Jamie Lynn Leake » National Parks on Our Grand Adventure

Home » National Parks on Our Grand Adventure

National Parks on Our Grand Adventure

 

10 national parks

 

I came into our trip with very little knowledge of the National Parks Service. I knew there was a lot of love out there for National Parks and I knew there would be some great hikes, but our experience has really been incredible. I had no idea just how large the parks are! We spent just a few days in as many as we could, but wished we had more time at almost all of them. I was also really surprised at the huge international attendance at each park. We heard so many languages and talked to numerous foreigners who have so much love for the parks and have been to and explored far more than we have! And we live here!

I totally have the National Park bug now and want to visit every single one. Here is a brief overview of our experience at the ones we were able to visit:

 

Grand Canyon National Park

Camping: Unless you plan way, way far in advance, it’s really hard to find camping inside the parks. We only planned a week or so in advance and booked a few nights at Grand Canyon Camper Village just outside the gates to the South Entrance Visitor Center.

Highlights: Just everything. The whole thing is amazing, I don’t see how you could have a bad experience here.

Hikes: We hiked the South Kaibab trail to Ooh Aah Point. It was about a mile down switchbacks with an incredible view, but tough on the way back up. We also took the tram along the South Rim and got out and walked to a bunch of different viewpoints. This was a great way to see the canyon from different angles without having to walk all day long.

20170508_145140

Zion National Park

Camping: Zion was a last-minute decision for us. We ended up with 1 extra night in our schedule when other plans fell through. We are so glad our plans changed! Zion was amazing! We booked our 1 night at Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort and it was a really cool place. A very windy road up the mountain, but the Resort had 2 pools, mini-golf, horses, and cute little covered wagons and yurts available for rent.

Highlights: Angel’s Landing had the most incredible view of the canyon ever! It was so gorgeous. We also really loved driving down into and through the canyon. We felt like unlike the Grand Canyon, you could really get into and explore Zion because it wasn’t so huge.

Hikes: We hiked/walked a fairly easy 6 mile round trip trail from a parking lot just outside our campground to Angel’s Landing. Apparently the hike up to Angel’s Landing from inside the canyon is very challenging, but we accidentally bypassed that.

20170511_095944

Joshua Tree National Park

Camping: We camped a good ways outside the park at Joshua Tree Lake RV Resort. I was excited to book a campground on a lake in such a desert climate and had grand visions of the dog swimming and chasing tennis balls all evening. The pond turned out to be a little puddle full of ducks. I don’t think we would recommend this campground. There wasn’t anything particularly inspiring about the sites or the amenities.

Highlights: We drove through miles and miles of Joshua Trees before reaching the parks. They are unusual looking trees and it was an interesting change of scenery. Unfortunately, by the time we reached the actual park, we were less interested and we only spent a few steamy hot hours here walking around. This was probably our least favorite park, but I know some people are really, really in love with Joshua Tree, so don’t take my word for it! The desert life is just not for us.

Hikes: We did the Barker Dam Loop which was 1.5 miles round trip. This was a short hike out to a man-made dam built back in the 40’s by cattleman. It was interesting to see the dam, but maybe there are better hikes out there that would have improved our experience at this particular park.

20170513_102245

Sequoia National Park

Highlights: We drove through Sequoia briefly on our way to Yosemite, so we didn’t camp in the area. The drive up into the mountains was gorgeous. After parking, we walked the short trail to General Sherman with a whole crowd of people. The trees really were incredible, but I know there was more to see that we just didn’t have time to get to.

Hikes: Short 1 mile trail to General Sherman (the largest tree, by volume, in the world!)

DSC_0384

Yosemite National Park

Camping: Again, due to our last-minute scheduling we stayed a good ways outside of the park. We camped for 3 nights at Yosemite Pines Park and it was great. It got so, so dark at night and we made a few campfires and enjoyed the mild weather.

Highlights: The waterfalls! We visited Yosemite at the perfect time! It was warm enough to walk around all day, but the snow had just melted on the mountains so the waterfalls were huge! There were so many more things we wanted to explore here, but what we saw was amazing!

Hikes: After driving into Yosemite Valley the first day, we took the dog on a short, paved trail to the base of Yosemite Falls. There were lots of people around and the waterfall was huge and loud and incredible. We walked all around the valley on our first day. We came back the following day and hiked up to Nevada and Vernal Falls. This was my favorite hike of the entire trip! We decided to take the John Muir Trail to Nevada Falls and it was a little easier and less crowded than going up the more popular Mist Trail. On the way down, we took the Mist Trail and went past Vernal Falls. The name “Mist Trail” is very appropriate. The trail hugs the edge of the river as it descends and we walked so close to the falls we were totally soaked, but we loved it!

 

20170525_095254

Redwood National Park

Camping: We actually camped in the park at Mill Creek Campground for 2 nights. This was a more primitive camping experience so we had to conserve our solar energy as much as possible. We also had to go into the little town in the area to get Wifi at McDonalds so we could keep planning our route because the cell service was non-existent.

Highlights: I had no idea the Redwood Forest was right on the coast! We had such a lovely drive up US 101 from Fort Bragg, winding along among the forest with amazing coastal views. Our campground nestled in with the trees was also amazing!

Hikes: We hiked the Hiouchi Trail through the Redwoods. It was about a 4-5 mile round trip hike and we barely saw a soul. It was a nice change from our Sequoia experience were there were so. many. people. We also hiked the Stout Memorial Grove trail which is only about 1/2 a mile. The trees at this grove were especially majestic and the forest floor was covered in dainty little mosses and ferns.

I hiked the Trestle Loop Trail around our campground one morning with Macy. This 1 mile loop was very peaceful and scenic, but I was so worried the whole time that I would encounter a bear or get lost without Daniel, so I’m not sure how much I really enjoyed the hike. I’ll make Daniel come next time.

20170601_154847

 

Olympic National Park

Camping: We camped in the town of Port Angeles because we had heard it was the second best outdoor city next to Chattanooga. We had to check out our competition! Our campground was amazing! We spent 2 nights at Salt Creek Campground, which is a recreation area right on the ocean.

Highlights: The views from this park were really amazing! We also finally saw bears at Olympic! We had been hoping to see them for weeks and finally saw one from a distance on one of the trails (we promptly turned around and walked back after this).

Hikes: We drove from Port Angeles up 5,000 feet to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. There was still a lot of snow at this altitude so a lot of trails were closed. We drove a little ways past the visitor center and  ended up hiking through a half trail/half snow path for 3 miles on the Hurricane Hill Trail. It was a challenging hike over snowy hills, but we were rewarded with awesome views of Port Angeles and the mountain ranges.

The next day we hiked a few miles of the Striped Peak trail that started at the campground and meandered through the woods and along the coast.

2017-06-05 15.31.57

Yellowstone National Park

Camping: We spent 4 nights at Madison Arm Resort right on the Madison Arm of Hebgen Lake, about a 20 minute drive from the West Entrance to the park. The dog actually did get to swim here, when it finally warmed up enough, and Daniel even caught some fish! Nothing fancy here at the campground but it was very pretty and peaceful.

Highlights: This is my all-time favorite National Park… thus far. The colors of the geysers and hot springs were incredible and it was like nothing else I have ever seen. We highly recommend the Morning Glory Pool and the Artist Paint Pots but really, everything was incredible!

Hikes: This isn’t much of a hiking park. The awesome parts are the geysers and springs that are viewable from wooden boardwalks all over the park. We mostly drove from place to place and parked when we wanted to see something along the way (which was perfect because the first day was freezing cold and snowing!!)

We did do 1 hike (easy walk) from Biscuit Basin to Old Faithful. It was about 4 miles round trip past some really gorgeous geysers.

20170614_105020

 

 

Grand Teton National Park

Camping: The Tetons are pretty close to Yellowstone, so we drove here on our 3rd day in Yellowstone to do some exploring.

Highlights: All the views of the mountains! The Tetons are huge, pointed, rocky peaks that were covered in snow and fog on the day we visited. We wished the weather had been a little nicer, but we still really enjoyed seeing them.

Hikes: We started the day with a 3 mile round trip hike (can’t remember the trail name) that wove around and among a few ponds and ended at a vista with views of the (very misty) Teton mountain range. We were basically eaten alive by mosquitos on this trail and saw zero bears, so our experience was less than ideal (we really wanted to see another bear and the signs indicated it was likely). We also did a 1 mile hike up Signal Mountain for more really pretty views.

20170615_160320

Rocky Mountain National Park

Camping: We camped at Chatfield State Park in Denver and drove to Rocky Mountain NP just for the day.

Highlights: The lovely hike around Bear Lake, I highly recommend.

Hikes: We entered Rocky Mountain NP at the Fall River Visitor Center and drove up to the top of the amazing (aptly named) Rocky Mountains. We did a short hike at the top to a vista, but I can’t remember the name. On our way back down, we hiked a few miles in the Bear Lake area. This was a beautiful little lake nestled in the woods. This hike also took us through some snow.

20170619_174032

 

 

Bonus: While not technically National Parks, we saw some other pretty amazing sites during our trip that we highly recommend. 

Bandelier National Monument (New Mexico): These are ancient cave dwellings that have lasted hundreds of years, some of which still have cave drawings and markings on them. We really enjoyed getting to climb up into the caves and exploring them.

20170506_095158

 

Lake Meredith: We found free camping here in Texas at this National Recreation Area and parked the trailer high up on the rim of the lake. This was such a great off-grid find!

DSC_0264

 

Valley of Fire State Park & Lake Mead (Nevada): This campsite is pretty high up on my list of favorites from the whole trip. The red rocks were so different from what we see in TN. Macy loved swimming in Lake Mead, which was just a short drive from the State Park.

2017-05-11 18.33.29

 

2017-05-12 10.48.26

 

Mount Rushmore (South Dakota): While technically a National Memorial, I’m really glad we made this stop happen. It was really cool to see in person.

20170618_080738

 

Daniel made us this awesome video of our trip pictures and GoPro video footage. Enjoy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *