The United States is home to a ton of amazing and beautiful natural spaces for its citizens to explore thanks to the National Parks Service’s commitment to and care of the outdoors. If you didn’t know already, National Parks Week offers us a chance to get outside and celebrate nature with free admission for one week at every national park across the country during the month of April.
Since celebrating the outdoors is what we’re all about, the RANGE team wants to make sure that you take advantage of this opportunity to get outside and explore all that our national parks have to offer. We’ve taken some time to reflect on the wonderful experiences we’ve had at national parks across the country and provide you with our recommendations of where to go in this special National Parks Hit List.
1. Arches National Park – Nina’s Pick
I’ve been lucky enough to take several road trips through the Southwest, and have always made a point of stopping in at Arches National Park when I’ve found myself within striking distance. South of I-70 between Las Vegas and Denver, it’s a stunning and alien landscape dotted with the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches. These formations alternate between enormous, towering walls and delicate, curved bridges. While hiking the trails in the bleached heat of midday, I realized my favorite thing about Arches is how it instantly makes me feel like I’m not the center of my own universe. The monolithic Courthouse Towers are just as high as most skyscrapers we build, but far more permanent than anything humanity can hope to create. Formed inch-by-inch over the course of 150 million years following the evaporation of an inland sea, every feature of the park is a refreshing reminder of the progression of time, and how lucky we are to bear witness to such powerful natural relics.
2. Crater Lake National Park – Lisa’s Pick
Now that I’m looking back on it, I’ve been to six national parks! But you know how it goes. You never forget your first time. Deemed as one of the “Seven Wonders of Oregon,” Crater Lake is what opened my eyes to the magic of national parks. Formed from a collapsed volcano and serving as the deepest lake in America, Crater Lake is equally enchanting as it is somber. It serves as a product of nature’s impeccable designs. We had visited in the summertime and made our way to various wilderness trails around the rim of the crater only to stumble upon a trail that led to the water. Little did we know we had found what is known as “The Leap,” a cliff jumping spot for those brave enough to plunge 20 feet into freezing waters. Now, I’m not one for cliff jumping and can probably count on one hand how many times I’ve done it, but almost as if falling into a trance, the brilliantly blue water was an invitation to face my fear of heights that day. There’s something incredible about wild spaces that makes you to confront your fears and really look into yourself. I crashed into Crater Lake only to come out a different person. It set the tone for my future national park endeavors and the opportunities to both challenge and humble myself in the outdoors.
3. Joshua Tree National Park – Jeanine’s Pick
Located in Southeastern California, Joshua Tree National Park is my favorite high-desert oasis. The home of the Yucca brevifolia, the cartoonish Joshua tree for which the park is named, I’ve experienced a light snowfall and a blistering sunburn all in the same hike. What’s not to love? With magical sunsets that transition from purple to pink to blue all in the blink of an eye, the dynamic landscape is due to the dramatic changes in elevation and ecosystems, as the park is positioned in both the higher Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. Known for its world-class bouldering, climbing in Joshua Tree is also a special treat as blobs of granite clusters, which were formed more than 100 million years ago from the cooling of magma beneath the surface, form perfectly, imperfect volumes. Scoring a campsite within the interior of the park can be a challenge, so book early and please promise me that you check out Jumbo Rocks. You won’t be bummed.
4. Olympic National Park – Lisa’s Pick
It was spring here in Oregon and a couple of friends and I drove north to take in some new scenery and made our way to Olympic National Park. In true to Pacific Northwest fashion, it rained throughout the entire duration of our stay in the park. Let’s all be honest, camping for a week in the rain wasn’t the romanticized trip we were hoping for with epic sunsets and warm days. It was cold, wet and challenging. But with such a diverse wilderness surrounding you, glacier-capped mountains, old-growth rain forests, and a wild coastline, Olympic National Park has a way of encouraging you to embrace the elements no matter the conditions. We explored the mossy halls of the HOH Rainforest, hiked three miles on the beach to find hieroglyphs etched into beach boulders, and breathed fresh mountain air at an elevation of 5,242 feet on Hurricane Ridge. I’ve been called back to the primitive ways of Olympic National Park a couple times now since that first trip. To me, Olympic National Park is an extraordinary part of our National Parks system and quite honestly, one of the wildest ones out there.
5. Redwood National Park – Alex’s Pick
While I’ve been to a handful of national parks across the nation, by far my favorite one is Redwood National Park. My best friend from college, Adam, had recently moved to San Francisco and invited me to visit him so he could host my very first trip to California. Knowing exactly what kinds of beautiful outdoor places someone from New York with hippy tendencies would be thrilled by, he drove us north so I could experience Redwood National Park, home to the tallest trees on Earth, which can grow up to 367 feet high. As you enter, the park surrounds you head to toe in the most magical way with sunlight peeking through the immense trees and a soft forest floor cushioning your feet with every step as you explore the ancient terrain. And because of the enchanting nature of the park, if you happened upon an Ewok behind one of the fallen trees, it would seem completely normal, probably because, fun fact, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi was filmed here.
6. Yosemite National Park – Jeanine’s Pick
Playing a huge role in the development of the National Parks system, Yosemite is one of those idyllic parks that checks off all the boxes on the “must-have” list. Sweeping views, monolithic glacier-carved granite slopes, historical relevance, wildflowers, waterfalls, Camp 4, El Cap, Half Dome, Stonemasters, and the original home of the Sierra Club started by THE ultimate outdoorsman, our homie John Muir. Coop and I even went backpacking on our honeymoon in Yosemite, which you can read about here if you are are feeling fancy. If you can’t make your way out to the Sierras this season, do yourself a favor and check out Valley Uprising. It is one of the best films we have seen when it comes to outdoor documentaries and really gives a complete 360-degree snapshot of the history of the park from the climbing perspective.
*Pro-tip: I would suggest exploring the backcountry of the vast 747,956 acres of the park because that is where you can really get lost in the moment, and who knows, you may stumble on a secret stash of hash leftover from the ’70s.
Images by Lisa Dougherty, Alex Gomes, Jeanine Pesce and Nina Stotler.
xx Alex, Jeanine, Lisa and Nina