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5. Great Basin National Park
Head out to Great Basin National Park; the high rise glaciers and vast plains are reminiscent of the Ice Ages and the activities are abundant. Although the park seemingly addresses one basin, the region is home to more than 90 basins. Take advantage of the activities this park has to offer, including fishing, hiking and stargazing. Great Basin NP has some of the best visibility to enjoy the night sky, due to a lack of light pollution. Take note of the bristlecone pines; the species found in the park are amongst the oldest on Earth.
If casual trips are your thing, try the 12-mile Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive for a great vantage point of the mountains and valleys. Or enjoy a brisk stroll on the 1/4-mile Island Forest Trail.
- Lehman Caves are an iconic destination of the park, since the dozens of other caves around the park are usually off limits. The caves are embellished with stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, flowstone and popcorn. The Lehman Caves are only accessible with a permit (unlike many other national parks in the U.S.). And while it might be a tedious undertaking, you can be assured you’ll be surrounded by only those who have demonstrated their experience with horizontal and vertical caving techniques, cave conservation ethics, and expertise with the required equipment.
4. Big Bend National Park, TXThe Rio Grande River brings up the southern borders and offers a multitude of activities, granted the diverse terrain, including hiking camping, river running, horse riding, mountain bicycling, birding, jeep touring, and abundant sightseeing opportunities.
Many adventurists would agree that access to the river, desert and mountains constitutes a natural trifecta! Big Bend National Park racks up about 800,000 acres and plays host to the largest protected area of the Chihuahuan Desert in the United States.
- Santa Elena Canyon is accessible after a short trail walk, but the ideal way to explore the canyon is by water (raft or canoe will suffice). Take a local guide or fly solo! Observe the wildlife, explore the canyon chambers and take the time to camp at the sandbars. Be cautious of the Rock Slide Rapids; even professionals have some difficulty navigating this obstacle!
- Mariscal is another canyon Big Bend offers up to visitors, the narrowest and deepest we might add. The 11-mile trip goes from Tally to Solis and provides its own challenges, including the rapids coined the “Rockpile” and the “Tight Squeeze”. Take your time on this trip and camp alongside the river. Enjoy!
3. Wrangell - St Elias National Park & Preserve, AK
Spanning over 13 million acres, this remote, undeveloped park is consistent with one of the few states that offers such serenity; Alaska. Wrangell-St. Elias NP is the largest outfit on our National Parks List. The park is open year round, which gives visitors a grand opportunity to see the towering mountains, substantial glaciers, frigid rivers and untouched ecosystems.
This national park is accessible by strictly two roads, the Nabesna Road and the McCarthy Road. Each have their merits. The Nabesna Road spans 42 miles and opens up on the parks’ northern end, while the 59-mile McCarthy Road takes you straight to the Kennecott National Historic Landmark.
Lodging varies according to your needs, including cabins, lodges, bed & breakfasts, private campgrounds, the Kendesnii Campground, and roadside pullouts. Consider all your activity options: hiking, backpacking, fishing, hunting, river trips, kayaking, and biking.
- Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark is rooted in 20th century history thanks to its copper mining headquarters. In the early 1900’s, ore was extracted from the mountains, and the mill town processed the material. From 1911 to 1938, nearly $200 million worth of copper was processed. Many of the buildings in Kennecott have been abandoned for over sixty years. Take the time to explore this historical area on our national parks list!
2. Isle Royale National Park, MI
In the northwest corner of Lake Superior, lies an island treasure, the isolated Isle Royale National Park. The outlying hinterland lies in the center of the lake and, obviously, it is only reachable by ferry, seaplane, or private watercraft. Departures in the U.S. are available from Houghton (MI), Copper Harbor (MI) and Grand Portage (MN).
- The Greenstone Ridge Trail snakes along the hill of the entire island, making it the longest trail available. The trail delivers dazzling views of Lake Superior and the campgrounds are not too far off the beaten path, near the interior lakes. The trail can be easily accomplished in 5-7 days, but feel free to take your time if you want to get the most out of the experience. Entrance and exit points are both near the docks. If you’re unsure of what you’ll need while on the island, don’t be afraid to refer to the park's recommended packing list.
1. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, WI
Exposed cliffs and beaches make up the best of what this national parks has to offer. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore exhibits 8 historic lighthouses; more than any other national park. Pristine waters, vast underwater terrain and historical shipwrecks make this a scuba divers paradise! Meanwhile, hikers can take advantage of the islands and their 50+ miles of well-maintained trails and fishing-enthusiasts have access to a variety of freshwater fish, including trout and Coho Salmon.
Transportation to the islands varies, but you can rely on cruises, outfitters or the car ferry. This tops our list of national parks in the U.S. If all else fails, note that you’re allowed to travel to the islands independent of the aforementioned services.
Mainland Sea Caves are a hidden gem of the lakeshore, perhaps because of its isolated location. Millions of years ago, the rivers dropped layers of sand that solidified into sandstone and then thousands of years ago, glaciers carved the sandstone into the breathtaking cliffs of Lake Superior. To check the weather and lake freeze, the National Parks Service offers an “Ice Line” for potential visitors to call. Make a note that ice thickness should be 10” or higher in order to walk on the lake. The trek is 2 miles roundtrip and well worth it. Just be sure to dress warm!
Contact the Ice Line at (715) 779-3397 - extension 3
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