Now that I am home for a while, I wanted to share some of my favorite spots along the way so you might start packing your car for a road trip of a lifetime. I think it's important to see what the country has to offer, especially our National Parks.
There is something about a National Park that gets me excited like a child on Christmas morning. More so than visiting a city or town. Perhaps it's being in nature, and if our country declared the land to itself, it has to be good. Even though I didn't go to every one on this trip, I went to quite a few on the two years of road tripping.
It's hard to narrow it down to the 10 best because they are all quite good in certain respects. I wanted to highlight some features on some of my favorites. If your park is missing, perhaps I didn't get to visit. I would love to know which one is YOUR personal favorite. As for me:
1) Best Park All Around: Yellowstone
I spent some time here in 2008 and I knew I had to go back this year. It is perfect for wildlife viewing, camping, being alone, and seeing some of the most natural wonders of the earth. There are hikes you can go on to get away from the crowds, a lake to play in, geyser to watch. It suites all tastes if you want to stay upscale or live in the dirt (I chose DIRT!). It's great for family trips and if you don't want to see the kiddos, you can visit late August or September when they are back in school. When people ask me what my favorite national park is, it's always Yellowstone.
2) Best Park on the Ocean: Cape Cod National Seashore
We should be thankful that this ocean is protected from development. It is one of the best ocean seashores around. You can walk for miles to find a lighthouse (you can even stay in it) or to just be alone on the beach. The summers are crowded, but if you go in September, it's a beach to yourself. I went everyday for a month to soak up the beauty. The colors of the evening sky are unlike anywhere else I've seen. If you plan ahead, you can even have your own personal beach campfire since they hand out only 3 permits a day. This beach is perfect for anyone.
3.) Best Underground Park: Carlsbad Caverns
It's not on the way to anywhere so you would need to make a special trip on the south end of New Mexico to see this park. I have only been to one other cave tour prior to this and it dwarfs in comparison. As soon as you arrive to the caverns, you are given a quick "what not to do" speech and put in an elevator that takes you too the core of the earth (seemingly of course). From there, you can take a self guided tour of the caves outer wall. Pictures don't do it justice. It is like a grand canyon underground. Simply amazing.
4) Best Place on a Foggy Day: Shenandoah National Park
Ok, one of the only reasons it's the best on a foggy day is because I don't know what it looks like otherwise. The visibility was so low when I went that the million look out points looked the same. Fog. The drive was beautiful and I was able to see several wildlife so in my book, that's a plus. I did see some beautiful spots that looked even better in the foggy weather.
5) Best Place to Climb a Rock: Joshua Tree National Park
This was the last park I visited on this tour, but it certainly didn't disappoint. It was full of people enjoying the beautiful cool day in the desert. Most of which were climbing. It's a great place for a hike or to climb a boulder...or both.
6) Most Beautiful Rock Formations: Arches National Park
This is a park I want to return to and camp. It was quite spectacular. When Max and I went, the temperatures were above 100 degrees so we didn't stay for long. Max didn't seem too happy. The drive is beautiful with long stretches of roads leading to some amazing formations. Worth the stop.
7) Best Wildlife showing in a Day: Zion National Park
Remember, this list is subjective. I loved this park since I was on a high from visiting the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Right before I entered the park, I saw a herd of buffalo. When I was in the park I saw several deer, hawks and a few rams climbing on the rocks. I don't know what it is about seeing animals in nature. I get pretty excited and it makes my day. Even more so when Max doesn't go crazy in the car, which is not that often.
8) Best Place to Take Your Breath Away: The Grand Canyon
All in all, it is the sight to see. On a clear day, you will be amazed at the sheer volume of the canyon. Just don't look around at the massive amount of crowds everywhere...keep your eyes focused on the canyon and you will be fine. I camped here and it was great for families. This is something to see in your lifetime.
9) Best place to feel as if you're on the Moon: Petrified Forest National Park
At first I was skeptical. How can a park full of petrified trees be exciting? Well, that's exactly what it was....full of petrified trees. The painted forest was something to see. Again, it's a place where pictures don't do it justice. There are roads to explore all of the trees and historical markers to read all about them. My favorite part of the park was all of the ravens there protecting the forest. It could be that I have a thing for birds.
10) Best Place to get lost: Grand Teton National Park
Many use this park as an entrance to Yellowstone, which it is. The park is spread out for miles and there are places where you can go to set yourself apart from the world, if you are willing to explore it. Either way you look at it, it's a place of beauty surrounded by beauty. All of the gateways to the park are spectacular.
I have not been able to explore every single park in the USA, as of yet. These were my top ten for the past few years. There are parks I've visited that are not on the list. Most likely because I felt these had more to offer or the fact that the ones I saw weren't that great. It really is hard to beat a National Park...no matter which one it is.
The best way to enjoy yourself is with a National Park Pass. For $80 bucks a year, you can explore as many parks as you wish. It's part of the reason I seek them out now. Sort of like an "all you can eat" salad bar. You keep going back to get your money's worth. Sort of.
I look forward to sharing some other top cities and places that I've uncovered. What is your favorite park?