By Michael Lanza
With the federal government closed, we can’t hike, paddle, backpack, or climb in our national parks right now. No one knows when the government shutdown will end, but it can’t go on forever, right? (Right?! Someone please make this end soon!)
I’ve assembled below inspiring photos from 10 national parks, with links to stories (with more photos) about great outdoor-adventure trips in each one. You can’t take these trips now, but you can start scheming plans for when the parks are back up and running. Many of these experiences require planning weeks or months in advance, anyway.
So get on it. Your next adventure awaits.
Yellowstone National Park
Visiting Yellowstone should be a requirement of U.S. citizenship–period. Erupting geysers, bubbling mud pots, whistling fumaroles, waterfalls, rivers, wildlife you can’t see in most parks and wilderness areas… it’s impossible to summarize the experience in a few words. I’ve visited many times, with my kids and before I had a family, in summer and winter. It’s wonderful for everyone, at any stage in life, partly because so many of its highlight features can be seen on short walks. See my stories “The Ultimate Family Tour of Yellowstone” and “Cross-Country Skiing Yellowstone” for ideas on what to do there.
Grand Canyon National Park
One. That’s how places there are on the entire planet like the Grand Canyon. Seeing it from the South Rim–as most visitors do–is certainly pretty grand. But to really appreciate the Big Ditch, you gotta go down into it. See “Dropping Into the Grand Canyon: A Four-Day Hike From Grandview Point to the South Kaibab Trail” and my story about hiking across the canyon from the South Rim to the North Rim and back.
Yosemite National Park
Sure, Yosemite Valley is overcrowded with tourists. But don’t let that dissuade you from seeing those magnificent cliffs and some of the tallest waterfalls in the world. Check out my story and photos of two of my favorite dayhikes in The Valley. And here’s a little tip for avoiding the crowds: Start up the Mist Trail at daybreak, way ahead of the crush of hiker traffic; and if you’re a strong hiker, start up the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail in early afternoon, so that most hikers are coming down as you’re going up (and you get more shade than hot sun–but bring a headlamp, just in case you have a late return). Both will be a completely different, more solitary experience.
Glacier National Park
For backpackers, Glacier is the major leagues. You will probably see mountain goats, there’s a good chance of sighting bighorn sheep and moose, and you might even spy a bruin of the grizzly or black variety. But above all, the scenery every day will blow you away. And the glaciers won’t be there for many more years (as I write about in my book about family adventures in national parks), so what are you waiting for? Looking for a really big adventure of a lifetime? Check out my story about a 95-mile trek in the park. Prefer to start smaller? Read about my family’s three-day hike on the spectacular Gunsight Pass Trail.
Canyonlands National Park
Poll serious river people for their favorite, easy, multi-day wilderness float trip, and you’ll find one answer consistently cropping up: the Green River through Stillwater Canyon in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. Five to seven days of looking at enormous spires and soaring, burgundy canyon walls, plus gorgeous riverside campsites, will convince you, too. And it’s very family-friendly: We took a multi-family trip when our kids were six and four. Read about it and start planning your own.
Olympic National Park
My kids were nine and seven when we backpacked this three-day, 17.5-mile traverse of Washington’s southern Olympic coast three summers ago, and they still rank it among their favorite trips. Any why not? For them, it was all about playing for hours in tide pools, exploring a massive boulder wallpapered with mussels, sea anemones, and sea stars, and having a wild coastline almost entirely to ourselves. For us adults, it was all about the abundance of sea life and birds—we saw seals, a sea otter, and a great blue heron, among others—the beauty of the sea stacks rising straight out of the ocean, giant trees, and having a wild coastline almost entirely to ourselves. Need more convincing—or just ready to plan it? See my story.
Zion National Park
Southern Utah’s embarrassment of canyon-country riches certainly don’t begin and end with this park. But there’s a good reason Zion is the best-known of the numerous national parks and other public lands gracing the Colorado Plateau. The trails below and among Zion Canyon’s half-mile-tall, gold and white monoliths are a good place to start. But don’t stop there: Treat yourself to the incomparable vistas from the West Rim Trail and in the Kolob Canyons by repeating this family backpacking trip in Zion. Are you a seriously ambitious hiker or trail runner? Read about an ultra-dayhike across the park. (By the way, the government shutdown spoiled my family’s recent plans for another backpacking trip in Zion.)
Bryce and Capitol Reef National Parks
On any visit to southwest Utah, Bryce Canyon is a must-do stop for a dayhike beneath its hoo-doos. And Capitol Reef has natural beauty to match anyplace in southern Utah, without the crowds. See my stories about the best dayhike in Bryce (as well as hikes in nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and a trail in Capitol Reef); and exploring a slot canyon and backpacking in Capitol Reef. Bonus: Highway 12, the route between Bryce and Capitol Reef, is one of the most scenic byways in the country.
Mount Rainier National Park
No matter how many times you see it, The Mountain will take your breath away. Hiking at the foot of it offers the finest perspective on Rainier’s unfathomable scale, but also treats you to one of the best wildflower shows in the Northwest, views of some of the biggest glaciers in the Lower 48, foaming rivers, waterfalls, and lush temperate rain forest. Check out my story about a three-day, 22-mile family backpacking trip from Mowich Lake to Sunrise, and my Ask Me post describing my favorite dayhikes in Mount Rainier National Park.