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Summer Special: A Potpourri Of Summertime Adventures In the National Park System


Whether you want to buck the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, climb to the top of the Grand Teton, tour Balcony House in Mesa Verde, hike the John Muir Trail through Yosemite or Sequoia, or paddle into Yellowstone's backcountry, plenty of adventures await you in the National Park System. Top photo NPS, all others by Kurt Repanshek.

Summer easily is the best time of year to get out and get sweaty in the National Park System, if only because the warmer weather makes more opportunities available. In time to help you plan your summer vacation, here's a potpourri of outdoor adventures in the parks.

Acadia National Park

* Sea kayak in Frenchman’s Bay. At least two outfitters offer these adventures. Both Coastal Kayaking Tours and National Park Sea Kayak Tours ply the waters around Mount Desert Island. Coastal (207-288-9605 or 800-526-8615) offers three-day camping trips to give you a taste of coastal Maine. Over at National Park Sea Kayak (1-800-347-0940), their three-day, two-night trips paddle around the islands of Acadia and the Deer Isle Archipelago.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

* Go kayaking in Lake Superior amid the lakeshore's 21 islands.

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

* Hike end-to-end, the ultimate adventure, or do it in more bite-sized chunks.

Big Bend National Park

* Float the Rio Grande along the park’s southern border.

Buck Island Reef National Monument

* Snorkel the underwater nature trail. Located in the Virgin Islands near St. Croix, Buck Island’s famous underwater trail takes the snorkeler on a marked trail that leads across large coral heads.

Canyonlands National Park

* Canoe the Green River 68 miles down from the town of Green River to Mineral Bottom, with an option for another 55-mile paddle to Spanish Bottom, or, if you’re tough enough, when you reach the confluence with the Colorado River just above Spanish Bottom, take a sharp left, and head upstream to Moab!

* Float through Cataract Canyon.

* Mountain bike the 100-mile-long White Rim Trail.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

* Head to "Canadian Hole" between Buxton and Avon for some of the East Coast's best wind surfing.

* Fish the waters between Ocracoke Island and Oregon Inlet for red drum.

Cape Lookout National Seashore

* Tour the East Coast's largest ghost town (and brave the East Coast's fiercest mosquitoes) at Portsmouth Village, perhaps the only location in the National Park System that requires a ferry trip just to get to the ferry that takes you there.

Channel Islands National Park

* Sea kayak around the islands.

* Scuba among the islands, looking for the old wrecks. Diving in this park has it all—giant kelp forests, thriving sea life, plenty of critters, and historic ship wrecks. Swimming through the kelp is a unique experience, almost like wandering through a pristine wilderness forest without gravity. Driven by the ocean currents and the surge on the surface, the kelp sways back and forth, giving the diver the impression that he/she is watching some kind of jungle in a windstorm.

Chesapeake and Ohio National Historic Park

* Bike the park’s towpath from Cumberland to Georgetown.

Congaree National Park

* Take paddle in hand, get into a canoe, and go for a cruise.

Death Valley National Park

* Head out into the dunes under a full moon (with plenty of water and a good compass or GPS unit, just in case).

* Explore Titus Canyon and its nearby ghost towns, but make sure you have a good 4WD rig and know how to drive it.

Dinosaur National Monument

* Float the Yampa River early in the summer, or float the Green anytime.

Dry Tortugas National Park

* Snorkel in the park waters, around Fort Jefferson, and past the reefs, shipwrecks, and barrier islands.

Everglades National Park

* Canoe the "wilderness waterway".

Glacier National Park

* String together a hike from Lake McDonald Lodge to Sperry Chalet to Granite Park Chalet and out to Many Glacier Hotel. While the Sperry Chalet offers running water, meals and single or double beds, the Granite Park Chalet is a tad more rustic, having only bunk beds and a community kitchen where you make your own meals. The Sperry Chalet is located above Lake McDonald along the Sperry Trail, while the Granite Park Chalet is found along the Highline Trail.

Glacier Bay National Park

* Sign on with the Sea Wolf, a 12-passenger ship, to spend 6-10 days cruising the waters of this Alaskan gem, taking time each day to sea kayak or hike near the rivers of ice that meet the sea here.

Grand Canyon National Park

* Float the Colorado through the canyon.

* Hike rim-to-rim.

* Take a Mule Ride to Phantom Ranch and spend the night.

Grand Teton National Park

* Climb the Grand Teton. That's right, don't just look at the Tetons and use them as a backdrop for a photograph, get out there and climb to the top. It's not as daunting an adventure as you might think. If you're in good physical shape, aren't overly intimidated by heights (I am, and yet still made it to the summit!), then this is a great experience. The well-trained guides at Exum Mountain Guides or Jackson Hole Mountain Guides can get you to the top and back down in one piece.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

* Climb the big dune barefoot and by moonlight. Or, take your skis and make some turns!

Isle Royale National Park

* Head into the park’s backcountry for a multi-day trek.

* Spend a week to canoe or sea kayak around the island.

Mammoth Cave National Park

* Take a “wild cave” tour.

Joshua Tree National Park

* Go climb a rock.

* Spend a night in the Jumbo Rocks area of Joshua Tree. Plan for a moonless night and enjoy the star show in all the desert. Then wake up early to watch the sunrise and the silhouettes it creates is magical.

Mesa Verde National Park

* Follow the Petroglyph Trail

* Tour the Balcony House.

Mount Rainier National Park

* Mount Rainier's summit is not for everyone, but if that sort of thing appeals, avoid the south side conga-line and try the longer Emmons route via Camp Schurman, where only one-third as many permits are issued.

* Any fit, patient backpacker might get more pleasure encircling 'The Mountain' on the 93-mile Wonderland Trail. Mouth-watering photos can be found at

New River Gorge National River

* Sign on with one of the outfitters who will float you down the river.

North Cascades National Park

* Most of the Cascades, a range strangely named for it's lowest point, are notoriously crumbly, as are the Olympics. The best rock climbing in Washington is in lightly visited North Cascades National Park. Think Teton relief and steepness with jungle approaches and serious glaciers: 
If that's too tame, try it in February:

* Hike to Cascade Pass.

Olympic National Park

* Take a hike in the rainforest, whether it’s the Hoh Rainforest or down to Marymere Falls.

* Olympic has amazing variety, but a unique adventure is following the longest roadless stretches of the West Coast remaining in the lower 48:

* If traversing day after day along alpine ridges 20 miles from the nearest road sounds like fun, check out this general overview of Olympic's high routes:

Oregon Caves National Monument

* Take the wild cave tour.

Padre Island National Seashore

* Go windsurfing in the Gulf of Mexico in the park's Bird Island Basin, deemed by Windsurfing Magazine as the best flat water sailing site in the continental United States, according to the park.

Rocky Mountain National Park

* Summit Longs Peak.

Sequoia National Park

* Hike the Congress Trail. It's short, but talk about feeling Lilliputian. Just 2 miles, this walk begins at the Sherman Tree and follows a trail through the heart of the sequoia forest. Famous sequoias along this trail include the House and Senate Groups, and the President, Chief Sequoyah, General Lee and McKinley Trees.

* Climb go to the top of Moro Rock. On a clear day, the view is spectacular. Then set off on a hike into Crescent Meadow, being sure to inspect Tharp's Log.

Tonto National Monument

* Drive the "Apache Trail" (Arizona - 88) to Tonto National Monument for the Upper Cliff Dwelling Tour.

Voyageurs National Park

* Take a canoe and head into the park's watery backcountry.

Yellowstone National Park

* Take a pack trip up the Lamar River Valley

* Canoe into the backcountry, either via Lewis and Shoshone lakes, or the big lake, Yellowstone, for five or more days.

* Explore "Cascade Corner," aka the Bechler Region.

Yosemite National Park

* Climb El Capitan.

* Thru-hike the John Muir Trail

* Hike down to Yosemite Valley from Tenaya Lake.

* Sign out for and hike the 1 mile ledge trail behind Curry Village to the top of Glacier Point.

Zion National Park

* Hike the Zion Narrows.

* Hike the Subway.

* Hike out to Kolob Arch and make your way to the foot for a great photo.

* Summon your courage, sure-footedness, and good judgment and hike to the top of Angels Landing.

Those are just some of the opportunities out there waiting for you. And there are plenty more if you look around.

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