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With more than 400 units in the National Park System, trying to zoom in on any one particular park for a visit can be a challenge. Over the past 12 months the Traveler has "explored" quite a few parks, and we list those stories here to help you plan your next national park adventure.

The trade room at Bent's Old Fort reflects the necessities of frontier life/Jane Schneider

Western Frontier: Early Forts Regale America's Fur Trade Era

By Jane Schneider

In the early 1800s, following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, a host of scouts, soldiers, trappers and traders began venturing from St. Louis, eager to explore and exploit the natural riches to be found in the wilderness of the West. It was America’s new economic frontier. The expansion of the fur trade would introduce new cultures and trading partners to farsighted business entrepreneurs.

Musings From Oregon Caves National Monument

By Lee Dalton

Okay, let’s get the most important thing out of the way right off the bat. If you are thinking of camping using a big RV or even a small camp trailer at Cave Creek Campground near the edge of Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve, I have some very important advice: DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT!

Volcanic dikes point to the foundation of Big Bend National Park/Rebecca Latson

Three Days In Big Bend National Park

By Rebecca Latson

Quiet spreads across Big Bend National Park during the winter months, both in the lack of visitors to this grand rumpled slice of parkland in southwestern Texas as well as audibly. Silence pervades the Chihuahuan Desert, both day and night. The wind blows, but it’s felt more than heard. The Chisos Mountains are quiet as well. The cactus and Ocotillo plants look drab and thornier than usual without their brilliant spring blooms to grace and hide the sharp spikes. Cooler temperatures prevail, and occasional snow- or hail-storms punctuate the season.

Musings From Lassen Volcanic National Park

By Lee Dalton

As I traveled this fall, people I met would ask where I was heading. Whenever I mentioned Lassen in my list, I heard the same refrain from people who had already been there: “You’ll absolutely love it. It’s such a neat and wonderful place.” They were right. I do and it is.

Sound And Light At Chaco Culture National Historical Park

By  Frederick H. Swanson

An oddly familiar music greeted me as we pulled up to our reserved site in Gallo Campground, located in a side wing of Chaco Canyon’s buff-colored sandstone cliffs. That sounds like a white-crowned sparrow, I thought as I carried our tent to the 12-foot-square sandbox that would be our sleeping spot for the next four nights.

Wizard Island, Crater Lake National Park/Lee Dalton

The Wizard in Crater Lake/Lee Dalton

Musings From Crater Lake National Park

By Lee Dalton

Crater Lake sneaks up on you. The mountain holding the lake is just one more of many rather nondescript mounds on the horizon. After driving for what seems like an endless chain of miles through beautiful old growth forest, you finally crest out at a place called Rim Village. When I arrived there before noon on September 1, parking lots at the village had plenty of empty spaces. I left my truck and walked a short distance to the first place I could glimpse the legendary lake.

Musings From Lava Beds National Monument

By Lee Dalton

I came to Lava Beds expecting . . . . well . . . . lava. But what I found nearly blew what’s left of my little mind. Lava Beds National Monument in north-central California near a tiny town called Tule Lake (or Tulelake, it seems to be spelled both ways interchangeably) contains lava all right, and a whole lot more.

Musings From Redwood National And State Parks 

By Lee Dalton

Redwoods. Stately. Old. Majestic. There are no adequate adjectives. It’s impossible to take a photo of them. No camera’s viewfinder can possibly contain their height. I’m alone but even if there was someone with me, we probably wouldn’t be speaking. This is my first time among the Great Trees and the feeling inside me is one that’s impossible to describe.

Autumn glory flares color across Great Basin National Park in Nevada/Lee Dalton

Random Musings From Great Basin National Park

By Lee Dalton

One of my most favorite places on the face of the Earth is Great Basin National Park. It’s one of those Get Out and Do parks, although it certainly has a bunch of stuff for you if you prefer Look and See.

Where Judge Parker Ruled: A Visit To Fort Smith NHS

By David and Kay Scott

If the mention of Judge Isaac Parker doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps you will remember Hang ‘em High, a popular Western from 1968 starring Clint Eastwood.  The movie was loosely based on He Hanged Them High, a book by Homer Croy that was, in turn, loosely based on the life and times of Judge Parker. In the movie, Eastwood portrayed a U.S. marshal who brought wrongdoers in to face the judge.

Exploring The Parks: High Season In Banff National Park

By Scott Johnson

The world’s third-oldest national park (established as Rocky Mountains Park in 1887), Banff is a wonderland of hiking, mountain biking, golfing, climbing, horseback riding, fishing, rafting, kayaking, skiing … you name it.

The Columbia Icefield is one of the many highlights along the Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies/Scott Johnson

Exploring The Parks: High Season In Jasper National Park

By Scott Johnson

First, north to the heart of the Canadian Rockies. Then, a 9-mile drive on a narrow, twisting road through towering trees. Finally, another half-mile hike over a creek and into the heavens. And there, at the end of the Path of the Glacier Trail, a giant mass of rock reaches into the clouds. At the foot of 11,033-foot Mount Edith Cavell, you feel like you’re worshipping in a temple at the top of the world.

Exploring The Parks: High Season Along The Icefields Parkway

By Scott Johnson

There are trips where the road is the destination. In America, there’s Route 66, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, and Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. After my wife and I explored the northern nexus of Jasper National Park, the world-famous Icefields Parkway beckoned.

Exploring The Parks: High Season In Yoho National Park

By Scott Johnson

There’s a park in the Canadian Rockies that features one of the country’s tallest waterfalls, one of the world’s most treasured collections of fossils, “spiral tunnels” designed to help trains chug literally through mountains, and a stunning alpine area so pristine that the number of visitors are limited to keep it that way.

Historic lockhouses along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, such as Lockhouse No. 6, are some of the more unique lodgings in the National Park System/C&O Canal Trust

Quiet Time On The C&O Canal

By Kim O'Connell

Crossing the powder-blue bridge spanning the Potomac River at Point of Rocks, Maryland, I feel like I’ve time-warped to another century. With my husband and two children in tow, we have left behind the bustling Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., to stay in a historic lockhouse along the C&O Canal. For one weekend at least we hope to experience what life was like for a 19th-century lock tender and his family, whose livelihood was tied to the daily rhythms of moving boats and goods. If history had gone in a different direction, however, our stay would have been impossible.

Finding Pura Vida In Costa Rica

By Kim Mills

My first day in Costa Rica’s famed Manuel Antonio National Park was, surprisingly, underwhelming. We set out to find sloths and Technicolor birds, but instead we were greeted by dense vegetation, a few spiders, and crowded beaches, with sand too hot to walk on. We left, not understanding what all of the hype was about—much like the first time I went to Yellowstone National Park and didn’t see a bison.

Exploring The Parks: A Stay In Isle Royale National Park

By David and Kay Scott

We recently returned for a stay of several nights in Isle Royale, one of America’s most lightly visited national parks. Based on our memory of the previous trip nine years ago, pretty much everything was unchanged, and that was fine with us. The park remains quiet and uncrowded with beautiful vistas, friendly people, and cool temperatures.

Enthusiast Builds Website To Collect, Share Free National Park Maps

By Scott Johnson

Before the park, there’s the entrance booth. You’re greeted by a National Park Service ranger, who hands over a newsletter and a map. You know the map – the size of a brochure, a black stripe lines one edge, the park’s name across it in white type. At the same time familiar and stimulating, an iconic photo tempts you to unfold it, panel by panel unveiling the breadth of opportunities that await.

Exploring The Parks: A Visit To Keweenaw National Historical Park

By David and Kay Scott

We recently returned to Keweenaw National Historical Park in Michigan after an absence of nearly a decade following our first visit in 2007. The national historical park covers a substantial amount of real estate as it spans much of the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. This large expanse makes it likely a visitor will miss at least some of the park's important features, one of the reasons we chose to visit a second time.

3 Perfectly Blue Days At Crater Lake National Park

By Kurt Repanshek

The rich cobalt blue waters of Crater Lake are the centerpiece for this national park in southern Oregon. Its geologic birth has left an enormous volcanic caldera, in which the lake rests today. The story of the lake’s birth is as fascinating and striking as the park itself.

Cascade Creek in Yosemite National Park offers a stream-side nook for solitude and introspection/Jean Bjerke

Exploring The Parks: Yosemite's Roaring Waterfalls

By Jean Bjerke

Spring in Yosemite National Park following a wet winter is spectacular. Waterfalls roaring, thundering, pouring over granite cliffs, cascading down boulder-strewn canyons. Rainbows in waterfalls. Merced River at flood stage. Lush green meadows. Trees bursting with new spring growth. Lovely white blossoms on graceful branches of dogwood trees reaching out over the Merced River. Snow-capped peaks in the backcountry.

Discover The Beginning Of The Lewis And Clark Story

By Jane Schneider

Traveling to St. Louis eager to learn about Lewis and Clark? Then take this half-hour’s drive to Hartford, Illinois, where this great adventure begins, at Camp River DuBois and the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site.

A Return To Homestead National Monument Of America

By David and Kay Scott

Our only previous visit to Homestead National Monument of America in Nebraska occurred nearly four decades ago while headed east to Indiana from Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California. Driving on U.S. 36 that spans northern Kansas, we made a spur-of-the-moment decision to take a short detour north into southern Nebraska and visit Homestead National Monument, a NPS area that would be a new park unit for us. 

To Teakettle Junction And Beyond In Death Valley National Park

By Kurt Repanshek

There is a place in Death Valley National Park, far, far off the beaten path, where strange things occur. Strange things such as rocks effortlessly coasting across the landscape. Let's take a look at this odd place in a short video.

Desert RVing In SoCal's Best National Parks

By Rene Agredano

National parks are phenomenal vacation destinations and a great place to bring your home on wheels. But when you do, some challenges are inevitable. Navigating a park’s curvy interior roads can be tricky, and campsites are astonishingly narrow for modern RVs. In Southern California, two neighboring parks perfectly illustrate the range of accommodations for RVers: Death Valley and Joshua Tree. One is more RV-friendly than the other, but both offer an unforgettable camping experience.

The Super Bloom brought thousands of visitors to Death Valley National Park early in 2016/Kurt Repanshek

Musings From Death Valley National Park

By Kurt Repanshek

Even in its death throes, the super bloom that swept across Death Valley National Park was extraordinary.

Musings From Yellowstone National Park's Buffalo Ranch

By Lee Dalton

Smack in the middle of Yellowstone National Park’s northern range, in the middle of the valley of the Lamar River lies a place known as the Buffalo Ranch. It’s the place where most of a few remaining bison in the world were saved from extinction. It’s also the place where wolves were returned to Yellowstone in 1995.

Touring The Charcoal Kilns Of Death Valley National Park

By Kurt Repanshek

A unique and well-preserved slice of Western history can be found on the west side of Death Valley National Park below Wildrose Peak. While most park visitors come to see Furnace Creek, Badwater, and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, a sidetrip to see the row of 10 charcoal kilns is time well spent.

In The Wake Of Conquistadors: Cabrillo National Monument

By George Oxford Miller

The view eastward from Point Loma, at just 422 feet above the Pacific, encompasses San Diego Bay, the city skyline, and the low silhouette of the Laguna Mountains against a brilliant sky. To the west, the surf pounds rocky cliffs and the steely-blue ocean stretches to the horizon. In 1542, Spanish conquistador Juan Cabrillo, the first “tourist,” gazed across the scenic landscape from this same viewpoint.

Giant Forest in winter/Jean Berke

Winter brings a silence to the snow-covered landscape to Sequoia National Park/Jean Bjerke

A Winter Visit To Sequoia National Park

By Jean Bjerke

Famous naturalist John Muir said, “The Big Tree (Sequoia gigantea) is Nature’s forest masterpiece, and . . . the greatest of living things. . . . No description can give any adequate idea of their singular majesty, much less their beauty.”

Imagine Channel Islands National Park

By Patrick Cone

Imagine a place in Southern California without freeways, a place without strip malls, smog, or freeway-clogging traffic. Then, imagine a necklace of grassy islands where eagles soar and foxes run, where abandoned olive groves and ripening figs attract ravens. Imagine crystal-blue ocean waters, where the golden Garibaldi swims through swaying kelp forests beneath wave-battered sea caves, undisturbed by cargo ships and oil platforms.

Going With The Flow

By Colleen Miniuk-Sperry

“If everyone knew just how beautiful it is, everyone would be out here,” my 64-year-old mother, Jacque, declared as she gently and gracefully stroked the muddy Colorado River with her kayak paddle. “Just think, we’ll get to see amazing sights only a few people have—or ever will—see on this adventure,” I responded with a smile from my 14-foot inflatable Stand Up Paddleboard.

Along the Colorado River in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the lack of light produces stunning night skies.Colleen Miniuk-Sperry

Rivers, Rapids, & Reptiles Deep In Canyonlands National Park

By Kurt Repanshek

We had come to Canyonlands National Park from North Carolina, Texas, Colorado, Virginia, Missouri, Utah, and California, determined to spend six leisurely days floating the Green and Colorado rivers through one of the most remote, rugged, and majestic regions of the continental United States. Paleontology was not on our itinerary, but geologic history lay in every direction here in southeastern Utah. As we drifted down the Green River, a pair of sharp eyes spotted high above the river two sloping slabs that bore the stone tracks of ancient reptiles. Now, these animals really didn’t seem to have skittered this way or that; more likely they had lazily trod their path across a muddy shoreline of an ancient sea. You could tell they weren’t being pursued.

Exploring The Parks: Saguaro National Park In Spring

By Kurt Repanshek

As the snow continues to pile up in the Rockies, thoughts not surprisingly turn to warmer settings, and Saguaro National Park in southern Arizona is a great place to explore in early spring. Wildflowers are coming up, temperatures are warming, but not too hot or too cold, and crowds seemingly have gone elsewhere.


A Day At The Presidio

By David and Kay Scott

San Francisco has long been our favorite U.S. city to visit. The city is compact, enjoys excellent public transportation, offers great vistas, and is home to outstanding dining, shopping, and a wide variety of attractions. San Francisco is a great walking town with lots of parks and small restaurants where you can rest or purchase a cup of coffee. It's only right that Tony Bennett left his heart in the city by the bay.

Musings From Mesa Verde National Park By Candlelight

By Lee Dalton

I noticed it in a Traveler article around Thanksgiving. A short mention of two nights in December when Cliff Palace and Spruce Tree House in Mesa Verde National Park would be lighted by luminarias.

Hey, why not?

Luminaria at Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde National Park/NPS

Luminaria displays bring life to the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park/NPS

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What a great collection of parks and stories. Thanks for this, Trav.


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