The Hidden Gems of National Parks in the USA
Millions of people visit Yosemite’s falls or Old Faithful in Yellowstone every year, but the US National Park system has a lot more to offer than its most popular destinations.
With 63 parks spanning over 84 million acres of pristine land, the National Parks include many less crowded spots of beauty equal to anything you’d see at the well-known sites. You just have to look off the beaten path. (Metaphorically speaking of course. Please stay on the marked trails).
See the darkest night sky in the USA at Bryce Canyon
Though the US boasts endless miles of nature, light pollution from the cities affects the view of the night sky almost everywhere you look up.
The conditions at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah make it one of the darkest night skies in the country. Its fresh air, elevation, and location miles away from civilization help to make this a premier destination for stargazers and astronomers of any skill level. It even earned an International Dark Sky designation in 2019.
On a clear, moonless night you can view thousands of stars, planets, and sometimes even comets alongside the breathtaking sight of the Milky Way. This natural darkness is preserved by the park rangers and a team of volunteer astronomers. If you’d like to learn more about what they do and how they maintain Bryce Canyon’s unique night sky, check out the Annual Astronomy Festival.
Step out of your comfort zone and climb Devils Tower
Devils Tower, a rock formation in Wyoming, stands over 850 feet tall and was declared the first national monument in 1906. Since then, it has become a destination for adventurous folks in the know, especially for rock climbers.
While the most popular climbing routes here are graded at an intermediate or hard 5.10 and 5.11, there are climbs to suit any skill level. You can find some routes graded as low as 5.6, which is perfect for climbers that may be practicing a new climbing passion on real rocks for the first time!
If you are planning on climbing Devils Tower, be sure to be prepared. You may want to check out your local climbing gym for a lead climbing class before you head out. While there are a limited number of permanent anchors on the tower, you’ll want to bring your own ropes and some additional temporary anchors. Just be sure to take them with you when you’re finished and remember: Leave No Trace!
Take the path less traveled and check out Elves Chasm
Arizona’s Grand Canyon is one of the most famous sites in the US, but few of its millions of annual visitors make it to Elves Chasm.
This stunning grotto, known as a “miniature Grand Canyon” is only accessible by hiking the remote Royal Arch Loop trail. But if you have what it takes to trek over the rugged terrain to get there, Elves Chasm will make it worth your while.
The chasm winds through the rocks, decorated with gorgeous waterfalls and green foliage studded amongst the red stone. You’ll be enchanted by the grooves worn smooth by millennia of natural erosion as you cool down from your hike in the fresh, clear water that runs through the small canyon.
See a glacier at Kenai Fjords National Park
Even the most well-traveled explorers will likely tell you that they have yet to experience a glacier in person. The Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska allows you to enjoy this unique experience and more in this amazing park that combines mountains, glaciers, and thriving woodlands.
The Fjords are home to the Exit Glacier, one of the only glaciers in the world that you can drive directly to. Once there, you can take in the views of this icy landmark and hit nearby hiking trails that lead right up to the terminus of the glacier.
The area is also popular for winter activities such as snowmobiles, dogsleds, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.
You’ll want to check out this spectacular expanse of ice while you still can. The glacier shrinks a little each year as our climate warms leaving nothing but rocks in its wake. This once-in-a-lifetime trip might not last another lifetime, so be sure to make your way there while you have the chance.
Ready to hit the road and check out all that our National Parks have to offer?
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