With the countdown to the National Park Service’s centennial this August down to fewer than 180 days, anticipation is building, reservations are filling, and crowds are filing into the National Park System. Last year marked the second year in a row of record national park visitation, with more than 307 million visitors exploring the park system, this year almost certainly will stretch that run to three years.
Essential Park Guide
I’ve never surfed a day in my life despite the many vacations on the Jersey shore. So, maybe you’ll understand why I’m at a loss for words about the first time I saw a Stand Up Paddleboard in action. What was that contraption? And, why paddle a SUP when you can run rivers and cross lakes with canoes, kayaks, and rafts?
September into the heart of November are my favorite months in the National Park System. The days aren’t quite as long as they are in July and August, but the bugs and crowds are on the wane, wildlife is on the move, and the crisp night air is perfect for sleeping under the stars, or in a cozy cabin.
National Parks. They are places of wonderment. They spark our curiosity, help us relax, and can keep us in shape. They offer thousands of miles of hiking trails, majestic vistas, deep woods, rushing streams, and quite literally an open-air zoo of wildlife that relies on these landscapes to thrive and, in some cases, merely survive.
Springtime is a bit of an “in-between” season. It’s somewhere between the longer, warmer days of summer, and the cooler and muddier days of a late winter. Hopefully you’ll find your place farther from winter’s cold and closer to summer’s breezes.
When it comes to construction skills, male Anhingas are slackers. Oh, they’re good at pulling together nesting materials, but that’s about it. Instead of turning the sticks, twigs, and leafy greenery they collect into a nest for their mates, they stash the materials in trees and let the females build the actual nest.
For many, fall conjures images of blizzards of golden leaves, the eerie bugles of bull elk, and the first crisp, possibly snow-dusted, days of year’s end. For the northern half of the country these are the realities of the National Park System. There are the breathtaking days of hiking, watching wildlife on the move, and even tasting the season in the bounties of wild berries and other fruits.
Spring. It's a fresh, vibrant season in the National Park System, one of renewal, for the parks’ wildlife, vegetation, and even for human visitors. After long, dark months of cold and snow across much of the system, the arrival of March, April, and May provide greater warmth, daylight, and access in the parks.
Climate change. Glaciology. Sustainability. These are not the subjects that leap to mind when you consider sending your kids to summer camp. But blend them with backpacking, canoeing, or a walk in the woods, and the result is a generation with not only a better connection with nature, but perhaps a career path.
While spring in some parks (mostly those in the Rockies, Sierra, and Pacific Northwest) is rightfully described as “mud season,” there are some great early season hikes—and some wonderful camping—to be found across the National Park System. Here’s a rundown of some of the highlights.