Before you know it the holiday season will be a distant memory, winter will have laid her head to rest, and the warm days of Spring will have you itching to escape the mundanity of of everyday life. Before you begin making airline and hotel reservations, before you start trading Junior’s college fund for a ‘real-life experience’ on the French Riviera consider this:
The United States is home to 393 National Parks encompassing some 84 million acres of land, 4.5 million acres of oceans, lakes, and reservoirs, and more than 85,000 miles of rivers and streams. There are 155 National Forests and 20 grasslands totaling 193 million acres under the purvey of the National Forestry Service and nearly 200 rivers which are protected under The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Below are five of this country’s most spectacular wilderness areas. There are a variety of campgrounds to choose from in and around each of the National Parks and Forests listed and average nightly fees rarely exceed twenty dollars. Entrance fees to get into the parks are minimal, if any, and the value of the experience is priceless! For more information on area campgrounds click here. Now, what are you waiting for? Pack up your gear and go!
- Arches National Park
- Resting beneath the ever-blue skies of the desert Southwest, Arches National Park is home to the greatest concentration of natural stone arches in the world. Over the course of millions of years the erosive forces of nature have molded and shaped a landscape so alien, so unlikely, it inspires awe and baffles the mind. Here you will find huge boulders precariously perched atop towering sandstone spires, vast armies of red rock soldiers marching through serpentine canyons, and spectacular stone arches as far as the eye can see. Arches National Park is quite literally, like no other place on Earth. Learn more.
- Crater Lake National Park
- In the wake of a major volcanic eruption Oregon’s 12,000 foot Mount Mazama collapsed to form a massive caldera. Now more than 7,700 years later, that volcanic basin is filled with the crystal-clear waters of Crater Lake. Nearly five miles in diameter and 2000 feet deep, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S. and the seventh deepest in the world. The surface of this startling body of water lay 2000 feet below the sheer rock walls which encircle it and its waters are so clear one can see 120 feet into its depths. Due to the lake’s incredible depth and unnatural clarity, the water presents itself in spectacular shades of blue and with the surrounding mountains mirrored in its depths it has come to be regarded as one of the most strikingly beautiful places on Earth.Learn more.
- Glacier National Park
- Montana’s Glacier National Park lay on the Southern side of the U.S./Canadian border and is home to some 700 crystal-clear glacial lakes, 936 miles of rivers and streams, hundreds of waterfalls, and over 700 miles of hiking trails. The park encompasses more than one million acres of pristine wilderness. Unlike many wilderness areas throughout the world, the ecosystems within Glacier National Park have remained relatively intact with virtually all indigenous species still apparent within its boundaries. Wolverine, mountain goat, big horn sheep, elk, moose, white-tail deer, and even mountain lion are said to be present, if not plentiful within the park. In fact, the only truly depleted natural resource within the park are its namesake glaciers which have largely dis-appeared over the last twelve millennia. Learn more.
- Great Smokey Mountains National Park
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the single most visited National Park in the U.S. with over nine million recreational visitors in 2009. The park encompasses over half a million acres of land and is home to 5000 distinct species of plants and the greatest diversity of tree species in the world(130). There are over 800 miles of hiking trails, 2100 miles of wild mountain streams, one of the largest concentrations of waterfalls in the U.S., and 16 mountain peaks exceeding 6000 feet in elevation. Seventy miles of the famed Appalachian Trail traverses the park, bringing thousands of through-hiker’s to the park every year. Learn more.
- Kings Canyon National Park
- Characterized by deep glaciated canyons, numerous lakes, countless waterfalls, stands of Giant Sequoias, soaring mountain peaks, and the deepest river gorge in the United States, Kings Canyon National Park is a wilderness wonderland. The South Fork of Kings River carves a deep and magnificent path through the Sierra Nevada wilderness, etching a scar that in places reaches 8000 feet into the Earth’s crust. The 462,000 acre Kings Canyon National Park is accessible by Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, a spectacular fifty mile stretch of road which descends 4000 feet into the beautiful Kings River Valley and ends shortly after entering the park. From here the only way to experience the Kings Canyon Wilderness is on foot. Because of its relative lack of accessibility Kings Canyon National Park remains one of the most pristine wilderness areas in the country and is home to a variety of wildlife. There are over 260 known vertebrate species within the park and some of the invertebrate species which thrive in area caves are found nowhere else in the world. Learn more.
In addition to the incredible natural beauty of these areas, America’s National Parks offer a variety of other entertainment opportunities for the entire family. Hiking, biking, backpacking, fishing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, bird watching and waterfalling, just to name a few. Also, consider visiting area ranger stations and visitor centers to learn about guided tours and educational programs offered by Park and/or Forestry Services personnel.