mix of wind-swept beaches, pristine forests, historic lighthouses and of course the stunning and secluded twenty-two islands, twenty-one of which make up the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. According to the National Park Service’s Apostle Island website, “the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has more lighthouses than any other National Park Service area with eight historic towers on six islands.”

The natural beauty of the Wisconsin shoreline and the Apostle Islands are a geological wonder and a testament to an ice age responsible for creating stunning scenery with jagged cliff tops, not to mention beautiful Lake Superior itself. Glaciers made a permanent mark on this area and there is something around every cliff top on every beachhead or island to explore.

For other Wisconsin sights be sure to look at our “Top 5 Must See Capitol Buildings” and “5 Great American Baseball Parks”.

For more information about these parks or to plan a trip, visit the National Park Service website.

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