This week, April 21st through April 29th, marks National Park Week.
The Parks are magical places to me, full of scenic beauty and natural wonders. They are places that preserve the stories of our people, protect magnificent creatures, and allow us the opportunity to deeply reflect on the things that provide meaning to our lives.
In my opinion, there is no better way to enjoy being fit, active, and healthy, than by hiking around and spending some quality time in one of these amazing locations.
Today, I’d like to highlight a couple of my favorite parks that I have yet to write about, but I implore you to get out and explore a park near you. Support the National Park Service, plan a trip, a family vacation, or just a weekend getaway to one of these jewels of America, and I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.
Olympic National Park, Washington
Olympic National Park is a land of beauty and variety. A day’s exploration can take you from breathtaking mountain vistas with meadows of wildflowers to colorful ocean tidepools. Nestled in the valleys are some of the largest remnants of ancient forests left in the country. Olympic is like three magical parks in one.
I have had the good fortune of visiting this park fairly often since moving to the Pacific Northwest 6 years ago. The park consists of 3 amazing ecosystems and nearly 1 million acres of land.
Play among tide pools, ginormous drift wood, sea gulls, and star fish.
The Hoh Rain Forest is the wettest place in North America, but during the summer months, grey skies and rain give way to some of the greenest and biggest trees. The biomass (amount of living things) found in this area is some of the densest in the world. It’s simply breathtaking to walk through this old growth forest.
Hike steep trails that descend to subalpine lakes and valleys. See panoramic views of the entire park. Witness black bears roaming in their native habitat, and eat wild berries off the vine on Hurricane Ridge.
Did you know?
- That Mount Olympus receives over 200 inches of precipitation each year and most of that falls as snow? At 7,980 feet, Mount Olympus is the highest peak in Olympic National Park and has the third largest glacial system in the contiguous U.S.
- At Olympic National Park, the National Park Service protects 73 miles of wild Pacific coast. Tidepools, sandy beaches and rocky cliffs can all be found here.
- Olympic National Park protects the largest unmanaged herd of Roosevelt elk in the world. Olympic was almost named “Elk National Park” and was established in part to protect these stately animals.
- The old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest produce three times the biomass (living or once living material) of tropical rain forests.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
There is a place in Far West Texas where night skies are dark as coal and rivers carve temple-like canyons in ancient limestone. Here, at the end of the road, hundreds of bird species take refuge in a solitary mountain range surrounded by weather-beaten desert. Tenacious cactus bloom in sublime southwestern sun, and diversity of species is the best in the country. This magical place of the National Park Service is Big Bend.
I once had the opportunity to spend four fantastic days in this National Park. It is truly the most remote place that I have ever been. If you want to feel isolated from civilization, this is the park for you! Seriously, you must plan for this trip because there is literally nothing around for hours in any direction.
The stars at night, truly shine big and bright. Make sure you take a short night hike away from the campground and the lights of the lanterns and campfires. I guarantee that it will be breathtaking!
Spring is the perfect time to visit, before the summer heat creeps into the Chihuahuan Desert.
Did you know?
- The gates never close! Big Bend National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Visitor center hours vary seasonally.
- Big Bend has more species of scorpions (14) than any other national park, including some species that have been found nowhere else in the world.
- Big Bend is one of the least visited of the National Parks in the lower 48 states. In recent years, the National Park Service lists the annual visitation between 300,000 – 350,000.
- Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmidt visited Big Bend in 1971 to study the regions geology in preparation for their mission to the moon. This was one of four field trips to Big Bend that Apollo astronauts participated in between 1964 and 1971.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina, Tennessee
Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This jewel of the National Park Service is world renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, this is America’s most visited national park.
I’ve been fortunate to drive through Smoky Mountains National Park on several occasions, but I would really like to spend some more time exploring some of the more remote areas of this park.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park. The park is free to enter, as the National Park Service charges no entrance fee. The park receives approximately nine million visits per year. It is accessible by vehicle as there are roads throughout much of the park. Be prepared for mountain driving on steep and winding roads, but there are also lots of opportunities to get off of the beaten path.
Did you know?
- More than 240 species of birds have been found in the park. Sixty species are year-round residents. The National Park Service protects nearly 120 species that breed in the park, including 52 species from the neo-tropics. Many other species use the park as an important stopover and foraging area during their semiannual migration.
- The wispy, smoke-like fog that hangs over the Smoky Mountains comes from rain and evaporation from trees. On the high peaks of the Smokies, an average of 85 inches of rain falls each year, qualifying these upper elevation areas as temperate rain forests.
- Approximately 1,500 black bears live in the park. This equals a population density of approximately two bears per square mile. Bears can be found throughout the park, but are easiest to spot in open areas such as Cades Cove and Cataloochee Valley.
- Ninety seven historic structures, including grist mills, churches, schools, barns, and the homes of early settlers, preserve Southern Appalachian mountain heritage in the park.
Get out and explore your world and support the National Park Service, because it’s amazing, it’s beautiful, it’s worthwhile!
Also, be sure to post links to your amazing adventures on my Facebook page! Share your stories and inspire others to get outside and live an active life!