Spring is a wonderful time to visit Acadia National Park. You’ll find empty parking spots at Acadia’s top destinations, “vacancy” signs at your favorite lodgings, and a more relaxed feel in and around the park as it gears up for the busier seasons of summer and fall.
Exploring the Parks
Traveler peels back the layers to help you enjoy your national park experience to the max.
Horace Kephart roamed the Smoky Mountains in all seasons, but he held springtime here in high esteem.
As soon as we slid the canoe into the river, the current grabbed it and pulled us towards the first rapid on our 26-mile guided trip down the East Branch of the Penobscot in the heart of Maine’s north woods. Now mid-May, it was the perfect time to run the Stream of Light, as the native Abenaki called it, in part because the black flies weren’t yet biting.
They were strangers to each other, collected by common calamity, disfigured, mortally sick, banished without sin from home and friends, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about the Kalaupapa Leper Colony in 1889.
With more than 400 units in the National Park System, trying to zoom in on any one particular park for a visit can be a challenge. Over the past 12 months the Traveler has "explored" quite a few parks, and we list those stories here to help you plan your next national park adventure.
There’s one sure-fire way for avoiding the crowds at Yosemite National Park: visit during the winter. Gone until May are the crowds that fill the Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point, and the Mariposa Grove. You’ll love the freedom from take-a-number tourism, and be mesmerized by the pure, clean, quiet whiteness. It just might seem like you have the place all to yourself.
In the early 1800s, following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, a host of scouts, soldiers, trappers and traders began venturing from St. Louis, eager to explore and exploit the natural riches to be found in the wilderness of the West. It was America’s new economic frontier. The expansion of the fur trade would introduce new cultures and trading partners to farsighted business entrepreneurs.
Okay, let’s get the most important thing out of the way right off the bat. If you are thinking of camping using a big RV or even a small camp trailer at Caves Creek Campground not far from Oregon Caves, I have some very important advice: DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT!
Quiet spreads across Big Bend National Park during the winter months, both in the lack of visitors to this grand rumpled slice of parkland in southwestern Texas as well as audibly. Silence pervades the Chihuahuan Desert, both day and night. The wind blows, but it’s felt more than heard. The Chisos Mountains are quiet as well. The cactus and Ocotillo plants look drab and thornier than usual without their brilliant spring blooms to grace and hide the sharp spikes. Cooler temperatures prevail, and occasional snow- or hail-storms punctuate the season.
As I traveled this fall, people I met would ask where I was heading. Whenever I mentioned Lassen in my list, I heard the same refrain from people who had already been there: “You’ll absolutely love it. It’s such a neat and wonderful place.” They were right. I do and it is.
An oddly familiar music greeted me as we pulled up to our reserved site in Gallo Campground, located in a side wing of Chaco Canyon’s buff-colored sandstone cliffs. That sounds like a white-crowned sparrow, I thought as I carried our tent to the 12-foot-square sandbox that would be our sleeping spot for the next four nights. I got out binoculars and, sure enough, there were the telltale white-and-black head stripes that identified it as my favorite mountain songster. But here in the desert? In mid-October? Already this national historical park in New Mexico, which my wife and I and a friend from Albuquerque were visiting for the first time, was surprising me.
Crater Lake sneaks up on you. The mountain holding the lake is just one more of many rather nondescript mounds on the horizon.
I came to Lava Beds expecting . . . . well . . . . lava. But what I found nearly blew what’s left of my little mind. Lava Beds National Monument in north central California near a tiny town called Tule Lake (or Tulelake, it seems to be spelled both ways interchangeably) contains lava all right, and a whole lot more.
It is almost absolutely silent. I sit down on a fallen redwood log and listen. I hear my own breathing. And a woodpecker somewhere far off to my right and what may be some frogs from a direction I can’t pinpoint. A squirrel chitters and a small bird of some kind chips. And all around me are the Trees.
One of my most favorite places on the face of the Earth is Great Basin National Park. It’s one of those Get Out and Do parks, although it certainly has a bunch of stuff for you if you prefer Look and See.
If the mention of Judge Isaac Parker doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps you will remember Hang ‘em High, a popular Western from 1968 starring Clint Eastwood. The movie was loosely based on He Hanged Them High, a book by Homer Croy that was, in turn, loosely based on the life and times of Judge Parker. In the movie, Eastwood portrayed a U.S. marshal who brought wrongdoers in to face the judge.
The world’s third-oldest national park (established as Rocky Mountains Park in 1887), Banff is a wonderland of hiking, mountain biking, golfing, climbing, horseback riding, fishing, rafting, kayaking, skiing … you name it.
Garden Key is surrounded by the lapping ocean and, after the sun goes down, the nightly entertainment arrives. At first there are just a few pinpoints of light, then Venus is seen on the horizon. By the time you lie down to sleep, the stars fill the skies over Dry Tortugas National Park. The real show, though, is hours away.
There’s a park in the Canadian Rockies that features one of the country’s tallest waterfalls, one of the world’s most treasured collections of fossils, “spiral tunnels” designed to help trains chug literally through mountains, and a stunning alpine area so pristine that the number of visitors are limited to keep it that way.
There are trips where the road is the destination. In America, there’s Route 66, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, and Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. After my wife and I explored the northern nexus of Jasper National Park, the world-famous Icefields Parkway beckoned.