Featured Articles on National Parks Traveler
On a windless morning, under the kind of flawless blue sky that always appears in ads for Florida vacations, our paddles send quiet ripples across the otherwise glassy surface of Chokoloskee Bay. As our two canoes glide past a signpost marking the Indian Key Pass water channel, two ospreys lift off from their nest atop the post and flap lazily over the water.
“I get by with a little help from my friends,” sang the Beatles. When it comes to national parks, it had better be a lot of help. The National Park Service often struggles with funding. Now, with tighter budgets and more demands, friends groups are proving invaluable in helping out parks.
Gold is an alluring color, whether woven into the feathers of a Scarlet macaw winging through Maya Mountains rainforest or mixed in the gravels of streams that thread beneath the understory of Chiquibul National Park in the Belizean highlands.
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.
Big Bend National Park and the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River claim 245 miles of this renowned river. And while many of those miles wend their way through rugged and remote canyon country, sections of the river nevertheless are on the state of Texas’ list of impaired water bodies. The primary concern is high total dissolved solids (high salinity), but bacteria can be a problem in the very upper reach.
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.
I had two job offers the summer before my junior year of high school. I chose the job that came with new boots.
West Yellowstone is one of the smaller gateway towns you’ll find in the National Park System...which isn’t such a bad thing.
Often the health of our rivers, lakes, and streams in the National Park System is endangered by something we don’t immediately see. Such is the case in Arkansas, where a hog farm less than 6 miles upstream from the Buffalo National River poses an industrial threat to the river.
“Pirates used to hide in these keys,” Carlos, our guide, tells us as our boat swings behind a small, steep-sided island. Numerous forested islets dot the shoreline like floating haystacks. “English and French pirates hid in Samaná Bay to ambush Spanish gold ships leaving Santa Domingo. The 58 cays and inlets made perfect hiding places.”
Winter had loosened its icy grip on the high country. Faint stirrings from burrows and dens and caves led the young critters into a new world of running water, budding plants, and warm sunshine. Warm weather and life springs abundant.
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.
They are some of the most acrobatic fish you’ll ever encounter, hurtling their silver bodies high out of rivers when motorboats pass by. But Asian carp that have been invading the Mississippi River drainage the past two decades pose a serious threat to both the native fish in the Great Lakes and Minnesota’s waters and to regional economies.
It’s just two days on the river, but the section of the Colorado River that flows through Cataract Canyon in Canyonlands National Park is one of the best not only in the West but in the entire country for whitewater aficionados and admirers of spectacular red rock scenery.
Of Minnesota’s fabled 10,000 lakes, none are so pristine, so haunting, so alluring to anglers, boaters, and campers as the rockribbed lakes of the north woods, where the cry of loons and howl of wolves soar over the gray water.
“Running on empty” unfortunately is a very apt description of the Colorado River Basin, which long has had its water overcommitted. Today, the vast watershed that stretches from the mountains of Colorado to the Gulf of California and helps nourish some 30 million residents in the Southwest and Mexico is mired in a long-running drought that threatens to dramatically recast the already-arid region.
Channel Island Outfitters can lead you through the caves and down into the kelp forests of Channel Islands National Park, a remote and isolated realm that is home to a unique faunal assemblage.
You have to get wet to truly appreciate Biscayne National Park in South Florida. Gazing out across Biscayne Bay, and beyond Hawk Channel into the Atlantic Ocean, you can take in the expanse of the park’s surface, but none of the wonders that lurk beneath.
With the travel season not too far off, you should be planning your national park adventures. If you're looking for a great scenic drive, we offer the following for your consideration.
Dinosaur National Monument's two rivers, the Yampa and the Green, should be justification enough to formally describe Dinosaur as a "national park;" they offer some of the best rafting in the West.
Despite its size, the 64,000 square-mile Chesapeake Bay Watershed struggles with pollution problems that degrade its waters.
Roderick Nash's 5th edition of his seminal work, Wilderness and the American Mind, should serve as a reminder of the underlying value of nature in the raw, a value that shouldn't be trivialized.
Massive, water-stained bluffs soaring over 500 feet above your canoe or kayak; the highest waterfall between the Appalachians and the Rockies; potential campsites on gravel bars along over a hundred miles of clear, free-flowing river; all this and more make the Buffalo National River a worthy addition to your list of must-do float trips.
We look to national park vacations as a healthy lifestyle ingredient, one filled with fun, laughter, and lasting memories. Not on our agendas is worrying about mercury in the fish we pull from mountain streams, droughts that would beach our boats, or industrial and agricultural pollution that impairs the very waters we enjoy in the parks. Sadly, those issues aren’t foreign to the National Park System.